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"A Living Calendar" and other stories by Anton Chekhov

Monday 27 September 2021, by Anton Chekhov


1. A LIVING CALENDAR (Живая хронология) (1885) An elderly official is discussing with a friend about how things used to be more lively in their town, citing memorable occasions from the past. He needs reminders from his wife as to exactly when each of these four events had taken place, and every time the wife reminds him that the event took place during the visit of a friend less than a year before the birth of one of their four children. (950 words)

2. IN THE DARK (В потемках) (1885) The wife of the assistant procurer wakes up in the middle of the night and sees a man slipping through their downstairs window. Alarmed, she wakes her husband up, who reluctantly goes down to wake up the cook and get her to make the fellow leave. But the cook denies all and the incident is almost over, but not quite. (1,800 words)

3. A TRIFLE FROM LIFE (Житейская мелочь) (1885) Nikolay Ikyitch visits the dwelling of his mistress while she’s out and gets into conversation with her son, who reveals how the nurse takes him and his little sister to see their father twice a week, recounting the comments that the father makes about Nikolay. The outraged Nikolay Ikyitch doesn’t have the slightest qualm about breaking his vow of secrecy to the boy. (2,000 words)

4. A JOKE (Шуточка) (1886) The narrator remembers going on a dangerous sleigh-ride with a girl and playing a prank on her by declaring in a ghostly voice that he loved her just at the scariest moment of the ride – to such an extent that she wanted to do it over and over again. The experience of being told that she was loved by some mysterious force marked her for the rest of her life. (1,700 words)

5. THE DUEL (Дуэль) (1891) Laevsky, a youngish government official in a small Crimean town has a stormyæ relationship with his common-law wife Nadyezhda, with whom Ivan would like to break but lacks the courage and the finances to do so. His tireless self-centredness provokes the enmity of an officer who has his eye on Nadyezhda, and in a frenzy of agitation about borrowing enough money to be able to flee to Moscow Laevsky insults the officer, who’s only too happy to demand a duel. (39,000 words)

6. AN ANONYMOUS STORY (Рассказ неивестного человека) (1893) The narrator is a well-off political idealist suffering from consumption who knows that his days are numbered, and who for political reasons has taken a position as a footman in the house of the son of an enemy, with the aim of learning the family’s secrets and bringing about their downfall. The son has a tumultuous affair with the independently wealthy Zinaida, who soon leaves her home to join him. The narrator is so taken up with her that he intervenes when the inevitable crisis comes, and we follow them as they flee to Italy and the south of France seeking health and happiness. (30,000 words)

7. THE TWO VOLODYAS (Володя большой и Володя маленький) (1893) Sofya has married the wealthy Colonel Volodya, thirty years her senior, partly for financial reasons and partly to spite her girlhood idol, another Volodya. After a visit to her sister Olga, now a nun, she realises that she’s been shallow and dishonest with herself, that in fact she hates her husband and would like to have good relations again with the other Volodya. That doesn’t work out as well as she had hoped though. (4,700 words)

8. A WOMAN’S KINGDOM (Бабье царство) (1894) Anna Akimovna has inherited from her uncle a large steel-products factory, whose functioning she leaves to others while doing her best to spend as best she can the large sums of money that she regularly receives to (mostly) help the poor. At Christmas on a charity visit she meets a young foreman whom she has trouble keeping out of her mind the next day while receiving endless protocol visits. (16,400 words)

9. ANNA ON THE NECK (Анна на шее) (1895) The Order of St. Anne |drama|Anna’s an eighteen-year-old who has married Modest Alexeitch, a wealthy government official of fifty-two. She’s dismayed on realising during their honeymoon trip that her husband’s a terrible skinflint and that she has even less money after her marriage than before. But he does dream of honours, so when the yearly charity ball takes place he gives her money for a gown, and the tremendous success she has at the ball leads her to a whirlwind social life. (5,400 words)

10. IN THE RAVINE (В овраге) (1900) In a remote Ukrainian village the only notable event that’s happened over the past twenty years was when the deacon had gobbled up all the caviar at a wedding. Next to the village there’s a grocery shop run by Grigory Tsybukin, who sells legally or illegally everything that there is a market for and who has a large family whose comings and goings are followed in detail throughout this saga. (16,500 words)

All of these stories except A Living Calendar were translated by Constance Garnett (1861-1946). A Living Calendar was translated by S. Koteliansky in 1915.

An e-book, with the original Russian texts in an annex, is available for downloading below.

The original Russian texts can also be seen here.


State-Councillor Sharamykin’s drawing-room is wrapped in a pleasant half-darkness. The big bronze lamp with the green shade, makes the walls, the furniture, the faces, all green, couleur "Nuit d’Ukraine". Occasionally a smouldering log flares up in the dying fire and for a moment casts a red glow over the faces; but this does not spoil the general harmony of light. The general tone, as the painters say, is well sustained.
Sharamykin sits in a chair in front of the fireplace, in the attitude of a man who has just dined. He is an elderly man with a high official’s grey side whiskers and meek blue eyes. Tenderness is shed over his face, and his lips are set in a melancholy smile. At his feet, stretched out lazily, with his legs towards the fire-place, Vice-Governor Lopniev sits on a little stool. He is a brave-looking man of about forty. Sharamykin’s children are moving about round the piano; Nina, Kolya, Nadya, and Vanya. The door leading to Madame Sharamykin’s room is slightly open and the light breaks through timidly. There behind the door sits Sharamykin’s wife, Anna Pavlovna, in front of her writing-table. She is president of the local ladies’ committee, a lively, piquant lady of thirty years and a little bit over. Through her pince-nez her vivacious black eyes are running over the pages of a French novel. Beneath the novel lies a tattered copy of the report of the committee for last year.
"Formerly our town was much better off in these things," says Sharamykin, screwing up his meek eyes at the glowing coals. "Never a winter passed but some star would pay us a visit. Famous actors and singers used to come ... but now, besides acrobats and organ-grinders, the devil only knows what comes. There’s no aesthetic pleasure at all.... We might be living in a forest. Yes.... And does your Excellency remember that Italian tragedian?... What’s his name?... He was so dark, and tall.... Let me think.... Oh, yes! Luigi Ernesto di Ruggiero.... Remarkable talent.... And strength. He had only to say one word and the whole theatre was on the qui vive. My darling Anna used to take a great interest in his talent. She hired the theatre for him and sold tickets for the performances in advance.... In return he taught her elocution and gesture. A first-rate fellow! He came here ... to be quite exact ... twelve years ago.... No, that’s not true.... Less, ten years.... Anna dear, how old is our Nina?"
"She’ll be ten next birthday," calls Anna Pavlovna from her room. "Why?"
"Nothing in particular, my dear. I was just curious.... And good singers used to come. Do you remember Prilipchin, the tenore di grazia? What a charming fellow he was! How good looking! Fair ... a very expressive face, Parisian manners.... And what a voice, your Excellency! Only one weakness: he would sing some notes with his stomach and would take re falsetto—otherwise everything was good. Tamberlik, he said, had taught him.... My dear Anna and I hired a hall for him at the Social Club, and in gratitude for that he used to sing to us for whole days and nights.... He taught dear Anna to sing. He came—I remember it as though it were last night—in Lent, some twelve years ago. No, it’s more.... How bad my memory is getting, Heaven help me! Anna dear, how old is our darling Nadya?
"Twelve ... then we’ve got to add ten months.... That makes it exact ... thirteen. Somehow there used to be more life in our town then.... Take, for instance, the charity soirées. What enjoyable soirées we used to have before! How elegant! There were singing, playing, and recitation.... After the war, I remember, when the Turkish prisoners were here, dear Anna arranged a soiree on behalf of the wounded. We collected eleven hundred roubles. I remember the Turkish officers were passionately fond of dear Anna’s voice, and kissed her hand incessantly. He-he! Asiatics, but a grateful nation. Would you believe me, the soiree was such a success that I wrote an account of it in my diary? It was,—I remember it as though it had only just happened,—in ’76,... no, in ’77.... No! Pray, when were the Turks here? Anna dear, how old is our little Kolya?"
"I’m seven, Papa!" says Kolya, a brat with a swarthy face and coal black hair.
"Yes, we’re old, and we’ve lost the energy we used to have," Lopniev agreed with a sigh. "That’s the real cause. Old age, my friend. No new moving spirits arrive, and the old ones grow old.... The old fire is dull now. When I was younger I did not like company to be bored.... I was your Anna Pavlovna’s first assistant. Whether it was a charity soirée or a tombola to support a star who was going to arrive, whatever Anna Pavlovna was arranging, I used to throw over everything and begin to bustle about. One winter, I remember, I bustled and ran so much that I even got ill.... I shan’t forget that winter.... Do you remember what a performance we arranged with Anna Pavlovna in aid of the victims of the fire?"
"What year was it?"
"Not so very long ago.... In ’79. No, in ’80, I believe! Tell me how old is your Vanya?"
"Five," Anna Pavlovna calls from the study.
"Well, that means it was six years ago. Yes, my dear friend, that was a time. It’s all over now. The old fire’s quite gone."
Lopniev and Sharamykin grew thoughtful. The smouldering log flares up for the last time, and then is covered in ash.


A FLY of medium size made its way into the nose of the assistant procurator, Gagin. It may have been impelled by curiosity, or have got there through frivolity or accident in the dark; anyway, the nose resented the presence of a foreign body and gave the signal for a sneeze. Gagin sneezed, sneezed impressively and so shrilly and loudly that the bed shook and the springs creaked. Gagin’s wife, Marya Mihalovna, a full, plump, fair woman, started, too, and woke up. She gazed into the darkness, sighed, and turned over on the other side. Five minutes afterwards she turned over again and shut her eyes more firmly but she could not get to sleep again. After sighing and tossing from side to side for a time, she got up, crept over her husband, and putting on her slippers, went to the window.
It was dark outside. She could see nothing but the outlines of the trees and the roof of the stables. There was a faint pallor in the east, but this pallor was beginning to be clouded over. There was perfect stillness in the air wrapped in slumber and darkness. Even the watchman, paid to disturb the stillness of night, was silent; even the corncrake — the only wild creature of the feathered tribe that does not shun the proximity of summer visitors — was silent.
The stillness was broken by Marya Mihalovna herself. Standing at the window and gazing into the yard, she suddenly uttered a cry. She fancied that from the flower garden with the gaunt, clipped poplar, a dark figure was creeping towards the house. For the first minute she thought it was a cow or a horse, then, rubbing her eyes, she distinguished clearly the outlines of a man.
Then she fancied the dark figure approached the window of the kitchen and, standing still a moment, apparently undecided, put one foot on the window ledge and disappeared into the darkness of the window.
"A burglar!" flashed into her mind and a deathly pallor overspread her face.
And in one instant her imagination had drawn the picture so dreaded by lady visitors in country places – a burglar creeps into the kitchen, from the kitchen into the dining-room . . . the silver in the cupboard . . . next into the bedroom . . . an axe . . . the face of a brigand . . . jewellery. . . . Her knees gave way under her and a shiver ran down her back.
"Vassya!" she said, shaking her husband, "Basile! Vassily Prokovitch! Ah! mercy on us, he might be dead! Wake up,Basile, I beseech you!"
"W-well?" grunted the assistant procurator, with a deep inward breath and a munching sound.
"For God’s sake, wake up! A burglar has got into the kitchen! I was standing at the window looking out and someone got in at the window. He will get into the dining-room next . . . the spoons are in the cupboard! Basile! They broke into Mavra Yegorovna’s last year."
"Wha—what’s the matter?"
"Heavens! he does not understand. Do listen, you stupid! I tell you I’ve just seen a man getting in at the kitchen window! Pelagea will be frightened and . . . and the silver is in the cupboard!"
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"Basile, this is unbearable! I tell you of a real danger and you sleep and grunt! What would you have? Would you have us robbed and murdered?"
The assistant procurator slowly got up and sat on the bed, filling the air with loud yawns.
"Goodness knows what creatures women are! he muttered. "Can’t leave one in peace even at night! To wake a man for such nonsense!"
"But, Basile, I swear I saw a man getting in at the window!"
"Well, what of it? Let him get in. . . . That’s pretty sure to be Pelagea’s sweetheart, the fireman."
"What! what did you say?"
"I say it’s Pelagea’s fireman come to see her."
"Worse than ever!" shrieked Marya Mihalovna. "That’s worse than a burglar! I won’t put up with cynicism in my house!"
"Hoity-toity! We are virtuous! . . . Won’t put up with cynicism? As though it were cynicism! What’s the use of firing off those foreign words? My dear girl, it’s a thing that has happened ever since the world began, sanctified by tradition. What’s a fireman for if not to make love to the cook?"
"No, Basile! It seems you don’t know me! I cannot face the idea of such a . . . such a . . . in my house. You must go this minute into the kitchen and tell him to go away! This very minute! And to-morrow I’ll tell Pelagea that she must not dare to demean herself by such proceedings! When I am dead you may allow immorality in your house, but you shan’t do it now! . . . Please go!"
"Damn it," grumbled Gagin, annoyed. "Consider with your microscopic female brain, what am I to go for?"
"Basile, I shall faint! . . ."
Gagin cursed, put on his slippers, cursed again, and set off to the kitchen. It was as dark as the inside of a barrel, and the assistant procurator had to feel his way. He groped his way to the door of the nursery and waked the nurse.
"Vassilissa," he said, "you took my dressing-gown to brush last night – where is it?"
"I gave it to Pelagea to brush, sir."
"What carelessness! You take it away and don’t put it back – now I’ve to go without a dressing-gown!"
On reaching the kitchen, he made his way to the corner in which on a box under a shelf of saucepans the cook slept.
"Pelagea," he said, feeling her shoulder and giving it a shake, "Pelagea! Why are you pretending? You are not asleep! Who was it got in at your window just now?"
"Mm . . . m . . . good morning! Got in at the window? Who could get in?"
"Oh come, it’s no use your trying to keep it up! You’d better tell your scamp to clear out while he can! Do you hear? He’s no business to be here!"
"Are you out of your senses, sir, bless you? Do you think I’d be such a fool? Here one’s running about all day long, never a minute to sit down and then spoken to like this at night! Four roubles a month . . . and to find my own tea and sugar and this is all the credit I get for it! I used to live in a tradesman’s house, and never met with such insult there!"
"Come, come – no need to go over your grievances! This very minute your grenadier must turn out! Do you understand?"
"You ought to be ashamed, sir," said Pelagea, and he could hear the tears in her voice. "Gentlefolks . . . educated, and yet not a notion that with our hard lot . . . in our life of toil" – she burst into tears. "It’s easy to insult us. There’s no one to stand up for us."
"Come, come . . . I don’t mind! Your mistress sent me. You may let a devil in at the window for all I care!"
There was nothing left for the assistant procurator but to acknowledge himself in the wrong and go back to his spouse.
"I say, Pelagea," he said, "you had my dressing-gown to brush. Where is it?"
"Oh, I am so sorry, sir; I forgot to put it on your chair. It’s hanging on a peg near the stove."
Gagin felt for the dressing-gown by the stove, put it on, and went quietly back to his room.
When her husband went out Marya Mihalovna got into bed and waited. For the first three minutes her mind was at rest, but after that she began to feel uneasy.
"What a long time he’s gone," she thought. "It’s all right if he is there . . . that immoral man . . . but if it’s a burglar?"
And again her imagination drew a picture of her husband going into the dark kitchen . . . a blow with an axe . . . dying without uttering a single sound . . . a pool of blood! . . .
Five minutes passed . . . five and a half . . . at last six. . . . A cold sweat came out on her forehead.
"Basile!" she shrieked, "Basile!"
"What are you shouting for? I am here." She heard her husband’s voice and steps. "Are you being murdered?"
The assistant procurator went up to the bedstead and sat down on the edge of it.
"There’s nobody there at all," he said. "It was your fancy, you queer creature. . . . You can sleep easy, your fool of a Pelagea is as virtuous as her mistress. What a coward you are! What a . . . ."
And the deputy procurator began teasing his wife. He was wide awake now and did not want to go to sleep again.
"You are a coward!" he laughed. "You’d better go to the doctor to-morrow and tell him about your hallucinations. You are a neurotic!"
"What a smell of tar," said his wife – "tar or something . . . onion . . . cabbage soup!"
"Y-yes! There is a smell . . . I am not sleepy. I say, I’ll light the candle. . . . Where are the matches? And, by the way, I’ll show you the photograph of the procurator of the Palace of Justice. He gave us all a photograph when he said good-bye to us yesterday, with his autograph."
Gagin struck a match against the wall and lighted a candle. But before he had moved a step from the bed to fetch the photographs he heard behind him a piercing, heartrending shriek. Looking round, he saw his wife’s large eyes fastened upon him, full of amazement, horror, and wrath. . . .
"You took your dressing-gown off in the kitchen?" she said, turning pale.
"Look at yourself!"
The deputy procurator looked down at himself, and gasped.
Flung over his shoulders was not his dressing-gown, but the fireman’s overcoat. How had it come on his shoulders? While he was settling that question, his wife’s imagination was drawing another picture, awful and impossible: darkness, stillness, whispering, and so on, and so on.


A WELL-FED, red-cheeked young man called Nikolay Ilyitch Belyaev, of thirty-two, who was an owner of house property in Petersburg, and a devotee of the race-course, went one evening to see Olga Ivanovna Irnin, with whom he was living, or, to use his own expression, was dragging out a long, wearisome romance. And, indeed, the first interesting and enthusiastic pages of this romance had long been perused; now the pages dragged on, and still dragged on, without presenting anything new or of interest.
Not finding Olga Ivanovna at home, my hero lay down on the lounge chair and proceeded to wait for her in the drawing-room.
"Good-evening, Nikolay Ilyitch!" he heard a child’s voice. "Mother will be here directly. She has gone with Sonia to the dressmaker’s."
Olga Ivanovna’s son, Alyosha – a boy of eight who looked graceful and very well cared for, who was dressed like a picture, in a black velvet jacket and long black stockings – was lying on the sofa in the same room. He was lying on a satin cushion and, evidently imitating an acrobat he had lately seen at the circus, stuck up in the air first one leg and then the other. When his elegant legs were exhausted, he brought his arms into play or jumped up impulsively and went on all fours, trying to stand with his legs in the air. All this he was doing with the utmost gravity, gasping and groaning painfully as though he regretted that God had given him such a restless body.
"Ah, good-evening, my boy," said Belyaev. "It’s you! I did not notice you. Is your mother well?"
Alyosha, taking hold of the tip of his left toe with his right hand and falling into the most unnatural attitude, turned over, jumped up, and peeped at Belyaev from behind the big fluffy lampshade.
"What shall I say?" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "In reality mother’s never well. You see, she is a woman, and women, Nikolay Ilyitch, have always something the matter with them."
Belyaev, having nothing better to do, began watching Alyosha’s face. He had never before during the whole of his intimacy with Olga Ivanovna paid any attention to the boy, and had completely ignored his existence; the boy had been before his eyes, but he had not cared to think why he was there and what part he was playing.
In the twilight of the evening, Alyosha’s face, with his white forehead and black, unblinking eyes, unexpectedly reminded Belyaev of Olga Ivanovna as she had been during the first pages of their romance. And he felt disposed to be friendly to the boy.
"Come here, insect," he said; "let me have a closer look at you."
The boy jumped off the sofa and skipped up to Belyaev.
"Well," began Nikolay Ilyitch, putting a hand on the boy’s thin shoulder. "How are you getting on?"
"How shall I say! We used to get on a great deal better."
"It’s very simple. Sonia and I used only to learn music and reading, and now they give us French poetry to learn. Have you been shaved lately?"
"Yes, I see you have. Your beard is shorter. Let me touch it. . . . Does that hurt?"
"Why is it that if you pull one hair it hurts, but if you pull a lot at once it doesn’t hurt a bit? Ha, ha! And, you know, it’s a pity you don’t have whiskers. Here ought to be shaved . . . but here at the sides the hair ought to be left. . . ."
The boy nestled up to Belyaev and began playing with his watch-chain.
"When I go to the high-school," he said, "mother is going to buy me a watch. I shall ask her to buy me a watch-chain like this. . . . Wh-at a lo-ket! Father’s got a locket like that, only yours has little bars on it and his has letters. . . . There’s mother’s portrait in the middle of his. Father has a different sort of chain now, not made with rings, but like ribbon. . . ."
"How do you know? Do you see your father?"
"I? M’m . . . no . . . I . . ."
Alyosha blushed, and in great confusion, feeling caught in a lie, began zealously scratching the locket with his nail. . . . Belyaev looked steadily into his face and asked:
"Do you see your father?"
"Come, speak frankly, on your honour. . . . I see from your face you are telling a fib. Once you’ve let a thing slip out it’s no good wriggling about it. Tell me, do you see him? Come, as a friend."
Alyosha hesitated.
"You won’t tell mother?" he said.
"As though I should!"
"On your honour?"
"On my honour."
"Do you swear?"
"Ah, you provoking boy! What do you take me for?"
Alyosha looked round him, then with wide-open eyes, whispered to him:
"Only, for goodness’ sake, don’t tell mother. . . . Don’t tell any one at all, for it is a secret. I hope to goodness mother won’t find out, or we should all catch it — Sonia, and I, and Pelagea. . . . Well, listen. . . Sonia and I see father every Tuesday and Friday. When Pelagea takes us for a walk before dinner we go to the Apfel Restaurant, and there is father waiting for us. . . . He is always sitting in a room apart, where you know there’s a marble table and an ash-tray in the shape of a goose without a back. . . ."
"What do you do there?"
"Nothing! First we say how-do-you-do, then we all sit round the table, and father treats us with coffee and pies. You know Sonia eats the meat-pies, but I can’t endure meat-pies! I like the pies made of cabbage and eggs. We eat such a lot that we have to try hard to eat as much as we can at dinner, for fear mother should notice."
"What do you talk about?"
"With father? About anything. He kisses us, he hugs us, tells us all sorts of amusing jokes. Do you know, he says when we are grown up he is going to take us to live with him. Sonia does not want to go, but I agree. Of course, I should miss mother; but, then, I should write her letters! It’s a queer idea, but we could come and visit her on holidays – couldn’t we? Father says, too, that he will buy me a horse. He’s an awfully kind man! I can’t understand why mother does not ask him to come and live with us, and why she forbids us to see him. You know he loves mother very much. He is always asking us how she is and what she is doing. When she was ill he clutched his head like this, and . . . and kept running about. He always tells us to be obedient and respectful to her. Listen. Is it true that we are unfortunate?"
"H’m! . . . Why?"
"That’s what father says. ’You are unhappy children,’ he says. It’s strange to hear him, really. ’You are unhappy,’ he says, ’I am unhappy, and mother’s unhappy. You must pray to God,’ he says; ’for yourselves and for her.’ "
Alyosha let his eyes rest on a stuffed bird and sank into thought.
"So . . ." growled Belyaev. "So that’s how you are going on. You arrange meetings at restaurants. And mother does not know?"
"No-o. . . . How should she know? Pelagea would not tell her for anything, you know. The day before yesterday he gave us some pears. As sweet as jam! I ate two."
"H’m! . . . Well, and I say . . . Listen. Did father say anything about me?"
"About you? What shall I say?"
Alyosha looked searchingly into Belyaev’s face and shrugged his shoulders.
"He didn’t say anything particular."
"For instance, what did he say?"
"You won’t be offended?"
"What next? Why, does he abuse me?"
"He doesn’t abuse you, but you know he is angry with you. He says mother’s unhappy owing to you . . . and that you have ruined mother. You know he is so queer! I explain to him that you are kind, that you never scold mother; but he only shakes his head."
"So he says I have ruined her?"
"Yes; you mustn’t be offended, Nikolay Ilyitch."
Belyaev got up, stood still a moment, and walked up and down the drawing-room.
"That’s strange and . . . ridiculous!" he muttered, shrugging his shoulders and smiling sarcastically. "He’s entirely to blame, and I have ruined her, eh? An innocent lamb, I must say. So he told you I ruined your mother?"
"Yes, but . . . you said you would not be offended, you know."
"I am not offended, and . . . and it’s not your business. Why, it’s . . . why, it’s positively ridiculous! I have been thrust into it like a chicken in the broth, and now it seems I’m to blame!"
A ring was heard. The boy sprang up from his place and ran out. A minute later a lady came into the room with a little girl; this was Olga Ivanovna, Alyosha’s mother. Alyosha followed them in, skipping and jumping, humming aloud and waving his hands. Belyaev nodded, and went on walking up and down.
"Of course, whose fault is it if not mine?" he muttered with a snort. "He is right! He is an injured husband."
"What are you talking about?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"What about? . . . Why, just listen to the tales your lawful spouse is spreading now! It appears that I am a scoundrel and a villain, that I have ruined you and the children. All of you are unhappy, and I am the only happy one! Wonderfully, wonderfully happy!"
"I don’t understand, Nikolay. What’s the matter?"
"Why, listen to this young gentleman!" said Belyaev, pointing to Alyosha.
Alyosha flushed crimson, then turned pale, and his whole face began working with terror.
"Nikolay Ilyitch," he said in a loud whisper. "Sh-sh!"
Olga Ivanovna looked in surprise at Alyosha, then at Belyaev, then at Alyosha again.
"Just ask him," Belyaev went on. "Your Pelagea, like a regular fool, takes them about to restaurants and arranges meetings with their papa. But that’s not the point: the point is that their dear papa is a victim, while I’m a wretch who has broken up both your lives. . ."
"Nikolay Ilyitch," moaned Alyosha. "Why, you promised on your word of honour!"
"Oh, get away!" said Belyaev, waving him off. "This is more important than any word of honour. It’s the hypocrisy revolts me, the lying! . . ."
"I don’t understand it," said Olga Ivanovna, and tears glistened in her eyes. "Tell me, Alyosha," she turned to her son. "Do you see your father?"
Alyosha did not hear her; he was looking with horror at Belyaev.
"It’s impossible," said his mother; "I will go and question Pelagea."
Olga Ivanovna went out.
"I say, you promised on your word of honour!" said Alyosha, trembling all over.
Belyaev dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and went on walking up and down. He was absorbed in his grievance and was oblivious of the boy’s presence, as he always had been. He, a grownup, serious person, had no thought to spare for boys. And Alyosha sat down in the corner and told Sonia with horror how he had been deceived. He was trembling, stammering, and crying. It was the first time in his life that he had been brought into such coarse contact with lying; till then he had not known that there are in the world, besides sweet pears, pies, and expensive watches, a great many things for which the language of children has no expression.


IT was a bright winter midday. . . . There was a sharp snapping frost and the curls on Nadenka’s temples and the down on her upper lip were covered with silvery frost. She was holding my arm and we were standing on a high hill. From where we stood to the ground below there stretched a smooth sloping descent in which the sun was reflected as in a looking-glass. Beside us was a little sledge lined with bright red cloth.
"Let us go down, Nadyezhda Petrovna!" I besought her. "Only once! I assure you we shall be all right and not hurt."
But Nadenka was afraid. The slope from her little goloshes to the bottom of the ice hill seemed to her a terrible, immensely deep abyss. Her spirit failed her, and she held her breath as she looked down, when I merely suggested her getting into the sledge, but what would it be if she were to risk flying into the abyss! She would die, she would go out of her mind.
"I entreat you!" I said. "You mustn’t be afraid! You know it’s poor-spirited, it’s cowardly!"
Nadenka gave way at last, and from her face I saw that she gave way in mortal dread. I sat her in the sledge, pale and trembling, put my arm round her and with her cast myself down the precipice.
The sledge flew like a bullet. The air cleft by our flight beat in our faces, roared, whistled in our ears, tore at us, nipped us cruelly in its anger, tried to tear our heads off our shoulders. We had hardly strength to breathe from the pressure of the wind. It seemed as though the devil himself had caught us in his claws and was dragging us with a roar to hell. Surrounding objects melted into one long furiously racing streak . . . another moment and it seemed we should perish.
"I love you, Nadya!" I said in a low voice.
The sledge began moving more and more slowly, the roar of the wind and the whirr of the runners was no longer so terrible, it was easier to breathe, and at last we were at the bottom. Nadenka was more dead than alive. She was pale and scarcely breathing. . . . I helped her to get up.
"Nothing would induce me to go again," she said, looking at me with wide eyes full of horror. "Nothing in the world! I almost died!"
A little later she recovered herself and looked enquiringly into my eyes, wondering had I really uttered those four words or had she fancied them in the roar of the hurricane. And I stood beside her smoking and looking attentively at my glove.
She took my arm and we spent a long while walking near the ice-hill. The riddle evidently would not let her rest. . . . Had those words been uttered or not? . . . Yes or no? Yes or no? It was the question of pride, or honour, of life – a very important question, the most important question in the world. Nadenka kept impatiently, sorrowfully looking into my face with a penetrating glance; she answered at random, waiting to see whether I would not speak. Oh, the play of feeling on that sweet face! I saw that she was struggling with herself, that she wanted to say something, to ask some question, but she could not find the words; she felt awkward and frightened and troubled by her joy. . . .
"Do you know what," she said without looking at me.
"Well?" I asked.
"Let us . . . slide down again."
We clambered up the ice-hill by the steps again. I sat Nadenka, pale and trembling, in the sledge; again we flew into the terrible abyss, again the wind roared and the runners whirred, and again when the flight of our sledge was at its swiftest and noisiest, I said in a low voice:
"I love you, Nadenka!"
When the sledge stopped, Nadenka flung a glance at the hill down which we had both slid, then bent a long look upon my face, listened to my voice which was unconcerned and passionless, and the whole of her little figure, every bit of it, even her muff and her hood expressed the utmost bewilderment, and on her face was written: "What does it mean? Who uttered those words? Did he, or did I only fancy it?"
The uncertainty worried her and drove her out of all patience. The poor girl did not answer my questions, frowned, and was on the point of tears.
"Hadn’t we better go home?" I asked.
"Well, I . . . I like this tobogganing," she said, flushing. "Shall we go down once more?"
She "liked" the tobogganing, and yet as she got into the sledge she was, as both times before, pale, trembling, hardly able to breathe for terror.
We went down for the third time, and I saw she was looking at my face and watching my lips. But I put my handkerchief to my lips, coughed, and when we reached the middle of the hill I succeeded in bringing out:
"I love you, Nadya!"
And the mystery remained a mystery! Nadenka was silent, pondering on something. . . . I saw her home, she tried to walk slowly, slackened her pace and kept waiting to see whether I would not say those words to her, and I saw how her soul was suffering, what effort she was making not to say to herself:
"It cannot be that the wind said them! And I don’t want it to be the wind that said them!"
Next morning I got a little note:
"If you are tobogganing to-day, come for me. –N."
And from that time I began going every day tobogganning with Nadenka, and as we flew down in the sledge, every time I pronounced in a low voice the same words: "I love you, Nadya!"
Soon Nadenka grew used to that phrase as to alcohol or morphia. She could not live without it. It is true that flying down the ice-hill terrified her as before, but now the terror and danger gave a peculiar fascination to words of love – words which as before were a mystery and tantalized the soul. The same two – the wind and I were still suspected. . . . Which of the two was making love to her she did not know, but apparently by now she did not care; from which goblet one drinks matters little if only the beverage is intoxicating.
It happened I went to the skating-ground alone at midday; mingling with the crowd I saw Nadenka go up to the ice-hill and look about for me. . . then she timidly mounted the steps. . . . She was frightened of going alone – oh, how frightened! She was white as the snow, she was trembling, she went as though to the scaffold, but she went, she went without looking back, resolutely. She had evidently determined to put it to the test at last: would those sweet amazing words be heard when I was not there? I saw her, pale, her lips parted with horror, get into the sledge, shut her eyes and saying good-bye for ever to the earth, set off. . . . "Whrrr!" whirred the runners. Whether Nadenka heard those words I do not know. I only saw her getting up from the sledge looking faint and exhausted. And one could tell from her face that she could not tell herself whether she had heard anything or not. Her terror while she had been flying down had deprived of her all power of hearing, of discriminating sounds, of understanding.
But then the month of March arrived . . . the spring sunshine was more kindly. . . . Our ice-hill turned dark, lost its brilliance and finally melted. We gave up tobogganing. There was nowhere now where poor Nadenka could hear those words, and indeed no one to utter them, since there was no wind and I was going to Petersburg – for long, perhaps for ever.
It happened two days before my departure I was sitting in the dusk in the little garden which was separated from the yard of Nadenka’s house by a high fence with nails in it. . . . It was still pretty cold, there was still snow by the manure heap, the trees looked dead but there was already the scent of spring and the rooks were cawing loudly as they settled for their night’s rest. I went up to the fence and stood for a long while peeping through a chink. I saw Nadenka come out into the porch and fix a mournful yearning gaze on the sky. . . . The spring wind was blowing straight into her pale dejected face. . . . It reminded her of the wind which roared at us on the ice-hill when she heard those four words, and her face became very, very sorrowful, a tear trickled down her cheek, and the poor child held out both arms as though begging the wind to bring her those words once more. And waiting for the wind I said in a low voice:
"I love you, Nadya!"
Mercy! The change that came over Nadenka! She uttered a cry, smiled all over her face and looking joyful, happy and beautiful, held out her arms to meet the wind.
And I went off to pack up. . . .
That was long ago. Now Nadenka is married; she married – whether of her own choice or not does not matter – a secretary of the Nobility Wardenship and now she has three children. That we once went tobogganing together, and that the wind brought her the words "I love you, Nadenka," is not forgotten; it is for her now the happiest, most touching, and beautiful memory in her life. . . .
But now that I am older I cannot understand why I uttered those words, what was my motive in that joke. . . .



It was eight o’clock in the morning—the time when the officers, the local officials, and the visitors usually took their morning dip in the sea after the hot, stifling night, and then went into the pavilion to drink tea or coffee. Ivan Andreitch Laevsky, a thin, fair young man of twenty-eight, wearing the cap of a clerk in the Ministry of Finance and with slippers on his feet, coming down to bathe, found a number of acquaintances on the beach, and among them his friend Samoylenko, the army doctor.
With his big cropped head, short neck, his red face, his big nose, his shaggy black eyebrows and grey whiskers, his stout puffy figure and his hoarse military bass, this Samoylenko made on every newcomer the unpleasant impression of a gruff bully; but two or three days after making his acquaintance, one began to think his face extraordinarily good-natured, kind, and even handsome. In spite of his clumsiness and rough manner, he was a peaceable man, of infinite kindliness and goodness of heart, always ready to be of use. He was on familiar terms with every one in the town, lent every one money, doctored every one, made matches, patched up quarrels, arranged picnics at which he cooked shashlik and an awfully good soup of grey mullets. He was always looking after other people’s affairs and trying to interest some one on their behalf, and was always delighted about something. The general opinion about him was that he was without faults of character. He had only two weaknesses: he was ashamed of his own good nature, and tried to disguise it by a surly expression and an assumed gruffness; and he liked his assistants and his soldiers to call him “Your Excellency,” although he was only a civil councillor.
“Answer one question for me, Alexandr Daviditch,” Laevsky began, when both he and Samoylenko were in the water up to their shoulders. “Suppose you had loved a woman and had been living with her for two or three years, and then left off caring for her, as one does, and began to feel that you had nothing in common with her. How would you behave in that case?”
“It’s very simple. ‘You go where you please, madam’—and that would be the end of it.”
“It’s easy to say that! But if she has nowhere to go? A woman with no friends or relations, without a farthing, who can’t work . . .”
“Well? Five hundred roubles down or an allowance of twenty-five roubles a month—and nothing more. It’s very simple.”
“Even supposing you have five hundred roubles and can pay twenty-five roubles a month, the woman I am speaking of is an educated woman and proud. Could you really bring yourself to offer her money? And how would you do it?”
Samoylenko was going to answer, but at that moment a big wave covered them both, then broke on the beach and rolled back noisily over the shingle. The friends got out and began dressing.
“Of course, it is difficult to live with a woman if you don’t love her,” said Samoylenko, shaking the sand out of his boots. “But one must look at the thing humanely, Vanya. If it were my case, I should never show a sign that I did not love her, and I should go on living with her till I died.”
He was at once ashamed of his own words; he pulled himself up and said:
“But for aught I care, there might be no females at all. Let them all go to the devil!”
The friends dressed and went into the pavilion. There Samoylenko was quite at home, and even had a special cup and saucer. Every morning they brought him on a tray a cup of coffee, a tall cut glass of iced water, and a tiny glass of brandy. He would first drink the brandy, then the hot coffee, then the iced water, and this must have been very nice, for after drinking it his eyes looked moist with pleasure, he would stroke his whiskers with both hands, and say, looking at the sea:
“A wonderfully magnificent view!”
After a long night spent in cheerless, unprofitable thoughts which prevented him from sleeping, and seemed to intensify the darkness and sultriness of the night, Laevsky felt listless and shattered. He felt no better for the bathe and the coffee.
“Let us go on with our talk, Alexandr Daviditch,” he said. “I won’t make a secret of it; I’ll speak to you openly as to a friend. Things are in a bad way with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and me . . . a very bad way! Forgive me for forcing my private affairs upon you, but I must speak out.”
Samoylenko, who had a misgiving of what he was going to speak about, dropped his eyes and drummed with his fingers on the table.
“I’ve lived with her for two years and have ceased to love her,” Laevsky went on; “or, rather, I realised that I never had felt any love for her. . . . These two years have been a mistake.”
It was Laevsky’s habit as he talked to gaze attentively at the pink palms of his hands, to bite his nails, or to pinch his cuffs. And he did so now.
“I know very well you can’t help me,” he said. “But I tell you, because unsuccessful and superfluous people like me find their salvation in talking. I have to generalise about everything I do. I’m bound to look for an explanation and justification of my absurd existence in somebody else’s theories, in literary types—in the idea that we, upper-class Russians, are degenerating, for instance, and so on. Last night, for example, I comforted myself by thinking all the time: ‘Ah, how true Tolstoy is, how mercilessly true!’ And that did me good. Yes, really, brother, he is a great writer, say what you like!”
Samoylenko, who had never read Tolstoy and was intending to do so every day of his life, was a little embarrassed, and said:
“Yes, all other authors write from imagination, but he writes straight from nature.”
“My God!” sighed Laevsky; “how distorted we all are by civilisation! I fell in love with a married woman and she with me. . . . To begin with, we had kisses, and calm evenings, and vows, and Spencer, and ideals, and interests in common. . . . What a deception! We really ran away from her husband, but we lied to ourselves and made out that we ran away from the emptiness of the life of the educated class. We pictured our future like this: to begin with, in the Caucasus, while we were getting to know the people and the place, I would put on the Government uniform and enter the service; then at our leisure we would pick out a plot of ground, would toil in the sweat of our brow, would have a vineyard and a field, and so on. If you were in my place, or that zoologist of yours, Von Koren, you might live with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna for thirty years, perhaps, and might leave your heirs a rich vineyard and three thousand acres of maize; but I felt like a bankrupt from the first day. In the town you have insufferable heat, boredom, and no society; if you go out into the country, you fancy poisonous spiders, scorpions, or snakes lurking under every stone and behind every bush, and beyond the fields—mountains and the desert. Alien people, an alien country, a wretched form of civilisation—all that is not so easy, brother, as walking on the Nevsky Prospect in one’s fur coat, arm-in-arm with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, dreaming of the sunny South. What is needed here is a life and death struggle, and I’m not a fighting man. A wretched neurasthenic, an idle gentleman . . . . From the first day I knew that my dreams of a life of labour and of a vineyard were worthless. As for love, I ought to tell you that living with a woman who has read Spencer and has followed you to the ends of the earth is no more interesting than living with any Anfissa or Akulina. There’s the same smell of ironing, of powder, and of medicines, the same curl-papers every morning, the same self-deception.”
“You can’t get on in the house without an iron,” said Samoylenko, blushing at Laevsky’s speaking to him so openly of a lady he knew. “You are out of humour to-day, Vanya, I notice. Nadyezhda Fyodorovna is a splendid woman, highly educated, and you are a man of the highest intellect. Of course, you are not married,” Samoylenko went on, glancing round at the adjacent tables, “but that’s not your fault; and besides . . . one ought to be above conventional prejudices and rise to the level of modern ideas. I believe in free love myself, yes. . . . But to my thinking, once you have settled together, you ought to go on living together all your life.”
“Without love?”
“I will tell you directly,” said Samoylenko. “Eight years ago there was an old fellow, an agent, here—a man of very great intelligence. Well, he used to say that the great thing in married life was patience. Do you hear, Vanya? Not love, but patience. Love cannot last long. You have lived two years in love, and now evidently your married life has reached the period when, in order to preserve equilibrium, so to speak, you ought to exercise all your patience. . . .”
“You believe in your old agent; to me his words are meaningless. Your old man could be a hypocrite; he could exercise himself in the virtue of patience, and, as he did so, look upon a person he did not love as an object indispensable for his moral exercises; but I have not yet fallen so low. If I want to exercise myself in patience, I will buy dumb-bells or a frisky horse, but I’ll leave human beings alone.”
Samoylenko asked for some white wine with ice. When they had drunk a glass each, Laevsky suddenly asked:
“Tell me, please, what is the meaning of softening of the brain?”
“How can I explain it to you? . . . It’s a disease in which the brain becomes softer . . . as it were, dissolves.”
“Is it curable?”
“Yes, if the disease is not neglected. Cold douches, blisters. . . . Something internal, too.”
“Oh! . . . Well, you see my position; I can’t live with her: it is more than I can do. While I’m with you I can be philosophical about it and smile, but at home I lose heart completely; I am so utterly miserable, that if I were told, for instance, that I should have to live another month with her, I should blow out my brains. At the same time, parting with her is out of the question. She has no friends or relations; she cannot work, and neither she nor I have any money. . . . What could become of her? To whom could she go? There is nothing one can think of. . . . Come, tell me, what am I to do?”
“H’m! . . .” growled Samoylenko, not knowing what to answer. “Does she love you?”
“Yes, she loves me in so far as at her age and with her temperament she wants a man. It would be as difficult for her to do without me as to do without her powder or her curl-papers. I am for her an indispensable, integral part of her boudoir.”
Samoylenko was embarrassed.
“You are out of humour to-day, Vanya,” he said. “You must have had a bad night.”
“Yes, I slept badly. . . . Altogether, I feel horribly out of sorts, brother. My head feels empty; there’s a sinking at my heart, a weakness. . . . I must run away.”
“Run where?”
“There, to the North. To the pines and the mushrooms, to people and ideas. . . . I’d give half my life to bathe now in some little stream in the province of Moscow or Tula; to feel chilly, you know, and then to stroll for three hours even with the feeblest student, and to talk and talk endlessly. . . . And the scent of the hay! Do you remember it? And in the evening, when one walks in the garden, sounds of the piano float from the house; one hears the train passing. . . .”
Laevsky laughed with pleasure; tears came into his eyes, and to cover them, without getting up, he stretched across the next table for the matches.
“I have not been in Russia for eighteen years,” said Samoylenko. “I’ve forgotten what it is like. To my mind, there is not a country more splendid than the Caucasus.”
“Vereshtchagin has a picture in which some men condemned to death are languishing at the bottom of a very deep well. Your magnificent Caucasus strikes me as just like that well. If I were offered the choice of a chimney-sweep in Petersburg or a prince in the Caucasus, I should choose the job of chimney-sweep.”
Laevsky grew pensive. Looking at his stooping figure, at his eyes fixed dreamily at one spot, at his pale, perspiring face and sunken temples, at his bitten nails, at the slipper which had dropped off his heel, displaying a badly darned sock, Samoylenko was moved to pity, and probably because Laevsky reminded him of a helpless child, he asked:
“Is your mother living?”
“Yes, but we are on bad terms. She could not forgive me for this affair.”
Samoylenko was fond of his friend. He looked upon Laevsky as a good-natured fellow, a student, a man with no nonsense about him, with whom one could drink, and laugh, and talk without reserve. What he understood in him he disliked extremely. Laevsky drank a great deal and at unsuitable times; he played cards, despised his work, lived beyond his means, frequently made use of unseemly expressions in conversation, walked about the streets in his slippers, and quarrelled with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna before other people—and Samoylenko did not like this. But the fact that Laevsky had once been a student in the Faculty of Arts, subscribed to two fat reviews, often talked so cleverly that only a few people understood him, was living with a well-educated woman—all this Samoylenko did not understand, and he liked this and respected Laevsky, thinking him superior to himself.
“There is another point,” said Laevsky, shaking his head. “Only it is between ourselves. I’m concealing it from Nadyezhda Fyodorovna for the time. . . . Don’t let it out before her. . . . I got a letter the day before yesterday, telling me that her husband has died from softening of the brain.”
“The Kingdom of Heaven be his!” sighed Samoylenko. “Why are you concealing it from her?”
“To show her that letter would be equivalent to ‘Come to church to be married.’ And we should first have to make our relations clear. When she understands that we can’t go on living together, I will show her the letter. Then there will be no danger in it.”
“Do you know what, Vanya,” said Samoylenko, and a sad and imploring expression came into his face, as though he were going to ask him about something very touching and were afraid of being refused. “Marry her, my dear boy!”
“Do your duty to that splendid woman! Her husband is dead, and so Providence itself shows you what to do!”
“But do understand, you queer fellow, that it is impossible. To marry without love is as base and unworthy of a man as to perform mass without believing in it.”
“But it’s your duty to.”
“Why is it my duty?” Laevsky asked irritably.
“Because you took her away from her husband and made yourself responsible for her.”
“But now I tell you in plain Russian, I don’t love her!”
“Well, if you’ve no love, show her proper respect, consider her wishes. . . .”
“‘Show her respect, consider her wishes,’” Laevsky mimicked him. “As though she were some Mother Superior! . . . You are a poor psychologist and physiologist if you think that living with a woman one can get off with nothing but respect and consideration. What a woman thinks most of is her bedroom.”
“Vanya, Vanya!” said Samoylenko, overcome with confusion.
“You are an elderly child, a theorist, while I am an old man in spite of my years, and practical, and we shall never understand one another. We had better drop this conversation. Mustapha!” Laevsky shouted to the waiter. “What’s our bill?”
“No, no . . .” the doctor cried in dismay, clutching Laevsky’s arm. “It is for me to pay. I ordered it. Make it out to me,” he cried to Mustapha.
The friends got up and walked in silence along the sea-front. When they reached the boulevard, they stopped and shook hands at parting.
“You are awfully spoilt, my friend!” Samoylenko sighed. “Fate has sent you a young, beautiful, cultured woman, and you refuse the gift, while if God were to give me a crooked old woman, how pleased I should be if only she were kind and affectionate! I would live with her in my vineyard and . . .”
Samoylenko caught himself up and said:
“And she might get the samovar ready for me there, the old hag.”
After parting with Laevsky he walked along the boulevard. When, bulky and majestic, with a stern expression on his face, he walked along the boulevard in his snow-white tunic and superbly polished boots, squaring his chest, decorated with the Vladimir cross on a ribbon, he was very much pleased with himself, and it seemed as though the whole world were looking at him with pleasure. Without turning his head, he looked to each side and thought that the boulevard was extremely well laid out; that the young cypress-trees, the eucalyptuses, and the ugly, anemic palm-trees were very handsome and would in time give abundant shade; that the Circassians were an honest and hospitable people.
“It’s strange that Laevsky does not like the Caucasus,” he thought, “very strange.”
Five soldiers, carrying rifles, met him and saluted him. On the right side of the boulevard the wife of a local official was walking along the pavement with her son, a schoolboy.
“Good-morning, Marya Konstantinovna,” Samoylenko shouted to her with a pleasant smile. “Have you been to bathe? Ha, ha, ha! . . . My respects to Nikodim Alexandritch!”
And he went on, still smiling pleasantly, but seeing an assistant of the military hospital coming towards him, he suddenly frowned, stopped him, and asked:
“Is there any one in the hospital?”
“No one, Your Excellency.”
“No one, Your Excellency.”
“Very well, run along. . . .”
Swaying majestically, he made for the lemonade stall, where sat a full-bosomed old Jewess, who gave herself out to be a Georgian, and said to her as loudly as though he were giving the word of command to a regiment:
“Be so good as to give me some soda-water!”


Laevsky’s not loving Nadyezhda Fyodorovna showed itself chiefly in the fact that everything she said or did seemed to him a lie, or equivalent to a lie, and everything he read against women and love seemed to him to apply perfectly to himself, to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and her husband. When he returned home, she was sitting at the window, dressed and with her hair done, and with a preoccupied face was drinking coffee and turning over the leaves of a fat magazine; and he thought the drinking of coffee was not such a remarkable event that she need put on a preoccupied expression over it, and that she had been wasting her time doing her hair in a fashionable style, as there was no one here to attract and no need to be attractive. And in the magazine he saw nothing but falsity. He thought she had dressed and done her hair so as to look handsomer, and was reading in order to seem clever.
“Will it be all right for me to go to bathe to-day?” she said.
“Why? There won’t be an earthquake whether you go or not, I suppose . . . .”
“No, I only ask in case the doctor should be vexed.”
“Well, ask the doctor, then; I’m not a doctor.”
On this occasion what displeased Laevsky most in Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was her white open neck and the little curls at the back of her head. And he remembered that when Anna Karenin got tired of her husband, what she disliked most of all was his ears, and thought: “How true it is, how true!”
Feeling weak and as though his head were perfectly empty, he went into his study, lay down on his sofa, and covered his face with a handkerchief that he might not be bothered by the flies. Despondent and oppressive thoughts always about the same thing trailed slowly across his brain like a long string of waggons on a gloomy autumn evening, and he sank into a state of drowsy oppression. It seemed to him that he had wronged Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and her husband, and that it was through his fault that her husband had died. It seemed to him that he had sinned against his own life, which he had ruined, against the world of lofty ideas, of learning, and of work, and he conceived that wonderful world as real and possible, not on this sea-front with hungry Turks and lazy mountaineers sauntering upon it, but there in the North, where there were operas, theatres, newspapers, and all kinds of intellectual activity. One could only there—not here—be honest, intelligent, lofty, and pure. He accused himself of having no ideal, no guiding principle in life, though he had a dim understanding now what it meant. Two years before, when he fell in love with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, it seemed to him that he had only to go with her as his wife to the Caucasus, and he would be saved from vulgarity and emptiness; in the same way now, he was convinced that he had only to part from Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and to go to Petersburg, and he would get everything he wanted.
“Run away,” he muttered to himself, sitting up and biting his nails. “Run away!”
He pictured in his imagination how he would go aboard the steamer and then would have some lunch, would drink some cold beer, would talk on deck with ladies, then would get into the train at Sevastopol and set off. Hurrah for freedom! One station after another would flash by, the air would keep growing colder and keener, then the birches and the fir-trees, then Kursk, Moscow. . . . In the restaurants cabbage soup, mutton with kasha, sturgeon, beer, no more Asiaticism, but Russia, real Russia. The passengers in the train would talk about trade, new singers, the Franco-Russian entente; on all sides there would be the feeling of keen, cultured, intellectual, eager life. . . . Hasten on, on! At last Nevsky Prospect, and Great Morskaya Street, and then Kovensky Place, where he used to live at one time when he was a student, the dear grey sky, the drizzling rain, the drenched cabmen. . . .
“Ivan Andreitch!” some one called from the next room. “Are you at home?”
“I’m here,” Laevsky responded. “What do you want?”
Laevsky got up languidly, feeling giddy, walked into the other room, yawning and shuffling with his slippers. There, at the open window that looked into the street, stood one of his young fellow-clerks, laying out some government documents on the window-sill.
“One minute, my dear fellow,” Laevsky said softly, and he went to look for the ink; returning to the window, he signed the papers without looking at them, and said: “It’s hot!”
“Yes. Are you coming to-day?”
“I don’t think so. . . . I’m not quite well. Tell Sheshkovsky that I will come and see him after dinner.”
The clerk went away. Laevsky lay down on his sofa again and began thinking:
“And so I must weigh all the circumstances and reflect on them. Before I go away from here I ought to pay up my debts. I owe about two thousand roubles. I have no money. . . . Of course, that’s not important; I shall pay part now, somehow, and I shall send the rest, later, from Petersburg. The chief point is Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. . . . First of all we must define our relations. . . . Yes.”
A little later he was considering whether it would not be better to go to Samoylenko for advice.
“I might go,” he thought, “but what use would there be in it? I shall only say something inappropriate about boudoirs, about women, about what is honest or dishonest. What’s the use of talking about what is honest or dishonest, if I must make haste to save my life, if I am suffocating in this cursed slavery and am killing myself? . . . One must realise at last that to go on leading the life I do is something so base and so cruel that everything else seems petty and trivial beside it. To run away,” he muttered, sitting down, “to run away.”
The deserted seashore, the insatiable heat, and the monotony of the smoky lilac mountains, ever the same and silent, everlastingly solitary, overwhelmed him with depression, and, as it were, made him drowsy and sapped his energy. He was perhaps very clever, talented, remarkably honest; perhaps if the sea and the mountains had not closed him in on all sides, he might have become an excellent Zemstvo leader, a statesman, an orator, a political writer, a saint. Who knows? If so, was it not stupid to argue whether it were honest or dishonest when a gifted and useful man—an artist or musician, for instance—to escape from prison, breaks a wall and deceives his jailers? Anything is honest when a man is in such a position.
At two o’clock Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna sat down to dinner. When the cook gave them rice and tomato soup, Laevsky said:
“The same thing every day. Why not have cabbage soup?”
“There are no cabbages.”
“It’s strange. Samoylenko has cabbage soup and Marya Konstantinovna has cabbage soup, and only I am obliged to eat this mawkish mess. We can’t go on like this, darling.”
As is common with the vast majority of husbands and wives, not a single dinner had in earlier days passed without scenes and fault-finding between Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and Laevsky; but ever since Laevsky had made up his mind that he did not love her, he had tried to give way to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna in everything, spoke to her gently and politely, smiled, and called her “darling.”
“This soup tastes like liquorice,” he said, smiling; he made an effort to control himself and seem amiable, but could not refrain from saying: “Nobody looks after the housekeeping. . . . If you are too ill or busy with reading, let me look after the cooking.”
In earlier days she would have said to him, “Do by all means,” or, “I see you want to turn me into a cook”; but now she only looked at him timidly and flushed crimson.
“Well, how do you feel to-day?” he asked kindly.
“I am all right to-day. There is nothing but a little weakness.”
“You must take care of yourself, darling. I am awfully anxious about you.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was ill in some way. Samoylenko said she had intermittent fever, and gave her quinine; the other doctor, Ustimovitch, a tall, lean, unsociable man, who used to sit at home in the daytime, and in the evenings walk slowly up and down on the sea-front coughing, with his hands folded behind him and a cane stretched along his back, was of opinion that she had a female complaint, and prescribed warm compresses. In old days, when Laevsky loved her, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s illness had excited his pity and terror; now he saw falsity even in her illness. Her yellow, sleepy face, her lustreless eyes, her apathetic expression, and the yawning that always followed her attacks of fever, and the fact that during them she lay under a shawl and looked more like a boy than a woman, and that it was close and stuffy in her room—all this, in his opinion, destroyed the illusion and was an argument against love and marriage.
The next dish given him was spinach with hard-boiled eggs, while Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, as an invalid, had jelly and milk. When with a preoccupied face she touched the jelly with a spoon and then began languidly eating it, sipping milk, and he heard her swallowing, he was possessed by such an overwhelming aversion that it made his head tingle. He recognised that such a feeling would be an insult even to a dog, but he was angry, not with himself but with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, for arousing such a feeling, and he understood why lovers sometimes murder their mistresses. He would not murder her, of course, but if he had been on a jury now, he would have acquitted the murderer.
“Merci, darling,” he said after dinner, and kissed Nadyezhda Fyodorovna on the forehead.
Going back into his study, he spent five minutes in walking to and fro, looking at his boots; then he sat down on his sofa and muttered:
“Run away, run away! We must define the position and run away!”
He lay down on the sofa and recalled again that Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s husband had died, perhaps, by his fault.
“To blame a man for loving a woman, or ceasing to love a woman, is stupid,” he persuaded himself, lying down and raising his legs in order to put on his high boots. “Love and hatred are not under our control. As for her husband, maybe I was in an indirect way one of the causes of his death; but again, is it my fault that I fell in love with his wife and she with me?”
Then he got up, and finding his cap, set off to the lodgings of his colleague, Sheshkovsky, where the Government clerks met every day to play vint and drink beer.
“My indecision reminds me of Hamlet,” thought Laevsky on the way. “How truly Shakespeare describes it! Ah, how truly!”


For the sake of sociability and from sympathy for the hard plight of newcomers without families, who, as there was not an hotel in the town, had nowhere to dine, Dr. Samoylenko kept a sort of table d’hôte. At this time there were only two men who habitually dined with him: a young zoologist called Von Koren, who had come for the summer to the Black Sea to study the embryology of the medusa, and a deacon called Pobyedov, who had only just left the seminary and been sent to the town to take the duty of the old deacon who had gone away for a cure. Each of them paid twelve roubles a month for their dinner and supper, and Samoylenko made them promise to turn up at two o’clock punctually.
Von Koren was usually the first to appear. He sat down in the drawing-room in silence, and taking an album from the table, began attentively scrutinising the faded photographs of unknown men in full trousers and top-hats, and ladies in crinolines and caps. Samoylenko only remembered a few of them by name, and of those whom he had forgotten he said with a sigh: “A very fine fellow, remarkably intelligent!” When he had finished with the album, Von Koren took a pistol from the whatnot, and screwing up his left eye, took deliberate aim at the portrait of Prince Vorontsov, or stood still at the looking-glass and gazed a long time at his swarthy face, his big forehead, and his black hair, which curled like a negro’s, and his shirt of dull-coloured cotton with big flowers on it like a Persian rug, and the broad leather belt he wore instead of a waistcoat. The contemplation of his own image seemed to afford him almost more satisfaction than looking at photographs or playing with the pistols. He was very well satisfied with his face, and his becomingly clipped beard, and the broad shoulders, which were unmistakable evidence of his excellent health and physical strength. He was satisfied, too, with his stylish get-up, from the cravat, which matched the colour of his shirt, down to his brown boots.
While he was looking at the album and standing before the glass, at that moment, in the kitchen and in the passage near, Samoylenko, without his coat and waistcoat, with his neck bare, excited and bathed in perspiration, was bustling about the tables, mixing the salad, or making some sauce, or preparing meat, cucumbers, and onion for the cold soup, while he glared fiercely at the orderly who was helping him, and brandished first a knife and then a spoon at him.
“Give me the vinegar!” he said. “That’s not the vinegar—it’s the salad oil!” he shouted, stamping. “Where are you off to, you brute?”
“To get the butter, Your Excellency,” answered the flustered orderly in a cracked voice.
“Make haste; it’s in the cupboard! And tell Daria to put some fennel in the jar with the cucumbers! Fennel! Cover the cream up, gaping laggard, or the flies will get into it!”
And the whole house seemed resounding with his shouts. When it was ten or fifteen minutes to two the deacon would come in; he was a lanky young man of twenty-two, with long hair, with no beard and a hardly perceptible moustache. Going into the drawing-room, he crossed himself before the ikon, smiled, and held out his hand to Von Koren.
“Good-morning,” the zoologist said coldly. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been catching sea-gudgeon in the harbour.”
“Oh, of course. . . . Evidently, deacon, you will never be busy with work.”
“Why not? Work is not like a bear; it doesn’t run off into the woods,” said the deacon, smiling and thrusting his hands into the very deep pockets of his white cassock.
“There’s no one to whip you!” sighed the zoologist.
Another fifteen or twenty minutes passed and they were not called to dinner, and they could still hear the orderly running into the kitchen and back again, noisily treading with his boots, and Samoylenko shouting:
“Put it on the table! Where are your wits? Wash it first.”
The famished deacon and Von Koren began tapping on the floor with their heels, expressing in this way their impatience like the audience at a theatre. At last the door opened and the harassed orderly announced that dinner was ready! In the dining-room they were met by Samoylenko, crimson in the face, wrathful, perspiring from the heat of the kitchen; he looked at them furiously, and with an expression of horror, took the lid off the soup tureen and helped each of them to a plateful; and only when he was convinced that they were eating it with relish and liked it, he gave a sigh of relief and settled himself in his deep arm-chair. His face looked blissful and his eyes grew moist. . . . He deliberately poured himself out a glass of vodka and said:
“To the health of the younger generation.”
After his conversation with Laevsky, from early morning till dinner Samoylenko had been conscious of a load at his heart, although he was in the best of humours; he felt sorry for Laevsky and wanted to help him. After drinking a glass of vodka before the soup, he heaved a sigh and said:
“I saw Vanya Laevsky to-day. He is having a hard time of it, poor fellow! The material side of life is not encouraging for him, and the worst of it is all this psychology is too much for him. I’m sorry for the lad.”
“Well, that is a person I am not sorry for,” said Von Koren. “If that charming individual were drowning, I would push him under with a stick and say, ‘Drown, brother, drown away.’ . . .”
“That’s untrue. You wouldn’t do it.”
“Why do you think that?” The zoologist shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just as capable of a good action as you are.”
“Is drowning a man a good action?” asked the deacon, and he laughed.
“Laevsky? Yes.”
“I think there is something amiss with the soup . . .” said Samoylenko, anxious to change the conversation.
“Laevsky is absolutely pernicious and is as dangerous to society as the cholera microbe,” Von Koren went on. “To drown him would be a service.”
“It does not do you credit to talk like that about your neighbour. Tell us: what do you hate him for?”
“Don’t talk nonsense, doctor. To hate and despise a microbe is stupid, but to look upon everybody one meets without distinction as one’s neighbour, whatever happens—thanks very much, that is equivalent to giving up criticism, renouncing a straightforward attitude to people, washing one’s hands of responsibility, in fact! I consider your Laevsky a blackguard; I do not conceal it, and I am perfectly conscientious in treating him as such. Well, you look upon him as your neighbour—and you may kiss him if you like: you look upon him as your neighbour, and that means that your attitude to him is the same as to me and to the deacon; that is no attitude at all. You are equally indifferent to all.”
“To call a man a blackguard!” muttered Samoylenko, frowning with distaste—“that is so wrong that I can’t find words for it!”
“People are judged by their actions,” Von Koren continued. “Now you decide, deacon. . . . I am going to talk to you, deacon. Mr. Laevsky’s career lies open before you, like a long Chinese puzzle, and you can read it from beginning to end. What has he been doing these two years that he has been living here? We will reckon his doings on our fingers. First, he has taught the inhabitants of the town to play vint: two years ago that game was unknown here; now they all play it from morning till late at night, even the women and the boys. Secondly, he has taught the residents to drink beer, which was not known here either; the inhabitants are indebted to him for the knowledge of various sorts of spirits, so that now they can distinguish Kospelov’s vodka from Smirnov’s No. 21, blindfold. Thirdly, in former days, people here made love to other men’s wives in secret, from the same motives as thieves steal in secret and not openly; adultery was considered something they were ashamed to make a public display of. Laevsky has come as a pioneer in that line; he lives with another man’s wife openly. . . . Fourthly . . .”
Von Koren hurriedly ate up his soup and gave his plate to the orderly.
“I understood Laevsky from the first month of our acquaintance,” he went on, addressing the deacon. “We arrived here at the same time. Men like him are very fond of friendship, intimacy, solidarity, and all the rest of it, because they always want company for vint, drinking, and eating; besides, they are talkative and must have listeners. We made friends—that is, he turned up every day, hindered me working, and indulged in confidences in regard to his mistress. From the first he struck me by his exceptional falsity, which simply made me sick. As a friend I pitched into him, asking him why he drank too much, why he lived beyond his means and got into debt, why he did nothing and read nothing, why he had so little culture and so little knowledge; and in answer to all my questions he used to smile bitterly, sigh, and say: ‘I am a failure, a superfluous man’; or: ‘What do you expect, my dear fellow, from us, the debris of the serf-owning class?’ or: ‘We are degenerate. . . .’ Or he would begin a long rigmarole about Onyegin, Petchorin, Byron’s Cain, and Bazarov, of whom he would say: ‘They are our fathers in flesh and in spirit.’ So we are to understand that it was not his fault that Government envelopes lay unopened in his office for weeks together, and that he drank and taught others to drink, but Onyegin, Petchorin, and Turgenev, who had invented the failure and the superfluous man, were responsible for it. The cause of his extreme dissoluteness and unseemliness lies, do you see, not in himself, but somewhere outside in space. And so—an ingenious idea!—it is not only he who is dissolute, false, and disgusting, but we . . . ‘we men of the eighties,’ ‘we the spiritless, nervous offspring of the serf-owning class’; ‘civilisation has crippled us’ . . . in fact, we are to understand that such a great man as Laevsky is great even in his fall: that his dissoluteness, his lack of culture and of moral purity, is a phenomenon of natural history, sanctified by inevitability; that the causes of it are world-wide, elemental; and that we ought to hang up a lamp before Laevsky, since he is the fated victim of the age, of influences, of heredity, and so on. All the officials and their ladies were in ecstasies when they listened to him, and I could not make out for a long time what sort of man I had to deal with, a cynic or a clever rogue. Such types as he, on the surface intellectual with a smattering of education and a great deal of talk about their own nobility, are very clever in posing as exceptionally complex natures.”
“Hold your tongue!” Samoylenko flared up. “I will not allow a splendid fellow to be spoken ill of in my presence!”
“Don’t interrupt, Alexandr Daviditch,” said Von Koren coldly; “I am just finishing. Laevsky is by no means a complex organism. Here is his moral skeleton: in the morning, slippers, a bathe, and coffee; then till dinner-time, slippers, a constitutional, and conversation; at two o’clock slippers, dinner, and wine; at five o’clock a bathe, tea and wine, then vint and lying; at ten o’clock supper and wine; and after midnight sleep and la femme. His existence is confined within this narrow programme like an egg within its shell. Whether he walks or sits, is angry, writes, rejoices, it may all be reduced to wine, cards, slippers, and women. Woman plays a fatal, overwhelming part in his life. He tells us himself that at thirteen he was in love; that when he was a student in his first year he was living with a lady who had a good influence over him, and to whom he was indebted for his musical education. In his second year he bought a prostitute from a brothel and raised her to his level—that is, took her as his kept mistress, and she lived with him for six months and then ran away back to the brothel-keeper, and her flight caused him much spiritual suffering. Alas! his sufferings were so great that he had to leave the university and spend two years at home doing nothing. But this was all for the best. At home he made friends with a widow who advised him to leave the Faculty of Jurisprudence and go into the Faculty of Arts. And so he did. When he had taken his degree, he fell passionately in love with his present . . . what’s her name? . . . married lady, and was obliged to flee with her here to the Caucasus for the sake of his ideals, he would have us believe, seeing that . . . to-morrow, if not to-day, he will be tired of her and flee back again to Petersburg, and that, too, will be for the sake of his ideals.”
“How do you know?” growled Samoylenko, looking angrily at the zoologist. “You had better eat your dinner.”
The next course consisted of boiled mullet with Polish sauce. Samoylenko helped each of his companions to a whole mullet and poured out the sauce with his own hand. Two minutes passed in silence.
“Woman plays an essential part in the life of every man,” said the deacon. “You can’t help that.”
“Yes, but to what degree? For each of us woman means mother, sister, wife, friend. To Laevsky she is everything, and at the same time nothing but a mistress. She—that is, cohabitation with her— is the happiness and object of his life; he is gay, sad, bored, disenchanted—on account of woman; his life grows disagreeable —woman is to blame; the dawn of a new life begins to glow, ideals turn up—and again look for the woman. . . . He only derives enjoyment from books and pictures in which there is woman. Our age is, to his thinking, poor and inferior to the forties and the sixties only because we do not know how to abandon ourselves obviously to the passion and ecstasy of love. These voluptuaries must have in their brains a special growth of the nature of sarcoma, which stifles the brain and directs their whole psychology. Watch Laevsky when he is sitting anywhere in company. You notice: when one raises any general question in his presence, for instance, about the cell or instinct, he sits apart, and neither speaks nor listens; he looks languid and disillusioned; nothing has any interest for him, everything is vulgar and trivial. But as soon as you speak of male and female—for instance, of the fact that the female spider, after fertilisation, devours the male—his eyes glow with curiosity, his face brightens, and the man revives, in fact. All his thoughts, however noble, lofty, or neutral they may be, they all have one point of resemblance. You walk along the street with him and meet a donkey, for instance. . . . ‘Tell me, please,’ he asks, ‘what would happen if you mated a donkey with a camel?’ And his dreams! Has he told you of his dreams? It is magnificent! First, he dreams that he is married to the moon, then that he is summoned before the police and ordered to live with a guitar . . .”
The deacon burst into resounding laughter; Samoylenko frowned and wrinkled up his face angrily so as not to laugh, but could not restrain himself, and laughed.
“And it’s all nonsense!” he said, wiping his tears. “Yes, by Jove, it’s nonsense!”


The deacon was very easily amused, and laughed at every trifle till he got a stitch in his side, till he was helpless. It seemed as though he only liked to be in people’s company because there was a ridiculous side to them, and because they might be given ridiculous nicknames. He had nicknamed Samoylenko “the tarantula,” his orderly “the drake,” and was in ecstasies when on one occasion Von Koren spoke of Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna as “Japanese monkeys.” He watched people’s faces greedily, listened without blinking, and it could be seen that his eyes filled with laughter and his face was tense with expectation of the moment when he could let himself go and burst into laughter.
“He is a corrupt and depraved type,” the zoologist continued, while the deacon kept his eyes riveted on his face, expecting he would say something funny. “It is not often one can meet with such a nonentity. In body he is inert, feeble, prematurely old, while in intellect he differs in no respect from a fat shopkeeper’s wife who does nothing but eat, drink, and sleep on a feather-bed, and who keeps her coachman as a lover.”
The deacon began guffawing again.
“Don’t laugh, deacon,” said Von Koren. “It grows stupid, at last. I should not have paid attention to his insignificance,” he went on, after waiting till the deacon had left off laughing; “I should have passed him by if he were not so noxious and dangerous. His noxiousness lies first of all in the fact that he has great success with women, and so threatens to leave descendants—that is, to present the world with a dozen Laevskys as feeble and as depraved as himself. Secondly, he is in the highest degree contaminating. I have spoken to you already of vint and beer. In another year or two he will dominate the whole Caucasian coast. You know how the mass, especially its middle stratum, believe in intellectuality, in a university education, in gentlemanly manners, and in literary language. Whatever filthy thing he did, they would all believe that it was as it should be, since he is an intellectual man, of liberal ideas and university education. What is more, he is a failure, a superfluous man, a neurasthenic, a victim of the age, and that means he can do anything. He is a charming fellow, a regular good sort, he is so genuinely indulgent to human weaknesses; he is compliant, accommodating, easy and not proud; one can drink with him and gossip and talk evil of people. . . . The masses, always inclined to anthropomorphism in religion and morals, like best of all the little gods who have the same weaknesses as themselves. Only think what a wide field he has for contamination! Besides, he is not a bad actor and is a clever hypocrite, and knows very well how to twist things round. Only take his little shifts and dodges, his attitude to civilisation, for instance. He has scarcely sniffed at civilisation, yet: ‘Ah, how we have been crippled by civilisation! Ah, how I envy those savages, those children of nature, who know nothing of civilisation!’ We are to understand, you see, that at one time, in ancient days, he has been devoted to civilisation with his whole soul, has served it, has sounded it to its depths, but it has exhausted him, disillusioned him, deceived him; he is a Faust, do you see?—a second Tolstoy. . . . As for Schopenhauer and Spencer, he treats them like small boys and slaps them on the shoulder in a fatherly way: ‘Well, what do you say, old Spencer?’ He has not read Spencer, of course, but how charming he is when with light, careless irony he says of his lady friend: ‘She has read Spencer!’ And they all listen to him, and no one cares to understand that this charlatan has not the right to kiss the sole of Spencer’s foot, let alone speaking about him in that tone! Sapping the foundations of civilisation, of authority, of other people’s altars, spattering them with filth, winking jocosely at them only to justify and conceal one’s own rottenness and moral poverty is only possible for a very vain, base, and nasty creature.”
“I don’t know what it is you expect of him, Kolya,” said Samoylenko, looking at the zoologist, not with anger now, but with a guilty air. “He is a man the same as every one else. Of course, he has his weaknesses, but he is abreast of modern ideas, is in the service, is of use to his country. Ten years ago there was an old fellow serving as agent here, a man of the greatest intelligence . . . and he used to say . . .”
“Nonsense, nonsense!” the zoologist interrupted. “You say he is in the service; but how does he serve? Do you mean to tell me that things have been done better because he is here, and the officials are more punctual, honest, and civil? On the contrary, he has only sanctioned their slackness by his prestige as an intellectual university man. He is only punctual on the 20th of the month, when he gets his salary; on the other days he lounges about at home in slippers and tries to look as if he were doing the Government a great service by living in the Caucasus. No, Alexandr Daviditch, don’t stick up for him. You are insincere from beginning to end. If you really loved him and considered him your neighbour, you would above all not be indifferent to his weaknesses, you would not be indulgent to them, but for his own sake would try to make him innocuous.”
“That is?”
“Innocuous. Since he is incorrigible, he can only be made innocuous in one way. . . .” Von Koren passed his finger round his throat. “Or he might be drowned . . .”, he added. “In the interests of humanity and in their own interests, such people ought to be destroyed. They certainly ought.”
“What are you saying?” muttered Samoylenko, getting up and looking with amazement at the zoologist’s calm, cold face. “Deacon, what is he saying? Why—are you in your senses?”
“I don’t insist on the death penalty,” said Von Koren. “If it is proved that it is pernicious, devise something else. If we can’t destroy Laevsky, why then, isolate him, make him harmless, send him to hard labour.”
“What are you saying!” said Samoylenko in horror. “With pepper, with pepper,” he cried in a voice of despair, seeing that the deacon was eating stuffed aubergines without pepper. “You with your great intellect, what are you saying! Send our friend, a proud intellectual man, to penal servitude!”
“Well, if he is proud and tries to resist, put him in fetters!”
Samoylenko could not utter a word, and only twiddled his fingers; the deacon looked at his flabbergasted and really absurd face, and laughed.
“Let us leave off talking of that,” said the zoologist. “Only remember one thing, Alexandr Daviditch: primitive man was preserved from such as Laevsky by the struggle for existence and by natural selection; now our civilisation has considerably weakened the struggle and the selection, and we ought to look after the destruction of the rotten and worthless for ourselves; otherwise, when the Laevskys multiply, civilisation will perish and mankind will degenerate utterly. It will be our fault.”
“If it depends on drowning and hanging,” said Samoylenko, “damnation take your civilisation, damnation take your humanity! Damnation take it! I tell you what: you are a very learned and intelligent man and the pride of your country, but the Germans have ruined you. Yes, the Germans! The Germans!”
Since Samoylenko had left Dorpat, where he had studied medicine, he had rarely seen a German and had not read a single German book, but, in his opinion, every harmful idea in politics or science was due to the Germans. Where he had got this notion he could not have said himself, but he held it firmly.
“Yes, the Germans!” he repeated once more. “Come and have some tea.”
All three stood up, and putting on their hats, went out into the little garden, and sat there under the shade of the light green maples, the pear-trees, and a chestnut-tree. The zoologist and the deacon sat on a bench by the table, while Samoylenko sank into a deep wicker chair with a sloping back. The orderly handed them tea, jam, and a bottle of syrup.
It was very hot, thirty degrees Réaumur in the shade. The sultry air was stagnant and motionless, and a long spider-web, stretching from the chestnut-tree to the ground, hung limply and did not stir.
The deacon took up the guitar, which was constantly lying on the ground near the table, tuned it, and began singing softly in a thin voice:
“‘Gathered round the tavern were the seminary lads,’”
but instantly subsided, overcome by the heat, mopped his brow and glanced upwards at the blazing blue sky. Samoylenko grew drowsy; the sultry heat, the stillness and the delicious after-dinner languor, which quickly pervaded all his limbs, made him feel heavy and sleepy; his arms dropped at his sides, his eyes grew small, his head sank on his breast. He looked with almost tearful tenderness at Von Koren and the deacon, and muttered:
“The younger generation. . . A scientific star and a luminary of the Church. . . . I shouldn’t wonder if the long-skirted alleluia will be shooting up into a bishop; I dare say I may come to kissing his hand. . . . Well . . . please God. . . .”
Soon a snore was heard. Von Koren and the deacon finished their tea and went out into the street.
“Are you going to the harbour again to catch sea-gudgeon?” asked the zoologist.
“No, it’s too hot.”
“Come and see me. You can pack up a parcel and copy something for me. By the way, we must have a talk about what you are to do. You must work, deacon. You can’t go on like this.”
“Your words are just and logical,” said the deacon. “But my laziness finds an excuse in the circumstances of my present life. You know yourself that an uncertain position has a great tendency to make people apathetic. God only knows whether I have been sent here for a time or permanently. I am living here in uncertainty, while my wife is vegetating at her father’s and is missing me. And I must confess my brain is melting with the heat.”
“That’s all nonsense,” said the zoologist. “You can get used to the heat, and you can get used to being without the deaconess. You mustn’t be slack; you must pull yourself together.”


Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went to bathe in the morning, and her cook, Olga, followed her with a jug, a copper basin, towels, and a sponge. In the bay stood two unknown steamers with dirty white funnels, obviously foreign cargo vessels. Some men dressed in white and wearing white shoes were walking along the harbour, shouting loudly in French, and were answered from the steamers. The bells were ringing briskly in the little church of the town.
“To-day is Sunday!” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna remembered with pleasure.
She felt perfectly well, and was in a gay holiday humour. In a new loose-fitting dress of coarse thick tussore silk, and a big wide-brimmed straw hat which was bent down over her ears, so that her face looked out as though from a basket, she fancied she looked very charming. She thought that in the whole town there was only one young, pretty, intellectual woman, and that was herself, and that she was the only one who knew how to dress herself cheaply, elegantly, and with taste. That dress, for example, cost only twenty-two roubles, and yet how charming it was! In the whole town she was the only one who could be attractive, while there were numbers of men, so they must all, whether they would or not, be envious of Laevsky.
She was glad that of late Laevsky had been cold to her, reserved and polite, and at times even harsh and rude; in the past she had met all his outbursts, all his contemptuous, cold or strange incomprehensible glances, with tears, reproaches, and threats to leave him or to starve herself to death; now she only blushed, looked guiltily at him, and was glad he was not affectionate to her. If he had abused her, threatened her, it would have been better and pleasanter, since she felt hopelessly guilty towards him. She felt she was to blame, in the first place, for not sympathising with the dreams of a life of hard work, for the sake of which he had given up Petersburg and had come here to the Caucasus, and she was convinced that he had been angry with her of late for precisely that. When she was travelling to the Caucasus, it seemed that she would find here on the first day a cosy nook by the sea, a snug little garden with shade, with birds, with little brooks, where she could grow flowers and vegetables, rear ducks and hens, entertain her neighbours, doctor poor peasants and distribute little books amongst them. It had turned out that the Caucasus was nothing but bare mountains, forests, and huge valleys, where it took a long time and a great deal of effort to find anything and settle down; that there were no neighbours of any sort; that it was very hot and one might be robbed. Laevsky had been in no hurry to obtain a piece of land; she was glad of it, and they seemed to be in a tacit compact never to allude to a life of hard work. He was silent about it, she thought, because he was angry with her for being silent about it.
In the second place, she had without his knowledge during those two years bought various trifles to the value of three hundred roubles at Atchmianov’s shop. She had bought the things by degrees, at one time materials, at another time silk or a parasol, and the debt had grown imperceptibly.
“I will tell him about it to-day . . .”, she used to decide, but at once reflected that in Laevsky’s present mood it would hardly be convenient to talk to him of debts.
Thirdly, she had on two occasions in Laevsky’s absence received a visit from Kirilin, the police captain: once in the morning when Laevsky had gone to bathe, and another time at midnight when he was playing cards. Remembering this, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna flushed crimson, and looked round at the cook as though she might overhear her thoughts. The long, insufferably hot, wearisome days, beautiful languorous evenings and stifling nights, and the whole manner of living, when from morning to night one is at a loss to fill up the useless hours, and the persistent thought that she was the prettiest young woman in the town, and that her youth was passing and being wasted, and Laevsky himself, though honest and idealistic, always the same, always lounging about in his slippers, biting his nails, and wearying her with his caprices, led by degrees to her becoming possessed by desire, and as though she were mad, she thought of nothing else day and night. Breathing, looking, walking, she felt nothing but desire. The sound of the sea told her she must love; the darkness of evening—the same; the mountains—the same. . . . And when Kirilin began paying her attentions, she had neither the power nor the wish to resist, and surrendered to him. . . .
Now the foreign steamers and the men in white reminded her for some reason of a huge hall; together with the shouts of French she heard the strains of a waltz, and her bosom heaved with unaccountable delight. She longed to dance and talk French.
She reflected joyfully that there was nothing terrible about her infidelity. Her soul had no part in her infidelity; she still loved Laevsky, and that was proved by the fact that she was jealous of him, was sorry for him, and missed him when he was away. Kirilin had turned out to be very mediocre, rather coarse though handsome; everything was broken off with him already and there would never be anything more. What had happened was over; it had nothing to do with any one, and if Laevsky found it out he would not believe in it.
There was only one bathing-house for ladies on the sea-front; men bathed under the open sky. Going into the bathing-house, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna found there an elderly lady, Marya Konstantinovna Bityugov, and her daughter Katya, a schoolgirl of fifteen; both of them were sitting on a bench undressing. Marya Konstantinovna was a good-natured, enthusiastic, and genteel person, who talked in a drawling and pathetic voice. She had been a governess until she was thirty-two, and then had married Bityugov, a Government official—a bald little man with his hair combed on to his temples and with a very meek disposition. She was still in love with him, was jealous, blushed at the word “love,” and told every one she was very happy.
“My dear,” she cried enthusiastically, on seeing Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, assuming an expression which all her acquaintances called “almond-oily.” “My dear, how delightful that you have come! We’ll bathe together —that’s enchanting!”
Olga quickly flung off her dress and chemise, and began undressing her mistress.
“It’s not quite so hot to-day as yesterday?” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, shrinking at the coarse touch of the naked cook. “Yesterday I almost died of the heat.”
“Oh, yes, my dear; I could hardly breathe myself. Would you believe it? I bathed yesterday three times! Just imagine, my dear, three times! Nikodim Alexandritch was quite uneasy.”
“Is it possible to be so ugly?” thought Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, looking at Olga and the official’s wife; she glanced at Katya and thought: “The little girl’s not badly made.”
“Your Nikodim Alexandritch is very charming!” she said. “I’m simply in love with him.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” cried Marya Konstantinovna, with a forced laugh; “that’s quite enchanting.”
Free from her clothes, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna felt a desire to fly. And it seemed to her that if she were to wave her hands she would fly upwards. When she was undressed, she noticed that Olga looked scornfully at her white body. Olga, a young soldier’s wife, was living with her lawful husband, and so considered herself superior to her mistress. Marya Konstantinovna and Katya were afraid of her, and did not respect her. This was disagreeable, and to raise herself in their opinion, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna said:
“At home, in Petersburg, summer villa life is at its height now. My husband and I have so many friends! We ought to go and see them.”
“I believe your husband is an engineer?” said Marya Konstantinovna timidly.
“I am speaking of Laevsky. He has a great many acquaintances. But unfortunately his mother is a proud aristocrat, not very intelligent. . . .”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna threw herself into the water without finishing; Marya Konstantinovna and Katya made their way in after her.
“There are so many conventional ideas in the world,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went on, “and life is not so easy as it seems.”
Marya Konstantinovna, who had been a governess in aristocratic families and who was an authority on social matters, said:
“Oh yes! Would you believe me, my dear, at the Garatynskys’ I was expected to dress for lunch as well as for dinner, so that, like an actress, I received a special allowance for my wardrobe in addition to my salary.”
She stood between Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and Katya as though to screen her daughter from the water that washed the former.
Through the open doors looking out to the sea they could see some one swimming a hundred paces from their bathing-place.
“Mother, it’s our Kostya,” said Katya.
“Ach, ach!” Marya Konstantinovna cackled in her dismay. “Ach, Kostya!” she shouted, “Come back! Kostya, come back!”
Kostya, a boy of fourteen, to show off his prowess before his mother and sister, dived and swam farther, but began to be exhausted and hurried back, and from his strained and serious face it could be seen that he could not trust his own strength.
“The trouble one has with these boys, my dear!” said Marya Konstantinovna, growing calmer. “Before you can turn round, he will break his neck. Ah, my dear, how sweet it is, and yet at the same time how difficult, to be a mother! One’s afraid of everything.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna put on her straw hat and dashed out into the open sea. She swam some thirty feet and then turned on her back. She could see the sea to the horizon, the steamers, the people on the sea-front, the town; and all this, together with the sultry heat and the soft, transparent waves, excited her and whispered that she must live, live. . . . A sailing-boat darted by her rapidly and vigorously, cleaving the waves and the air; the man sitting at the helm looked at her, and she liked being looked at. . . .
After bathing, the ladies dressed and went away together.
“I have fever every alternate day, and yet I don’t get thin,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, licking her lips, which were salt from the bathe, and responding with a smile to the bows of her acquaintances. “I’ve always been plump, and now I believe I’m plumper than ever.”
“That, my dear, is constitutional. If, like me, one has no constitutional tendency to stoutness, no diet is of any use. . . . But you’ve wetted your hat, my dear.”
“It doesn’t matter; it will dry.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna saw again the men in white who were walking on the sea-front and talking French; and again she felt a sudden thrill of joy, and had a vague memory of some big hall in which she had once danced, or of which, perhaps, she had once dreamed. And something at the bottom of her soul dimly and obscurely whispered to her that she was a pretty, common, miserable, worthless woman. . . .
Marya Konstantinovna stopped at her gate and asked her to come in and sit down for a little while.
“Come in, my dear,” she said in an imploring voice, and at the same time she looked at Nadyezhda Fyodorovna with anxiety and hope; perhaps she would refuse and not come in!
“With pleasure,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, accepting. “You know how I love being with you!”
And she went into the house. Marya Konstantinovna sat her down and gave her coffee, regaled her with milk rolls, then showed her photographs of her former pupils, the Garatynskys, who were by now married. She showed her, too, the examination reports of Kostya and Katya. The reports were very good, but to make them seem even better, she complained, with a sigh, how difficult the lessons at school were now. . . . She made much of her visitor, and was sorry for her, though at the same time she was harassed by the thought that Nadyezhda Fyodorovna might have a corrupting influence on the morals of Kostya and Katya, and was glad that her Nikodim Alexandritch was not at home. Seeing that in her opinion all men are fond of “women like that,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna might have a bad effect on Nikodim Alexandritch too.
As she talked to her visitor, Marya Konstantinovna kept remembering that they were to have a picnic that evening, and that Von Koren had particularly begged her to say nothing about it to the “Japanese monkeys”—that is, Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna; but she dropped a word about it unawares, crimsoned, and said in confusion:
“I hope you will come too!”


It was agreed to drive about five miles out of town on the road to the south, to stop near a duhan at the junction of two streams —the Black River and the Yellow River—and to cook fish soup. They started out soon after five. Foremost of the party in a char-à-banc drove Samoylenko and Laevsky; they were followed by Marya Konstantinovna, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, Katya and Kostya, in a coach with three horses, carrying with them the crockery and a basket with provisions. In the next carriage came the police captain, Kirilin, and the young Atchmianov, the son of the shopkeeper to whom Nadyezhda Fyodorovna owed three hundred roubles; opposite them, huddled up on the little seat with his feet tucked under him, sat Nikodim Alexandritch, a neat little man with hair combed on to his temples. Last of all came Von Koren and the deacon; at the deacon’s feet stood a basket of fish.
“R-r-right!” Samoylenko shouted at the top of his voice when he met a cart or a mountaineer riding on a donkey.
“In two years’ time, when I shall have the means and the people ready, I shall set off on an expedition,” Von Koren was telling the deacon. “I shall go by the sea-coast from Vladivostok to the Behring Straits, and then from the Straits to the mouth of the Yenisei. We shall make the map, study the fauna and the flora, and make detailed geological, anthropological, and ethnographical researches. It depends upon you to go with me or not.”
“It’s impossible,” said the deacon.
“I’m a man with ties and a family.”
“Your wife will let you go; we will provide for her. Better still if you were to persuade her for the public benefit to go into a nunnery; that would make it possible for you to become a monk, too, and join the expedition as a priest. I can arrange it for you.”
The deacon was silent.
“Do you know your theology well?” asked the zoologist.
“No, rather badly.”
“H’m! . . . I can’t give you any advice on that score, because I don’t know much about theology myself. You give me a list of books you need, and I will send them to you from Petersburg in the winter. It will be necessary for you to read the notes of religious travellers, too; among them are some good ethnologists and Oriental scholars. When you are familiar with their methods, it will be easier for you to set to work. And you needn’t waste your time till you get the books; come to me, and we will study the compass and go through a course of meteorology. All that’s indispensable.”
“To be sure . . .” muttered the deacon, and he laughed. “I was trying to get a place in Central Russia, and my uncle, the head priest, promised to help me. If I go with you I shall have troubled them for nothing.”
“I don’t understand your hesitation. If you go on being an ordinary deacon, who is only obliged to hold a service on holidays, and on the other days can rest from work, you will be exactly the same as you are now in ten years’ time, and will have gained nothing but a beard and moustache; while on returning from this expedition in ten years’ time you will be a different man, you will be enriched by the consciousness that something has been done by you.”
From the ladies’ carriage came shrieks of terror and delight. The carriages were driving along a road hollowed in a literally overhanging precipitous cliff, and it seemed to every one that they were galloping along a shelf on a steep wall, and that in a moment the carriages would drop into the abyss. On the right stretched the sea; on the left was a rough brown wall with black blotches and red veins and with climbing roots; while on the summit stood shaggy fir-trees bent over, as though looking down in terror and curiosity. A minute later there were shrieks and laughter again: they had to drive under a huge overhanging rock.
“I don’t know why the devil I’m coming with you,” said Laevsky. “How stupid and vulgar it is! I want to go to the North, to run away, to escape; but here I am, for some reason, going to this stupid picnic.”
“But look, what a view!” said Samoylenko as the horses turned to the left, and the valley of the Yellow River came into sight and the stream itself gleamed in the sunlight, yellow, turbid, frantic.
“I see nothing fine in that, Sasha,” answered Laevsky. “To be in continual ecstasies over nature shows poverty of imagination. In comparison with what my imagination can give me, all these streams and rocks are trash, and nothing else.”
The carriages now were by the banks of the stream. The high mountain banks gradually grew closer, the valley shrank together and ended in a gorge; the rocky mountain round which they were driving had been piled together by nature out of huge rocks, pressing upon each other with such terrible weight, that Samoylenko could not help gasping every time he looked at them. The dark and beautiful mountain was cleft in places by narrow fissures and gorges from which came a breath of dewy moisture and mystery; through the gorges could be seen other mountains, brown, pink, lilac, smoky, or bathed in vivid sunlight. From time to time as they passed a gorge they caught the sound of water falling from the heights and splashing on the stones.
“Ach, the damned mountains!” sighed Laevsky. “How sick I am of them!”
At the place where the Black River falls into the Yellow, and the water black as ink stains the yellow and struggles with it, stood the Tatar Kerbalay’s duhan, with the Russian flag on the roof and with an inscription written in chalk: “The Pleasant duhan.” Near it was a little garden, enclosed in a hurdle fence, with tables and chairs set out in it, and in the midst of a thicket of wretched thorn bushes stood a single solitary cypress, dark and beautiful.
Kerbalay, a nimble little Tatar in a blue shirt and a white apron, was standing in the road, and, holding his stomach, he bowed low to welcome the carriages, and smiled, showing his glistening white teeth.
“Good-evening, Kerbalay,” shouted Samoylenko. “We are driving on a little further, and you take along the samovar and chairs! Look sharp!”
Kerbalay nodded his shaven head and muttered something, and only those sitting in the last carriage could hear: “We’ve got trout, your Excellency.”
“Bring them, bring them!” said Von Koren.
Five hundred paces from the duhan the carriages stopped. Samoylenko selected a small meadow round which there were scattered stones convenient for sitting on, and a fallen tree blown down by the storm with roots overgrown by moss and dry yellow needles. Here there was a fragile wooden bridge over the stream, and just opposite on the other bank there was a little barn for drying maize, standing on four low piles, and looking like the hut on hen’s legs in the fairy tale; a little ladder sloped from its door.
The first impression in all was a feeling that they would never get out of that place again. On all sides wherever they looked, the mountains rose up and towered above them, and the shadows of evening were stealing rapidly, rapidly from the duhan and dark cypress, making the narrow winding valley of the Black River narrower and the mountains higher. They could hear the river murmuring and the unceasing chirrup of the grasshoppers.
“Enchanting!” said Marya Konstantinovna, heaving deep sighs of ecstasy. “Children, look how fine! What peace!”
“Yes, it really is fine,” assented Laevsky, who liked the view, and for some reason felt sad as he looked at the sky and then at the blue smoke rising from the chimney of the duhan. “Yes, it is fine,” he repeated.
“Ivan Andreitch, describe this view,” Marya Konstantinovna said tearfully.
“Why?” asked Laevsky. “The impression is better than any description. The wealth of sights and sounds which every one receives from nature by direct impression is ranted about by authors in a hideous and unrecognisable way.”
“Really?” Von Koren asked coldly, choosing the biggest stone by the side of the water, and trying to clamber up and sit upon it. “Really?” he repeated, looking directly at Laevsky. “What of ‘Romeo and Juliet’? Or, for instance, Pushkin’s ‘Night in the Ukraine’? Nature ought to come and bow down at their feet.”
“Perhaps,” said Laevsky, who was too lazy to think and oppose him. “Though what is ‘Romeo and Juliet’ after all?” he added after a short pause. “The beauty of poetry and holiness of love are simply the roses under which they try to hide its rottenness. Romeo is just the same sort of animal as all the rest of us.”
“Whatever one talks to you about, you always bring it round to . . .” Von Koren glanced round at Katya and broke off.
“What do I bring it round to?” asked Laevsky.
“One tells you, for instance, how beautiful a bunch of grapes is, and you answer: ‘Yes, but how ugly it is when it is chewed and digested in one’s stomach!’ Why say that? It’s not new, and . . . altogether it is a queer habit.”
Laevsky knew that Von Koren did not like him, and so was afraid of him, and felt in his presence as though every one were constrained and some one were standing behind his back. He made no answer and walked away, feeling sorry he had come.
“Gentlemen, quick march for brushwood for the fire!” commanded Samoylenko.
They all wandered off in different directions, and no one was left but Kirilin, Atchmianov, and Nikodim Alexandritch. Kerbalay brought chairs, spread a rug on the ground, and set a few bottles of wine.
The police captain, Kirilin, a tall, good-looking man, who in all weathers wore his great-coat over his tunic, with his haughty deportment, stately carriage, and thick, rather hoarse voice, looked like a young provincial chief of police; his expression was mournful and sleepy, as though he had just been waked against his will.
“What have you brought this for, you brute?” he asked Kerbalay, deliberately articulating each word. “I ordered you to give us kvarel, and what have you brought, you ugly Tatar? Eh? What?”
“We have plenty of wine of our own, Yegor Alekseitch,” Nikodim Alexandritch observed, timidly and politely.
“What? But I want us to have my wine, too; I’m taking part in the picnic and I imagine I have full right to contribute my share. I im-ma-gine so! Bring ten bottles of kvarel.”
“Why so many?” asked Nikodim Alexandritch, in wonder, knowing Kirilin had no money.
“Twenty bottles! Thirty!” shouted Kirilin.
“Never mind, let him,” Atchmianov whispered to Nikodim Alexandritch; “I’ll pay.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was in a light-hearted, mischievous mood; she wanted to skip and jump, to laugh, to shout, to tease, to flirt. In her cheap cotton dress with blue pansies on it, in her red shoes and the same straw hat, she seemed to herself, little, simple, light, ethereal as a butterfly. She ran over the rickety bridge and looked for a minute into the water, in order to feel giddy; then, shrieking and laughing, ran to the other side to the drying-shed, and she fancied that all the men were admiring her, even Kerbalay. When in the rapidly falling darkness the trees began to melt into the mountains and the horses into the carriages, and a light gleamed in the windows of the duhan, she climbed up the mountain by the little path which zigzagged between stones and thorn-bushes and sat on a stone. Down below, the camp-fire was burning. Near the fire, with his sleeves tucked up, the deacon was moving to and fro, and his long black shadow kept describing a circle round it; he put on wood, and with a spoon tied to a long stick he stirred the cauldron. Samoylenko, with a copper-red face, was fussing round the fire just as though he were in his own kitchen, shouting furiously:
“Where’s the salt, gentlemen? I bet you’ve forgotten it. Why are you all sitting about like lords while I do the work?”
Laevsky and Nikodim Alexandritch were sitting side by side on the fallen tree looking pensively at the fire. Marya Konstantinovna, Katya, and Kostya were taking the cups, saucers, and plates out of the baskets. Von Koren, with his arms folded and one foot on a stone, was standing on a bank at the very edge of the water, thinking about something. Patches of red light from the fire moved together with the shadows over the ground near the dark human figures, and quivered on the mountain, on the trees, on the bridge, on the drying-shed; on the other side the steep, scooped-out bank was all lighted up and glimmering in the stream, and the rushing turbid water broke its reflection into little bits.
The deacon went for the fish which Kerbalay was cleaning and washing on the bank, but he stood still half-way and looked about him.
“My God, how nice it is!” he thought. “People, rocks, the fire, the twilight, a monstrous tree—nothing more, and yet how fine it is!”
On the further bank some unknown persons made their appearance near the drying-shed. The flickering light and the smoke from the camp-fire puffing in that direction made it impossible to get a full view of them all at once, but glimpses were caught now of a shaggy hat and a grey beard, now of a blue shirt, now of a figure, ragged from shoulder to knee, with a dagger across the body; then a swarthy young face with black eyebrows, as thick and bold as though they had been drawn in charcoal. Five of them sat in a circle on the ground, and the other five went into the drying-shed. One was standing at the door with his back to the fire, and with his hands behind his back was telling something, which must have been very interesting, for when Samoylenko threw on twigs and the fire flared up, and scattered sparks and threw a glaring light on the shed, two calm countenances with an expression on them of deep attention could be seen, looking out of the door, while those who were sitting in a circle turned round and began listening to the speaker. Soon after, those sitting in a circle began softly singing something slow and melodious, that sounded like Lenten Church music. . . . Listening to them, the deacon imagined how it would be with him in ten years’ time, when he would come back from the expedition: he would be a young priest and monk, an author with a name and a splendid past; he would be consecrated an archimandrite, then a bishop; and he would serve mass in the cathedral; in a golden mitre he would come out into the body of the church with the ikon on his breast, and blessing the mass of the people with the triple and the double candelabra, would proclaim: “Look down from Heaven, O God, behold and visit this vineyard which Thy Hand has planted,” and the children with their angel voices would sing in response: “Holy God. . .”
“Deacon, where is that fish?” he heard Samoylenko’s voice.
As he went back to the fire, the deacon imagined the Church procession going along a dusty road on a hot July day; in front the peasants carrying the banners and the women and children the ikons, then the boy choristers and the sacristan with his face tied up and a straw in his hair, then in due order himself, the deacon, and behind him the priest wearing his calotte and carrying a cross, and behind them, tramping in the dust, a crowd of peasants—men, women, and children; in the crowd his wife and the priest’s wife with kerchiefs on their heads. The choristers sing, the babies cry, the corncrakes call, the lark carols. . . . Then they make a stand and sprinkle the herd with holy water. . . . They go on again, and then kneeling pray for rain. Then lunch and talk. . . .
“And that’s nice too . . .” thought the deacon.


Kirilin and Atchmianov climbed up the mountain by the path. Atchmianov dropped behind and stopped, while Kirilin went up to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna.
“Good-evening,” he said, touching his cap.
“Yes!” said Kirilin, looking at the sky and pondering.
“Why ‘yes’?” asked Nadyezhda Fyodorovna after a brief pause, noticing that Atchmianov was watching them both.
“And so it seems,” said the officer, slowly, “that our love has withered before it has blossomed, so to speak. How do you wish me to understand it? Is it a sort of coquetry on your part, or do you look upon me as a nincompoop who can be treated as you choose.”
“It was a mistake! Leave me alone!” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna said sharply, on that beautiful, marvellous evening, looking at him with terror and asking herself with bewilderment, could there really have been a moment when that man attracted her and had been near to her?
“So that’s it!” said Kirilin; he thought in silence for a few minutes and said: “Well, I’ll wait till you are in a better humour, and meanwhile I venture to assure you I am a gentleman, and I don’t allow any one to doubt it. Adieu!”
He touched his cap again and walked off, making his way between the bushes. After a short interval Atchmianov approached hesitatingly.
“What a fine evening!” he said with a slight Armenian accent.
He was nice-looking, fashionably dressed, and behaved unaffectedly like a well-bred youth, but Nadyezhda Fyodorovna did not like him because she owed his father three hundred roubles; it was displeasing to her, too, that a shopkeeper had been asked to the picnic, and she was vexed at his coming up to her that evening when her heart felt so pure.
“The picnic is a success altogether,” he said, after a pause.
“Yes,” she agreed, and as though suddenly remembering her debt, she said carelessly: “Oh, tell them in your shop that Ivan Andreitch will come round in a day or two and will pay three hundred roubles . . . . I don’t remember exactly what it is.”
“I would give another three hundred if you would not mention that debt every day. Why be prosaic?”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna laughed; the amusing idea occurred to her that if she had been willing and sufficiently immoral she might in one minute be free from her debt. If she, for instance, were to turn the head of this handsome young fool! How amusing, absurd, wild it would be really! And she suddenly felt a longing to make him love her, to plunder him, throw him over, and then to see what would come of it.
“Allow me to give you one piece of advice,” Atchmianov said timidly. “I beg you to beware of Kirilin. He says horrible things about you everywhere.”
“It doesn’t interest me to know what every fool says of me,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna said coldly, and the amusing thought of playing with handsome young Atchmianov suddenly lost its charm.
“We must go down,” she said; “they’re calling us.”
The fish soup was ready by now. They were ladling it out by platefuls, and eating it with the religious solemnity with which this is only done at a picnic; and every one thought the fish soup very good, and thought that at home they had never eaten anything so nice. As is always the case at picnics, in the mass of dinner napkins, parcels, useless greasy papers fluttering in the wind, no one knew where was his glass or where his bread. They poured the wine on the carpet and on their own knees, spilt the salt, while it was dark all round them and the fire burnt more dimly, and every one was too lazy to get up and put wood on. They all drank wine, and even gave Kostya and Katya half a glass each. Nadyezhda Fyodorovna drank one glass and then another, got a little drunk and forgot about Kirilin.
“A splendid picnic, an enchanting evening,” said Laevsky, growing lively with the wine. “But I should prefer a fine winter to all this. ‘His beaver collar is silver with hoar-frost.’”
“Every one to his taste,” observed Von Koren.
Laevsky felt uncomfortable; the heat of the campfire was beating upon his back, and the hatred of Von Koren upon his breast and face: this hatred on the part of a decent, clever man, a feeling in which there probably lay hid a well-grounded reason, humiliated him and enervated him, and unable to stand up against it, he said in a propitiatory tone:
“I am passionately fond of nature, and I regret that I’m not a naturalist. I envy you.”
“Well, I don’t envy you, and don’t regret it,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. “I don’t understand how any one can seriously interest himself in beetles and ladybirds while the people are suffering.”
Laevsky shared her opinion. He was absolutely ignorant of natural science, and so could never reconcile himself to the authoritative tone and the learned and profound air of the people who devoted themselves to the whiskers of ants and the claws of beetles, and he always felt vexed that these people, relying on these whiskers, claws, and something they called protoplasm (he always imagined it in the form of an oyster), should undertake to decide questions involving the origin and life of man. But in Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s words he heard a note of falsity, and simply to contradict her he said: “The point is not the ladybirds, but the deductions made from them.”


It was late, eleven o’clock, when they began to get into the carriages to go home. They took their seats, and the only ones missing were Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and Atchmianov, who were running after one another, laughing, the other side of the stream.
“Make haste, my friends,” shouted Samoylenko.
“You oughtn’t to give ladies wine,” said Von Koren in a low voice.
Laevsky, exhausted by the picnic, by the hatred of Von Koren, and by his own thoughts, went to meet Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and when, gay and happy, feeling light as a feather, breathless and laughing, she took him by both hands and laid her head on his breast, he stepped back and said dryly:
“You are behaving like a . . . cocotte.”
It sounded horribly coarse, so that he felt sorry for her at once. On his angry, exhausted face she read hatred, pity and vexation with himself, and her heart sank at once. She realised instantly that she had gone too far, had been too free and easy in her behaviour, and overcome with misery, feeling herself heavy, stout, coarse, and drunk, she got into the first empty carriage together with Atchmianov. Laevsky got in with Kirilin, the zoologist with Samoylenko, the deacon with the ladies, and the party set off.
“You see what the Japanese monkeys are like,” Von Koren began, rolling himself up in his cloak and shutting his eyes. “You heard she doesn’t care to take an interest in beetles and ladybirds because the people are suffering. That’s how all the Japanese monkeys look upon people like us. They’re a slavish, cunning race, terrified by the whip and the fist for ten generations; they tremble and burn incense only before violence; but let the monkey into a free state where there’s no one to take it by the collar, and it relaxes at once and shows itself in its true colours. Look how bold they are in picture galleries, in museums, in theatres, or when they talk of science: they puff themselves out and get excited, they are abusive and critical . . . they are bound to criticise—it’s the sign of the slave. You listen: men of the liberal professions are more often sworn at than pickpockets—that’s because three-quarters of society are made up of slaves, of just such monkeys. It never happens that a slave holds out his hand to you and sincerely says ‘Thank you’ to you for your work.”
“I don’t know what you want,” said Samoylenko, yawning; “the poor thing, in the simplicity of her heart, wanted to talk to you of scientific subjects, and you draw a conclusion from that. You’re cross with him for something or other, and with her, too, to keep him company. She’s a splendid woman.”
“Ah, nonsense! An ordinary kept woman, depraved and vulgar. Listen, Alexandr Daviditch; when you meet a simple peasant woman, who isn’t living with her husband, who does nothing but giggle, you tell her to go and work. Why are you timid in this case and afraid to tell the truth? Simply because Nadyezhda Fyodorovna is kept, not by a sailor, but by an official.”
“What am I to do with her?” said Samoylenko, getting angry. “Beat her or what?
“Not flatter vice. We curse vice only behind its back, and that’s like making a long nose at it round a corner. I am a zoologist or a sociologist, which is the same thing; you are a doctor; society believes in us; we ought to point out the terrible harm which threatens it and the next generation from the existence of ladies like Nadyezhda Ivanovna.”
“Fyodorovna,” Samoylenko corrected. “But what ought society to do?”
“Society? That’s its affair. To my thinking the surest and most direct method is—compulsion. Manu militari she ought to be returned to her husband; and if her husband won’t take her in, then she ought to be sent to penal servitude or some house of correction.”
“Ouf!” sighed Samoylenko. He paused and asked quietly: “You said the other day that people like Laevsky ought to be destroyed. . . . Tell me, if you . . . if the State or society commissioned you to destroy him, could you . . . bring yourself to it?”
“My hand would not tremble.”


When they got home, Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went into their dark, stuffy, dull rooms. Both were silent. Laevsky lighted a candle, while Nadyezhda Fyodorovna sat down, and without taking off her cloak and hat, lifted her melancholy, guilty eyes to him.
He knew that she expected an explanation from him, but an explanation would be wearisome, useless and exhausting, and his heart was heavy because he had lost control over himself and been rude to her. He chanced to feel in his pocket the letter which he had been intending every day to read to her, and thought if he were to show her that letter now, it would turn her thoughts in another direction.
“It is time to define our relations,” he thought. “I will give it her; what is to be will be.”
He took out the letter and gave it her.
“Read it. It concerns you.”
Saying this, he went into his own room and lay down on the sofa in the dark without a pillow. Nadyezhda Fyodorovna read the letter, and it seemed to her as though the ceiling were falling and the walls were closing in on her. It seemed suddenly dark and shut in and terrible. She crossed herself quickly three times and said:
“Give him peace, O Lord . . . give him peace. . . .”
And she began crying.
“Vanya,” she called. “Ivan Andreitch!”
There was no answer. Thinking that Laevsky had come in and was standing behind her chair, she sobbed like a child, and said:
“Why did you not tell me before that he was dead? I wouldn’t have gone to the picnic; I shouldn’t have laughed so horribly. . . . The men said horrid things to me. What a sin, what a sin! Save me, Vanya, save me. . . . I have been mad. . . . I am lost. . . .”
Laevsky heard her sobs. He felt stifled and his heart was beating violently. In his misery he got up, stood in the middle of the room, groped his way in the dark to an easy-chair by the table, and sat down.
“This is a prison . . .” he thought. “I must get away . . . I can’t bear it.”
It was too late to go and play cards; there were no restaurants in the town. He lay down again and covered his ears that he might not hear her sobbing, and he suddenly remembered that he could go to Samoylenko. To avoid going near Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, he got out of the window into the garden, climbed over the garden fence and went along the street. It was dark. A steamer, judging by its lights, a big passenger one, had just come in. He heard the clank of the anchor chain. A red light was moving rapidly from the shore in the direction of the steamer: it was the Customs boat going out to it.
“The passengers are asleep in their cabins . . .” thought Laevsky, and he envied the peace of mind of other people.
The windows in Samoylenko’s house were open. Laevsky looked in at one of them, then in at another; it was dark and still in the rooms.
“Alexandr Daviditch, are you asleep?” he called. “Alexandr Daviditch!”
He heard a cough and an uneasy shout:
“Who’s there? What the devil?”
“It is I, Alexandr Daviditch; excuse me.”
A little later the door opened; there was a glow of soft light from the lamp, and Samoylenko’s huge figure appeared all in white, with a white nightcap on his head.
“What now?” he asked, scratching himself and breathing hard from sleepiness. “Wait a minute; I’ll open the door directly.”
“Don’t trouble; I’ll get in at the window. . . .”
Laevsky climbed in at the window, and when he reached Samoylenko, seized him by the hand.
“Alexandr Daviditch,” he said in a shaking voice, “save me! I beseech you, I implore you. Understand me! My position is agonising. If it goes on for another two days I shall strangle myself like . . . like a dog.”
“Wait a bit. . . . What are you talking about exactly?”
“Light a candle.”
“Oh . . . oh! . . .” sighed Samoylenko, lighting a candle. “My God! My God! . . . Why, it’s past one, brother.”
“Excuse me, but I can’t stay at home,” said Laevsky, feeling great comfort from the light and the presence of Samoylenko. “You are my best, my only friend, Alexandr Daviditch. . . . You are my only hope. For God’s sake, come to my rescue, whether you want to or not. I must get away from here, come what may! . . . Lend me the money!”
“Oh, my God, my God! . . .” sighed Samoylenko, scratching himself. “I was dropping asleep and I hear the whistle of the steamer, and now you . . . Do you want much?”
“Three hundred roubles at least. I must leave her a hundred, and I need two hundred for the journey. . . . I owe you about four hundred already, but I will send it you all . . . all. . . .”
Samoylenko took hold of both his whiskers in one hand, and standing with his legs wide apart, pondered.
“Yes . . .” he muttered, musing. “Three hundred. . . . Yes. . . . But I haven’t got so much. I shall have to borrow it from some one.”
“Borrow it, for God’s sake!” said Laevsky, seeing from Samoylenko’s face that he wanted to lend him the money and certainly would lend it. “Borrow it, and I’ll be sure to pay you back. I will send it from Petersburg as soon as I get there. You can set your mind at rest about that. I’ll tell you what, Sasha,” he said, growing more animated; “let us have some wine.”
“Yes . . . we can have some wine, too.”
They both went into the dining-room.
“And how about Nadyezhda Fyodorovna?” asked Samoylenko, setting three bottles and a plate of peaches on the table. “Surely she’s not remaining?”
“I will arrange it all, I will arrange it all,” said Laevsky, feeling an unexpected rush of joy. “I will send her the money afterwards and she will join me. . . . Then we will define our relations. To your health, friend.”
“Wait a bit,” said Samoylenko. “Drink this first. . . . This is from my vineyard. This bottle is from Navaridze’s vineyard and this one is from Ahatulov’s. . . . Try all three kinds and tell me candidly. . . . There seems a little acidity about mine. Eh? Don’t you taste it?”
“Yes. You have comforted me, Alexandr Daviditch. Thank you. . . . I feel better.”
“Is there any acidity?”
“Goodness only knows, I don’t know. But you are a splendid, wonderful man!”
Looking at his pale, excited, good-natured face, Samoylenko remembered Von Koren’s view that men like that ought to be destroyed, and Laevsky seemed to him a weak, defenceless child, whom any one could injure and destroy.
“And when you go, make it up with your mother,” he said. “It’s not right.”
“Yes, yes; I certainly shall.”
They were silent for a while. When they had emptied the first bottle, Samoylenko said:
“You ought to make it up with Von Koren too. You are both such splendid, clever fellows, and you glare at each other like wolves.”
“Yes, he’s a fine, very intelligent fellow,” Laevsky assented, ready now to praise and forgive every one. “He’s a remarkable man, but it’s impossible for me to get on with him. No! Our natures are too different. I’m an indolent, weak, submissive nature. Perhaps in a good minute I might hold out my hand to him, but he would turn away from me . . . with contempt.”
Laevsky took a sip of wine, walked from corner to corner and went on, standing in the middle of the room:
“I understand Von Koren very well. His is a resolute, strong, despotic nature. You have heard him continually talking of ‘the expedition,’ and it’s not mere talk. He wants the wilderness, the moonlit night: all around in little tents, under the open sky, lie sleeping his sick and hungry Cossacks, guides, porters, doctor, priest, all exhausted with their weary marches, while only he is awake, sitting like Stanley on a camp-stool, feeling himself the monarch of the desert and the master of these men. He goes on and on and on, his men groan and die, one after another, and he goes on and on, and in the end perishes himself, but still is monarch and ruler of the desert, since the cross upon his tomb can be seen by the caravans for thirty or forty miles over the desert. I am sorry the man is not in the army. He would have made a splendid military genius. He would not have hesitated to drown his cavalry in the river and make a bridge out of dead bodies. And such hardihood is more needed in war than any kind of fortification or strategy. Oh, I understand him perfectly! Tell me: why is he wasting his substance here? What does he want here?”
“He is studying the marine fauna.”
“No, no, brother, no!” Laevsky sighed. “A scientific man who was on the steamer told me the Black Sea was poor in animal life, and that in its depths, thanks to the abundance of sulphuric hydrogen, organic life was impossible. All the serious zoologists work at the biological station at Naples or Villefranche. But Von Koren is independent and obstinate: he works on the Black Sea because nobody else is working there; he is at loggerheads with the university, does not care to know his comrades and other scientific men because he is first of all a despot and only secondly a zoologist. And you’ll see he’ll do something. He is already dreaming that when he comes back from his expedition he will purify our universities from intrigue and mediocrity, and will make the scientific men mind their p’s and q’s. Despotism is just as strong in science as in the army. And he is spending his second summer in this stinking little town because he would rather be first in a village than second in a town. Here he is a king and an eagle; he keeps all the inhabitants under his thumb and oppresses them with his authority. He has appropriated every one, he meddles in other people’s affairs; everything is of use to him, and every one is afraid of him. I am slipping out of his clutches, he feels that and hates me. Hasn’t he told you that I ought to be destroyed or sent to hard labour?”
“Yes,” laughed Samoylenko.
Laevsky laughed too, and drank some wine.
“His ideals are despotic too,” he said, laughing, and biting a peach. “Ordinary mortals think of their neighbour—me, you, man in fact—if they work for the common weal. To Von Koren men are puppets and nonentities, too trivial to be the object of his life. He works, will go for his expedition and break his neck there, not for the sake of love for his neighbour, but for the sake of such abstractions as humanity, future generations, an ideal race of men. He exerts himself for the improvement of the human race, and we are in his eyes only slaves, food for the cannon, beasts of burden; some he would destroy or stow away in Siberia, others he would break by discipline, would, like Araktcheev, force them to get up and go to bed to the sound of the drum; would appoint eunuchs to preserve our chastity and morality, would order them to fire at any one who steps out of the circle of our narrow conservative morality; and all this in the name of the improvement of the human race. . . . And what is the human race? Illusion, mirage . . . despots have always been illusionists. I understand him very well, brother. I appreciate him and don’t deny his importance; this world rests on men like him, and if the world were left only to such men as us, for all our good-nature and good intentions, we should make as great a mess of it as the flies have of that picture. Yes.”
Laevsky sat down beside Samoylenko, and said with genuine feeling: “I’m a foolish, worthless, depraved man. The air I breathe, this wine, love, life in fact—for all that, I have given nothing in exchange so far but lying, idleness, and cowardice. Till now I have deceived myself and other people; I have been miserable about it, and my misery was cheap and common. I bow my back humbly before Von Koren’s hatred because at times I hate and despise myself.”
Laevsky began again pacing from one end of the room to the other in excitement, and said:
“I’m glad I see my faults clearly and am conscious of them. That will help me to reform and become a different man. My dear fellow, if only you knew how passionately, with what anguish, I long for such a change. And I swear to you I’ll be a man! I will! I don’t know whether it is the wine that is speaking in me, or whether it really is so, but it seems to me that it is long since I have spent such pure and lucid moments as I have just now with you.”
“It’s time to sleep, brother,” said Samoylenko.
“Yes, yes. . . . Excuse me; I’ll go directly.”
Laevsky moved hurriedly about the furniture and windows, looking for his cap.
“Thank you,” he muttered, sighing. “Thank you. . . . Kind and friendly words are better than charity. You have given me new life.”
He found his cap, stopped, and looked guiltily at Samoylenko.
“Alexandr Daviditch,” he said in an imploring voice.
“What is it?”
“Let me stay the night with you, my dear fellow!”
“Certainly. . . . Why not?”
Laevsky lay down on the sofa, and went on talking to the doctor for a long time.


Three days after the picnic, Marya Konstantinovna unexpectedly called on Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and without greeting her or taking off her hat, seized her by both hands, pressed them to her breast and said in great excitement:
“My dear, I am deeply touched and moved: our dear kind-hearted doctor told my Nikodim Alexandritch yesterday that your husband was dead. Tell me, my dear . . . tell me, is it true?”
“Yes, it’s true; he is dead,” answered Nadyezhda Fyodorovna.
“That is awful, awful, my dear! But there’s no evil without some compensation; your husband was no doubt a noble, wonderful, holy man, and such are more needed in Heaven than on earth.”
Every line and feature in Marya Konstantinovna’s face began quivering as though little needles were jumping up and down under her skin; she gave an almond-oily smile and said, breathlessly, enthusiastically:
“And so you are free, my dear. You can hold your head high now, and look people boldly in the face. Henceforth God and man will bless your union with Ivan Andreitch. It’s enchanting. I am trembling with joy, I can find no words. My dear, I will give you away. . . . Nikodim Alexandritch and I have been so fond of you, you will allow us to give our blessing to your pure, lawful union. When, when do you think of being married?”
“I haven’t thought of it,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, freeing her hands.
“That’s impossible, my dear. You have thought of it, you have.”
“Upon my word, I haven’t,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, laughing. “What should we be married for? I see no necessity for it. We’ll go on living as we have lived.”
“What are you saying!” cried Marya Konstantinovna in horror. “For God’s sake, what are you saying!”
“Our getting married won’t make things any better. On the contrary, it will make them even worse. We shall lose our freedom.”
“My dear, my dear, what are you saying!” exclaimed Marya Konstantinovna, stepping back and flinging up her hands. “You are talking wildly! Think what you are saying. You must settle down!”
“‘Settle down.’ How do you mean? I have not lived yet, and you tell me to settle down.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna reflected that she really had not lived. She had finished her studies in a boarding-school and had been married to a man she did not love; then she had thrown in her lot with Laevsky, and had spent all her time with him on this empty, desolate coast, always expecting something better. Was that life?
“I ought to be married though,” she thought, but remembering Kirilin and Atchmianov she flushed and said:
“No, it’s impossible. Even if Ivan Andreitch begged me to on his knees—even then I would refuse.”
Marya Konstantinovna sat on the sofa for a minute in silence, grave and mournful, gazing fixedly into space; then she got up and said coldly:
“Good-bye, my dear! Forgive me for having troubled you. Though it’s not easy for me, it’s my duty to tell you that from this day all is over between us, and, in spite of my profound respect for Ivan Andreitch, the door of my house is closed to you henceforth.”
She uttered these words with great solemnity and was herself overwhelmed by her solemn tone. Her face began quivering again; it assumed a soft almond-oily expression. She held out both hands to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, who was overcome with alarm and confusion, and said in an imploring voice:
“My dear, allow me if only for a moment to be a mother or an elder sister to you! I will be as frank with you as a mother.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna felt in her bosom warmth, gladness, and pity for herself, as though her own mother had really risen up and were standing before her. She impulsively embraced Marya Konstantinovna and pressed her face to her shoulder. Both of them shed tears. They sat down on the sofa and for a few minutes sobbed without looking at one another or being able to utter a word.
“My dear child,” began Marya Konstantinovna, “I will tell you some harsh truths, without sparing you.”
“For God’s sake, for God’s sake, do!”
“Trust me, my dear. You remember of all the ladies here, I was the only one to receive you. You horrified me from the very first day, but I had not the heart to treat you with disdain like all the rest. I grieved over dear, good Ivan Andreitch as though he were my son —a young man in a strange place, inexperienced, weak, with no mother; and I was worried, dreadfully worried. . . . My husband was opposed to our making his acquaintance, but I talked him over . . . persuaded him. . . . We began receiving Ivan Andreitch, and with him, of course, you. If we had not, he would have been insulted. I have a daughter, a son. . . . You understand the tender mind, the pure heart of childhood . . . ‘who so offendeth one of these little ones.’ . . . I received you into my house and trembled for my children. Oh, when you become a mother, you will understand my fears. And every one was surprised at my receiving you, excuse my saying so, as a respectable woman, and hinted to me . . . well, of course, slanders, suppositions. . . . At the bottom of my heart I blamed you, but you were unhappy, flighty, to be pitied, and my heart was wrung with pity for you.”
“But why, why?” asked Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, trembling all over. “What harm have I done any one?”
“You are a terrible sinner. You broke the vow you made your husband at the altar. You seduced a fine young man, who perhaps had he not met you might have taken a lawful partner for life from a good family in his own circle, and would have been like every one else now. You have ruined his youth. Don’t speak, don’t speak, my dear! I never believe that man is to blame for our sins. It is always the woman’s fault. Men are frivolous in domestic life; they are guided by their minds, and not by their hearts. There’s a great deal they don’t understand; woman understands it all. Everything depends on her. To her much is given and from her much will be required. Oh, my dear, if she had been more foolish or weaker than man on that side, God would not have entrusted her with the education of boys and girls. And then, my dear, you entered on the path of vice, forgetting all modesty; any other woman in your place would have hidden herself from people, would have sat shut up at home, and would only have been seen in the temple of God, pale, dressed all in black and weeping, and every one would have said in genuine compassion: ‘O Lord, this erring angel is coming back again to Thee . . . .’ But you, my dear, have forgotten all discretion; have lived openly, extravagantly; have seemed to be proud of your sin; you have been gay and laughing, and I, looking at you, shuddered with horror, and have been afraid that thunder from Heaven would strike our house while you were sitting with us. My dear, don’t speak, don’t speak,” cried Marya Konstantinovna, observing that Nadyezhda Fyodorovna wanted to speak. “Trust me, I will not deceive you, I will not hide one truth from the eyes of your soul. Listen to me, my dear. . . . God marks great sinners, and you have been marked-out: only think—your costumes have always been appalling.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, who had always had the highest opinion of her costumes, left off crying and looked at her with surprise.
“Yes, appalling,” Marya Konstantinovna went on. “Any one could judge of your behaviour from the elaboration and gaudiness of your attire. People laughed and shrugged their shoulders as they looked at you, and I grieved, I grieved. . . . And forgive me, my dear; you are not nice in your person! When we met in the bathing-place, you made me tremble. Your outer clothing was decent enough, but your petticoat, your chemise. . . . My dear, I blushed! Poor Ivan Andreitch! No one ever ties his cravat properly, and from his linen and his boots, poor fellow! one can see he has no one at home to look after him. And he is always hungry, my darling, and of course, if there is no one at home to think of the samovar and the coffee, one is forced to spend half one’s salary at the pavilion. And it’s simply awful, awful in your home! No one else in the town has flies, but there’s no getting rid of them in your rooms: all the plates and dishes are black with them. If you look at the windows and the chairs, there’s nothing but dust, dead flies, and glasses. . . . What do you want glasses standing about for? And, my dear, the table’s not cleared till this time in the day. And one’s ashamed to go into your bedroom: underclothes flung about everywhere, india-rubber tubes hanging on the walls, pails and basins standing about. . . . My dear! A husband ought to know nothing, and his wife ought to be as neat as a little angel in his presence. I wake up every morning before it is light, and wash my face with cold water that my Nikodim Alexandritch may not see me looking drowsy.”
“That’s all nonsense,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna sobbed. “If only I were happy, but I am so unhappy!”
“Yes, yes; you are very unhappy!” Marya Konstantinovna sighed, hardly able to restrain herself from weeping. “And there’s terrible grief in store for you in the future! A solitary old age, ill-health; and then you will have to answer at the dread judgment seat. . . It’s awful, awful. Now fate itself holds out to you a helping hand, and you madly thrust it from you. Be married, make haste and be married!”
“Yes, we must, we must,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna; “but it’s impossible!”
“It’s impossible. Oh, if only you knew!”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna had an impulse to tell her about Kirilin, and how the evening before she had met handsome young Atchmianov at the harbour, and how the mad, ridiculous idea had occurred to her of cancelling her debt for three hundred; it had amused her very much, and she returned home late in the evening feeling that she had sold herself and was irrevocably lost. She did not know herself how it had happened. And she longed to swear to Marya Konstantinovna that she would certainly pay that debt, but sobs and shame prevented her from speaking.
“I am going away,” she said. “Ivan Andreitch may stay, but I am going.”
“To Russia.”
“But how will you live there? Why, you have nothing.”
“I will do translation, or . . . or I will open a library . . . .”
“Don’t let your fancy run away with you, my dear. You must have money for a library. Well, I will leave you now, and you calm yourself and think things over, and to-morrow come and see me, bright and happy. That will be enchanting! Well, good-bye, my angel. Let me kiss you.”
Marya Konstantinovna kissed Nadyezhda Fyodorovna on the forehead, made the sign of the cross over her, and softly withdrew. It was getting dark, and Olga lighted up in the kitchen. Still crying, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went into the bedroom and lay down on the bed. She began to be very feverish. She undressed without getting up, crumpled up her clothes at her feet, and curled herself up under the bedclothes. She was thirsty, and there was no one to give her something to drink.
“I’ll pay it back!” she said to herself, and it seemed to her in delirium that she was sitting beside some sick woman, and recognised her as herself. “I’ll pay it back. It would be stupid to imagine that it was for money I . . . I will go away and send him the money from Petersburg. At first a hundred . . . then another hundred . . . and then the third hundred. . . .”
It was late at night when Laevsky came in.
“At first a hundred . . .” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna said to him, “then another hundred . . .”
“You ought to take some quinine,” he said, and thought, “To-morrow is Wednesday; the steamer goes and I am not going in it. So I shall have to go on living here till Saturday.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna knelt up in bed.
“I didn’t say anything just now, did I?” she asked, smiling and screwing up her eyes at the light.
“No, nothing. We shall have to send for the doctor to-morrow morning. Go to sleep.”
He took his pillow and went to the door. Ever since he had finally made up his mind to go away and leave Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, she had begun to raise in him pity and a sense of guilt; he felt a little ashamed in her presence, as though in the presence of a sick or old horse whom one has decided to kill. He stopped in the doorway and looked round at her.
“I was out of humour at the picnic and said something rude to you. Forgive me, for God’s sake!”
Saying this, he went off to his study, lay down, and for a long while could not get to sleep.
Next morning when Samoylenko, attired, as it was a holiday, in full-dress uniform with epaulettes on his shoulders and decorations on his breast, came out of the bedroom after feeling Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s pulse and looking at her tongue, Laevsky, who was standing in the doorway, asked him anxiously: “Well? Well?”
There was an expression of terror, of extreme uneasiness, and of hope on his face.
“Don’t worry yourself; there’s nothing dangerous,” said Samoylenko; “it’s the usual fever.”
“I don’t mean that.” Laevsky frowned impatiently. “Have you got the money?”
“My dear soul, forgive me,” he whispered, looking round at the door and overcome with confusion.
“For God’s sake, forgive me! No one has anything to spare, and I’ve only been able to collect by five- and by ten-rouble notes. . . . Only a hundred and ten in all. To-day I’ll speak to some one else. Have patience.”
“But Saturday is the latest date,” whispered Laevsky, trembling with impatience. “By all that’s sacred, get it by Saturday! If I don’t get away by Saturday, nothing’s any use, nothing! I can’t understand how a doctor can be without money!”
“Lord have mercy on us!” Samoylenko whispered rapidly and intensely, and there was positively a breaking note in his throat. “I’ve been stripped of everything; I am owed seven thousand, and I’m in debt all round. Is it my fault?”
“Then you’ll get it by Saturday? Yes?”
“I’ll try.”
“I implore you, my dear fellow! So that the money may be in my hands by Friday morning!”
Samoylenko sat down and prescribed solution of quinine and kalii bromati and tincture of rhubarb, tincturæ gentianæ, aquæ foeniculi —all in one mixture, added some pink syrup to sweeten it, and went away.


“You look as though you were coming to arrest me,” said Von Koren, seeing Samoylenko coming in, in his full-dress uniform.
“I was passing by and thought: ‘Suppose I go in and pay my respects to zoology,’” said Samoylenko, sitting down at the big table, knocked together by the zoologist himself out of plain boards. “Good-morning, holy father,” he said to the deacon, who was sitting in the window, copying something. “I’ll stay a minute and then run home to see about dinner. It’s time. . . . I’m not hindering you?”
“Not in the least,” answered the zoologist, laying out over the table slips of paper covered with small writing. “We are busy copying.”
“Ah! . . . Oh, my goodness, my goodness! . . .” sighed Samoylenko. He cautiously took up from the table a dusty book on which there was lying a dead dried spider, and said: “Only fancy, though; some little green beetle is going about its business, when suddenly a monster like this swoops down upon it. I can fancy its terror.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Is poison given it to protect it from its enemies?”
“Yes, to protect it and enable it to attack.”
“To be sure, to be sure. . . . And everything in nature, my dear fellows, is consistent and can be explained,” sighed Samoylenko; “only I tell you what I don’t understand. You’re a man of very great intellect, so explain it to me, please. There are, you know, little beasts no bigger than rats, rather handsome to look at, but nasty and immoral in the extreme, let me tell you. Suppose such a little beast is running in the woods. He sees a bird; he catches it and devours it. He goes on and sees in the grass a nest of eggs; he does not want to eat them—he is not hungry, but yet he tastes one egg and scatters the others out of the nest with his paw. Then he meets a frog and begins to play with it; when he has tormented the frog he goes on licking himself and meets a beetle; he crushes the beetle with his paw . . . and so he spoils and destroys everything on his way. . . . He creeps into other beasts’ holes, tears up the anthills, cracks the snail’s shell. If he meets a rat, he fights with it; if he meets a snake or a mouse, he must strangle it; and so the whole day long. Come, tell me: what is the use of a beast like that? Why was he created?”
“I don’t know what animal you are talking of,” said Von Koren; “most likely one of the insectivora. Well, he got hold of the bird because it was incautious; he broke the nest of eggs because the bird was not skilful, had made the nest badly and did not know how to conceal it. The frog probably had some defect in its colouring or he would not have seen it, and so on. Your little beast only destroys the weak, the unskilful, the careless—in fact, those who have defects which nature does not think fit to hand on to posterity. Only the cleverer, the stronger, the more careful and developed survive; and so your little beast, without suspecting it, is serving the great ends of perfecting creation.”
“Yes, yes, yes. . . . By the way, brother,” said Samoylenko carelessly, “lend me a hundred roubles.”
“Very good. There are some very interesting types among the insectivorous mammals. For instance, the mole is said to be useful because he devours noxious insects. There is a story that some German sent William I. a fur coat made of moleskins, and the Emperor ordered him to be reproved for having destroyed so great a number of useful animals. And yet the mole is not a bit less cruel than your little beast, and is very mischievous besides, as he spoils meadows terribly.”
Von Koren opened a box and took out a hundred-rouble note.
“The mole has a powerful thorax, just like the bat,” he went on, shutting the box; “the bones and muscles are tremendously developed, the mouth is extraordinarily powerfully furnished. If it had the proportions of an elephant, it would be an all-destructive, invincible animal. It is interesting when two moles meet underground; they begin at once as though by agreement digging a little platform; they need the platform in order to have a battle more conveniently. When they have made it they enter upon a ferocious struggle and fight till the weaker one falls. Take the hundred roubles,” said Von Koren, dropping his voice, “but only on condition that you’re not borrowing it for Laevsky.”
“And if it were for Laevsky,” cried Samoylenko, flaring up, “what is that to you?”
“I can’t give it to you for Laevsky. I know you like lending people money. You would give it to Kerim, the brigand, if he were to ask you; but, excuse me, I can’t assist you in that direction.”
“Yes, it is for Laevsky I am asking it,” said Samoylenko, standing up and waving his right arm. “Yes! For Laevsky! And no one, fiend or devil, has a right to dictate to me how to dispose of my own money. It doesn’t suit you to lend it me? No?”
The deacon began laughing.
“Don’t get excited, but be reasonable,” said the zoologist. “To shower benefits on Mr. Laevsky is, to my thinking, as senseless as to water weeds or to feed locusts.”
“To my thinking, it is our duty to help our neighbours!” cried Samoylenko.
“In that case, help that hungry Turk who is lying under the fence! He is a workman and more useful and indispensable than your Laevsky. Give him that hundred-rouble note! Or subscribe a hundred roubles to my expedition!”
“Will you give me the money or not? I ask you!”
“Tell me openly: what does he want money for?”
“It’s not a secret; he wants to go to Petersburg on Saturday.”
“So that is it!” Von Koren drawled out. “Aha! . . . We understand. And is she going with him, or how is it to be?”
“She’s staying here for the time. He’ll arrange his affairs in Petersburg and send her the money, and then she’ll go.”
“That’s smart!” said the zoologist, and he gave a short tenor laugh. “Smart, well planned.”
He went rapidly up to Samoylenko, and standing face to face with him, and looking him in the eyes, asked: “Tell me now honestly: is he tired of her? Yes? tell me: is he tired of her? Yes?”
“Yes,” Samoylenko articulated, beginning to perspire.
“How repulsive it is!” said Von Koren, and from his face it could be seen that he felt repulsion. “One of two things, Alexandr Daviditch: either you are in the plot with him, or, excuse my saying so, you are a simpleton. Surely you must see that he is taking you in like a child in the most shameless way? Why, it’s as clear as day that he wants to get rid of her and abandon her here. She’ll be left a burden on you. It is as clear as day that you will have to send her to Petersburg at your expense. Surely your fine friend can’t have so blinded you by his dazzling qualities that you can’t see the simplest thing?”
“That’s all supposition,” said Samoylenko, sitting down.
“Supposition? But why is he going alone instead of taking her with him? And ask him why he doesn’t send her off first. The sly beast!”
Overcome with sudden doubts and suspicions about his friend, Samoylenko weakened and took a humbler tone.
“But it’s impossible,” he said, recalling the night Laevsky had spent at his house. “He is so unhappy!”
“What of that? Thieves and incendiaries are unhappy too!”
“Even supposing you are right . . .” said Samoylenko, hesitating. “Let us admit it. . . . Still, he’s a young man in a strange place . . . a student. We have been students, too, and there is no one but us to come to his assistance.”
“To help him to do abominable things, because he and you at different times have been at universities, and neither of you did anything there! What nonsense!”
“Stop; let us talk it over coolly. I imagine it will be possible to make some arrangement. . . .” Samoylenko reflected, twiddling his fingers. “I’ll give him the money, you see, but make him promise on his honour that within a week he’ll send Nadyezhda Fyodorovna the money for the journey.”
“And he’ll give you his word of honour—in fact, he’ll shed tears and believe in it himself; but what’s his word of honour worth? He won’t keep it, and when in a year or two you meet him on the Nevsky Prospect with a new mistress on his arm, he’ll excuse himself on the ground that he has been crippled by civilisation, and that he is made after the pattern of Rudin. Drop him, for God’s sake! Keep away from the filth; don’t stir it up with both hands!”
Samoylenko thought for a minute and said resolutely:
“But I shall give him the money all the same. As you please. I can’t bring myself to refuse a man simply on an assumption.”
“Very fine, too. You can kiss him if you like.”
“Give me the hundred roubles, then,” Samoylenko asked timidly.
“I won’t.”
A silence followed. Samoylenko was quite crushed; his face wore a guilty, abashed, and ingratiating expression, and it was strange to see this pitiful, childish, shamefaced countenance on a huge man wearing epaulettes and orders of merit.
“The bishop here goes the round of his diocese on horseback instead of in a carriage,” said the deacon, laying down his pen. “It’s extremely touching to see him sit on his horse. His simplicity and humility are full of Biblical grandeur.”
“Is he a good man?” asked Von Koren, who was glad to change the conversation.
“Of course! If he hadn’t been a good man, do you suppose he would have been consecrated a bishop?”
“Among the bishops are to be found good and gifted men,” said Von Koren. “The only drawback is that some of them have the weakness to imagine themselves statesmen. One busies himself with Russification, another criticises the sciences. That’s not their business. They had much better look into their consistory a little.”
“A layman cannot judge of bishops.”
“Why so, deacon? A bishop is a man just the same as you or I.”
“The same, but not the same.” The deacon was offended and took up his pen. “If you had been the same, the Divine Grace would have rested upon you, and you would have been bishop yourself; and since you are not bishop, it follows you are not the same.”
“Don’t talk nonsense, deacon,” said Samoylenko dejectedly. “Listen to what I suggest,” he said, turning to Von Koren. “Don’t give me that hundred roubles. You’ll be having your dinners with me for three months before the winter, so let me have the money beforehand for three months.”
“I won’t.”
Samoylenko blinked and turned crimson; he mechanically drew towards him the book with the spider on it and looked at it, then he got up and took his hat.
Von Koren felt sorry for him.
“What it is to have to live and do with people like this,” said the zoologist, and he kicked a paper into the corner with indignation. “You must understand that this is not kindness, it is not love, but cowardice, slackness, poison! What’s gained by reason is lost by your flabby good-for-nothing hearts! When I was ill with typhoid as a schoolboy, my aunt in her sympathy gave me pickled mushrooms to eat, and I very nearly died. You, and my aunt too, must understand that love for man is not to be found in the heart or the stomach or the bowels, but here!”
Von Koren slapped himself on the forehead.
“Take it,” he said, and thrust a hundred-rouble note into his hand.
“You’ve no need to be angry, Kolya,” said Samoylenko mildly, folding up the note. “I quite understand you, but . . . you must put yourself in my place.”
“You are an old woman, that’s what you are.”
The deacon burst out laughing.
“Hear my last request, Alexandr Daviditch,” said Von Koren hotly. “When you give that scoundrel the money, make it a condition that he takes his lady with him, or sends her on ahead, and don’t give it him without. There’s no need to stand on ceremony with him. Tell him so, or, if you don’t, I give you my word I’ll go to his office and kick him downstairs, and I’ll break off all acquaintance with you. So you’d better know it.”
“Well! To go with her or send her on beforehand will be more convenient for him,” said Samoylenko. “He’ll be delighted indeed. Well, goodbye.”
He said good-bye affectionately and went out, but before shutting the door after him, he looked round at Von Koren and, with a ferocious face, said:
“It’s the Germans who have ruined you, brother! Yes! The Germans!”


Next day, Thursday, Marya Konstantinovna was celebrating the birthday of her Kostya. All were invited to come at midday and eat pies, and in the evening to drink chocolate. When Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna arrived in the evening, the zoologist, who was already sitting in the drawing-room, drinking chocolate, asked Samoylenko:
“Have you talked to him?”
“Not yet.”
“Mind now, don’t stand on ceremony. I can’t understand the insolence of these people! Why, they know perfectly well the view taken by this family of their cohabitation, and yet they force themselves in here.”
“If one is to pay attention to every prejudice,” said Samoylenko, “one could go nowhere.”
“Do you mean to say that the repugnance felt by the masses for illicit love and moral laxity is a prejudice?”
“Of course it is. It’s prejudice and hate. When the soldiers see a girl of light behaviour, they laugh and whistle; but just ask them what they are themselves.”
“It’s not for nothing they whistle. The fact that girls strangle their illegitimate children and go to prison for it, and that Anna Karenin flung herself under the train, and that in the villages they smear the gates with tar, and that you and I, without knowing why, are pleased by Katya’s purity, and that every one of us feels a vague craving for pure love, though he knows there is no such love—is all that prejudice? That is the one thing, brother, which has survived intact from natural selection, and, if it were not for that obscure force regulating the relations of the sexes, the Laevskys would have it all their own way, and mankind would degenerate in two years.”
Laevsky came into the drawing-room, greeted every one, and shaking hands with Von Koren, smiled ingratiatingly. He waited for a favourable moment and said to Samoylenko:
“Excuse me, Alexandr Daviditch, I must say two words to you.”
Samoylenko got up, put his arm round Laevsky’s waist, and both of them went into Nikodim Alexandritch’s study.
“To-morrow’s Friday,” said Laevsky, biting his nails. “Have you got what you promised?”
“I’ve only got two hundred. I’ll get the rest to-day or to-morrow. Don’t worry yourself.”
“Thank God . . .” sighed Laevsky, and his hands began trembling with joy. “You are saving me, Alexandr Daviditch, and I swear to you by God, by my happiness and anything you like, I’ll send you the money as soon as I arrive. And I’ll send you my old debt too.”
“Look here, Vanya . . .” said Samoylenko, turning crimson and taking him by the button. “You must forgive my meddling in your private affairs, but . . . why shouldn’t you take Nadyezhda Fyodorovna with you?”
“You queer fellow. How is that possible? One of us must stay, or our creditors will raise an outcry. You see, I owe seven hundred or more to the shops. Only wait, and I will send them the money. I’ll stop their mouths, and then she can come away.”
“I see. . . . But why shouldn’t you send her on first?”
“My goodness, as though that were possible!” Laevsky was horrified. “Why, she’s a woman; what would she do there alone? What does she know about it? That would only be a loss of time and a useless waste of money.”
“That’s reasonable . . .” thought Samoylenko, but remembering his conversation with Von Koren, he looked down and said sullenly: “I can’t agree with you. Either go with her or send her first; otherwise . . . otherwise I won’t give you the money. Those are my last words. . .”
He staggered back, lurched backwards against the door, and went into the drawing-room, crimson, and overcome with confusion.
“Friday . . . Friday,” thought Laevsky, going back into the drawing-room. “Friday. . . .”
He was handed a cup of chocolate; he burnt his lips and tongue with the scalding chocolate and thought: “Friday . . . Friday. . . .”
For some reason he could not get the word “Friday” out of his head; he could think of nothing but Friday, and the only thing that was clear to him, not in his brain but somewhere in his heart, was that he would not get off on Saturday. Before him stood Nikodim Alexandritch, very neat, with his hair combed over his temples, saying:
“Please take something to eat. . . .”
Marya Konstantinovna showed the visitors Katya’s school report and said, drawling:
“It’s very, very difficult to do well at school nowadays! So much is expected . . .”
“Mamma!” groaned Katya, not knowing where to hide her confusion at the praises of the company.
Laevsky, too, looked at the report and praised it. Scripture, Russian language, conduct, fives and fours, danced before his eyes, and all this, mixed with the haunting refrain of “Friday,” with the carefully combed locks of Nikodim Alexandritch and the red cheeks of Katya, produced on him a sensation of such immense overwhelming boredom that he almost shrieked with despair and asked himself: “Is it possible, is it possible I shall not get away?”
They put two card tables side by side and sat down to play post. Laevsky sat down too.
“Friday . . . Friday . . .” he kept thinking, as he smiled and took a pencil out of his pocket. “Friday. . . .”
He wanted to think over his position, and was afraid to think. It was terrible to him to realise that the doctor had detected him in the deception which he had so long and carefully concealed from himself. Every time he thought of his future he would not let his thoughts have full rein. He would get into the train and set off, and thereby the problem of his life would be solved, and he did not let his thoughts go farther. Like a far-away dim light in the fields, the thought sometimes flickered in his mind that in one of the side-streets of Petersburg, in the remote future, he would have to have recourse to a tiny lie in order to get rid of Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and pay his debts; he would tell a lie only once, and then a completely new life would begin. And that was right: at the price of a small lie he would win so much truth.
Now when by his blunt refusal the doctor had crudely hinted at his deception, he began to understand that he would need deception not only in the remote future, but to-day, and to-morrow, and in a month’s time, and perhaps up to the very end of his life. In fact, in order to get away he would have to lie to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, to his creditors, and to his superiors in the Service; then, in order to get money in Petersburg, he would have to lie to his mother, to tell her that he had already broken with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna; and his mother would not give him more than five hundred roubles, so he had already deceived the doctor, as he would not be in a position to pay him back the money within a short time. Afterwards, when Nadyezhda Fyodorovna came to Petersburg, he would have to resort to a regular series of deceptions, little and big, in order to get free of her; and again there would be tears, boredom, a disgusting existence, remorse, and so there would be no new life. Deception and nothing more. A whole mountain of lies rose before Laevsky’s imagination. To leap over it at one bound and not to do his lying piecemeal, he would have to bring himself to stern, uncompromising action; for instance, to getting up without saying a word, putting on his hat, and at once setting off without money and without explanation. But Laevsky felt that was impossible for him.
“Friday, Friday . . .” he thought. “Friday. . . .”
They wrote little notes, folded them in two, and put them in Nikodim Alexandritch’s old top-hat. When there were a sufficient heap of notes, Kostya, who acted the part of postman, walked round the table and delivered them. The deacon, Katya, and Kostya, who received amusing notes and tried to write as funnily as they could, were highly delighted.
“We must have a little talk,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna read in a little note; she glanced at Marya Konstantinovna, who gave her an almond-oily smile and nodded.
“Talk of what?” thought Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. “If one can’t tell the whole, it’s no use talking.”
Before going out for the evening she had tied Laevsky’s cravat for him, and that simple action filled her soul with tenderness and sorrow. The anxiety in his face, his absent-minded looks, his pallor, and the incomprehensible change that had taken place in him of late, and the fact that she had a terrible revolting secret from him, and the fact that her hands trembled when she tied his cravat—all this seemed to tell her that they had not long left to be together. She looked at him as though he were an ikon, with terror and penitence, and thought: “Forgive, forgive.”
Opposite her was sitting Atchmianov, and he never took his black, love-sick eyes off her. She was stirred by passion; she was ashamed of herself, and afraid that even her misery and sorrow would not prevent her from yielding to impure desire to-morrow, if not to-day —and that, like a drunkard, she would not have the strength to stop herself.
She made up her mind to go away that she might not continue this life, shameful for herself, and humiliating for Laevsky. She would beseech him with tears to let her go; and if he opposed her, she would go away secretly. She would not tell him what had happened; let him keep a pure memory of her.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” she read. It was from Atchmianov.
She would live in some far remote place, would work and send Laevsky, “anonymously,” money, embroidered shirts, and tobacco, and would return to him only in old age or if he were dangerously ill and needed a nurse. When in his old age he learned what were her reasons for leaving him and refusing to be his wife, he would appreciate her sacrifice and forgive.
“You’ve got a long nose.” That must be from the deacon or Kostya.
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna imagined how, parting from Laevsky, she would embrace him warmly, would kiss his hand, and would swear to love him all her life, all her life, and then, living in obscurity among strangers, she would every day think that somewhere she had a friend, some one she loved—a pure, noble, lofty man who kept a pure memory of her.
“If you don’t give me an interview to-day, I shall take measures, I assure you on my word of honour. You can’t treat decent people like this; you must understand that.” That was from Kirilin.


Laevsky received two notes; he opened one and read: “Don’t go away, my darling.”
“Who could have written that?” he thought. “Not Samoylenko, of course. And not the deacon, for he doesn’t know I want to go away. Von Koren, perhaps?”
The zoologist bent over the table and drew a pyramid. Laevsky fancied that his eyes were smiling.
“Most likely Samoylenko . . . has been gossiping,” thought Laevsky.
In the other note, in the same disguised angular handwriting with long tails to the letters, was written: “Somebody won’t go away on Saturday.”
“A stupid gibe,” thought Laevsky. “Friday, Friday. . . .”
Something rose in his throat. He touched his collar and coughed, but instead of a cough a laugh broke from his throat.
“Ha-ha-ha!” he laughed. “Ha-ha-ha! What am I laughing at? Ha-ha-ha!”
He tried to restrain himself, covered his mouth with his hand, but the laugh choked his chest and throat, and his hand could not cover his mouth.
“How stupid it is!” he thought, rolling with laughter. “Have I gone out of my mind?”
The laugh grew shriller and shriller, and became something like the bark of a lap-dog. Laevsky tried to get up from the table, but his legs would not obey him and his right hand was strangely, without his volition, dancing on the table, convulsively clutching and crumpling up the bits of paper. He saw looks of wonder, Samoylenko’s grave, frightened face, and the eyes of the zoologist full of cold irony and disgust, and realised that he was in hysterics.
“How hideous, how shameful!” he thought, feeling the warmth of tears on his face. “. . . Oh, oh, what a disgrace! It has never happened to me. . . .”
They took him under his arms, and supporting his head from behind, led him away; a glass gleamed before his eyes and knocked against his teeth, and the water was spilt on his breast; he was in a little room, with two beds in the middle, side by side, covered by two snow-white quilts. He dropped on one of the beds and sobbed.
“It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” Samoylenko kept saying; “it does happen . . . it does happen. . . .”
Chill with horror, trembling all over and dreading something awful, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna stood by the bedside and kept asking:
“What is it? What is it? For God’s sake, tell me.”
“Can Kirilin have written him something?” she thought.
“It’s nothing,” said Laevsky, laughing and crying; “go away, darling.”
His face expressed neither hatred nor repulsion: so he knew nothing; Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was somewhat reassured, and she went into the drawing-room.
“Don’t agitate yourself, my dear!” said Marya Konstantinovna, sitting down beside her and taking her hand. “It will pass. Men are just as weak as we poor sinners. You are both going through a crisis. . . . One can so well understand it! Well, my dear, I am waiting for an answer. Let us have a little talk.”
“No, we are not going to talk,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, listening to Laevsky’s sobs. “I feel depressed. . . . You must allow me to go home.”
“What do you mean, what do you mean, my dear?” cried Marya Konstantinovna in alarm. “Do you think I could let you go without supper? We will have something to eat, and then you may go with my blessing.”
“I feel miserable . . .” whispered Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and she caught at the arm of the chair with both hands to avoid falling.
“He’s got a touch of hysterics,” said Von Koren gaily, coming into the drawing-room, but seeing Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, he was taken aback and retreated.
When the attack was over, Laevsky sat on the strange bed and thought.
“Disgraceful! I’ve been howling like some wretched girl! I must have been absurd and disgusting. I will go away by the back stairs . . . . But that would seem as though I took my hysterics too seriously. I ought to take it as a joke. . . .”
He looked in the looking-glass, sat there for some time, and went back into the drawing-room.
“Here I am,” he said, smiling; he felt agonisingly ashamed, and he felt others were ashamed in his presence. “Fancy such a thing happening,” he said, sitting down. “I was sitting here, and all of a sudden, do you know, I felt a terrible piercing pain in my side . . . unendurable, my nerves could not stand it, and . . . and it led to this silly performance. This is the age of nerves; there is no help for it.”
At supper he drank some wine, and, from time to time, with an abrupt sigh rubbed his side as though to suggest that he still felt the pain. And no one, except Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, believed him, and he saw that.
After nine o’clock they went for a walk on the boulevard. Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, afraid that Kirilin would speak to her, did her best to keep all the time beside Marya Konstantinovna and the children. She felt weak with fear and misery, and felt she was going to be feverish; she was exhausted and her legs would hardly move, but she did not go home, because she felt sure that she would be followed by Kirilin or Atchmianov or both at once. Kirilin walked behind her with Nikodim Alexandritch, and kept humming in an undertone:
“I don’t al-low people to play with me! I don’t al-low it.”
From the boulevard they went back to the pavilion and walked along the beach, and looked for a long time at the phosphorescence on the water. Von Koren began telling them why it looked phosphorescent.


“It’s time I went to my vint. . . . They will be waiting for me,” said Laevsky. “Good-bye, my friends.”
“I’ll come with you; wait a minute,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and she took his arm.
They said good-bye to the company and went away. Kirilin took leave too, and saying that he was going the same way, went along beside them.
“What will be, will be,” thought Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. “So be it. . . .”
And it seemed to her that all the evil memories in her head had taken shape and were walking beside her in the darkness, breathing heavily, while she, like a fly that had fallen into the inkpot, was crawling painfully along the pavement and smirching Laevsky’s side and arm with blackness.
If Kirilin should do anything horrid, she thought, not he but she would be to blame for it. There was a time when no man would have talked to her as Kirilin had done, and she had torn up her security like a thread and destroyed it irrevocably—who was to blame for it? Intoxicated by her passions she had smiled at a complete stranger, probably just because he was tall and a fine figure. After two meetings she was weary of him, had thrown him over, and did not that, she thought now, give him the right to treat her as he chose?
“Here I’ll say good-bye to you, darling,” said Laevsky. “Ilya Mihalitch will see you home.”
He nodded to Kirilin, and, quickly crossing the boulevard, walked along the street to Sheshkovsky’s, where there were lights in the windows, and then they heard the gate bang as he went in.
“Allow me to have an explanation with you,” said Kirilin. “I’m not a boy, not some Atchkasov or Latchkasov, Zatchkasov. . . . I demand serious attention.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s heart began beating violently. She made no reply.
“The abrupt change in your behaviour to me I put down at first to coquetry,” Kirilin went on; “now I see that you don’t know how to behave with gentlemanly people. You simply wanted to play with me, as you are playing with that wretched Armenian boy; but I’m a gentleman and I insist on being treated like a gentleman. And so I am at your service. . . .”
“I’m miserable,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna beginning to cry, and to hide her tears she turned away.
“I’m miserable too,” said Kirilin, “but what of that?”
Kirilin was silent for a space, then he said distinctly and emphatically:
“I repeat, madam, that if you do not give me an interview this evening, I’ll make a scandal this very evening.”
“Let me off this evening,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and she did not recognise her own voice, it was so weak and pitiful.
“I must give you a lesson. . . . Excuse me for the roughness of my tone, but it’s necessary to give you a lesson. Yes, I regret to say I must give you a lesson. I insist on two interviews—to-day and to-morrow. After to-morrow you are perfectly free and can go wherever you like with any one you choose. To-day and to-morrow.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went up to her gate and stopped.
“Let me go,” she murmured, trembling all over and seeing nothing before her in the darkness but his white tunic. “You’re right: I’m a horrible woman. . . . I’m to blame, but let me go . . . I beg you.” She touched his cold hand and shuddered. “I beseech you. . . .”
“Alas!” sighed Kirilin, “alas! it’s not part of my plan to let you go; I only mean to give you a lesson and make you realise. And what’s more, madam, I’ve too little faith in women.”
“I’m miserable. . . .”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna listened to the even splash of the sea, looked at the sky studded with stars, and longed to make haste and end it all, and get away from the cursed sensation of life, with its sea, stars, men, fever.
“Only not in my home,” she said coldly. “Take me somewhere else.”
“Come to Muridov’s. That’s better.”
“Where’s that?”
“Near the old wall.”
She walked quickly along the street and then turned into the side-street that led towards the mountains. It was dark. There were pale streaks of light here and there on the pavement, from the lighted windows, and it seemed to her that, like a fly, she kept falling into the ink and crawling out into the light again. At one point he stumbled, almost fell down and burst out laughing.
“He’s drunk,” thought Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. “Never mind. . . . Never mind. . . . So be it.”
Atchmianov, too, soon took leave of the party and followed Nadyezhda Fyodorovna to ask her to go for a row. He went to her house and looked over the fence: the windows were wide open, there were no lights.
“Nadyezhda Fyodorovna!” he called.
A moment passed, he called again.
“Who’s there?” he heard Olga’s voice.
“Is Nadyezhda Fyodorovna at home?”
“No, she has not come in yet.”
“Strange . . . very strange,” thought Atchmianov, feeling very uneasy. “She went home. . . .”
He walked along the boulevard, then along the street, and glanced in at the windows of Sheshkovsky’s. Laevsky was sitting at the table without his coat on, looking attentively at his cards.
“Strange, strange,” muttered Atchmianov, and remembering Laevsky’s hysterics, he felt ashamed. “If she is not at home, where is she?”
He went to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s lodgings again, and looked at the dark windows.
“It’s a cheat, a cheat . . .” he thought, remembering that, meeting him at midday at Marya Konstantinovna’s, she had promised to go in a boat with him that evening.
The windows of the house where Kirilin lived were dark, and there was a policeman sitting asleep on a little bench at the gate. Everything was clear to Atchmianov when he looked at the windows and the policeman. He made up his mind to go home, and set off in that direction, but somehow found himself near Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s lodgings again. He sat down on the bench near the gate and took off his hat, feeling that his head was burning with jealousy and resentment.
The clock in the town church only struck twice in the twenty-four hours—at midday and midnight. Soon after it struck midnight he heard hurried footsteps.
“To-morrow evening, then, again at Muridov’s,” Atchmianov heard, and he recognised Kirilin’s voice. “At eight o’clock; good-bye!”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna made her appearance near the garden. Without noticing that Atchmianov was sitting on the bench, she passed beside him like a shadow, opened the gate, and leaving it open, went into the house. In her own room she lighted the candle and quickly undressed, but instead of getting into bed, she sank on her knees before a chair, flung her arms round it, and rested her head on it.
It was past two when Laevsky came home.


Having made up his mind to lie, not all at once but piecemeal, Laevsky went soon after one o’clock next day to Samoylenko to ask for the money that he might be sure to get off on Saturday. After his hysterical attack, which had added an acute feeling of shame to his depressed state of mind, it was unthinkable to remain in the town. If Samoylenko should insist on his conditions, he thought it would be possible to agree to them and take the money, and next day, just as he was starting, to say that Nadyezhda Fyodorovna refused to go. He would be able to persuade her that evening that the whole arrangement would be for her benefit. If Samoylenko, who was obviously under the influence of Von Koren, should refuse the money altogether or make fresh conditions, then he, Laevsky, would go off that very evening in a cargo vessel, or even in a sailing-boat, to Novy Athon or Novorossiisk, would send from there a humiliating telegram, and would stay there till his mother sent him the money for the journey.
When he went into Samoylenko’s, he found Von Koren in the drawing-room. The zoologist had just arrived for dinner, and, as usual, was turning over the album and scrutinising the gentlemen in top-hats and the ladies in caps.
“How very unlucky!” thought Laevsky, seeing him. “He may be in the way. Good-morning.”
“Good-morning,” answered Von Koren, without looking at him.
“Is Alexandr Daviditch at home?”
“Yes, in the kitchen.”
Laevsky went into the kitchen, but seeing from the door that Samoylenko was busy over the salad, he went back into the drawing-room and sat down. He always had a feeling of awkwardness in the zoologist’s presence, and now he was afraid there would be talk about his attack of hysterics. There was more than a minute of silence. Von Koren suddenly raised his eyes to Laevsky and asked:
“How do you feel after yesterday?”
“Very well indeed,” said Laevsky, flushing. “It really was nothing much. . . .”
“Until yesterday I thought it was only ladies who had hysterics, and so at first I thought you had St. Vitus’s dance.”
Laevsky smiled ingratiatingly, and thought:
“How indelicate on his part! He knows quite well how unpleasant it is for me. . . .”
“Yes, it was a ridiculous performance,” he said, still smiling. “I’ve been laughing over it the whole morning. What’s so curious in an attack of hysterics is that you know it is absurd, and are laughing at it in your heart, and at the same time you sob. In our neurotic age we are the slaves of our nerves; they are our masters and do as they like with us. Civilisation has done us a bad turn in that way. . . .”
As Laevsky talked, he felt it disagreeable that Von Koren listened to him gravely, and looked at him steadily and attentively as though studying him; and he was vexed with himself that in spite of his dislike of Von Koren, he could not banish the ingratiating smile from his face.
“I must admit, though,” he added, “that there were immediate causes for the attack, and quite sufficient ones too. My health has been terribly shaky of late. To which one must add boredom, constantly being hard up . . . the absence of people and general interests . . . . My position is worse than a governor’s.”
“Yes, your position is a hopeless one,” answered Von Koren.
These calm, cold words, implying something between a jeer and an uninvited prediction, offended Laevsky. He recalled the zoologist’s eyes the evening before, full of mockery and disgust. He was silent for a space and then asked, no longer smiling:
“How do you know anything of my position?”
“You were only just speaking of it yourself. Besides, your friends take such a warm interest in you, that I am hearing about you all day long.”
“What friends? Samoylenko, I suppose?”
“Yes, he too.”
“I would ask Alexandr Daviditch and my friends in general not to trouble so much about me.”
“Here is Samoylenko; you had better ask him not to trouble so much about you.”
“I don’t understand your tone,” Laevsky muttered, suddenly feeling as though he had only just realised that the zoologist hated and despised him, and was jeering at him, and was his bitterest and most inveterate enemy.
“Keep that tone for some one else,” he said softly, unable to speak aloud for the hatred with which his chest and throat were choking, as they had been the night before with laughter.
Samoylenko came in in his shirt-sleeves, crimson and perspiring from the stifling kitchen.
“Ah, you here?” he said. “Good-morning, my dear boy. Have you had dinner? Don’t stand on ceremony. Have you had dinner?”
“Alexandr Daviditch,” said Laevsky, standing up, “though I did appeal to you to help me in a private matter, it did not follow that I released you from the obligation of discretion and respect for other people’s private affairs.”
“What’s this?” asked Samoylenko, in astonishment.
“If you have no money,” Laevsky went on, raising his voice and shifting from one foot to the other in his excitement, “don’t give it; refuse it. But why spread abroad in every back street that my position is hopeless, and all the rest of it? I can’t endure such benevolence and friend’s assistance where there’s a shilling-worth of talk for a ha’p’orth of help! You can boast of your benevolence as much as you please, but no one has given you the right to gossip about my private affairs!”
“What private affairs?” asked Samoylenko, puzzled and beginning to be angry. “If you’ve come here to be abusive, you had better clear out. You can come again afterwards!”
He remembered the rule that when one is angry with one’s neighbour, one must begin to count a hundred, and one will grow calm again; and he began rapidly counting.
“I beg you not to trouble yourself about me,” Laevsky went on. “Don’t pay any attention to me, and whose business is it what I do and how I live? Yes, I want to go away. Yes, I get into debt, I drink, I am living with another man’s wife, I’m hysterical, I’m ordinary. I am not so profound as some people, but whose business is that? Respect other people’s privacy.”
“Excuse me, brother,” said Samoylenko, who had counted up to thirty-five, “but . . .”
“Respect other people’s individuality!” interrupted Laevsky. “This continual gossip about other people’s affairs, this sighing and groaning and everlasting prying, this eavesdropping, this friendly sympathy . . . damn it all! They lend me money and make conditions as though I were a schoolboy! I am treated as the devil knows what! I don’t want anything,” shouted Laevsky, staggering with excitement and afraid that it might end in another attack of hysterics. “I shan’t get away on Saturday, then,” flashed through his mind. “I want nothing. All I ask of you is to spare me your protecting care. I’m not a boy, and I’m not mad, and I beg you to leave off looking after me.”
The deacon came in, and seeing Laevsky pale and gesticulating, addressing his strange speech to the portrait of Prince Vorontsov, stood still by the door as though petrified.
“This continual prying into my soul,” Laevsky went on, “is insulting to my human dignity, and I beg these volunteer detectives to give up their spying! Enough!”
“What’s that . . . what did you say?” said Samoylenko, who had counted up to a hundred. He turned crimson and went up to Laevsky.
“It’s enough,” said Laevsky, breathing hard and snatching up his cap.
“I’m a Russian doctor, a nobleman by birth, and a civil councillor,” said Samoylenko emphatically. “I’ve never been a spy, and I allow no one to insult me!” he shouted in a breaking voice, emphasising the last word. “Hold your tongue!”
The deacon, who had never seen the doctor so majestic, so swelling with dignity, so crimson and so ferocious, shut his mouth, ran out into the entry and there exploded with laughter.
As though through a fog, Laevsky saw Von Koren get up and, putting his hands in his trouser-pockets, stand still in an attitude of expectancy, as though waiting to see what would happen. This calm attitude struck Laevsky as insolent and insulting to the last degree.
“Kindly take back your words,” shouted Samoylenko.
Laevsky, who did not by now remember what his words were, answered:
“Leave me alone! I ask for nothing. All I ask is that you and German upstarts of Jewish origin should let me alone! Or I shall take steps to make you! I will fight you!”
“Now we understand,” said Von Koren, coming from behind the table. “Mr. Laevsky wants to amuse himself with a duel before he goes away. I can give him that pleasure. Mr. Laevsky, I accept your challenge.”
“A challenge,” said Laevsky, in a low voice, going up to the zoologist and looking with hatred at his swarthy brow and curly hair. “A challenge? By all means! I hate you! I hate you!”
“Delighted. To-morrow morning early near Kerbalay’s. I leave all details to your taste. And now, clear out!”
“I hate you,” Laevsky said softly, breathing hard. “I have hated you a long while! A duel! Yes!”
“Get rid of him, Alexandr Daviditch, or else I’m going,” said Von Koren. “He’ll bite me.”
Von Koren’s cool tone calmed the doctor; he seemed suddenly to come to himself, to recover his reason; he put both arms round Laevsky’s waist, and, leading him away from the zoologist, muttered in a friendly voice that shook with emotion:
“My friends . . . dear, good . . . you’ve lost your tempers and that’s enough . . . and that’s enough, my friends.”
Hearing his soft, friendly voice, Laevsky felt that something unheard of, monstrous, had just happened to him, as though he had been nearly run over by a train; he almost burst into tears, waved his hand, and ran out of the room.
“To feel that one is hated, to expose oneself before the man who hates one, in the most pitiful, contemptible, helpless state. My God, how hard it is!” he thought a little while afterwards as he sat in the pavilion, feeling as though his body were scarred by the hatred of which he had just been the object.
“How coarse it is, my God!”
Cold water with brandy in it revived him. He vividly pictured Von Koren’s calm, haughty face; his eyes the day before, his shirt like a rug, his voice, his white hand; and heavy, passionate, hungry hatred rankled in his breast and clamoured for satisfaction. In his thoughts he felled Von Koren to the ground, and trampled him underfoot. He remembered to the minutest detail all that had happened, and wondered how he could have smiled ingratiatingly to that insignificant man, and how he could care for the opinion of wretched petty people whom nobody knew, living in a miserable little town which was not, it seemed, even on the map, and of which not one decent person in Petersburg had heard. If this wretched little town suddenly fell into ruins or caught fire, the telegram with the news would be read in Russia with no more interest than an advertisement of the sale of second-hand furniture. Whether he killed Von Koren next day or left him alive, it would be just the same, equally useless and uninteresting. Better to shoot him in the leg or hand, wound him, then laugh at him, and let him, like an insect with a broken leg lost in the grass—let him be lost with his obscure sufferings in the crowd of insignificant people like himself.
Laevsky went to Sheshkovsky, told him all about it, and asked him to be his second; then they both went to the superintendent of the postal telegraph department, and asked him, too, to be a second, and stayed to dinner with him. At dinner there was a great deal of joking and laughing. Laevsky made jests at his own expense, saying he hardly knew how to fire off a pistol, calling himself a royal archer and William Tell.
“We must give this gentleman a lesson . . .” he said.
After dinner they sat down to cards. Laevsky played, drank wine, and thought that duelling was stupid and senseless, as it did not decide the question but only complicated it, but that it was sometimes impossible to get on without it. In the given case, for instance, one could not, of course, bring an action against Von Koren. And this duel was so far good in that it made it impossible for Laevsky to remain in the town afterwards. He got a little drunk and interested in the game, and felt at ease.
But when the sun had set and it grew dark, he was possessed by a feeling of uneasiness. It was not fear at the thought of death, because while he was dining and playing cards, he had for some reason a confident belief that the duel would end in nothing; it was dread at the thought of something unknown which was to happen next morning for the first time in his life, and dread of the coming night. . . . He knew that the night would be long and sleepless, and that he would have to think not only of Von Koren and his hatred, but also of the mountain of lies which he had to get through, and which he had not strength or ability to dispense with. It was as though he had been taken suddenly ill; all at once he lost all interest in the cards and in people, grew restless, and began asking them to let him go home. He was eager to get into bed, to lie without moving, and to prepare his thoughts for the night. Sheshkovsky and the postal superintendent saw him home and went on to Von Koren’s to arrange about the duel.
Near his lodgings Laevsky met Atchmianov. The young man was breathless and excited.
“I am looking for you, Ivan Andreitch,” he said. “I beg you to come quickly. . . .”
“Some one wants to see you, some one you don’t know, about very important business; he earnestly begs you to come for a minute. He wants to speak to you of something. . . . For him it’s a question of life and death. . . .” In his excitement Atchmianov spoke in a strong Armenian accent.
“Who is it?” asked Laevsky.
“He asked me not to tell you his name.”
“Tell him I’m busy; to-morrow, if he likes. . . .”
“How can you!” Atchmianov was aghast. “He wants to tell you something very important for you . . . very important! If you don’t come, something dreadful will happen.”
“Strange . . .” muttered Laevsky, unable to understand why Atchmianov was so excited and what mysteries there could be in this dull, useless little town.
“Strange,” he repeated in hesitation. “Come along, though; I don’t care.”
Atchmianov walked rapidly on ahead and Laevsky followed him. They walked down a street, then turned into an alley.
“What a bore this is!” said Laevsky.
“One minute, one minute . . . it’s near.”
Near the old rampart they went down a narrow alley between two empty enclosures, then they came into a sort of large yard and went towards a small house.
“That’s Muridov’s, isn’t it?” asked Laevsky.
“But why we’ve come by the back yards I don’t understand. We might have come by the street; it’s nearer. . . .”
“Never mind, never mind. . . .”
It struck Laevsky as strange, too, that Atchmianov led him to a back entrance, and motioned to him as though bidding him go quietly and hold his tongue.
“This way, this way . . .” said Atchmianov, cautiously opening the door and going into the passage on tiptoe. “Quietly, quietly, I beg you . . . they may hear.”
He listened, drew a deep breath and said in a whisper:
“Open that door, and go in . . . don’t be afraid.”
Laevsky, puzzled, opened the door and went into a room with a low ceiling and curtained windows.
There was a candle on the table.
“What do you want?” asked some one in the next room. “Is it you, Muridov?”
Laevsky turned into that room and saw Kirilin, and beside him Nadyezhda Fyodorovna.
He didn’t hear what was said to him; he staggered back, and did not know how he found himself in the street. His hatred for Von Koren and his uneasiness—all had vanished from his soul. As he went home he waved his right arm awkwardly and looked carefully at the ground under his feet, trying to step where it was smooth. At home in his study he walked backwards and forwards, rubbing his hands, and awkwardly shrugging his shoulders and neck, as though his jacket and shirt were too tight; then he lighted a candle and sat down to the table. . . .


“The ‘humane studies’ of which you speak will only satisfy human thought when, as they advance, they meet the exact sciences and progress side by side with them. Whether they will meet under a new microscope, or in the monologues of a new Hamlet, or in a new religion, I do not know, but I expect the earth will be covered with a crust of ice before it comes to pass. Of all humane learning the most durable and living is, of course, the teaching of Christ; but look how differently even that is interpreted! Some teach that we must love all our neighbours but make an exception of soldiers, criminals, and lunatics. They allow the first to be killed in war, the second to be isolated or executed, and the third they forbid to marry. Other interpreters teach that we must love all our neighbours without exception, with no distinction of plus or minus. According to their teaching, if a consumptive or a murderer or an epileptic asks your daughter in marriage, you must let him have her. If crétins go to war against the physically and mentally healthy, don’t defend yourselves. This advocacy of love for love’s sake, like art for art’s sake, if it could have power, would bring mankind in the long run to complete extinction, and so would become the vastest crime that has ever been committed upon earth. There are very many interpretations, and since there are many of them, serious thought is not satisfied by any one of them, and hastens to add its own individual interpretation to the mass. For that reason you should never put a question on a philosophical or so-called Christian basis; by so doing you only remove the question further from solution.”
The deacon listened to the zoologist attentively, thought a little, and asked:
“Have the philosophers invented the moral law which is innate in every man, or did God create it together with the body?”
“I don’t know. But that law is so universal among all peoples and all ages that I fancy we ought to recognise it as organically connected with man. It is not invented, but exists and will exist. I don’t tell you that one day it will be seen under the microscope, but its organic connection is shown, indeed, by evidence: serious affections of the brain and all so-called mental diseases, to the best of my belief, show themselves first of all in the perversion of the moral law.”
“Good. So then, just as our stomach bids us eat, our moral sense bids us love our neighbours. Is that it? But our natural man through self-love opposes the voice of conscience and reason, and this gives rise to many brain-racking questions. To whom ought we to turn for the solution of those questions if you forbid us to put them on the philosophic basis?”
“Turn to what little exact science we have. Trust to evidence and the logic of facts. It is true it is but little, but, on the other hand, it is less fluid and shifting than philosophy. The moral law, let us suppose, demands that you love your neighbour. Well? Love ought to show itself in the removal of everything which in one way or another is injurious to men and threatens them with danger in the present or in the future. Our knowledge and the evidence tells us that the morally and physically abnormal are a menace to humanity. If so you must struggle against the abnormal; if you are not able to raise them to the normal standard you must have strength and ability to render them harmless—that is, to destroy them.”
“So love consists in the strong overcoming the weak.”
“But you know the strong crucified our Lord Jesus Christ,” said the deacon hotly.
“The fact is that those who crucified Him were not the strong but the weak. Human culture weakens and strives to nullify the struggle for existence and natural selection; hence the rapid advancement of the weak and their predominance over the strong. Imagine that you succeeded in instilling into bees humanitarian ideas in their crude and elementary form. What would come of it? The drones who ought to be killed would remain alive, would devour the honey, would corrupt and stifle the bees, resulting in the predominance of the weak over the strong and the degeneration of the latter. The same process is taking place now with humanity; the weak are oppressing the strong. Among savages untouched by civilisation the strongest, cleverest, and most moral takes the lead; he is the chief and the master. But we civilised men have crucified Christ, and we go on crucifying Him, so there is something lacking in us. . . . And that something one ought to raise up in ourselves, or there will be no end to these errors.”
“But what criterion have you to distinguish the strong from the weak?”
“Knowledge and evidence. The tuberculous and the scrofulous are recognised by their diseases, and the insane and the immoral by their actions.”
“But mistakes may be made!”
“Yes, but it’s no use to be afraid of getting your feet wet when you are threatened with the deluge!”
“That’s philosophy,” laughed the deacon.
“Not a bit of it. You are so corrupted by your seminary philosophy that you want to see nothing but fog in everything. The abstract studies with which your youthful head is stuffed are called abstract just because they abstract your minds from what is obvious. Look the devil straight in the eye, and if he’s the devil, tell him he’s the devil, and don’t go calling to Kant or Hegel for explanations.”
The zoologist paused and went on:
“Twice two’s four, and a stone’s a stone. Here to-morrow we have a duel. You and I will say it’s stupid and absurd, that the duel is out of date, that there is no real difference between the aristocratic duel and the drunken brawl in the pot-house, and yet we shall not stop, we shall go there and fight. So there is some force stronger than our reasoning. We shout that war is plunder, robbery, atrocity, fratricide; we cannot look upon blood without fainting; but the French or the Germans have only to insult us for us to feel at once an exaltation of spirit; in the most genuine way we shout ‘Hurrah!’ and rush to attack the foe. You will invoke the blessing of God on our weapons, and our valour will arouse universal and general enthusiasm. Again it follows that there is a force, if not higher, at any rate stronger, than us and our philosophy. We can no more stop it than that cloud which is moving upwards over the sea. Don’t be hypocritical, don’t make a long nose at it on the sly; and don’t say, ‘Ah, old-fashioned, stupid! Ah, it’s inconsistent with Scripture!’ but look it straight in the face, recognise its rational lawfulness, and when, for instance, it wants to destroy a rotten, scrofulous, corrupt race, don’t hinder it with your pilules and misunderstood quotations from the Gospel. Leskov has a story of a conscientious Danila who found a leper outside the town, and fed and warmed him in the name of love and of Christ. If that Danila had really loved humanity, he would have dragged the leper as far as possible from the town, and would have flung him in a pit, and would have gone to save the healthy. Christ, I hope, taught us a rational, intelligent, practical love.”
“What a fellow you are!” laughed the deacon. “You don’t believe in Christ. Why do you mention His name so often?”
“Yes, I do believe in Him. Only, of course, in my own way, not in yours. Oh, deacon, deacon!” laughed the zoologist; he put his arm round the deacon’s waist, and said gaily: “Well? Are you coming with us to the duel to-morrow?”
“My orders don’t allow it, or else I should come.”
“What do you mean by ‘orders’?”
“I have been consecrated. I am in a state of grace.”
“Oh, deacon, deacon,” repeated Von Koren, laughing, “I love talking to you.”
“You say you have faith,” said the deacon. “What sort of faith is it? Why, I have an uncle, a priest, and he believes so that when in time of drought he goes out into the fields to pray for rain, he takes his umbrella and leather overcoat for fear of getting wet through on his way home. That’s faith! When he speaks of Christ, his face is full of radiance, and all the peasants, men and women, weep floods of tears. He would stop that cloud and put all those forces you talk about to flight. Yes . . . faith moves mountains.”
The deacon laughed and slapped the zoologist on the shoulder.
“Yes . . .” he went on; “here you are teaching all the time, fathoming the depths of the ocean, dividing the weak and the strong, writing books and challenging to duels—and everything remains as it is; but, behold! some feeble old man will mutter just one word with a holy spirit, or a new Mahomet, with a sword, will gallop from Arabia, and everything will be topsy-turvy, and in Europe not one stone will be left standing upon another.”
“Well, deacon, that’s on the knees of the gods.”
“Faith without works is dead, but works without faith are worse still—mere waste of time and nothing more.”
The doctor came into sight on the sea-front. He saw the deacon and the zoologist, and went up to them.
“I believe everything is ready,” he said, breathing hard. “Govorovsky and Boyko will be the seconds. They will start at five o’clock in the morning. How it has clouded over,” he said, looking at the sky. “One can see nothing; there will be rain directly.”
“I hope you are coming with us?” said the zoologist.
“No, God preserve me; I’m worried enough as it is. Ustimovitch is going instead of me. I’ve spoken to him already.”
Far over the sea was a flash of lightning, followed by a hollow roll of thunder.
“How stifling it is before a storm!” said Von Koren. “I bet you’ve been to Laevsky already and have been weeping on his bosom.”
“Why should I go to him?” answered the doctor in confusion. “What next?”
Before sunset he had walked several times along the boulevard and the street in the hope of meeting Laevsky. He was ashamed of his hastiness and the sudden outburst of friendliness which had followed it. He wanted to apologise to Laevsky in a joking tone, to give him a good talking to, to soothe him and to tell him that the duel was a survival of mediæval barbarism, but that Providence itself had brought them to the duel as a means of reconciliation; that the next day, both being splendid and highly intelligent people, they would, after exchanging shots, appreciate each other’s noble qualities and would become friends. But he could not come across Laevsky.
“What should I go and see him for?” repeated Samoylenko. “I did not insult him; he insulted me. Tell me, please, why he attacked me. What harm had I done him? I go into the drawing-room, and, all of a sudden, without the least provocation: ‘Spy!’ There’s a nice thing! Tell me, how did it begin? What did you say to him?”
“I told him his position was hopeless. And I was right. It is only honest men or scoundrels who can find an escape from any position, but one who wants to be at the same time an honest man and a scoundrel —it is a hopeless position. But it’s eleven o’clock, gentlemen, and we have to be up early to-morrow.”
There was a sudden gust of wind; it blew up the dust on the sea-front, whirled it round in eddies, with a howl that drowned the roar of the sea.
“A squall,” said the deacon. “We must go in, our eyes are getting full of dust.”
As they went, Samoylenko sighed and, holding his hat, said:
“I suppose I shan’t sleep to-night.”
“Don’t you agitate yourself,” laughed the zoologist. “You can set your mind at rest; the duel will end in nothing. Laevsky will magnanimously fire into the air—he can do nothing else; and I daresay I shall not fire at all. To be arrested and lose my time on Laevsky’s account—the game’s not worth the candle. By the way, what is the punishment for duelling?”
“Arrest, and in the case of the death of your opponent a maximum of three years’ imprisonment in the fortress.”
“The fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul?”
“No, in a military fortress, I believe.”
“Though this fine gentleman ought to have a lesson!”
Behind them on the sea, there was a flash of lightning, which for an instant lighted up the roofs of the houses and the mountains. The friends parted near the boulevard. When the doctor disappeared in the darkness and his steps had died away, Von Koren shouted to him:
“I only hope the weather won’t interfere with us to-morrow!”
“Very likely it will! Please God it may!”
“What about the night? What do you say?”
In the roar of the wind and the sea and the crashes of thunder, it was difficult to hear.
“It’s nothing,” shouted the zoologist, and hurried home.


“Upon my mind, weighed down with woe,
Crowd thoughts, a heavy multitude:
In silence memory unfolds
Her long, long scroll before my eyes.
Loathing and shuddering I curse
And bitterly lament in vain,
And bitter though the tears I weep
I do not wash those lines away.”


Whether they killed him next morning, or mocked at him—that is, left him his life—he was ruined, anyway. Whether this disgraced woman killed herself in her shame and despair, or dragged on her pitiful existence, she was ruined anyway.
So thought Laevsky as he sat at the table late in the evening, still rubbing his hands. The windows suddenly blew open with a bang; a violent gust of wind burst into the room, and the papers fluttered from the table. Laevsky closed the windows and bent down to pick up the papers. He was aware of something new in his body, a sort of awkwardness he had not felt before, and his movements were strange to him. He moved timidly, jerking with his elbows and shrugging his shoulders; and when he sat down to the table again, he again began rubbing his hands. His body had lost its suppleness.
On the eve of death one ought to write to one’s nearest relation. Laevsky thought of this. He took a pen and wrote with a tremulous hand:
He wanted to write to beg his mother, for the sake of the merciful God in whom she believed, that she would give shelter and bring a little warmth and kindness into the life of the unhappy woman who, by his doing, had been disgraced and was in solitude, poverty, and weakness, that she would forgive and forget everything, everything, everything, and by her sacrifice atone to some extent for her son’s terrible sin. But he remembered how his mother, a stout, heavily-built old woman in a lace cap, used to go out into the garden in the morning, followed by her companion with the lap-dog; how she used to shout in a peremptory way to the gardener and the servants, and how proud and haughty her face was—he remembered all this and scratched out the word he had written.
There was a vivid flash of lightning at all three windows, and it was followed by a prolonged, deafening roll of thunder, beginning with a hollow rumble and ending with a crash so violent that all the window-panes rattled. Laevsky got up, went to the window, and pressed his forehead against the pane. There was a fierce, magnificent storm. On the horizon lightning-flashes were flung in white streams from the storm-clouds into the sea, lighting up the high, dark waves over the far-away expanse. And to right and to left, and, no doubt, over the house too, the lightning flashed.
“The storm!” whispered Laevsky; he had a longing to pray to some one or to something, if only to the lightning or the storm-clouds. “Dear storm!”
He remembered how as a boy he used to run out into the garden without a hat on when there was a storm, and how two fair-haired girls with blue eyes used to run after him, and how they got wet through with the rain; they laughed with delight, but when there was a loud peal of thunder, the girls used to nestle up to the boy confidingly, while he crossed himself and made haste to repeat: “Holy, holy, holy. . . .” Oh, where had they vanished to! In what sea were they drowned, those dawning days of pure, fair life? He had no fear of the storm, no love of nature now; he had no God. All the confiding girls he had ever known had by now been ruined by him and those like him. All his life he had not planted one tree in his own garden, nor grown one blade of grass; and living among the living, he had not saved one fly; he had done nothing but destroy and ruin, and lie, lie. . . .
“What in my past was not vice?” he asked himself, trying to clutch at some bright memory as a man falling down a precipice clutches at the bushes.
School? The university? But that was a sham. He had neglected his work and forgotten what he had learnt. The service of his country? That, too, was a sham, for he did nothing in the Service, took a salary for doing nothing, and it was an abominable swindling of the State for which one was not punished.
He had no craving for truth, and had not sought it; spellbound by vice and lying, his conscience had slept or been silent. Like a stranger, like an alien from another planet, he had taken no part in the common life of men, had been indifferent to their sufferings, their ideas, their religion, their sciences, their strivings, and their struggles. He had not said one good word, not written one line that was not useless and vulgar; he had not done his fellows one ha’p’orth of service, but had eaten their bread, drunk their wine, seduced their wives, lived on their thoughts, and to justify his contemptible, parasitic life in their eyes and in his own, he had always tried to assume an air of being higher and better than they. Lies, lies, lies. . . .
He vividly remembered what he had seen that evening at Muridov’s, and he was in an insufferable anguish of loathing and misery. Kirilin and Atchmianov were loathsome, but they were only continuing what he had begun; they were his accomplices and his disciples. This young weak woman had trusted him more than a brother, and he had deprived her of her husband, of her friends and of her country, and had brought her here—to the heat, to fever, and to boredom; and from day to day she was bound to reflect, like a mirror, his idleness, his viciousness and falsity—and that was all she had had to fill her weak, listless, pitiable life. Then he had grown sick of her, had begun to hate her, but had not had the pluck to abandon her, and he had tried to entangle her more and more closely in a web of lies. . . . These men had done the rest.
Laevsky sat at the table, then got up and went to the window; at one minute he put out the candle and then he lighted it again. He cursed himself aloud, wept and wailed, and asked forgiveness; several times he ran to the table in despair, and wrote:
Except his mother, he had no relations or near friends; but how could his mother help him? And where was she? He had an impulse to run to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, to fall at her feet, to kiss her hands and feet, to beg her forgiveness; but she was his victim, and he was afraid of her as though she were dead.
“My life is ruined,” he repeated, rubbing his hands. “Why am I still alive, my God! . . .”
He had cast out of heaven his dim star; it had fallen, and its track was lost in the darkness of night. It would never return to the sky again, because life was given only once and never came a second time. If he could have turned back the days and years of the past, he would have replaced the falsity with truth, the idleness with work, the boredom with happiness; he would have given back purity to those whom he had robbed of it. He would have found God and goodness, but that was as impossible as to put back the fallen star into the sky, and because it was impossible he was in despair.
When the storm was over, he sat by the open window and thought calmly of what was before him. Von Koren would most likely kill him. The man’s clear, cold theory of life justified the destruction of the rotten and the useless; if it changed at the crucial moment, it would be the hatred and the repugnance that Laevsky inspired in him that would save him. If he missed his aim or, in mockery of his hated opponent, only wounded him, or fired in the air, what could he do then? Where could he go?
“Go to Petersburg?” Laevsky asked himself. But that would mean beginning over again the old life which he cursed. And the man who seeks salvation in change of place like a migrating bird would find nothing anywhere, for all the world is alike to him. Seek salvation in men? In whom and how? Samoylenko’s kindness and generosity could no more save him than the deacon’s laughter or Von Koren’s hatred. He must look for salvation in himself alone, and if there were no finding it, why waste time? He must kill himself, that was all. . . .
He heard the sound of a carriage. It was getting light. The carriage passed by, turned, and crunching on the wet sand, stopped near the house. There were two men in the carriage.
“Wait a minute; I’m coming directly,” Laevsky said to them out of the window. “I’m not asleep. Surely it’s not time yet?”
“Yes, it’s four o’clock. By the time we get there . . . .”
Laevsky put on his overcoat and cap, put some cigarettes in his pocket, and stood still hesitating. He felt as though there was something else he must do. In the street the seconds talked in low voices and the horses snorted, and this sound in the damp, early morning, when everybody was asleep and light was hardly dawning in the sky, filled Laevsky’s soul with a disconsolate feeling which was like a presentiment of evil. He stood for a little, hesitating, and went into the bedroom.
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was lying stretched out on the bed, wrapped from head to foot in a rug. She did not stir, and her whole appearance, especially her head, suggested an Egyptian mummy. Looking at her in silence, Laevsky mentally asked her forgiveness, and thought that if the heavens were not empty and there really were a God, then He would save her; if there were no God, then she had better perish—there was nothing for her to live for.
All at once she jumped up, and sat up in bed. Lifting her pale face and looking with horror at Laevsky, she asked:
“Is it you? Is the storm over?”
She remembered; put both hands to her head and shuddered all over.
“How miserable I am!” she said. “If only you knew how miserable I am! I expected,” she went on, half closing her eyes, “that you would kill me or turn me out of the house into the rain and storm, but you delay . . . delay . . .”
Warmly and impulsively he put his arms round her and covered her knees and hands with kisses. Then when she muttered something and shuddered with the thought of the past, he stroked her hair, and looking into her face, realised that this unhappy, sinful woman was the one creature near and dear to him, whom no one could replace.
When he went out of the house and got into the carriage he wanted to return home alive.


The deacon got up, dressed, took his thick, gnarled stick and slipped quietly out of the house. It was dark, and for the first minute when he went into the street, he could not even see his white stick. There was not a single star in the sky, and it looked as though there would be rain again. There was a smell of wet sand and sea.
“It’s to be hoped that the mountaineers won’t attack us,” thought the deacon, hearing the tap of the stick on the pavement, and noticing how loud and lonely the taps sounded in the stillness of the night.
When he got out of town, he began to see both the road and his stick. Here and there in the black sky there were dark cloudy patches, and soon a star peeped out and timidly blinked its one eye. The deacon walked along the high rocky coast and did not see the sea; it was slumbering below, and its unseen waves broke languidly and heavily on the shore, as though sighing “Ouf!” and how slowly! One wave broke—the deacon had time to count eight steps; then another broke, and six steps; later a third. As before, nothing could be seen, and in the darkness one could hear the languid, drowsy drone of the sea. One could hear the infinitely faraway, inconceivable time when God moved above chaos.
The deacon felt uncanny. He hoped God would not punish him for keeping company with infidels, and even going to look at their duels. The duel would be nonsensical, bloodless, absurd, but however that might be, it was a heathen spectacle, and it was altogether unseemly for an ecclesiastical person to be present at it. He stopped and wondered—should he go back? But an intense, restless curiosity triumphed over his doubts, and he went on.
“Though they are infidels they are good people, and will be saved,” he assured himself. “They are sure to be saved,” he said aloud, lighting a cigarette.
By what standard must one measure men’s qualities, to judge rightly of them? The deacon remembered his enemy, the inspector of the clerical school, who believed in God, lived in chastity, and did not fight duels; but he used to feed the deacon on bread with sand in it, and on one occasion almost pulled off the deacon’s ear. If human life was so artlessly constructed that every one respected this cruel and dishonest inspector who stole the Government flour, and his health and salvation were prayed for in the schools, was it just to shun such men as Von Koren and Laevsky, simply because they were unbelievers? The deacon was weighing this question, but he recalled how absurd Samoylenko had looked yesterday, and that broke the thread of his ideas. What fun they would have next day! The deacon imagined how he would sit under a bush and look on, and when Von Koren began boasting next day at dinner, he, the deacon, would begin laughing and telling him all the details of the duel.
“How do you know all about it?” the zoologist would ask.
“Well, there you are! I stayed at home, but I know all about it.”
It would be nice to write a comic description of the duel. His father-in-law would read it and laugh. A good story, told or written, was more than meat and drink to his father-in-law.
The valley of the Yellow River opened before him. The stream was broader and fiercer for the rain, and instead of murmuring as before, it was raging. It began to get light. The grey, dingy morning, and the clouds racing towards the west to overtake the storm-clouds, the mountains girt with mist, and the wet trees, all struck the deacon as ugly and sinister. He washed at the brook, repeated his morning prayer, and felt a longing for tea and hot rolls, with sour cream, which were served every morning at his father-in-law’s. He remembered his wife and the “Days past Recall,” which she played on the piano. What sort of woman was she? His wife had been introduced, betrothed, and married to him all in one week: he had lived with her less than a month when he was ordered here, so that he had not had time to find out what she was like. All the same, he rather missed her.
“I must write her a nice letter . . .” he thought. The flag on the duhan hung limp, soaked by the rain, and the duhan itself with its wet roof seemed darker and lower than it had been before. Near the door was standing a cart; Kerbalay, with two mountaineers and a young Tatar woman in trousers—no doubt Kerbalay’s wife or daughter—were bringing sacks of something out of the duhan, and putting them on maize straw in the cart.
Near the cart stood a pair of asses hanging their heads. When they had put in all the sacks, the mountaineers and the Tatar woman began covering them over with straw, while Kerbalay began hurriedly harnessing the asses.
“Smuggling, perhaps,” thought the deacon.
Here was the fallen tree with the dried pine-needles, here was the blackened patch from the fire. He remembered the picnic and all its incidents, the fire, the singing of the mountaineers, his sweet dreams of becoming a bishop, and of the Church procession. . . . The Black River had grown blacker and broader with the rain. The deacon walked cautiously over the narrow bridge, which by now was reached by the topmost crests of the dirty water, and went up through the little copse to the drying-shed.
“A splendid head,” he thought, stretching himself on the straw, and thinking of Von Koren. “A fine head—God grant him health; only there is cruelty in him. . . .”
Why did he hate Laevsky and Laevsky hate him? Why were they going to fight a duel? If from their childhood they had known poverty as the deacon had; if they had been brought up among ignorant, hard-hearted, grasping, coarse and ill-mannered people who grudged you a crust of bread, who spat on the floor and hiccoughed at dinner and at prayers; if they had not been spoilt from childhood by the pleasant surroundings and the select circle of friends they lived in—how they would have rushed at each other, how readily they would have overlooked each other’s shortcomings and would have prized each other’s strong points! Why, how few even outwardly decent people there were in the world! It was true that Laevsky was flighty, dissipated, queer, but he did not steal, did not spit loudly on the floor; he did not abuse his wife and say, “You’ll eat till you burst, but you don’t want to work;” he would not beat a child with reins, or give his servants stinking meat to eat— surely this was reason enough to be indulgent to him? Besides, he was the chief sufferer from his failings, like a sick man from his sores. Instead of being led by boredom and some sort of misunderstanding to look for degeneracy, extinction, heredity, and other such incomprehensible things in each other, would they not do better to stoop a little lower and turn their hatred and anger where whole streets resounded with moanings from coarse ignorance, greed, scolding, impurity, swearing, the shrieks of women. . . .
The sound of a carriage interrupted the deacon’s thoughts. He glanced out of the door and saw a carriage and in it three persons: Laevsky, Sheshkovsky, and the superintendent of the post-office.
“Stop!” said Sheshkovsky.
All three got out of the carriage and looked at one another.
“They are not here yet,” said Sheshkovsky, shaking the mud off. “Well? Till the show begins, let us go and find a suitable spot; there’s not room to turn round here.”
They went further up the river and soon vanished from sight. The Tatar driver sat in the carriage with his head resting on his shoulder and fell asleep. After waiting ten minutes the deacon came out of the drying-shed, and taking off his black hat that he might not be noticed, he began threading his way among the bushes and strips of maize along the bank, crouching and looking about him. The grass and maize were wet, and big drops fell on his head from the trees and bushes. “Disgraceful!” he muttered, picking up his wet and muddy skirt. “Had I realised it, I would not have come.”
Soon he heard voices and caught sight of them. Laevsky was walking rapidly to and fro in the small glade with bowed back and hands thrust in his sleeves; his seconds were standing at the water’s edge, rolling cigarettes.
“Strange,” thought the deacon, not recognising Laevsky’s walk; “he looks like an old man. . . .”
“How rude it is of them!” said the superintendent of the post-office, looking at his watch. “It may be learned manners to be late, but to my thinking it’s hoggish.”
Sheshkovsky, a stout man with a black beard, listened and said:
“They’re coming!”


“It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen it! How glorious!” said Von Koren, pointing to the glade and stretching out his hands to the east. “Look: green rays!”
In the east behind the mountains rose two green streaks of light, and it really was beautiful. The sun was rising.
“Good-morning!” the zoologist went on, nodding to Laevsky’s seconds. “I’m not late, am I?”
He was followed by his seconds, Boyko and Govorovsky, two very young officers of the same height, wearing white tunics, and Ustimovitch, the thin, unsociable doctor; in one hand he had a bag of some sort, and in the other hand, as usual, a cane which he held behind him. Laying the bag on the ground and greeting no one, he put the other hand, too, behind his back and began pacing up and down the glade.
Laevsky felt the exhaustion and awkwardness of a man who is soon perhaps to die, and is for that reason an object of general attention. He wanted to be killed as soon as possible or taken home. He saw the sunrise now for the first time in his life; the early morning, the green rays of light, the dampness, and the men in wet boots, seemed to him to have nothing to do with his life, to be superfluous and embarrassing. All this had no connection with the night he had been through, with his thoughts and his feeling of guilt, and so he would have gladly gone away without waiting for the duel.
Von Koren was noticeably excited and tried to conceal it, pretending that he was more interested in the green light than anything. The seconds were confused, and looked at one another as though wondering why they were here and what they were to do.
“I imagine, gentlemen, there is no need for us to go further,” said Sheshkovsky. “This place will do.”
“Yes, of course,” Von Koren agreed.
A silence followed. Ustimovitch, pacing to and fro, suddenly turned sharply to Laevsky and said in a low voice, breathing into his face:
“They have very likely not told you my terms yet. Each side is to pay me fifteen roubles, and in the case of the death of one party, the survivor is to pay thirty.”
Laevsky was already acquainted with the man, but now for the first time he had a distinct view of his lustreless eyes, his stiff moustaches, and wasted, consumptive neck; he was a money-grubber, not a doctor; his breath had an unpleasant smell of beef.
“What people there are in the world!” thought Laevsky, and answered: “Very good.”
The doctor nodded and began pacing to and fro again, and it was evident he did not need the money at all, but simply asked for it from hatred. Every one felt it was time to begin, or to end what had been begun, but instead of beginning or ending, they stood about, moved to and fro and smoked. The young officers, who were present at a duel for the first time in their lives, and even now hardly believed in this civilian and, to their thinking, unnecessary duel, looked critically at their tunics and stroked their sleeves. Sheshkovsky went up to them and said softly: “Gentlemen, we must use every effort to prevent this duel; they ought to be reconciled.”
He flushed crimson and added:
“Kirilin was at my rooms last night complaining that Laevsky had found him with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and all that sort of thing.”
“Yes, we know that too,” said Boyko.
“Well, you see, then . . . Laevsky’s hands are trembling and all that sort of thing . . . he can scarcely hold a pistol now. To fight with him is as inhuman as to fight a man who is drunk or who has typhoid. If a reconciliation cannot be arranged, we ought to put off the duel, gentlemen, or something. . . . It’s such a sickening business, I can’t bear to see it.”
“Talk to Von Koren.”
“I don’t know the rules of duelling, damnation take them, and I don’t want to either; perhaps he’ll imagine Laevsky funks it and has sent me to him, but he can think what he likes—I’ll speak to him.”
Sheshkovsky hesitatingly walked up to Von Koren with a slight limp, as though his leg had gone to sleep; and as he went towards him, clearing his throat, his whole figure was a picture of indolence.
“There’s something I must say to you, sir,” he began, carefully scrutinising the flowers on the zoologist’s shirt. “It’s confidential. I don’t know the rules of duelling, damnation take them, and I don’t want to, and I look on the matter not as a second and that sort of thing, but as a man, and that’s all about it.”
“Yes. Well?”
“When seconds suggest reconciliation they are usually not listened to; it is looked upon as a formality. Amour propre and all that. But I humbly beg you to look carefully at Ivan Andreitch. He’s not in a normal state, so to speak, to-day—not in his right mind, and a pitiable object. He has had a misfortune. I can’t endure gossip. . . .”
Sheshkovsky flushed crimson and looked round.
“But in view of the duel, I think it necessary to inform you, Laevsky found his madam last night at Muridov’s with . . . another gentleman.”
“How disgusting!” muttered the zoologist; he turned pale, frowned, and spat loudly. “Tfoo!”
His lower lip quivered, he walked away from Sheshkovsky, unwilling to hear more, and as though he had accidentally tasted something bitter, spat loudly again, and for the first time that morning looked with hatred at Laevsky. His excitement and awkwardness passed off; he tossed his head and said aloud:
“Gentlemen, what are we waiting for, I should like to know? Why don’t we begin?”
Sheshkovsky glanced at the officers and shrugged his shoulders.
“Gentlemen,” he said aloud, addressing no one in particular. “Gentlemen, we propose that you should be reconciled.”
“Let us make haste and get the formalities over,” said Von Koren. “Reconciliation has been discussed already. What is the next formality? Make haste, gentlemen, time won’t wait for us.”
“But we insist on reconciliation all the same,” said Sheshkovsky in a guilty voice, as a man compelled to interfere in another man’s business; he flushed, laid his hand on his heart, and went on: “Gentlemen, we see no grounds for associating the offence with the duel. There’s nothing in common between duelling and offences against one another of which we are sometimes guilty through human weakness. You are university men and men of culture, and no doubt you see in the duel nothing but a foolish and out-of-date formality, and all that sort of thing. That’s how we look at it ourselves, or we shouldn’t have come, for we cannot allow that in our presence men should fire at one another, and all that.” Sheshkovsky wiped the perspiration off his face and went on: “Make an end to your misunderstanding, gentlemen; shake hands, and let us go home and drink to peace. Upon my honour, gentlemen!”
Von Koren did not speak. Laevsky, seeing that they were looking at him, said:
“I have nothing against Nikolay Vassilitch; if he considers I’m to blame, I’m ready to apologise to him.”
Von Koren was offended.
“It is evident, gentlemen,” he said, “you want Mr. Laevsky to return home a magnanimous and chivalrous figure, but I cannot give you and him that satisfaction. And there was no need to get up early and drive eight miles out of town simply to drink to peace, to have breakfast, and to explain to me that the duel is an out-of-date formality. A duel is a duel, and there is no need to make it more false and stupid than it is in reality. I want to fight!”
A silence followed. Boyko took a pair of pistols out of a box; one was given to Von Koren and one to Laevsky, and then there followed a difficulty which afforded a brief amusement to the zoologist and the seconds. It appeared that of all the people present not one had ever in his life been at a duel, and no one knew precisely how they ought to stand, and what the seconds ought to say and do. But then Boyko remembered and began, with a smile, to explain.
“Gentlemen, who remembers the description in Lermontov?” asked Von Koren, laughing. “In Turgenev, too, Bazarov had a duel with some one. . . .”
“There’s no need to remember,” said Ustimovitch impatiently. “Measure the distance, that’s all.”
And he took three steps as though to show how to measure it. Boyko counted out the steps while his companion drew his sabre and scratched the earth at the extreme points to mark the barrier. In complete silence the opponents took their places.
“Moles,” the deacon thought, sitting in the bushes.
Sheshkovsky said something, Boyko explained something again, but Laevsky did not hear—or rather heard, but did not understand. He cocked his pistol when the time came to do so, and raised the cold, heavy weapon with the barrel upwards. He forgot to unbutton his overcoat, and it felt very tight over his shoulder and under his arm, and his arm rose as awkwardly as though the sleeve had been cut out of tin. He remembered the hatred he had felt the night before for the swarthy brow and curly hair, and felt that even yesterday at the moment of intense hatred and anger he could not have shot a man. Fearing that the bullet might somehow hit Von Koren by accident, he raised the pistol higher and higher, and felt that this too obvious magnanimity was indelicate and anything but magnanimous, but he did not know how else to do and could do nothing else. Looking at the pale, ironically smiling face of Von Koren, who evidently had been convinced from the beginning that his opponent would fire in the air, Laevsky thought that, thank God, everything would be over directly, and all that he had to do was to press the trigger rather hard. . . .
He felt a violent shock on the shoulder; there was the sound of a shot and an answering echo in the mountains: ping-ting!
Von Koren cocked his pistol and looked at Ustimovitch, who was pacing as before with his hands behind his back, taking no notice of any one.
“Doctor,” said the zoologist, “be so good as not to move to and fro like a pendulum. You make me dizzy.”
The doctor stood still. Von Koren began to take aim at Laevsky.
“It’s all over!” thought Laevsky.
The barrel of the pistol aimed straight at his face, the expression of hatred and contempt in Von Koren’s attitude and whole figure, and the murder just about to be committed by a decent man in broad daylight, in the presence of decent men, and the stillness and the unknown force that compelled Laevsky to stand still and not to run —how mysterious it all was, how incomprehensible and terrible!
The moment while Von Koren was taking aim seemed to Laevsky longer than a night: he glanced imploringly at the seconds; they were pale and did not stir.
“Make haste and fire,” thought Laevsky, and felt that his pale, quivering, and pitiful face must arouse even greater hatred in Von Koren.
“I’ll kill him directly,” thought Von Koren, aiming at his forehead, with his finger already on the catch. “Yes, of course I’ll kill him.”
“He’ll kill him!” A despairing shout was suddenly heard somewhere very close at hand.
A shot rang out at once. Seeing that Laevsky remained standing where he was and did not fall, they all looked in the direction from which the shout had come, and saw the deacon. With pale face and wet hair sticking to his forehead and his cheeks, wet through and muddy, he was standing in the maize on the further bank, smiling rather queerly and waving his wet hat. Sheshkovsky laughed with joy, burst into tears, and moved away. . . .


A little while afterwards, Von Koren and the deacon met near the little bridge. The deacon was excited; he breathed hard, and avoided looking in people’s faces. He felt ashamed both of his terror and his muddy, wet garments.
“I thought you meant to kill him . . .” he muttered. “How contrary to human nature it is! How utterly unnatural it is!”
“But how did you come here?” asked the zoologist.
“Don’t ask,” said the deacon, waving his hand. “The evil one tempted me, saying: ‘Go, go. . . .’ So I went and almost died of fright in the maize. But now, thank God, thank God. . . . I am awfully pleased with you,” muttered the deacon. “Old Grandad Tarantula will be glad . . . . It’s funny, it’s too funny! Only I beg of you most earnestly don’t tell anybody I was there, or I may get into hot water with the authorities. They will say: ‘The deacon was a second.’”
“Gentlemen,” said Von Koren, “the deacon asks you not to tell any one you’ve seen him here. He might get into trouble.”
“How contrary to human nature it is!” sighed the deacon. “Excuse my saying so, but your face was so dreadful that I thought you were going to kill him.”
“I was very much tempted to put an end to that scoundrel,” said Von Koren, “but you shouted close by, and I missed my aim. The whole procedure is revolting to any one who is not used to it, and it has exhausted me, deacon. I feel awfully tired. Come along. . . .”
“No, you must let me walk back. I must get dry, for I am wet and cold.”
“Well, as you like,” said the zoologist, in a weary tone, feeling dispirited, and, getting into the carriage, he closed his eyes. “As you like. . . .”
While they were moving about the carriages and taking their seats, Kerbalay stood in the road, and, laying his hands on his stomach, he bowed low, showing his teeth; he imagined that the gentry had come to enjoy the beauties of nature and drink tea, and could not understand why they were getting into the carriages. The party set off in complete silence and only the deacon was left by the duhan.
“Come to the duhan, drink tea,” he said to Kerbalay. “Me wants to eat.”
Kerbalay spoke good Russian, but the deacon imagined that the Tatar would understand him better if he talked to him in broken Russian. “Cook omelette, give cheese. . . .”
“Come, come, father,” said Kerbalay, bowing. “I’ll give you everything . . . . I’ve cheese and wine. . . . Eat what you like.”
“What is ‘God’ in Tatar?” asked the deacon, going into the duhan.
“Your God and my God are the same,” said Kerbalay, not understanding him. “God is the same for all men, only men are different. Some are Russian, some are Turks, some are English—there are many sorts of men, but God is one.”
“Very good. If all men worship the same God, why do you Mohammedans look upon Christians as your everlasting enemies?”
“Why are you angry?” said Kerbalay, laying both hands on his stomach. “You are a priest; I am a Mussulman: you say, ‘I want to eat’—I give it you. . . . Only the rich man distinguishes your God from my God; for the poor man it is all the same. If you please, it is ready.”
While this theological conversation was taking place at the duhan, Laevsky was driving home thinking how dreadful it had been driving there at daybreak, when the roads, the rocks, and the mountains were wet and dark, and the uncertain future seemed like a terrible abyss, of which one could not see the bottom; while now the raindrops hanging on the grass and on the stones were sparkling in the sun like diamonds, nature was smiling joyfully, and the terrible future was left behind. He looked at Sheshkovsky’s sullen, tear-stained face, and at the two carriages ahead of them in which Von Koren, his seconds, and the doctor were sitting, and it seemed to him as though they were all coming back from a graveyard in which a wearisome, insufferable man who was a burden to others had just been buried.
“Everything is over,” he thought of his past, cautiously touching his neck with his fingers.
On the right side of his neck was a small swelling, of the length and breadth of his little finger, and he felt a pain, as though some one had passed a hot iron over his neck. The bullet had bruised it.
Afterwards, when he got home, a strange, long, sweet day began for him, misty as forgetfulness. Like a man released from prison or from hospital, he stared at the long-familiar objects and wondered that the tables, the windows, the chairs, the light, and the sea stirred in him a keen, childish delight such as he had not known for long, long years. Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, pale and haggard, could not understand his gentle voice and strange movements; she made haste to tell him everything that had happened to her. . . . It seemed to her that very likely he scarcely heard and did not understand her, and that if he did know everything he would curse her and kill her, but he listened to her, stroked her face and hair, looked into her eyes and said:
“I have nobody but you. . . .”
Then they sat a long while in the garden, huddled close together, saying nothing, or dreaming aloud of their happy life in the future, in brief, broken sentences, while it seemed to him that he had never spoken at such length or so eloquently.


More than three months had passed.
The day came that Von Koren had fixed on for his departure. A cold, heavy rain had been falling from early morning, a north-east wind was blowing, and the waves were high on the sea. It was said that the steamer would hardly be able to come into the harbour in such weather. By the time-table it should have arrived at ten o’clock in the morning, but Von Koren, who had gone on to the sea-front at midday and again after dinner, could see nothing through the field-glass but grey waves and rain covering the horizon.
Towards the end of the day the rain ceased and the wind began to drop perceptibly. Von Koren had already made up his mind that he would not be able to get off that day, and had settled down to play chess with Samoylenko; but after dark the orderly announced that there were lights on the sea and that a rocket had been seen.
Von Koren made haste. He put his satchel over his shoulder, and kissed Samoylenko and the deacon. Though there was not the slightest necessity, he went through the rooms again, said good-bye to the orderly and the cook, and went out into the street, feeling that he had left something behind, either at the doctor’s or his lodging. In the street he walked beside Samoylenko, behind them came the deacon with a box, and last of all the orderly with two portmanteaus. Only Samoylenko and the orderly could distinguish the dim lights on the sea. The others gazed into the darkness and saw nothing. The steamer had stopped a long way from the coast.
“Make haste, make haste,” Von Koren hurried them. “I am afraid it will set off.”
As they passed the little house with three windows, into which Laevsky had moved soon after the duel, Von Koren could not resist peeping in at the window. Laevsky was sitting, writing, bent over the table, with his back to the window.
“I wonder at him!” said the zoologist softly. “What a screw he has put on himself!”
“Yes, one may well wonder,” said Samoylenko. “He sits from morning till night, he’s always at work. He works to pay off his debts. And he lives, brother, worse than a beggar!”
Half a minute of silence followed. The zoologist, the doctor, and the deacon stood at the window and went on looking at Laevsky.
“So he didn’t get away from here, poor fellow,” said Samoylenko. “Do you remember how hard he tried?”
“Yes, he has put a screw on himself,” Von Koren repeated. “His marriage, the way he works all day long for his daily bread, a new expression in his face, and even in his walk—it’s all so extraordinary that I don’t know what to call it.”
The zoologist took Samoylenko’s sleeve and went on with emotion in his voice:
“You tell him and his wife that when I went away I was full of admiration for them and wished them all happiness . . . and I beg him, if he can, not to remember evil against me. He knows me. He knows that if I could have foreseen this change, then I might have become his best friend.”
“Go in and say good-bye to him.”
“No, that wouldn’t do.”
“Why? God knows, perhaps you’ll never see him again.”
The zoologist reflected, and said:
“That’s true.”
Samoylenko tapped softly at the window. Laevsky started and looked round.
“Vanya, Nikolay Vassilitch wants to say goodbye to you,” said Samoylenko. “He is just going away.”
Laevsky got up from the table, and went into the passage to open the door. Samoylenko, the zoologist, and the deacon went into the house.
“I can only come for one minute,” began the zoologist, taking off his goloshes in the passage, and already wishing he had not given way to his feelings and come in, uninvited. “It is as though I were forcing myself on him,” he thought, “and that’s stupid.”
“Forgive me for disturbing you,” he said as he went into the room with Laevsky, “but I’m just going away, and I had an impulse to see you. God knows whether we shall ever meet again.”
“I am very glad to see you. . . . Please come in,” said Laevsky, and he awkwardly set chairs for his visitors as though he wanted to bar their way, and stood in the middle of the room, rubbing his hands.
“I should have done better to have left my audience in the street,” thought Von Koren, and he said firmly: “Don’t remember evil against me, Ivan Andreitch. To forget the past is, of course, impossible —it is too painful, and I’ve not come here to apologise or to declare that I was not to blame. I acted sincerely, and I have not changed my convictions since then. . . . It is true that I see, to my great delight, that I was mistaken in regard to you, but it’s easy to make a false step even on a smooth road, and, in fact, it’s the natural human lot: if one is not mistaken in the main, one is mistaken in the details. Nobody knows the real truth.”
“No, no one knows the truth,” said Laevsky.
“Well, good-bye. . . . God give you all happiness.”
Von Koren gave Laevsky his hand; the latter took it and bowed.
“Don’t remember evil against me,” said Von Koren. “Give my greetings to your wife, and say I am very sorry not to say good-bye to her.”
“She is at home.”
Laevsky went to the door of the next room, and said:
“Nadya, Nikolay Vassilitch wants to say goodbye to you.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna came in; she stopped near the doorway and looked shyly at the visitors. There was a look of guilt and dismay on her face, and she held her hands like a schoolgirl receiving a scolding.
“I’m just going away, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna,” said Von Koren, “and have come to say good-bye.”
She held out her hand uncertainly, while Laevsky bowed.
“What pitiful figures they are, though!” thought Von Koren. “The life they are living does not come easy to them. I shall be in Moscow and Petersburg; can I send you anything?” he asked.
“Oh!” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and she looked anxiously at her husband. “I don’t think there’s anything. . . .”
“No, nothing . . .” said Laevsky, rubbing his hands. “Our greetings.”
Von Koren did not know what he could or ought to say, though as he went in he thought he would say a very great deal that would be warm and good and important. He shook hands with Laevsky and his wife in silence, and left them with a depressed feeling.
“What people!” said the deacon in a low voice, as he walked behind them. “My God, what people! Of a truth, the right hand of God has planted this vine! Lord! Lord! One man vanquishes thousands and another tens of thousands. Nikolay Vassilitch,” he said ecstatically, “let me tell you that to-day you have conquered the greatest of man’s enemies—pride.”
“Hush, deacon! Fine conquerors we are! Conquerors ought to look like eagles, while he’s a pitiful figure, timid, crushed; he bows like a Chinese idol, and I, I am sad. . . .”
They heard steps behind them. It was Laevsky, hurrying after them to see him off. The orderly was standing on the quay with the two portmanteaus, and at a little distance stood four boatmen.
“There is a wind, though. . . . Brrr!” said Samoylenko. “There must be a pretty stiff storm on the sea now! You are not going off at a nice time, Koyla.”
“I’m not afraid of sea-sickness.”
“That’s not the point. . . . I only hope these rascals won’t upset you. You ought to have crossed in the agent’s sloop. Where’s the agent’s sloop?” he shouted to the boatmen.
“It has gone, Your Excellency.”
“And the Customs-house boat?”
“That’s gone, too.”
“Why didn’t you let us know,” said Samoylenko angrily. “You dolts!”
“It’s all the same, don’t worry yourself . . .” said Von Koren. “Well, good-bye. God keep you.”
Samoylenko embraced Von Koren and made the sign of the cross over him three times.
“Don’t forget us, Kolya. . . . Write. . . . We shall look out for you next spring.”
“Good-bye, deacon,” said Von Koren, shaking hands with the deacon. “Thank you for your company and for your pleasant conversation. Think about the expedition.”
“Oh Lord, yes! to the ends of the earth,” laughed the deacon. “I’ve nothing against it.”
Von Koren recognised Laevsky in the darkness, and held out his hand without speaking. The boatmen were by now below, holding the boat, which was beating against the piles, though the breakwater screened it from the breakers. Von Koren went down the ladder, jumped into the boat, and sat at the helm.
“Write!” Samoylenko shouted to him. “Take care of yourself.”
“No one knows the real truth,” thought Laevsky, turning up the collar of his coat and thrusting his hands into his sleeves.
The boat turned briskly out of the harbour into the open sea. It vanished in the waves, but at once from a deep hollow glided up onto a high breaker, so that they could distinguish the men and even the oars. The boat moved three yards forward and was sucked two yards back.
“Write!” shouted Samoylenko; “it’s devilish weather for you to go in.”
“Yes, no one knows the real truth . . .” thought Laevsky, looking wearily at the dark, restless sea.
“It flings the boat back,” he thought; “she makes two steps forward and one step back; but the boatmen are stubborn, they work the oars unceasingly, and are not afraid of the high waves. The boat goes on and on. Now she is out of sight, but in half an hour the boatmen will see the steamer lights distinctly, and within an hour they will be by the steamer ladder. So it is in life. . . . In the search for truth man makes two steps forward and one step back. Suffering, mistakes, and weariness of life thrust them back, but the thirst for truth and stubborn will drive them on and on. And who knows? Perhaps they will reach the real truth at last.”
“Go—o—od—by—e,” shouted Samoylenko.
“There’s no sight or sound of them,” said the deacon. “Good luck on the journey!”
It began to spot with rain.



THROUGH causes which it is not the time to go into in detail, I had to enter the service of a Petersburg official called Orlov, in the capacity of a footman. He was about five and thirty, and was called Georgy Ivanitch.
I entered this Orlov’s service on account of his father, a prominent political man, whom I looked upon as a serious enemy of my cause. I reckoned that, living with the son, I should – from the conversations I should hear, and from the letters and papers I should find on the table – learn every detail of the father’s plans and intentions.

As a rule at eleven o’clock in the morning the electric bell rang in my footman’s quarters to let me know that my master was awake. When I went into the bedroom with his polished shoes and brushed clothes, Georgy Ivanitch would be sitting in his bed with a face that looked, not drowsy, but rather exhausted by sleep, and he would gaze off in one direction without any sign of satisfaction at having waked. I helped him to dress, and he let me do it with an air of reluctance without speaking or noticing my presence; then with his head wet with washing, smelling of fresh scent, he used to go into the dining-room to drink his coffee. He used to sit at the table, sipping his coffee and glancing through the newspapers, while the maid Polya and I stood respectfully at the door gazing at him. Two grown-up persons had to stand watching with the gravest attention a third drinking coffee and munching rusks. It was probably ludicrous and grotesque, but I saw nothing humiliating in having to stand near the door, though I was quite as well born and well educated as Orlov himself.

I was in the first stage of consumption, and was suffering from something else, possibly even more serious than consumption. I don’t know whether it was the effect of my illness or of an incipient change in my philosophy of life of which I was not conscious at the time, but I was, day by day, more possessed by a passionate, irritating longing for ordinary everyday life. I yearned for mental tranquillity, health, fresh air, good food. I was becoming a dreamer, and, like a dreamer, I did not know exactly what I wanted. Sometimes I felt inclined to go into a monastery, to sit there for days together by the window and gaze at the trees and the fields; sometimes I fancied I would buy fifteen acres of land and settle down as a country gentleman; sometimes I inwardly vowed to take up science and become a professor at some provincial university. I was a retired navy lieutenant; I dreamed of the sea, of our squadron, and of the corvette in which I had made the cruise round the world. I longed to experience again the indescribable feeling when, walking in the tropical forest or looking at the sunset in the Bay of Bengal, one is thrilled with ecstasy and at the same time homesick. I dreamed of mountains, women, music, and, with the curiosity of a child, I looked into people’s faces, listened to their voices. And when I stood at the door and watched Orlov sipping his coffee, I felt not a footman, but a man interested in everything in the world, even in Orlov.

In appearance Orlov was a typical Petersburger, with narrow shoulders, a long waist, sunken temples, eyes of an indefinite colour, and scanty, dingy-coloured hair, beard and moustaches. His face had a stale, unpleasant look, though it was studiously cared for. It was particularly unpleasant when he was asleep or lost in thought. It is not worth while describing a quite ordinary appearance; besides, Petersburg is not Spain, and a man’s appearance is not of much consequence even in love affairs, and is only of value to a handsome footman or coachman. I have spoken of Orlov’s face and hair only because there was something in his appearance worth mentioning. When Orlov took a newspaper or book, whatever it might be, or met people, whoever they be, an ironical smile began to come into his eyes, and his whole countenance assumed an expression of light mockery in which there was no malice. Before reading or hearing anything he always had his irony in readiness, as a savage has his shield. It was an habitual irony, like some old liquor brewed years ago, and now it came into his face probably without any participation of his will, as it were by reflex action. But of that later.

Soon after midday he took his portfolio, full of papers, and drove to his office. He dined away from home and returned after eight o’clock. I used to light the lamp and candles in his study, and he would sit down in a low chair with his legs stretched out on another chair, and, reclining in that position, would begin reading. Almost every day he brought in new books with him or received parcels of them from the shops, and there were heaps of books in three languages, to say nothing of Russian, which he had read and thrown away, in the corners of my room and under my bed. He read with extraordinary rapidity. They say: "Tell me what you read, and I’ll tell you who you are." That may be true, but it was absolutely impossible to judge of Orlov by what he read. It was a regular hotchpotch. Philosophy, French novels, political economy, finance, new poets, and publications of the firm Posrednik [1] — and he read it all with the same rapidity and with the same ironical expression in his eyes.

After ten o’clock he carefully dressed, often in evening dress, very rarely in his Kammer-Junker’s uniform, and went out, returning in the morning.

Our relations were quiet and peaceful, and we never had any misunderstanding. As a rule he did not notice my presence, and when he talked to me there was no expression of irony on his face – he evidently did not look upon me as a human being.

I only once saw him angry. One day – it was a week after I had entered his service – he came back from some dinner at nine o’clock; his face looked ill-humoured and exhausted. When I followed him into his study to light the candles, he said to me:

"There’s a nasty smell in the flat."

"No, the air is fresh," I answered.

"I tell you, there’s a bad smell," he answered irritably.

"I open the movable panes every day."

"Don’t argue, blockhead!" he shouted.

I was offended, and was on the point of answering, and goodness knows how it would have ended if Polya, who knew her master better than I did, had not intervened.

"There really is a disagreeable smell," she said, raising her eyebrows. "What can it be from? Stepan, open the pane in the drawing-room, and light the fire."

With much bustle and many exclamations, she went through all the rooms, rustling her skirts and squeezing the sprayer with a hissing sound. And Orlov was still out of humour; he was obviously restraining himself not to vent his ill-temper aloud. He was sitting at the table and rapidly writing a letter. After writing a few lines he snorted angrily and tore it up, then he began writing again.

"Damn them all!" he muttered. "They expect me to have an abnormal memory!"

At last the letter was written; he got up from the table and said, turning to me:

"Go to Znamensky Street and deliver this letter to Zinaida Fyodorovna Krasnovsky in person. But first ask the porter whether her husband – that is, Mr. Krasnovsky – has returned yet. If he has returned, don’t deliver the letter, but come back. Wait a minute! . . . If she asks whether I have any one here, tell her that there have been two gentlemen here since eight o’clock, writing something."

I drove to Znamensky Street. The porter told me that Mr. Krasnovsky had not yet come in, and I made my way up to the third storey. The door was opened by a tall, stout, drab-coloured flunkey with black whiskers, who in a sleepy, churlish, and apathetic voice, such as only flunkeys use in addressing other flunkeys, asked me what I wanted. Before I had time to answer, a lady dressed in black came hurriedly into the hall. She screwed up her eyes and looked at me.

"Is Zinaida Fyodorovna at home?" I asked.

"That is me," said the lady.

"A letter from Georgy Ivanitch."

She tore the letter open impatiently, and holding it in both hands, so that I saw her sparkling diamond rings, she began reading. I made out a pale face with soft lines, a prominent chin, and long dark lashes. From her appearance I should not have judged the lady to be more than five and twenty.

"Give him my thanks and my greetings," she said when she had finished the letter. "Is there any one with Georgy Ivanitch?" she asked softly, joyfully, and as though ashamed of her mistrust.

"Two gentlemen," I answered. "They’re writing something."

"Give him my greetings and thanks," she repeated, bending her head sideways, and, reading the letter as she walked, she went noiselessly out. I saw few women at that time, and this lady of whom I had a passing glimpse made an impression on me. As I walked home I recalled her face and the delicate fragrance about her, and fell to dreaming. By the time I got home Orlov had gone out.


And so my relations with my employer were quiet and peaceful, but still the unclean and degrading element which I so dreaded on becoming a footman was conspicuous and made itself felt every day. I did not get on with Polya. She was a well-fed and pampered hussy who adored Orlov because he was a gentleman and despised me because I was a footman. Probably, from the point of view of a real flunkey or cook, she was fascinating, with her red cheeks, her turned-up nose, her coquettish glances, and the plumpness, one might almost say fatness, of her person. She powdered her face, coloured her lips and eyebrows, laced herself in, and wore a bustle, and a bangle made of coins. She walked with little ripping steps; as she walked she swayed, or, as they say, wriggled her shoulders and back. The rustle of her skirts, the creaking of her stays, the jingle her bangle and the vulgar smell of lip salve, toilet vinegar, and scent stolen from her master, aroused me whilst I was doing the rooms with her in the morning a sensation as though I were taking part with her in some abomination.

Either because I did not steal as she did, or because I displayed no desire to become her lover, which she probably looked upon as an insult, or perhaps because she felt that I was a man of a different order, she hated me from the first day. My inexperience, my appearance – so unlike a flunkey – and my illness, seemed to her pitiful and excited her disgust. I had a bad cough at that time, and sometimes at night I prevented her from sleeping, as our rooms were only divided by a wooden partition, and every morning she said to me:

"Again you didn’t let me sleep. You ought to be in hospital instead of in service."

She so genuinely believed that I was hardly a human being, but something infinitely below her, that, like the Roman matrons who were not ashamed to bathe before their slaves, she sometimes went about in my presence in nothing but her chemise.

Once when I was in a happy, dreamy mood, I asked her at dinner (we had soup and roast meat sent in from a restaurant every day)

"Polya, do you believe in God?"

"Why, of course!"

"Then," I went on, "you believe there will be a day of judgment, and that we shall have to answer to God for every evil action?"

She gave me no reply, but simply made a contemptuous grimace, and, looking that time at her cold eyes and over-fed expression, I realised that for her complete and finished personality no God, no conscience, no laws existed, and that if I had had to set fire to the house, to murder or to rob, I could not have hired a better accomplice.

In my novel surroundings I felt very uncomfortable for the first week at Orlov’s before I got used to being addressed as "thou," and being constantly obliged to tell lies (saying "My master is not at home" when he was). In my flunkey’s swallow-tail I felt as though I were in armour. But I grew accustomed to it in time. Like a genuine footman, I waited at table, tidied the rooms, ran and drove about on errands of all sorts. When Orlov did not want to keep an appointment with Zinaida Fyodorovna, or when he forgot that he had promised to go and see her, I drove to Znamensky Street, put a letter into her hands and told a lie. And the result of it all was quite different from what I had expected when I became a footman. Every day of this new life of mine was wasted for me and my cause, as Orlov never spoke of his father, nor did his visitors, and all I could learn of the statesman’s doings was, as before, what I could glean from the newspapers or from correspondence with my comrades. The hundreds of notes and papers I used to find in the study and read had not the remotest connection with what I was looking for. Orlov was absolutely uninterested in his father’s political work, and looked as though he had never heard of it, or as though his father had long been dead.


Every Thursday we had visitors.

I ordered a piece of roast beef from the restaurant and telephoned to Eliseyev’s to send us caviare, cheese, oysters, and so on. I bought playing-cards. Polya was busy all day getting ready the tea-things and the dinner service. To tell the truth, this spurt of activity came as a pleasant change in our idle life, and Thursdays were for us the most interesting days.

Only three visitors used to come. The most important and perhaps the most interesting was the one called Pekarsky – a tall, lean man of five and forty, with a long hooked nose, with a big black beard, and a bald patch on his head. His eyes were large and prominent, and his expression was grave and thoughtful like that of a Greek philosopher. He was on the board of management of some railway, and also had some post in a bank; he was a consulting lawyer in some important Government institution, and had business relations with a large number of private persons as a trustee, chairman of committees, and so on. He was of quite a low grade in the service, and modestly spoke of himself as a lawyer, but he had a vast influence. A note or card from him was enough to make a celebrated doctor, a director of a railway, or a great dignitary see any one without waiting; and it was said that through his protection one might obtain even a post of the Fourth Class, and get any sort of unpleasant business hushed up. He was looked upon as a very intelligent man, but his was a strange, peculiar intelligence. He was able to multiply 213 by 373 in his head instantaneously, or turn English pounds into German marks without help of pencil or paper; he understood finance and railway business thoroughly, and the machinery of Russian administration had no secrets for him; he was a most skilful pleader in civil suits, and it was not easy to get the better of him at law. But that exceptional intelligence could not grasp many things which are understood even by some stupid people. For instance, he was absolutely unable to understand why people are depressed, why they weep, shoot themselves, and even kill others; why they fret about things that do not affect them personally, and why they laugh when they read Gogol or Shtchedrin. . . . Everything abstract, everything belonging to the domain of thought and feeling, was to him boring and incomprehensible, like music to one who has no ear. He looked at people simply from the business point of view, and divided them into competent and incompetent. No other classification existed for him. Honesty and rectitude were only signs of competence. Drinking, gambling, and debauchery were permissible, but must not be allowed to interfere with business. Believing in God was rather stupid, but religion ought be safeguarded, as the common people must have some principle to restrain them, otherwise they would not work. Punishment is only necessary as deterrent. There was no need to go away for holidays, as it was just as nice in town. And so on. He was a widower and had no children, but lived on a large scale, as though he had a family, and paid thousand roubles a year for his flat.

The second visitor, Kukushkin, an actual civil councillor though a young man, was short, and was conspicuous for his extremely unpleasant appearance, which was due to the disproportion between his fat, puffy body and his lean little face. His lips were puckered up suavely, and his little trimmed moustaches looked as though they had been fixed on with glue. He was a man with the manners of a lizard. He did not walk, but, as it were, crept along with tiny steps, squirming and sniggering, and when he laughed he showed his teeth. He was a clerk on special commissions, and did nothing, though he received a good salary, especially in the summer, when special and lucrative jobs were found for him. He was a man of personal ambition, not only to the marrow of his bones, but more fundamentally – to the last drop of his blood; but even in his ambitions he was petty and did not rely on himself, but was building his career on the chance favour flung him by his superiors. For the sake of obtaining some foreign decoration, or for the sake of having his name mentioned in the newspapers as having been present at some special service in the company of other great personages, he was ready to submit to any kind of humiliation, to beg, to flatter, to promise. He flattered Orlov and Pekarsky from cowardice, because he thought they were powerful; he flattered Polya and me because we were in the service of a powerful man. Whenever I took off his fur coat he tittered and asked me: "Stepan, are you married?" and then unseemly vulgarities followed – by way of showing me special attention. Kukushkin flattered Orlov’s weaknesses, humoured his corrupted and blasé ways; to please him he affected malicious raillery and atheism, in his company criticised persons before whom in other places he would slavishly grovel. When at supper they talked of love and women, he pretended to be a subtle and perverse voluptuary. As a rule, one may say, Petersburg rakes are fond of talking of their abnormal tastes. Some young actual civil councillor is perfectly satisfied with the embraces of his cook or of some unhappy street-walker on the Nevsky Prospect, but to listen to him you would think he was contaminated by all the vices of East and West combined, that he was an honorary member of a dozen iniquitous secret societies and was already marked by the police. Kukushkin lied about himself in an unconscionable way, and they did not exactly disbelieve him, but paid little heed to his incredible stories.

The third guest was Gruzin, the son of a worthy and learned general; a man of Orlov’s age, with long hair, short-sighted eyes, and gold spectacles. I remember his long white fingers, that looked like a pianist’s; and, indeed, there was something of a musician, of a virtuoso, about his whole figure. The first violins in orchestras look just like that. He used to cough, suffered from migraine, and seemed invalidish and delicate. Probably at home he was dressed and undressed like a baby. He had finished at the College of Jurisprudence, and had at first served in the Department of Justice, then he was transferred to the Senate; he left that, and through patronage had received a post in the Department of Crown Estates, and had soon afterwards given that up. In my time he was serving in Orlov’s department; he was his head-clerk, but he said that he should soon exchange into the Department of Justice again. He took his duties and his shifting about from one post to another with exceptional levity, and when people talked before him seriously of grades in the service, decorations, salaries, he smiled good-naturedly and repeated Prutkov’s aphorism: "It’s only in the Government service you learn the truth." He had a little wife with a wrinkled face, who was very jealous of him, and five weedy-looking children. He was unfaithful to his wife, he was only fond of his children when he saw them, and on the whole was rather indifferent to his family, and made fun of them. He and his family existed on credit, borrowing wherever they could at every opportunity, even from his superiors in the office and porters in people’s houses. His was a flabby nature; he was so lazy that he did not care what became of himself, and drifted along heedless where or why he was going. He went where he was taken. If he was taken to some low haunt, he went; if wine was set before him, he drank – if it were not put before him, he abstained; if wives were abused in his presence, he abused his wife, declaring she had ruined his life – when wives were praised, he praised his and said quite sincerely: "I am very fond of her, poor thing!" He had no fur coat and always wore a rug which smelt of the nursery. When at supper he rolled balls of bread and drank a great deal of red wine, absorbed in thought, strange to say, I used to feel almost certain that there was something in him of which perhaps he had a vague sense, though in the bustle and vulgarity of his daily life he had not time to understand and appreciate it. He played a little on the piano. Sometimes he would sit down at the piano, play a chord or two, and begin singing softly:

"What does the coming day bring to me?"

But at once, as though afraid, he would get up and walk from the piano.
The visitors usually arrived about ten o’clock. They played cards in Orlov’s study, and Polya and I handed them tea. It was only on these occasions that I could gauge the full sweetness of a flunkey’s life. Standing for four or five hours at the door, watching that no one’s glass should be empty, changing the ash-trays, running to the table to pick up the chalk or a card when it was dropped, and, above all, standing, waiting, being attentive without venturing to speak, to cough, to smile – is harder, I assure you, is harder than the hardest of field labour. I have stood on watch at sea for four hours at a stretch on stormy winter nights, and to my thinking it is an infinitely easier duty.

They used to play cards till two, sometimes till three o’clock at night, and then, stretching, they would go into the dining-room to supper, or, as Orlov said, for a snack of something. At supper there was conversation. It usually began by Orlov’s speaking with laughing eyes of some acquaintance, of some book he had lately been reading, of a new appointment or Government scheme. Kukushkin, always ingratiating, would fall into his tone, and what followed was to me, in my mood at that time, a revolting exhibition. The irony of Orlov and his friends knew no bounds, and spared no one and nothing. If they spoke of religion, it was with irony; they spoke of philosophy, of the significance and object of life – irony again, if any one began about the peasantry, it was with irony.

There is in Petersburg a species of men whose specialty it is to jeer at every aspect of life; they cannot even pass by a starving man or a suicide without saying something vulgar. But Orlov and his friends did not jeer or make jokes, they talked ironically. They used to say that there was no God, and personality was completely lost at death; the immortals only existed in the French Academy. Real good did not and could not possibly exist, as its existence was conditional upon human perfection, which was a logical absurdity. Russia was a country as poor and dull as Persia. The intellectual class was hopeless; in Pekarsky’s opinion the overwhelming majority in it were incompetent persons, good for nothing. The people were drunken, lazy, thievish, and degenerate. We had no science, our literature was uncouth, our commerce rested on swindling – "No selling without cheating." And everything was in that style, and everything was a subject for laughter.

Towards the end of supper the wine made them more good-humoured, and they passed to more lively conversation. They laughed over Gruzin’s family life, over Kukushkin’s conquests, or at Pekarsky, who had, they said, in his account book one page headed Charity and another Physiological Necessities. They said that no wife was faithful; that there was no wife from whom one could not, with practice, obtain caresses without leaving her drawing-room while her husband was sitting in his study close by; that girls in their teens were perverted and knew everything. Orlov had preserved a letter of a schoolgirl of fourteen: on her way home from school she had "hooked an officer on the Nevsky," who had, it appears, taken her home with him, and had only let her go late in the evening; and she hastened to write about this to her school friend to share her joy with her. They maintained that there was not and never had been such a thing as moral purity, and that evidently it was unnecessary; mankind had so far done very well without it. The harm done by so-called vice was undoubtedly exaggerated. Vices which are punished by our legal code had not prevented Diogenes from being a philosopher and a teacher. Cesar and Cicero were profligates and at the same time great men. Cato in his old age married a young girl, and yet he was regarded as a great ascetic and a pillar of morality.

At three or four o’clock the party broke up or they went off together out of town, or to Officers’ Street, to the house of a certain Varvara Ossipovna, while I retired to my quarters, and was kept awake a long while by coughing and headache.


Three weeks after I entered Orlov’s service – it was Sunday morning, I remember – somebody rang the bell. It was not yet eleven, and Orlov was still asleep. I went to open the door. You can imagine my astonishment when I found a lady in a veil standing at the door on the landing.

"Is Georgy Ivanitch up?" she asked.

From her voice I recognised Zinaida Fyodorovna, to whom I had taken letters in Znamensky Street. I don’t remember whether I had time or self-possession to answer her – I was taken aback at seeing her. And, indeed, she did not need my answer. In a flash she had darted by me, and, filling the hall with the fragrance of her perfume, which I remember to this day, she went on, and her footsteps died away. For at least half an hour afterwards I heard nothing. But again some one rang. This time it was a smartly dressed girl, who looked like a maid in a wealthy family, accompanied by our house porter. Both were out of breath, carrying two trunks and a dress-basket.

"These are for Zinaida Fyodorovna," said the girl.

And she went down without saying another word. All this was mysterious, and made Polya, who had a deep admiration for the pranks of her betters, smile slyly to herself; she looked as though she would like to say, "So that’s what we’re up to," and she walked about the whole time on tiptoe. At last we heard footsteps; Zinaida Fyodorovna came quickly into the hall, and seeing me at the door of my room, said:

"Stepan, take Georgy Ivanitch his things."

When I went in to Orlov with his clothes and his boots, he was sitting on the bed with his feet on the bearskin rug. There was an air of embarrassment about his whole figure. He did not notice me, and my menial opinion did not interest him; he was evidently perturbed and embarrassed before himself, before his inner eye. He dressed, washed, and used his combs and brushes silently and deliberately, as though allowing himself time to think over his position and to reflect, and even from his back one could see he was troubled and dissatisfied with himself.

They drank coffee together. Zinaida Fyodorovna poured out coffee for herself and for Orlov, then she put her elbows on the table and laughed.

"I still can’t believe it," she said. "When one has been a long while on one’s travels and reaches a hotel at last, it’s difficult to believe that one hasn’t to go on. It is pleasant to breathe freely."

With the expression of a child who very much wants to be mischievous, she sighed with relief and laughed again.

"You will excuse me," said Orlov, nodding towards the coffee. "Reading at breakfast is a habit I can’t get over. But I can do two things at once – read and listen."

"Read away. . . . You shall keep your habits and your freedom. But why do you look so solemn? Are you always like that in the morning, or is it only to-day? Aren’t you glad?"

"Yes, I am. But I must own I am a little overwhelmed."

"Why? You had plenty of time to prepare yourself for my descent upon you. I’ve been threatening to come every day."

"Yes, but I didn’t expect you to carry out your threat to-day."

"I didn’t expect it myself, but that’s all the better. It’s all the better, my dear. It’s best to have an aching tooth out and have done with it."

"Yes, of course."

"Oh, my dear," she said, closing her eyes, "all is well that ends well; but before this happy ending, what suffering there has been! My laughing means nothing; I am glad, I am happy, but I feel more like crying than laughing. Yesterday I had to fight a regular battle," she went on in French. "God alone knows how wretched I was. But I laugh because I can’t believe in it. I keep fancying that my sitting here drinking coffee with you is not real, but a dream."

Then, still speaking French, she described how she had broken with her husband the day before and her eyes were alternately full of tears and of laughter while she gazed with rapture at Orlov. She told him her husband had long suspected her, but had avoided explanations; they had frequent quarrels, and usually at the most heated moment he would suddenly subside into silence and depart to his study for fear that in his exasperation he might give utterance to his suspicions or she might herself begin to speak openly. And she had felt guilty, worthless, incapable of taking a bold and serious step, and that had made her hate herself and her husband more every day, and she had suffered the torments of hell. But the day before, when during a quarrel he had cried out in a tearful voice, "My God, when will it end?" and had walked off to his study, she had run after him like a cat after a mouse, and, preventing him from shutting the door, she had cried that she hated him with her whole soul. Then he let her come into the study and she had told him everything, had confessed that she loved some one else, that that some one else was her real, most lawful husband, and that she thought it her true duty to go away to him that very day, whatever might happen, if she were to be shot for it.

"There’s a very romantic streak in you," Orlov interrupted, keeping his eyes fixed on the newspaper.

She laughed and went on talking without touching her coffee. Her cheeks glowed and she was a little embarrassed by it, and she looked in confusion at Polya and me. From what she went on to say I learnt that her husband had answered her with threats, reproaches, and finally tears, and that it would have been more accurate to say that she, and not he, had been the attacking party.

"Yes, my dear, so long as I was worked up, everything went all right," she told Orlov; "but as night came on, my spirits sank. You don’t believe in God, George, but I do believe a little, and I fear retribution. God requires of us patience, magnanimity, self-sacrifice, and here I am refusing to be patient and want to remodel my life to suit myself. Is that right? What if from the point of view of God it’s wrong? At two o’clock in the night my husband came to me and said: ’You dare not go away. I’ll fetch you back through the police and make a scandal.’ And soon afterwards I saw him like a shadow at my door. ’Have mercy on me! Your elopement may injure me in the service. Those words had a coarse effect upon me and made me feel stiff all over. I felt as though the retribution were beginning already; I began crying and trembling with terror. I felt as though the ceiling would fall upon me, that I should be dragged off to the police-station at once, that you would grow cold to me – all sorts of things, in fact! I thought I would go into a nunnery or become a nurse, and give up all thought of happiness, but then I remembered that you loved me, and that I had no right to dispose of myself without your knowledge; and everything in my mind was in a tangle – I was in despair and did not know what to do or think. But the sun rose and I grew happier. As soon as it was morning I dashed off to you. Ah, what I’ve been through, dear one! I haven’t slept for two nights!

She was tired out and excited. She was sleepy, and at the same time she wanted to talk endlessly, to laugh and to cry, and to go to a restaurant to lunch that she might feel her freedom.

"You have a cosy flat, but I am afraid it may be small for the two of us," she said, walking rapidly through all the rooms when they had finished breakfast. "What room will you give me? I like this one because it is next to your study."

At one o’clock she changed her dress in the room next to the study, which from that time she called hers, and she went off with Orlov to lunch. They dined, too, at a restaurant, and spent the long interval between lunch and dinner in shopping. Till late at night I was opening the door to messengers and errand-boys from the shops. They bought, among other things, a splendid pier-glass, a dressing-table, a bedstead, and a gorgeous tea service which we did not need. They bought a regular collection of copper saucepans, which we set in a row on the shelf in our cold, empty kitchen. As we were unpacking the tea service Polya’s eyes gleamed, and she looked at me two or three times with hatred and fear that I, not she, would be the first to steal one of these charming cups. A lady’s writing-table, very expensive and inconvenient, came too. It was evident that Zinaida Fyodorovna contemplated settling with us for good, and meant to make the flat her home.

She came back with Orlov between nine and ten. Full of proud consciousness that she had done something bold and out of the common, passionately in love, and, as she imagined, passionately loved, exhausted, looking forward to a sweet sound sleep, Zinaida Fyodorovna was revelling in her new life. She squeezed her hands together in the excess of her joy, declared that everything was delightful, and swore that she would love Orlov for ever; and these vows, and the naïve, almost childish confidence that she too was deeply loved and would be loved forever, made her at least five years younger. She talked charming nonsense and laughed at herself.

"There’s no other blessing greater than freedom!" she said, forcing herself to say something serious and edifying. "How absurd it is when you think of it! We attach no value to our own opinion even when it is wise, but tremble before the opinion of all sorts of stupid people. Up to the last minute I was afraid of what other people would say, but as soon as I followed my own instinct and made up my mind to go my own way, my eyes were opened, I overcame my silly fears, and now I am happy and wish every one could be as happy!"

But her thoughts immediately took another turn, and she began talking of another flat, of wallpapers, horses, a trip to Switzerland and Italy. Orlov was tired by the restaurants and the shops, and was still suffering from the same uneasiness that I had noticed in the morning. He smiled, but more from politeness than pleasure, and when she spoke of anything seriously, he agreed ironically: "Oh, yes."

"Stepan, make haste and find us a good cook," she said to me.

"There’s no need to be in a hurry over the kitchen arrangements," said Orlov, looking at me coldly. "We must first move into another flat."

We had never had cooking done at home nor kept horses, because, as he said, "he did not like disorder about him," and only put up with having Polya and me in his flat from necessity. The so-called domestic hearth with its everyday joys and its petty cares offended his taste as vulgarity; to be with child, or to have children and talk about them, was bad form, like a petty bourgeois. And I began to feel very curious to see how these two creatures would get on together in one flat – she, domestic and home-loving with her copper saucepans and her dreams of a good cook and horses; and he, fond of saying to his friends that a decent and orderly man’s flat ought, like a warship, to have nothing in it superfluous – no women, no children, no rags, no kitchen utensils.


Then I will tell you what happened the following Thursday. That day Zinaida Fyodorovna dined at Content’s or Donon’s. Orlov returned home alone, and Zinaida Fyodorovna, as I learnt afterwards, went to the Petersburg Side to spend with her old governess the time visitors were with us. Orlov did not care to show her to his friends. I realised that at breakfast, when he began assuring her that for the sake of her peace of mind it was essential to give up his Thursday evenings.

As usual the visitors arrived at almost the same time.

"Is your mistress at home, too?" Kukushkin asked me in a whisper.

"No, sir," I answered.

He went in with a sly, oily look in his eyes, smiling mysteriously, rubbing his hands, which were cold from the frost.

"I have the honour to congratulate you," he said to Orlov, shaking all over with ingratiating, obsequious laughter. "May you increase and multiply like the cedars of Lebanon."

The visitors went into the bedroom, and were extremely jocose on the subject of a pair of feminine slippers, the rug that had been put down between the two beds, and a grey dressing-jacket that hung at the foot of the bedstead. They were amused that the obstinate man who despised all the common place details of love had been caught in feminine snares in such a simple and ordinary way.

"He who pointed the finger of scorn is bowing the knee in homage," Kukushkin repeated several times. He had, I may say in parenthesis, an unpleasant habit of adorning his conversation with texts in Church Slavonic. "Sh-sh!" he said as they went from the bedroom into the room next to the study. "Sh-sh! Here Gretchen is dreaming of her Faust."

He went off into a peal of laughter as though he had said something very amusing. I watched Gruzin, expecting that his musical soul would not endure this laughter, but I was mistaken. His thin, good-natured face beamed with pleasure. When they sat down to play cards, he, lisping and choking with laughter, said that all that "dear George" wanted to complete his domestic felicity was a cherry-wood pipe and a guitar. Pekarsky laughed sedately, but from his serious expression one could see that Orlov’s new love affair was distasteful to him. He did not understand what had happened exactly.

"But how about the husband?" he asked in perplexity, after they had played three rubbers.

"I don’t know," answered Orlov.

Pekarsky combed his big beard with his fingers and sank into thought, and he did not speak again till supper-time. When they were seated at supper, he began deliberately, drawling every word:

"Altogether, excuse my saying so, I don’t understand either of you. You might love each other and break the seventh commandment to your heart’s content – that I understand. Yes, that’s comprehensible. But why make the husband a party to your secrets? Was there any need for that?"

"But does it make any difference?"

"Hm! . . . ." Pekarsky mused. "Well, then, let me tell you this, my friend," he went on, evidently thinking hard: "if I ever marry again and you take it into your head to seduce my wife, please do it so that I don’t notice it. It’s much more honest to deceive a man than to break up his family life and injure his reputation. I understand. You both imagine that in living together openly you are doing something exceptionally honourable and advanced, but I can’t agree with that . . . what shall I call it? . . . romantic attitude?"

Orlov made no reply. He was out of humour and disinclined to talk. Pekarsky, still perplexed, drummed on the table with his fingers, thought a little, and said:

"I don’t understand you, all the same. You are not a student and she is not a dressmaker. You are both of you people with means. I should have thought you might have arranged a separate flat for her."

"No, I couldn’t. Read Turgenev."

"Why should I read him? I have read him already."

"Turgenev teaches us in his novels that every exalted, noble-minded girl should follow the man she loves to the ends of the earth, and should serve his idea," said Orlov, screwing up his eyes ironically. "The ends of the earth are poetic license; the earth and all its ends can be reduced to the flat of the man she loves. . . . And so not to live in the same flat with the woman who loves you is to deny her her exalted vocation and to refuse to share her ideals. Yes, my dear fellow, Turgenev wrote, and I have to suffer for it."

"What Turgenev has got to do with it I don’t understand," said Gruzin softly, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Do you remember, George, how in ’Three Meetings’ he is walking late in the evening somewhere in Italy, and suddenly hears, ’Vieni pensando a me segretamente,’" Gruzin hummed. "It’s fine."

But she hasn’t come to settle with you by force," said Pekarsky. "It was your own wish."

"What next! Far from wishing it, I never imagined that this would ever happen. When she said she was coming to live with me, I thought it was a charming joke on her part."

Everybody laughed.

"I couldn’t have wished for such a thing," said Orlov in the tone of a man compelled to justify himself. "I am not a Turgenev hero, and if I ever wanted to free Bulgaria I shouldn’t need a lady’s company. I look upon love primarily as a necessity of my physical nature, degrading and antagonistic to my spirit; it must either be satisfied with discretion or renounced altogether, otherwise it will bring into one’s life elements as unclean as itself. For it to be an enjoyment and not a torment, I will try to make it beautiful and to surround it with a mass of illusions. I should never go and see a woman unless I were sure beforehand that she would be beautiful and fascinating; and I should never go unless I were in the mood. And it is only in that way that we succeed in deceiving one another, and fancying that we are in love and happy. But can I wish for copper saucepans and untidy hair, or like to be seen myself when I am unwashed or out of humour? Zinaida Fyodorovna in the simplicity of her heart wants me to love what I have been shunning all my life. She wants my flat to smell of cooking and washing up; she wants all the fuss of moving into another flat, of driving about with her own horses; she wants to count over my linen and to look after my health; she wants to meddle in my personal life at every instant, and to watch over every step; and at the same time she assures me genuinely that my habits and my freedom will be untouched. She is persuaded that, like a young couple, we shall very soon go for a honeymoon – that is, she wants to be with me all the time in trains and hotels, while I like to read on the journey and cannot endure talking in trains."

"You should give her a talking to," said Pekarsky.

"What! Do you suppose she would understand me? Why, we think so differently. In her opinion, to leave one’s papa and mamma or one’s husband for the sake of the man one loves is the height of civic virtue, while I look upon it as childish. To fall in love and run away with a man to her means beginning a new life, while to my mind it means nothing at all. Love and man constitute the chief interest of her life, and possibly it is the philosophy of the unconscious at work in her. Try and make her believe that love is only a simple physical need, like the need of food or clothes; that it doesn’t mean the end of the world if wives and husbands are unsatisfactory; that a man may be a profligate and a libertine, and yet a man of honour and a genius; and that, on the other hand, one may abstain from the pleasures of love and at the same time be a stupid, vicious animal! The civilised man of to-day, even among the lower classes – for instance, the French workman – spends ten sous on dinner, five sous on his wine, and five or ten sous on woman, and devotes his brain and nerves entirely to his work. But Zinaida Fyodorovna assigns to love not so many sous, but her whole soul. I might give her a talking to, but she would raise a wail in answer, and declare in all sincerity that I had ruined her, that she had nothing left to live for."

"Don’t say anything to her," said Pekarsky, "but simply take a separate flat for her, that’s all."

"That’s easy to say."

There was a brief silence.

"But she is charming," said Kukushkin. "She is exquisite. Such women imagine that they will be in love for ever, and abandon themselves with tragic intensity."

"But one must keep a head on one’s shoulders," said Orlov; "one must be reasonable. All experience gained from everyday life and handed down in innumerable novels and plays, uniformly confirms the fact that adultery and cohabitation of any sort between decent people never lasts longer than two or at most three years, however great the love may have been at the beginning. That she ought to know. And so all this business of moving, of saucepans, hopes of eternal love and harmony, are nothing but a desire to delude herself and me. She is charming and exquisite – who denies it? But she has turned my life upside down; what I have regarded as trivial and nonsensical till now she has forced me to raise to the level of a serious problem; I serve an idol whom I have never looked upon as God. She is charming – exquisite, but for some reason now when I am going home, I feel uneasy, as though I expected to meet with something inconvenient at home, such as workmen pulling the stove to pieces and blocking up the place with heaps of bricks. In fact, I am no longer giving up to love a sous, but part of my peace of mind and my nerves. And that’s bad."

"And she doesn’t hear this villain!" sighed Kukushkin. "My dear sir," he said theatrically, "I will relieve you from the burdensome obligation to love that adorable creature! I will wrest Zinaida Fyodorovna from you!"

"You may . . ." said Orlov carelessly.

For half a minute Kukushkin laughed a shrill little laugh, shaking all over, then he said:

"Look out; I am in earnest! Don’t you play the Othello afterwards!"

They all began talking of Kukushkin’s indefatigable energy in love affairs, how irresistible he was to women, and what a danger he was to husbands; and how the devil would roast him in the other world for his immorality in this. He screwed up his eyes and remained silent, and when the names of ladies of their acquaintance were mentioned, he held up his little finger – as though to say they mustn’t give away other people’s secrets.

Orlov suddenly looked at his watch.

His friends understood, and began to take their leave. I remember that Gruzin, who was a little drunk, was wearisomely long in getting off. He put on his coat, which was cut like children’s coats in poor families, pulled up the collar, and began telling some long-winded story; then, seeing he was not listened to, he flung the rug that smelt of the nursery over one shoulder, and with a guilty and imploring face begged me to find his hat.

"George, my angel," he said tenderly. "Do as I ask you, dear boy; come out of town with us!"

"You can go, but I can’t. I am in the position of a married man now."

"She is a dear, she won’t be angry. My dear chief, come along! It’s glorious weather; there’s snow and frost. . . . Upon my word, you want shaking up a bit; you are out of humour. I don’t know what the devil is the matter with you. . . ."

Orlov stretched, yawned, and looked at Pekarsky.

"Are you going?" he said, hesitating.

"I don’t know. Perhaps."

"Shall I get drunk? All right, I’ll come," said Orlov after some hesitation. "Wait a minute; I’ll get some money."

He went into the study, and Gruzin slouched in, too, dragging his rug after him. A minute later both came back into the hall. Gruzin, a little drunk and very pleased, was crumpling a ten-rouble note in his hands.

"We’ll settle up to-morrow," he said. "And she is kind, she won’t be cross. . . . She is my Lisotchka’s godmother; I am fond of her, poor thing! Ah, my dear fellow!" he laughed joyfully, and pressing his forehead on Pekarsky’s back. "Ah, Pekarsky, my dear soul! Advocatissimus – as dry as a biscuit, but you bet he is fond of women. . . ."

"Fat ones," said Orlov, putting on his fur coat. "But let us get off, or we shall be meeting her on the doorstep."

"’Vieni pensando a me segretamente,’" hummed Gruzin.

At last they drove off: Orlov did not sleep at home, and returned next day at dinner-time.


Zinaida Fyodorovna had lost her gold watch, a present from her father. This loss surprised and alarmed her. She spent half a day going through the rooms, looking helplessly on all the tables and on all the windows. But the watch had disappeared completely.

Only three days afterwards Zinaida Fyodorovna, on coming in, left her purse in the hall. Luckily for me, on that occasion it was not I but Polya who helped her off with her coat. When the purse was missed, it could not be found in the hall.

"Strange," said Zinaida Fyodorovna in bewilderment. "I distinctly remember taking it out of my pocket to pay the cabman . . . and then I put it here near the looking-glass. It’s very odd!"

I had not stolen it, but I felt as though I had stolen it and had been caught in the theft. Tears actually came into my eyes. When they were seated at dinner, Zinaida Fyodorovna said to Orlov in French:

"There seem to be spirits in the flat. I lost my purse in the hall to-day, and now, lo and behold, it is on my table. But it’s not quite a disinterested trick of the spirits. They took out a gold coin and twenty roubles in notes."

"You are always losing something; first it’s your watch and then it’s your money . . ." said Orlov. "Why is it nothing of the sort ever happens to me?"

A minute later Zinaida Fyodorovna had forgotten the trick played by the spirits, and was telling with a laugh how the week before she had ordered some notepaper and had forgotten to give her new address, and the shop had sent the paper to her old home at her husband’s, who had to pay twelve roubles for it. And suddenly she turned her eyes on Polya and looked at her intently. She blushed as she did so, and was so confused that she began talking of something else.

When I took in the coffee to the study, Orlov was standing with his back to the fire and she was sitting in an arm-chair facing him.

"I am not in a bad temper at all," she was saying in French. "But I have been putting things together, and now I see it clearly. I can give you the day and the hour when she stole my watch. And the purse? There can be no doubt about it. Oh!" she laughed as she took the coffee from me. "Now I understand why I am always losing my handkerchiefs and gloves. Whatever you say, I shall dismiss the magpie to-morrow and send Stepan for my Sofya. She is not a thief and has not got such a repulsive appearance."

"You are out of humour. To-morrow you will feel differently, and will realise that you can’t discharge people simply because you suspect them."

"It’s not suspicion; it’s certainty," said Zinaida Fyodorovna. "So long as I suspected that unhappy-faced, poor-looking valet of yours, I said nothing. It’s too bad of you not to believe me, George."

"If we think differently about anything, it doesn’t follow that I don’t believe you. You may be right," said Orlov, turning round and flinging his cigarette-end into the fire, "but there is no need to be excited about it, anyway. In fact, I must say, I never expected my humble establishment would cause you so much serious worry and agitation. You’ve lost a gold coin: never mind – you may have a hundred of mine; but to change my habits, to pick up a new housemaid, to wait till she is used to the place – all that’s a tedious, tiring business and does not suit me. Our present maid certainly is fat, and has, perhaps, a weakness for gloves and handkerchiefs, but she is perfectly well behaved, well trained, and does not shriek when Kukushkin pinches her."

"You mean that you can’t part with her? . . . Why don’t you say so?"

"Are you jealous?"

"Yes, I am," said Zinaida Fyodorovna, decidedly.

"Thank you."

"Yes, I am jealous," she repeated, and tears glistened in her eyes. "No, it’s something worse . . . which I find it difficult to find a name for." She pressed her hands on her temples, and went on impulsively. "You men are so disgusting! It’s horrible!"

"I see nothing horrible about it."

"I’ve not seen it; I don’t know; but they say that you men begin with housemaids as boys, and get so used to it that you feel no repugnance. I don’t know, I don’t know, but I have actually read . . .George, of course you are right," she said, going up to Orlov and changing to a caressing and imploring tone. "I really am out of humour to-day. But, you must understand, I can’t help it. She disgusts me and I am afraid of her. It makes me miserable to see her."

"Surely you can rise above such paltriness?" said Orlov, shrugging his shoulders in perplexity, and walking away from the fire. "Nothing could be simpler: take no notice of her, and then she won’t disgust you, and you won’t need to make a regular tragedy out of a trifle."

I went out of the study, and I don’t know what answer Orlov received. Whatever it was, Polya remained. After that Zinaida Fyodorovna never applied to her for anything, and evidently tried to dispense with her services. When Polya handed her anything or even passed by her, jingling her bangle and rustling her skirts, she shuddered.

I believe that if Gruzin or Pekarsky had asked Orlov to dismiss Polya he would have done so without the slightest hesitation, without troubling about any explanations. He was easily persuaded, like all indifferent people. But in his relations with Zinaida Fyodorovna he displayed for some reason, even in trifles, an obstinacy which sometimes was almost irrational. I knew beforehand that if Zinaida Fyodorovna liked anything, it would be certain not to please Orlov. When on coming in from shopping she made haste to show him with pride some new purchase, he would glance at it and say coldly that the more unnecessary objects they had in the flat, the less airy it would be. It sometimes happened that after putting on his dress clothes to go out somewhere, and after saying good-bye to Zinaida Fyodorovna, he would suddenly change his mind and remain at home from sheer perversity. I used to think that he remained at home then simply in order to feel injured.

"Why are you staying?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, with a show of vexation, though at the same time she was radiant with delight. "Why do you? You are not accustomed to spending your evenings at home, and I don’t want you to alter your habits on my account. Do go out as usual, if you don’t want me to feel guilty."

"No one is blaming you," said Orlov.

With the air of a victim he stretched himself in his easy-chair in the study, and shading his eyes with his hand, took up a book. But soon the book dropped from his hand, he turned heavily in his chair, and again screened his eyes as though from the sun. Now he felt annoyed that he had not gone out.

"May I come in?" Zinaida Fyodorovna would say, coming irresolutely into the study. "Are you reading? I felt dull by myself, and have come just for a minute . . . to have a peep at you."

I remember one evening she went in like that, irresolutely and inappropriately, and sank on the rug at Orlov’s feet, and from her soft, timid movements one could see that she did not understand his mood and was afraid.

"You are always reading . . ." she said cajolingly, evidently wishing to flatter him. "Do you know, George, what is one of the secrets of your success? You are very clever and well-read. What book have you there?"

Orlov answered. A silence followed for some minutes which seemed to me very long. I was standing in the drawing-room, from which I could watch them, and was afraid of coughing.

"There is something I wanted to tell you," said Zinaida Fyodorovna, and she laughed; "shall I? Very likely you’ll laugh and say that I flatter myself. You know I want, I want horribly to believe that you are staying at home to-night for my sake . . . that we might spend the evening together. Yes? May I think so?"

"Do," he said, screening his eyes. "The really happy man is he who thinks not only of what is, but of what is not."

"That was a long sentence which I did not quite understand. You mean happy people live in their imagination. Yes, that’s true. I love to sit in your study in the evening and let my thoughts carry me far, far away. . . . It’s pleasant sometimes to dream. Let us dream aloud, George."

"I’ve never been at a girls’ boarding-school; I never learnt the art."

"You are out of humour?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, taking Orlov’s hand. "Tell me why. When you are like that, I’m afraid. I don’t know whether your head aches or whether you are angry with me. . . ."

Again there was a silence lasting several long minutes.

"Why have you changed?" she said softly. "Why are you never so tender or so gay as you used to be at Znamensky Street? I’ve been with you almost a month, but it seems to me as though we had not yet begun to live, and have not yet talked of anything as we ought to. You always answer me with jokes or else with a long cold lecture like a teacher. And there is something cold in your jokes. . . . Why have you given up talking to me seriously?"

"I always talk seriously."

"Well, then, let us talk. For God’s sake, George. . . . Shall we?"

"Certainly, but about what?"

"Let us talk of our life, of our future," said Zinaida Fyodorovna dreamily. "I keep making plans for our life, plans and plans – and I enjoy doing it so! George, I’ll begin with the question, when are you going to give up your post?"

"What for?" asked Orlov, taking his hand from his forehead.

"With your views you cannot remain in the service. You are out of place there."

"My views?" Orlov repeated. "My views? In conviction and temperament I am an ordinary official, one of Shtchedrin’s heroes. You take me for something different, I venture to assure you."

"Joking again, George!"

"Not in the least. The service does not satisfy me, perhaps; but, anyway, it is better for me than anything else. I am used to it, and in it I meet men of my own sort; I am in my place there and find it tolerable."

"You hate the service and it revolts you."

"Indeed? If I resign my post, take to dreaming aloud and letting myself be carried away into another world, do you suppose that that world would be less hateful to me than the service?"

"You are ready to libel yourself in order to contradict me." Zinaida Fyodorovna was offended and got up. "I am sorry I began this talk."

"Why are you angry? I am not angry with you for not being an official. Every one lives as he likes best."

"Why, do you live as you like best? Are you free? To spend your life writing documents that are opposed to your own ideas," Zinaida Fyodorovna went on, clasping her hands in despair: "to submit to authority, congratulate your superiors at the New Year, and then cards and nothing but cards: worst of all, to be working for a system which must be distasteful to you – no, George, no! You should not make such horrid jokes. It’s dreadful. You are a man of ideas, and you ought to be working for your ideas and nothing else."

"You really take me for quite a different person from what I am," sighed Orlov.

"Say simply that you don’t want to talk to me. You dislike me, that’s all," said Zinaida Fyodorovna through her tears.

"Look here, my dear," said Orlov admonishingly, sitting up in his chair. "You were pleased to observe yourself that I am a clever, well-read man, and to teach one who knows does nothing but harm. I know very well all the ideas, great and small, which you mean when you call me a man of ideas. So if I prefer the service and cards to those ideas, you may be sure I have good grounds for it. That’s one thing. Secondly, you have, so far as I know, never been in the service, and can only have drawn your ideas of Government service from anecdotes and indifferent novels. So it would not be amiss for us to make a compact, once for all, not to talk of things we know already or of things about which we are not competent to speak."

"Why do you speak to me like that?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, stepping back as though in horror. "What for? George, for God’s sake, think what you are saying!"

Her voice quivered and broke; she was evidently trying to restrain her tears, but she suddenly broke into sobs.

"George, my darling, I am perishing!" she said in French, dropping down before Orlov, and laying her head on his knees. "I am miserable, I am exhausted. I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it. . . . In my childhood my hateful, depraved stepmother, then my husband, now you . . . you! . . . You meet my mad love with coldness and irony. . . . And that horrible, insolent servant," she went on, sobbing. "Yes, yes, I see: I am not your wife nor your friend, but a woman you don’t respect because she has become your mistress. . . . I shall kill myself!"

I had not expected that her words and her tears would make such an impression on Orlov. He flushed, moved uneasily in his chair, and instead of irony, his face wore a look of stupid, schoolboyish dismay.

"My darling, you misunderstood me," he muttered helplessly, touching her hair and her shoulders. "Forgive me, I entreat you. I was unjust and I hate myself."

"I insult you with my whining and complaints. You are a true, generous . . . rare man – I am conscious of it every minute; but I’ve been horribly depressed for the last few days. . ."

Zinaida Fyodorovna impulsively embraced Orlov and kissed him on the cheek.

"Only please don’t cry," he said.

"No, no. . . . I’ve had my cry, and now I am better."

"As for the servant, she shall be gone to-morrow," he said, still moving uneasily in his chair.

"No, she must stay, George! Do you hear? I am not afraid of her now. . . . One must rise above trifles and not imagine silly things. You are right! You are a wonderful, rare person!"

She soon left off crying. With tears glistening on her eyelashes, sitting on Orlov’s knee, she told him in a low voice something touching, something like a reminiscence of childhood and youth. She stroked his face, kissed him, and carefully examined his hands with the rings on them and the charms on his watch-chain. She was carried away by what she was saying, and by being near the man she loved, and probably because her tears had cleared and refreshed her soul, there was a note of wonderful candour and sincerity in her voice. And Orlov played with her chestnut hair and kissed her hands, noiselessly pressing them to his lips.

Then they had tea in the study, and Zinaida Fyodorovna read aloud some letters. Soon after midnight they went to bed. I had a fearful pain in my side that night, and I not get warm or go to sleep till morning. I could hear Orlov go from the bedroom into his study. After sitting there about an hour, he rang the bell. In my pain and exhaustion I forgot all the rules and conventions, and went to his study in my night attire, barefooted. Orlov, in his dressing-gown and cap, was standing in the doorway, waiting for me.

"When you are sent for you should come dressed," he said sternly. "Bring some fresh candles."

I was about to apologise, but suddenly broke into a violent cough, and clutched at the side of the door to save myself from falling.

"Are you ill?" said Orlov.

I believe it was the first time of our acquaintance that he addressed me not in the singular – goodness knows why. Most likely, in my night clothes and with my face distorted by coughing, I played my part poorly, and was very little like a flunkey.

"If you are ill, why do you take a place?" he said.

"That I may not die of starvation," I answered.

"How disgusting it all is, really!" he said softly, going up to his table.

While hurriedly getting into my coat, I put up and lighted fresh candles. He was sitting at the table, with feet stretched out on a low chair, cutting a book.

I left him deeply engrossed, and the book did not drop out of his hands as it had done in the evening.


Now that I am writing these lines I am restrained by that dread of appearing sentimental and ridiculous, in which I have been trained from childhood; when I want to be affectionate or to say anything tender, I don’t know how to be natural. And it is that dread, together with lack of practice, that prevents me from being able to express with perfect clearness what was passing in my soul at that time.

I was not in love with Zinaida Fyodorovna, but in the ordinary human feeling I had for her, there was far more youth, freshness, and joyousness than in Orlov’s love.

As I worked in the morning, cleaning boots or sweeping the rooms, I waited with a thrill at my heart for the moment when I should hear her voice and her footsteps. To stand watching her as she drank her coffee in the morning or ate her lunch, to hold her fur coat for her in the hall, and to put the goloshes on her little feet while she rested her hand on my shoulder; then to wait till the hall porter rang up for me, to meet her at the door, cold, and rosy, powdered with the snow, to listen to her brief exclamations about the frost or the cabman – if only you knew how much all that meant to me! I longed to be in love, to have a wife and child of my own. I wanted my future wife to have just such a face, such a voice. I dreamed of it at dinner, and in the street when I was sent on some errand, and when I lay awake at night. Orlov rejected with disgust children, cooking, copper saucepans, and feminine knick-knacks and I gathered them all up, tenderly cherished them in my dreams, loved them, and begged them of destiny. I had visions of a wife, a nursery, a little house with garden paths. . . .

I knew that if I did love her I could never dare hope for the miracle of her returning my love, but that reflection did not worry me. In my quiet, modest feeling akin to ordinary affection, there was no jealousy of Orlov or even envy of him, since I realised that for a wreck like me happiness was only to be found in dreams.

When Zinaida Fyodorovna sat up night after night for her George, looking immovably at a book of which she never turned a page, or when she shuddered and turned pale at Polya’s crossing the room, I suffered with her, and the idea occurred to me to lance this festering wound as quickly as possible by letting her know what was said here at supper on Thursdays; but – how was it to be done? More and more often I saw her tears. For the first weeks she laughed and sang to herself, even when Orlov was not at home, but by the second month there was a mournful stillness in our flat broken only on Thursday evenings.

She flattered Orlov, and to wring from him a counterfeit smile or kiss, was ready to go on her knees to him, to fawn on him like a dog. Even when her heart was heaviest, she could not resist glancing into a looking-glass if she passed one and straightening her hair. It seemed strange to me that she could still take an interest in clothes and go into ecstasies over her purchases. It did not seem in keeping with her genuine grief. She paid attention to the fashions and ordered expensive dresses. What for? On whose account? I particularly remember one dress which cost four hundred roubles. To give four hundred roubles for an unnecessary, useless dress while women for their hard day’s work get only twenty kopecks a day without food, and the makers of Venice and Brussels lace are only paid half a franc a day on the supposition that they can earn the rest by immorality! And it seemed strange to me that Zinaida Fyodorovna was not conscious of it; it vexed me. But she had only to go out of the house for me to find excuses and explanations for everything, and to be waiting eagerly for the hall porter to ring for me.

She treated me as a flunkey, a being of a lower order. One may pat a dog, and yet not notice it; I was given orders and asked questions, but my presence was not observed. My master and mistress thought it unseemly to say more to me than is usually said to servants; if when waiting at dinner I had laughed or put in my word in the conversation, they would certainly have thought I was mad and have dismissed me. Zinaida Fyodorovna was favourably disposed to me, all the same. When she was sending me on some errand or explaining to me the working of a new lamp or anything of that sort, her face was extraordinarily kind, frank, and cordial, and her eyes looked me straight in the face. At such moments I always fancied she remembered with gratitude how I used to bring her letters to Znamensky Street. When she rang the bell, Polya, who considered me her favourite and hated me for it, used to say with a jeering smile:

"Go along, your mistress wants you."

Zinaida Fyodorovna considered me as a being of a lower order, and did not suspect that if any one in the house were in a humiliating position it was she. She did not know that I, a footman, was unhappy on her account, and used to ask myself twenty times a day what was in store for her and how it would all end. Things were growing visibly worse day by day. After the evening on which they had talked of his official work, Orlov, who could not endure tears, unmistakably began to avoid conversation with her; whenever Zinaida Fyodorovna began to argue, or to beseech him, or seemed on the point of crying, he seized some plausible excuse for retreating to his study or going out. He more and more rarely slept at home, and still more rarely dined there: on Thursdays he was the one to suggest some expedition to his friends. Zinaida Fyodorovna was still dreaming of having the cooking done at home, of moving to a new flat, of travelling abroad, but her dreams remained dreams. Dinner was sent in from the restaurant. Orlov asked her not to broach the question of moving until after they had come back from abroad, and apropos of their foreign tour, declared that they could not go till his hair had grown long, as one could not go trailing from hotel to hotel and serving the idea without long hair.

To crown it all, in Orlov’s absence, Kukushkin began calling at the flat in the evening. There was nothing exceptional in his behaviour, but I could never forget the conversation in which he had offered to cut Orlov out. He was regaled with tea and red wine, and he used to titter and, anxious to say something pleasant, would declare that a free union was superior in every respect to legal marriage, and that all decent people ought really to come to Zinaida Fyodorovna and fall at her feet.


Christmas was spent drearily in vague anticipations of calamity. On New Year’s Eve Orlov unexpectedly announced at breakfast that he was being sent to assist a senator who was on a revising commission in a certain province.

"I don’t want to go, but I can’t find an excuse to get off," he said with vexation. "I must go; there’s nothing for it."

Such news instantly made Zinaida Fyodorovna’s eyes look red. "Is it for long?" she asked.

"Five days or so."

"I am glad, really, you are going," she said after a moment’s thought. "It will be a change for you. You will fall in love with some one on the way, and tell me about it afterwards."

At every opportunity she tried to make Orlov feel that she did not restrict his liberty in any way, and that he could do exactly as he liked, and this artless, transparent strategy deceived no one, and only unnecessarily reminded Orlov that he was not free.

"I am going this evening," he said, and began reading the paper.

Zinaida Fyodorovna wanted to see him off at the station, but he dissuaded her, saying that he was not going to America, and not going to be away five years, but only five days – possibly less.

The parting took place between seven and eight. He put one arm round her, and kissed her on the lips and on the forehead.

"Be a good girl, and don’t be depressed while I am away," he said in a warm, affectionate tone which touched even me. "God keep you!"

She looked greedily into his face, to stamp his dear features on her memory, then she put her arms gracefully round his neck and laid her head on his breast.

"Forgive me our misunderstandings," she said in French. "Husband and wife cannot help quarrelling if they love each other, and I love you madly. Don’t forget me. . . . Wire to me often and fully."

Orlov kissed her once more, and, without saying a word, went out in confusion. When he heard the click of the lock as the door closed, he stood still in the middle of the staircase in hesitation and glanced upwards. It seemed to me that if a sound had reached him at that moment from above, he would have turned back. But all was quiet. He straightened his coat and went downstairs irresolutely.

The sledges had been waiting a long while at the door. Orlov got into one, I got into the other with two portmanteaus. It was a hard frost and there were fires smoking at the cross-roads. The cold wind nipped my face and hands, and took my breath away as we drove rapidly along; and, closing my eyes, I thought what a splendid woman she was. How she loved him! Even useless rubbish is collected in the courtyards nowadays and used for some purpose, even broken glass is considered a useful commodity, but something so precious, so rare, as the love of a refined, young, intelligent, and good woman is utterly thrown away and wasted. One of the early sociologists regarded every evil passion as a force which might by judicious management be turned to good, while among us even a fine, noble passion springs up and dies away in impotence, turned to no account, misunderstood or vulgarised. Why is it?

The sledges stopped unexpectedly. I opened my eyes and I saw that we had come to a standstill in Sergievsky Street, near a big house where Pekarsky lived. Orlov got out of the sledge and vanished into the entry. Five minutes later Pekarsky’s footman came out, bareheaded, and, angry with the frost, shouted to me:

"Are you deaf? Pay the cabmen and go upstairs. You are wanted!"

At a complete loss, I went to the first storey. I had been to Pekarsky’s flat before – that is, I had stood in the hall and looked into the drawing-room, and, after the damp, gloomy street, it always struck me by the brilliance of its picture-frames, its bronzes and expensive furniture. To-day in the midst of this splendour I saw Gruzin, Kukushkin, and, after a minute, Orlov.

"Look here, Stepan," he said, coming up to me. "I shall be staying here till Friday or Saturday. If any letters or telegrams come, you must bring them here every day. At home, of course you will say that I have gone, and send my greetings. Now you can go."

When I reached home Zinaida Fyodorovna was lying on the sofa in the drawing-room, eating a pear. There was only one candle burning in the candelabra.

"Did you catch the train?" asked Zinaida Fyodorovna.

"Yes, madam. His honour sends his greetings."

I went into my room and I, too, lay down. I had nothing to do, and I did not want to read. I was not surprised and I was not indignant. I only racked my brains to think why this deception was necessary. It is only boys in their teens who deceive their mistresses like that. How was it that a man who had thought and read so much could not imagine anything more sensible? I must confess I had by no means a poor opinion of his intelligence. I believe if he had had to deceive his minister or any other influential person he would have put a great deal of skill and energy into doing so; but to deceive a woman, the first idea that occurred to him was evidently good enough. If it succeeded – well and good; if it did not, there would be no harm done – he could tell some other lie just as quickly and simply, with no mental effort.

At midnight when the people on the floor overhead were moving their chairs and shouting hurrah to welcome the New Year, Zinaida Fyodorovna rang for me from the room next to the study. Languid from lying down so long, she was sitting at the table, writing something on a scrap of paper.

"I must send a telegram," she said, with a smile. "Go to the station as quick as you can and ask them to send it after him."

Going out into the street, I read on the scrap of paper:

"May the New Year bring new happiness. Make haste and telegraph; I miss you dreadfully. It seems an eternity. I am only sorry I can’t send a thousand kisses and my very heart by telegraph. Enjoy yourself, my darling.– ZINA."

I sent the telegram, and next morning I gave her the receipt.


The worst of it was that Orlov had thoughtlessly let Polya, too, into the secret of his deception, telling her to bring his shirts to Sergievsky Street. After that, she looked at Zinaida Fyodorovna with a malignant joy and hatred I could not understand, and was never tired of snorting with delight to herself in her own room and in the hall.

"She’s outstayed her welcome; it’s time she took herself off!" she would say with zest. "She ought to realise that herself. . . ."

She already divined by instinct that Zinaida Fyodorovna would not be with us much longer, and, not to let the chance slip, carried off everything she set her eyes on – smelling-bottles, tortoise-shell hairpins, handkerchiefs, shoes! On the day after New Year’s Day, Zinaida Fyodorovna summoned me to her room and told me in a low voice that she missed her black dress. And then she walked through all the rooms, with a pale, frightened, and indignant face, talking to herself:

"It’s too much! It’s beyond everything. Why, it’s unheard-of insolence!"

At dinner she tried to help herself to soup, but could not – her hands were trembling. Her lips were trembling, too. She looked helplessly at the soup and at the little pies, waiting for the trembling to pass off, and suddenly she could not resist looking at Polya.

"You can go, Polya," she said. "Stepan is enough by himself."

"I’ll stay; I don’t mind," answered Polya.

"There’s no need for you to stay. You go away altogether," Zinaida Fyodorovna went on, getting up in great agitation. "You may look out for another place. You can go at once."

"I can’t go away without the master’s orders. He engaged me. It must be as he orders."

"You can take orders from me, too! I am mistress here!" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, and she flushed crimson.

"You may be the mistress, but only the master can dismiss me. It was he engaged me."

"You dare not stay here another minute!" cried Zinaida Fyodorovna, and she struck the plate with her knife. "You are a thief! Do you hear?"

Zinaida Fyodorovna flung her dinner-napkin on the table, and with a pitiful, suffering face, went quickly out of the room. Loudly sobbing and wailing something indistinct, Polya, too, went away. The soup and the grouse got cold. And for some reason all the restaurant dainties on the table struck me as poor, thievish, like Polya. Two pies on a plate had a particularly miserable and guilty air. "We shall be taken back to the restaurant to-day," they seemed to be saying, "and to-morrow we shall be put on the table again for some official or celebrated singer."

"She is a fine lady, indeed," I heard uttered in Polya’s room. "I could have been a lady like that long ago, but I have some self-respect! We’ll see which of us will be the first to go!"

Zinaida Fyodorovna rang the bell. She was sitting in her room, in the corner, looking as though she had been put in the corner as a punishment.

"No telegram has come?" she asked.

"No, madam."

"Ask the porter; perhaps there is a telegram. And don’t leave the house," she called after me. "I am afraid to be left alone."

After that I had to run down almost every hour to ask the porter whether a telegram had come. I must own it was a dreadful time! To avoid seeing Polya, Zinaida Fyodorovna dined and had tea in her own room; it was here that she slept, too, on a short sofa like a half-moon, and she made her own bed. For the first days I took the telegrams; but, getting no answer, she lost her faith in me and began telegraphing herself. Looking at her, I, too, began impatiently hoping for a telegram. I hoped he would contrive some deception, would make arrangements, for instance, that a telegram should be sent to her from some station. If he were too much engrossed with cards or had been attracted by some other woman, I thought that both Gruzin and Kukushkin would remind him of us. But our expectations were vain. Five times a day I would go in to Zinaida Fyodorovna, intending to tell her the truth, But her eyes looked piteous as a fawn’s, her shoulders seemed to droop, her lips were moving, and I went away again without saying a word. Pity and sympathy seemed to rob me of all manliness. Polya, as cheerful and well satisfied with herself as though nothing had happened, was tidying the master’s study and the bedroom, rummaging in the cupboards, and making the crockery jingle, and when she passed Zinaida Fyodorovna’s door, she hummed something and coughed. She was pleased that her mistress was hiding from her. In the evening she would go out somewhere, and rang at two or three o’clock in the morning, and I had to open the door to her and listen to remarks about my cough. Immediately afterwards I would hear another ring; I would run to the room next to the study, and Zinaida Fyodorovna, putting her head out of the door, would ask, "Who was it rung?" while she looked at my hands to see whether I had a telegram.

When at last on Saturday the bell rang below and she heard the familiar voice on the stairs, she was so delighted that she broke into sobs. She rushed to meet him, embraced him, kissed him on the breast and sleeves, said something one could not understand. The hall porter brought up the portmanteaus; Polya’s cheerful voice was heard. It was as though some one had come home for the holidays.

"Why didn’t you wire?" asked Zinaida Fyodorovna, breathless with joy. "Why was it? I have been in misery; I don’t know how I’ve lived through it. . . . Oh, my God!"

"It was very simple! I returned with the senator to Moscow the very first day, and didn’t get your telegrams," said Orlov. "After dinner, my love, I’ll give you a full account of my doings, but now I must sleep and sleep. . . . I am worn out with the journey."

It was evident that he had not slept all night; he had probably been playing cards and drinking freely. Zinaida Fyodorovna put him to bed, and we all walked about on tiptoe all that day. The dinner went off quite satisfactorily, but when they went into the study and had coffee the explanation began. Zinaida Fyodorovna began talking of something rapidly in a low voice; she spoke in French, and her words flowed like a stream. Then I heard a loud sigh from Orlov, and his voice.

"My God!" he said in French. "Have you really nothing fresher to tell me than this everlasting tale of your servant’s misdeeds?"

"But, my dear, she robbed me and said insulting things to me."

"But why is it she doesn’t rob me or say insulting things to me? Why is it I never notice the maids nor the porters nor the footmen? My dear, you are simply capricious and refuse to know your own mind. . . . I really begin to suspect that you must be in a certain condition. When I offered to let her go, you insisted on her remaining, and now you want me to turn her away. I can be obstinate, too, in such cases. You want her to go, but I want her to remain. That’s the only way to cure you of your nerves."

"Oh, very well, very well," said Zinaida Fyodorovna in alarm. "Let us say no more about that. . . . Let us put it off till to-morrow. . . . Now tell me about Moscow. . . . What is going on in Moscow?"


After lunch next day – it was the seventh of January, St. John the Baptist’s Day – Orlov put on his black dress coat and his decoration to go to visit his father and congratulate him on his name day. He had to go at two o’clock, and it was only half-past one when he had finished dressing. What was he to do for that half-hour? He walked about the drawing-room, declaiming some congratulatory verses which he had recited as a child to his father and mother.

Zinaida Fyodorovna, who was just going out to a dressmaker’s or to the shops, was sitting, listening to him with a smile. I don’t know how their conversation began, but when I took Orlov his gloves, he was standing before her with a capricious, beseeching face, saying:

"For God’s sake, in the name of everything that’s holy, don’t talk of things that everybody knows! What an unfortunate gift our intellectual thoughtful ladies have for talking with enthusiasm and an air of profundity of things that every schoolboy is sick to death of! Ah, if only you would exclude from our conjugal programme all these serious questions! How grateful I should be to you!"

"We women may not dare, it seems, to have views of our own."

"I give you full liberty to be as liberal as you like, and quote from any authors you choose, but make me one concession: don’t hold forth in my presence on either of two subjects: the corruption of the upper classes and the evils of the marriage system. Do understand me, at last. The upper class is always abused in contrast with the world of tradesmen, priests, workmen and peasants, Sidors and Nikitas of all sorts. I detest both classes, but if I had honestly to choose between the two, I should without hesitation, prefer the upper class, and there would be no falsity or affectation about it, since all my tastes are in that direction. Our world is trivial and empty, but at any rate we speak French decently, read something, and don’t punch each other in the ribs even in our most violent quarrels, while the Sidors and the Nikitas and their worships in trade talk about ’being quite agreeable,’ ’in a jiffy,’ ’blast your eyes,’ and display the utmost license of pothouse manners and the most degrading superstition."

"The peasant and the tradesman feed you."

"Yes, but what of it? That’s not only to my discredit, but to theirs too. They feed me and take off their caps to me, so it seems they have not the intelligence and honesty to do otherwise. I don’t blame or praise any one: I only mean that the upper class and the lower are as bad as one another. My feelings and my intelligence are opposed to both, but my tastes lie more in the direction of the former. Well, now for the evils of marriage," Orlov went on, glancing at his watch. "It’s high time for you to understand that there are no evils in the system itself; what is the matter is that you don’t know yourselves what you want from marriage. What is it you want? In legal and illegal cohabitation, in every sort of union and cohabitation, good or bad, the underlying reality is the same. You ladies live for that underlying reality alone: for you it’s everything; your existence would have no meaning for you without it. You want nothing but that, and you get it; but since you’ve taken to reading novels you are ashamed of it: you rush from pillar to post, you recklessly change your men, and to justify this turmoil you have begun talking of the evils of marriage. So long as you can’t and won’t renounce what underlies it all, your chief foe, your devil – so long as you serve that slavishly, what use is there in discussing the matter seriously? Everything you may say to me will be falsity and affectation. I shall not believe you."

I went to find out from the hall porter whether the sledge was at the door, and when I came back I found it had become a quarrel. As sailors say, a squall had blown up.

"I see you want to shock me by your cynicism today," said Zinaida Fyodorovna, walking about the drawing-room in great emotion. "It revolts me to listen to you. I am pure before God and man, and have nothing to repent of. I left my husband and came to you, and am proud of it. I swear, on my honour, I am proud of it!"

"Well, that’s all right, then!"

"If you are a decent, honest man, you, too, ought to be proud of what I did. It raises you and me above thousands of people who would like to do as we have done, but do not venture through cowardice or petty prudence. But you are not a decent man. You are afraid of freedom, and you mock the promptings of genuine feeling, from fear that some ignoramus may suspect you of being sincere. You are afraid to show me to your friends; there’s no greater infliction for you than to go about with me in the street. . . . Isn’t that true? Why haven’t you introduced me to your father or your cousin all this time? Why is it? No, I am sick of it at last," cried Zinaida Fyodorovna, stamping. "I demand what is mine by right. You must present me to your father."

"If you want to know him, go and present yourself. He receives visitors every morning from ten till half-past."

"How base you are!" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, wringing her hands in despair. "Even if you are not sincere, and are not saying what you think, I might hate you for your cruelty. Oh, how base you are!"

"We keep going round and round and never reach the real point. The real point is that you made a mistake, and you won’t acknowledge it aloud. You imagined that I was a hero, and that I had some extraordinary ideas and ideals, and it has turned out that I am a most ordinary official, a cardplayer, and have no partiality for ideas of any sort. I am a worthy representative of the rotten world from which you have run away because you were revolted with its triviality and emptiness. Recognise it and be just: don’t be indignant with me, but with yourself, as it is your mistake, and not mine."

"Yes, I admit I was mistaken."

"Well, that’s all right, then. We’ve reached that point at last, thank God. Now hear something more, if you please: I can’t rise to your level – I am too depraved; you can’t descend to my level, either, for you are too exalted. So there is only one thing left to do. . . ."

"What?" Zinaida Fyodorovna asked quickly, holding her breath and turning suddenly as white as a sheet of paper.

"To call logic to our aid. . . ."

"Georgy, why are you torturing me?" Zinaida Fyodorovna said suddenly in Russian in a breaking voice. "What is it for? Think of my misery. . . ."

Orlov, afraid of tears, went quickly into his study, and I don’t know why – whether it was that he wished to cause her extra pain, or whether he remembered it was usually done in such cases – he locked the door after him. She cried out and ran after him with a rustle of her skirt.

"What does this mean?" she cried, knocking at his door. "What . . . what does this mean?" she repeated in a shrill voice breaking with indignation. "Ah, so this is what you do! Then let me tell you I hate you, I despise you! Everything is over between us now."

I heard hysterical weeping mingled with laughter. Something small in the drawing-room fell off the table and was broken. Orlov went out into the hall by another door, and, looking round him nervously, he hurriedly put on his great-coat and went out.

Half an hour passed, an hour, and she was still weeping. I remembered that she had no father or mother, no relations, and here she was living between a man who hated her and Polya, who robbed her – and how desolate her life seemed to me! I do not know why, but I went into the drawing-room to her. Weak and helpless, looking with her lovely hair like an embodiment of tenderness and grace, she was in anguish, as though she were ill; she was lying on a couch, hiding her face, and quivering all over.

"Madam, shouldn’t I fetch a doctor?" I asked gently.

"No, there’s no need . . . it’s nothing," she said, and she looked at me with her tear-stained eyes. "I have a little headache. . . . Thank you."

I went out, and in the evening she was writing letter after letter, and sent me out first to Pekarsky, then to Gruzin, then to Kukushkin, and finally anywhere I chose, if only I could find Orlov and give him the letter. Every time I came back with the letter she scolded me, entreated me, thrust money into my hand – as though she were in a fever. And all the night she did not sleep, but sat in the drawing-room, talking to herself.

Orlov returned to dinner next day, and they were reconciled.

The first Thursday afterwards Orlov complained to his friends of the intolerable life he led; he smoked a great deal, and said with irritation:

"It is no life at all; it’s the rack. Tears, wailing, intellectual conversations, begging for forgiveness, again tears and wailing; and the long and the short of it is that I have no flat of my own now. I am wretched, and I make her wretched. Surely I haven’t to live another month or two like this? How can I? But yet I may have to."

"Why don’t you speak, then?" said Pekarsky.

"I’ve tried, but I can’t. One can boldly tell the truth, whatever it may be, to an independent, rational man; but in this case one has to do with a creature who has no will, no strength of character, and no logic. I cannot endure tears; they disarm me. When she cries, I am ready to swear eternal love and cry myself."

Pekarsky did not understand; he scratched his broad forehead in perplexity and said:

"You really had better take another flat for her. It’s so simple!"

"She wants me, not the flat. But what’s the good of talking?" sighed Orlov. "I only hear endless conversations, but no way out of my position. It certainly is a case of ’being guilty without guilt.’ I don’t claim to be a mushroom, but it seems I’ve got to go into the basket. The last thing I’ve ever set out to be is a hero. I never could endure Turgenev’s novels; and now, all of a sudden, as though to spite me, I’ve heroism forced upon me. I assure her on my honour that I’m not a hero at all, I adduce irrefutable proofs of the same, but she doesn’t believe me. Why doesn’t she believe me? I suppose I really must have something of the appearance of a hero."

"You go off on a tour of inspection in the provinces," said Kukushkin, laughing.

"Yes, that’s the only thing left for me."

A week after this conversation Orlov announced that he was again ordered to attend the senator, and the same evening he went off with his portmanteaus to Pekarsky.


An old man of sixty, in a long fur coat reaching to the ground, and a beaver cap, was standing at the door.

"Is Georgy Ivanitch at home?" he asked.

At first I thought it was one of the moneylenders, Gruzin’s creditors, who sometimes used to come to Orlov for small payments on account; but when he came into the hall and flung open his coat, I saw the thick brows and the characteristically compressed lips which I knew so well from the photographs, and two rows of stars on the uniform. I recognised him: it was Orlov’s father, the distinguished statesman.

I answered that Georgy Ivanitch was not at home. The old man pursed up his lips tightly and looked into space, reflecting, showing me his dried-up, toothless profile.

"I’ll leave a note," he said; "show me in."

He left his goloshes in the hall, and, without taking off his long, heavy fur coat, went into the study. There he sat down before the table, and, before taking up the pen, for three minutes he pondered, shading his eyes with his hand as though from the sun – exactly as his son did when he was out of humour. His face was sad, thoughtful, with that look of resignation which I have only seen on the faces of the old and religious. I stood behind him, gazed at his bald head and at the hollow at the nape of his neck, and it was clear as daylight to me that this weak old man was now in my power. There was not a soul in the flat except my enemy and me. I had only to use a little physical violence, then snatch his watch to disguise the object of the crime, and to get off by the back way, and I should have gained infinitely more than I could have imagined possible when I took up the part of a footman. I thought that I could hardly get a better opportunity. But instead of acting, I looked quite unconcernedly, first at his bald patch and then at his fur, and calmly meditated on this man’s relation to his only son, and on the fact that people spoiled by power and wealth probably don’t want to die. . . .

"Have you been long in my son’s service?" he asked, writing a large hand on the paper.

"Three months, your High Excellency."

He finished the letter and stood up. I still had time. I urged myself on and clenched my fists, trying to wring out of my soul some trace of my former hatred; I recalled what a passionate, implacable, obstinate hate I had felt for him only a little while before. . . . But it is difficult to strike a match against a crumbling stone. The sad old face and the cold glitter of his stars roused in me nothing but petty, cheap, unnecessary thoughts of the transitoriness of everything earthly, of the nearness of death. . . .

"Good-day, brother," said the old man. He put on his cap and went out.

There could be no doubt about it: I had undergone a change; I had become different. To convince myself, I began to recall the past, but at once I felt uneasy, as though I had accidentally peeped into a dark, damp corner. I remembered my comrades and friends, and my first thought was how I should blush in confusion if ever I met any of them. What was I now? What had I to think of and to do? Where was I to go? What was I living for?

I could make nothing of it. I only knew one thing – that I must make haste to pack my things and be off. Before the old man’s visit my position as a flunkey had a meaning; now it was absurd. Tears dropped into my open portmanteau; I felt insufferably sad; but how I longed to live! I was ready to embrace and include in my short life every possibility open to man. I wanted to speak, to read, and to hammer in some big factory, and to stand on watch, and to plough. I yearned for the Nevsky Prospect, for the sea and the fields – for every place to which my imagination travelled. When Zinaida Fyodorovna came in, I rushed to open the door for her, and with peculiar tenderness took off her fur coat. The last time!

We had two other visitors that day besides the old man. In the evening when it was quite dark, Gruzin came to fetch some papers for Orlov. He opened the table-drawer, took the necessary papers, and, rolling them up, told me to put them in the hall beside his cap while he went in to see Zinaida Fyodorovna. She was lying on the sofa in the drawing-room, with her arms behind her head. Five or six days had already passed since Orlov went on his tour of inspection, and no one knew when he would be back, but this time she did not send telegrams and did not expect them. She did not seem to notice the presence of Polya, who was still living with us. "So be it, then," was what I read on her passionless and very pale face. Like Orlov, she wanted to be unhappy out of obstinacy. To spite herself and everything in the world, she lay for days together on the sofa, desiring and expecting nothing but evil for herself. Probably she was picturing to herself Orlov’s return and the inevitable quarrels with him; then his growing indifference to her, his infidelities; then how they would separate; and perhaps these agonising thoughts gave her satisfaction. But what would she have said if she found out the actual truth?

"I love you, Godmother," said Gruzin, greeting her and kissing her hand. "You are so kind! And so dear George has gone away," he lied. "He has gone away, the rascal!"

He sat down with a sigh and tenderly stroked her hand.

"Let me spend an hour with you, my dear," he said. "I don’t want to go home, and it’s too early to go to the Birshovs’. The Birshovs are keeping their Katya’s birthday to-day. She is a nice child!"

I brought him a glass of tea and a decanter of brandy. He slowly and with obvious reluctance drank the tea, and returning the glass to me, asked timidly:

"Can you give me . . . something to eat, my friend? I have had no dinner."

We had nothing in the flat. I went to the restaurant and brought him the ordinary rouble dinner.

"To your health, my dear," he said to Zinaida Fyodorovna, and he tossed off a glass of vodka. "My little girl, your godchild, sends you her love. Poor child! she’s rickety. Ah, children, children!" he sighed. "Whatever you may say, Godmother, it is nice to be a father. Dear George can’t understand that feeling."

He drank some more. Pale and lean, with his dinner-napkin over his chest like a little pinafore, he ate greedily, and raising his eyebrows, kept looking guiltily, like a little boy, first at Zinaida Fyodorovna and then at me. It seemed as though he would have begun crying if I had not given him the grouse or the jelly. When he had satisfied his hunger he grew more lively, and began laughingly telling some story about the Birshov household, but perceiving that it was tiresome and that Zinaida Fyodorovna was not laughing, he ceased. And there was a sudden feeling of dreariness. After he had finished his dinner they sat in the drawing-room by the light of a single lamp, and did not speak; it was painful to him to lie to her, and she wanted to ask him something, but could not make up her mind to. So passed half an hour. Gruzin glanced at his watch.

"I suppose it’s time for me to go."

"No, stay a little. . . . We must have a talk."

Again they were silent. He sat down to the piano, struck one chord, then began playing, and sang softly, "What does the coming day bring me?" but as usual he got up suddenly and tossed his head.

"Play something," Zinaida Fyodorovna asked him.

"What shall I play?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders. "I have forgotten everything. I’ve given it up long ago."

Looking at the ceiling as though trying to remember, he played two pieces of Tchaikovsky with exquisite expression, with such warmth, such insight! His face was just as usual – neither stupid nor intelligent – and it seemed to me a perfect marvel that a man whom I was accustomed to see in the midst of the most degrading, impure surroundings, was capable of such purity, of rising to a feeling so lofty, so far beyond my reach. Zinaida Fyodorovna’s face glowed, and she walked about the drawing-room in emotion.

"Wait a bit, Godmother; if I can remember it, I will play you something," he said; "I heard it played on the violoncello."

Beginning timidly and picking out the notes, and then gathering confidence, he played Saint-Saëns’s "Swan Song." He played it through, and then played it a second time.

"It’s nice, isn’t it?" he said.

Moved by the music, Zinaida Fyodorovna stood beside him and asked:

"Tell me honestly, as a friend, what do you think about me?"

"What am I to say?" he said, raising his eyebrows. "I love you and think nothing but good of you. But if you wish that I should speak generally about the question that interests you," he went on, rubbing his sleeve near the elbow and frowning, "then, my dear, you know. . . . To follow freely the promptings of the heart does not always give good people happiness. To feel free and at the same time to be happy, it seems to me, one must not conceal from oneself that life is coarse, cruel, and merciless in its conservatism, and one must retaliate with what it deserves – that is, be as coarse and as merciless in one’s striving for freedom. That’s what I think."

"That’s beyond me," said Zinaida Fyodorovna, with a mournful smile. "I am exhausted already. I am so exhausted that I wouldn’t stir a finger for my own salvation."

"Go into a nunnery."

He said this in jest, but after he had said it, tears glistened in Zinaida Fyodorovna’s eyes and then in his.

"Well," he said, "we’ve been sitting and sitting, and now we must go. Good-bye, dear Godmother. God give you health."

He kissed both her hands, and stroking them tenderly, said that he should certainly come to see her again in a day or two. In the hall, as he was putting on his overcoat, that was so like a child’s pelisse, he fumbled long in his pockets to find a tip for me, but found nothing there.

"Good-bye, my dear fellow," he said sadly, and went away.

I shall never forget the feeling that this man left behind him.

Zinaida Fyodorovna still walked about the room in her excitement. That she was walking about and not still lying down was so much to the good. I wanted to take advantage of this mood to speak to her openly and then to go away, but I had hardly seen Gruzin out when I heard a ring. It was Kukushkin.

"Is Georgy Ivanitch at home?" he said. "Has he come back? You say no? What a pity! In that case, I’ll go in and kiss your mistress’s hand, and so away. Zinaida Fyodorovna, may I come in?" he cried. "I want to kiss your hand. Excuse my being so late."

He was not long in the drawing-room, not more than ten minutes, but I felt as though he were staying a long while and would never go away. I bit my lips from indignation and annoyance, and already hated Zinaida Fyodorovna. "Why does she not turn him out?" I thought indignantly, though it was evident that she was bored by his company.

When I held his fur coat for him he asked me, as a mark of special good-will, how I managed to get on without a wife.

"But I don’t suppose you waste your time," he said, laughingly. "I’ve no doubt Polya and you are as thick as thieves. . . . You rascal!"

In spite of my experience of life, I knew very little of mankind at that time, and it is very likely that I often exaggerated what was of little consequence and failed to observe what was important. It seemed to me it was not without motive that Kukushkin tittered and flattered me. Could it be that he was hoping that I, like a flunkey, would gossip in other kitchens and servants’ quarters of his coming to see us in the evenings when Orlov was away, and staying with Zinaida Fyodorovna till late at night? And when my tittle-tattle came to the ears of his acquaintance, he would drop his eyes in confusion and shake his little finger. And would not he, I thought, looking at his little honeyed face, this very evening at cards pretend and perhaps declare that he had already won Zinaida Fyodorovna from Orlov?

That hatred which failed me at midday when the old father had come, took possession of me now. Kukushkin went away at last, and as I listened to the shuffle of his leather goloshes, I felt greatly tempted to fling after him, as a parting shot, some coarse word of abuse, but I restrained myself. And when the steps had died away on the stairs, I went back to the hall, and, hardly conscious of what I was doing, took up the roll of papers that Gruzin had left behind, and ran headlong downstairs. Without cap or overcoat, I ran down into the street. It was not cold, but big flakes of snow were falling and it was windy.

"Your Excellency!" I cried, catching up Kukushkin. "Your Excellency!

He stopped under a lamp-post and looked round with surprise. "Your Excellency!" I said breathless, "your Excellency!"

And not able to think of anything to say, I hit him two or three times on the face with the roll of paper. Completely at a loss, and hardly wondering– I had so completely taken him by surprise – he leaned his back against the lamp-post and put up his hands to protect his face. At that moment an army doctor passed, and saw how I was beating the man, but he merely looked at us in astonishment and went on. I felt ashamed and I ran back to the house.


With my head wet from the snow, and gasping for breath, I ran to my room, and immediately flung off my swallow-tails, put on a reefer jacket and an overcoat, and carried my portmanteau out into the passage; I must get away! But before going I hurriedly sat down and began writing to Orlov:

"I leave you my false passport," I began. "I beg you to keep it as a memento, you false man, you Petersburg official!

"To steal into another man’s house under a false name, to watch under the mask of a flunkey this person’s intimate life, to hear everything, to see everything in order later on, unasked, to accuse a man of lying – all this, you will say, is on a level with theft. Yes, but I care nothing for fine feelings now. I have endured dozens of your dinners and suppers when you said and did what you liked, and I had to hear, to look on, and be silent. I don’t want to make you a present of my silence. Besides, if there is not a living soul at hand who dares to tell you the truth without flattery, let your flunkey Stepan wash your magnificent countenance for you."

I did not like this beginning, but I did not care to alter it. Besides, what did it matter?

The big windows with their dark curtains, the bed, the crumpled dress coat on the floor, and my wet footprints, looked gloomy and forbidding. And there was a peculiar stillness.

Possibly because I had run out into the street without my cap and goloshes I was in a high fever. My face burned, my legs ached. . . . My heavy head drooped over the table, and there was that kind of division in my thought when every idea in the brain seemed dogged by its shadow.

"I am ill, weak, morally cast down," I went on; "I cannot write to you as I should like to. From the first moment I desired to insult and humiliate you, but now I do not feel that I have the right to do so. You and I have both fallen, and neither of us will ever rise up again; and even if my letter were eloquent, terrible, and passionate, it would still seem like beating on the lid of a coffin: however one knocks upon it, one will not wake up the dead! No efforts could warm your accursed cold blood, and you know that better than I do. Why write? But my mind and heart are burning, and I go on writing; for some reason I am moved as though this letter still might save you and me. I am so feverish that my thoughts are disconnected, and my pen scratches the paper without meaning; but the question I want to put to you stands before me as clear as though in letters of flame.

"Why I am prematurely weak and fallen is not hard to explain. Like Samson of old, I have taken the gates of Gaza on my shoulders to carry them to the top of the mountain, and only when I was exhausted, when youth and health were quenched in me forever, I noticed that that burden was not for my shoulders, and that I had deceived myself. I have been, moreover, in cruel and continual pain. I have endured cold, hunger, illness, and loss of liberty. Of personal happiness I know and have known nothing. I have no home; my memories are bitter, and my conscience is often in dread of them. But why have you fallen – you? What fatal, diabolical causes hindered your life from blossoming into full flower? Why, almost before beginning life, were you in such haste to cast off the image and likeness of God, and to become a cowardly beast who backs and scares others because he is afraid himself? You are afraid of life – as afraid of it as an Oriental who sits all day on a cushion smoking his hookah. Yes, you read a great deal, and a European coat fits you well, but yet with what tender, purely Oriental, pasha-like care you protect yourself from hunger, cold, physical effort, from pain and uneasiness! How early your soul has taken to its dressing-gown! What a cowardly part you have played towards real life and nature, with which every healthy and normal man struggles! How soft, how snug, how warm, how comfortable – and how bored you are! Yes, it is deathly boredom, unrelieved by one ray of light, as in solitary confinement; but you try to hide from that enemy, too, you play cards eight hours out of twenty-four.

"And your irony? Oh, but how well I understand it! Free, bold, living thought is searching and dominating; for an indolent, sluggish mind it is intolerable. That it may not disturb your peace, like thousands of your contemporaries, you made haste in youth to put it under bar and bolt. Your ironical attitude to life, or whatever you like to call it, is your armour; and your thought, fettered and frightened, dare not leap over the fence you have put round it; and when you jeer at ideas which you pretend to know all about, you are like the deserter fleeing from the field of battle, and, to stifle his shame, sneering at war and at valour. Cynicism stifles pain. In some novel of Dostoevsky’s an old man tramples underfoot the portrait of his dearly loved daughter because he had been unjust to her, and you vent your foul and vulgar jeers upon the ideas of goodness and truth because you have not the strength to follow them. You are frightened of every honest and truthful hint at your degradation, and you purposely surround yourself with people who do nothing but flatter your weaknesses. And you may well, you may well dread the sight of tears!

"By the way, your attitude to women. Shamelessness has been handed down to us in our flesh and blood, and we are trained to shamelessness; but that is what we are men for – to subdue the beast in us. When you reached manhood and all ideas became known to you, you could not have failed to see the truth; you knew it, but you did not follow it; you were afraid of it, and to deceive your conscience you began loudly assuring yourself that it was not you but woman that was to blame, that she was as degraded as your attitude to her. Your cold, scabrous anecdotes, your coarse laughter, all your innumerable theories concerning the underlying reality of marriage and the definite demands made upon it, concerning the ten sous the French workman pays his woman; your everlasting attacks on female logic, lying, weakness and so on – doesn’t it all look like a desire at all costs to force woman down into the mud that she may be on the same level as your attitude to her? You are a weak, unhappy, unpleasant person!"

Zinaida Fyodorovna began playing the piano in the drawing-room, trying to recall the song of Saint- Saëns that Gruzin had played. I went and lay on my bed, but remembering that it was time for me to go, I got up with an effort and with a heavy, burning head went to the table again.

"But this is the question," I went on. "Why are we worn out? Why are we, at first so passionate so bold, so noble, and so full of faith, complete bankrupts at thirty or thirty-five? Why does one waste in consumption, another put a bullet through his brains, a third seeks forgetfulness in vodka and cards, while the fourth tries to stifle his fear and misery by cynically trampling underfoot the pure image of his fair youth? Why is it that, having once fallen, we do not try to rise up again, and, losing one thing, do not seek something else? Why is it?

"The thief hanging on the Cross could bring back the joy of life and the courage of confident hope, though perhaps he had not more than an hour to live. You have long years before you, and I shall probably not die so soon as one might suppose. What if by a miracle the present turned out to be a dream, a horrible nightmare, and we should wake up renewed, pure, strong, proud of our righteousness? Sweet visions fire me, and I am almost breathless with emotion. I have a terrible longing to live. I long for our life to be holy, lofty, and majestic as the heavens above. Let us live! The sun doesn’t rise twice a day, and life is not given us again – clutch at what is left of your life and save it. . . ."

I did not write another word. I had a multitude of thoughts in my mind, but I could not connect them and get them on to paper. Without finishing the letter, I signed it with my name and rank, and went into the study. It was dark. I felt for the table and put the letter on it. I must have stumbled against the furniture in the dark and made a noise.

"Who is there?" I heard an alarmed voice in the drawing-room.

And the clock on the table softly struck one at the moment.


For at least half a minute I fumbled at the door in the dark, feeling for the handle; then I slowly opened it and walked into the drawing-room. Zinaida Fyodorovna was lying on the couch, and raising herself on her elbow, she looked towards me. Unable to bring myself to speak, I walked slowly by, and she followed me with her eyes. I stood for a little time in the dining-room and then walked by her again, and she looked at me intently and with perplexity, even with alarm. At last I stood still and said with an effort:

"He is not coming back."

She quickly got on to her feet, and looked at me without understanding.

"He is not coming back," I repeated, and my heart beat violently. "He will not come back, for he has not left Petersburg. He is staying at Pekarsky’s."

She understood and believed me – I saw that from her sudden pallor, and from the way she laid her arms upon her bosom in terror and entreaty. In one instant all that had happened of late flashed through her mind; she reflected, and with pitiless clarity she saw the whole truth. But at the same time she remembered that I was a flunkey, a being of a lower order. . . . A casual stranger, with hair ruffled, with face flushed with fever, perhaps drunk, in a common overcoat, was coarsely intruding into her intimate life, and that offended her. She said to me sternly:

"It’s not your business: go away."

"Oh, believe me!" I cried impetuously, holding out my hands to her. "I am not a footman; I am as free as you."

I mentioned my name, and, speaking very rapidly that she might not interrupt me or go away, explained to her who I was and why I was living there. This new discovery struck her more than the first. Till then she had hoped that her footman had lied or made a mistake or been silly, but now after my confession she had no doubts left. From the expression of her unhappy eyes and face, which suddenly lost its softness and beauty and looked old, I saw that she was insufferably miserable, and that the conversation would lead to no good; but I went on impetuously:

"The senator and the tour of inspection were invented to deceive you. In January, just as now, he did not go away, but stayed at Pekarsky’s, and I saw him every day and took part in the deception. He was weary of you, he hated your presence here, he mocked at you. . . . If you could have heard how he and his friends here jeered at you and your love, you would not have remained here one minute! Go away from here! Go away."

"Well," she said in a shaking voice, and moved her hand over her hair. "Well, so be it."

Her eyes were full of tears, her lips were quivering, and her whole face was strikingly pale and distorted with anger. Orlov’s coarse, petty lying revolted her and seemed to her contemptible, ridiculous: she smiled and I did not like that smile.

"Well," she repeated, passing her hand over her hair again, "so be it. He imagines that I shall die of humiliation, and instead of that I am . . . amused by it. There’s no need for him to hide." She walked away from the piano and said, shrugging her shoulders: "There’s no need. . . . It would have been simpler to have it out with me instead of keeping in hiding in other people’s flats. I have eyes; I saw it myself long ago. . . . I was only waiting for him to come back to have things out once for all."

Then she sat down on a low chair by the table, and, leaning her head on the arm of the sofa, wept bitterly. In the drawing-room there was only one candle burning in the candelabra, and the chair where she was sitting was in darkness; but I saw how her head and shoulders were quivering, and how her hair, escaping from her combs, covered her neck, her face, her arms. . . . Her quiet, steady weeping, which was not hysterical but a woman’s ordinary weeping, expressed a sense of insult, of wounded pride, of injury, and of something helpless, hopeless, which one could not set right and to which one could not get used. Her tears stirred an echo in my troubled and suffering heart; I forgot my illness and everything else in the world; I walked about the drawing-room and muttered distractedly:

"Is this life? . . . Oh, one can’t go on living like this, one can’t. . . . Oh, it’s madness, wickedness, not life."

"What humiliation!" she said through her tears. "To live together, to smile at me at the very time when I was burdensome to him, ridiculous in his eyes! Oh, how humiliating!"

She lifted up her head, and looking at me with tear-stained eyes through her hair, wet with her tears, and pushing it back as it prevented her seeing me, she asked:

"They laughed at me?"

"To these men you were laughable – you and your love and Turgenev; they said your head was full of him. And if we both die at once in despair, that will amuse them, too; they will make a funny anecdote of it and tell it at your requiem service. But why talk of them?" I said impatiently. "We must get away from here – I cannot stay here one minute longer.

She began crying again, while I walked to the piano and sat down.

"What are we waiting for?" I asked dejectedly. "It’s two o’clock."

"I am not waiting for anything," she said. "I am utterly lost."

"Why do you talk like that? We had better consider together what we are to do. Neither you nor I can stay here. Where do you intend to go?"

Suddenly there was a ring at the bell. My heart stood still. Could it be Orlov, to whom perhaps Kukushkin had complained of me? How should we meet? I went to open the door. It was Polya. She came in shaking the snow off her pelisse, and went into her room without saying a word to me. When I went back to the drawing-room, Zinaida Fyodorovna, pale as death, was standing in the middle of the room, looking towards me with big eyes.

"Who was it?" she asked softly.

"Polya," I answered.

She passed her hand over her hair and closed her eyes wearily.

"I will go away at once," she said. "Will you be kind and take me to the Petersburg Side? What time is it now?"

"A quarter to three."


When, a little afterwards, we went out of the house, it was dark and deserted in the street. Wet snow was falling and a damp wind lashed in one’s face. I remember it was the beginning of March; a thaw had set in, and for some days past the cabmen had been driving on wheels. Under the impression of the back stairs, of the cold, of the midnight darkness, and the porter in his sheepskin who had questioned us before letting us out of the gate, Zinaida Fyodorovna was utterly cast down and dispirited. When we got into the cab and the hood was put up, trembling all over, she began hurriedly saying how grateful she was to me.

"I do not doubt your good-will, but I am ashamed that you should be troubled," she muttered. "Oh, I understand, I understand. . . . When Gruzin was here to-day, I felt that he was lying and concealing something. Well, so be it. But I am ashamed, anyway, that you should be troubled."

She still had her doubts. To dispel them finally, I asked the cabman to drive through Sergievsky Street; stopping him at Pekarsky’s door, I got out of the cab and rang. When the porter came to the door, I asked aloud, that Zinaida Fyodorovna might hear, whether Georgy Ivanitch was at home.

"Yes," was the answer, "he came in half an hour ago. He must be in bed by now. What do you want?"

Zinaida Fyodorovna could not refrain from putting her head out.

"Has Georgy Ivanitch been staying here long?" she asked.

"Going on for three weeks."

"And he’s not been away?"

"No," answered the porter, looking at me with surprise.

"Tell him, early to-morrow," I said, "that his sister has arrived from Warsaw. Good-bye."

Then we drove on. The cab had no apron, the snow fell on us in big flakes, and the wind, especially on the Neva, pierced us through and through. I began to feel as though we had been driving for a long time, that for ages we had been suffering, and that for ages I had been listening to Zinaida Fyodorovna’s shuddering breath. In semi-delirium, as though half asleep, I looked back upon my strange, incoherent life, and for some reason recalled a melodrama, "The Parisian Beggars," which I had seen once or twice in my childhood. And when to shake off that semi-delirium I peeped out from the hood and saw the dawn, all the images of the past, all my misty thoughts, for some reason, blended in me into one distinct, overpowering thought: everything was irrevocably over for Zinaida Fyodorovna and for me. This was as certain a conviction as though the cold blue sky contained a prophecy, but a minute later I was already thinking of something else and believed differently.

"What am I now?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, in a voice husky with the cold and the damp. "Where am I to go? What am I to do? Gruzin told me to go into a nunnery. Oh, I would! I would change my dress, my face, my name, my thoughts . . . everything – everything, and would hide myself for ever. But they will not take me into a nunnery. I am with child."

"We will go abroad together to-morrow," I said.

"That’s impossible. My husband won’t give me a passport."

"I will take you without a passport."

The cabman stopped at a wooden house of two storeys, painted a dark colour. I rang. Taking from me her small light basket – the only luggage we had brought with us – Zinaida Fyodorovna gave a wry smile and said :

"These are my bijoux."

But she was so weak that she could not carry these bijoux.

It was a long while before the door was opened. After the third or fourth ring a light gleamed in the windows, and there was a sound of steps, coughing and whispering; at last the key grated in the lock, and a stout peasant woman with a frightened red face appeared at the door. Some distance behind her stood a thin little old woman with short grey hair, carrying a candle in her hand. Zinaida Fyodorovna ran into the passage and flung her arms round the old woman’s neck.

"Nina, I’ve been deceived," she sobbed loudly. "I’ve been coarsely, foully deceived! Nina, Nina!"

I handed the basket to the peasant woman. The door was closed, but still I heard her sobs and the cry "Nina!"

I got into the cab and told the man to drive slowly to the Nevsky Prospect. I had to think of a night’s lodging for myself.

Next day towards evening I went to see Zinaida Fyodorovna. She was terribly changed. There were no traces of tears on her pale, terribly sunken face, and her expression was different. I don’t know whether it was that I saw her now in different surroundings, far from luxurious, and that our relations were by now different, or perhaps that intense grief had already set its mark upon her; she did not strike me as so elegant and well dressed as before. Her figure seemed smaller; there was an abruptness and excessive nervousness about her as though she were in a hurry, and there was not the same softness even in her smile. I was dressed in an expensive suit which I had bought during the day. She looked first of all at that suit and at the hat in my hand, then turned an impatient, searching glance upon my face as though studying it.

"Your transformation still seems to me a sort of miracle," she said. "Forgive me for looking at you with such curiosity. You are an extraordinary man, you know."

I told her again who I was, and why I was living at Orlov’s, and I told her at greater length and in more detail than the day before. She listened with great attention, and said without letting me finish:

"Everything there is over for me. You know, I could not refrain from writing a letter. Here is the answer."

On the sheet which she gave there was written in Orlov’s hand:

"I am not going to justify myself. But you must own that it was your mistake, not mine. I wish you happiness, and beg you to make haste and forget.
Yours sincerely,
G. O.
P. S. – I am sending on your things."

The trunks and baskets despatched by Orlov were standing in the passage, and my poor little portmanteau was there beside them.

"So . . ." Zinaida Fyodorovna began, but she did not finish.

We were silent. She took the note and held it for a couple of minutes before her eyes, and during that time her face wore the same haughty, contemptuous, proud, and harsh expression as the day before at the beginning of our explanation; tears came into her eyes – not timid, bitter tears, but proud, angry tears.

"Listen," she said, getting up abruptly and moving away to the window that I might not see her face. "I have made up my mind to go abroad with you tomorrow."

"I am very glad. I am ready to go to-day."

"Accept me as a recruit. Have you read Balzac?" she asked suddenly, turning round. "Have you? At the end of his novel ’Père Goriot’ the hero looks down upon Paris from the top of a hill and threatens the town: ’Now we shall settle our account,’ and after this he begins a new life. So when I look out of the train window at Petersburg for the last time, I shall say, ’Now we shall settle our account!’ "

Saying this, she smiled at her jest, and for some reason shuddered all over.


At Venice I had an attack of pleurisy. Probably I had caught cold in the evening when we were rowing from the station to the Hotel Bauer. I had to take to my bed and stay there for a fortnight. Every morning while I was ill Zinaida Fyodorovna came from her room to drink coffee with me, and afterwards read aloud to me French and Russian books, of which we had bought a number at Vienna. These books were either long, long familiar to me or else had no interest for me, but I had the sound of a sweet, kind voice beside me, so that the meaning of all of them was summed up for me in the one thing – I was not alone. She would go out for a walk, come back in her light grey dress, her light straw hat, gay, warmed by the spring sun; and sitting by my bed, bending low down over me, would tell me something about Venice or read me those books – and I was happy.

At night I was cold, ill, and dreary, but by day I revelled in life – I can find no better expression for it. The brilliant warm sunshine beating in at the open windows and at the door upon the balcony, the shouts below, the splash of oars, the tinkle of bells, the prolonged boom of the cannon at midday, and the feeling of perfect, perfect freedom, did wonders with me; I felt as though I were growing strong, broad wings which were bearing me God knows whither. And what charm, what joy at times at the thought that another life was so close to mine! that I was the servant, the guardian, the friend, the indispensable fellow-traveller of a creature, young, beautiful, wealthy, but weak, lonely, and insulted! It is pleasant even to be ill when you know that there are people who are looking forward to your convalescence as to a holiday. One day I heard her whispering behind the door with my doctor, and then she came in to me with tear-stained eyes. It was a bad sign, but I was touched, and there was a wonderful lightness in my heart.

But at last they allowed me to go out on the balcony. The sunshine and the breeze from the sea caressed and fondled my sick body. I looked down at the familiar gondolas, which glide with feminine grace smoothly and majestically as though they were alive, and felt all the luxury of this original, fascinating civilisation. There was a smell of the sea. Some one was playing a stringed instrument and two voices were singing. How delightful it was! How unlike it was to that Petersburg night when the wet snow was falling and beating so rudely on our faces. If one looks straight across the canal, one sees the sea, and on the wide expanse towards the horizon the sun glittered on the water so dazzlingly that it hurt one’s eyes to look at it. My soul yearned towards that lovely sea, which was so akin to me and to which I had given up my youth. I longed to live – to live – and nothing more.

A fortnight later I began walking freely. I loved to sit in the sun, and to listen to the gondoliers without understanding them, and for hours together to gaze at the little house where, they said, Desdemona lived – a naïve, mournful little house with a demure expression, as light as lace, so light that it looked as though one could lift it from its place with one hand. I stood for a long time by the tomb of Canova, and could not take my eyes off the melancholy lion. And in the Palace of the Doges I was always drawn to the corner where the portrait of the unhappy Marino Faliero was painted over with black. "It is fine to be an artist, a poet, a dramatist," I thought, "but since that is not vouchsafed to me, if only I could go in for mysticism! If only I had a grain of some faith to add to the unruffled peace and serenity that fills the soul!"

In the evening we ate oysters, drank wine, and went out in a gondola. I remember our black gondola swayed softly in the same place while the water faintly gurgled under it. Here and there the reflection of the stars and the lights on the bank quivered and trembled. Not far from us in a gondola, hung with coloured lanterns which were reflected in the water, there were people singing. The sounds of guitars, of violins, of mandolins, of men’s and women’s voices, were audible in the dark. Zinaida Fyodorovna, pale, with a grave, almost stern face, was sitting beside me, compressing her lips and clenching her hands. She was thinking about something; she did not stir an eyelash, nor hear me. Her face, her attitude, and her fixed, expressionless gaze, and her incredibly miserable, dreadful, and icy-cold memories, and around her the gondolas, the lights, the music, the song with its vigorous passionate cry of "Jam-mo! Jam-mo!" – what contrasts in life! When she sat like that, with tightly clasped hands, stony, mournful, I used to feel as though we were both characters in some novel in the old-fashioned style called "The Ill-fated," "The Abandoned," or something of the sort. Both of us: she – the ill-fated, the abandoned; and I – the faithful, devoted friend, the dreamer, and, if you like it, a superfluous man, a failure capable of nothing but coughing and dreaming, and perhaps sacrificing myself.

But who and what needed my sacrifices now? And what had I to sacrifice, indeed?

When we came in in the evening we always drank tea in her room and talked. We did not shrink from touching on old, unhealed wounds – on the contrary, for some reason I felt a positive pleasure in telling her about my life at Orlov’s, or referring openly to relations which I knew and which could not have been concealed from me.

"At moments I hated you," I said to her. "When he was capricious, condescending, told you lies, I marvelled how it was you did not see, did not understand, when it was all so clear! You kissed his hands, you knelt to him, you flattered him. . ."

"When I . . . kissed his hands and knelt to him, I loved him . . ." she said, blushing crimson.

"Can it have been so difficult to see through him? A fine sphinx! A sphinx indeed – a Kammer-Junker! I reproach you for nothing, God forbid," I went on, feeling I was coarse, that I had not the tact, the delicacy which are so essential when you have to do with a fellow-creature’s soul; in early days before I knew her I had not noticed this defect in myself. "But how could you fail to see what he was," I went on, speaking more softly and more diffidently, however.

"You mean to say you despise my past, and you are right," she said, deeply stirred. " You belong to a special class of men who cannot be judged by ordinary standards; your moral requirements are exceptionally rigorous, and I understand you can’t forgive things. I understand you, and if sometimes I say the opposite, it doesn’t mean that I look at things differently from you; I speak the same old nonsense simply because I haven’t had time yet to wear out my old clothes and prejudices. I, too, hate and despise my past, and Orlov and my love. . . . What was that love? It’s positively absurd now," she said, going to the window and looking down at the canal. "All this love only clouds the conscience and confuses the mind. The meaning of life is to be found only in one thing – fighting. To get one’s heel on the vile head of the serpent and to crush it! That’s the meaning of life. In that alone or in nothing."

I told her long stories of my past, and described my really astounding adventures. But of the change that had taken place in me I did not say one word. She always listened to me with great attention, and at interesting places she rubbed her hands as though vexed that it had not yet been her lot to experience such adventures, such joys and terrors. Then she would suddenly fall to musing and retreat into herself, and I could see from her face that she was not attending to me.

I closed the windows that looked out on the canal and asked whether we should not have the fire lighted.

"No, never mind. I am not cold," she said, smiling listlessly. "I only feel weak. Do you know, I fancy I have grown much wiser lately. I have extraordinary, original ideas now. When I think of my past, of my life then . . . people in general, in fact, it is all summed up for me in the image of my stepmother. Coarse, insolent, soulless, false, depraved, and a morphia maniac too. My father, who was feeble and weak-willed, married my mother for her money and drove her into consumption; but his second wife, my stepmother, he loved passionately, insanely. . . . What I had to put up with! But what is the use of talking! And so, as I say, it is all summed up in her image. . . . And it vexes me that my stepmother is dead. I should like to meet her now!"


"I don’t know," she answered with a laugh and a graceful movement of her head. "Good-night. You must get well. As soon as you are well, we’ll take up our work. . . It’s time to begin."

After I had said good-night and had my hand on the door-handle, she said:

"What do you think? Is Polya still living there?"


And I went off to my room. So we spent a whole month. One grey morning when we both stood at my window, looking at the clouds which were moving up from the sea, and at the darkening canal, expecting every minute that it would pour with rain, and when a thick, narrow streak of rain covered the sea as though with a muslin veil, we both felt suddenly dreary. The same day we both set off for Florence.


It was autumn, at Nice. One morning when I went into her room she was sitting on a low chair, bent together and huddled up, with her legs crossed and her face hidden in her hands. She was weeping bitterly, with sobs, and her long, unbrushed hair fell on her knees. The impression of the exquisite marvellous sea which I had only just seen and of which I wanted to tell her, left me all at once, and my heart ached.

"What is it?" I asked; she took one hand from her face and motioned me to go away. "What is it?" I repeated, and for the first time during our acquaintance I kissed her hand.

"No, it’s nothing, nothing," she said quickly. "Oh, it’s nothing, nothing. . . . Go away. . . . You see, I am not dressed."

I went out overwhelmed. The calm and serene mood in which I had been for so long was poisoned by compassion. I had a passionate longing to fall at her feet, to entreat her not to weep in solitude, but to share her grief with me, and the monotonous murmur of the sea already sounded a gloomy prophecy in my ears, and I foresaw fresh tears, fresh troubles, and fresh losses in the future. "What is she crying about? What is it?" I wondered, recalling her face and her agonised look. I remembered she was with child. She tried to conceal her condition from other people, and also from herself. At home she went about in a loose wrapper or in a blouse with extremely full folds over the bosom, and when she went out anywhere she laced herself in so tightly that on two occasions she fainted when we were out. She never spoke to me of her condition, and when I hinted that it might be as well to see a doctor, she flushed crimson and said not a word.

When I went to see her next time she was already dressed and had her hair done.

"There, there," I said, seeing that she was ready to cry again. "We had better go to the sea and have a talk."

"I can’t talk. Forgive me, I am in the mood now when one wants to be alone. And, if you please, Vladimir Ivanitch, another time you want to come into my room, be so good as to give a knock at the door."

That "be so good" had a peculiar, unfeminine sound. I went away. My accursed Petersburg mood came back, and all my dreams were crushed and crumpled up like leaves by the heat. I felt I was alone again and there was no nearness between us. I was no more to her than that cobweb to that palm-tree, which hangs on it by chance and which will be torn off and carried away by the wind. I walked about the square where the band was playing, went into the Casino; there I looked at overdressed and heavily perfumed women, and every one of them glanced at me as though she would say: "You are alone; that’s all right." Then I went out on the terrace and looked for a long time at the sea. There was not one sail on the horizon. On the left bank, in the lilac-coloured mist, there were mountains, gardens, towers, and houses, the sun was sparkling over it all, but it was all alien, indifferent, an incomprehensible tangle.


She used as before to come into my room in the morning to coffee, but we no longer dined together, as she said she was not hungry; and she lived only on coffee, tea, and various trifles such as oranges and caramels.

And we no longer had conversations in the evening. I don’t know why it was like this. Ever since the day when I had found her in tears she had treated me somehow lightly, at times casually, even ironically, and for some reason called me "My good sir." What had before seemed to her terrible, heroic, marvellous, and had stirred her envy and enthusiasm, did not touch her now at all, and usually after listening to me, she stretched and said:

"Yes, ’great things were done in days of yore,’ my good sir."

It sometimes happened even that I did not see her for days together. I would knock timidly and guiltily at her door and get no answer; I would knock again – still silence. . . . I would stand near the door and listen; then the chambermaid would pass and say coldly, "Madame est partie." Then I would walk about the passages of the hotel, walk and walk. . . . English people, full-bosomed ladies, waiters in swallow-tails. . . . And as I keep gazing at the long striped rug that stretches the whole length of the corridor, the idea occurs to me that I am playing in the life of this woman a strange, probably false part, and that it is beyond my power to alter that part. I run to my room and fall on my bed, and think and think, and can come to no conclusion; and all that is clear to me is that I want to live, and that the plainer and the colder and the harder her face grows, the nearer she is to me, and the more intensely and painfully I feel our kinship. Never mind "My good sir," never mind her light careless tone, never mind anything you like, only don’t leave me, my treasure. I am afraid to be alone.

Then I go out into the corridor again, listen in a tremor. . . . I have no dinner; I don’t notice the approach of evening. At last about eleven I hear the familiar footstep, and at the turn near the stairs Zinaida Fyodorovna comes into sight.

"Are you taking a walk?" she would ask as she passes me. "You had better go out into the air. . . . Good-night!"

"But shall we not meet again to-day?"

"I think it’s late. But as you like."

"Tell me, where have you been?" I would ask, following her into the room.

"Where? To Monte Carlo." She took ten gold coins out of her pocket and said: "Look, my good sir; I have won. That’s at roulette."

"Nonsense! As though you would gamble."

"Why not? I am going again to-morrow."

I imagined her with a sick and morbid face, in her condition, tightly laced, standing near the gaming-table in a crowd of cocottes, of old women in their dotage who swarm round the gold like flies round the honey. I remembered she had gone off to Monte Carlo for some reason in secret from me.

"I don’t believe you," I said one day. "You wouldn’t go there."

"Don’t agitate yourself. I can’t lose much."

"It’s not the question of what you lose," I said with annoyance. "Has it never occurred to you while you were playing there that the glitter of gold, all these women, young and old, the croupiers, all the surroundings – that it is all a vile, loathsome mockery at the toiler’s labour, at his bloody sweat?

"If one doesn’t play, what is one to do here?" she asked. "The toiler’s labour and his bloody sweat – all that eloquence you can put off till another time; but now, since you have begun, let me go on. Let me ask you bluntly, what is there for me to do here, and what am I to do?"

"What are you to do?" I said, shrugging my shoulders. "That’s a question that can’t be answered straight off."

"I beg you to answer me honestly, Vladimir Ivanitch," she said, and her face looked angry. "Once I have brought myself to ask you this question, I am not going to listen to stock phrases. I am asking you," she went on, beating her hand on the table, as though marking time, "what ought I to do here? And not only here at Nice, but in general?"

I did not speak, but looked out of window to the sea. My heart was beating terribly.

"Vladimir Ivanitch," she said softly and breathlessly; it was hard for her to speak – "Vladimir Ivanitch, if you do not believe in the cause yourself, if you no longer think of going back to it, why . . . why did you drag me out of Petersburg? Why did you make me promises, why did you rouse mad hopes? Your convictions have changed; you have become a different man, and nobody blames you for it – our convictions are not always in our power. But . . . but, Vladimir Ivanitch, for God’s sake, why are you not sincere?" she went on softly, coming up to me. "All these months when I have been dreaming aloud, raving, going into raptures over my plans, remodelling my life on a new pattern, why didn’t you tell me the truth? Why were you silent or encouraged me by your stories, and behaved as though you were in complete sympathy with me? Why was it? Why was it necessary?"

"It’s difficult to acknowledge one’s bankruptcy," I said, turning round, but not looking at her. "Yes, I have no faith; I am worn out. I have lost heart. . . . It is difficult to be truthful – very difficult, and I held my tongue. God forbid that any one should have to go through what I have been through."

I felt that I was on the point of tears, and ceased speaking.

"Vladimir Ivanitch," she said, and took me by both hands, "you have been through so much and seen so much of life, you know more than I do; think seriously, and tell me, what am I to do? Teach me! If you haven’t the strength to go forward yourself and take others with you, at least show me where to go. After all, I am a living, feeling, thinking being. To sink into a false position . . . to play an absurd part . . . is painful to me. I don’t reproach you, I don’t blame you; I only ask you."

Tea was brought in.

"Well?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, giving me a glass. "What do you say to me?"

"There is more light in the world than you see through your window," I answered. "And there are other people besides me, Zinaida Fyodorovna."

"Then tell me who they are," she said eagerly. "That’s all I ask of you."

"And I want to say, too, I went on, "one can serve an idea in more than one calling. If one has made a mistake and lost faith in one, one may find another. The world of ideas is large and cannot be exhausted."

"The world of ideas!" she said, and she looked into my face sarcastically. "Then we had better leave off talking. What’s the use? . . ."

She flushed.

"The world of ideas!" she repeated. She threw her dinner-napkin aside, and an expression of indignation and contempt came into her face. "All your fine ideas, I see, lead up to one inevitable, essential step: I ought to become your mistress. That’s what’s wanted. To be taken up with ideas without being the mistress of an honourable, progressive man, is as good as not understanding the ideas. One has to begin with that . . . that is, with being your mistress, and the rest will come of itself."

"You are irritated, Zinaida Fyodorovna," I said.

"No, I am sincere!" she cried, breathing hard. "I am sincere!"

"You are sincere, perhaps, but you are in error, and it hurts me to hear you."

"I am in error?" she laughed. "Any one else might say that, but not you, my dear sir! I may seem to you indelicate, cruel, but I don’t care: you love me? You love me, don’t you?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Yes, shrug your shoulders!" she went on sarcastically. "When you were ill I heard you in your delirium, and ever since these adoring eyes, these sighs, and edifying conversations about friendship, about spiritual kinship. . . . But the point is, why haven’t you been sincere? Why have you concealed what is and talked about what isn’t? Had you said from the beginning what ideas exactly led you to drag me from Petersburg, I should have known. I should have poisoned myself then as I meant to, and there would have been none of this tedious farce. . . . But what’s the use of talking!"

With a wave of the hand she sat down.

"You speak to me as though you suspected me of dishonourable intentions," I said, offended.

"Oh, very well. What’s the use of talking! I don’t suspect you of intentions, but of having no intentions. If you had any, I should have known them by now. You had nothing but ideas and love. For the present – ideas and love, and in prospect – me as your mistress. That’s in the order of things both in life and in novels. . . . Here you abused him," she said, and she slapped the table with her hand, "but one can’t help agreeing with him. He has good reasons for despising these ideas."

"He does not despise ideas; he is afraid of them," I cried. "He is a coward and a liar."

"Oh, very well. He is a coward and a liar, and deceived me. And you? Excuse my frankness; what are you? He deceived me and left me to take my chance in Petersburg, and you have deceived me and abandoned me here. But he did not mix up ideas with his deceit, and you . . ."

"For goodness’ sake, why are you saying this?" I cried in horror, wringing my hands and going up to her quickly. "No, Zinaida Fyodorovna, this is cynicism. You must not be so despairing; listen to me," I went on, catching at a thought which flashed dimly upon me, and which seemed to me might still save us both. "Listen. I have passed through so many experiences in my time that my head goes round at the thought of them, and I have realised with my mind, with my racked soul, that man finds his true destiny in nothing if not in self-sacrificing love for his neighbour. It is towards that we must strive, and that is our destination! That is my faith!"

I wanted to go on to speak of mercy, of forgiveness, but there was an insincere note in my voice, and I was embarrassed.

"I want to live!" I said genuinely. "To live, to live! I want peace, tranquillity; I want warmth – this sea here – to have you near. Oh, how I wish I could rouse in you the same thirst for life! You spoke just now of love, but it would be enough for me to have you near, to hear your voice, to watch the look in your face . . . !"

She flushed crimson, and to hinder my speaking, said quickly:

"You love life, and I hate it. So our ways lie apart."

She poured herself out some tea, but did not touch it, went into the bedroom, and lay down.

"I imagine it is better to cut short this conversation," she said to me from within. "Everything is over for me, and I want nothing. . . . What more is there to say?"

"No, it’s not all over!"

"Oh, very well! . . . I know! I am sick of it. . . . That’s enough."

I got up, took a turn from one end of the room to the other, and went out into the corridor. When late at night I went to her door and listened, I distinctly heard her crying.

Next morning the waiter, handing me my clothes, informed me, with a smile, that the lady in number thirteen was confined. I dressed somehow, and almost fainting with terror ran to Zinaida Fyodorovna. In her room I found a doctor, a midwife, and an elderly Russian lady from Harkov, called Darya Milhailovna. There was a smell of ether. I had scarcely crossed the threshold when from the room where she was lying I heard a low, plaintive moan, and, as though it had been wafted me by the wind from Russia, I thought of Orlov, his irony, Polya, the Neva, the drifting snow, then the cab without an apron, the prediction I had read in the cold morning sky, and the despairing cry "Nina! Nina!"

"Go in to her," said the lady.

I went in to see Zinaida Fyodorovna, feeling as though I were the father of the child. She was lying with her eyes closed, looking thin and pale, wearing a white cap edged with lace. I remember there were two expressions on her face: one – cold, indifferent, apathetic; the other – a look of childish helplessness given her by the white cap. She did not hear me come in, or heard, perhaps, but did not pay attention. I stood, looked at her, and waited.

But her face was contorted with pain; she opened her eyes and gazed at the ceiling, as though wondering what was happening to her. . . . There was a look of loathing on her face.

"It’s horrible . . ." she whispered.

"Zinaida Fyodorovna." I spoke her name softly. She looked at me indifferently, listlessly, and closed her eyes. I stood there a little while, then went away.

At night, Darya Mihailovna informed me that the child, a girl, was born, but that the mother was in a dangerous condition. Then I heard noise and bustle in the passage. Darya Mihailovna came to me again and with a face of despair, wringing her hands, said:

"Oh, this is awful! The doctor suspects that she has taken poison! Oh, how badly Russians do behave here!"

And at twelve o’clock the next day Zinaida Fyodorovna died.


Two years had passed. Circumstances had changed; I had come to Petersburg again and could live here openly. I was no longer afraid of being and seeming sentimental, and gave myself up entirely to the fatherly, or rather idolatrous feeling roused in me by Sonya, Zinaida Fyodorovna’s child. I fed her with my own hands, gave her her bath, put her to bed, never took my eyes off her for nights together, and screamed when it seemed to me that the nurse was just going to drop her. My thirst for normal ordinary life became stronger and more acute as time went on, but wider visions stopped short at Sonya, as though I had found in her at last just what I needed. I loved the child madly. In her I saw the continuation of my life, and it was not exactly that I fancied, but I felt, I almost believed, that when I had cast off at last my long, bony, bearded frame, I should go on living in those little blue eyes, that silky flaxen hair, those dimpled pink hands which stroked my face so lovingly and were clasped round my neck.

Sonya’s future made me anxious. Orlov was her father; in her birth certificate she was called Krasnovsky, and the only person who knew of her existence, and took interest in her – that is, I – was at death’s door. I had to think about her seriously.

The day after I arrived in Petersburg I went to see Orlov. The door was opened to me by a stout old fellow with red whiskers and no moustache, who looked like a German. Polya, who was tidying the drawing-room, did not recognise me, but Orlov knew me at once.

"Ah, Mr. Revolutionist!" he said, looking at me with curiosity, and laughing. "What fate has brought you?"

He was not changed in the least: the same well-groomed, unpleasant face, the same irony. And a new book was lying on the table just as of old, with an ivory paper-knife thrust in it. He had evidently been reading before I came in. He made me sit down, offered me a cigar, and with a delicacy only found in well-bred people, concealing the unpleasant feeling aroused by my face and my wasted figure, observed casually that I was not in the least changed, and that he would have known me anywhere in spite of my having grown a beard. We talked of the weather, of Paris. To dispose as quickly as possible of the oppressive, inevitable question, which weighed upon him and me, he asked:

"Zinaida Fyodorovna is dead?"

"Yes," I answered.

"In childbirth?"

"Yes, in childbirth. The doctor suspected another cause of death, but . . . it is more comforting for you and for me to think that she died in childbirth."

He sighed decorously and was silent. The angel of silence passed over us, as they say.

"Yes. And here everything is as it used to be – no changes," he said briskly, seeing that I was looking about the room. "My father, as you know, has left the service and is living in retirement; I am still in the same department. Do you remember Pekarsky? He is just the same as ever. Gruzin died of diphtheria a year ago. . . . Kukushkin is alive, and often speaks of you. By the way," said Orlov, dropping his eyes with an air of reserve, "when Kukushkin heard who you were, he began telling every one you had attacked him and tried to murder him . . . and that he only just escaped with his life."

I did not speak.

"Old servants do not forget their masters. . . . It’s very nice of you," said Orlov jocosely. "Will you have some wine and some coffee, though? I will tell them to make some."

"No, thank you. I have come to see you about a very important matter, Georgy Ivanitch."

"I am not very fond of important matters, but I shall be glad to be of service to you. What do you want?"

"You see," I began, growing agitated, "I have here with me Zinaida Fyodorovna’s daughter. . . . Hitherto I have brought her up, but, as you see, before many days I shall be an empty sound. I should like to die with the thought that she is provided for."

Orlov coloured a little, frowned a little, and took a cursory and sullen glance at me. He was unpleasantly affected, not so much by the "important matter" as by my words about death, about becoming an empty sound.

"Yes, it must be thought about," he said, screening his eyes as though from the sun. "Thank you. You say it’s a girl?"

"Yes, a girl. A wonderful child!"

"Yes. Of course, it’s not a lap-dog, but a human being. I understand we must consider it seriously. I am prepared to do my part, and am very grateful to you."

He got up, walked about, biting his nails, and stopped before a picture.

"We must think about it," he said in a hollow voice, standing with his back to me. "I shall go to Pekarsky’s to-day and will ask him to go to Krasnovsky’s. I don’t think he will make much ado about consenting to take the child."

"But, excuse me, I don’t see what Krasnovsky has got to do with it," I said, also getting up and walking to a picture at the other end of the room.

"But she bears his name, of course!" said Orlov.

"Yes, he may be legally obliged to accept the child – I don’t know; but I came to you, Georgy Ivanitch, not to discuss the legal aspect."

"Yes, yes, you are right," he agreed briskly. "I believe I am talking nonsense. But don’t excite yourself. We will decide the matter to our mutual satisfaction. If one thing won’t do, we’ll try another; and if that won’t do, we’ll try a third – one way or another this delicate question shall be settled. Pekarsky will arrange it all. Be so good as to leave me your address and I will let you know at once what we decide. Where are you living?"

Orlov wrote down my address, sighed, and said with a smile:

"Oh, Lord, what a job it is to be the father of a little daughter! But Pekarsky will arrange it all. He is a sensible man. Did you stay long in Paris?"

"Two months."

We were silent. Orlov was evidently afraid I should begin talking of the child again, and to turn my attention in another direction, said:

"You have probably forgotten your letter by now. But I have kept it. I understand your mood at the time, and, I must own, I respect that letter. ’Damnable cold blood,’ ’Asiatic,’ ’coarse laugh’ – that was charming and characteristic," he went on with an ironical smile. "And the fundamental thought is perhaps near the truth, though one might dispute the question endlessly. That is," he hesitated, "not dispute the thought itself, but your attitude to the question – your temperament, so to say. Yes, my life is abnormal, corrupted, of no use to any one, and what prevents me from beginning a new life is cowardice – there you are quite right. But that you take it so much to heart, are troubled, and reduced to despair by it – that’s irrational; there you are quite wrong."

"A living man cannot help being troubled and reduced to despair when he sees that he himself is going to ruin and others are going to ruin round him."

"Who doubts it! I am not advocating indifference; all I ask for is an objective attitude to life. The more objective, the less danger of falling into error. One must look into the root of things, and try to see in every phenomenon a cause of all the other causes. We have grown feeble, slack – degraded, in fact. Our generation is entirely composed of neurasthenics and whimperers; we do nothing but talk of fatigue and exhaustion. But the fault is neither yours nor mine; we are of too little consequence to affect the destiny of a whole generation. We must suppose for that larger, more general causes with a solid raison d’être from the biological point of view. We are neurasthenics, flabby, renegades, but perhaps it’s necessary and of service for generations that will come after us. Not one hair falls from the head without the will of the Heavenly Father – in other words, nothing happens by chance in Nature and in human environment. Everything has its cause and is inevitable. And if so, why should we worry and write despairing letters?"

"That’s all very well," I said, thinking a little. "I believe it will be easier and clearer for the generations to come; our experience will be at their service. But one wants to live apart from future generations and not only for their sake. Life is only given us once, and one wants to live it boldly, with full consciousness and beauty. One wants to play a striking, independent, noble part; one wants to make history so that those generations may not have the right to say of each of us that we were nonentities or worse. . . . I believe what is going on about us is inevitable and not without a purpose, but what have I to do with that inevitability? Why should my ego be lost?"

"Well, there’s no help for it," sighed Orlov, getting up and, as it were, giving me to understand that our conversation was over.

I took my hat.

"We’ve only been sitting here half an hour, and how many questions we have settled, when you come to think of it!" said Orlov, seeing me into the hall. "So I will see to that matter. . . . I will see Pekarsky to-day. . . . Don’t be uneasy."

He stood waiting while I put on my coat, and was obviously relieved at the feeling that I was going away.

"Georgy Ivanitch, give me back my letter," I said.


He went to his study, and a minute later returned with the letter. I thanked him and went away.

The next day I got a letter from him. He congratulated me on the satisfactory settlement of the question. Pekarsky knew a lady, he wrote, who kept a school, something like a kindergarten, where she took quite little children. The lady could be entirely depended upon, but before concluding anything with her it would be as well to discuss the matter with Krasnovsky – it was a matter of form. He advised me to see Pekarsky at once and to take the birth certificate with me, if I had it. "Rest assured of the sincere respect and devotion of your humble servant. . . ."

I read this letter, and Sonya sat on the table and gazed at me attentively without blinking, as though she knew her fate was being decided


"LET me; I want to drive myself! I’ll sit by the driver!" Sofya Lvovna said in a loud voice. "Wait a minute, driver; I’ll get up on the box beside you."
She stood up in the sledge, and her husband, Vladimir Nikititch, and the friend of her childhood, Vladimir Mihalovitch, held her arms to prevent her falling. The three horses were galloping fast.
"I said you ought not to have given her brandy," Vladimir Nikititch whispered to his companion with vexation. "What a fellow you are, really!"
The Colonel knew by experience that in women like his wife, Sofya Lvovna, after a little too much wine, turbulent gaiety was followed by hysterical laughter and then tears. He was afraid that when they got home, instead of being able to sleep, he would have to be administering compresses and drops.
"Wo!" cried Sofya Lvovna. "I want to drive myself!"
She felt genuinely gay and triumphant. For the last two months, ever since her wedding, she had been tortured by the thought that she had married Colonel Yagitch from worldly motives and, as it is said, par dépit [3]; but that evening, at the restaurant, she had suddenly become convinced that she loved him passionately. In spite of his fifty-four years, he was so slim, agile, supple, he made puns and hummed to the gipsies’ tunes so charmingly. Really, the older men were nowadays a thousand times more interesting than the young. It seemed as though age and youth had changed parts. The Colonel was two years older than her father, but could there be any importance in that if, honestly speaking, there were infinitely more vitality, go, and freshness in him than in herself, though she was only twenty-three?
"Oh, my darling!" she thought. "You are wonderful!"
She had become convinced in the restaurant, too, that not a spark of her old feeling remained. For the friend of her childhood, Vladimir Mihalovitch, or simply Volodya, with whom only the day before she had been madly, miserably in love, she now felt nothing but complete indifference. All that evening he had seemed to her spiritless, torpid, uninteresting, and insignificant, and the sangfroid [4] with which he habitually avoided paying at restaurants on this occasion revolted her, and she had hardly been able to resist saying, "If you are poor, you should stay at home." The Colonel paid for all.
Perhaps because trees, telegraph posts, and drifts of snow kept flitting past her eyes, all sorts of disconnected ideas came rushing into her mind. She reflected: the bill at the restaurant had been a hundred and twenty roubles, and a hundred had gone to the gipsies, and to-morrow she could fling away a thousand roubles if she liked; and only two months ago, before her wedding, she had not had three roubles of her own, and had to ask her father for every trifle. What a change in her life!
Her thoughts were in a tangle. She recalled, how, when she was a child of ten, Colonel Yagitch, now her husband, used to make love [5] to her aunt, and every one in the house said that he had ruined her. And her aunt had, in fact, often come down to dinner with her eyes red from crying, and was always going off somewhere; and people used to say of her that the poor thing could find no peace anywhere. He had been very handsome in those days, and had an extraordinary reputation as a lady-killer. So much so that he was known all over the town, and it was said of him that he paid a round of visits to his adorers every day like a doctor visiting his patients. And even now, in spite of his grey hair, his wrinkles, and his spectacles, his thin face looked handsome, especially in profile.
Sofya Lvovna’s father was an army doctor, and had at one time served in the same regiment with Colonel Yagitch. Volodya’s father was an army doctor too, and he, too, had once been in the same regiment as her father and Colonel Yagitch. In spite of many amatory adventures, often very complicated and disturbing, Volodya had done splendidly at the university, and had taken a very good degree. Now he was specialising in foreign literature, and was said to be writing a thesis. He lived with his father, the army doctor, in the barracks, and had no means of his own, though he was thirty. As children Sofya and he had lived under the same roof, though in different flats. He often came to play with her, and they had dancing and French lessons together. But when he grew up into a graceful, remarkably handsome young man, she began to feel shy of him, and then fell madly in love with him, and had loved him right up to the time when she was married to Yagitch. He, too, had been renowned for his success with women almost from the age of fourteen, and the ladies who deceived their husbands on his account excused themselves by saying that he was only a boy. Some one had told a story of him lately that when he was a student living in lodgings so as to be near the university, it always happened if one knocked at his door, that one heard his footstep, and then a whispered apology: "Pardon, je ne suis pas seul [6]." Yagitch was delighted with him, and blessed him as a worthy successor, as Derchavin blessed Pushkin [7]; he appeared to be fond of him. They would play billiards or picquet by the hour together without uttering a word, if Yagitch drove out on any expedition he always took Volodya with him, and Yagitch was the only person Volodya initiated into the mysteries of his thesis. In earlier days, when Yagitch was rather younger, they had often been in the position of rivals, but they had never been jealous of one another. In the circle in which they moved Yagitch was nicknamed Big Volodya, and his friend Little Volodya.
Besides Big Volodya, Little Volodya, and Sofya Lvovna, there was a fourth person in the sledge – Margarita Alexandrovna, or, as every one called her, Rita, a cousin of Madame Yagitch – a very pale girl over thirty, with black eyebrows and a pince-nez, who was for ever smoking cigarettes, even in the bitterest frost, and who always had her knees and the front of her blouse covered with cigarette ash. She spoke through her nose, drawling every word, was of a cold temperament, could drink any amount of wine and liquor without being drunk, and used to tell scandalous anecdotes in a languid and tasteless way. At home she spent her days reading thick magazines [8], covering them with cigarette ash, or eating frozen apples.
"Sonia, give over fooling," she said, drawling. "It’s really silly."
As they drew near the city gates they went more slowly, and began to pass people and houses. Sofya Lvovna subsided, nestled up to her husband, and gave herself up to her thoughts. Little Volodya sat opposite. By now her light-hearted and cheerful thoughts were mingled with gloomy ones. She thought that the man sitting opposite knew that she loved him, and no doubt he believed the gossip that she married the Colonel par dépit. She had never told him of her love; she had not wanted him to know, and had done her best to hide her feeling, but from her face she knew that he understood her perfectly – and her pride suffered. But what was most humiliating in her position was that, since her wedding, Volodya had suddenly begun to pay her attention, which he had never done before, spending hours with her, sitting silent or chattering about trifles; and even now in the sledge, though he did not talk to her, he touched her foot with his and pressed her hand a little. Evidently that was all he wanted, that she should be married; and it was evident that he despised her and that she only excited in him an interest of a special kind as though she were an immoral and disreputable woman. And when the feeling of triumph and love for her husband were mingled in her soul with humiliation and wounded pride, she was overcome by a spirit of defiance, and longed to sit on the box, to shout and whistle to the horses.
Just as they passed the nunnery the huge hundred-ton bell rang out. Rita crossed herself.
"Our Olga is in that nunnery," said Sofya Lvovna, and she, too, crossed herself and shuddered.
"Why did she go into the nunnery?" said the Colonel.
"Par dépit," Rita answered crossly, with obvious allusion to Sofya’s marrying Yagitch. "Par dépit is all the fashion nowadays. Defiance of all the world. She was always laughing, a desperate flirt, fond of nothing but balls and young men, and all of a sudden off she went – to surprise every one!"
"That’s not true," said Volodya, turning down the collar of his fur coat and showing his handsome face. "It wasn’t a case of par dépit; it was simply horrible, if you like. Her brother Dmitri was sent to penal servitude, and they don’t know where he is now. And her mother died of grief."
He turned up his collar again.
"Olga did well," he added in a muffled voice. "Living as an adopted child, and with such a paragon as Sofya Lvovna, – one must take that into consideration too!"
Sofya Lvovna heard a tone of contempt in his voice, and longed to say something rude to him, but she said nothing. The spirit of defiance came over her again; she stood up again and shouted in a tearful voice:
"I want to go to the early service! Driver, back! I want to see Olga."
They turned back. The nunnery bell had a deep note, and Sofya Lvovna fancied there was something in it that reminded her of Olga and her life. The other church bells began ringing too. When the driver stopped the horses, Sofya Lvovna jumped out of the sledge and, unescorted and alone, went quickly up to the gate.
"Make haste, please!" her husband called to her. "It’s late already."
She went in at the dark gateway, then by the avenue that led from the gate to the chief church. The snow crunched under her feet, and the ringing was just above her head, and seemed to vibrate through her whole being. Here was the church door, then three steps down, and an ante-room with ikons of the saints on both sides, a fragrance of juniper and incense, another door, and a dark figure opening it and bowing very low. The service had not yet begun. One nun was walking by the ikon-screen and lighting the candles on the tall standard candlesticks, another was lighting the chandelier. Here and there, by the columns and the side chapels, there stood black, motionless figures. "I suppose they must remain standing as they are now till the morning," thought Sofya Lvovna, and it seemed to her dark, cold, and dreary – drearier than a graveyard. She looked with a feeling of dreariness at the still, motionless figures and suddenly felt a pang at her heart. For some reason, in one short nun, with thin shoulders and a black kerchief on her head, she recognised Olga, though when Olga went into the nunnery she had been plump and had looked taller. Hesitating and extremely agitated, Sofya Lvovna went up to the nun, and looking over her shoulder into her face, recognised her as Olga.
"Olga!" she cried, throwing up her hands, and could not speak from emotion. "Olga!"
The nun knew her at once; she raised her eyebrows in surprise, and her pale, freshly washed face, and even, it seemed, the white headcloth that she wore under her wimple, beamed with pleasure.
"What a miracle from God!" she said, and she, too, threw up her thin, pale little hands.
Sofya Lvovna hugged her and kissed her warmly, and was afraid as she did so that she might smell of spirits.
"We were just driving past, and we thought of you," she said, breathing hard, as though she had been running. "Dear me! How pale you are! I . . . I’m very glad to see you. Well, tell me how are you? Are you dull?"
Sofya Lvovna looked round at the other nuns, and went on in a subdued voice:
"There’ve been so many changes at home . . . you know, I’m married to Colonel Yagitch. You remember him, no doubt. . . . I am very happy with him."
"Well, thank God for that. And is your father quite well?
"Yes, he is quite well. He often speaks of you. You must come and see us during the holidays, Olga, won’t you?"
"I will come," said Olga, and she smiled. "I’ll come on the second day."
Sofya Lvovna began crying, she did not know why, and for a minute she shed tears in silence, then she wiped her eyes and said:
"Rita will be very sorry not to have seen you. She is with us too. And Volodya’s here. They are close to the gate. How pleased they’d be if you’d come out and see them. Let’s go out to them; the service hasn’t begun yet.’’
"Let us," Olga agreed. She crossed herself three times and went out with Sofya Lvovna to the entrance.
"So you say you’re happy, Sonitchka?" she asked when they came out at the gate.
"Well, thank God for that."
The two Volodyas, seeing the nun, got out of the sledge and greeted her respectfully. Both were visibly touched by her pale face and her black monastic dress, and both were pleased that she had remembered them and come to greet them. That she might not be cold, Sofya Lvovna wrapped her up in a rug and put one half of her fur coat round her. Her tears had relieved and purified her heart, and she was glad that this noisy, restless, and, in reality, impure night should unexpectedly end so purely and serenely. And to keep Olga by her a little longer she suggested:
"Let us take her for a drive! Get in, Olga; we’ll go a little way."
The men expected the nun to refuse – saints don’t dash about in three-horse sledges; but to their surprise, she consented and got into the sledge. And while the horses were galloping to the city gate all were silent, and only tried to make her warm and comfortable, and each of them was thinking of what she had been in the past and what she was now. Her face was now passionless, inexpressive, cold, pale, and transparent, as though there were water, not blood, in her veins. And two or three years ago she had been plump and rosy, talking about her suitors and laughing at every trifle.
Near the city gate the sledge turned back; when it stopped ten minutes later near the nunnery, Olga got out of the sledge. The bell had begun to ring more rapidly.
"The Lord save you," said Olga, and she bowed low as nuns do.
"Mind you come, Olga."
"I will, I will."
She went and quickly disappeared through the gateway. And when after that they drove on again, Sofya Lvovna felt very sad. Every one was silent. She felt dispirited and weak all over. That she should have made a nun get into a sledge and drive in a company hardly sober seemed to her now stupid, tactless, and almost sacrilegious. As the intoxication passed off, the desire to deceive herself passed away also. It was clear to her now that she did not love her husband, and never could love him, and that it all had been foolishness and nonsense. She had married him from interested motives, because, in the words of her school friends, he was madly rich, and because she was afraid of becoming an old maid like Rita, and because she was sick of her father, the doctor, and wanted to annoy Volodya.
If she could have imagined when she got married, that it would be so oppressive, so dreadful, and so hideous, she would not have consented to the marriage for all the wealth in the world. But now there was no setting it right. She must make up her mind to it.
They reached home. Getting into her warm, soft bed, and pulling the bed-clothes over her, Sofya Lvovna recalled the dark church, the smell of incense, and the figures by the columns, and she felt frightened at the thought that these figures would be standing there all the while she was asleep. The early service would be very, very long; then there would be "the hours," then the mass, then the service of the day.
"But of course there is a God – there certainly is a God; and I shall have to die, so that sooner or later one must think of one’s soul, of eternal life, like Olga. Olga is saved now; she has settled all questions for herself. . . . But if there is no God? Then her life is wasted. But how is it wasted? Why is it wasted?"
And a minute later the thought came into her mind again:
"There is a God; death must come; one must think of one’s soul. If Olga were to see death before her this minute she would not be afraid. She is prepared. And the great thing is that she has already solved the problem of life for herself. There is a God . . . yes. . . . But is there no other solution except going into a monastery? To go into the monastery means to renounce life, to spoil it . . . ."
Sofya Lvovna began to feel rather frightened; she hid her head under her pillow.
"I mustn’t think about it," she whispered. "I mustn’t. . . ."
Yagitch was walking about on the carpet in the next room with a soft jingle of spurs, thinking about something. The thought occurred to Sofya Lvovna that this man was near and dear to her only for one reason – that his name, too, was Vladimir. She sat up in bed and called tenderly:
"What is it?" her husband responded.
She lay down again. She heard a bell, perhaps the same nunnery bell. Again she thought of the vestibule and the dark figures, and thoughts of God and of inevitable death strayed through her mind, and she covered her ears that she might not hear the bell. She thought that before old age and death there would be a long, long life before her, and that day by day she would have to put up with being close to a man she did not love, who had just now come into the bedroom and was getting into bed, and would have to stifle in her heart her hopeless love for the other young, fascinating, and, as she thought, exceptional man. She looked at her husband and tried to say good-night to him, but suddenly burst out crying instead. She was vexed with herself.
"Well, now then for the music!" said Yagitch.
She was not pacified till ten o’clock in the morning. She left off crying and trembling all over, but she began to have a splitting headache. Yagitch was in haste to go to the late mass, and in the next room was grumbling at his orderly, who was helping him to dress. He came into the bedroom once with the soft jingle of his spurs to fetch something, and then a second time wearing his epaulettes, and his orders on his breast, limping slightly from rheumatism; and it struck Sofya Lvovna that he looked and walked like a bird of prey.
She heard Yagitch ring the telephone bell.
"Be so good as to put me on to the Vassilevsky barracks," he said; and a minute later: "Vassilevsky barracks? Please ask Doctor Salimovitch to come to the telephone . . ." And a minute later: "With whom am I speaking? Is it you, Volodya? Delighted. Ask your father to come to us at once, dear boy; my wife is rather shattered after yesterday. Not at home, you say? H’m! . . . Thank you. Very good. I shall be much obliged . . . Merci."
Yagitch came into the bedroom for the third time, bent down to his wife, made the sign of the cross over her, gave her his hand to kiss (the women who had been in love with him used to kiss his hand and he had got into the habit of it), and saying that he should be back to dinner, went out.
At twelve o’clock the maid came in to announce that Vladimir Mihalovitch had arrived. Sofya Lvovna, staggering with fatigue and headache, hurriedly put on her marvellous new lilac dressing-gown trimmed with fur, and hastily did up her hair after a fashion. She was conscious of an inexpressible tenderness in her heart, and was trembling with joy and with fear that he might go away. She wanted nothing but to look at him.
Volodya came dressed correctly for calling, in a swallow-tail coat and white tie. When Sofya Lvovna came in he kissed her hand and expressed his genuine regret that she was ill. Then when they had sat down, he admired her dressing-gown.
"I was upset by seeing Olga yesterday," she said. "At first I felt it dreadful, but now I envy her. She is like a rock that cannot be shattered; there is no moving her. But was there no other solution for her, Volodya? Is burying oneself alive the only solution of the problem of life? Why, it’s death, not life!"
At the thought of Olga, Volodya’s face softened.
"Here, you are a clever man, Volodya," said Sofya Lvovna. "Show me how to do what Olga has done. Of course, I am not a believer and should not go into a nunnery, but one can do something equivalent. Life isn’t easy for me," she added after a brief pause. "Tell me what to do. . . . Tell me something I can believe in. Tell me something, if it’s only one word."
"One word? By all means: tararaboomdeeay [9]."
"Volodya, why do you despise me?" she asked hotly. "You talk to me in a special, fatuous way, if you’ll excuse me, not as one talks to one’s friends and women one respects. You are so good at your work, you are fond of science; why do you never talk of it to me? Why is it? Am I not good enough?"
Volodya frowned with annoyance and said:
"Why do you want science all of a sudden? Don’t you perhaps want constitutional government? Or sturgeon and horse-radish?"
"Very well, I am a worthless, trivial, silly woman with no convictions. I have a mass, a mass of defects. I am neurotic, corrupt, and I ought to be despised for it. But you, Volodya, are ten years older than I am, and my husband is thirty years older. I’ve grown up before your eyes, and if you would, you could have made anything you liked of me – an angel. But you" – her voice quivered – "treat me horribly. Yagitch has married me in his old age, and you . . ."
"Come, come," said Volodya, sitting nearer her and kissing both her hands. "Let the Schopenhauers [10] philosophise and prove whatever they like, while we’ll kiss these little hands."
"You despise me, and if only you knew how miserable it makes me," she said uncertainly, knowing beforehand that he would not believe her. "And if you only knew how I want to change, to begin another life! I think of it with enthusiasm!" and tears of enthusiasm actually came into her eyes. "To be good, honest, pure, not to be lying; to have an object in life."
"Come, come, come, please don’t be affected! I don’t like it!" said Volodya, and an ill-humoured expression came into his face. "Upon my word, you might be on the stage. Let us behave like simple people."
To prevent him from getting cross and going away, she began defending herself, and forced herself to smile to please him; and again she began talking of Olga, and of how she longed to solve the problem of her life and to become something real.
"Ta-ra-ra-boomdee-ay," he hummed. "Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay!"
And all at once he put his arm round her waist, while she, without knowing what she was doing, laid her hands on his shoulders and for a minute gazed with ecstasy, almost intoxication, at his clever, ironical face, his brow, his eyes, his handsome beard.
"You have known that I love you for ever so long," she confessed to him, and she blushed painfully, and felt that her lips were twitching with shame. "I love you. Why do you torture me?"
She shut her eyes and kissed him passionately on the lips, and for a long while, a full minute, could not take her lips away, though she knew it was unseemly, that he might be thinking the worse of her, that a servant might come in.
"Oh, how you torture me!" she repeated.
When half an hour later, having got all that he wanted, he was sitting at lunch in the dining-room, she was kneeling before him, gazing greedily into his face, and he told her that she was like a little dog waiting for a bit of ham to be thrown to it. Then he sat her on his knee, and dancing her up and down like a child, hummed:
"Tara-raboom-dee-ay. . . . Tara-raboom-dee-ay." And when he was getting ready to go she asked him in a passionate whisper:
"When? To-day? Where?" And held out both hands to his mouth as though she wanted to seize his answer in them.
"To-day it will hardly be convenient," he said after a minute’s thought. "To-morrow, perhaps."
And they parted. Before dinner Sofya Lvovna went to the nunnery to see Olga, but there she was told that Olga was reading the psalter somewhere over the dead. From the nunnery she went to her father’s and found that he, too, was out. Then she took another sledge and drove aimlessly about the streets till evening. And for some reason she kept thinking of the aunt whose eyes were red with crying, and who could find no peace anywhere.
And at night they drove out again with three horses to a restaurant out of town and listened to the gipsies. And driving back past the nunnery again, Sofya Lvovna thought of Olga, and she felt aghast at the thought that for the girls and women of her class there was no solution but to go on driving about and telling lies, or going into a nunnery to mortify the flesh. . . . And next day she met her lover, and again Sofya Lvovna drove about the town alone in a hired sledge thinking about her aunt.
A week later Volodya threw her over. And after that life went on as before, uninteresting, miserable, and sometimes even agonising. The Colonel and Volodya spent hours playing billiards and picquet, Rita told anecdotes in the same languid, tasteless way, and Sofya Lvovna went about alone in hired sledges and kept begging her husband to take her for a good drive with three horses.
Going almost every day to the nunnery, she wearied Olga, complaining of her unbearable misery, weeping, and feeling as she did so that she brought with her into the cell something impure, pitiful, shabby. And Olga repeated to her mechanically as though a lesson learnt by rote, that all this was of no consequence, that it would all pass and God would forgive her.



Christmas Eve

HERE was a thick roll of notes. It came from the bailiff at the forest villa; he wrote that he was sending fifteen hundred roubles, which he had been awarded as damages, having won an appeal. Anna Akimovna disliked and feared such words as "awarded damages" and "won the suit." She knew that it was impossible to do without the law, but for some reason, whenever Nazaritch, the manager of the factory, or the bailiff of her villa in the country, both of whom frequently went to law, used to win lawsuits of some sort for her benefit, she always felt uneasy and, as it were, ashamed. On this occasion, too, she felt uneasy and awkward, and wanted to put that fifteen hundred roubles further away that it might be out of her sight.
She thought with vexation that other girls of her age – she was in her twenty-sixth year – were now busy looking after their households, were weary and would sleep sound, and would wake up tomorrow morning in holiday mood; many of them had long been married and had children. Only she, for some reason, was compelled to sit like an old woman over these letters, to make notes upon them, to write answers, then to do nothing the whole evening till midnight, but wait till she was sleepy; and tomorrow they would all day long be coming with Christmas greetings and asking for favours; and the day after tomorrow there would certainly be some scandal at the factory – some one would be beaten or would die of drinking too much vodka, and she would be fretted by pangs of conscience; and after the holidays Nazaritch would turn off some twenty of the workpeople for absence from work, and all of the twenty would hang about at the front door, without their caps on, and she would be ashamed to go out to them, and they would be driven away like dogs. And all her acquaintances would say behind her back, and write to her in anonymous letters, that she was a millionaire and exploiter – that she was devouring other men’s lives and sucking the blood of the workers.
Here there lay a heap of letters read through and laid aside already. They were all begging letters. They were from people who were hungry, drunken, dragged down by large families, sick, degraded, despised. . . . Anna Akimovna had already noted on each letter, three roubles to be paid to one, five to another; these letters would go the same day to the office, and next the distribution of assistance would take place, or, as the clerks used to say, the beasts would be fed.
They would distribute also in small sums four hundred and seventy roubles – the interest on a sum bequeathed by the late Akim Ivanovitch for the relief of the poor and needy. There would be a hideous crush. From the gates to the doors of the office there would stretch a long file of strange people with brutal faces, in rags, numb with cold, hungry and already drunk, in husky voices calling down blessings upon Anna Akimovna, their benefactress, and her parents: those at the back would press upon those in front, and those in front would abuse them with bad language. The clerk would get tired of the noise, the swearing, and the sing-song whining and blessing; would fly out and give some one a box on the ear to the delight of all. And her own people, the factory hands, who received nothing at Christmas but their wages, and had already spent every farthing of it, would stand in the middle of the yard, looking on and laughing – some enviously, others ironically.
"Merchants, and still more their wives, are fonder of beggars than they are of their own workpeople," thought Anna Akimovna. "It’s always so."
Her eye fell upon the roll of money. It would be nice to distribute that hateful, useless money among the workpeople tomorrow, but it did not do to give the workpeople anything for nothing, or they would demand it again next time. And what would be the good of fifteen hundred roubles when there were eighteen hundred workmen in the factory besides their wives and children? Or she might, perhaps, pick out one of the writers of those begging letters – some luckless man who had long ago lost all hope of anything better, and give him the fifteen hundred. The money would come upon the poor creature like a thunder-clap, and perhaps for the first time in his life he would feel happy. This idea struck Anna Akimovna as original and amusing, and it fascinated her. She took one letter at random out of the pile and read it. Some petty official called Tchalikov had long been out of a situation [12], was ill, and living in Gushtchin’s Buildings; his wife was in consumption, and he had five little girls. Anna Akimovna knew well the four-storied house, Gushtchin’s Buildings, in which Tchalikov lived. Oh, it was a horrid, foul, unhealthy house!
"Well, I will give it to that Tchalikov," she decided. "I won’t send it; I had better take it myself to prevent unnecessary talk. Yes," she reflected, as she put the fifteen hundred roubles in her pocket, "and I’ll have a look at them, and perhaps I can do something for the little girls."
She felt light-hearted; she rang the bell and ordered the horses to be brought round.
When she got into the sledge it was past six o’clock in the evening. The windows in all the blocks of buildings were brightly lighted up, and that made the huge courtyard seem very dark: at the gates, and at the far end of the yard near the warehouses and the workpeople’s barracks, electric lamps were gleaming.
Anna Akimovna disliked and feared those huge dark buildings, warehouses, and barracks where the workmen lived. She had only once been in the main building since her father’s death. The high ceilings with iron girders; the multitude of huge, rapidly turning wheels, connecting straps and levers; the shrill hissing; the clank of steel; the rattle of the trolleys; the harsh puffing of steam; the faces – pale, crimson, or black with coal-dust; the shirts soaked with sweat; the gleam of steel, of copper, and of fire; the smell of oil and coal; and the draught, at times very hot and at times very cold – gave her an impression of hell. It seemed to her as though the wheels, the levers, and the hot hissing cylinders were trying to tear themselves away from their fastenings to crush the men, while the men, not hearing one another, ran about with anxious faces, and busied themselves about the machines, trying to stop their terrible movement. They showed Anna Akimovna something and respectfully explained it to her. She remembered how in the forge a piece of red-hot iron was pulled out of the furnace; and how an old man with a strap round his head, and another, a young man in a blue shirt with a chain on his breast, and an angry face, probably one of the foremen, struck the piece of iron with hammers; and how the golden sparks had been scattered in all directions; and how, a little afterwards, they had dragged out a huge piece of sheet-iron with a clang. The old man had stood erect and smiled, while the young man had wiped his face with his sleeve and explained something to her. And she remembered, too, how in another department an old man with one eye had been filing a piece of iron, and how the iron filings were scattered about; and how a red-haired man in black spectacles, with holes in his shirt, had been working at a lathe, making something out of a piece of steel: the lathe roared and hissed and squeaked, and Anna Akimovna felt sick at the sound, and it seemed as though they were boring into her ears. She looked, listened, did not understand, smiled graciously, and felt ashamed. To get hundreds of thousands of roubles from a business which one does not understand and cannot like – how strange it is!
And she had not once been in the workpeople’s barracks. There, she was told, it was damp; there were bugs, debauchery, anarchy. It was an astonishing thing: a thousand roubles were spent annually on keeping the barracks in good order, yet, if she were to believe the anonymous letters, the condition of the workpeople was growing worse and worse every year.
"There was more order in my father’s day," thought Anna Akimovna, as she drove out of the yard, "because he had been a workman himself. I know nothing about it and only do silly things."
She felt depressed again, and was no longer glad that she had come, and the thought of the lucky man upon whom fifteen hundred roubles would drop from heaven no longer struck her as original and amusing. To go to some Tchalikov or other, when at home a business worth a million was gradually going to pieces and being ruined, and the workpeople in the barracks were living worse than convicts, meant doing something silly and cheating her conscience. Along the highroad and across the fields near it, workpeople from the neighbouring cotton and paper factories were walking towards the lights of the town. There was the sound of talk and laughter in the frosty air. Anna Akimovna looked at the women and young people, and she suddenly felt a longing for a plain rough life among a crowd. She recalled vividly that far-away time when she used to be called Anyutka, when she was a little girl and used to lie under the same quilt with her mother, while a washerwoman who lodged with them used to wash clothes in the next room; while through the thin walls there came from the neighbouring flats sounds of laughter, swearing, children’s crying, the accordion, and the whirr of carpenters’ lathes and sewing-machines; while her father, Akim Ivanovitch, who was clever at almost every craft, would be soldering something near the stove, or drawing or planing, taking no notice whatever of the noise and stuffiness. And she longed to wash, to iron, to run to the shop and the tavern as she used to do every day when she lived with her mother. She ought to have been a work-girl and not the factory owner! Her big house with its chandeliers and pictures; her footman Mishenka, with his glossy moustache and swallowtail coat; the devout and dignified Varvarushka, and smooth-tongued Agafyushka; and the young people of both sexes who came almost every day to ask her for money, and with whom she always for some reason felt guilty; and the clerks, the doctors, and the ladies who were charitable at her expense, who flattered her and secretly despised her for her humble origin – how wearisome and alien it all was to her!
Here was the railway crossing and the city gate; then came houses alternating with kitchen gardens; and at last the broad street where stood the renowned Gushtchin’s Buildings. The street, usually quiet, was now on Christmas Eve full of life and movement. The eating-houses and beer-shops were noisy. If some one who did not belong to that quarter but lived in the centre of the town had driven through the street now, he would have noticed nothing but dirty, drunken, and abusive people; but Anna Akimovna, who had lived in those parts all her life, was constantly recognizing in the crowd her own father or mother or uncle. Her father was a soft fluid character, a little fantastical, frivolous, and irresponsible. He did not care for money, respectability, or power; he used to say that a working man had no time to keep the holy-days and go to church; and if it had not been for his wife, he would probably never have gone to confession, taken the sacrament or kept the fasts. While her uncle, Ivan Ivanovitch, on the contrary, was like flint; in everything relating to religion, politics, and morality, he was harsh and relentless, and kept a strict watch, not only over himself, but also over all his servants and acquaintances. God forbid that one should go into his room without crossing oneself before the ikon! The luxurious mansion in which Anna Akimovna now lived he had always kept locked up, and only opened it on great holidays for important visitors, while he lived himself in the office, in a little room covered with ikons. He had leanings towards the Old Believers [13], and was continually entertaining priests and bishops of the old ritual, though he had been christened, and married, and had buried his wife in accordance with the Orthodox rites. He disliked Akim, his only brother and his heir, for his frivolity, which he called simpleness and folly, and for his indifference to religion. He treated him as an inferior, kept him in the position of a workman, paid him sixteen roubles a month. Akim addressed his brother with formal respect, and on the days of asking forgiveness [14], he and his wife and daughter bowed down to the ground before him. But three years before his death Ivan Ivanovitch had drawn closer to his brother, forgave his shortcomings, and ordered him to get a governess for Anyutka.
There was a dark, deep, evil-smelling archway under Gushtchin’s Buildings; there was a sound of men coughing near the walls. Leaving the sledge in the street, Anna Akimovna went in at the gate and there inquired how to get to No. 46 to see a clerk called Tchalikov. She was directed to the furthest door on the right in the third story. And in the courtyard and near the outer door, and even on the stairs, there was still the same loathsome smell as under the archway. In Anna Akimovna’s childhood, when her father was a simple workman, she used to live in a building like that, and afterwards, when their circumstances were different, she had often visited them in the character of a Lady Bountiful. The narrow stone staircase with its steep dirty steps, with landings at every story; the greasy swinging lanterns; the stench; the troughs, pots, and rags on the landings near the doors, – all this had been familiar to her long ago. . . . One door was open, and within could be seen Jewish tailors in caps, sewing. Anna Akimovna met people on the stairs, but it never entered her head that people might be rude to her. She was no more afraid of peasants or workpeople, drunk or sober, than of her acquaintances of the educated class.
There was no entry at No. 46; the door opened straight into the kitchen. As a rule the dwellings of workmen and mechanics smell of varnish, tar, hides, smoke, according to the occupation of the tenant; the dwellings of persons of noble or official class who have come to poverty may be known by a peculiar rancid, sour smell. This disgusting smell enveloped Anna Akimovna on all sides, and as yet she was only on the threshold. A man in a black coat, no doubt Tchalikov himself, was sitting in a corner at the table with his back to the door, and with him were five little girls. The eldest, a broad-faced thin girl with a comb in her hair, looked about fifteen, while the youngest, a chubby child with hair that stood up like a hedge-hog, was not more than three. All the six were eating. Near the stove stood a very thin little woman with a yellow face, far gone in pregnancy. She was wearing a skirt and a white blouse, and had an oven fork in her hand.
"I did not expect you to be so disobedient, Liza," the man was saying reproachfully. "Fie, fie, for shame! Do you want papa to whip you – eh?"
Seeing an unknown lady in the doorway, the thin woman started, and put down the fork.
"Vassily Nikititch!" she cried, after a pause, in a hollow voice, as though she could not believe her eyes.
The man looked round and jumped up. He was a flat-chested, bony man with narrow shoulders and sunken temples. His eyes were small and hollow with dark rings round them, he had a wide mouth, and a long nose like a bird’s beak – a little bit bent to the right. His beard was parted in the middle, his moustache was shaven, and this made him look more like a hired footman than a government clerk.
"Does Mr. Tchalikov live here?" asked Anna Akimovna.
"Yes, madam," Tchalikov answered severely, but immediately recognizing Anna Akimovna, he cried: "Anna Akimovna!" and all at once he gasped and clasped his hands as though in terrible alarm. "Benefactress!"
With a moan he ran to her, grunting inarticulately as though he were paralyzed – there was cabbage on his beard and he smelt of vodka – pressed his forehead to her muff, and seemed as though he were in a swoon.
"Your hand, your holy hand!" he brought out breathlessly. "It’s a dream, a glorious dream! Children, awaken me!"
He turned towards the table and said in a sobbing voice, shaking his fists:
"Providence has heard us! Our saviour, our angel, has come! We are saved! Children, down on your knees! on your knees!"
Madame Tchalikov and the little girls, except the youngest one, began for some reason rapidly clearing the table.
"You wrote that your wife was very ill," said Anna Akimovna, and she felt ashamed and annoyed. "I am not going to give them the fifteen hundred," she thought.
"Here she is, my wife," said Tchalikov in a thin feminine voice, as though his tears had gone to his head. "Here she is, unhappy creature! With one foot in the grave! But we do not complain, madam. Better death than such a life. Better die, unhappy woman!"
"Why is he playing these antics?" thought Anna Akimovna with annoyance. "One can see at once he is used to dealing with merchants."
"Speak to me like a human being," she said. "I don’t care for farces.’’
"Yes, madam; five bereaved children round their mother’s coffin with funeral candles – that’s a farce? Eh?" said Tchalikov bitterly, and turned away.
"Hold your tongue," whispered his wife, and she pulled at his sleeve. "The place has not been tidied up, madam," she said, addressing Anna Akimovna; "please excuse it . . . you know what it is where there are children. A crowded hearth, but harmony."
"I am not going to give them the fifteen hundred," Anna Akimovna thought again.
And to escape as soon as possible from these people and from the sour smell, she brought out her purse and made up her mind to leave them twenty-five roubles, not more; but she suddenly felt ashamed that she had come so far and disturbed people for so little.
"If you give me paper and ink, I will write at once to a doctor who is a friend of mine to come and see you," she said, flushing red. "He is a very good doctor. And I will leave you some money for medicine."
Madame Tchalikov was hastening to wipe the table.
"It’s messy here! What are you doing?" hissed Tchalikov, looking at her wrathfully. "Take her to the lodger’s room! I make bold to ask you, madam, to step into the lodger’s room," he said, addressing Anna Akimovna. "It’s clean there."
"Osip Ilyitch told us not to go into his room!" said one of the little girls, sternly.
But they had already led Anna Akimovna out of the kitchen, through a narrow passage room between two bedsteads: it was evident from the arrangement of the beds that in one two slept lengthwise, and in the other three slept across the bed. In the lodger’s room, that came next, it really was clean. A neat-looking bed with a red woollen quilt, a pillow in a white pillow-case, even a slipper for the watch, a table covered with a hempen cloth and on it, an inkstand of milky-looking glass, pens, paper, photographs in frames – everything as it ought to be; and another table for rough work, on which lay tidily arranged a watchmaker’s tools and watches taken to pieces. On the walls hung hammers, pliers, awls, chisels, nippers, and so on, and there were three hanging clocks which were ticking; one was a big clock with thick weights, such as one sees in eating-houses.
As she sat down to write the letter, Anna Akimovna saw facing her on the table the photographs of her father and of herself. That surprised her.
"Who lives here with you?" she asked.
"Our lodger, madam, Pimenov. He works in your factory."
"Oh, I thought he must be a watchmaker."
"He repairs watches privately, in his leisure hours. He is an amateur."
After a brief silence during which nothing could be heard but the ticking of the clocks and the scratching of the pen on the paper, Tchalikov heaved a sigh and said ironically, with indignation:
"It’s a true saying: gentle birth and a grade in the service won’t put a coat on your back. A cockade in your cap and a noble title, but nothing to eat. To my thinking, if any one of humble class helps the poor he is much more of a gentleman than any Tchalikov who has sunk into poverty and vice."
To flatter Anna Akimovna, he uttered a few more disparaging phrases about his gentle birth, and it was evident that he was humbling himself because he considered himself superior to her. Meanwhile she had finished her letter and had sealed it up. The letter would be thrown away and the money would not be spent on medicine – that she knew, but she put twenty-five roubles on the table all the same, and after a moment’s thought, added two more red notes [15]. She saw the wasted, yellow hand of Madame Tchalikov, like the claw of a hen, dart out and clutch the money tight.
"You have graciously given this for medicine," said Tchalikov in a quivering voice, "but hold out a helping hand to me also . . . and the children!" he added with a sob. "My unhappy children! I am not afraid for myself; it is for my daughters I fear! It’s the hydra of vice that I fear!"
Trying to open her purse, the catch of which had gone wrong, Anna Akimovna was confused and turned red. She felt ashamed that people should be standing before her, looking at her hands and waiting, and most likely at the bottom of their hearts laughing at her. At that instant some one came into the kitchen and stamped his feet, knocking the snow off.
"The lodger has come in," said Madame Tchalikov.
Anna Akimovna grew even more confused. She did not want any one from the factory to find her in this ridiculous position. As ill-luck would have it, the lodger came in at the very moment when, having broken the catch at last, she was giving Tchalikov some notes, and Tchalikov, grunting as though he were paraylzed, was feeling about with his lips where he could kiss her. In the lodger she recognized the workman who had once clanked the sheet-iron before her in the forge, and had explained things to her. Evidently he had come in straight from the factory; his face looked dark and grimy, and on one cheek near his nose was a smudge of soot. His hands were perfectly black, and his unbelted shirt shone with oil and grease. He was a man of thirty, of medium height, with black hair and broad shoulders, and a look of great physical strength. At the first glance Anna Akimovna perceived that he must be a foreman, who must be receiving at least thirty-five roubles a month, and a stern, loud-voiced man who struck the workmen in the face; all this was evident from his manner of standing, from the attitude he involuntarily assumed at once on seeing a lady in his room, and most of all from the fact that he did not wear top-boots, that he had breast pockets, and a pointed, picturesquely clipped beard. Her father, Akim Ivanovitch, had been the brother of the factory owner, and yet he had been afraid of foremen like this lodger and had tried to win their favour.
"Excuse me for having come in here in your absence," said Anna Akimovna.
The workman looked at her in surprise, smiled in confusion and did not speak.
"You must speak a little louder, madam . . . ." said Tchalikov softly. "When Mr. Pimenov comes home from the factory in the evenings he is a little hard of hearing."
But Anna Akimovna was by now relieved that there was nothing more for her to do here; she nodded to them and went rapidly out of the room. Pimenov went to see her out.
"Have you been long in our employment?" she asked in a loud voice, without turning to him.
"From nine years old. I entered the factory in your uncle’s time."
"That’s a long while! My uncle and my father knew all the workpeople, and I know hardly any of them. I had seen you before, but I did not know your name was Pimenov."
Anna Akimovna felt a desire to justify herself before him, to pretend that she had just given the money not seriously, but as a joke.
"Oh, this poverty," she sighed. "We give charity on holidays and working days, and still there is no sense in it. I believe it is useless to help such people as this Tchalikov."
"Of course it is useless," he agreed. "However much you give him, he will drink it all away. And now the husband and wife will be snatching it from one another and fighting all night," he added with a laugh.
"Yes, one must admit that our philanthropy is useless, boring, and absurd. But still, you must agree, one can’t sit with one’s hand in one’s lap; one must do something. What’s to be done with the Tchalikovs, for instance?"
She turned to Pimenov and stopped, expecting an answer from him; he, too, stopped and slowly, without speaking, shrugged his shoulders. Obviously he knew what to do with the Tchalikovs, but the treatment would have been so coarse and inhuman that he did not venture to put it into words. And the Tchalikovs were to him so utterly uninteresting and worthless, that a moment later he had forgotten them; looking into Anna Akimovna’s eyes, he smiled with pleasure, and his face wore an expression as though he were dreaming about something very pleasant. Only, now standing close to him, Anna Akimovna saw from his face, and especially from his eyes, how exhausted and sleepy he was.
"Here, I ought to give him the fifteen hundred roubles!" she thought, but for some reason this idea seemed to her incongruous and insulting to Pimenov.
"I am sure you are aching all over after your work, and you come to the door with me," she said as they went down the stairs. "Go home."
But he did not catch her words. When they came out into the street, he ran on ahead, unfastened the cover of the sledge, and helping Anna Akimovna in, said:
"I wish you a happy Christmas!"


Christmas Morning

"They have left off ringing ever so long! It’s dreadful; you won’t be there before the service is over! Get up!"
"Two horses are racing, racing . . ." said Anna Akimovna, and she woke up; before her, candle in hand, stood her maid, red-haired Masha. "Well, what is it?"
"Service is over already," said Masha with despair. "I have called you three times! Sleep till evening for me, but you told me yourself to call you!"
Anna Akimovna raised herself on her elbow and glanced towards the window. It was still quite dark outside, and only the lower edge of the window-frame was white with snow. She could hear a low, mellow chime of bells; it was not the parish church, but somewhere further away. The watch on the little table showed three minutes past six.
"Very well, Masha. . . . In three minutes . . ." said Anna Akimovna in an imploring voice, and she snuggled under the bed-clothes.
She imagined the snow at the front door, the sledge, the dark sky, the crowd in the church, and the smell of juniper, and she felt dread at the thought; but all the same, she made up her mind that she would get up at once and go to early service. And while she was warm in bed and struggling with sleep – which seems, as though to spite one, particularly sweet when one ought to get up – and while she had visions of an immense garden on a mountain and then Gushtchin’s Buildings, she was worried all the time by the thought that she ought to get up that very minute and go to church.
But when she got up it was quite light, and it turned out to be half-past nine. There had been a heavy fall of snow in the night; the trees were clothed in white, and the air was particularly light, transparent, and tender, so that when Anna Akimovna looked out of the window her first impulse was to draw a deep, deep breath. And when she had washed, a relic of far-away childish feelings – joy that today was Christmas – suddenly stirred within her; after that she felt light-hearted, free and pure in soul, as though her soul, too, had been washed or plunged in the white snow. Masha came in, dressed up and tightly laced, and wished her a happy Christmas; then she spent a long time combing her mistress’s hair and helping her to dress. The fragrance and feeling of the new, gorgeous, splendid dress, its faint rustle, and the smell of fresh scent, excited Anna Akimoyna.
"Well, it’s Christmas," she said gaily to Masha. "Now we will try our fortunes."
"Last year, I was to marry an old man. It turned up three times the same."
"Well, God is merciful."
"Well, Anna Akimovna, what I think is, rather than neither one thing nor the other, I’d marry an old man," said Masha mournfully, and she heaved a sigh. "I am turned twenty; it’s no joke."
Every one in the house knew that red-haired Masha was in love with Mishenka, the footman, and this genuine, passionate, hopeless love had already lasted three years.
"Come, don’t talk nonsense," Anna Akimovna consoled her. "I am going on for thirty, but I am still meaning to marry a young man."
While his mistress was dressing, Mishenka, in a new swallow-tail and polished boots, walked about the hall and drawing-room and waited for her to come out, to wish her a happy Christmas. He had a peculiar walk, stepping softly and delicately; looking at his feet, his hands, and the bend of his head, it might be imagined that he was not simply walking, but learning to dance the first figure of a quadrille. In spite of his fine velvety moustache and handsome, rather flashy appearance, he was steady, prudent, and devout as an old man. He said his prayers, bowing down to the ground, and liked burning incense in his room. He respected people of wealth and rank and had a reverence for them; he despised poor people, and all who came to ask favours of any kind, with all the strength of his cleanly flunkey soul. Under his starched shirt he wore a flannel, winter and summer alike, being very careful of his health; his ears were plugged with cotton-wool.
When Anna Akimovna crossed the hall with Masha, he bent his head downwards a little and said in his agreeable, honeyed voice:
"I have the honour to congratulate you, Anna Akimovna, on the most solemn feast of the birth of our Lord."
Anna Akimovna gave him five roubles, while poor Masha was numb with ecstasy. His holiday get-up, his attitude, his voice, and what he said, impressed her by their beauty and elegance; as she followed her mistress she could think of nothing, could see nothing, she could only smile, first blissfully and then bitterly. The upper story of the house was called the best or visitors’ half, while the name of the business part – old people’s or simply women’s part – was given to the rooms on the lower story where Aunt Tatyana Ivanovna kept house. In the upper part the gentry and educated visitors were entertained; in the lower story, simpler folk and the aunt’s personal friends. Handsome, plump, and healthy, still young and fresh, and feeling she had on a magnificent dress which seemed to her to diffuse a sort of radiance all about her, Anna Akimovna went down to the lower story. Here she was met with reproaches for forgetting God now that she was so highly educated, for sleeping too late for the service, and for not coming downstairs to break the fast, and they all clasped their hands and exclaimed with perfect sincerity that she was lovely, wonderful; and she believed it, laughed, kissed them, gave one a rouble, another three or five according to their position. She liked being downstairs. Wherever one looked there were shrines, ikons, little lamps, portraits of ecclesiastical personages – the place smelt of monks; there was a rattle of knives in the kitchen, and already a smell of something savoury, exceedingly appetizing, was pervading all the rooms. The yellow-painted floors shone, and from the doors narrow rugs with bright blue stripes ran like little paths to the ikon corner, and the sunshine was simply pouring in at the windows.
In the dining-room some old women, strangers, were sitting; in Varvarushka’s room, too, there were old women, and with them a deaf and dumb girl, who seemed abashed about something and kept saying, "Bli, bli! . . ." Two skinny-looking little girls who had been brought out of the orphanage for Christmas came up to kiss Anna Akimovna’s hand, and stood before her transfixed with admiration of her splendid dress; she noticed that one of the girls squinted, and in the midst of her light-hearted holiday mood she felt a sick pang at her heart at the thought that young men would despise the girl, and that she would never marry. In the cook Agafya’s room, five huge peasants in new shirts were sitting round the samovar; these were not workmen from the factory, but relations of the cook. Seeing Anna Akimovna, all the peasants jumped up from their seats, and from regard for decorum, ceased munching, though their mouths were full. The cook Stepan, in a white cap, with a knife in his hand, came into the room and gave her his greetings; porters in high felt boots came in, and they, too, offered their greetings. The water-carrier peeped in with icicles on his beard, but did not venture to come in.
Anna Akimovna walked through the rooms followed by her retinue – the aunt, Varvarushka, Nikandrovna, the sewing-maid Marfa Petrovna, and the downstairs Masha. Varvarushka – a tall, thin, slender woman, taller than any one in the house, dressed all in black, smelling of cypress and coffee – crossed herself in each room before the ikon, bowing down from the waist. And whenever one looked at her one was reminded that she had already prepared her shroud and that lottery tickets were hidden away by her in the same box.
"Anyutinka, be merciful at Christmas," she said, opening the door into the kitchen. "Forgive him, bless the man! Have done with it!"
The coachman Panteley, who had been dismissed for drunkenness in November, was on his knees in the middle of the kitchen. He was a good-natured man, but he used to be unruly when he was drunk, and could not go to sleep, but persisted in wandering about the buildings and shouting in a threatening voice, "I know all about it!" Now from his beefy and bloated face and from his bloodshot eyes it could be seen that he had been drinking continually from November till Christmas.
"Forgive me, Anna Akimovna," he brought out in a hoarse voice, striking his forehead on the floor and showing his bull-like neck.
"It was Auntie dismissed you; ask her."
"What about auntie?" said her aunt, walking into the kitchen, breathing heavily; she was very stout, and on her bosom one might have stood a tray of teacups and a samovar. "What about auntie now? You are mistress here, give your own orders; though these rascals might be all dead for all I care. Come, get up, you hog!" she shouted at Panteley, losing patience. "Get out of my sight! It’s the last time I forgive you, but if you transgress again – don’t ask for mercy!"
Then they went into the dining-room to coffee. But they had hardly sat down, when the downstairs Masha rushed headlong in, saying with horror, "The singers!" And ran back again. They heard some one blowing his nose, a low bass cough, and footsteps that sounded like horses’ iron-shod hoofs tramping about the entry near the hall. For half a minute all was hushed. . . . The singers burst out so suddenly and loudly that every one started. While they were singing, the priest from the almshouses with the deacon and the sexton arrived. Putting on the stole, the priest slowly said that when they were ringing for matins it was snowing and not cold, but that the frost was sharper towards morning, God bless it! and now there must be twenty degrees of frost [16].
"Many people maintain, though, that winter is healthier than summer," said the deacon; then immediately assumed an austere expression and chanted after the priest. "Thy Birth, O Christ our Lord. . . ."
Soon the priest from the workmen’s hospital came with the deacon, then the Sisters from the hospital, children from the orphanage, and then singing could be heard almost uninterruptedly. They sang, had lunch, and went away.
About twenty men from the factory came to offer their Christmas greetings. They were only the foremen, mechanicians, and their assistants, the pattern-makers, the accountant, and so on – all of good appearance, in new black coats. They were all first-rate men, as it were picked men; each one knew his value – that is, knew that if he lost his berth today, people would be glad to take him on at another factory. Evidently they liked Auntie, as they behaved freely in her presence and even smoked, and when they had all trooped in to have something to eat, the accountant put his arm round her immense waist. They were free-and-easy, perhaps, partly also because Varvarushka, who under the old masters had wielded great power and had kept watch over the morals of the clerks, had now no authority whatever in the house; and perhaps because many of them still remembered the time when Auntie Tatyana Ivanovna, whose brothers kept a strict hand over her, had been dressed like a simple peasant woman like Agafya, and when Anna Akimovna used to run about the yard near the factory buildings and every one used to call her Anyutya.
The foremen ate, talked, and kept looking with amazement at Anna Akimovna, how she had grown up and how handsome she had become! But this elegant girl, educated by governesses and teachers, was a stranger to them; they could not understand her, and they instinctively kept closer to "Auntie," who called them by their names, continually pressed them to eat and drink, and, clinking glasses with them, had already drunk two wineglasses of rowanberry wine with them. Anna Akimovna was always afraid of their thinking her proud, an upstart, or a crow in peacock’s feathers; and now while the foremen were crowding round the food, she did not leave the dining-room, but took part in the conversation. She asked Pimenov, her acquaintance of the previous day:
"Why have you so many clocks in your room?"
"I mend clocks," he answered. "I take the work up between times, on holidays, or when I can’t sleep."
"So if my watch goes wrong I can bring it to you to be repaired?" Anna Akimovna asked, laughing.
"To be sure, I will do it with pleasure," said Pimenov, and there was an expression of tender devotion in his face, when, not herself knowing why, she unfastened her magnificent watch from its chain and handed it to him; he looked at it in silence and gave it back. "To be sure, I will do it with pleasure," he repeated. "I don’t mend watches now. My eyes are weak, and the doctors have forbidden me to do fine work. But for you I can make an exception."
"Doctors talk nonsense," said the accountant. They all laughed. "Don’t you believe them," he went on, flattered by the laughing; "last year a tooth flew out of a cylinder and hit old Kalmykov such a crack on the head that you could see his brains, and the doctor said he would die; but he is alive and working to this day, only he has taken to stammering since that mishap."
"Doctors do talk nonsense, they do, but not so much," sighed Auntie. "Pyotr Andreyitch, poor dear, lost his sight. Just like you, he used to work day in day out at the factory near the hot furnace, and he went blind. The eyes don’t like heat. But what are we talking about?" she said, rousing herself. "Come and have a drink. My best wishes for Christmas, my dears. I never drink with any one else, but I drink with you, sinful woman as I am. Please God!"
Anna Akimovna fancied that after yesterday Pimenov despised her as a philanthropist, but was fascinated by her as a woman. She looked at him and thought that he behaved very charmingly and was nicely dressed. It is true that the sleeves of his coat were not quite long enough, and the coat itself seemed short-waisted, and his trousers were not wide and fashionable, but his tie was tied carelessly and with taste and was not as gaudy as the others’. And he seemed to be a good-natured man, for he ate submissively whatever Auntie put on his plate. She remembered how black he had been the day before, and how sleepy, and the thought of it for some reason touched her.
When the men were preparing to go, Anna Akimovna put out her hand to Pimenov. She wanted to ask him to come in sometimes to see her, without ceremony, but she did not know how to – her tongue would not obey her; and that they might not think she was attracted by Pimenov, she shook hands with his companions, too.
Then the boys from the school of which she was a patroness came. They all had their heads closely cropped and all wore grey blouses of the same pattern. The teacher – a tall, beardless young man with patches of red on his face – was visibly agitated as he formed the boys into rows; the boys sang in tune, but with harsh, disagreeable voices. The manager of the factory, Nazaritch, a bald, sharp-eyed Old Believer, could never get on with the teachers, but the one who was now anxiously waving his hands he despised and hated, though he could not have said why. He behaved rudely and condescendingly to the young man, kept back his salary, meddled with the teaching, and had finally tried to dislodge him by appointing, a fortnight before Christmas, as porter to the school a drunken peasant, a distant relation of his wife’s, who disobeyed the teacher and said rude things to him before the boys.
Anna Akimovna was aware of all this, but she could be of no help, for she was afraid of Nazaritch herself. Now she wanted at least to be very nice to the schoolmaster, to tell him she was very much pleased with him; but when after the singing he began apologizing for something in great confusion, and Auntie began to address him familiarly as she drew him without ceremony to the table, she felt, for some reason, bored and awkward, and giving orders that the children should be given sweets, went upstairs.
"In reality there is something cruel in these Christmas customs," she said a little while afterwards, as it were to herself, looking out of window at the boys, who were flocking from the house to the gates and shivering with cold, putting their coats on as they ran. "At Christmas one wants to rest, to sit at home with one’s own people, and the poor boys, the teacher, and the clerks and foremen, are obliged for some reason to go through the frost, then to offer their greetings, show their respect, be put to confusion . . ."
Mishenka, who was standing at the door of the drawing-room and overheard this, said:
"It has not come from us, and it will not end with us. Of course, I am not an educated man, Anna Akimovna, but I do understand that the poor must always respect the rich. It is well said, ’God marks the rogue.’ In prisons, night refuges, and pot-houses you never see any but the poor, while decent people, you may notice, are always rich. It has been said of the rich, ’Deep calls to deep.’ "
"You always express yourself so tediously and incomprehensibly," said Anna Akimovna, and she walked to the other end of the big drawing-room.
It was only just past eleven. The stillness of the big room, only broken by the singing that floated up from below, made her yawn. The bronzes, the albums, and the pictures on the walls, representing a ship at sea, cows in a meadow, and views of the Rhine, were so absolutely stale that her eyes simply glided over them without observing them. The holiday mood was already growing tedious. As before, Anna Akimovna felt that she was beautiful, good-natured, and wonderful, but now it seemed to her that that was of no use to any one; it seemed to her that she did not know for whom and for what she had put on this expensive dress, too, and, as always happened on all holidays, she began to be fretted by loneliness and the persistent thought that her beauty, her health, and her wealth, were a mere cheat, since she was not wanted, was of no use to any one, and nobody loved her. She walked through all the rooms, humming and looking out of window; stopping in the drawing-room, she could not resist beginning to talk to Mishenka.
"I don’t know what you think of yourself, Misha," she said, and heaved a sigh. "Really, God might punish you for it."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. Excuse my meddling in your affairs. But it seems you are spoiling your own life out of obstinacy. You’ll admit that it is high time you got married, and she is an excellent and deserving girl. You will never find any one better. She’s a beauty, clever, gentle, and devoted. . . . And her appearance! . . . If she belonged to our circle or a higher one, people would be falling in love with her for her red hair alone. See how beautifully her hair goes with her complexion. Oh, goodness! You don’t understand anything, and don’t know what you want," Anna Akimovna said bitterly, and tears came into her eyes. "Poor girl, I am so sorry for her! I know you want a wife with money, but I have told you already I will give Masha a dowry."
Mishenka could not picture his future spouse in his imagination except as a tall, plump, substantial, pious woman, stepping like a peacock, and, for some reason, with a long shawl over her shoulders; while Masha was thin, slender, tightly laced, and walked with little steps, and, worst of all, she was too fascinating and at times extremely attractive to Mishenka, and that, in his opinion, was incongruous with matrimony and only in keeping with loose behaviour. When Anna Akimovna had promised to give Masha a dowry, he had hesitated for a time; but once a poor student in a brown overcoat over his uniform [17], coming with a letter for Anna Akimovna, was fascinated by Masha, and could not resist embracing her near the hat-stand, and she had uttered a faint shriek; Mishenka, standing on the stairs above, had seen this, and from that time had begun to cherish a feeling of disgust for Masha. A poor student! Who knows, if she had been embraced by a rich student or an officer the consequences might have been different.
"Why don’t you wish it?" Anna Akimovna asked. "What more do you want?"
Mishenka was silent and looked at the arm-chair fixedly, and raised his eyebrows.
"Do you love some one else?"
Silence. The red-haired Masha came in with letters and visiting cards on a tray. Guessing that they were talking about her, she blushed to tears.
"The postmen have come," she muttered. "And there is a clerk called Tchalikov waiting below. He says you told him to come to-day for something."
"What insolence!" said Anna Akimovna, moved to anger. "I gave him no orders. Tell him to take himself off; say I am not at home!"
A ring was heard. It was the priests from her parish. They were always shown into the aristocratic part of the house – that is, upstairs. After the priests, Nazaritch, the manager of the factory, came to pay his visit, and then the factory doctor; then Mishenka announced the inspector of the elementary schools. Visitors kept arriving.
When there was a moment free, Anna Akimovna sat down in a deep arm-chair in the drawing-room, and shutting her eyes, thought that her loneliness was quite natural because she had not married and never would marry. . . . But that was not her fault. Fate itself had flung her out of the simple working-class surroundings in which, if she could trust her memory, she had felt so snug and at home, into these immense rooms, where she could never think what to do with herself, and could not understand why so many people kept passing before her eyes. What was happening now seemed to her trivial, useless, since it did not and could not give her happiness for one minute.
"If I could fall in love," she thought, stretching; the very thought of this sent a rush of warmth to her heart. "And if I could escape from the factory . . ." she mused, imagining how the weight of those factory buildings, barracks, and schools would roll off her conscience, roll off her mind. . . . Then she remembered her father, and thought if he had lived longer he would certainly have married her to a working man – to Pimenov, for instance. He would have told her to marry, and that would have been all about it. And it would have been a good thing; then the factory would have passed into capable hands.
She pictured his curly head, his bold profile, his delicate, ironical lips and the strength, the tremendous strength, in his shoulders, in his arms, in his chest, and the tenderness with which he had looked at her watch that day.
"Well," she said, "it would have been all right. I would have married him."
"Anna Akimovna," said Mishenka, coming noiselessly into the drawing-room.
"How you frightened me!" she said, trembling all over. "What do you want?"
"Anna Akimovna," he said, laying his hand on his heart and raising his eyebrows, "you are my mistress and my benefactress, and no one but you can tell me what I ought to do about marriage, for you are as good as a mother to me. . . . But kindly forbid them to laugh and jeer at me downstairs. They won’t let me pass without it."
"How do they jeer at you?"
"They call me Mashenka’s Mishenka."
"Pooh, what nonsense!" cried Anna Akimovna indignantly. "How stupid you all are! What a stupid you are, Misha! How sick I am of you! I can’t bear the sight of you."



Just as the year before, the last to pay her visits were Krylin, an actual civil councillor [18], and Lysevitch, a well-known barrister [19]. It was already dark when they arrived. Krylin, a man of sixty, with a wide mouth and with grey whiskers close to his ears, with a face like a lynx, was wearing a uniform with an Anna ribbon [20], and white trousers. He held Anna Akimovna’s hand in both of his for a long while, looked intently in her face, moved his lips, and at last said, drawling upon one note:
"I used to respect your uncle . . . and your father, and enjoyed the privilege of their friendship. Now I feel it an agreeable duty, as you see, to present my Christmas wishes to their honoured heiress in spite of my infirmities and the distance I have to come. . . . And I am very glad to see you in good health."
The lawyer Lysevitch, a tall, handsome fair man, with a slight sprinkling of grey on his temples and beard, was distinguished by exceptionally elegant manners; he walked with a swaying step, bowed as it were reluctantly, and shrugged his shoulders as he talked, and all this with an indolent grace, like a spoiled horse fresh from the stable. He was well fed, extremely healthy, and very well off; on one occasion he had won forty thousand roubles, but concealed the fact from his friends. He was fond of good fare, especially cheese, truffles, and grated radish with hemp oil; while in Paris he had eaten, so he said, baked but unwashed guts. He spoke smoothly, fluently, without hesitation, and only occasionally, for the sake of effect, permitted himself to hesitate and snap his fingers as if picking up a word. He had long ceased to believe in anything he had to say in the law courts, or perhaps he did believe in it, but attached no kind of significance to it; it had all so long been familiar, stale, ordinary. . . . He believed in nothing but what was original and unusual. A copy-book moral in an original form would move him to tears. Both his notebooks were filled with extraordinary expressions which he had read in various authors; and when he needed to look up any expression, he would search nervously in both books, and usually failed to find it. Anna Akimovna’s father had in a good-humoured moment ostentatiously appointed him legal adviser in matters concerning the factory, and had assigned him a salary of twelve thousand roubles. The legal business of the factory had been confined to two or three trivial actions for recovering debts, which Lysevitch handed to his assistants.
Anna Akimovna knew that he had nothing to do at the factory, but she could not dismiss him – she had not the moral courage; and besides, she was used to him. He used to call himself her legal adviser, and his salary, which he invariably sent for on the first of the month punctually, he used to call "stern prose." Anna Akimovna knew that when, after her father’s death, the timber of her forest was sold for railway sleepers, Lysevitch had made more than fifteen thousand out of the transaction, and had shared it with Nazaritch. When first she found out they had cheated her she had wept bitterly, but afterwards she had grown used to it.
Wishing her a happy Christmas, and kissing both her hands, he looked her up and down, and frowned.
"You mustn’t," he said with genuine disappointment. "I have told you, my dear, you mustn’t!"
"What do you mean, Viktor Nikolaitch?"
"I have told you you mustn’t get fat. All your family have an unfortunate tendency to grow fat. You mustn’t," he repeated in an imploring voice, and kissed her hand. "You are so handsome! You are so splendid! Here, your Excellency, let me introduce the one woman in the world whom I have ever seriously loved."
"There is nothing surprising in that. To know Anna Akimovna at your age and not to be in love with her, that would be impossible."
"I adore her," the lawyer continued with perfect sincerity, but with his usual indolent grace. "I love her, but not because I am a man and she is a woman. When I am with her I always feel as though she belongs to some third sex, and I to a fourth, and we float away together into the domain of the subtlest shades, and there we blend into the spectrum. Leconte de Lisle [21] defines such relations better than any one. He has a superb passage, a marvellous passage. . . ."
Lysevitch rummaged in one notebook, then in the other, and, not finding the quotation, subsided. They began talking of the weather, of the opera, of the arrival, expected shortly, of Duse [22]. Anna Akimovna remembered that the year before Lysevitch and, she fancied, Krylin had dined with her, and now when they were getting ready to go away, she began with perfect sincerity pointing out to them in an imploring voice that as they had no more visits to pay, they ought to remain to dinner with her. After some hesitation the visitors agreed.
In addition to the family dinner, consisting of cabbage soup, sucking pig, goose with apples, and so on, a so-called "French" or "chef’s" dinner used to be prepared in the kitchen on great holidays, in case any visitor in the upper story wanted a meal. When they heard the clatter of crockery in the dining-room, Lysevitch began to betray a noticeable excitement; he rubbed his hands, shrugged his shoulders, screwed up his eyes, and described with feeling what dinners her father and uncle used to give at one time, and a marvellous matelote [23] of turbots the cook here could make: it was not a matelote, but a veritable revelation! He was already gloating over the dinner, already eating it in imagination and enjoying it. When Anna Akimovna took his arm and led him to the dining-room, he tossed off a glass of vodka and put a piece of salmon in his mouth; he positively purred with pleasure. He munched loudly, disgustingly, emitting sounds from his nose, while his eyes grew oily and rapacious.
The hors d’oeuvres were superb; among other things, there were fresh white mushrooms stewed in cream, and sauce provençale made of fried oysters and crayfish, strongly flavoured with some bitter pickles. The dinner, consisting of elaborate holiday dishes, was excellent, and so were the wines. Mishenka waited at table with enthusiasm. When he laid some new dish on the table and lifted the shining cover, or poured out the wine, he did it with the solemnity of a professor of black magic, and, looking at his face and his movements suggesting the first figure of a quadrille, the lawyer thought several times, "What a fool!"
After the third course [24] Lysevitch said, turning to Anna Akimovna:
"The fin de siècle [25] woman – I mean when she is young, and of course wealthy – must be independent, clever, elegant, intellectual, bold, and a little depraved. Depraved within limits, a little; for excess, you know, is wearisome. You ought not to vegetate, my dear; you ought not to live like every one else, but to get the full savour of life, and a slight flavour of depravity is the sauce of life. Revel among flowers of intoxicating fragrance, breathe the perfume of musk, eat hashish, and best of all, love, love, love. . . . To begin with, in your place I would set up seven lovers – one for each day of the week; and one I would call Monday, one Tuesday, the third Wednesday, and so on, so that each might know his day."
This conversation troubled Anna Akimovna; she ate nothing and only drank a glass of wine.
"Let me speak at last," she said. "For myself personally, I can’t conceive of love without family life. I am lonely, lonely as the moon in the sky, and a waning moon, too; and whatever you may say, I am convinced, I feel that this waning can only be restored by love in its ordinary sense. It seems to me that such love would define my duties, my work, make clear my conception of life. I want from love peace of soul, tranquillity; I want the very opposite of musk, and spiritualism, and fin de siècle . . . in short" – she grew embarrassed – "a husband and children."
"You want to be married? Well, you can do that, too," Lysevitch assented. "You ought to have all experiences: marriage, and jealousy, and the sweetness of the first infidelity, and even children. . . . But make haste and live – make haste, my dear: time is passing; it won’t wait."
"Yes, I’ll go and get married!" she said, looking angrily at his well-fed, satisfied face. "I will marry in the simplest, most ordinary way and be radiant with happiness. And, would you believe it, I will marry some plain working man, some mechanic or draughtsman."
"There is no harm in that, either. The Duchess Josiana loved Gwinplin [26], and that was permissible for her because she was a grand duchess. Everything is permissible for you, too, because you are an exceptional woman: if, my dear, you want to love a negro or an Arab, don’t scruple; send for a negro. Don’t deny yourself anything. You ought to be as bold as your desires; don’t fall short of them."
"Can it be so hard to understand me?" Anna Akimovna asked with amazement, and her eyes were bright with tears. "Understand, I have an immense business on my hands – two thousand workmen, for whom I must answer before God. The men who work for me grow blind and deaf. I am afraid to go on like this; I am afraid! I am wretched, and you have the cruelty to talk to me of negroes and . . . and you smile!" Anna Akimovna brought her fist down on the table. "To go on living the life I am living now, or to marry some one as idle and incompetent as myself, would be a crime. I can’t go on living like this," she said hotly, "I cannot!"
"How handsome she is!" said Lysevitch, fascinated by her. "My God, how handsome she is! But why are you angry, my dear? Perhaps I am wrong; but surely you don’t imagine that if, for the sake of ideas for which I have the deepest respect, you renounce the joys of life and lead a dreary existence, your workmen will be any the better for it? Not a scrap! No, frivolity, frivolity!" he said decisively. "It’s essential for you; it’s your duty to be frivolous and depraved! Ponder that, my dear, ponder it."
Anna Akimovna was glad she had spoken out, and her spirits rose. She was pleased she had spoken so well, and that her ideas were so fine and just, and she was already convinced that if Pimenov, for instance, loved her, she would marry him with pleasure.
Mishenka began to pour out champagne.
"You make me angry, Viktor Nikolaitch," she said, clinking glasses with the lawyer. "It seems to me you give advice and know nothing of life yourself. According to you, if a man be a mechanic or a draughtsman, he is bound to be a peasant and an ignoramus! But they are the cleverest people! Extraordinary people!"
"Your uncle and father . . . I knew them and respected them . . ." Krylin said, pausing for emphasis (he had been sitting upright as a post, and had been eating steadily the whole time), "were people of considerable intelligence and . . . of lofty spiritual qualities."
"Oh, to be sure, we know all about their qualities," the lawyer muttered, and asked permission to smoke.
When dinner was over Krylin was led away for a nap. Lysevitch finished his cigar, and, staggering from repletion, followed Anna Akimovna into her study. Cosy corners with photographs and fans on the walls, and the inevitable pink or pale blue lanterns in the middle of the ceiling, he did not like, as the expression of an insipid and unoriginal character; besides, the memory of certain of his love affairs of which he was now ashamed was associated with such lanterns. Anna Akimovna’s study with its bare walls and tasteless furniture pleased him exceedingly. It was snug and comfortable for him to sit on a Turkish divan and look at Anna Akimovna, who usually sat on the rug before the fire, clasping her knees and looking into the fire and thinking of something; and at such moments it seemed to him that her peasant Old Believer blood was stirring within her.
Every time after dinner when coffee and liqueurs were handed, he grew livelier and began telling her various bits of literary gossip. He spoke with eloquence and inspiration, and was carried away by his own stories; and she listened to him and thought every time that for such enjoyment it was worth paying not only twelve thousand, but three times that sum, and forgave him everything she disliked in him. He sometimes told her the story of some tale or novel he had been reading, and then two or three hours passed unnoticed like a minute. Now he began rather dolefully in a failing voice with his eyes shut.
"It’s ages, my dear, since I have read anything," he said when she asked him to tell her something. "Though I do sometimes read Jules Verne."
"I was expecting you to tell me something new."
"H’m! . . . new," Lysevitch muttered sleepily, and he settled himself further back in the corner of the sofa. "None of the new literature, my dear, is any use for you or me. Of course, it is bound to be such as it is, and to refuse to recognize it is to refuse to recognize – would mean refusing to recognize the natural order of things, and I do recognize it, but . . ." Lysevitch seemed to have fallen asleep. But a minute later his voice was heard again:
"All the new literature moans and howls like the autumn wind in the chimney. ’Ah, unhappy wretch! Ah, your life may be likened to a prison! Ah, how damp and dark it is in your prison! Ah, you will certainly come to ruin, and there is no chance of escape for you!’ That’s very fine, but I should prefer a literature that would tell us how to escape from prison. Of all contemporary writers, however, I prefer Maupassant." Lysevitch opened his eyes. "A fine writer, a perfect writer!" Lysevitch shifted in his seat. "A wonderful artist! A terrible, prodigious, supernatural artist!" Lysevitch got up from the sofa and raised his right arm. "Maupassant!" he said rapturously. "My dear, read Maupassant! one page of his gives you more than all the riches of the earth! Every line is a new horizon. The softest, tenderest impulses of the soul alternate with violent tempestuous sensations; your soul, as though under the weight of forty thousand atmospheres, is transformed into the most insignificant little bit of some great thing of an undefined rosy hue which I fancy, if one could put it on one’s tongue, would yield a pungent, voluptuous taste. What a fury of transitions, of motives, of melodies! You rest peacefully on the lilies and the roses, and suddenly a thought – a terrible, splendid, irresistible thought – swoops down upon you like a locomotive, and bathes you in hot steam and deafens you with its whistle. Read Maupassant, dear girl; I insist on it."
Lysevitch waved his arms and paced from corner to corner in violent excitement.
"Yes, it is inconceivable," he pronounced, as though in despair; "his last thing overwhelmed me, intoxicated me! But I am afraid you will not care for it. To be carried away by it you must savour it, slowly suck the juice from each line, drink it in. . . . You must drink it in! . . ."
After a long introduction, containing many words such as demonic sensuality, a network of the most delicate nerves, simoom, crystal, and so on, he began at last telling the story of the novel. He did not tell the story so whimsically, but told it in minute detail, quoting from memory whole descriptions and conversations; the characters of the novel fascinated him, and to describe them he threw himself into attitudes, changed the expression of his face and voice like a real actor. He laughed with delight at one moment in a deep bass, and at another, on a high shrill note, clasped his hands and clutched at his head with an expression which suggested that it was just going to burst. Anna Akimovna listened enthralled, though she had already read the novel, and it seemed to her ever so much finer and more subtle in the lawyer’s version than in the book itself. He drew her attention to various subtleties, and emphasized the felicitous expressions and the profound thoughts, but she saw in it, only life, life, life and herself, as though she had been a character in the novel. Her spirits rose, and she, too, laughing and clasping her hands, thought that she could not go on living such a life, that there was no need to have a wretched life when one might have a splendid one. She remembered her words and thoughts at dinner, and was proud of them; and when Pimenov suddenly rose up in her imagination, she felt happy and longed for him to love her.
When he had finished the story, Lysevitch sat down on the sofa, exhausted.
"How splendid you are! How handsome!" he began, a little while afterwards in a faint voice as if he were ill. "I am happy near you, dear girl, but why am I forty-two instead of thirty? Your tastes and mine do not coincide: you ought to be depraved, and I have long passed that phase, and want a love as delicate and immaterial as a ray of sunshine – that is, from the point of view of a woman of your age, I am of no earthly use."
In his own words, he loved Turgenev, the singer of virginal love and purity, of youth, and of the melancholy Russian landscape; but he loved virginal love, not from knowledge but from hearsay, as something abstract, existing outside real life. Now he assured himself that he loved Anna Akimovna platonically, ideally, though he did not know what those words meant. But he felt comfortable, snug, warm. Anna Akimovna seemed to him enchanting, original, and he imagined that the pleasant sensation that was aroused in him by these surroundings was the very thing that was called platonic love.
He laid his cheek on her hand and said in the tone commonly used in coaxing little children:
"My precious, why have you punished me?"
"How? When?"
"I have had no Christmas present from you."
Anna Akimovna had never heard before of their sending a Christmas box to the lawyer, and now she was at a loss how much to give him. But she must give him something, for he was expecting it, though he looked at her with eyes full of love.
"I suppose Nazaritch forgot it," she said, "but it is not too late to set it right."
She suddenly remembered the fifteen hundred she had received the day before, which was now lying in the toilet drawer [27] in her bedroom. And when she brought that ungrateful money and gave it to the lawyer, and he put it in his coat pocket with indolent grace, the whole incident passed off charmingly and naturally. The sudden reminder of a Christmas box and this fifteen hundred was not unbecoming in Lysevitch.
"Merci," he said, and kissed her finger.
Krylin came in with blissful, sleepy face, but without his decorations.
Lysevitch and he stayed a little longer and drank a glass of tea each, and began to get ready to go. Anna Akimovna was a little embarrassed. . . . She had utterly forgotten in what department Krylin served, and whether she had to give him money or not; and if she had to, whether to give it now or send it afterwards in an envelope.
"Where does he serve?" she whispered to Lysevitch.
"Goodness knows," muttered Lysevitch, yawning.
She reflected that if Krylin used to visit her father and her uncle and respected them, it was probably not for nothing: apparently he had been charitable at their expense, serving in some charitable institution. As she said good-bye she slipped three hundred roubles into his hand; he seemed taken aback, and looked at her for a minute in silence with his pewtery eyes, but then seemed to understand and said:
"The receipt, honoured Anna Akimovna, you can only receive on the New Year."
Lysevitch had become utterly limp and heavy, and he staggered when Mishenka put on his overcoat.
As he went downstairs he looked like a man in the last stage of exhaustion, and it was evident that he would drop asleep as soon as he got into his sledge.
"Your Excellency," he said languidly to Krylin, stopping in the middle of the staircase, "has it ever happened to you to experience a feeling as though some unseen force were drawing you out longer and longer? You are drawn out and turn into the finest wire. Subjectively this finds expression in a curious voluptuous feeling which is impossible to compare with anything."
Anna Akimovna, standing at the top of the stairs, saw each of them give Mishenka a note.
"Good-bye! Come again!" she called to them, and ran into her bedroom.
She quickly threw off her dress, that she was weary of already, put on a dressing-gown, and ran downstairs; and as she ran downstairs she laughed and thumped with her feet like a school-boy; she had a great desire for mischief.



Auntie, in a loose print blouse, Varvarushka and two old women, were sitting in the dining-room having supper. A big piece of salt meat, a ham, and various savouries, were lying on the table before them, and clouds of steam were rising from the meat, which looked particularly fat and appetizing. Wine was not served on the lower story, but they made up for it with a great number of spirits and home-made liqueurs. Agafyushka, the fat, white-skinned, well-fed cook, was standing with her arms crossed in the doorway and talking to the old women, and the dishes were being handed by the downstairs Masha, a dark girl with a crimson ribbon in her hair. The old women had had enough to eat before the morning was over, and an hour before supper had had tea and buns, and so they were now eating with effort – as it were, from a sense of duty.
"Oh, my girl!" sighed Auntie, as Anna Akimovna ran into the dining-room and sat down beside her. "You’ve frightened me to death!"
Every one in the house was pleased when Anna Akimovna was in good spirits and played pranks; this always reminded them that the old men were dead and that the old women had no authority in the house, and any one could do as he liked without any fear of being sharply called to account for it. Only the two old women glanced askance at Anna Akimovna with amazement: she was humming, and it was a sin to sing at table.
"Our mistress, our beauty, our picture," Agafyushka began chanting with sugary sweetness. "Our precious jewel! The people, the people that have come to-day to look at our queen. Lord have mercy upon us! Generals, and officers and gentlemen. . . . I kept looking out of window and counting and counting till I gave it up."
"I’d as soon they did not come at all," said Auntie; she looked sadly at her niece and added: "They only waste the time for my poor orphan girl."
Anna Akimovna felt hungry, as she had eaten nothing since the morning. They poured her out some very bitter liqueur; she drank it off, and tasted the salt meat with mustard, and thought it extraordinarily nice. Then the downstairs Masha brought in the turkey, the pickled apples and the gooseberries. And that pleased her, too. There was only one thing that was disagreeable: there was a draught of hot air from the tiled stove; it was stiflingly close and every one’s cheeks were burning. After supper the cloth was taken off and plates of peppermint biscuits, walnuts, and raisins were brought in.
"You sit down, too . . . no need to stand there!" said Auntie to the cook.
Agafyushka sighed and sat down to the table; Masha set a wineglass of liqueur before her, too, and Anna Akimovna began to feel as though Agafyushka’s white neck were giving out heat like the stove. They were all talking of how difficult it was nowadays to get married, and saying that in old days, if men did not court beauty, they paid attention to money, but now there was no making out what they wanted; and while hunchbacks and cripples used to be left old maids, nowadays men would not have even the beautiful and wealthy. Auntie began to set this down to immorality, and said that people had no fear of God, but she suddenly remembered that Ivan Ivanitch, her brother, and Varvarushka – both people of holy life – had feared God, but all the same had had children on the sly, and had sent them to the Foundling Asylum. She pulled herself up and changed the conversation, telling them about a suitor she had once had, a factory hand, and how she had loved him, but her brothers had forced her to marry a widower, an ikon-painter, who, thank God, had died two years after. The downstairs Masha sat down to the table, too, and told them with a mysterious air that for the last week some unknown man with a black moustache, in a great-coat with an astrachan collar, had made his appearance every morning in the yard, had stared at the windows of the big house, and had gone on further – to the buildings; the man was all right, nice-looking.
All this conversation made Anna Akimovna suddenly long to be married – long intensely, painfully; she felt as though she would give half her life and all her fortune only to know that upstairs there was a man who was closer to her than any one in the world, that he loved her warmly and was missing her; and the thought of such closeness, ecstatic and inexpressible in words, troubled her soul. And the instinct of youth and health flattered her with lying assurances that the real poetry of life was not over but still to come, and she believed it, and leaning back in her chair (her hair fell down as she did so), she began laughing, and, looking at her, the others laughed, too. And it was a long time before this causeless laughter died down in the dining-room.
She was informed that the Stinging Beetle had come. This was a pilgrim woman called Pasha or Spiridonovna – a thin little woman of fifty, in a black dress with a white kerchief, with keen eyes, sharp nose, and a sharp chin; she had sly, viperish eyes and she looked as though she could see right through every one. Her lips were shaped like a heart. Her viperishness and hostility to every one had earned her the nickname of the Stinging Beetle.
Going into the dining-room without looking at any one, she made for the ikons and chanted in a high voice "Thy Holy Birth," then she sang "The Virgin today gives birth to the Son," then "Christ is born," then she turned round and bent a piercing gaze upon all of them.
"A happy Christmas," she said, and she kissed Anna Akimovna on the shoulder. "It’s all I could do, all I could do to get to you, my kind friends." She kissed Auntie on the shoulder. "I should have come to you this morning, but I went in to some good people to rest on the way. ’Stay, Spiridonovna, stay,’ they said, and I did not notice that evening was coming on."
As she did not eat meat, they gave her salmon and caviare. She ate looking from under her eyelids at the company, and drank three glasses of vodka. When she had finished she said a prayer and bowed down to Anna Akimovna’s feet.
They began to play a game of "kings" [28], as they had done the year before, and the year before that, and all the servants in both stories crowded in at the doors to watch the game. Anna Akimovna fancied she caught a glimpse once or twice of Mishenka, with a patronizing smile on his face, among the crowd of peasant men and women. The first to be king was Stinging Beetle, and Anna Akimovna as the soldier paid her tribute; and then Auntie was king and Anna Akimovna was peasant, which excited general delight, and Agafyushka was prince, and was quite abashed with pleasure. Another game was got up at the other end of the table – played by the two Mashas, Varvarushka, and the sewing-maid Marfa Ptrovna, who was waked on purpose to play "kings," and whose face looked cross and sleepy.
While they were playing they talked of men, and of how difficult it was to get a good husband nowadays, and which state was to be preferred – that of an old maid or a widow.
"You are a handsome, healthy, sturdy lass," said Stinging Beetle to Anna Akimovna. "But I can’t make out for whose sake you are holding back."
"What’s to be done if nobody will have me?"
"Or maybe you have taken a vow to remain a maid?" Stinging Beetle went on, as though she did not hear. "Well, that’s a good deed. . . . Remain one," she repeated, looking intently and maliciously at her cards. "All right, my dear, remain one. . . . Yes . . . only maids, these saintly maids, are not all alike." She heaved a sigh and played the king. "Oh, no, my girl, they are not all alike! Some really watch over themselves like nuns, and butter would not melt in their mouths; and if such a one does sin in an hour of weakness, she is worried to death, poor thing! so it would be a sin to condemn her. While others will go dressed in black and sew their shroud, and yet love rich old men on the sly. Yes, y-es, my canary birds, some hussies will bewitch an old man and rule over him, my doves, rule over him and turn his head; and when they’ve saved up money and lottery tickets enough, they will bewitch him to his death."
Varvarushka’s only response to these hints was to heave a sigh and look towards the ikons. There was an expression of Christian meekness on her countenance.
"I know a maid like that, my bitterest enemy," Stinging Beetle went on, looking round at every one in triumph; "she is always sighing, too, and looking at the ikons, the she-devil. When she used to rule in a certain old man’s house, if one went to her she would give one a crust, and bid one bow down to the ikons while she would sing: ’In conception Thou dost abide a Virgin . . . !’ On holidays she will give one a bite, and on working days she will reproach one for it. But nowadays I will make merry over her! I will make as merry as I please, my jewel."
Varvarushka glanced at the ikons again and crossed herself.
"But no one will have me, Spiridonovna," said Anna Akimovna to change the conversation. "What’s to be done?"
"It’s your own fault. You keep waiting for highly educated gentlemen, but you ought to marry one of your own sort, a merchant."
"We don’t want a merchant," said Auntie, all in a flutter. "Queen of Heaven, preserve us! A gentleman will spend your money, but then he will be kind to you, you poor little fool. But a merchant will be so strict that you won’t feel at home in your own house. You’ll be wanting to fondle him and he will be counting his money, and when you sit down to meals with him, he’ll grudge you every mouthful, though it’s your own, the lout! . . . Marry a gentleman."
They all talked at once, loudly interrupting one another, and Auntie tapped on the table with the nutcrackers and said, flushed and angry:
"We won’t have a merchant; we won’t have one! If you choose a merchant I shall go to an almshouse."
"Sh . . . Sh! . . . Hush!" cried Stinging Beetle; when all were silent she screwed up one eye and said: "Do you know what, Annushka, my birdie . . .? There is no need for you to get married really like every one else. You’re rich and free, you are your own mistress; but yet, my child, it doesn’t seem the right thing for you to be an old maid. I’ll find you, you know, some trumpery and simple-witted man. You’ll marry him for appearances and then have your fling, bonny lass! You can hand him five thousand or ten maybe, and pack him off where he came from, and you will be mistress in your own house – you can love whom you like and no one can say anything to you. And then you can love your highly educated gentleman. You’ll have a jolly time!" Stinging Beetle snapped her fingers and gave a whistle.
"It’s sinful," said Auntie.
"Oh, sinful," laughed Stinging Beetle. "She is educated, she understands. To cut some one’s throat or bewitch an old man – that’s a sin, that’s true; but to love some charming young friend is not a sin at all. And what is there in it, really? There’s no sin in it at all! The old pilgrim women have invented all that to make fools of simple folk. I, too, say everywhere it’s a sin; I don’t know myself why it’s a sin." Stinging Beetle emptied her glass and cleared her throat. "Have your fling, bonny lass," this time evidently addressing herself. "For thirty years, wenches, I have thought of nothing but sins and been afraid, but now I see I have wasted my time, I’ve let it slip by like a ninny! Ah, I have been a fool, a fool!" She sighed. "A woman’s time is short and every day is precious. You are handsome, Annushka, and very rich; but as soon as thirty-five or forty strikes for you your time is up. Don’t listen to any one, my girl; live, have your fling till you are forty, and then you will have time to pray forgiveness – there will be plenty of time to bow down and to sew your shroud. A candle to God and a poker to the devil! You can do both at once! Well, how is it to be? Will you make some little man happy?"
"I will," laughed Anna Akimovna. "I don’t care now; I would marry a working man."
"Well, that would do all right! Oh, what a fine fellow you would choose then!" Stinging Beetle screwed up her eyes and shook her head. "O–o–oh!"
"I tell her myself," said Auntie, "it’s no good waiting for a gentleman, so she had better marry, not a gentleman, but some one humbler; anyway we should have a man in the house to look after things. And there are lots of good men. She might have some one out of the factory. They are all sober, steady men. . . ."
"I should think so," Stinging Beetle agreed. "They are capital fellows. If you like, Aunt, I will make a match for her with Vassily Lebedinsky?"
"Oh, Vasya’s legs are so long," said Auntie seriously. "He is so lanky. He has no looks."
There was laughter in the crowd by the door.
"Well, Pimenov? Would you like to marry Pimenov?" Stinging Beetle asked Anna Akimovna.
"Very good. Make a match for me with Pimenov."
"Yes, do!" Anna Akimovna said resolutely, and she struck her fist on the table. "On my honour, I will marry him."
Anna Akimovna suddenly felt ashamed that her cheeks were burning and that every one was looking at her; she flung the cards together on the table and ran out of the room. As she ran up the stairs and, reaching the upper story, sat down to the piano in the drawing-room, a murmur of sound reached her from below like the roar of the sea; most likely they were talking of her and of Pimenov, and perhaps Stinging Beetle was taking advantage of her absence to insult Varvarushka and was putting no check on her language.
The lamp in the big room was the only light burning in the upper story, and it sent a glimmer through the door into the dark drawing-room. It was between nine and ten, not later. Anna Akimovna played a waltz, then another, then a third; she went on playing without stopping. She looked into the dark corner beyond the piano, smiled, and inwardly called to it, and the idea occurred to her that she might drive off to the town to see some one, Lysevitch for instance, and tell him what was passing in her heart. She wanted to talk without ceasing, to laugh, to play the fool, but the dark corner was sullenly silent, and all round in all the rooms of the upper story it was still and desolate.
She was fond of sentimental songs, but she had a harsh, untrained voice, and so she only played the accompaniment and sang hardly audibly, just above her breath. She sang in a whisper one song after another, for the most part about love, separation, and frustrated hopes, and she imagined how she would hold out her hands to him and say with entreaty, with tears, "Pimenov, take this burden from me!" And then, just as though her sins had been forgiven, there would be joy and comfort in her soul, and perhaps a free, happy life would begin. In an anguish of anticipation she leant over the keys, with a passionate longing for the change in her life to come at once without delay, and was terrified at the thought that her old life would go on for some time longer. Then she played again and sang hardly above her breath, and all was stillness about her. There was no noise coming from downstairs now, they must have gone to bed. It had struck ten some time before. A long, solitary, wearisome night was approaching.
Anna Akimovna walked through all the rooms, lay down for a while on the sofa, and read in her study the letters that had come that evening; there were twelve letters of Christmas greetings and three anonymous letters. In one of them some workman complained in a horrible, almost illegible handwriting that Lenten oil sold in the factory shop was rancid and smelt of paraffin; in another, some one respectfully informed her that over a purchase of iron Nazaritch had lately taken a bribe of a thousand roubles from some one; in a third she was abused for her inhumanity.
The excitement of Christmas was passing off, and to keep it up Anna Akimovna sat down at the piano again and softly played one of the new waltzes, then she remembered how cleverly and creditably she had spoken at dinner today. She looked round at the dark windows, at the walls with the pictures, at the faint light that came from the big room, and all at once she began suddenly crying, and she felt vexed that she was so lonely, and that she had no one to talk to and consult. To cheer herself she tried to picture Pimenov in her imagination, but it was unsuccessful.
It struck twelve. Mishenka, no longer wearing his swallow-tail but in his reefer jacket, came in, and without speaking lighted two candles; then he went out and returned a minute later with a cup of tea on a tray.
"What are you laughing at?" she asked, noticing a smile on his face.
"I was downstairs and heard the jokes you were making about Pimenov . . ." he said, and put his hand before his laughing mouth. "If he were sat down to dinner today with Viktor Nikolaevitch and the general, he’d have died of fright." Mishenka’s shoulders were shaking with laughter. "He doesn’t know even how to hold his fork, I bet."
The footman’s laughter and words, his reefer jacket and moustache, gave Anna Akimovna a feeling of uncleanness. She shut her eyes to avoid seeing him, and, against her own will, imagined Pimenov dining with Lysevitch and Krylin, and his timid, unintellectual figure seemed to her pitiful and helpless, and she felt repelled by it. And only now, for the first time in the whole day, she realized clearly that all she had said and thought about Pimenov and marrying a workman was nonsense, folly, and wilfulness. To convince herself of the opposite, to overcome her repulsion, she tried to recall what she had said at dinner, but now she could not see anything in it: shame at her own thoughts and actions, and the fear that she had said something improper during the day, and disgust at her own lack of spirit, overwhelmed her completely. She took up a candle and, as rapidly as if some one were pursuing her, ran downstairs, woke Spiridonovna, and began assuring her she had been joking. Then she went to her bedroom. Red-haired Masha, who was dozing in an arm-chair near the bed, jumped up and began shaking up the pillows. Her face was exhausted and sleepy, and her magnificent hair had fallen on one side.
"Tchalikov came again this evening," she said, yawning, "but I did not dare to announce him; he was very drunk. He says he will come again tomorrow."
"What does he want with me?" said Anna Akimovna, and she flung her comb on the floor. "I won’t see him, I won’t."
She made up her mind she had no one left in life but this Tchalikov, that he would never leave off persecuting her, and would remind her every day how uninteresting and absurd her life was. So all she was fit for was to help the poor. Oh, how stupid it was!
She lay down without undressing, and sobbed with shame and depression: what seemed to her most vexatious and stupid of all was that her dreams that day about Pimenov had been right, lofty, honourable, but at the same time she felt that Lysevitch and even Krylin were nearer to her than Pimenov and all the workpeople taken together. She thought that if the long day she had just spent could have been represented in a picture, all that had been bad and vulgar – as, for instance, the dinner, the lawyer’s talk, the game of "kings" – would have been true, while her dreams and talk about Pimenov would have stood out from the whole as something false, as out of drawing; and she thought, too, that it was too late to dream of happiness, that everything was over for her, and it was impossible to go back to the life when she had slept under the same quilt with her mother, or to devise some new special sort of life.
Red-haired Masha was kneeling before the bed, gazing at her in mournful perplexity; then she, too, began crying, and laid her face against her mistress’s arm, and without words it was clear why she was so wretched.
"We are fools!" said Anna Akimovna, laughing and crying. "We are fools! Oh, what fools we are!"



AFTER the wedding they had not even light refreshments; the happy pair simply drank a glass of champagne, changed into their travelling things, and drove to the station. Instead of a gay wedding ball and supper, instead of music and dancing, they went on a journey [29] to pray at a shrine a hundred and fifty miles away. Many people commended this, saying that Modest Alexeitch was a man high up in the service and no longer young, and that a noisy wedding might not have seemed quite suitable; and music is apt to sound dreary when a government official of fifty-two marries a girl who is only just eighteen. People said, too, that Modest Alexeitch, being a man of principle, had arranged this visit to the monastery expressly in order to make his young bride realize that even in marriage he put religion and morality above everything.
The happy pair were seen off at the station. The crowd of relations and colleagues in the service stood, with glasses in their hands, waiting for the train to start to shout "Hurrah!" and the bride’s father, Pyotr Leontyitch, wearing a top-hat and the uniform of a teacher [30], already drunk and very pale, kept craning towards the window, glass in hand and saying in an imploring voice:
"Anyuta! Anya, Anya! one word!"
Anna bent out of the window to him, and he whispered something to her, enveloping her in a stale smell of alcohol, blew into her ear – she could make out nothing – and made the sign of the cross over her face, her bosom, and her hands; meanwhile he was breathing in gasps and tears were shining in his eyes. And the schoolboys, Anna’s brothers, Petya and Andrusha, pulled at his coat from behind, whispering in confusion:
"Father, hush! . . . Father, that’s enough. . . ."
When the train started, Anna saw her father run a little way after the train, staggering and spilling his wine, and what a kind, guilty, pitiful face he had:
"Hurra–ah!" he shouted.
The happy pair were left alone. Modest Alexeitch looked about the compartment, arranged their things on the shelves, and sat down, smiling, opposite his young wife. He was an official of medium height, rather stout and puffy, who looked exceedingly well nourished, with long whiskers and no moustache. His clean-shaven, round, sharply defined chin looked like the heel of a foot. The most characteristic point in his face was the absence of moustache, the bare, freshly shaven place, which gradually passed into the fat cheeks, quivering like jelly. His deportment was dignified, his movements were deliberate, his manner was soft.
"I cannot help remembering now one circumstance," he said, smiling. "When, five years ago, Kosorotov received the order of St. Anna [31] of the second grade, and went to thank His Excellency, His Excellency expressed himself as follows: ’So now you have three Annas: one in your buttonhole and two on your neck.’ And it must be explained that at that time Kosorotov’s wife, a quarrelsome and frivolous person, had just returned to him, and that her name was Anna. I trust that when I receive the Anna of the second grade His Excellency will not have occasion to say the same thing to me."
He smiled with his little eyes. And she, too, smiled, troubled at the thought that at any moment this man might kiss her with his thick damp lips, and that she had no right to prevent his doing so. The soft movements of his fat person frightened her; she felt both fear and disgust. He got up, without haste took off the order from his neck, took off his coat and waistcoat, and put on his dressing-gown.
"That’s better," he said, sitting down beside Anna.
Anna remembered what agony the wedding had been, when it had seemed to her that the priest, and the guests, and every one in church had been looking at her sorrowfully and asking why, why was she, such a sweet, nice girl, marrying such an elderly, uninteresting gentleman. Only that morning she was delighted that everything had been satisfactorily arranged, but at the time of the wedding, and now in the railway carriage, she felt cheated, guilty, and ridiculous. Here she had married a rich man and yet she had no money, her wedding-dress had been bought on credit, and when her father and brothers had been saying good-bye, she could see from their faces that they had not a farthing. Would they have any supper that day? And tomorrow? And for some reason it seemed to her that her father and the boys were sitting tonight hungry without her, and feeling the same misery as they had the day after their mother’s funeral.
"Oh, how unhappy I am!" she thought. "Why am I so unhappy?"
With the awkwardness of a man with settled habits, unaccustomed to deal with women, Modest Alexeitch touched her on the waist and patted her on the shoulder, while she went on thinking about money, about her mother and her mother’s death. When her mother died, her father, Pyotr Leontyitch, a teacher of drawing and writing in the high school, had taken to drink, impoverishment had followed, the boys had not had boots or goloshes, their father had been hauled up before the magistrate, the warrant officer had come and made an inventory of the furniture. . . . What a disgrace! Anna had had to look after her drunken father, darn her brothers’ stockings, go to market, and when she was complimented on her youth, her beauty, and her elegant manners, it seemed to her that every one was looking at her cheap hat and the holes in her boots that were inked over. And at night there had been tears and a haunting dread that her father would soon, very soon, be dismissed from the school for his weakness, and that he would not survive it, but would die, too, like their mother. But ladies of their acquaintance had taken the matter in hand and looked about for a good match for Anna. This Modest Alexevitch, who was neither young nor good-looking but had money, was soon found. He had a hundred thousand in the bank and the family estate, which he had let on lease. He was a man of principle and stood well with His Excellency; it would be nothing to him, so they told Anna, to get a note from His Excellency to the directors of the high school, or even to the Education Commissioner, to prevent Pyotr Leontyitch from being dismissed.
While she was recalling these details, she suddenly heard strains of music which floated in at the window, together with the sound of voices. The train was stopping at a station. In the crowd beyond the platform an accordion and a cheap squeaky fiddle were being briskly played, and the sound of a military band came from beyond the villas and the tall birches and poplars that lay bathed in the moonlight; there must have been a dance in the place. Summer visitors and townspeople, who used to come out here by train in fine weather for a breath of fresh air, were parading up and down on the platform. Among them was the wealthy owner of all the summer villas – a tall, stout, dark man called Artynov. He had prominent eyes and looked like an Armenian. He wore a strange costume; his shirt was unbuttoned, showing his chest; he wore high boots with spurs, and a black cloak hung from his shoulders and dragged on the ground like a train. Two boar-hounds followed him with their sharp noses to the ground.
Tears were still shining in Anna’s eyes, but she was not thinking now of her mother, nor of money, nor of her marriage; but shaking hands with schoolboys and officers she knew, she laughed gaily and said quickly:
"How do you do? How are you?"
She went out on to the platform between the carriages into the moonlight, and stood so that they could all see her in her new splendid dress and hat.
"Why are we stopping here?" she asked.
"This is a junction. They are waiting for the mail train to pass."
Seeing that Artynov was looking at her, she screwed up her eyes [32] coquettishly and began talking aloud in French; and because her voice sounded so pleasant, and because she heard music and the moon was reflected in the pond, and because Artynov, the notorious Don Juan and spoiled child of fortune, was looking at her eagerly and with curiosity, and because every one was in good spirits – she suddenly felt joyful, and when the train started and the officers of her acquaintance saluted her, she was humming the polka the strains of which reached her from the military band playing beyond the trees; and she returned to her compartment feeling as though it had been proved to her at the station that she would certainly be happy in spite of everything.
The happy pair spent two days at the monastery, then went back to town. They lived in a rent-free flat. When Modest Alexevitch had gone to the office, Anna played the piano, or shed tears of depression, or lay down on a couch and read novels or looked through fashion papers. At dinner Modest Alexevitch ate a great deal and talked about politics, about appointments, transfers, and promotions in the service, about the necessity of hard work, and said that, family life not being a pleasure but a duty, if you took care of the kopecks the roubles would take care of themselves, and that he put religion and morality before everything else in the world. And holding his knife in his fist as though it were a sword, he would say:
"Every one ought to have his duties!"
And Anna listened to him, was frightened, and could not eat, and she usually got up from the table hungry. After dinner her husband lay down for a nap and snored loudly, while Anna went to see her own people. Her father and the boys looked at her in a peculiar way, as though just before she came in they had been blaming her for having married for money a tedious, wearisome man she did not love; her rustling skirts, her bracelets, and her general air of a married lady, offended them and made them uncomfortable. In her presence they felt a little embarrassed and did not know what to talk to her about; but yet they still loved her as before, and were not used to having dinner without her. She sat down with them to cabbage soup, porridge, and fried potatoes, smelling of mutton dripping. Pyotr Leontyitch filled his glass from the decanter with a trembling hand and drank it off hurriedly, greedily, with repulsion, then poured out a second glass and then a third. Petya and Andrusha, thin, pale boys with big eyes, would take the decanter and say desperately:
"You mustn’t, father. . . . Enough, father. . . ."
And Anna, too, was troubled and entreated him to drink no more; and he would suddenly fly into a rage and beat the table with his fists:
"I won’t allow any one to dictate to me!" he would shout. "Wretched boys! wretched girl! I’ll turn you all out!"
But there was a note of weakness, of good-nature in his voice, and no one was afraid of him. After dinner he usually dressed in his best. Pale, with a cut on his chin from shaving, craning his thin neck, he would stand for half an hour before the glass, prinking, combing his hair, twisting his black moustache, sprinkling himself with scent, tying his cravat in a bow; then he would put on his gloves and his top-hat, and go off to give his private lessons. Or if it was a holiday he would stay at home and paint, or play the harmonium, which wheezed and growled; he would try to wrest from it pure harmonious sounds and would sing to it; or would storm at the boys:
"Wretches! Good-for-nothing boys! You have spoiled the instrument!"
In the evening Anna’s husband played cards with his colleagues, who lived under the same roof in the government quarters. The wives of these gentlemen would come in – ugly, tastelessly dressed women, as coarse as cooks – and gossip would begin in the flat as tasteless and unattractive as the ladies themselves. Sometimes Modest Alexevitch would take Anna to the theatre. In the intervals [33] he would never let her stir a step from his side, but walked about arm in arm with her through the corridors and the foyer. When he bowed to some one, he immediately whispered to Anna: "A civil councillor . . . visits at His Excellency’s"; or, "A man of means . . . has a house of his own." When they passed the buffet Anna had a great longing for something sweet; she was fond of chocolate and apple cakes, but she had no money, and she did not like to ask her husband. He would take a pear, pinch it with his fingers, and ask uncertainly:
"How much?"
"Twenty-five kopecks!"
"I say!" he would reply, and put it down; but as it was awkward to leave the buffet without buying anything, he would order some seltzer-water and drink the whole bottle himself, and tears would come into his eyes. And Anna hated him at such times.
And suddenly flushing crimson, he would say to her rapidly:
"Bow to that old lady!"
"But I don’t know her."
"No matter. That’s the wife of the director of the local treasury! Bow, I tell you," he would grumble insistently. "Your head won’t drop off."
Anna bowed and her head certainly did not drop off, but it was agonizing. She did everything her husband wanted her to, and was furious with herself for having let him deceive her like the veriest idiot. She had only married him for his money, and yet she had less money now than before her marriage. In old days her father would sometimes give her twenty kopecks, but now she had not a farthing.
To take money by stealth or ask for it, she could not; she was afraid of her husband, she trembled before him. She felt as though she had been afraid of him for years. In her childhood the director of the high school had always seemed the most impressive and terrifying force in the world, sweeping down like a thunderstorm or a steam-engine ready to crush her; another similar force of which the whole family talked, and of which they were for some reason afraid, was His Excellency; then there were a dozen others, less formidable, and among them the teachers at the high school, with shaven upper lips, stern, implacable; and now finally, there was Modest Alexeitch, a man of principle, who even resembled the director in the face. And in Anna’s imagination all these forces blended together into one, and, in the form of a terrible, huge white bear, menaced the weak and erring such as her father. And she was afraid to say anything in opposition to her husband, and gave a forced smile, and tried to make a show of pleasure when she was coarsely caressed and defiled by embraces that excited her terror. Only once Pyotr Leontyitch had the temerity to ask for a loan of fifty roubles in order to pay some very irksome debt, but what an agony it had been!
"Very good; I’ll give it to you," said Modest Alexeitch after a moment’s thought; "but I warn you I won’t help you again till you give up drinking. Such a failing is disgraceful in a man in the government service! I must remind you of the well-known fact that many capable people have been ruined by that passion, though they might possibly, with temperance, have risen in time to a very high
And long-winded phrases followed: "inasmuch as . . .," "following upon which proposition . . . ," in view of the aforesaid contention . . ."; and Pyotr Leontyitch was in agonies of humiliation and felt an intense craving for alcohol.
And when the boys came to visit Anna, generally in broken boots and threadbare trousers, they, too, had to listen to sermons.
"Every man ought to have his duties!" Modest Alexeitch would say to them.
And he did not give them money. But he did give Anna bracelets, rings, and brooches, saying that these things would come in useful for a rainy day. And he often unlocked her drawer and made an inspection to see whether they were all safe.


Meanwhile winter came on. Long before Christmas there was an announcement in the local papers that the usual winter ball would take place on the twenty-ninth of December in the Hall of Nobility [34]. Every evening after cards Modest Alexeitch was excitedly whispering with his colleagues’ wives and glancing at Anna, and then paced up and down the room for a long while, thinking. At last, late one evening, he stood still, facing Anna, and said:
"You ought to get yourself a ball dress. Do you understand? Only please consult Marya Grigoryevna and Natalya Kuzminishna."
And he gave her a hundred roubles. She took the money, but she did not consult any one when she ordered the ball dress; she spoke to no one but her father, and tried to imagine how her mother would have dressed for a ball. Her mother had always dressed in the latest fashion and had always taken trouble over Anna, dressing her elegantly like a doll, and had taught her to speak French and dance the mazurka superbly (she had been a governess for five years before her marriage). Like her mother, Anna could make a new dress out of an old one, clean gloves with benzine, hire jewels; and, like her mother, she knew how to screw up her eyes, lisp, assume graceful attitudes, fly into raptures when necessary, and throw a mournful and enigmatic look into her eyes. And from her father she had inherited the dark colour of her hair and eyes, her highly-strung nerves, and the habit of always making herself look her best.
When, half an hour before setting off for the ball, Modest Alexeitch went into her room without his coat on, to put his order round his neck before her pier-glass, dazzled by her beauty and the splendour of her fresh, ethereal dress, he combed his whiskers complacently and said:
"So that’s what my wife can look like . . . so that’s what you can look like! Anyuta!" he went on, dropping into a tone of solemnity, "I have made your fortune, and now I beg you to do something for mine. I beg you to get introduced to the wife of His Excellency! For God’s sake, do! Through her I may get the post of senior reporting clerk!"
They went to the ball. They reached the Hall of Nobility, the entrance with the hall porter. They came to the vestibule with the hat-stands, the fur coats; footmen scurrying about, and ladies with low necks putting up their fans to screen themselves from the draughts. There was a smell of gas and of soldiers. When Anna, walking upstairs on her husband’s arm, heard the music and saw herself full length in the looking-glass in the full glow of the lights, there was a rush of joy in her heart, and she felt the same presentiment of happiness as in the moonlight at the station. She walked in proudly, confidently, for the first time feeling herself not a girl but a lady, and unconsciously imitating her mother in her walk and in her manner. And for the first time in her life she felt rich and free. Even her husband’s presence did not oppress her, for as she crossed the threshold of the hall she had guessed instinctively that the proximity of an old husband did not detract from her in the least, but, on the contrary, gave her that shade of piquant mystery that is so attractive to men. The orchestra was already playing and the dances had begun. After their flat Anna was overwhelmed by the lights, the bright colours, the music, the noise, and looking round the room, thought, "Oh, how lovely!" She at once distinguished in the crowd all her acquaintances, every one she had met before at parties or on picnics – all the officers, the teachers, the lawyers, the officials, the landowners, His Excellency, Artynov, and the ladies of the highest standing, dressed up and very décolletées [35], handsome and ugly, who had already taken up their positions in the stalls and pavilions of the charity bazaar, to begin selling things for the benefit of the poor. A huge officer in epaulettes – she had been introduced to him in Staro-Kievsky Street when she was a schoolgirl, but now she could not remember his name – seemed to spring from out of the ground, begging her for a waltz, and she flew away from her husband, feeling as though she were floating away in a sailing-boat in a violent storm, while her husband was left far away on the shore. She danced passionately, with fervour, a waltz, then a polka and a quadrille, being snatched by one partner as soon as she was left by another, dizzy with music and the noise, mixing Russian with French, lisping, laughing, and with no thought of her husband or anything else. She excited great admiration among the men – that was evident, and indeed it could not have been otherwise; she was breathless with excitement, felt thirsty, and convulsively clutched her fan. Pyotr Leontyitch, her father, in a crumpled dress-coat that smelt of benzine, came up to her, offering her a plate of pink ice.
"You are enchanting this evening," he said, looking at her rapturously, "and I have never so much regretted that you were in such a hurry to get married. . . . What was it for? I know you did it for our sake, but . . ." With a shaking hand he drew out a roll of notes and said: "I got the money for my lessons today, and can pay your husband what I owe him."
She put the plate back into his hand, and was pounced upon by some one and borne off to a distance. She caught a glimpse over her partner’s shoulder of her father gliding over the floor, putting his arm round a lady and whirling down the ball-room with her.
"How sweet he is when he is sober!" she thought.
She danced the mazurka with the same huge officer; he moved gravely, as heavily as a dead carcase in a uniform, twitched his shoulders and his chest, stamped his feet very languidly – he felt fearfully disinclined to dance. She fluttered round him, provoking him by her beauty, her bare neck; her eyes glowed defiantly, her movements were passionate, while he became more and more indifferent, and held out his hands to her as graciously as a king.
"Bravo, bravo!" said people watching them.
But little by little the huge officer, too, broke out; he grew lively, excited, and, overcome by her fascination, was carried away and danced lightly, youthfully, while she merely moved her shoulders and looked slyly at him as though she were now the queen and he were her slave; and at that moment it seemed to her that the whole room was looking at them, and that everybody was thrilled and envied them. The huge officer had hardly had time to thank her for the dance, when the crowd suddenly parted and the men drew themselves up in a strange way, with their hands at their sides.
His Excellency, with two stars on his dress-coat, was walking up to her. Yes, His Excellency was walking straight towards her, for he was staring directly at her with a sugary smile, while he licked his lips as he always did when he saw a pretty woman.
"Delighted, delighted . . ." he began. "I shall order your husband to be clapped in a lock-up for keeping such a treasure hidden from us till now. I’ve come to you with a message from my wife," he went on, offering her his arm. "You must help us. . . . M-m-yes. . . . We ought to give you the prize for beauty as they do in America. . . . M-m-yes. . . . The Americans. . . . My wife is expecting you impatiently."
He led her to a stall and presented her to a middle-aged lady, the lower part of whose face was disproportionately large, so that she looked as though she were holding a big stone in her mouth.
"You must help us," she said through her nose in a sing-song voice. "All the pretty women are working for our charity bazaar, and you are the only one enjoying yourself. Why won’t you help us?"
She went away, and Anna took her place by the cups and the silver samovar. She was soon doing a lively trade. Anna asked no less than a rouble for a cup of tea, and made the huge officer drink three cups. Artynov, the rich man with prominent eyes, who suffered from asthma, came up, too; he was not dressed in the strange costume in which Anna had seen him in the summer at the station, but wore a dress-coat like every one else. Keeping his eyes fixed on Anna, he drank a glass of champagne and paid a hundred roubles for it, then drank some tea and gave another hundred – all this without saying a word, as he was short of breath through asthma. . . . Anna invited purchasers and got money out of them, firmly convinced by now that her smiles and glances could not fail to afford these people great pleasure. She realized now that she was created exclusively for this noisy, brilliant, laughing life, with its music, its dancers, its adorers, and her old terror of a force that was sweeping down upon her and menacing to crush her seemed to her ridiculous: she was afraid of no one now, and only regretted that her mother could not be there to rejoice at her success.
Pyotr Leontyitch, pale by now but still steady on his legs, came up to the stall and asked for a glass of brandy. Anna turned crimson, expecting him to say something inappropriate (she was already ashamed of having such a poor and ordinary father); but he emptied his glass, took ten roubles out of his roll of notes, flung it down, and walked away with dignity without uttering a word. A little later she saw him dancing in the grand chain, and by now he was staggering and kept shouting something, to the great confusion of his partner; and Anna remembered how at the ball three years before he had staggered and shouted in the same way, and it had ended in the police-sergeant’s taking him home to bed, and next day the director had threatened to dismiss him from his post. How inappropriate that memory was!
When the samovars were put out in the stalls and the exhausted ladies handed over their takings to the middle-aged lady with the stone in her mouth, Artynov took Anna on his arm to the hall where supper was served to all who had assisted at the bazaar. There were some twenty people at supper, not more, but it was very noisy. His Excellency proposed a toast:
"In this magnificent dining-room it will be appropriate to drink to the success of the cheap dining-rooms, which are the object of today’s bazaar."
The brigadier-general proposed the toast: "To the power by which even the artillery is vanquished," and all the company clinked glasses with the ladies. It was very, very gay.
When Anna was escorted home it was daylight and the cooks were going to market. Joyful, intoxicated, full of new sensations, exhausted, she undressed, dropped into bed, and at once fell asleep. . . .
It was past one in the afternoon when the servant waked her and announced that M. Artynov had called. She dressed quickly and went down into the drawing-room. Soon after Artynov, His Excellency called to thank her for her assistance in the bazaar. With a sugary smile, chewing his lips, he kissed her hand, and asking her permission to come again, took his leave, while she remained standing in the middle of the drawing-room, amazed, enchanted, unable to believe that this change in her life, this marvellous change, had taken place so quickly; and at that moment Modest Alexeitch walked in . . . and he, too, stood before her now with the same ingratiating, sugary, cringingly respectful expression which she was accustomed to see on his face in the presence of the great and powerful; and with rapture, with indignation, with contempt, convinced that no harm would come to her from it, she said, articulating distinctly each word:
"Be off, you blockhead!"
From this time forward Anna never had one day free, as she was always taking part in picnics, expeditions, performances. She returned home every day after midnight, and went to bed on the floor in the drawing-room, and afterwards used to tell every one, touchingly, how she slept under flowers. She needed a very great deal of money, but she was no longer afraid of Modest Alexeitch, and spent his money as though it were her own; and she did not ask, did not demand it, simply sent him in the bills. "Give bearer two hundred roubles," or "Pay one hundred roubles at once."
At Easter Modest Alexeitch received the Anna of the second grade. When he went to offer his thanks, His Excellency put aside the paper he was reading and settled himself more comfortably in his chair.
"So now you have three Annas," he said, scrutinizing his white hands and pink nails – "one on your buttonhole and two on your neck."
Modest Alexeitch put two fingers to his lips as a precaution against laughing too loud and said:
"Now I have only to look forward to the arrival of a little Vladimir. I make bold to beg your Excellency to stand godfather."
He was alluding to Vladimir of the fourth grade, and was already imagining how he would tell everywhere the story of this pun, so happy in its readiness and audacity, and he wanted to say something equally happy, but His Excellency was buried again in his newspaper, and merely gave him a nod.
And Anna went on driving about with three horses [36], going out hunting with Artynov, playing in one-act dramas, going out to supper, and was more and more rarely with her own family; they dined now alone. Pyotr Leontyitch was drinking more heavily than ever; there was no money, and the harmonium had been sold long ago for debt. The boys did not let him go out alone in the street now, but looked after him for fear he might fall down; and whenever they met Anna driving in Staro-Kievsky Street with a pair of horses and Artynov on the box instead of a coachman, Pyotr Leontyitch took off his top-hat, and was about to shout to her, but Petya and Andrusha took him by the arm, and said imploringly:
"You mustn’t, father. Hush, father!"



THE village of Ukleevo lay in a ravine so that only the belfry and the chimneys of the printed cottons factories could be seen from the high road and the railway-station. When visitors asked what village this was, they were told:
"That’s the village where the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral."
It had happened at the dinner at the funeral of Kostukov that the old deacon saw among the savouries some large-grained caviare and began eating it greedily; people nudged him, tugged at his arm, but he seemed petrified with enjoyment: felt nothing, and only went on eating. He ate up all the caviare, and there were four pounds in the jar. And years had passed since then, the deacon had long been dead, but the caviare was still remembered. Whether life was so poor here or people had not been clever enough to notice anything but that unimportant incident that had occurred ten years before, anyway the people had nothing else to tell about the village Ukleevo.
The village was never free from fever, and there was boggy mud there even in the summer, especially under the fences over which hung old willow-trees that gave deep shade. Here there was always a smell from the factory refuse and the acetic acid which was used in the finishing of the cotton print.
The three cotton factories and the tanyard were not in the village itself, but a little way off. They were small factories, and not more than four hundred workmen were employed in all of them. The tanyard often made the water in the little river stink; the refuse contaminated the meadows, the peasants’ cattle suffered from Siberian plague, and orders were given that the factory should be closed. It was considered to be closed, but went on working in secret with the connivance of the local police officer and the district doctor, who was paid ten roubles a month by the owner. In the whole village there were only two decent houses built of brick with iron roofs; one of them was the local court, in the other, a two-storied house just opposite the church, there lived a shopkeeper from Epifan called Grigory Petrovitch Tsybukin.
Grigory kept a grocer’s shop, but that was only for appearance’ sake: in reality he sold vodka, cattle, hides, grain, and pigs; he traded in anything that came to hand, and when, for instance, magpies were wanted abroad for ladies’ hats, he made some thirty kopecks on every pair of birds; he bought timber for felling, lent money at interest, and altogether was a sharp old man, full of resources.
He had two sons. The elder, Anisim, was in the police in the detective department and was rarely at home. The younger, Stepan, had gone in for trade and helped his father: but no great help was expected from him as he was weak in health and deaf; his wife Aksinya, a handsome woman with a good figure, who wore a hat and carried a parasol on holidays, got up early and went to bed late, and ran about all day long, picking up her skirts and jingling her keys, going from the granary to the cellar and from there to the shop, and old Tsybukin looked at her good-humouredly while his eyes glowed, and at such moments he regretted she had not been married to his elder son instead of to the younger one, who was deaf, and who evidently knew very little about female beauty.
The old man had always an inclination for family life, and he loved his family more than anything on earth, especially his elder son, the detective, and his daughter-in-law. Aksinya had no sooner married the deaf son than she began to display an extraordinary gift for business, and knew who could be allowed to run up a bill and who could not: she kept the keys and would not trust them even to her husband; she kept the accounts by means of the reckoning beads, looked at the horses’ teeth like a peasant, and was always laughing or shouting; and whatever she did or said the old man was simply delighted and muttered:
"Well done, daughter-in-law! You are a smart wench!"
He was a widower, but a year after his son’s marriage he could not resist getting married himself. A girl was found for him, living twenty miles from Ukleevo, called Varvara Nikolaevna, no longer quite young, but good-looking, comely, and belonging to a decent family. As soon as she was installed into the upper-storey room everything in the house seemed to brighten up as though new glass had been put into all the windows. The lamps gleamed before the ikons, the tables were covered with snow-white cloths, flowers with red buds made their appearance in the windows and in the front garden, and at dinner, instead of eating from a single bowl, each person had a separate plate set for him. Varvara Nikolaevna had a pleasant, friendly smile, and it seemed as though the whole house were smiling, too. Beggars and pilgrims, male and female, began to come into the yard, a thing which had never happened in the past; the plaintive sing-song voices of the Ukleevo peasant women and the apologetic coughs of weak, seedy-looking men, who had been dismissed from the factory for drunkenness were heard under the windows. Varvara helped them with money, with bread, with old clothes, and afterwards, when she felt more at home, began taking things out of the shop. One day the deaf man saw her take four ounces of tea and that disturbed him.
"Here, mother’s taken four ounces of tea," he informed his father afterwards; "where is that to be entered?"
The old man made no reply but stood still and thought a moment, moving his eyebrows, and then went upstairs to his wife.
"Varvarushka, if you want anything out of the shop," he said affectionately, "take it, my dear. Take it and welcome; don’t hesitate."
And the next day the deaf man, running across the yard, called to her:
"If there is anything you want, mother, take it."
There was something new, something gay and light-hearted in her giving of alms, just as there was in the lamps before the ikons and in the red flowers. When at Carnival or at the church festival, which lasted for three days, they sold the peasants tainted salt meat, smelling so strong it was hard to stand near the tub of it, and took scythes, caps, and their wives’ kerchiefs in pledge from the drunken men; when the factory hands stupefied with bad vodka lay rolling in the mud, and sin seemed to hover thick like a fog in the air, then it was a relief to think that up there in the house there was a gentle, neatly dressed woman who had nothing to do with salt meat or vodka; her charity had in those burdensome, murky days the effect of a safety valve in a machine.
The days in Tsybukin’s house were spent in business cares. Before the sun had risen in the morning Aksinya was panting and puffing as she washed in the outer room, and the samovar was boiling in the kitchen with a hum that boded no good. Old Grigory Petrovitch, dressed in a long black coat, cotton breeches and shiny top boots, looking a dapper little figure, walked about the rooms, tapping with his little heels like the father-in-law in a well-known song. The shop was opened. When it was daylight a racing droshky was brought up to the front door and the old man got jauntily on to it, pulling his big cap down to his ears; and, looking at him, no one would have said he was fifty-six. His wife and daughter-in-law saw him off, and at such times when he had on a good, clean coat, and had in the droshky a huge black horse that had cost three hundred roubles, the old man did not like the peasants to come up to him with their complaints and petitions; he hated the peasants and disdained them, and if he saw some peasants waiting at the gate, he would shout angrily:
"Why are you standing there? Go further off."
Or if it were a beggar, he would say:
"God will provide!"
He used to drive off on business; his wife, in a dark dress and a black apron, tidied the rooms or helped in the kitchen. Aksinya attended to the shop, and from the yard could be heard the clink of bottles and of money, her laughter and loud talk, and the anger of customers whom she had offended; and at the same time it could be seen that the secret sale of vodka was already going on in the shop. The deaf man sat in the shop, too, or walked about the street bare-headed, with his hands in his pockets looking absent-mindedly now at the huts, now at the sky overhead. Six times a day they had tea; four times a day they sat down to meals; and in the evening they counted over their takings, put them down, went to bed, and slept soundly.
All the three cotton factories in Ukleevo and the houses of the factory owners — Hrymin Seniors, Hrymin Juniors, and Kostukov — were on a telephone. The telephone was laid on in the local court, too, but it soon ceased to work as bugs and beetles bred there. The elder of the rural district had had little education and wrote every word in the official documents in capitals. But when the telephone was spoiled he said:
"Yes, now we shall be badly off without a telephone."
The Hrymin Seniors were continually at law with the Juniors, and sometimes the Juniors quarrelled among themselves and began going to law, and their factory did not work for a month or two till they were reconciled again, and this was an entertainment for the people of Ukleevo, as there was a great deal of talk and gossip on the occasion of each quarrel. On holidays Kostukov and the Juniors used to get up races, used to dash about Ukleevo and run over calves. Aksinya, rustling her starched petticoats, used to promenade in a low-necked dress up and down the street near her shop; the Juniors used to snatch her up and carry her off as though by force. Then old Tsybukin would drive out to show his new horse and take Varvara with him.
In the evening, after the races, when people were going to bed, an expensive concertina was played in the Juniors’ yard and, if it were a moonlight night, those sounds sent a thrill of delight to the heart, and Ukleevo no longer seemed a wretched hole.


The elder son Anisim came home very rarely, only on great holidays, but he often sent by a returning villager presents and letters written in very good writing by some other hand, always on a sheet of foolscap in the form of a petition. The letters were full of expressions that Anisim never made use of in conversation: "Dear papa and mamma, I send you a pound of flower tea for the satisfaction of your physical needs."
At the bottom of every letter was scratched, as though with a broken pen: "Anisim Tsybukin," and again in the same excellent hand: "Agent."
The letters were read aloud several times, and the old father, touched, red with emotion, would say:
"Here he did not care to stay at home, he has gone in for an intellectual line. Well, let him! Every man to his own job!
It happened just before Carnival there was a heavy storm of rain mixed with hail; the old man and Varvara went to the window to look at it, and lo and behold! Anisim drove up in a sledge from the station. He was quite unexpected. He came indoors, looking anxious and troubled about something, and he remained the same all the time; there was something free and easy in his manner. He was in no haste to go away, it seemed, as though he had been dismissed from the service. Varvara was pleased at his arrival; she looked at him with a sly expression, sighed, and shook her head.
"How is this, my friends?" she said. "Tut, tut, the lad’s in his twenty-eighth year, and he is still leading a gay bachelor life; tut, tut, tut. . . ."
From the other room her soft, even speech sounded like tut, tut, tut. She began whispering with her husband and Aksinya, and their faces wore the same sly and mysterious expression as though they were conspirators.
It was decided to marry Anisim.
"Oh, tut, tut . . . the younger brother has been married long ago," said Varvara, "and you are still without a helpmate like a cock at a fair. What is the meaning of it? Tut, tut, you will be married, please God, then as you choose – you will go into the service and your wife will remain here at home to help us. There is no order in your life, young man, and I see you have forgotten how to live properly. Tut, tut, it’s the same trouble with all you townspeople."
When the Tsybukins married, the most handsome girls were chosen as brides for them as rich men. For Anisim, too, they found a handsome one. He was himself of an uninteresting and inconspicuous appearance; of a feeble, sickly build and short stature; he had full, puffy cheeks which looked as though he were blowing them out; his eyes looked with a keen, unblinking stare; his beard was red and scanty, and when he was thinking he always put it into his mouth and bit it; moreover he often drank too much, and that was noticeable from his face and his walk. But when he was informed that they had found a very beautiful bride for him, he said:
"Oh well, I am not a fright myself. All of us Tsybukins are handsome, I may say."
The village of Torguevo was near the town. Half of it had lately been incorporated into the town, the other half remained a village. In the first – the town half – there was a widow living in her own little house; she had a sister living with her who was quite poor and went out to work by the day, and this sister had a daughter called Lipa, a girl who went out to work, too. People in Torguevo were already talking about Lipa’s good looks, but her terrible poverty put everyone off; people opined that some widower or elderly man would marry her regardless of her poverty, or would perhaps take her to himself without marriage, and that her mother would get enough to eat living with her. Varvara heard about Lipa from the matchmakers, and she drove over to Torguevo.
Then a visit of inspection was arranged at the aunt’s, with lunch and wine all in due order, and Lipa wore a new pink dress made on purpose for this occasion, and a crimson ribbon like a flame gleamed in her hair. She was pale-faced, thin, and frail, with soft, delicate features sunburnt from working in the open air; a shy, mournful smile always hovered about her face, and there was a childlike look in her eyes, trustful and curious.
She was young, quite a little girl, her bosom still scarcely perceptible, but she could be married because she had reached the legal age. She really was beautiful, and the only thing that might be thought unattractive was her big masculine hands which hung idle now like two big claws.
"There is no dowry – and we don’t think much of that," said Tsybukin to the aunt. "We took a wife from a poor family for our son Stepan, too, and now we can’t say too much for her. In house and in business alike she has hands of gold."
Lipa stood in the doorway and looked as though she would say: "Do with me as you will, I trust you," while her mother Praskovya the work-woman hid herself in the kitchen numb with shyness. At one time in her youth a merchant whose floors she was scrubbing stamped at her in a rage; she went chill with terror and there always was a feeling of fear at the bottom of her heart. When she was frightened her arms and legs trembled and her cheeks twitched. Sitting in the kitchen she tried to hear what the visitors were saying, and she kept crossing herself, pressing her fingers to her forehead, and gazing at the ikons. Anisim, slightly drunk, opened the door into the kitchen and said in a free-and-easy way:
"Why are you sitting in here, precious mamma? We are dull without you."
And Praskovya, overcome with timidity, pressing her hands to her lean, wasted bosom, said:
"Oh, not at all. . . . It’s very kind of you."
After the visit of inspection the wedding day was fixed. Then Anisim walked about the rooms at home whistling, or suddenly thinking of something, would fall to brooding and would look at the floor fixedly, silently, as though he would probe to the depths of the earth. He expressed neither pleasure that he was to be married, married so soon, on Low Sunday [37], nor a desire to see his bride, but simply went on whistling. And it was evident he was only getting married because his father and stepmother wished him to, and because it was the custom in the village to marry the son in order to have a woman to help in the house. When he went away he seemed in no haste, and behaved altogether not as he had done on previous visits – was particularly free and easy, and talked inappropriately.


In the village Shikalovo lived two dressmakers, sisters, belonging to the Flagellant sect [38]. The new clothes for the wedding were ordered from them, and they often came to try them on, and stayed a long while drinking tea. They were making Varvara a brown dress with black lace and bugles on it, and Aksinya a light green dress with a yellow front, with a train. When the dressmakers had finished their work Tsybukin paid them not in money but in goods from the shop, and they went away depressed, carrying parcels of tallow candles and tins of sardines which they did not in the least need, and when they got out of the village into the open country they sat down on a hillock and cried.
Anisim arrived three days before the wedding, rigged out in new clothes from top to toe. He had dazzling india-rubber goloshes, and instead of a cravat wore a red cord with little balls on it, and over his shoulder he had hung an overcoat, also new, without putting his arms into the sleeves.
After crossing himself sedately before the ikon, he greeted his father and gave him ten silver roubles and ten half-roubles; to Varvara he gave as much, and to Aksinya twenty quarter-roubles. The chief charm of the present lay in the fact that all the coins, as though carefully matched, were new and glittered in the sun. Trying to seem grave and sedate he pursed up his face and puffed out his cheeks, and he smelt of spirits. Probably he had visited the refreshment bar at every station. And again there was a free-and-easiness about the man – something superfluous and out of place. Then Anisim had lunch and drank tea with the old man, and Varvara turned the new coins over in her hand and inquired about villagers who had gone to live in the town.
"They are all right, thank God, they get on quite well," said Anisim. "Only something has happened to Ivan Yegorov: his old wife Sofya Nikiforovna is dead. From consumption. They ordered the memorial dinner for the peace of her soul at the confectioner’s at two and a half roubles a head. And there was real wine. Those who were peasants from our village – they paid two and a half roubles for them, too. They ate nothing, as though a peasant would understand sauce!"
"Two and a half," said his father, shaking his head.
"Well, it’s not like the country there, you go into a restaurant to have a snack of something, you ask for one thing and another, others join till there is a party of us, one has a drink – and before you know where you are it is daylight and you’ve three or four roubles each to pay. And when one is with Samorodov he likes to have coffee with brandy in it after everything, and brandy is sixty kopecks for a little glass."
"And he is making it all up," said the old man enthusiastically; "he is making it all up, lying!"
"I am always with Samorodov now. It is Samorodov who writes my letters to you. He writes splendidly. And if I were to tell you, mamma," Anisim went on gaily, addressing Varvara, "the sort of fellow that Samorodov is, you would not believe me. We call him Muhtar, because he is black like an Armenian. I can see through him, I know all his affairs like the five fingers of my hand, and he feels that, and he always follows me about, we are regular inseparables. He seems not to like it in a way, but he can’t get on without me. Where I go he goes. I have a correct, trustworthy eye, mamma. One sees a peasant selling a shirt in the market place. ’Stay, that shirt’s stolen.’ And really it turns out it is so: the shirt was a stolen one."
"What do you tell from?" asked Varvara.
"Not from anything, I have just an eye for it. I know nothing about the shirt, only for some reason I seem drawn to it: it’s stolen, and that’s all I can say. Among us detectives it’s come to their saying, ’Oh, Anisim has gone to shoot snipe!’ That means looking for stolen goods. Yes. . . . Anybody can steal, but it is another thing to keep! The earth is wide, but there is nowhere to hide stolen goods."
"In our village a ram and two ewes were carried off last week," said Varvara, and she heaved a sigh, and there is no one to try and find them. . . . Oh, tut, tut. ."
"Well, I might have a try. I don’t mind."
The day of the wedding arrived. It was a cool but bright, cheerful April day. People were driving about Ukleevo from early morning with pairs or teams of three horses decked with many-coloured ribbons on their yokes and manes, with a jingle of bells. The rooks, disturbed by this activity, were cawing noisily in the willows, and the starlings sang their loudest unceasingly as though rejoicing that there was a wedding at the Tsybukins’.
Indoors the tables were already covered with long fish, smoked hams, stuffed fowls, boxes of sprats, pickled savouries of various sorts, and a number of bottles of vodka and wine; there was a smell of smoked sausage and of sour tinned lobster. Old Tsybukin walked about near the tables, tapping with his heels and sharpening the knives against each other. They kept calling Varvara and asking for things, and she was constantly with a distracted face running breathlessly into the kitchen, where the man cook from Kostukov’s and the woman cook from Hrymin Juniors’ had been at work since early morning. Aksinya, with her hair curled, in her stays without her dress on, in new creaky boots, flew about the yard like a whirlwind showing glimpses of her bare knees and bosom.
It was noisy, there was a sound of scolding and oaths; passers-by stopped at the wide-open gates, and in everything there was a feeling that something extraordinary was happening.
"They have gone for the bride!"
The bells began jingling and died away far beyond the village. . . . Between two and three o’clock people ran up: again there was a jingling of bells: they were bringing the bride! The church was full, the candelabra were lighted, the choir were singing from music books as old Tsybukin had wished it. The glare of the lights and the bright coloured dresses dazzled Lipa; she felt as though the singers with their loud voices were hitting her on the head with a hammer. Her boots and the stays, which she had put on for the first time in her life, pinched her, and her face looked as though she had only just come to herself after fainting; she gazed about without understanding. Anisim, in his black coat with a red cord instead of a tie, stared at the same spot lost in thought, and when the singers shouted loudly he hurriedly crossed himself. He felt touched and disposed to weep. This church was familiar to him from earliest childhood; at one time his dead mother used to bring him here to take the sacrament; at one time he used to sing in the choir; every ikon he remembered so well, every corner. Here he was being married, he had to take a wife for the sake of doing the proper thing, but he was not thinking of that now, he had forgotten his wedding completely. Tears dimmed his eyes so that he could not see the ikons, he felt heavy at heart; he prayed and besought God that the misfortunes that threatened him, that were ready to burst upon him to-morrow, if not to-day, might somehow pass him by as storm-clouds in time of drought pass over the village without yielding one drop of rain. And so many sins were heaped up in the past, so many sins, all getting away from them or setting them right was so beyond hope that it seemed incongruous even to ask forgiveness. But he did ask forgiveness, and even gave a loud sob, but no one took any notice of that, since they all supposed he had had a drop too much.
There was a sound of a fretful childish wail:
"Take me away, mamma darling!"
"Quiet there!" cried the priest.
When they returned from the church people ran after them; there were crowds, too, round the shop, round the gates, and in the yard under the windows. The peasant women came in to sing songs of congratulation to them. The young couple had scarcely crossed the threshold when the singers, who were already standing in the outer room with their music books, broke into a loud chant at the top of their voices; a band ordered expressly from the town began playing. Foaming Don wine was brought in tall wine-glasses, and Elizarov, a carpenter who did jobs by contract, a tall, gaunt old man with eyebrows so bushy that his eyes could scarcely be seen, said, addressing the happy pair:
"Anisim and you, my child, love one another, live in God’s way, little children, and the Heavenly Mother will not abandon you."
He leaned his face on the old father’s shoulder and gave a sob.
"Grigory Petrovitch, let us weep, let us weep with joy!" he said in a thin voice, and then at once burst out laughing in a loud bass guffaw. "Ho-ho-ho! This is a fine daughter-in-law for you too! Everything is in its place in her; all runs smoothly, no creaking, the mechanism works well, lots of screws in it."
He was a native of the Yegoryevsky district, but had worked in the factories in Ukleevo and the neighborhood from his youth up, and had made it his home. He had been a familiar figure for years as old and gaunt and lanky as now, and for years he had been nicknamed "Crutch." Perhaps because he had been for forty years occupied in repairing the factory machinery he judged everybody and everything by its soundness or its need of repair. And before sitting down to the table he tried several chairs to see whether they were solid, and he touched the smoked fish also.
After the Don wine, they all sat down to the table. The visitors talked, moving their chairs. The singers were singing in the outer room. The band was playing, and at the same time the peasant women in the yard were singing their songs all in chorus – and there was an awful, wild medley of sounds which made one giddy.
Crutch turned round in his chair and prodded his neighbours with his elbows, prevented people from talking, and laughed and cried alternately.
"Little children, little children, little children," he muttered rapidly. "Aksinya my dear, Varvara darling, we will live all in peace and harmony, my dear little axes. . . ."
He drank little and was now only drunk from one glass of English bitters. The revolting bitters, made from nobody knows what, intoxicated everyone who drank it as though it had stunned them. Their tongues began to falter.
The local clergy, the clerks from the factories with their wives, the tradesmen and tavern-keepers from the other villages were present. The clerk and the elder of the rural district who had served together for fourteen years, and who had during all that time never signed a single document for anybody nor let a single person out of the local court without deceiving or insulting him, were sitting now side by side, both fat and well-fed, and it seemed as though they were so saturated in injustice and falsehood that even the skin of their faces was somehow peculiar, fraudulent. The clerk’s wife, a thin woman with a squint, had brought all her children with her, and like a bird of prey looked aslant at the plates and snatched anything she could get hold of to put in her own or her children’s pockets.
Lipa sat as though turned to stone, still with the same expression as in church. Anisim had not said a single word to her since he had made her acquaintance, so that he did not yet know the sound of her voice; and now, sitting beside her, he remained mute and went on drinking bitters, and when he got drunk he began talking to the aunt who was sitting opposite:
"I have a friend called Samorodov. A peculiar man. He is by rank an honorary citizen, and he can talk. But I know him through and through, auntie, and he feels it. Pray join me in drinking to the health of Samorodov, auntie!"
Varvara, worn out and distracted, walked round the table pressing the guests to eat, and was evidently pleased that there were so many dishes and that everything was so lavish – no one could disparage them now. The sun set, but the dinner went on: the guests were beyond knowing what they were eating or drinking, it was impossible to distinguish what was said, and only from time to time when the band subsided some peasant woman could be heard shouting:
"They have sucked the blood out of us, the Herods; a pest on them!"
In the evening they danced to the band. The Hrymin Juniors came, bringing their wine, and one of them, when dancing a quadrille, held a bottle in each hand and a wineglass in his mouth, and that made everyone laugh. In the middle of the quadrille they suddenly crooked their knees and danced in a squatting position; Aksinya in green flew by like a flash, stirring up a wind with her train. Someone trod on her flounce and Crutch shouted:
"Aie, they have torn off the panel! Children!"
Aksinya had naïve grey eyes which rarely blinked, and a naïve smile played continually on her face. And in those unblinking eyes, and in that little head on the long neck, and in her slenderness there was something snake-like; all in green but for the yellow on her bosom, she looked with a smile on her face as a viper looks out of the young rye in the spring at the passers-by, stretching itself and lifting its head. The Hrymins were free in their behaviour to her, and it was very noticeable that she was on intimate terms with the elder of them. But her deaf husband saw nothing, he did not look at her; he sat with his legs crossed and ate nuts, cracking them so loudly that it sounded like pistol shots.
But, behold, old Tsybukin himself walked into the middle of the room and waved his handkerchief as a sign that he, too, wanted to dance the Russian dance, and all over the house and from the crowd in the yard rose a roar of approbation:
"He’s going to dance! He himself!"
Varvara danced, but the old man only waved his handkerchief and kicked up his heels, but the people in the yard, propped against one another, peeping in at the windows, were in raptures, and for the moment forgave him everything – his wealth and the wrongs he had done them.
"Well done, Grigory Petrovitch!" was heard in the crowd. "That’s right, do your best! You can still play your part! Ha-ha!"
It was kept up till late, till two o’clock in the morning. Anisim, staggering, went to take leave of the singers and bandsmen, and gave each of them a new half-rouble. His father, who was not staggering but still seemed to be standing on one leg, saw his guests off, and said to each of them:
"The wedding has cost two thousand."
As the party was breaking up, someone took the Shikalovo innkeeper’s good coat instead of his own old one, and Anisim suddenly flew into a rage and began shouting:
"Stop, I’ll find it at once; I know who stole it, stop."
He ran out into the street and pursued someone. He was caught, brought back home and shoved, drunken, red with anger, and wet, into the room where the aunt was undressing Lipa, and was locked in.


Five days had passed. Anisim, who was preparing to go, went upstairs to say good-bye to Varvara. All the lamps were burning before the ikons, there was a smell of incense, while she sat at the window knitting a stocking of red wool.
"You have not stayed with us long," she said. "You’ve been dull, I dare say. Oh, tut, tut. We live comfortably; we have plenty of everything. We celebrated your wedding properly, in good style; your father says it came to two thousand. In fact we live like merchants, only it’s dreary. We treat the people very badly. My heart aches, my dear; how we treat them, my goodness! Whether we exchange a horse or buy something or hire a labourer – it’s cheating in everything. Cheating and cheating. The Lenten oil in the shop is bitter, rancid, the people have pitch that is better. But surely, tell me pray, couldn’t we sell good oil?"
"Every man to his job, mamma."
"But you know we all have to die? Oy, oy, really you ought to talk to your father . . . !"
"Why, you should talk to him yourself."
"Well, well, I did put in my word, but he said just what you do: ’Every man to his own job.’ Do you suppose in the next world they’ll consider what job you have been put to? God’s judgment is just."
"Of course no one will consider," said Anisim, and he heaved a sigh. "There is no God, anyway, you know, mamma, so what considering can there be?"
Varvara looked at him with surprise, burst out laughing, and clasped her hands. Perhaps because she was so genuinely surprised at his words and looked at him as though he were a queer person, he was confused.
"Perhaps there is a God, only there is no faith. When I was being married I was not myself. Just as you may take an egg from under a hen and there is a chicken chirping in it, so my conscience was beginning to chirp in me, and while I was being married I thought all the time there was a God! But when I left the church it was nothing. And indeed, how can I tell whether there is a God or not? We are not taught right from childhood, and while the babe is still at his mother’s breast he is only taught ’every man to his own job.’ Father does not believe in God, either. You were saying that Guntorev had some sheep stolen. . . . I have found them; it was a peasant at Shikalovo stole them; he stole them, but father’s got the fleeces . . . so that’s all his faith amounts to."
Anisim winked and wagged his head.
"The elder does not believe in God, either," he went on. "And the clerk and the deacon, too. And as for their going to church and keeping the fasts, that is simply to prevent people talking ill of them, and in case it really may be true that there will be a Day of Judgment. Nowadays people say that the end of the world has come because people have grown weaker, do not honour their parents, and so on. All that is nonsense. My idea, mamma, is that all our trouble is because there is so little conscience in people. I see through things, mamma, and I understand. If a man has a stolen shirt I see it. A man sits in a tavern and you fancy he is drinking tea and no more, but to me the tea is neither here nor there; I see further, he has no conscience. You can go about the whole day and not meet one man with a conscience. And the whole reason is that they don’t know whether there is a God or not. . . . Well, good-bye, mamma, keep alive and well, don’t remember evil against me."
Anisim bowed down at Varvara’s feet.
"I thank you for everything, mamma," he said. "You are a great gain to our family. You are a very ladylike woman, and I am very pleased with you."
Much moved, Anisim went out, but returned again and said:
"Samorodov has got me mixed up in something: I shall either make my fortune or come to grief. If anything happens, then you must comfort my father, mamma."
"Oh, nonsense, don’t you worry, tut, tut, tut. . . God is merciful. And, Anisim, you should be affectionate to your wife, instead of giving each other sulky looks as you do; you might smile at least."
"Yes, she is rather a queer one," said Anisim, and he gave a sigh. "She does not understand anything, she never speaks. She is very young, let her grow up."
A tall, sleek white stallion was already standing at the front door, harnessed to the chaise.
Old Tsybukin jumped in jauntily with a run and took the reins. Anisim kissed Varvara, Aksinya, and his brother. On the steps Lipa, too, was standing; she was standing motionless, looking away, and it seemed as though she had not come to see him off but just by chance for some unknown reason. Anisim went up to her and just touched her cheek with his lips.
"Good-bye," he said.
And without looking at him she gave a strange smile; her face began to quiver, and everyone for some reason felt sorry for her. Anisim, too, leaped into the chaise with a bound and put his arms jauntily akimbo, for he considered himself a good-looking fellow.
When they drove up out of the ravine Anisim kept looking back towards the village. It was a warm, bright day. The cattle were being driven out for the first time, and the peasant girls and women were walking by the herd in their holiday dresses. The dun-coloured bull bellowed, glad to be free, and pawed the ground with his forefeet. On all sides, above and below, the larks were singing. Anisim looked round at the elegant white church – it had only lately been whitewashed – and he thought how he had been praying in it five days before; he looked round at the school with its green roof, at the little river in which he used once to bathe and catch fish, and there was a stir of joy in his heart, and he wished that walls might rise up from the ground and prevent him from going further, and that he might be left with nothing but the past.
At the station they went to the refreshment room and drank a glass of sherry each. His father felt in his pocket for his purse to pay.
"I will stand treat," said Anisim. The old man, touched and delighted, slapped him on the shoulder, and winked to the waiter as much as to say, "See what a fine son I have got."
"You ought to stay at home in the business, Anisim," he said; "you would be worth any price to me! I would shower gold on you from head to foot, my son."
"It can’t be done, papa."
The sherry was sour and smelt of sealing-wax, but they had another glass.
When old Tsybukin returned home from the station, for the first moment he did not recognize his younger daughter-in-law. As soon as her husband had driven out of the yard, Lipa was transformed and suddenly brightened up. Wearing a threadbare old petticoat, with her feet bare and her sleeves tucked up to the shoulders, she was scrubbing the stairs in the entry and singing in a silvery little voice, and when she brought out a big tub of dirty water and looked up at the sun with her childlike smile it seemed as though she, too, were a lark.
An old labourer who was passing by the door shook his head and cleared his throat.
"Yes, indeed, your daughters-in-law, Grigory Petrovitch, are a blessing from God," he said. "Not women, but treasures!"


On Friday the 8th of July, Elizarov, nicknamed Crutch, and Lipa were returning from the village of Kazanskoe, where they had been to a service on the occasion of a church holiday in the honour of the Holy Mother of Kazan. A good distance after them walked Lipa’s mother Praskovya, who always fell behind, as she was ill and short of breath. It was drawing towards evening.
"A-a-a . . ." said Crutch, wondering as he listened to Lipa. "A-a! . . . We-ell!
"I am very fond of jam, Ilya Makaritch," said Lipa. "I sit down in my little corner and drink tea and eat jam. Or I drink it with Varvara Nikolaevna, and she tells some story full of feeling. We have a lot of jam – four jars. ’Have some, Lipa; eat as much as you like.’ "
"A-a-a, four jars!"
"They live very well. We have white bread with our tea; and meat, too, as much as one wants. They live very well, only I am frightened with them, Ilya Makaritch. Oh, oh, how frightened I am!"
"Why are you frightened, child?" asked Crutch, and he looked back to see how far Praskovya was behind.
"To begin with, when the wedding had been celebrated I was afraid of Anisim Grigoritch. Anisim Grigoritch did nothing, he didn’t ill-treat me, only when he comes near me a cold shiver runs all over me, through all my bones. And I did not sleep one night, I trembled all over and kept praying to God. And now I am afraid of Aksinya, Ilya Makaritch. It’s not that she does anything, she is always laughing, but sometimes she glances at the window, and her eyes are so fierce and there is a gleam of green in them – like the eyes of the sheep in the shed. The Hrymin Juniors are leading her astray: ’Your old man,’ they tell her, ’has a bit of land at Butyokino, a hundred and twenty acres,’ they say, ’and there is sand and water there, so you, Aksinya,’ they say, ’build a brickyard there and we will go shares in it.’ Bricks now are twenty roubles the thousand, it’s a profitable business. Yesterday at dinner Aksinya said to my father-in-law: ’I want to build a brickyard at Butyokino; I’m going into business on my own account.’ She laughed as she said it. And Grigory Petrovitch’s face darkened, one could see he did not like it. ’As long as I live,’ he said, ’the family must not break up, we must go on altogether.’ She gave a look and gritted her teeth. . . . Fritters were served, she would not eat them."
"A-a-a! . . ." Crutch was surprised.
"And tell me, if you please, when does she sleep?" said Lipa. "She sleeps for half an hour, then jumps up and keeps walking and walking about to see whether the peasants have not set fire to something, have not stolen something. . . . I am frightened with her, Ilya Makaritch. And the Hrymin Juniors did not go to bed after the wedding, but drove to the town to go to law with each other; and folks do say it is all on account of Aksinya. Two of the brothers have promised to build her a brickyard, but the third is offended, and the factory has been at a standstill for a month, and my uncle Prohor is without work and goes about from house to house getting crusts. ’Hadn’t you better go working on the land or sawing up wood, meanwhile, uncle?’ I tell him; ’why disgrace yourself?’ ’I’ve got out of the way of it,’ he says; ’I don’t know how to do any sort of peasant’s work now, Lipinka.’ . . ."
They stopped to rest and wait for Praskovya near a copse of young aspen-trees. Elizarov had long been a contractor in a small way, but he kept no horses, going on foot all over the district with nothing but a little bag in which there was bread and onions, and stalking along with big strides, swinging his arms. And it was difficult to walk with him.
At the entrance to the copse stood a milestone. Elizarov touched it; read it. Praskovya reached them out of breath. Her wrinkled and always scared-looking face was beaming with happiness; she had been at church to-day like anyone else, then she had been to the fair and there had drunk pear cider. For her this was unusual, and it even seemed to her now that she had lived for her own pleasure that day for the first time in her life. After resting they all three walked on side by side. The sun had already set, and its beams filtered through the copse, casting a light on the trunks of the trees. There was a faint sound of voices ahead. The Ukleevo girls had long before pushed on ahead but had lingered in the copse, probably gathering mushrooms.
"Hey, wenches!" cried Elizarov. "Hey, my beauties!"
There was a sound of laughter in response.
"Crutch is coming! Crutch! The old horseradish."
And the echo laughed, too. And then the copse was left behind. The tops of the factory chimneys came into view. The cross on the belfry glittered: this was the village: "the one at which the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral." Now they were almost home; they only had to go down into the big ravine. Lipa and Praskovya, who had been walking barefooted, sat down on the grass to put on their boots; Elizar sat down with them. If they looked down from above Ukleevo looked beautiful and peaceful with its willow-trees, its white church, and its little river, and the only blot on the picture was the roof of the factories, painted for the sake of cheapness a gloomy ashen grey. On the slope on the further side they could see the rye – some in stacks and sheaves here and there as though strewn about by the storm, and some freshly cut lying in swathes; the oats, too, were ripe and glistened now in the sun like mother-of-pearl. It was harvest-time. To-day was a holiday, to-morrow they would harvest the rye and carry the hay, and then Sunday a holiday again; every day there were mutterings of distant thunder. It was misty and looked like rain, and, gazing now at the fields, everyone thought, God grant we get the harvest in in time; and everyone felt gay and joyful and anxious at heart.
"Mowers ask a high price nowadays," said Praskovya. "One rouble and forty kopecks a day."
People kept coming and coming from the fair at Kazanskoe: peasant women, factory workers in new caps, beggars, children. . . . Here a cart would drive by stirring up the dust and behind it would run an unsold horse, and it seemed glad it had not been sold; then a cow was led along by the horns, resisting stubbornly; then a cart again, and in it drunken peasants swinging their legs. An old woman led a little boy in a big cap and big boots; the boy was tired out with the heat and the heavy boots which prevented his bending his legs at the knees, but yet blew unceasingly with all his might at a tin trumpet. They had gone down the slope and turned into the street, but the trumpet could still be heard.
"Our factory owners don’t seem quite themselves . . ." said Elizarov. "There’s trouble. Kostukov is angry with me. ’Too many boards have gone on the cornices.’ ’Too many? As many have gone on it as were needed, Vassily Danilitch; I don’t eat them with my porridge.’ ’How can you speak to me like that?’ said he, ’you good-for-nothing blockhead! Don’t forget yourself! It was I made you a contractor.’ ’That’s nothing so wonderful,’ said I. ’Even before I was a contractor I used to have tea every day.’ ’You are a rascal . . .’ he said. I said nothing. ’We are rascals in this world,’ thought I, ’and you will be rascals in the next. . . .’ Ha-ha-ha! The next day he was softer. ’Don’t you bear malice against me for my words, Makaritch,’ he said. ’If I said too much,’ says he, ’what of it? I am a merchant of the first guild [39], your superior – you ought to hold your tongue.’ ’You,’ said I, ’are a merchant of the first guild and I am a carpenter, that’s correct. And Saint Joseph was a carpenter, too. Ours is a righteous calling and pleasing to God, and if you are pleased to be my superior you are very welcome to it, Vassily Danilitch.’ And later on, after that conversation I mean, I thought: ’Which was the superior? A merchant of the first guild or a carpenter?’ The carpenter must be, my child!"
Crutch thought a minute and added:
"Yes, that’s how it is, child. He who works, he who is patient is the superior."
By now the sun had set and a thick mist as white as milk was rising over the river, in the church enclosure, and in the open spaces round the factories. Now when the darkness was coming on rapidly, when lights were twinkling below, and when it seemed as though the mists were hiding a fathomless abyss, Lipa and her mother who were born in poverty and prepared to live so till the end, giving up to others everything except their frightened, gentle souls, may have fancied for a minute perhaps that in the vast, mysterious world, among the endless series of lives, they, too, counted for something, and they, too, were superior to someone; they liked sitting here at the top, they smiled happily and forgot that they must go down below again all the same.
At last they went home again. The mowers were sitting on the ground at the gates near the shop. As a rule the Ukleevo peasants did not go to Tsybukin’s to work, and they had to hire strangers, and now in the darkness it seemed as though there were men sitting there with long black beards. The shop was open, and through the doorway they could see the deaf man playing draughts with a boy. The mowers were singing softly, scarcely audibly, or loudly demanding their wages for the previous day, but they were not paid for fear they should go away before to-morrow. Old Tsybukin, with his coat off, was sitting in his waistcoat with Aksinya under the birch-tree, drinking tea; a lamp was burning on the table.
"I say, grandfather," a mower called from outside the gates, as though taunting him, "pay us half anyway! Hey, grandfather."
And at once there was the sound of laughter, and then again they sang hardly audibly. . . . Crutch, too, sat down to have some tea.
"We have been at the fair, you know," he began telling them. "We have had a walk, a very nice walk, my children, praise the Lord. But an unfortunate thing happened: Sashka the blacksmith bought some tobacco and gave the shopman half a rouble to be sure. And the half rouble was a false one" –Crutch went on, and he meant to speak in a whisper, but he spoke in a smothered husky voice which was audible to everyone. "The half-rouble turned out to be a bad one. He was asked where he got it. ’Anisim Tsybukin gave it me,’ he said. ’When I went to his wedding,’ he said. They called the police inspector, took the man away. . . . Look out, Grigory Petrovitch, that nothing comes of it, no talk. . . ."
"Gra-ndfather!" the same voice called tauntingly outside the gates. "Gra-andfather!"
A silence followed.
"Ah, little children, little children, little children . . ." Crutch muttered rapidly, and he got up. He was overcome with drowsiness. "Well, thank you for the tea, for the sugar, little children. It is time to sleep. I am like a bit of rotten timber nowadays, my beams are crumbling under me. Ho-ho-ho! I suppose it’s time I was dead."
And he gave a gulp. Old Tsybukin did not finish his tea but sat on a little, pondering; and his face looked as though he were listening to the footsteps of Crutch, who was far away down the street.
"Sashka the blacksmith told a lie, I expect," said Aksinya, guessing his thoughts.
He went into the house and came back a little later with a parcel; he opened it, and there was the gleam of roubles – perfectly new coins. He took one, tried it with his teeth [40], flung it on the tray; then flung down another.
"The roubles really are false . . ." he said, looking at Aksinya and seeming perplexed. "These are those Anisim brought, his present. Take them, daughter," he whispered, and thrust the parcel into her hands. "Take them and throw them into the well . . . confound them! And mind there is no talk about it. Harm might come of it. . . . Take away the samovar, put out the light."
Lipa and her mother sitting in the barn saw the lights go out one after the other; only overhead in Varvara’s room there were blue and red lamps gleaming, and a feeling of peace, content, and happy ignorance seemed to float down from there. Praskovya could never get used to her daughter’s being married to a rich man, and when she came she huddled timidly in the outer room with a deprecating smile on her face, and tea and sugar were sent out to her. And Lipa, too, could not get used to it either, and after her husband had gone away she did not sleep in her bed, but lay down anywhere to sleep, in the kitchen or the barn, and every day she scrubbed the floor or washed the clothes, and felt as though she were hired by the day. And now, on coming back from the service, they drank tea in the kitchen with the cook, then they went into the barn and lay down on the ground between the sledge and the wall. It was dark here and smelt of harness. The lights went out about the house, then they could hear the deaf man shutting up the shop, the mowers settling themselves about the yard to sleep. In the distance at the Hrymin Juniors’ they were playing on the expensive concertina. . . . Praskovya and Lipa began to go to sleep.
And when they were awakened by somebody’s steps it was bright moonlight; at the entrance of the barn stood Aksinya with her bedding in her arms.
"Maybe it’s a bit cooler here," she said; then she came in and lay down almost in the doorway so that the moonlight fell full upon her.
She did not sleep, but breathed heavily, tossing from side to side with the heat, throwing off almost all the bedclothes. And in the magic moonlight what a beautiful, what a proud animal she was! A little time passed, and then steps were heard again: the old father, white all over, appeared in the doorway.
"Aksinya," he called, " are you here?"
"Well?" she responded angrily.
"I told you just now to throw the money into the well, have you done so?"
"What next, throwing property into the water! I gave them to the mowers. . . ."
"Oh my God!" cried the old man, dumbfounded and alarmed. "Oh my God! you wicked woman. . . ."
He flung up his hands and went out, and he kept saying something as he went away. And a little later Aksinya sat up and sighed heavily with annoyance, then got up and, gathering up her bedclothes in her arms, went out.
"Why did you marry me into this family, mother?" said Lipa.
"One has to be married, daughter. It was not us who ordained it."
And a feeling of inconsolable woe was ready to take possession of them. But it seemed to them that someone was looking down from the height of the heavens, out of the blue from where the stars were seeing everything that was going on in Ukleevo, watching over them. And however great was wickedness, still the night was calm and beautiful, and still in God’s world there is and will be truth and justice as calm and beautiful, and everything on earth is only waiting to be made one with truth and justice, even as the moonlight is blended with the night.
And both, huddling close to one another, fell asleep comforted.


News had come long before that Anisim had been put in prison for coining and passing bad money. Months passed, more than half a year passed, the long winter was over, spring had begun, and everyone in the house and the village had grown used to the fact that Anisim was in prison. And when anyone passed by the house or the shop at night he would remember that Anisim was in prison; and when they rang at the churchyard for some reason, that, too, reminded them that he was in prison awaiting trial.
It seemed as though a shadow had fallen upon the house. The house looked darker, the roof was rustier, the heavy, iron-bound door into the shop, which was painted green, was covered with cracks, or, as the deaf man expressed it, "blisters"; and old Tsybukin seemed to have grown dingy, too. He had given up cutting his hair and beard, and looked shaggy. He no longer sprang jauntily into his chaise, nor shouted to beggars: "God will provide!" His strength was on the wane, and that was evident in everything. People were less afraid of him now, and the police officer drew up a formal charge against him in the shop though he received his regular bribe as before; and three times the old man was called up to the town to be tried for illicit dealing in spirits, and the case was continually adjourned owing to the non-appearance of witnesses, and old Tsybukin was worn out with worry.
He often went to see his son, hired somebody, handed in a petition to somebody else, presented a holy banner to some church. He presented the governor of the prison in which Anisim was confined with a silver glass stand with a long spoon and the inscription: "The soul knows its right measure."
"There is no one to look after things for us," said Varvara. "Tut, tut. . . . You ought to ask someone of the gentlefolks, they would write to the head officials. . . . At least they might let him out on bail! Why wear the poor fellow out?"
She, too, was grieved, but had grown stouter and whiter; she lighted the lamps before the ikons as before, and saw that everything in the house was clean, and regaled the guests with jam and apple cheese. The deaf man and Aksinya looked after the shop. A new project was in progress – a brickyard in Butyokino – and Aksinya went there almost every day in the chaise. She drove herself, and when she met acquaintances she stretched out her neck like a snake out of the young rye, and smiled naïvely and enigmatically. Lipa spent her time playing with the baby which had been born to her before Lent. It was a tiny, thin, pitiful little baby, and it was strange that it should cry and gaze about and be considered a human being, and even be called Nikifor. He lay in his swinging cradle, and Lipa would walk away towards the door and say, bowing to him:
"Good-day, Nikifor Anisimitch!"
And she would rush at him and kiss him. Then she would walk away to the door, bow again, and say:
’Good-day, Nikifor Anisimitch!
And he kicked up his little red legs, and his crying was mixed with laughter like the carpenter Elizarov’s.
At last the day of the trial was fixed. Tsybukin went away five days before. Then they heard that the peasants called as witnesses had been fetched; their old workman who had received a notice to appear went too.
The trial was on a Thursday. But Sunday had passed, and Tsybukin was still not back, and there was no news. Towards the evening on Tuesday Varvara was sitting at the open window, listening for her husband to come. In the next room Lipa was playing with her baby. She was tossing him up in her arms and saying enthusiastically:
"You will grow up ever so big, ever so big. You will be a peasant, we shall go out to work together! We shall go out to work together!"
"Come, come," said Varvara, offended. "Go out to work, what an idea, you silly girl! He will be a merchant . . .!"
Lipa sang softly, but a minute later she forgot and again:
"You will grow ever so big, ever so big. You will be a peasant, we’ll go out to work together."
"There she is at it again!"
Lipa, with Nikifor in her arms, stood still in the doorway and asked:
"Why do I love him so much, mamma? Why do I feel so sorry for him?" she went on in a quivering voice, and her eyes glistened with tears. "Who is he? What is he like? As light as a little feather, as a little crumb, but I love him; I love him like a real person. Here he can do nothing, he can’t talk, and yet I know what he wants with his little eyes."
Varvara was listening; the sound of the evening train coming in to the station reached her. Had her husband come? She did not hear and she did not heed what Lipa was saying, she had no idea how the time passed, but only trembled all over — not from dread, but intense curiosity. She saw a cart full of peasants roll quickly by with a rattle. It was the witnesses coming back from the station. When the cart passed the shop the old workman jumped out and walked into the yard. She could hear him being greeted in the yard and being asked some questions. . . .
"Deprivation of rights and all his property," he said loudly, "and six years’ penal servitude in Siberia."
She could see Aksinya come out of the shop by the back way; she had just been selling kerosene, and in one hand held a bottle and in the other a can, and in her mouth she had some silver coins.
"Where is father?" she asked, lisping.
"At the station," answered the labourer. " ’When it gets a little darker,’ he said, ’then I shall come.’ "
And when it became known all through the household that Anisim was sentenced to penal servitude, the cook in the kitchen suddenly broke into a wail as though at a funeral, imagining that this was demanded by the proprieties:
"There is no one to care for us now you have gone, Anisim Grigoritch, our bright falcon. . . ."
The dogs began barking in alarm. Varvara ran to the window, and rushing about in distress, shouted to the cook with all her might, straining her voice:
"Sto-op, Stepanida, sto-op! Don’t harrow us, for Christ’s sake!"
They forgot to set the samovar, they could think of nothing. Only Lipa could not make out what it was all about and went on playing with her baby.
When the old father arrived from the station they asked him no questions. He greeted them and walked through all the rooms in silence; he had no supper.
"There was no one to see about things . . ." Varvara began when they were alone. "I said you should have asked some of the gentry, you would not heed me at the time. . . . A petition would . . ."
"I saw to things," said her husband with a wave of his hand. "When Anisim was condemned I went to the gentleman who was defending him. ’It’s no use now,’ he said, ’it’s too late’; and Anisim said the same; it’s too late. But all the same as I came out of the court I made an agreement with a lawyer, I paid him something in advance. I’ll wait a week and then I will go again. It is as God wills."
Again the old man walked through all the rooms, and when he went back to Varvara he said:
"I must be ill. My head’s in a sort of . . . fog. My thoughts are in a maze."
He closed the door that Lipa might not hear, and went on softly:
"I am unhappy about my money. Do you remember on Low Sunday before his wedding Anisim’s bringing me some new roubles and half-roubles? One parcel I put away at the time, but the others I mixed with my own money. When my uncle Dmitri Filatitch – the kingdom of heaven be his – was alive, he used constantly to go journeys to Moscow and to the Crimea to buy goods. He had a wife, and this same wife, when he was away buying goods, used to take up with other men. She had half a dozen children. And when uncle was in his cups he would laugh and say: ’I never can make out,’ he used to say, ’which are my children and which are other people’s.’ An easy-going disposition, to be sure; and so I now can’t distinguish which are genuine roubles and which are false ones. And it seems to me that they are all false."
"Nonsense, God bless you."
"I take a ticket at the station, I give the man three roubles, and I keep fancying they are false. And I am frightened. I must be ill."
"There’s no denying it, we are all in God’s hands. . . . Oh dear, dear . . ." said Varvara, and she shook her head. "You ought to think about this, Grigory Petrovitch: you never know, anything may happen, you are not a young man. See they don’t wrong your grandchild when you are dead and gone. Oy, I am afraid they will be unfair to Nikifor! He has as good as no father, his mother’s young and foolish . . . you ought to secure something for him, poor little boy, at least the land, Butyokino, Grigory Petrovitch, really! Think it over!" Varvara went on persuading him. "The pretty boy, one is sorry for him! You go to-morrow and make out a deed; why put it off?"
"I’d forgotten about my grandson," said Tsybukin. "I must go and have a look at him. So you say the boy is all right? Well, let him grow up, please God."
He opened the door and, crooking his finger, beckoned to Lipa. She went up to him with the baby in her arms.
"If there is anything you want, Lipinka, you ask for it," he said. "And eat anything you like, we don’t grudge it, so long as it does you good. . . ." He made the sign of the cross over the baby. "And take care of my grandchild. My son is gone, but my grandson is left."
Tears rolled down his cheeks; he gave a sob and went away. Soon afterwards he went to bed and slept soundly after seven sleepless nights.


Old Tsybukin went to the town for a short time. Someone told Aksinya that he had gone to the notary to make his will and that he was leaving Butyokino, the very place where she had set up a brickyard, to Nikifor, his grandson. She was informed of this in the morning when old Tsybukin and Varvara were sitting near the steps under the birch-tree, drinking their tea. She closed the shop in the front and at the back, gathered together all the keys she had, and flung them at her father-in-law’s feet.
"I am not going on working for you," she began in a loud voice, and suddenly broke into sobs. "It seems I am not your daughter-in-law, but a servant! Everybody’s jeering and saying, ’See what a servant the Tsybukins have got hold of!’ I did not come to you for wages! I am not a beggar, I am not a slave, I have a father and mother."
She did not wipe away her tears, she fixed upon her father-in-law eyes full of tears, vindictive, squinting with wrath; her face and neck were red and tense, and she was shouting at the top of her voice.
"I don’t mean to go on being a slave!" she went on. "I am worn out. When it is work, when it is sitting in the shop day in and day out, scurrying out at night for vodka – then it is my share, but when it is giving away the land then it is for that convict’s wife and her imp. She is mistress here, and I am her servant. Give her everything, the convict’s wife, and may it choke her! I am going home! Find yourselves some other fool, you damned Herods!"
Tsybukin had never in his life scolded or punished his children, and had never dreamed that one of his family could speak to him rudely or behave disrespectfully; and now he was very much frightened; he ran into the house and there hid behind the cupboard. And Varvara was so much flustered that she could not get up from her seat, and only waved her hands before her as though she were warding off a bee.
"Oh, Holy Saints! what’s the meaning of it?" she muttered in horror. "What is she shouting? Oh, dear, dear! . . . People will hear! Hush. Oh, hush!"
"He has given Butyokino to the convict’s wife," Aksinya went on bawling. "Give her everything now, I don’t want anything from you! Let me alone! You are all a gang of thieves here! I have seen my fill of it, I have had enough! You have robbed folks coming in and going out; you have robbed old and young alike, you brigands! And who has been selling vodka without a licence? And false money? You’ve filled boxes full of false coins, and now I am no more use!"
A crowd had by now collected at the open gate and was staring into the yard.
"Let the people look," bawled Aksinya. "I will shame you all! You shall burn with shame! You shall grovel at my feet. Hey! Stepan," she called to the deaf man, "let us go home this minute! Let us go to my father and mother; I don’t want to live with convicts. Get ready!"
Clothes were hanging on lines stretched across the yard; she snatched off her petticoats and blouses still wet and flung them into the deaf man’s arms. Then in her fury she dashed about the yard by the linen, tore down all of it, and what was not hers she threw on the ground and trampled upon.
"Holy Saints, take her away," moaned Varvara. "What a woman! Give her Butyokino! Give it her, for the Lord’s sake!
"Well! Wha-at a woman!" people were saying at the gate. "She’s a wo-oman! She’s going it – something like!"
Aksinya ran into the kitchen where washing was going on. Lipa was washing alone, the cook had gone to the river to rinse the clothes. Steam was rising from the trough and from the caldron on the side of the stove, and the kitchen was thick and stifling from the steam. On the floor was a heap of unwashed clothes, and Nikifor, kicking up his little red legs, had been put down on a bench near them, so that if he fell he should not hurt himself. Just as Aksinya went in Lipa took the former’s chemise out of the heap and put it in the trough, and was just stretching out her hand to a big ladle of boiling water which was standing on the table.
"Give it here," said Aksinya, looking at her with hatred, and snatching the chemise out of the trough; "it is not your business to touch my linen! You are a convict’s wife, and ought to know your place and who you are."
Lipa gazed at her, taken aback, and did not understand, but suddenly she caught the look Aksinya turned upon the child, and at once she understood and went numb all over.
"You’ve taken my land, so here you are!" Saying this Aksinya snatched up the ladle with the boiling water and flung it over Nikifor.
After this there was heard a scream such as had never been heard before in Ukleevo, and no one would have believed that a little weak creature like Lipa could scream like that. And it was suddenly silent in the yard.
Aksinya walked into the house with her old naïve smile. . . . The deaf man kept moving about the yard with his arms full of linen, then he began hanging it up again, in silence, without haste. And until the cook came back from the river no one ventured to go into the kitchen and see what was there.


Nikifor was taken to the district hospital, and towards evening he died there. Lipa did not wait for them to come for her, but wrapped the dead baby in its little quilt and carried it home.
The hospital, a new one recently built, with big windows, stood high up on a hill; it was glittering from the setting sun and looked as though it were on fire from inside. There was a little village below. Lipa went down along the road, and before reaching the village sat down by a pond. A woman brought a horse down to drink and the horse did not drink.
"What more do you want?" said the woman to it softly. "What do you want?"
A boy in a red shirt, sitting at the water’s edge, was washing his father’s boots. And not another soul was in sight either in the village or on the hill.
"It’s not drinking," said Lipa, looking at the horse.
Then the woman with the horse and the boy with the boots walked away, and there was no one left at all. The sun went to bed wrapped in cloth of gold and purple, and long clouds, red and lilac, stretched across the sky, guarded its slumbers. Somewhere far away a bittern cried, a hollow, melancholy sound like a cow shut up in a barn. The cry of that mysterious bird was heard every spring, but no one knew what it was like or where it lived. At the top of the hill by the hospital, in the bushes close to the pond, and in the fields the nightingales were trilling. The cuckoo kept reckoning someone’s years and losing count and beginning again. In the pond the frogs called angrily to one another, straining themselves to bursting, and one could even make out the words: "That’s what you are! That’s what you are! " What a noise there was! It seemed as though all these creatures were singing and shouting so that no one might sleep on that spring night, so that all, even the angry frogs, might appreciate and enjoy every minute: life is given only once.
A silver half-moon was shining in the sky; there were many stars. Lipa had no idea how long she sat by the pond, but when she got up and walked on everybody was asleep in the little village, and there was not a single light. It was probably about nine miles’ walk home, but she had not the strength, she had not the power to think how to go: the moon gleamed now in front, now on the right, and the same cuckoo kept calling in a voice grown husky, with a chuckle as though gibing at her: "Oy, look out, you’ll lose your way!" Lipa walked rapidly; she lost the kerchief from her head . . . she looked at the sky and wondered where her baby’s soul was now: was it following her, or floating aloft yonder among the stars and thinking nothing now of his mother? Oh, how lonely it was in the open country at night, in the midst of that singing when one cannot sing oneself; in the midst of the incessant cries of joy when one cannot oneself be joyful, when the moon, which cares not whether it is spring or winter, whether men are alive or dead, looks down as lonely, too. . . . When there is grief in the heart it is hard to be without people. If only her mother, Praskovya, had been with her, or Crutch, or the cook, or some peasant!
"Boo-oo!" cried the bittern. "Boo-oo!"
And suddenly she heard clearly the sound of human speech: "Put the horses in, Vavila!"
By the wayside a camp fire was burning ahead of her: the flames had died down, there were only red embers. She could hear the horses munching. In the darkness she could see the outlines of two carts, one with a barrel, the other, a lower one with sacks in it, and the figures of two men; one was leading a horse to put it into the shafts, the other was standing motionless by the fire with his hands behind his back. A dog growled by the carts. The one who was leading the horse stopped and said:
"It seems as though someone were coming along the road."
"Sharik, be quiet!" the other called to the dog.
And from the voice one could tell that the second was an old man. Lipa stopped and said:
"God help you."
The old man went up to her and answered not immediately:
"Your dog does not bite, grandfather?"
"No, come along, he won’t touch you."
"I have been at the hospital," said Lipa after a pause. "My little son died there. Here I am carrying him home."
It must have been unpleasant for the old man to hear this, for he moved away and said hurriedly:
"Never mind, my dear. It’s God’s will. You are very slow, lad," he added, addressing his companion; "look alive!
"Your yoke’s nowhere," said the young man; "it is not to be seen."
"You are a regular Vavila."
The old man picked up an ember, blew on it – only his eyes and nose were lighted up – then, when they had found the yoke, he went with the light to Lipa and looked at her, and his look expressed compassion and tenderness.
"You are a mother," he said; "every mother grieves for her child."
And he sighed and shook his head as he said it. Vavila threw something on the fire, stamped on it – and at once it was very dark; the vision vanished, and as before there were only the fields, the sky with the stars, and the noise of the birds hindering each other from sleep. And the landrail called, it seemed, in the very place where the fire had been.
But a minute passed, and again she could see the two carts and the old man and lanky Vavila. The carts creaked as they went out on the road.
"Are you holy men?" Lipa asked the old man.
"No. We are from Firsanovo."
"You looked at me just now and my heart was softened. And the young man is so gentle. I thought you must be holy men."
"Are you going far?"
"To Ukleevo."
"Get in, we will give you a lift as far as Kuzmenki, then you go straight on and we turn off to the left."
Vavila got into the cart with the barrel and the old man and Lipa got into the other. They moved at a walking pace, Vavila in front.
"My baby was in torment all day," said Lipa. "He looked at me with his little eyes and said nothing; he wanted to speak and could not. Holy Father, Queen of Heaven! In my grief I kept falling down on the floor. I stood up and fell down by the bedside. And tell me, grandfather, why a little thing should be tormented before his death? When a grown-up person, a man or woman, are in torment their sins are forgiven, but why a little thing, when he has no sins? Why?"
"Who can tell?" answered the old man.
They drove on for half an hour in silence.
"We can’t know everything, how and wherefore," said the old man. "It is ordained for the bird to have not four wings but two because it is able to fly with two; and so it is ordained for man not to know everything but only a half or a quarter. As much as he needs to know so as to live, so much he knows."
"It is better for me to go on foot, grandfather. Now my heart is all of a tremble."
"Never mind, sit still."
The old man yawned and made the sign of the cross over his mouth [41].
"Never mind," he repeated. "Yours is not the worst of sorrows. Life is long, there will be good and bad to come, there will be everything. Great is mother Russia," he said, and looked round on each side of him. "I have been all over Russia, and I have seen everything in her, and you may believe my words, my dear. There will be good and there will be bad. I went as a delegate from my village to Siberia, and I have been to the Amur River and the Altai Mountains and I settled in Siberia; I worked the land there, then I was homesick for mother Russia and I came back to my native village. We came back to Russia on foot; and I remember we went on a steamer, and I was thin as thin, all in rags, barefoot, freezing with cold, and gnawing a crust, and a gentleman who was on the steamer – the kingdom of heaven be his if he is dead – looked at me pitifully, and the tears came into his eyes. ’Ah,’ he said, ’your bread is black, your days are black. . . .’ And when I got home, as the saying is, there was neither stick nor stall; I had a wife, but I left her behind in Siberia, she was buried there. So I am living as a day labourer. And yet I tell you: since then I have had good as well as bad. Here I do not want to die, my dear, I would be glad to live another twenty years; so there has been more of the good. And great is our mother Russia!" and again he gazed to each side and looked round.
"Grandfather," Lipa asked, "when anyone dies, how many days does his soul walk the earth?"
"Who can tell! Ask Vavila here, he has been to school. Now they teach them everything. Vavila!" the old man called to him.
"Vavila, when anyone dies how long does his soul walk the earth?
Vavila stopped the horse and only then answered:
"Nine days. My uncle Kirilla died and his soul lived in our hut thirteen days after."
"How do you know?"
"For thirteen days there was a knocking in the stove."
"Well, that’s all right. Go on," said the old man, and it could be seen that he did not believe a word of all that.
Near Kuzmenki the cart turned into the high road while Lipa went straight on. It was by now getting light. As she went down into the ravine the Ukleevo huts and the church were hidden in fog. It was cold, and it seemed to her that the same cuckoo was calling still.
When Lipa reached home the cattle had not yet been driven out; everyone was asleep. She sat down on the steps and waited. The old man was the first to come out; he understood all that had happened from the first glance at her, and for a long time he could not articulate a word, but only moved his lips without a sound.
"Ech, Lipa," he said, "you did not take care of my grandchild. . . ."
Varvara was awakened. She clasped her hands and broke into sobs, and immediately began laying out the baby.
"And he was a pretty child . . ." she said. "Oh, dear, dear. . . . You only had the one child, and you did not take care enough of him, you silly girl. . . ."
There was a requiem service in the morning and the evening. The funeral took place the next day, and after it the guests and the priests ate a great deal, and with such greed that one might have thought that they had not tasted food for a long time. Lipa waited at table, and the priest, lifting his fork on which there was a salted mushroom, said to her:
"Don’t grieve for the babe. For of such is the kingdom of heaven [42]."
And only when they had all separated Lipa realized fully that there was no Nikifor and never would be, she realized it and broke into sobs. And she did not know what room to go into to sob, for she felt that now that her child was dead there was no place for her in the house, that she had no reason to be here, that she was in the way; and the others felt it, too.
"Now what are you bellowing for?" Aksinya shouted, suddenly appearing in the doorway; in honour of the funeral she was dressed all in new clothes and had powdered her face. "Shut up!"
Lipa tried to stop but could not, and sobbed louder than ever.
"Do you hear?" shouted Aksinya, and she stamped her foot in violent anger. "Who is it I am speaking to? Go out of the yard and don’t set foot here again, you convict s wife. Get away."
"There, there, there," the old man put in fussily. "Aksinya, don’t make such an outcry, my girl. . . . She is crying, it is only natural . . . her child is dead. . . ."
" ’It’s only natural,’ " Aksinya mimicked him. "Let her stay the night here, and don’t let me see a trace of her here to-morrow! ’It’s only natural!’ . . ." she mimicked him again, and, laughing, she went into the shop.
Early the next morning Lipa went off to her mother at Torguevo.


At the present time the steps and the front door of the shop have been repainted and are as bright as though they were new, there are gay geraniums in the windows as of old, and what happened in Tsybukin’s house and yard three years ago is almost forgotten.
Grigory Petrovitch is looked upon as the master as he was in old days, but in reality everything has passed into Aksinya’s hands; she buys and sells, and nothing can be done without her consent. The brickyard is working well; and as bricks are wanted for the railway the price has gone up to twenty-four roubles a thousand; peasant women and girls cart the bricks to the station and load them up in the trucks and earn a quarter-rouble a day for the work.
Aksinya has gone into partnership with the Hrymin Juniors, and their factory is now called Hrymin Juniors and Co. They have opened a tavern near the station, and now the expensive concertina is played not at the factory but at the tavern, and the head of the post office often goes there, and he, too, is engaged in some sort of traffic, and the stationmaster, too. Hrymin Juniors have presented the deaf man Stepan with a gold watch, and he is constantly taking it out of his pocket and putting it to his ear.
People say of Aksinya that she has become a person of power; and it is true that when she drives in the morning to her brickyard, handsome and happy, with the naïve smile on her face, and afterwards when she is giving orders there, one is aware of great power in her. Everyone is afraid of her in the house and in the village and in the brickyard. When she goes to the post the head of the postal department jumps up and says to her:
"I humbly beg you to be seated, Aksinya Abramovna!"
A certain landowner, middle-aged but foppish, in a tunic of fine cloth and patent leather high boots, sold her a horse, and was so carried away by talking to her that he knocked down the price to meet her wishes. He held her hand a long time and, looking into her merry, sly, naïve eyes, said:
"For a woman like you, Aksinya Abramovna, I should be ready to do anything you please. Only say when we can meet where no one will interfere with us?"
"Why, when you please."
And since then the elderly fop drives up to the shop almost every day to drink beer. And the beer is horrid, bitter as wormwood. The landowner shakes his head, but he drinks it.
Old Tsybukin does not have anything to do with the business now at all. He does not keep any money because he cannot distinguish between the good and the false, but he is silent, he says nothing of this weakness. He has become forgetful, and if they don’t give him food he does not ask for it. They have grown used to having dinner without him, and Varvara often says:
"He went to bed again yesterday without any supper."
And she says it unconcernedly because she is used to it. For some reason, summer and winter alike, he wears a fur coat, and only in very hot weather he does not go out but sits at home. As a rule putting on his fur coat, wrapping it round him and turning up his collar, he walks about the village, along the road to the station, or sits from morning till night on the seat near the church gates. He sits there without stirring. Passers-by bow to him, but he does not respond, for as of old he dislikes the peasants. If he is asked a question he answers quite rationally and politely, but briefly.
There is a rumour going about in the village that his daughter-in-law turns him out of the house and gives him nothing to eat, and that he is fed by charity; some are glad, others are sorry for him.
Varvara has grown even fatter and whiter, and as before she is active in good works, and Aksinya does not interfere with her.
There is so much jam now that they have not time to eat it before the fresh fruit comes in; it goes sugary, and Varvara almost sheds tears, not knowing what to do with it.
They have begun to forget about Anisim. A letter has come from him written in verse on a big sheet of paper as though it were a petition, all in the same splendid handwriting. Evidently his friend Samorodov was sharing his punishment. Under the verses in an ugly, scarcely legible handwriting there was a single line: "I am ill here all the time; I am wretched, for Christ’s sake help me!"
Towards evening – it was a fine autumn day – old Tsybukin was sitting near the church gates, with the collar of his fur coat turned up and nothing of him could be seen but his nose and the peak of his cap. At the other end of the long seat was sitting Elizarov the contractor, and beside him Yakov the school watchman, a toothless old man of seventy. Crutch and the watchman were talking.
"Children ought to give food and drink to the old . . . Honour thy father and mother [43] . . ." Yakov was saying with irritation, "while she, this daughter-in-law, has turned her father-in-law out of his own house; the old man has neither food nor drink, where is he to go? He has not had a morsel for these three days."
"Three days!" said Crutch, amazed.
"Here he sits and does not say a word. He has grown feeble. And why be silent? He ought to prosecute her, they wouldn’t flatter her in the police court."
"Wouldn’t flatter whom?" asked Crutch, not hearing.
"The woman’s all right, she does her best. In their line of business they can’t get on without that . . . without sin, I mean. . . ."
"From his own house," Yakov went on with irritation. "Save up and buy your own house, then turn people out of it! She is a nice one, to be sure! A pla-ague!"
Tsybukin listened and did not stir.
"Whether it is your own house or others’ it makes no difference so long as it is warm and the women don’t scold . . ." said Crutch, and he laughed. "When I was young I was very fond of my Nastasya. She was a quiet woman. And she used to be always at it: ’Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a house, Makaritch!’ She was dying and yet she kept on saying, ’Buy yourself a racing droshky, Makaritch, that you may not have to walk.’ And I bought her nothing but gingerbread."
"Her husband’s deaf and stupid," Yakov went on, not hearing Crutch; "a regular fool, just like a goose. He can’t understand anything. Hit a goose on the head with a stick and even then it does not understand."
Crutch got up to go home to the factory. Yakov also got up, and both of them went off together, still talking. When they had gone fifty paces old Tsybukin got up, too, and walked after them, stepping uncertainly as though on slippery ice.
The village was already plunged in the dusk of evening and the sun only gleamed on the upper part of the road which ran wriggling like a snake up the slope. Old women were coming back from the woods and children with them; they were bringing baskets of mushrooms. Peasant women and girls came in a crowd from the station where they had been loading the trucks with bricks, and their noses and their cheeks under their eyes were covered with red brick-dust. They were singing. Ahead of them all was Lipa singing in a high voice, with her eyes turned upwards to the sky, breaking into trills as though triumphant and ecstatic that at last the day was over and she could rest. In the crowd was her mother Praskovya, who was walking with a bundle in her arms and breathless as usual.
"Good-evening, Makaritch! " cried Lipa, seeing Crutch. "Good-evening, darling!"
"Good-evening, Lipinka," cried Crutch delighted. "Dear girls and women, love the rich carpenter! Ho-ho! My little children, my little children. (Crutch gave a gulp.) My dear little axes!"
Crutch and Yakov went on further and could still be heard talking. Then after them the crowd was met by old Tsybukin and there was a sudden hush. Lipa and Praskovya had dropped a little behind, and when the old man was on a level with them Lipa bowed down low and said:
"Good-evening, Grigory Petrovitch."
Her mother, too, bowed down. The old man stopped and, saying nothing, looked at the two in silence; his lips were quivering and his eyes full of tears. Lipa took out of her mother’s bundle a piece of savoury turnover and gave it him. He took it and began eating.
The sun had by now set: its glow died away on the road above. It grew dark and cool. Lipa and Praskovya walked on and for some time they kept crossing themselves.



2. В ПОТЕМКАХ (1885)


4. ШУТОЧКА (1886)

5. ДУЭЛЬ (1891)




9. АННА НА ШЕЕ (1895)

10. В ОВРАГЕ (1900)


Гостиная статского советника Шарамыкина окутана приятным полумраком. Большая бронзовая лампа с зеленым абажуром красит в зелень à la «украинская ночь» стены, мебель, лица… Изредка в потухающем камине вспыхивает тлеющее полено и на мгновение заливает лица цветом пожарного зарева; но это не портит общей световой гармонии. Общий тон, как говорят художники, выдержан.
Перед камином в кресле, в позе только что пообедавшего человека, сидит сам Шарамыкин, пожилой господин с седыми чиновничьими бакенами и с кроткими голубыми глазами. По лицу его разлита нежность, губы сложены в грустную улыбку. У его ног, протянув к камину ноги и лениво потягиваясь, сидит на скамеечке вице-губернатор Лопнев, бравый мужчина, лет сорока. Около пианино возятся дети Шарамыкина: Нина, Коля, Надя и Ваня. Из слегка отворенной двери, ведущей в кабинет г-жи Шарамыкиной, робко пробивается свет. Там за дверью, за своим письменным столом сидит жена Шарамыкина, Анна Павловна, председательница местного дамского комитета, живая и пикантная дамочка, лет тридцати с хвостиком. Ее черные бойкие глазки бегают сквозь пенсне по страницам французского романа. Под романом лежит растрепанный комитетский отчет за прошлый год.
— Прежде наш город в этом отношении был счастливее, — говорит Шарамыкин, щуря свои кроткие глаза на тлеющие уголья. — Ни одной зимы не проходило без того, чтобы не приезжала какая-нибудь звезда. Бывали и знаменитые актеры и певцы, а нынче… чёрт знает что! — кроме фокусников да шарманщиков никто не наезжает. Никакого эстетического удовольствия… Живем, как в лесу. Да-с… А помните, ваше превосходительство, того итальянского трагика… как его?.. еще такой брюнет, высокий… Дай бог память… Ах, да! Луиджи Эрнесто де Руджиеро… Талант замечательный… Сила! Одно слово скажет, бывало, и театр ходором ходит. Моя Анюточка принимала большое участие в его таланте. Она ему и театр выхлопотала и билеты на десять спектаклей распродала… Он ее за это декламации и мимике учил. Душа человек! Приезжал он сюда… чтоб не соврать… лет двенадцать тому назад… Нет, вру… Меньше, лет десять… Анюточка, сколько нашей Нине лет?
— Десятый год! — кричит из своего кабинета Анна Павловна. — А что?
— Ничего, мамочка, это я так… И певцы хорошие приезжали, бывало… Помните вы tenore di grazia Прилипчина? Что за душа человек! Что за наружность! Блондин… лицо этакое выразительное, манеры парижские… А что за голос, ваше превосходительство! Одна только беда: некоторые ноты желудком пел и «ре» фистулой брал, а то всё хорошо. У Тамберлика, говорил, учился… Мы с Анюточкой выхлопотали ему залу в общественном собрании, и в благодарность за это он, бывало, нам целые дни и ночи распевал… Анюточку петь учил… Приезжал он, как теперь помню, в Великом посту, лет… лет двенадцать тому назад. Нет, больше… Вот память, прости господи! Анюточка, сколько нашей Надечке лет?
— Двенадцать!
— Двенадцать… ежели прибавить десять месяцев… Ну, так и есть… тринадцать!.. Прежде у нас в городе как-то и жизни больше было… Взять к примеру хоть благотворительные вечера. Какие прекрасные бывали у нас прежде вечера. Что за прелесть! И поют, и играют, и читают… После войны, помню, когда здесь пленные турки стояли, Анюточка делала вечер в пользу раненых. Собрали тысячу сто рублей… Турки-офицеры, помню, без ума были от Анюточкина голоса, и всё ей руку целовали. Хе, хе… Хоть и азиаты, а признательная нация. Вечер до того удался, что я, верите ли, в дневник записал. Это было, как теперь помню, в… семьдесят шестом… нет! в семьдесят седьмом… Нет! Позвольте, когда у нас турки стояли? Анюточка, сколько нашему Колечке лет?
— Мне, папа, семь лет! — говорит Коля, черномазый мальчуган с смуглым лицом и черными, как уголь, волосами.
— Да, постарели, и энергии той уж нет!.. — соглашается Лопнев, вздыхая. — Вот где причина… Старость, батенька! Новых инициаторов нет, а старые состарились… Нет уж того огня. Я, когда был помоложе, не любил, чтоб общество скучало… Я был первым помощником вашей Анны Павловны… Вечер ли с благотворительною целью устроить, лотерею ли, приезжую ли знаменитость поддержать — всё бросал и начинал хлопотать. Одну зиму, помню, я до того захлопотался и набегался, что даже заболел… Не забыть мне этой зимы!.. Помните, какой спектакль сочинили мы с вашей Анной Павловной в пользу погорельцев?
— Да это в каком году было?
— Не очень давно… В семьдесят девятом… Нет, в восьмидесятом, кажется! Позвольте, сколько вашему Ване лет?
— Пять! — кричит из кабинета Анна Павловна.
— Ну, стало быть, это было шесть лет тому назад… Да-с, батенька, были дела! Теперь уж не то! Нет того огня!
Лопнев и Шарамыкин задумываются. Тлеющее полено вспыхивает в последний раз и подергивается пеплом.


Муха средней величины забралась в нос товарища прокурора, надворного советника Гагина. Любопытство ли ее мучило, или, быть может, она попала туда по легкомыслию, или благодаря потемкам, но только нос не вынес присутствия инородного тела и подал сигнал к чиханию. Гагин чихнул, чихнул с чувством, с пронзительным присвистом и так громко, что кровать вздрогнула и издала звук потревоженной пружины. Супруга Гагина, Марья Михайловна, крупная, полная блондинка, тоже вздрогнула и проснулась. Она поглядела в потемки, вздохнула и повернулась на другой бок. Минут через пять она еще раз повернулась, закрыла плотнее глаза, но сон уже не возвращался к ней. Повздыхав и поворочавшись с боку на бок, она приподнялась, перелезла через мужа и, надев туфли, пошла к окну.
На дворе было темно. Видны были одни только силуэты деревьев да темные крыши сараев. Восток чуть-чуть побледнел, но и эту бледность собирались заволокнуть тучи. В воздухе, уснувшем и окутанном во мглу, стояла тишина. Молчал даже дачный сторож, получающий деньги за нарушение стуком ночной тишины, молчал и коростель — единственный дикий пернатый, не чуждающийся соседства со столичными дачниками.
Тишину нарушила сама Марья Михайловна. Стоя у окна и глядя во двор, она вдруг вскрикнула. Ей показалось, что от цветника с тощим, стриженым тополем пробиралась к дому какая-то темная фигура. Сначала она думала, что это корова или лошадь, потом же, протерев глаза, она стала ясно различать человеческие контуры.
Засим ей показалось, что темная фигура подошла к окну, выходившему из кухни, и, постояв немного, очевидно в нерешимости, стала одной ногой на карниз и… исчезла во мраке окна.
«Вор!» — мелькнуло у нее в голове, и мертвенная бледность залила ее лицо.
И в один миг ее воображение нарисовало картину, которой так боятся дачницы: вор лезет в кухню, из кухни в столовую… серебро в шкапу… далее спальня… топор… разбойничье лицо… золотые вещи… Колена ее подогнулись и по спине побежали мурашки.
— Вася! — затеребила она мужа. — Базиль! Василий Прокофьич! Ах, боже мой, словно мертвый! Проснись, Базиль, умоляю тебя!
— Н-ну? — промычал товарищ прокурора, потянув в себя воздух и издавая жевательные звуки.
— Проснись, ради создателя! К нам в кухню забрался вор! Стою я у окна, гляжу, а кто-то в окно лезет. Из кухни проберется в столовую… ложки в шкапу! Базиль! У Мавры Егоровны в прошлом году так же вот забрались.
— Ко… кого тебе?
— Боже, он не слышит! Да пойми же ты, истукан, что я сейчас видела, как к нам в кухню полез какой-то человек! Пелагея испугается и… и серебро в шкапу!
— Чепуха!
— Базиль, это несносно! Я говорю тебе об опасности, а ты спишь и мычишь! Что же ты хочешь? Хочешь, чтоб нас обокрали и перерезали?
Товарищ прокурора медленно поднялся и сел на кровати, оглашая воздух зевками.
— Чёрт вас знает, что вы за народ! — пробормотал он. — Неужели даже ночью нет покоя? Будят из-за пустяков!
— Но клянусь тебе, Базиль, я видела, как человек полез в окно!
— Ну так что же? И пусть лезет… Это, по всей вероятности, к Пелагее ее пожарный пришел.
— Что-о-о? Что ты сказал?
— Я сказал, что это к Пелагее пожарный пришел.
— Тем хуже! — вскрикнула Марья Михайловна. — Это хуже вора! Я не потерплю в своем доме цинизма!
— Экая добродетель, посмотришь… Не потерплю цинизма… Да нешто это цинизм? К чему без толку заграничными словами выпаливать? Это, матушка моя, испокон веку так ведется, традицией освящено. На то он и пожарный, чтоб к кухаркам ходить.
— Нет, Базиль! Значит, ты не знаешь меня! Я не могу допустить мысли, чтоб в моем доме и такое… этакое… Изволь отправиться сию минуту в кухню и приказать ему убираться! Сию же минуту! А завтра я скажу Пелагее, чтобы она не смела позволять себе подобные поступки! Когда я умру, можете допускать в своем доме циничности, а теперь вы не смеете. Извольте идти!
— Чёррт… — проворчал Гагин с досадой. — Ну, рассуди своим бабьим, микроскопическим мозгом, зачем я туда пойду?
— Базиль, я падаю в обморок!
Гагин плюнул, надел туфли, еще раз плюнул и отправился в кухню. Было темно, как в закупоренной бочке, и товарищу прокурора пришлось пробираться ощупью. По дороге он нащупал дверь в детскую и разбудил няньку.
— Василиса, — сказал он, — ты брала вечером мой халат чистить. Где он?
— Я его, барин, Пелагее отдала чистить.
— Что за беспорядки? Брать берете, а на место не кладете… Изволь теперь путешествовать без халата!
Войдя в кухню, он направился к тому месту, где на сундуке, под полкой с кастрюлями, спала кухарка.
— Пелагея! — начал он, нащупывая плечо и толкая. — Ты! Пелагея! Ну, что представляешься? Не спишь ведь! Кто это сейчас лез к тебе в окно?
— Гм!.. здрасте! В окно лез! Кому это лезть?
— Да ты того… нечего тень наводить! Скажи-ка лучше своему прохвосту, чтобы он подобру-поздорову убирался вон. Слышишь? Нечего ему тут делать!
— Да вы в уме, барин? Здрасте… Дуру какую нашли… День-деньской мучаешься, бегаючи, покоя не знаешь, а ночью с такими словами. За четыре рубля в месяц живешь… при своем чае и сахаре, а кроме этих слов другой чести ни от кого не видишь… Я у купцов жила, да такого срама не видывала.
— Ну, ну… нечего Лазаря петь! Сию же минуту чтобы твоего солдафона здесь не было! Слышишь?
— Грех вам, барин! — сказала Пелагея, и в голосе ее послышались слезы. — Господа образованные… благородные, а нет того понятия, что, может, при горе-то нашем… при нашей несчастной жизни… — Она заплакала. — Обидеть нас можно. Заступиться некому.
— Ну, ну… мне ведь всё равно! Меня барыня сюда послала. По мне хоть домового впусти в окно, так мне всё равно.
Товарищу прокурора оставалось только сознаться, что он не прав, делая этот допрос, и возвратиться к супруге.
— Послушай, Пелагея, — сказал он, — ты брала чистить мой халат. Где он?
— Ах, барин, извините, забыла вам положить его на стул. Он висит около печки на гвоздике…
Гагин нащупал около печки халат, надел его и тихо поплелся в спальню.
Марья Михайловна по уходе мужа легла в постель и стала ждать. Минуты три она была покойна, но затем ее начало помучивать беспокойство.
«Как долго он ходит, однако! — думала она. — Хорошо, если там тот… циник, ну, а если вор?»
И воображение ее опять нарисовало картину: муж входит в темную кухню… удар обухом… умирает, не издав ни одного звука… лужа крови…
Прошло пять минут, пять с половиной, наконец шесть… На лбу у нее выступил холодный пот.
— Базиль! — взвизгнула она. — Базиль!
— Ну, что кричишь? Я здесь… — услышала она голос и шаги мужа. — Режут тебя, что ли?
Товарищ прокурора подошел к кровати и сел на край.
— Никого там нет, — сказал он. — Тебе примерещилось, чудачка… Ты можешь успокоиться: твоя дурища, Пелагея, так же добродетельна, как и ее хозяйка. Экая ты трусиха! Экая ты…
И товарищ прокурора начал дразнить свою жену. Он разгулялся и ему уже не хотелось спать.
— Экая трусиха! — смеялся он. — Завтра же ступай к доктору от галлюцинаций лечиться. Ты психопатка!
— Дегтем запахло… — сказала жена. — Дегтем или… чем-то таким, луком… щами.
— М-да… Что-то такое в воздухе… Спать не хочется! Вот что, зажгу-ка я свечку… Где у нас спички? И кстати покажу тебе фотографию прокурора судебной палаты. Вчера прощался с нами и дал всем по карточке. С автографом.
Гагин чиркнул о стену спичкой и зажег свечу. Но прежде чем он сделал шаг от кровати, чтобы пойти за карточкой, сзади него раздался пронзительный, душу раздирающий крик. Оглянувшись назад, он увидел два больших жениных глаза, обращенных на него и полных удивления, ужаса, гнева…
— Ты снимал в кухне свой халат? — спросила она, бледнея.
— А что?
— Погляди на себя!
Товарищ прокурора поглядел на себя и ахнул. На его плечах, вместо халата, болталась шинель пожарного. Как она попала на его плечи? Пока он решал этот вопрос, жена его рисовала в своем воображении новую картину, ужасную, невозможную: мрак, тишина, шёпот и проч., и проч…


Николай Ильич Беляев, петербургский домовладелец, бывающий часто на скачках, человек молодой, лет тридцати двух, упитанный, розовый, как-то под вечер зашел к госпоже Ирниной, Ольге Ивановне, с которою он жил, или, по его выражению, тянул скучный и длинный роман. И в самом деле, первые страницы этого романа, интересные и вдохновенные, давно уже были прочтены; теперь страницы тянулись и всё тянулись, не представляя ничего ни нового, ни интересного.
Не застав Ольги Ивановны дома, мой герой прилег в гостиной на кушетку и принялся ждать.
— Добрый вечер, Николай Ильич! — услышал он детский голос. — Мама сейчас придет. Она пошла с Соней к портнихе.
В той же гостиной на диване лежал сын Ольги Ивановны Алеша, мальчик лет восьми, стройный, выхоленный, одетый по картинке в бархатную курточку и длинные черные чулки. Он лежал на атласной подушке и, очевидно, подражая акробату, которого недавно видел в цирке, задирал вверх то одну ногу, то другую. Когда утомлялись его изящные ноги, он пускал в ход руки или же порывисто вскакивал и становился на четвереньки, пытаясь стать вверх ногами. Всё это проделывал он с самым серьезным лицом, мученически пыхтя, точно и сам не рад был, что бог дал ему такое беспокойное тело.
— А, здравствуй, мой друг! — сказал Беляев. — Это ты? А я тебя и не заметил. Мама здорова?
Алеша, взявшийся правой рукой за носок левой ноги и принявший самую неестественную позу, перевернулся, вскочил и выглянул из-за большого мохнатого абажура на Беляева.
— Как вам сказать? — сказал он и пожал плечами. — Ведь мама в сущности никогда не бывает здорова.
Она ведь женщина, а у женщин, Николай Ильич, всегда что-нибудь болит.
Беляев от нечего делать стал рассматривать лицо Алеши. Раньше он во всё время, пока был знаком с Ольгой Ивановной, ни разу не обратил внимания на мальчика и совершенно не замечал его существования: торчит перед глазами мальчик, а к чему он тут, какую роль играет — и думать об этом как-то не хочется.
В вечерних сумерках лицо Алеши с его бледным лбом и черными немигающими глазами неожиданно напомнило Беляеву Ольгу Ивановну, какою она была на первых страницах романа. И ему захотелось приласкать мальчика.
— Поди-ка сюда, клоп! — сказал он. — Дай-ка я на тебя поближе погляжу.
Мальчик прыгнул с дивана и подбежал к Беляеву.
— Ну? — начал Николай Ильич, кладя руку на его тощее плечо. — Что? Живешь?
— Как вам сказать? Прежде жилось гораздо лучше.
— Почему?
— Очень просто! Прежде мы с Соней занимались только музыкой и чтением, а теперь нам французские стихи задают. А вы недавно стриглись!
— Да, недавно.
— То-то я замечаю. У вас бородка стала короче. Позвольте мне за нее потрогать… Не больно?
— Нет, не больно.
— Отчего это, когда за один волосок тянешь, то больно, а когда тянешь за много волос, то ни капельки не больно? Ха, ха! А знаете, вы напрасно бакенов не носите. Тут вот пробрить, а с боков… вот тут вот оставить волосы…
Мальчик прижался к Беляеву и стал играть его цепочкой.
— Когда я поступлю в гимназию, — говорил он, — мама мне купит часы. Я ее попрошу, чтобы она мне такую же цепочку купила… Ка-кой ме-даль-он! У папы точно такой же медальон, только у вас тут полосочки, а у него буквы… В середке у него портрет мамы. У папы теперь другая цепочка, не кольцами, а лентой…
— Откуда ты знаешь? Разве ты видаешь папу?
— Я? Мм… нет! Я…
Алеша покраснел и в сильном смущении, уличенный во лжи, стал усердно царапать ногтем медальон. Беляев пристально поглядел ему в лицо и спросил:
— Видаешь папу?
— Н…нет!..
— Нет, ты откровенно, по совести… По лицу ведь вижу, что говоришь неправду. Коли проболтался, так нечего уж тут вилять. Говори, видаешь? Ну, по-дружески!
Алеша задумался.
— А вы не скажете маме? — спросил он.
— Ну вот еще!
— Честное слово?
— Честное слово.
— Побожитесь!
— Ах, несносный какой! За кого ты меня принимаешь!
Алеша оглянулся, сделал большие глаза и зашептал:
— Только, ради бога, не говорите маме… Вообще никому не говорите, потому что тут секрет. Не дай бог, узнает мама, то достанется и мне, и Соне, и Пелагее… Ну, слушайте. С папой я и Соня видимся каждый вторник и пятницу. Когда Пелагея водит нас перед обедом гулять, то мы заходим в кондитерскую Апфеля, а там уж нас ждет папа… Он всегда в отдельной комнатке сидит, где, знаете, этакий мраморный стол и пепельница в виде гуся без спины…
— Что же вы там делаете?
— Ничего! Сначала здороваемся, потом все садимся за столик и папа начинает угощать нас кофеем и пирожками. Соня, знаете, ест пирожки с мясом, а я терпеть не могу с мясом! Я люблю с капустой и с яйцами. Мы так наедаемся, что потом за обедом, чтобы мама не заметила, мы стараемся есть как можно больше.
— О чем же вы там говорите?
— С папой? Обо всем. Он нас целует, обнимает, рассказывает разные смешные остроты. Знаете, он говорит, что когда мы вырастем, то он возьмет нас к себе жить. Соня не хочет, а я согласен. Конечно, без мамы будет скучно, но я ведь буду ей письма писать! Странное дело, можно будет даже по праздникам к ней с визитом приходить — не правда ли? Еще папа говорит, что он мне лошадь купит. Добрейший человек! Я не знаю, зачем это мама не позовет его к себе жить и запрещает нам видаться с ним. Ведь он очень любит маму. Всегда он нас спрашивает, как ее здоровье, что она делает. Когда она была больна, то он схватил себя за голову вот этак и… и всё бегает, бегает. Всё просит нас, чтоб мы слушались ее и почитали. Послушайте, правда, что мы несчастные?
— Гм… Почему же?
— Это папа говорит. Вы, говорит, несчастные дети. Даже слушать его странно. Вы, говорит, несчастные, я несчастный и мама несчастная. Молитесь, говорит, богу и за себя и за нее.
Алеша остановил свой взгляд на чучеле птицы и задумался.
— Так-с… — промычал Беляев. — Так вот вы, значит, как. В кондитерских конгрессы сочиняете. И мама не знает?
— Не-ет… Откуда же ей знать? Пелагея ведь ни за что не скажет. А позавчера папа нас грушами угощал. Сладкие, как варенье! Я две съел.
— Гм… Ну, а того… послушай, про меня папа ничего не говорит?
— Про вас? Как вам сказать?
Алеша пытливо поглядел в лицо Беляева и пожал плечами.
— Особенного ничего не говорит.
— Примерно, что говорит?
— А вы не обидитесь?
— Ну, вот еще! Разве он меня бранит?
— Он не бранит, но, знаете ли… сердится на вас. Он говорит, что через вас мама несчастна и что вы… погубили маму. Ведь он какой-то странный! Я ему растолковываю, что вы добрый, никогда не кричите на маму, а он только головой качает.
— Так-таки и говорит, что я ее погубил?
— Да. Вы не обижайтесь, Николай Ильич!
Беляев поднялся, постоял и заходил по гостиной.
— Это и странно и… смешно! — забормотал он, пожимая плечами и насмешливо улыбаясь. — Сам кругом виноват, и я же погубил, а? Скажите, какой невинный барашек. Так-таки он тебе и говорил, что я погубил твою мать?
— Да, но… ведь вы же сказали, что не будете обижаться!
— Я не обижаюсь и… и не твое дело! Нет, это… это даже смешно! Я попал, как кур во щи, и я же оказываюсь виноватым!
Послышался звонок. Мальчик рванулся с места и выбежал вон. Через минуту в гостиную вошла дама с маленькой девочкой — это была Ольга Ивановна, мать Алеши. За нею вприпрыжку, громко напевая и болтая руками, следовал Алеша. Беляев кивнул головой и продолжал ходить.
— Конечно, кого же теперь обвинять, как не меня? — бормотал он, фыркая. — Он прав! Он оскорбленный муж!
— О чем ты это? — спросила Ольга Ивановна.
— О чем?.. А вот послушай-ка, какие штуки проповедует твой благоверный! Оказывается, что я подлец и злодей, я погубил и тебя и детей. Все вы несчастные, и один только я ужасно счастлив! Ужасно, ужасно счастлив!
— Я не понимаю, Николай! Что такое?
— А вот послушай сего юного сеньора! — сказал Беляев и указал на Алешу.
Алеша покраснел, потом вдруг побледнел, и всё лицо его перекосило от испуга.
— Николай Ильич! — громко прошептал он. — Тссс!
Ольга Ивановна удивленно поглядела на Алешу, на Беляева, потом опять на Алешу.
— Спроси-ка! — продолжал Беляев. — Твоя Пелагея, этакая дура набитая, водит их по кондитерским и устраивает там свидания с папашенькой. Но не в этом дело, дело в том, что папашенька страдалец, а я злодей, я негодяй, разбивший вам обоим жизнь…
— Николай Ильич! — простонал Алеша. — Ведь вы дали честное слово!
— Э, отстань! — махнул рукой Беляев. — Тут поважнее всяких честных слов. Меня лицемерие возмущает, ложь!
— Не понимаю! — проговорила Ольга Ивановна, и слезы заблестели у нее на глазах. — Послушай, Лелька, — обратилась она к сыну, — ты видаешься с отцом?
Алеша не слышал ее и с ужасом глядел на Беляева.
— Не может быть! — сказала мать. — Пойду допрошу Пелагею.
Ольга Ивановна вышла.
— Послушайте, ведь вы честное слово дали! — проговорил Алеша, дрожа всем телом.
Беляев махнул на него рукой и продолжал ходить. Он был погружен в свою обиду и уже по-прежнему не замечал присутствия мальчика. Ему, большому и серьезному человеку, было совсем не до мальчиков. А Алеша уселся в угол и с ужасом рассказывал Соне, как его обманули. Он дрожал, заикался, плакал; это он первый раз в жизни лицом к лицу так грубо столкнулся с ложью; ранее же он не знал, что на этом свете, кроме сладких груш, пирожков и дорогих часов, существует еще и многое другое, чему нет названия на детском языке.


Ясный, зимний полдень… Мороз крепок, трещит, и у Наденьки, которая держит меня под руку, покрываются серебристым инеем кудри на висках и пушок над верхней губой. Мы стоим на высокой горе. От наших ног до самой земли тянется покатая плоскость, в которую солнце глядится, как в зеркало. Возле нас маленькие санки, обитые ярко-красным сукном.
— Съедемте вниз, Надежда Петровна! — умоляю я. — Один только раз! Уверяю вас, мы останемся целы и невредимы.
Но Наденька боится. Всё пространство от её маленьких калош до конца ледяной горы кажется ей страшной, неизмеримо глубокой пропастью. У неё замирает дух и прерывается дыхание, когда она глядит вниз, когда я только предлагаю сесть в санки, но что же будет, если она рискнёт полететь в пропасть! Она умрёт, сойдёт с ума.
— Умоляю вас! — говорю я. — Не надо бояться! Поймите же, это малодушие, трусость!
Наденька наконец уступает, и я по лицу вижу, что ила уступает с опасностью для жизни. Я сажаю её, бледную, дрожащую, в санки, обхватываю рукой и вместе с нею низвергаюсь в бездну.
Санки летят как пуля. Рассекаемый воздух бьёт в лицо, ревёт, свистит в ушах, рвёт, больно щиплет от злости, хочет сорвать с плеч голову. От напора ветра нет сил дышать. Кажется, сам дьявол обхватил нас лапами и с рёвом тащит в ад. Окружающие предметы сливаются в одну длинную, стремительно бегущую полосу… Вот-вот ещё мгновение, и кажется — мы погибнем!
— Я люблю вас, Надя! — говорю я вполголоса.
Санки начинают бежать всё тише и тише, рёв ветра и жужжанье полозьев не так уже страшны, дыхание перестаёт замирать, и мы наконец внизу. Наденька ни жива ни мертва. Она бледна, едва дышит… Я помогаю ей подняться.
— Ни за что в другой раз не поеду, — говорит она, глядя на меня широкими, полными ужаса глазами. — Ни за что на свете! Я едва не умерла!
Немного погодя она приходит в себя и уже вопросительно заглядывает мне в глаза: я ли сказал те четыре слова, или же они только послышались ей в шуме вихря? А я стою возле неё, курю и внимательно рассматриваю свою перчатку.
Она берёт меня под руку, и мы долго гуляем около горы. Загадка, видимо, не даёт ей покою. Были сказаны те слова или нет? Да или нет? Да или нет? Это вопрос самолюбия, чести, жизни, счастья, вопрос очень важный, самый важный на свете. Наденька нетерпеливо, грустно, проникающим взором заглядывает мне в лицо, отвечает невпопад, ждёт, не заговорю ли я. О, какая игра на этом милом лице, какая игра! Я вижу, она борется с собой, ей нужно что-то сказать, о чём-то спросить, но она не находит слов, ей неловко, страшно, мешает радость…
— Знаете что? — говорит она, не глядя на меня.
— Что? — спрашиваю я.
— Давайте ещё раз… прокатим.
Мы взбираемся по лестнице на гору. Опять я сажаю бледную, дрожащую Наденьку в санки, опять мы летим в страшную пропасть, опять ревёт ветер и жужжат полозья, и опять при самом сильном и шумном разлёте санок я говорю вполголоса.
— Я люблю вас, Наденька!
Когда санки останавливаются, Наденька окидывает взглядом гору, по которой мы только что катили, потом долго всматривается в моё лицо, вслушивается в мой голос, равнодушный и бесстрастный, и вся, вся, даже муфта и башлык её, вся её фигурка выражают крайнее недоумение. И на лице у неё написано:
«В чём же дело? Кто произнёс те слова? Он, или мне только послышалось?»
Эта неизвестность беспокоит её, выводит из терпения. Бедная девочка не отвечает на вопросы, хмурится, готова заплакать.
— Не пойти ли нам домой? — спрашиваю я.
— А мне… мне нравится это катанье, — говорит она, краснея. — Не проехаться ли нам ещё раз?
Ей «нравится» это катанье, а между тем, садясь в санки, она, как и в те разы, бледна, еле дышит от страха, дрожит.
Мы спускаемся в третий раз, и я вижу, как она смотрит мне в лицо, следит за моими губами. Но я прикладываю к губам платок, кашляю и, когда достигаем середины горы, успеваю вымолвить:
— Я люблю вас, Надя!
И загадка остаётся загадкой! Наденька молчит, о чём-то думает… Я провожаю её с катка домой, она старается идти тише, замедляет шаги и всё ждёт, не скажу ли я ей тех слов. И я вижу, как страдает её душа, как она делает усилия над собой, чтобы не сказать:
— Не может же быть, чтоб их говорил ветер! И я не хочу, чтобы это говорил ветер!
На другой день утром я получаю записочку: «Если пойдёте сегодня на каток, то заходите за мной. Н.» И с этого дня я с Наденькой начинаю каждый день ходить на каток и, слетая вниз на санках, я всякий раз произношу вполголоса одни и те же слова:
— Я люблю вас, Надя!
Скоро Наденька привыкает к этой фразе, как к вину или морфию. Она жить без неё не может. Правда, лететь с горы по-прежнему страшно, но теперь уже страх и опасность придают особое очарование словам о любви, словам, которые по-прежнему составляют загадку и томят душу. Подозреваются всё те же двое: я и ветер… Кто из двух признаётся ей в любви, она не знает, но ей, по-видимому, уже всё равно; из какого сосуда ни пить — всё равно, лишь бы быть пьяным.
Как-то в полдень я отправился на каток один; смешавшись с толпой, я вижу, как к горе подходит Наденька, как ищет глазами меня… Затем она робко идёт вверх по лесенке… Страшно ехать одной, о, как страшно! Она бледна, как снег, дрожит, она идёт точно на казнь, но идёт, идёт без оглядки, решительно. Она, очевидно, решила, наконец, попробовать: будут ли слышны те изумительные сладкие слова, когда меня нет? Я вижу, как она, бледная, с раскрытым от ужаса ртом, садится в санки, закрывает глаза и, простившись навеки с землёй, трогается с места… «Жжжж…» — жужжат полозья. Слышит ли Наденька те слова, я не знаю… Я вижу только, как она поднимается из саней изнеможённая, слабая. И видно по её лицу, она и сама не знает, слышала она что-нибудь или нет. Страх, пока она катила вниз, отнял у неё способность слышать, различать звуки, понимать…
Но вот наступает весенний месяц март… Солнце становится ласковее. Наша ледяная гора темнеет, теряет свой блеск и тает наконец. Мы перестаём кататься. Бедной Наденьке больше уж негде слышать тех слов, да и некому произносить их, так как ветра не слышно, а я собираюсь в Петербург — надолго, должно быть, навсегда.
Как-то перед отъездом, дня за два, в сумерки сижу я в садике, а от двора, в котором живёт Наденька, садик этот отделён высоким забором с гвоздями… Ещё достаточно холодно, под навозом ещё снег, деревья мертвы, но уже пахнет весной и, укладываясь на ночлег, шумно кричат грачи. Я подхожу к забору и долго смотрю в щель. Я вижу, как Наденька выходит на крылечко и устремляет печальный, тоскующий взор на небо… Весенний ветер дует ей прямо в бледное, унылое лицо… Он напоминает ей о том ветре, который ревел нам тогда на горе, когда она слышала те четыре слова, и лицо у неё становится грустным, грустным, по щеке ползёт слеза… И бедная девочка протягивает обе руки, как бы прося этот ветер принести ей ещё раз те слова. И я, дождавшись ветра, говорю вполголоса:
— Я люблю вас, Надя!
Боже мой, что делается с Наденькой! Она вскрикивает, улыбается во всё лицо и протягивает навстречу ветру руки, радостная, счастливая, такая красивая.
А я иду укладываться…
Это было уже давно. Теперь Наденька уже замужем; её выдали, или она сама вышла — это всё равно, за секретаря дворянской опеки, и теперь у неё уже трое детей. То, как мы вместе когда-то ходили на каток и как ветер доносил до неё слова «Я вас люблю, Наденька», не забыто; для неё теперь это самое счастливое, самое трогательное и прекрасное воспоминание в жизни…
А мне теперь, когда я стал старше, уже непонятно, зачем я говорил те слова, для чего шутил…



Было восемь часов утра — время, когда офицеры, чиновники и приезжие обыкновенно после жаркой, душной ночи купались в море и потом шли в павильон пить кофе или чай. Иван Андреич Лаевский, молодой человек лет 28, худощавый блондин, в фуражке министерства финансов и в туфлях, придя купаться, застал на берегу много знакомых и между ними своего приятеля, военного доктора Самойленко.
С большой стриженой головой, без шеи, красный, носастый, с мохнатыми черными бровями и с седыми бакенами, толстый, обрюзглый, да еще вдобавок с хриплым армейским басом, этот Самойленко на всякого вновь приезжавшего производил неприятное впечатление бурбона и хрипуна, но проходило два-три дня после первого знакомства, и лицо его начинало казаться необыкновенно добрым, милым и даже красивым. Несмотря на свою неуклюжесть и грубоватый тон, это был человек смирный, безгранично добрый, благодушный и обязательный. Со всеми в городе он был на ты, всем давал деньги взаймы, всех лечил, сватал, мирил, устраивал пикники, на которых жарил шашлык и варил очень вкусную уху из кефалей; всегда он за кого-нибудь хлопотал и просил и всегда чему-нибудь радовался. По общему мнению, он был безгрешен, и водились за ним только две слабости: во-первых, он стыдился своей доброты и старался маскировать ее суровым взглядом и напускною грубостью, и во-вторых, он любил, чтобы фельдшера и солдаты называли его вашим превосходительством, хотя был только статским советником.
— Ответь мне, Александр Давидыч, на один вопрос, — начал Лаевский, когда оба они, он и Самойленко, вошли в воду по самые плечи. — Положим, ты полюбил женщину и сошелся с ней; прожил ты с нею, положим, больше двух лет и потом, как это случается, разлюбил и стал чувствовать, что она для тебя чужая. Как бы ты поступил в таком случае?
— Очень просто. Иди, матушка, на все четыре стороны — и разговор весь.
— Легко сказать! Но если ей деваться некуда? Женщина она одинокая, безродная, денег ни гроша, работать не умеет…
— Что ж? Единовременно пятьсот в зубы или двадцать пять помесячно — и никаких. Очень просто.
— Допустим, что у тебя есть и пятьсот, и двадцать пять помесячно, но женщина, о которой я говорю, интеллигентна и горда. Неужели ты решился бы предложить ей деньги? И в какой форме?
Самойленко хотел что-то ответить, но в это время большая волна накрыла их обоих, потом ударилась о берег и с шумом покатилась назад по мелким камням. Приятели вышли на берег и стали одеваться.
— Конечно, мудрено жить с женщиной, если не любишь, — сказал Самойленко, вытрясая из сапога песок. — Но надо, Ваня, рассуждать по человечности. Доведись до меня, то я бы и виду ей не показал, что разлюбил, а жил бы с ней до самой смерти.
Ему вдруг стало стыдно своих слов; он спохватился и сказал:
— А по мне хоть бы и вовсе баб не было. Ну их к лешему!
Приятели оделись и пошли в павильон. Тут Самойленко был своим человеком, и для него имелась даже особая посуда. Каждое утро ему подавали на подносе чашку кофе, высокий граненый стакан с водою и со льдом и рюмку коньяку; он сначала выливал коньяк, потом горячий кофе, потом воду со льдом, и это, должно быть, было очень вкусно, потому что после питья глаза у него становились масляными, он обеими руками разглаживал бакены и говорил, глядя на море:
— Удивительно великолепный вид!
После долгой ночи, потраченной на невеселые, бесполезные мысли, которые мешали спать и, казалось, усиливали духоту и мрак ночи, Лаевский чувствовал себя разбитым и вялым. От купанья и кофе ему не стало лучше.
— Будем, Александр Давидыч, продолжать наш разговор, — сказал он. — Я не буду скрывать и скажу тебе откровенно, как другу: дела мои с Надеждой Федоровной плохи… очень плохи! Извини, что я посвящаю тебя в свои тайны, но мне необходимо высказаться.
Самойленко, предчувствовавший, о чем будет речь, потупил глаза и застучал пальцами по столу.
— Я прожил с нею два года и разлюбил… — продолжал Лаевский, — то есть, вернее, я понял, что никакой любви не было… Эти два года были — обман.
У Лаевского была привычка во время разговора внимательно осматривать свои розовые ладони, грызть ногти или мять пальцами манжеты. И теперь он делал то же самое.
— Я отлично знаю, ты не можешь мне помочь, — сказал он, — но говорю тебе, потому что для нашего брата-неудачника и лишнего человека всё спасение в разговорах. Я должен обобщать каждый свой поступок, я должен находить объяснение и оправдание своей нелепой жизни в чьих-нибудь теориях, в литературных типах, в том, например, что мы, дворяне, вырождаемся, и прочее… В прошлую ночь, например, я утешал себя тем, что всё время думал: ах, как прав Толстой, безжалостно прав! И мне было легче от этого. В самом деле, брат, великий писатель! Что ни говори.
Самойленко, никогда не читавший Толстого и каждый день собиравшийся прочесть его, сконфузился и сказал:
— Да, все писатели пишут из воображения, а он прямо с натуры…
— Боже мой, — вздохнул Лаевский, — до какой степени мы искалечены цивилизацией! Полюбил я замужнюю женщину; она меня тоже… Вначале у нас были и поцелуи, и тихие вечера, и клятвы, и Спенсер, и идеалы, и общие интересы… Какая ложь! Мы бежали, в сущности, от мужа, но лгали себе, что бежим от пустоты нашей интеллигентной жизни. Будущее наше рисовалось нам так: вначале на Кавказе, пока мы ознакомимся с местом и людьми, я надену виц-мундир и буду служить, потом же на просторе возьмем себе клок земли, будем трудиться в поте лица, заведем виноградник, поле и прочее. Если бы вместо меня был ты или этот твой зоолог фон Корен, то вы, быть может, прожили бы с Надеждой Федоровной тридцать лет и оставили бы своим наследникам богатый виноградник и тысячу десятин кукурузы, я же почувствовал себя банкротом с первого дня. В городе невыносимая жара, скука, безлюдье, а выйдешь в поле, там под каждым кустом и камнем чудятся фаланги, скорпионы и змеи, а за полем горы и пустыня. Чуждые люди, чуждая природа, жалкая культура — всё это, брат, не так легко, как гулять по Невскому в шубе, под ручку с Надеждой Федоровной и мечтать о теплых краях. Тут нужна борьба не на жизнь, а на смерть, а какой я боец? Жалкий неврастеник, белоручка… С первого же дня я понял, что мысли мои о трудовой жизни и винограднике — ни к чёрту. Что же касается любви, то я должен тебе сказать, что жить с женщиной, которая читала Спенсера и пошла для тебя на край света, так же не интересно, как с любой Анфисой или Акулиной. Так же пахнет утюгом, пудрой и лекарствами, те же папильотки каждое утро и тот же самообман…
— Без утюга нельзя в хозяйстве, — сказал Самойленко, краснея от того, что Лаевский говорит с ним так откровенно о знакомой даме. — Ты, Ваня, сегодня не в духе, я замечаю. Надежда Федоровна женщина прекрасная, образованная, ты — величайшего ума человек… Конечно, вы не венчаны, — продолжал Самойленко, оглядываясь на соседние столы, — но ведь это не ваша вина и к тому же… надо быть без предрассудков и стоять на уровне современных идей. Я сам стою за гражданский брак, да… Но, по-моему, если раз сошлись, то надо жить до самой смерти.
— Без любви?
— Я тебе сейчас объясню, — сказал Самойленко. — Лет восемь назад у нас тут был агентом старичок, величайшего ума человек. Так вот он говаривал: в семейной жизни главное — терпение. Слышишь, Ваня? Не любовь, а терпение. Любовь продолжаться долго не может. Года два ты прожил в любви, а теперь, очевидно, твоя семейная жизнь вступила в тот период, когда ты, чтобы сохранить равновесие, так сказать, должен пустить в ход всё свое терпение…
— Ты веришь своему старичку-агенту, для меня же его совет — бессмыслица. Твой старичок мог лицемерить, он мог упражняться в терпении и при этом смотреть на нелюбимого человека, как на предмет, необходимый для его упражнений, но я еще не пал так низко; если мне захочется упражняться в терпении, то я куплю себе гимнастические гири или норовистую лошадь, но человека оставлю в покое.
Самойленко потребовал белого вина со льдом. Когда выпили по стакану, Лаевский вдруг спросил:
— Скажи, пожалуйста, что значит размягчение мозга?
— Это, как бы тебе объяснить… такая болезнь, когда мозги становятся мягче… как бы разжижаются.
— Излечимо?
— Да, если болезнь не запущена. Холодные души, мушка… Ну, внутрь чего-нибудь.
— Так… Так вот видишь ли, какое мое положение. Жить с нею я не могу: это выше сил моих. Пока я с тобой, я вот и философствую, и улыбаюсь, но дома я совершенно падаю духом. Мне до такой степени жутко, что если бы мне сказали, положим, что я обязан прожить с нею еще хоть один месяц, то я, кажется, пустил бы себе пулю в лоб. И в то же время разойтись с ней нельзя. Она одинока, работать не умеет, денег нет ни у меня, ни у нее… Куда она денется? К кому пойдет? Ничего не придумаешь… Ну, вот, скажи: что делать?
— М-да… — промычал Самойленко, не зная, что ответить. — Она тебя любит?
— Да, любит настолько, насколько ей в ее годы и при ее темпераменте нужен мужчина. Со мной ей было бы так же трудно расстаться, как с пудрой или папильотками. Я для нее необходимая составная часть ее будуара.
Самойленко сконфузился.
— Ты сегодня, Ваня, не в духе, — сказал он. — Не спал, должно быть.
— Да, плохо спал… Вообще, брат, скверно себя чувствую. В голове пусто, замирания сердца, слабость какая-то… Бежать надо!
— Куда?
— Туда, на север. К соснам, к грибам, к людям, к идеям… Я бы отдал полжизни, чтобы теперь где-нибудь в Московской губернии, или в Тульской, выкупаться в речке, озябнуть, знаешь, потом бродить часа три хоть с самым плохеньким студентом и болтать, болтать… А сеном-то как пахнет! Помнишь? А по вечерам, когда гуляешь в саду, из дому доносятся звуки рояля, слышно, как идет поезд…
Лаевский засмеялся от удовольствия, на глазах у него выступили слезы, и, чтобы скрыть их, он, не вставая с места, потянулся к соседнему столу за спичками.
— А я уже восемнадцать лет не был в России, — сказал Самойленко. — Забыл уж, как там. По-моему, великолепнее Кавказа и края нет.
— У Верещагина есть картина: на дне глубочайшего колодца томятся приговоренные к смерти. Таким вот точно колодцем представляется мне твой великолепный Кавказ. Если бы мне предложили что-нибудь из двух: быть трубочистом в Петербурге или быть здешним князем, то я взял бы место трубочиста.
Лаевский задумался. Глядя на его согнутое тело, на глаза, устремленные в одну точку, на бледное, вспотевшее лицо и впалые виски, на изгрызенные ногти и на туфлю, которая свесилась у пятки и обнаружила дурно заштопанный чулок, Самойленко проникся жалостью и, вероятно, потому, что Лаевский напомнил ему беспомощного ребенка, спросил:
— Твоя мать жива?
— Да, но мы с ней разошлись. Она не могла мне простить этой связи.
Самойленко любил своего приятеля. Он видел в Лаевском доброго малого, студента, человека-рубаху, с которым можно было и выпить, и посмеяться, и потолковать по душе. То, что он понимал в нем, ему крайне не нравилось. Лаевский пил много и не вовремя, играл в карты, презирал свою службу, жил не по средствам, часто употреблял в разговоре непристойные выражения, ходил по улице в туфлях и при посторонних ссорился с Надеждой Федоровной — и это не нравилось Самойленку. А то, что Лаевский был когда-то на филологическом факультете, выписывал теперь два толстых журнала, говорил часто так умно, что только немногие его понимали, жил с интеллигентной женщиной — всего этого не понимал Самойленко, и это ему нравилось, и он считал Лаевского выше себя и уважал его.
— Еще одна подробность, — сказал Лаевский, встряхивая головой. — Только это между нами. Я пока скрываю от Надежды Федоровны, не проболтайся при ней… Третьего дня я получил письмо, что ее муж умер от размягчения мозга.
— Царство небесное… — вздохнул Самойленко. — Почему же ты от нее скрываешь?
— Показать ей это письмо значило бы: пожалуйте в церковь венчаться. А надо сначала выяснить наши отношения. Когда она убедится, что продолжать жить вместе мы не можем, я покажу ей письмо. Тогда это будет безопасно.
— Знаешь что, Ваня? — сказал Самойленко, и лицо его вдруг приняло грустное и умоляющее выражение, как будто он собирался просить о чем-то очень сладком и боялся, что ему откажут. — Женись, голубчик!
— Зачем?
— Исполни свой долг перед этой прекрасной женщиной! Муж у нее умер, и таким образом само провидение указывает тебе, что делать!
— Но пойми, чудак, что это невозможно. Жениться без любви так же подло и недостойно человека, как служить обедню, не веруя.
— Но ты обязан!
— Почему же я обязан? — спросил с раздражением Лаевский.
— Потому что ты увез ее от мужа и взял на свою ответственность.
— Но тебе говорят русским языком: я не люблю!
— Ну, любви нет, так почитай, ублажай…
— Почитай, ублажай… — передразнил Лаевский. — Точно она игуменья… Плохой ты психолог и физиолог, если думаешь, что, живя с женщиной, можно выехать на одном только почтении да уважении. Женщине прежде всего нужна спальня.
— Ваня, Ваня… — сконфузился Самойленко.
— Ты — старый ребенок, теоретик, а я — молодой старик и практик, и мы никогда не поймем друг друга. Прекратим лучше этот разговор. Мустафа, — крикнул Лаевский человеку, — сколько с нас следует?
— Нет, нет… — испугался доктор, хватая Лаевского за руку. — Это я заплачу. Я требовал. Запиши за мной! — крикнул он Мустафе.
Приятели встали и молча пошли по набережной. У входа на бульвар они остановились и на прощанье пожали друг другу руки.
— Избалованы вы очень, господа! — вздохнул Самойленко. — Послала тебе судьба женщину молодую, красивую, образованную — и ты отказываешься, а мне бы дал бог хоть кривобокую старушку, только ласковую и добрую, и как бы я был доволен! Жил бы я с ней на своем винограднике и…
Самойленко спохватился и сказал:
— И пускай бы она там, старая ведьма, самовар ставила.
Простившись с Лаевским, он пошел по бульвару. Когда он, грузный, величественный, со строгим выражением на лице, в своем белоснежном кителе и превосходно вычищенных сапогах, выпятив вперед грудь, на которой красовался Владимир с бантом, шел по бульвару, то в это время он очень нравился себе самому, и ему казалось, что весь мир смотрит на него с удовольствием. Не поворачивая головы, он посматривал по сторонам и находил, что бульвар вполне благоустроен, что молодые кипарисы, эвкалипты и некрасивые, худосочные пальмы очень красивы и будут со временем давать широкую тень, что черкесы честный и гостеприимный народ. «Странно, что Кавказ Лаевскому не нравится, — думал он, — очень странно». Встретились пять солдат с ружьями и отдали ему честь. По правую сторону бульвара по тротуару прошла жена одного чиновника с сыном-гимназистом.
— Марья Константиновна, доброе утро! — крикнул ей Самойленко, приятно улыбаясь. — Купаться ходили? Ха-ха-ха… Почтение Никодиму Александрычу!
И он пошел дальше, продолжая приятно улыбаться, но, увидев идущего навстречу военного фельдшера, вдруг нахмурился, остановил его и спросил:
— Есть кто-нибудь в лазарете?
— Никого, ваше превосходительство.
— А?
— Никого, ваше превосходительство.
— Хорошо, ступай…
Величественно покачиваясь, он направился к лимонадной будке, где за прилавком сидела старая, полногрудая еврейка, выдававшая себя за грузинку, и сказал ей так громко, как будто командовал полком:
— Будьте так любезны, дайте мне содовой воды!


Нелюбовь Лаевского к Надежде Федоровне выражалась главным образом в том, что всё, что она говорила и делала, казалось ему ложью или похожим на ложь, и всё, что он читал против женщин и любви, казалось ему, как нельзя лучше подходило к нему, к Надежде Федоровне и ее мужу. Когда он вернулся домой, она, уже одетая и причесанная, сидела у окна и с озабоченным лицом пила кофе и перелистывала книжку толстого журнала, и он подумал, что питье кофе — не такое уж замечательное событие, чтобы из-за него стоило делать озабоченное лицо, и что напрасно она потратила время на модную прическу, так как нравиться тут некому и не для чего. И в книжке журнала он увидел ложь. Он подумал, что одевается она и причесывается, чтобы казаться красивой, а читает для того, чтобы казаться умной.
— Ничего, если я сегодня пойду купаться? — спросила она.
— Что ж? Пойдешь или не пойдешь, от этого землетрясения не будет, полагаю…
— Нет, я потому спрашиваю, что как бы доктор не рассердился.
— Ну, и спроси у доктора. Я не доктор.
На этот раз Лаевскому больше всего не понравилась у Надежды Федоровны ее белая, открытая шея и завитушки волос на затылке, и он вспомнил, что Анне Карениной, когда она разлюбила мужа, не нравились прежде всего его уши, и подумал: «Как это верно! как верно!» Чувствуя слабость и пустоту в голове, он пошел к себе в кабинет, лег на диван и накрыл лицо платком, чтобы не надоедали мухи. Вялые, тягучие мысли всё об одном и том же потянулись в его мозгу, как длинный обоз в осенний ненастный вечер, и он впал в сонливое, угнетенное состояние. Ему казалось, что он виноват перед Надеждой Федоровной и перед ее мужем и что муж умер по его вине. Ему казалось, что он виноват перед своею жизнью, которую испортил, перед миром высоких идей, знаний и труда, и этот чудесный мир представлялся ему возможным и существующим не здесь, на берегу, где бродят голодные турки и ленивые абхазцы, а там, на севере, где опера, театры, газеты и все виды умственного труда. Честным, умным, возвышенным и чистым можно быть только там, а не здесь. Он обвинял себя в том, что у него нет идеалов и руководящей идеи в жизни, хотя смутно понимал теперь, что это значит. Два года тому назад, когда он полюбил Надежду Федоровну, ему казалось, что стоит ему только сойтись с Надеждой Федоровной и уехать с нею на Кавказ, как он будет спасен от пошлости и пустоты жизни; так и теперь он был уверен, что стоит ему только бросить Надежду Федоровну и уехать в Петербург, как он получит всё, что ему нужно.
— Бежать! — пробормотал он, садясь и грызя ногти. — Бежать!
Воображение его рисовало, как он садится на пароход и потом завтракает, пьет холодное пиво, разговаривает на палубе с дамами, потом в Севастополе садится на поезд и едет. Здравствуй, свобода! Станции мелькают одна за другой, воздух становится всё холоднее и жестче, вот березы и ели, вот Курск, Москва… В буфетах щи, баранина с кашей, осетрина, пиво, одним словом, не азиатчина, а Россия, настоящая Россия. Пассажиры в поезде говорят о торговле, новых певцах, о франко-русских симпатиях; всюду чувствуется живая, культурная, интеллигентная, бодрая жизнь… Скорей, скорей! Вот, наконец, Невский, Большая Морская, а вот Ковенский переулок, где он жил когда-то со студентами, вот милое, серое небо, моросящий дождик, мокрые извозчики…
— Иван Андреич! — позвал кто-то из соседней комнаты. — Вы дома?
— Я здесь! — отозвался Лаевский. — Что вам?
— Бумаги!
Лаевский поднялся лениво, с головокружением и, зевая, шлепая туфлями, пошел в соседнюю комнату. Там у открытого окна на улице стоял один из его молодых сослуживцев и раскладывал на подоконнике, казенные бумаги.
— Сейчас, голубчик, — мягко сказал Лаевский и пошел отыскивать чернильницу; вернувшись к окну, он, не читая, подписал бумаги и сказал: — Жарко!
— Да-с. Вы придете сегодня?
— Едва ли… Нездоровится что-то… Скажите, голубчик, Шешковскому, что после обеда я зайду к нему.
Чиновник ушел. Лаевский опять лег у себя не диване и начал думать:
«Итак, надо взвесить все обстоятельства и сообразить. Прежде чем уехать отсюда, я должен расплатиться с долгами. Должен я около двух тысяч рублей. Денег у меня нет… Это, конечно, не важно; часть теперь заплачу как-нибудь, а часть вышлю потом из Петербурга. Главное, Надежда Федоровна… Прежде всего, надо выяснить наши отношения… Да».
Немного погодя, он соображал: не пойти ли лучше к Самойленко посоветоваться?
«Пойти можно, — думал он, — но какая польза от этого? Опять буду говорить ему некстати о будуаре, о женщинах, о том, что честно или нечестно. Какие тут, чёрт подери, могут быть разговоры о честном или нечестном, если поскорее надо спасать жизнь мою, если я задыхаюсь в этой проклятой неволе и убиваю себя?.. Надо же, наконец, понять, что продолжать такую жизнь, как моя, — это подлость и жестокость, пред которой все остальное мелко и ничтожно. Бежать! — бормотал он, садясь. — Бежать!»
Пустынный берег моря, неутолимый зной и однообразие дымчатых, лиловатых гор, вечно одинаковых и молчаливых, вечно одиноких, нагоняли на него тоску и, как казалось, усыпляли и обкрадывали его. Быть может, он очень умен, талантлив, замечательно честен; быть может, если бы со всех сторон его не замыкали море и горы, из него вышел бы превосходный земский деятель, государственный человек, оратор, публицист, подвижник. Кто знает! Если так, то не глупо ли толковать, честно это или нечестно, если даровитый и полезный человек, например музыкант или художник, чтобы бежать из плена, ломает стену и обманывает своих тюремщиков? В положении такого человека всё честно.
В два часа Лаевский и Надежда Федоровна сели обедать. Когда кухарка подала им рисовый суп с томатами, Лаевский сказал:
— Каждый день одно и то же. Отчего бы не сварить щей?
— Капусты нет.
— Странно. И у Самойленка варят щи с капустой, и у Марьи Константиновны щи, один только я почему-то обязан есть эту сладковатую бурду. Нельзя же так, голубка.
Как это бывает у громадного большинства супругов, раньше у Лаевского и у Надежды Федоровны ни один обед не обходился без капризов и сцен, но с тех пор, как Лаевский решил, что он уже не любит, он старался во всем уступать Надежде Федоровне, говорил с нею мягко и вежливо, улыбался, называл голубкой.
— Этот суп похож вкусом на лакрицу, — сказал он улыбаясь; он делал над собою усилия, чтобы казаться приветливым, но не удержался и сказал: — Никто у нас не смотрит за хозяйством… Если уж ты так больна или занята чтением, то, изволь, я займусь нашей кухней.
Раньше она ответила бы ему: «займись» или: «ты, я вижу, хочешь из меня кухарку сделать», но теперь только робко взглянула на него и покраснела.
— Ну, как ты чувствуешь себя сегодня? — спросил он ласково.
— Сегодня ничего. Так, только маленькая слабость.
— Надо беречься, голубка. Я ужасно боюсь за тебя.
Надежда Федоровна была чем-то больна. Самойленко говорил, что у нее перемежающаяся лихорадка, и кормил ее хиной; другой же доктор, Устимович, высокий, сухощавый, нелюдимый человек, который днем сидел дома, а по вечерам, заложив назад руки и вытянув вдоль спины трость, тихо разгуливал по набережной и кашлял, находил, что у нее женская болезнь, и прописывал согревающие компрессы. Прежде, когда Лаевский любил, болезнь Надежды Федоровны возбуждала в нем жалость и страх, теперь же и в болезни, он видел ложь. Желтое, сонное лицо, вялый взгляд и зевота, которые бывали у Надежды Федоровны после лихорадочных припадков, и то, что она во время припадка лежала под пледом и была похожа больше на мальчика, чем на женщину, и что в ее комнате было душно и нехорошо пахло, — все это, по его мнению, разрушало иллюзию и было протестом против любви и брака.
На второе блюдо ему подали шпинат с крутыми яйцами, а Надежде Федоровне, как больной, кисель с молоком. Когда она с озабоченным лицом сначала потрогала ложкой кисель и потом стала лениво есть его, запивая молоком, и он слышал ее глотки, им овладела такая тяжелая ненависть, что у него даже зачесалась голова. Он сознавал, что такое чувство было бы оскорбительно даже в отношении собаки, но ему было досадно не на себя, а на Надежду Федоровну за то, что она возбуждала в нем это чувство, и он понимал, почему иногда любовники убивают своих любовниц. Сам бы он не убил, конечно, но, доведись ему теперь быть присяжным, он оправдал бы убийцу.
— Merci, голубка, — сказал он после обеда и поцеловал Надежду Федоровну в лоб.
Придя к себе в кабинет, он минут пять ходил из угла в угол, искоса поглядывая на сапоги, потом сел на диван и пробормотал:
— Бежать, бежать! Выяснить отношения и бежать! Он лег на диван и опять вспомнил, что муж Надежды Федоровны, быть может, умер по его вине.
«Обвинять человека в том, что он полюбил или разлюбил, это глупо, — убеждал он себя, лежа и задирая ноги, чтобы надеть сапоги. — Любовь и ненависть не в нашей власти. Что же касается мужа, то я, быть может, косвенным образом был одною из причин его смерти, но опять-таки виноват ли я в том, что полюбил его жену, а жена — меня?»
Затем он встал и, отыскав свою фуражку, отправился к своему сослуживцу Шешковскому, у которого каждый день собирались чиновники играть в винт и пить холодное пиво.
«Своею нерешительностью я напоминаю Гамлета, — думал Лаевский дорогой. — Как верно Шекспир подметил! Ах, как верно!»


Чтобы скучно не было и снисходя к крайней нужде вновь приезжавших и несемейных, которым, за неимением гостиницы в городе, негде было обедать, доктор Самойленко держал у себя нечто вроде табльдота. В описываемое время у него столовались только двое: молодой зоолог фон Корен, приезжавший летом к Черному морю, чтобы изучать эмбриологию медуз, и дьякон Победов, недавно выпущенный из семинарии и командированный в городок для исполнения обязанностей дьякона-старика, уехавшего лечиться. Оба они платили за обед и за ужин по 12 рублей в месяц, и Самойленко взял с них честное слово, что они будут являться обедать аккуратно к двум часам.
Первым обыкновенно приходил фон Корен. Он молча садился в гостиной и, взявши со стола альбом, начинал внимательно рассматривать потускневшие фотографии каких-то неизвестных мужчин в широких панталонах и цилиндрах и дам в кринолинах и в чепцах; Самойленко только немногих помнил по фамилии, а про тех, кого забыл, говорил со вздохом: «Прекраснейший, величайшего ума человек!» Покончив с альбомом, фон Корен брал с этажерки пистолет и, прищурив левый глаз, долго прицеливался в портрет князя Воронцова или же становился перед зеркалом и рассматривал свое смуглое лицо, большой лоб и черные, курчавые, как у негра, волоса, и свою рубаху из тусклого ситца с крупными цветами, похожего на персидский ковер, и широкий кожаный пояс вместо жилетки. Самосозерцание доставляло ему едва ли не большее удовольствие, чем осмотр фотографий или пистолета в дорогой оправе. Он был очень доволен и своим лицом, и красиво подстриженной бородкой, и широкими плечами, которые служили очевидным доказательством его хорошего здоровья и крепкого сложения. Он был доволен и своим франтовским костюмом, начиная с галстука, подобранного под цвет рубахи, и кончая желтыми башмаками.
Пока он рассматривал альбом и стоял перед зеркалом, в это время в кухне и около нее в сенях Самойленко, без сюртука и без жилетки, с голой грудью, волнуясь и обливаясь потом, суетился около столов, приготовляя салат, или какой-нибудь соус, или мясо, огурцы и лук для окрошки, и при этом злобно таращил глаза на помогавшего ему денщика и замахивался на него то ножом, то ложкой.
— Подай уксус! — приказывал он. — То, бишь, не уксус, а прованское масло! — кричал он, топая ногами. — Куда же ты пошел, скотина?
— За маслом, ваше превосходительство, — говорил оторопевший денщик надтреснутым тенором.
— Скорее! Оно в шкапу! Да скажи Дарье, чтоб она в банку с огурцами укропу прибавила! Укропу! Накрой сметану, раззява, а то мухи налезут!
И от его крика, казалось, гудел весь дом. Когда до двух часов оставалось 10 или 15 минут, приходил дьякон, молодой человек, лет 22, худощавый, длинноволосый, без бороды и с едва заметными усами. Войдя в гостиную, он крестился на образ, улыбался и протягивал фон Корену руку.
— Здравствуйте, — холодно говорил зоолог. — Где вы были?
— На пристани бычков ловил.
— Ну, конечно… По-видимому, дьякон, вы никогда не будете заниматься делом.
— Отчего же? Дело не медведь, в лес не уйдет, — говорил дьякон, улыбаясь и засовывая руки в глубочайшие карманы своего белого подрясника.
— Бить вас некому! — вздыхал зоолог.
Проходило еще 15—20 минут, а обедать не звали и все еще слышно было, как денщик, бегая из сеней в кухню и обратно, стучал сапогами и как Самойленко кричал:
— Поставь на стол! Куда суешь? Помой сначала!
Проголодавшиеся дьякон и фон Корен начинали стучать о пол каблуками, выражая этим свое нетерпение, как зрители в театральном райке. Наконец, дверь отворялась и замученный денщик объявлял: кушать готово! В столовой встречал их багровый, распаренный в кухонной духоте и сердитый Самойленко; он злобно глядел на них и с выражением ужаса на лице поднимал крышку с супника и наливал обоим по тарелке, и только когда убеждался, что они едят с аппетитом и что кушанье им нравится, легко вздыхал и садился в свое глубокое кресло. Лицо его становилось томным, масленым… Он не спеша наливал себе рюмку водки и говорил:
— За здоровье молодого поколения!
После разговора с Лаевским Самойленко всё время от утра до обеда, несмотря на прекраснейшее настроение, чувствовал в глубине души некоторую тяжесть; ему было жаль Лаевского и хотелось помочь ему. Выпив перед супом рюмку водки, он вздохнул и сказал:
— Видел я сегодня Ваню Лаевского. Трудно живется человечку. Материальная сторона жизни неутешительна, а главное — психология одолела. Жаль парня.
— Вот уж кого мне не жаль! — сказал фон Корен. — Если бы этот милый мужчина тонул, то я бы еще палкой подтолкнул: тони, братец, тони…
— Неправда. Ты бы этого не сделал.
— Почему ты думаешь? — пожал плечами зоолог. — Я так же способен на доброе дело, как и ты.
— Разве утопить человека — доброе дело? — спросил дьякон и засмеялся.
— Лаевского? Да.
— В окрошке, кажется, чего-то недостает… — сказал Самойленко, желая переменить разговор.
— Лаевский безусловно вреден и так же опасен для общества, как холерная микроба, — продолжал фон Корен. — Утопить его — заслуга.
— Не делает тебе чести, что ты так выражаешься о своем ближнем. Скажи: за что ты его ненавидишь?
— Не говори, доктор, пустяков. Ненавидеть и презирать микробу — глупо, а считать своим ближним, во что бы то ни стало, всякого встречного без различия — это, покорно благодарю, это значит не рассуждать, отказаться от справедливого отношения к людям, умыть руки, одним словом. Я считаю твоего Лаевского мерзавцем, не скрываю этого и отношусь к нему как к мерзавцу, с полною моею добросовестностью. Ну, а ты считаешь его своим ближним — и поцелуйся с ним; ближним считаешь, а это значит, что к нему ты относишься так же, как ко мне и дьякону, то есть никак. Ты одинаково равнодушен ко всем.
— Называть человека мерзавцем! — пробормотал Самойленко, брезгливо морщась. — Это до такой степени нехорошо, что и выразить тебе не могу!
— О людях судят по их поступкам, — продолжал фон Корен. — Теперь судите же, дьякон… Я, дьякон, буду с вами говорить. Деятельность господина Лаевского откровенно развернута перед вами, как длинная китайская грамота, и вы можете читать ее от начала до конца. Что он сделал за эти два года, пока живет здесь? Будем считать по пальцам. Во-первых, он научил жителей городка играть в винт; два года тому назад эта игра была здесь неизвестна, теперь же в винт играют от утра до поздней ночи все, даже женщины и подростки; во-вторых, он научил обывателей пить пиво, которое тоже здесь не было известно; ему же обыватели обязаны сведениями по части разных сортов водок, так что с завязанными глазами они могут теперь отличить водку Кошелева от Смирнова № 21. В-третьих, прежде здесь жили с чужими женами тайно, по тем же побуждениям, по каким воры воруют тайно, а не явно; прелюбодеяние считалось чем-то таким, что стыдились выставлять на общий показ; Лаевский же явился в этом отношении пионером: он живет с чужой женой открыто. В-четвертых…
Фон Корен быстро съел свою окрошку и отдал денщику тарелку.
— Я понял Лаевского в первый же месяц нашего знакомства, — продолжал он, обращаясь к дьякону. — Мы в одно время приехали сюда. Такие люди, как он, очень любят дружбу, сближение, солидарность и тому подобное, потому что им всегда нужна компания для винта, выпивки и закуски; к тому же, они болтливы, и им нужны слушатели. Мы подружились, то есть он шлялся ко мне каждый день, мешал мне работать и откровенничал насчет своей содержанки. На первых же порах он поразил меня своею необыкновенною лживостью, от которой меня просто тошнило. В качестве друга я журил его, зачем он много пьет, зачем живет не по средствам и делает долги, зачем ничего не делает и не читает, зачем он так мало культурен и мало знает — и в ответ на все мои вопросы он горько улыбался, вздыхал и говорил: «Я неудачник, лишний человек», или: «Что вы хотите, батенька, от нас, осколков крепостничества?», или: «Мы вырождаемся…» Или начинал нести длинную галиматью об Онегине, Печорине, байроновском Каине, Базарове, про которых говорил: «Это наши отцы по плоти и духу». Понимайте так, мол, что не он виноват в том, что казенные пакеты по неделям лежат не распечатанными и что сам он пьет и других спаивает, а виноваты в этом Онегин, Печорин и Тургенев, выдумавший неудачника и лишнего человека. Причина крайней распущенности и безобразия, видите ли, лежит не в нем самом, а где-то вне, в пространстве. И притом — ловкая штука! — распутен, лжив и гадок не он один, а мы… «мы люди восьмидесятых годов», «мы вялое, нервное отродье крепостного права», «нас искалечила цивилизация»… Одним словом, мы должны понять, что такой великий человек, как Лаевский, и в падении своем велик; что его распутство, необразованность и нечистоплотность составляют явление естественно-историческое, освященное необходимостью, что причины тут мировые, стихийные и что перед Лаевским надо лампаду повесить, так как он — роковая жертва времени, веяний, наследственности и прочее. Все чиновники и дамы, слушая его, охали и ахали, а я долго не мог понять, с кем я имею дело: с циником или с ловким мазуриком? Такие субъекты, как он, с виду интеллигентные, немножко воспитанные и говорящие много о собственном благородстве, умеют прикидываться необыкновенно сложными натурами.
— Замолчи! — вспыхнул Самойленко. — Я не позволю, чтобы в моем присутствии говорили дурно о благороднейшем человеке!
— Не перебивай, Александр Давидыч, — холодно сказал фон Корен. — Я сейчас кончу. Лаевский — довольно несложный организм. Вот его нравственный остов: утром туфли, купанье и кофе, потом до обеда туфли, моцион и разговоры, в два часа туфли, обед и вино, в пять часов купанье, чай и вино, затем винт и лганье, в десять часов ужин и вино, а после полуночи сон и la femme. Существование его заключено в эту тесную программу, как яйцо в скорлупу. Идет ли он, сидит ли, сердится, пишет, радуется — все сводится к вину, картам, туфлям и женщине. Женщина играет в его жизни роковую, подавляющую роль. Он сам повествует, что 13 лет он уже был влюблен, будучи студентом первого курса, он жил с дамой, которая имела на него благотворное влияние и которой он обязан своим музыкальным образованием. Во втором курсе он выкупил из публичного дома проститутку и возвысил ее до себя, то есть взял в содержанки, а она пожила с ним полгода и убежала назад к хозяйке, и это бегство причинило ему не мало душевных страданий. Увы, он так страдал, что должен был оставить университет и два года жить дома без дела. Но это к лучшему. Дома он сошелся с одной вдовой, которая посоветовала ему оставить юридический факультет и поступить на филологический. Он так и сделал. Кончив курс, он страстно полюбил теперешнюю свою… как ее?.. замужнюю, и должен был бежать с нею сюда на Кавказ, за идеалами якобы… Не сегодня-завтра он разлюбит ее и убежит назад в Петербург, и тоже за идеалами.
— А ты почем знаешь? — проворчал Самойленко, со злобой глядя на зоолога. — Ешь-ка лучше.
Подали отварных кефалей с польским соусом. Самойленко положил обоим нахлебникам по целой кефали и собственноручно полил соусом. Минуты две прошли в молчании.
— Женщина играет существенную роль в жизни каждого человека, — сказал дьякон. — Ничего не поделаешь.
— Да, но в какой степени? У каждого из нас женщина есть мать, сестра, жена, друг, у Лаевского же она — всё, и притом только любовница. Она, то есть сожительство с ней — счастье и цель его жизни; он весел, грустен, скучен, разочарован — от женщины; жизнь опостылела — женщина виновата; загорелась заря новой жизни, нашлись идеалы — и тут ищи женщину… Удовлетворяют его только те сочинения или картины, где есть женщина. Наш век, по его мнению, плох и хуже сороковых и шестидесятых годов только потому, что мы не умеем до самозабвения отдаваться любовному экстазу и страсти. У этих сладострастников, должно быть, в мозгу есть особый нарост вроде саркомы, который сдавил мозг и управляет всею психикой. Понаблюдайте-ка Лаевского, когда он сидит где-нибудь в обществе. Вы заметьте: когда при нем поднимаешь какой-нибудь общий вопрос, например, о клеточке или инстинкте, он сидит в стороне, молчит и не слушает; вид у него томный, разочарованный, ничто для него не интересно, всё пошло и ничтожно, но как только вы заговорили о самках и самцах, о том, например, что у пауков самка после оплодотворения съедает самца, — глаза у него загораются любопытством, лицо проясняется и человек оживает, одним словом. Все его мысли, как бы благородны, возвышенны или безразличны они ни были, имеют всегда одну и ту же точку общего схода. Идешь с ним по улице и встречаешь, например осла… — «Скажите, пожалуйста, — спрашивает, — что произойдет, если случить ослицу с верблюдом?» А сны! Он рассказывал вам свои сны? Это великолепно! То ему снится, что его женят на луне, то будто зовут его в полицию и приказывают ему там, чтобы он жил с гитарой…
Дьякон звонко захохотал; Самойленко нахмурился и сердито сморщил лицо, чтобы не засмеяться, но не удержался и захохотал.
— И всё врет! — сказал он, вытирая слезы. — Ей-богу, врет!


Дьякон был очень смешлив и смеялся от каждого пустяка до колотья в боку, до упада. Казалось, что он любил бывать среди людей только потому, что у них есть смешные стороны и что им можно давать смешные прозвища. Самойленка он прозвал тарантулом, его денщика селезнем и был в восторге, когда однажды фон Корен обозвал Лаевского и Надежду Федоровну макаками. Он жадно всматривался в лица, слушал не мигая, и видно было, как глаза его наполнялись смехом и как напрягалось лицо в ожидании, когда можно будет дать себе волю и покатиться со смеху.
— Это развращенный и извращенный субъект, — продолжал зоолог, а дьякон, в ожидании смешных слов, впился ему в лицо. — Редко где можно встретить такое ничтожество. Телом он вял, хил и стар, а интеллектом ничем не отличается от толстой купчихи, которая только жрет, пьет, спит на перине и держит в любовниках своего кучера.
Дьякон опять захохотал.
— Не смейтесь, дьякон, — сказал фон Корен, — это глупо, наконец. Я бы не обратил внимания на его ничтожество, — продолжал он, выждав, когда дькон перестал хохотать, — я бы прошел мимо него, если бы он не был так вреден и опасен. Вредоносность его заключается прежде всего в том, что он имеет успех у женщин и таким образом угрожает иметь потомство, то есть подарить миру дюжину Лаевских, таких же хилых и извращенных, как он сам. Во-вторых, он заразителен в высшей степени. Я уже говорил вам о винте и пиве. Еще год-два — и он завоюет все кавказское побережье. Вы знаете, до какой степени масса, особенно ее средний слой, верит в интеллигентность, в университетскую образованность, в благородство манер и литературность языка. Какую бы он ни сделал мерзость, все верят, что это хорошо, что это так и быть должно, так как он интеллигентный, либеральный и университетский человек.
К тому же, он неудачник, лишний человек, неврастеник, жертва времени, а это значит, что ему всё можно. Он милый малый, душа-человек, он так сердечно снисходит к человеческим слабостям; он сговорчив, податлив, покладист, не горд, с ним и выпить можно, и посквернословить, и посудачить… Масса, всегда склонная к антропоморфизму в религии и морали, больше всего любит тех божков, которые имеют такие же слабости, как она сама. Судите же, какое у него широкое поле для заразы! К тому же, он недурной актер и ловкий лицемер, и отлично знает, где раки зимуют. Возьмите-ка его увертки и фокусы, например, хотя бы его отношение к цивилизации. Он и не нюхал цивилизации, а между тем: «Ах, как мы искалечены цивилизацией! Ах, как я завидую этим дикарям, этим детям природы, которые не знают цивилизации!» Надо понимать, видите ли, что он когда-то, во времена оны, всей душой был предан цивилизации, служил ей, постиг ее насквозь, но она утомила, разочаровала, обманула его; он, видите ли, Фауст, второй Толстой… А Шопенгауэра и Спенсера он третирует, как мальчишек, и отечески хлопает их по плечу: ну, что, брат Спенсер? Он Спенсера, конечно, не читал, но как бывает мил, когда с легкой, небрежной иронией говорит про свою барыню: «Она читала Спенсера!» И его слушают, и никто не хочет понять, что этот шарлатан не имеет права не только выражаться о Спенсере в таком тоне, но даже целовать подошву Спенсера! Рыться под цивилизацию, под авторитеты, под чужой алтарь, брызгать грязью, шутовски подмигивать на них только для того, чтобы оправдать и скрыть свою хилость и нравственную убогость, может только очень самолюбивое, низкое и гнусное животное.
— Я не знаю, Коля, чего ты добиваешься от него, — сказал Самойленко, глядя на зоолога уже не со злобой, а виновато. — Он такой же человек, как и все. Конечно, не без слабостей, но он стоит на уровне современных идей, служит, приносит пользу отечеству. Десять лет назад здесь служил агентом старичок, величайшего ума человек… Так вот он говаривал…
— Полно, полно! — перебил зоолог. — Ты говоришь: он служит. Но как служит? Разве оттого, что он явился сюда, порядки стали лучше, а чиновники исправнее, честнее и вежливее? Напротив, своим авторитетом интеллигентного университетского человека он только санкционировал их распущенность. Бывает он исправен только двадцатого числа, когда получает жалованье, в остальные же числа он только шаркает у себя дома туфлями и старается придать себе такое выражение, как будто делает русскому правительству большое одолжение тем, что живет на Кавказе. Нет, Александр Давидыч, не вступайся за него. Ты не искренен от начала до конца. Если бы ты в самом деле любил его и считал своим ближним, то прежде всего ты не был бы равнодушен к его слабостям, не снисходил бы к ним, а для его же пользы постарался бы обезвредить его.
— То есть?
— Обезвредить. Так как он неисправим, то обезвредить его можно только одним способом…
Фон Корен провел пальцем около своей шеи.
— Или утопить, что ли… — добавил он. — В интересах человечества и в своих собственных интересах такие люди должны быть уничтожаемы. Непременно.
— Что ты говоришь?! — пробормотал Самойленко, поднимаясь и с удивлением глядя на спокойное, холодное лицо зоолога. — Дьякон, что он говорит? Да ты в своем уме?
— Я не настаиваю на смертной казни, — сказал фон Корен. — Если доказано, что она вредна, то придумайте что-нибудь другое. Уничтожить Лаевского нельзя, ну так изолируйте его, обезличьте, отдайте в общественные работы…
— Что ты говоришь? — ужаснулся Самойленко. — С перцем, с перцем! — закричал он отчаянным голосом, заметив, что дьякон ест фаршированные кабачки без перца. — Ты, величайшего ума человек, что ты говоришь?! Нашего друга, гордого, интеллигентного человека, отдавать в общественные работы!!
— А если горд, станет противиться — в кандалы!
Самойленко не мог уж выговорить ни одного слова и только шевелил пальцами: дьякон взглянул на его ошеломленное, в самом деле смешное лицо и захохотал.
— Перестанем говорить об этом, — сказал зоолог. — Помни только одно, Александр Давидыч, что первобытное человечество было охраняемо от таких, как Лаевский, борьбой за существование и подбором; теперь же наша культура значительно ослабила борьбу и подбор, и мы должны сами позаботиться об уничтожении хилых и негодных, иначе, когда Лаевские размножатся, цивилизация погибнет, и человечество выродится совершенно. Мы будем виноваты.
— Если людей топить и вешать, — сказал Самойленко, — то к чёрту твою цивилизацию, к чёрту человечество! К чёрту! Вот что я тебе скажу: ты ученейший, величайшего ума человек и гордость отечества, но тебя немцы испортили. Да, немцы! Немцы!
Самойленко с тех пор, как уехал из Дерпта, в котором учился медицине, редко видел немцев и не прочел ни одной немецкой книги, но, по его мнению, всё зло в политике и науке происходило от немцев. Откуда у него взялось такое мнение, он и сам не мог сказать, но держался его крепко.
— Да, немцы! — повторил он еще раз. — Пойдемте чай пить.
Все трое встали и, надевши шляпы, пошли в палисадник и сели там под тенью бледных кленов, груш и каштана. Зоолог и дьякон сели на скамью около столика, а Самойленко опустился в плетеное кресло с широкой, покатой спинкой. Денщик подал чай, варенье и бутылку с сиропом.
Было очень жарко, градусов тридцать в тени. Знойный воздух застыл, был неподвижен, и длинная паутина, свесившаяся с каштана до земли, слабо повисла и не шевелилась.
Дьякон взял гитару, которая постоянно лежала на земле около стола, настроил ее и запел тихо, тонким голоском: «Отроцы семинарстии у кабака стояху»… но тотчас же замолк от жары, вытер со лба пот и взглянул вверх на синее горячее небо. Самойленко задремал; от зноя, тишины и сладкой, послеобеденной дремоты, которая быстро овладела всеми его членами, он ослабел и опьянел; руки его отвисли, глаза стали маленькими, голову потянуло на грудь. Он со слезливым умилением поглядел на фон Корена и дьякона и забормотал:
— Молодое поколение… Звезда науки и светильник церкви… Гляди, длиннополая аллилуйя в митрополиты выскочит, чего доброго, придется ручку целовать… Что ж… дай бог…
Скоро послышалось храпенье. Фон Корен и дьякон допили чай и вышли на улицу.
— Вы опять на пристань бычков ловить? — спросил зоолог.
— Нет, жарковато.
— Пойдемте ко мне. Вы упакуете у меня посылку и кое-что перепишете. Кстати потолкуем, чем бы вам заняться. Надо работать, дьякон. Так нельзя.
— Ваши слова справедливы и логичны, — сказал дьякон, — но леность моя находит себе извинение в обстоятельствах моей настоящей жизни. Сами знаете, неопределенность положения значительно способствует апатичному состоянию людей. На время ли меня сюда прислали или навсегда, богу одному известно; я здесь живу в неизвестности, а дьяконица моя прозябает у отца и скучает. И, признаться, от жары мозги раскисли.
— Всё вздор, — сказал зоолог. — И к жаре можно привыкнуть, и без дьяконицы можно привыкнуть. Не следует баловаться. Надо себя в руках держать.


Надежда Федоровна шла утром купаться, а за нею с кувшином, медным тазом, с простынями и губкой шла ее кухарка Ольга. На рейде стояли два каких-то незнакомых парохода с грязными белыми трубами, очевидно, иностранные грузовые. Какие-то мужчины в белом, в белых башмаках ходили по пристани и громко кричали по-французски, и им откликались с этих пароходов. В маленькой городской церкви бойко звонили в колокола.
«Сегодня воскресенье!» — с удовольствием вспомнила Надежда Федоровна.
Она чувствовала себя совершенно здоровой и была в веселом, праздничном настроении. В новом просторном платье из грубой мужской чечунчи и в большой соломенной шляпе, широкие поля которой сильно были загнуты к ушам, так что лицо ее глядело как будто из коробочки, она казалась себе очень миленькой. Она думала о том, что во всем городе есть только одна молодая, красивая, интеллигентная женщина — это она, и что только она одна умеет одеться дешево, изящно и со вкусом. Например, это платье стоит только 22 рубля, а между тем как мило! Во всем городе только она одна может нравиться, а мужчин много, и потому все они волей-неволей должны завидовать Лаевскому.
Она радовалась, что Лаевский в последнее время был с нею холоден, сдержанно-вежлив и временами даже дерзок и груб; на все его выходки и презрительные, холодные или странные, непонятные взгляды она прежде отвечала бы слезами, попреками и угрозами уехать от него или уморить себя голодом, теперь же в ответ она только краснела, виновато поглядывала на него и радовалась, что он не ласкается к ней. Если бы он бранил ее или угрожал, то было бы еще лучше и приятнее, так как она чувствовала себя кругом виноватою перед ним. Ей казалось, что она виновата в том, во-первых, что не сочувствовала его мечтам о трудовой жизни, ради которой он бросил Петербург и приехал сюда на Кавказ, и была она уверена, что сердился он на нее в последнее время именно за это. Когда она ехала на Кавказ, ей казалось, что она в первый же день найдет здесь укромный уголок на берегу, уютный садик с тенью, птицами и ручьями, где можно будет садить цветы и овощи, разводить уток и кур, принимать соседей, лечить бедных мужиков и раздавать им книжки; оказалось же, что Кавказ — это лысые горы, леса и громадные долины, где надо долго выбирать, хлопотать, строиться, и что никаких тут соседей нет, и очень жарко, и могут ограбить. Лаевский не торопился приобретать участок; она была рада этому, и оба они точно условились мысленно никогда не упоминать о трудовой жизни. Он молчал, думала она, значит, сердился на нее за то, что она молчит.
Во-вторых, она без его ведома за эти два года набрала в магазине Ачмианова разных пустяков рублей на триста. Брала она понемножку то материи, то шелку, то зонтик, и незаметно скопился такой долг.
— Сегодня же скажу ему об этом… — решила она, но тотчас же сообразила, что при теперешнем настроении Лаевского едва ли удобно говорить ему о долгах.
В-третьих, она уже два раза, в отсутствие Лаевского, принимала у себя Кирилина, полицейского пристава: раз утром, когда Лаевский уходил купаться, и в другой раз в полночь, когда он играл в карты! Вспомнив об этом, Надежда Федоровна вся вспыхнула и оглянулась на кухарку, как бы боясь, чтобы та не подслушала ее мыслей. Длинные, нестерпимо жаркие, скучные дни, прекрасные томительные вечера, душные ночи, и вся эта жизнь, когда от утра до вечера не знаешь, на что употребить ненужное время, и навязчивые мысли о том, что она самая красивая и молодая женщина в городе и что молодость ее проходит даром, и сам Лаевский, честный, идейный, но однообразный, вечно шаркающий туфлями, грызущий ногти и наскучающий своими капризами, — сделали то, что ею мало-помалу овладели желания, и она, как сумасшедшая, день и ночь думала об одном и том же. В своем дыхании, во взглядах, в тоне голоса и в походке она чувствовала только желание; шум моря говорил ей, что надо любить, вечерняя темнота — то же, горы — то же… И когда Кирилин стал ухаживать за нею, она была не в силах и не хотела, не могла противиться, и отдалась ему…
Теперь иностранные пароходы и люди в белом напомнили ей почему-то огромную залу; вместе с французским говором зазвенели у нее в ушах звуки вальса, и грудь ее задрожала от беспричинной радости. Ей захотелось танцевать и говорить по-французски.
Она с радостью соображала, что в ее измене нет ничего страшного. В ее измене душа не участвовала; она продолжает любить Лаевского, и это видно из того, что она ревнует его, жалеет и скучает, когда он не бывает дома. Кирилин же оказался так себе, грубоватым, хотя и красивым, с ним всё уже порвано и больше ничего не будет. Что было, то прошло, никому до этого нет дела, а если Лаевский узнает, то не поверит.
На берегу была только одна купальня для дам, мужчины же купались под открытым небом. Войдя в купальню, Надежда Федоровна застала там пожилую даму Марью Константиновну Битюгову, жену чиновника, и ее 15-летнюю дочь Катю, гимназистку; обе они сидели на лавочке и раздевались. Марья Константиновна была добрая, восторженная и деликатная особа, говорившая протяжно и с пафосом. До 32 лет она жила в гувернантках, потом вышла за чиновника Битюгова, маленького, лысого человека, зачесывавшего волосы на виски и очень смирного. До сих пор она была влюблена в него, ревновала, краснела при слове «любовь» и уверяла всех, что она очень счастлива.
— Дорогая моя! — сказала она восторженно, увидев Надежду Федоровну и придавая своему лицу выражение, которое все ее знакомые называли миндальным. — Милая, как приятно, что вы пришли! Мы будем купаться вместе — это очаровательно!
Ольга быстро сбросила с себя платье и сорочку и стала раздевать свою барыню.
— Сегодня погода не такая жаркая, как вчера, — не правда ли? — сказала Надежда Федоровна, пожимаясь от грубых прикосновений голой кухарки. — Вчера я едва не умерла от духоты.
— О, да, моя милая! Я сама едва не задохнулась. Верите ли, я вчера купалась три раза… представьте, милая, три раза! Даже Никодим Александрыч беспокоился.
«Ну можно ли быть такими некрасивыми?» — подумала Надежда Федоровна, поглядев на Ольгу и на чиновницу; она взглянула на Катю и подумала: «Девочка недурно сложена». — Ваш Никодим Александрыч очень, очень мил! — сказала она. — Я в него просто влюблена.
— Ха-ха-ха! — принужденно засмеялась Марья Константиновна. — Это очаровательно!
Освободившись от одёжи, Надежда Федоровна почувствовала желание лететь. И ей казалось, что если бы она взмахнула руками, то непременно бы улетела вверх. Раздевшись, она заметила, что Ольга брезгливо смотрит на ее белое тело. Ольга, молодая солдатка, жила с законным мужем и потому считала себя лучше и выше ее. Надежда Федоровна чувствовала также, что Марья Константиновна и Катя не уважают и боятся ее. Это было неприятно и, чтобы поднять себя в их мнении, она сказала:
— У нас в Петербурге дачная жизнь теперь в разгаре. У меня и у мужа столько знакомых! Надо бы съездить повидаться.
— Ваш муж, кажется, инженер? — робко спросила Марья Константиновна.
— Я говорю о Лаевском. У него очень много знакомых. Но, к сожалению, его мать, гордая аристократка, недалекая…
Надежда Федоровна не договорила и бросилась в воду; за нею полезли Марья Константиновна и Катя.
— У нас в свете очень много предрассудков, — продолжала Надежда Федоровна, — и живется не так легко, как кажется.
Марья Константиновна, служившая гувернанткою в аристократических семействах и знавшая толк в свете, сказала:
— О да! Верите ли, милая, у Гаратынских и к завтраку и к обеду требовался непременно туалет, так что я, точно актриса, кроме жалованья, получала еще и на гардероб.
Она стала между Надеждой Федоровной и Катей, как бы загораживая свою дочь от той воды, которая омывала Надежду Федоровну. В открытую дверь, выходившую наружу в море, было видно, как кто-то плыл в ста шагах от купальни.
— Мама, это наш Костя! — сказала Катя.
— Ах, ах! — закудахтала Марья Константиновна в испуге. — Ах! Костя, — закричала она, — вернись! Костя, вернись!
Костя, мальчик лет 14, чтобы похвастать своею храбростью перед матерью и сестрой, нырнул и поплыл дальше, но утомился и поспешил назад, и по его серьезному, напряженному лицу видно было, что он не верил в свои силы.
— Беда с этими мальчиками, милая! — сказала Марья Константиновна, успокаиваясь. — Того и гляди, свернет себе шею. Ах, милая, как приятно и в то же время как тяжело быть матерью! Всего боишься.
Надежда Федоровна надела свою соломенную шляпу и бросилась наружу в море. Она отплыла сажени на четыре и легла на спину. Ей были видны море до горизонта, пароходы, люди на берегу, город, и всё это вместе со зноем и прозрачными нежными волнами раздражало ее и шептало ей, что надо жить, жить… Мимо нее быстро, энергически разрезывая волны и воздух, пронеслась парусная лодка; мужчина, сидевший у руля, глядел на нее, и ей приятно было, что на нее глядят…
Выкупавшись, дамы оделись и пошли вместе.
— У меня через день бывает лихорадка, а между тем я не худею, — говорила Надежда Федоровна, облизывая свои соленые от купанья губы и отвечая улыбкой на поклоны знакомых. — Я всегда была полной и теперь, кажется, еще больше пополнела.
— Это, милая, от расположения. Если кто не расположен к полноте, как я, например, то никакая пища не поможет. Однако, милая, вы измочили свою шляпу.
— Ничего, высохнет.
Надежда Федоровна опять увидела людей в белом, которые ходили по набережной и разговаривали по-французски; и почему-то опять в груди у нее заволновалась радость и смутно припомнилась ей какая-то большая зала, в которой она когда-то танцевала или которая, быть может, когда-то снилась ей. И что-то в самой глубине души смутно и глухо шептало ей, что она мелкая, пошлая, дрянная, ничтожная женщина…
Марья Константиновна остановилась около своих ворот и пригласила ее зайти посидеть.
— Зайдите, моя дорогая! — сказала она умоляющим голосом и в то же время поглядела на Надежду Федоровну с тоской и с надеждой: авось откажется и не зайдет!
— С удовольствием, — согласилась Надежда Федоровна. — Вы знаете, как я люблю бывать у вас!
И она вошла в дом. Марья Константиновна усадила ее, дала кофе, накормила сдобными булками, потом показала ей фотографии своих бывших воспитанниц — барышень Гаратынских, которые уже повыходили замуж, показала также экзаменационные отметки Кати и Кости; отметки были очень хорошие, но чтобы они показались еще лучше, она со вздохом пожаловалась на то, как трудно теперь учиться в гимназии… Она ухаживала за гостьей и, в то же время, жалела ее и страдала от мысли, что Надежда Федоровна своим присутствием может дурно повлиять на нравственность Кости и Кати, и радовалась, что ее Никодима Александрыча не было дома. Так как, по ее мнению, все мужчины любят «таких», то Надежда Федоровна могла дурно повлиять и на Никодима Александрыча.
Разговаривая с гостьей, Марья Константиновна всё время помнила, что сегодня вечером будет пикник и что фон Корен убедительно просил не говорить об этом макакам, то есть Лаевскому и Надежде Федоровне, но она нечаянно проговорилась, вся вспыхнула и сказала в смущении:
— Надеюсь, и вы будете!


Условились ехать за семь верст от города по дороге к югу, остановиться около духана, при слиянии двух речек — Черной и Желтой, и варить там уху. Выехали в начале шестого часа. Впереди всех, в шарабане, ехали Самойленко и Лаевский, за ними в коляске, заложенной в тройку, Марья Константиновна, Надежда Федоровна, Катя и Костя; при них была корзина с провизией и посуда. В следующем экипаже ехали пристав Кирилин и молодой Ачмианов, сын того самого купца Ачмианова, которому Надежда Федоровна была должна триста рублей, и против них на скамеечке, скорчившись и поджав ноги, сидел Никодим Александрыч, маленький, аккуратненький, с зачесанными височками. Позади всех ехали фон Корен и дьякон; у дьякона в ногах стояла корзина с рыбой.
— Пррава! — кричал во все горло Самойленко, когда попадалась навстречу арба или абхазец верхом на осле.
— Через два года, когда у меня будут готовы средства и люди, я отправлюсь в экспедицию, — рассказывал фон Корен дьякону. — Я пройду берегом от Владивостока до Берингова пролива и потом от пролива до устья Енисея. Мы начертим карту, изучим фауну и флору и обстоятельно займемся геологией, антропологическими и этнографическими исследованиями. От вас зависит поехать со мною или нет.
— Это невозможно, — сказал дьякон.
— Почему?
— Я человек зависимый, семейный.
— Дьяконица вас отпустит. Мы ее обеспечим. Еще лучше, если бы вы убедили ее, для общей пользы, постричься в монахини; это дало бы вам возможность самому постричься и поехать в экспедицию иеромонахом. Я могу вам устроить это.
Дьякон молчал.
— Вы свою богословскую часть хорошо знаете? — спросил зоолог.
— Плоховато.
— Гм… Я вам не могу сделать никаких указаний на этот счет, потому что я сам мало знаком с богословием. Вы дайте мне списочек книг, какие вам нужны, и я вышлю вам зимою из Петербурга. Вам также нужно будет прочесть записки духовных путешественников; между, ними попадаются хорошие этнологи и знатоки восточных языков. Когда вы ознакомитесь с их манерой, вам легче будет приступить к делу. Ну, а пока книг нет, не теряйте времени попусту, ходите ко мне, и мы займемся компасом, пройдем метеорологию. Всё это необходимо.
— Так-то так… — пробормотал дьякон и засмеялся. — Я просил себе места в средней России, и мой дядя-протоиерей обещал мне поспособствовать. Если я поеду с вами, то выйдет, что я их даром беспокоил.
— Не понимаю я ваших колебаний. Продолжая быть обыкновенным дьяконом, который обязан служить только по праздникам, а в остальные дни — почивать от дел, вы и через десять лет останетесь всё таким же, какой вы теперь, и прибавятся у вас разве только усы и бородка, тогда как, вернувшись из экспедиции, через эти же десять лет вы будете другим человеком, вы обогатитесь сознанием, что вами кое-что сделано.
Из дамского экипажа послышались крики ужаса и восторга. Экипажи ехали по дороге, прорытой в совершенно отвесном скалистом берегу, и всем казалось, что они скачут по полке, приделанной к высокой стене, и что сейчас экипажи свалятся в пропасть. Направо расстилалось море, налево — была неровная коричневая стена с черными пятнами, красными жилами и ползучими корневищами, а сверху, нагнувшись, точно со страхом и любопытством, смотрели вниз кудрявые хвои. Через минуту опять визг и смех: пришлось ехать под громадным нависшим камнем.
— Не понимаю, за каким таким чертом я еду с вами, — сказал Лаевский. — Как глупо и пошло! Мне надо ехать на север, бежать, спасаться, а я почему-то еду на этот дурацкий пикник.
— А ты посмотри, какая панорама! — сказал ему Самойленко, когда лошади повернули влево и открылась долина Желтой речки, и блеснула сама речка — желтая, мутная, сумасшедшая…
— Ничего я, Саша, не вижу в этом хорошего, — ответил Лаевский. — Восторгаться постоянно природой — это значит показывать скудость своего воображения. В сравнении с тем, что мне может дать мое воображение, все эти ручейки и скалы — дрянь и больше ничего.
Коляски ехали уже по берегу речки. Высокие гористые берега мало-помалу сходились, долина суживалась и представлялась впереди ущельем; каменистая гора, около которой ехали, была сколочена природою из громадных камней, давивших друг друга с такой страшной силой, что при взгляде на них Самойленко всякий раз невольно кряхтел. Мрачная и красивая гора местами прорезывалась узкими трещинами и ущельями, из которых веяло на ехавших влагой и таинственностью; сквозь ущелья видны были другие горы, бурые, розовые, лиловые, дымчатые или залитые ярким светом. Слышалось изредка, когда проезжали мимо ущелий, как где-то с высоты падала вода и шлепала по камням.
— Ах, проклятые горы, — вздыхал Лаевский, — как они мне надоели!
В том месте, где Черная речка впадала в Желтую и черная вода, похожая на чернила, пачкала желтую и боролась с ней, в стороне от дороги стоял духан татарина Кербалая с русским флагом на крыше и с вывеской, написанной мелом: «Приятный духан»; около него был небольшой садик, обнесенный плетнем, где стояли столы и скамьи, и среди жалкого колючего кустарника возвышался один единственный кипарис, красивый и темный.
Кербалай, маленький, юркий татарин, в синей рубахе и белом фартуке, стоял на дороге и, взявшись за живот, низко кланялся навстречу экипажам и, улыбаясь, показывал свои белые блестящие зубы.
— Здорово, Кербалайка! — крикнул ему Самойленко. — Мы отъедем немножко дальше, а ты тащи туда самовар и стулья! Живо!
Кербалай кивал своей стриженой головой и что-то бормотал, и только сидевшие в заднем экипаже могли расслышать: «есть форели, ваше превосходительство».
— Тащи, тащи! — сказал ему фон Корен.
Отъехав шагов пятьсот от духана, экипажи остановились. Самойленко выбрал небольшой лужок, на котором были разбросаны камни, удобные для сиденья, и лежало дерево, поваленное бурей, с вывороченным мохнатым корнем и с высохшими желтыми иглами. Тут через речку был перекинут жидкий бревенчатый мост, и на другом берегу, как раз напротив, на четырех невысоких сваях стоял сарайчик, сушильня для кукурузы, напоминавшая сказочную избушку на курьих ножках; от ее двери вниз спускалась лесенка.
Первое впечатление у всех было такое, как будто они никогда не выберутся отсюда. Со всех сторон, куда ни посмотришь, громоздились и надвигались горы, и быстро, быстро со стороны духана и темного кипариса набегала вечерняя тень, и от этого узкая, кривая долина Черной речки становилась уже, а горы выше. Слышно было, как ворчала река и без умолку кричали цикады.
— Очаровательно! — сказала Марья Константиновна, делая глубокие вдыхания от восторга. — Дети, посмотрите, как хорошо! Какая тишина!
— Да, в самом деле хорошо, — согласился Лаевский, которому понравился вид и почему-то, когда он посмотрел на небо и потом на синий дымок, выходивший из трубы духана, вдруг стало грустно. — Да, хорошо! — повторил он.
— Иван Андреич, опишите этот вид! — сказала слезливо Марья Константиновна.
— Зачем? — спросил Лаевский. — Впечатление лучше всякого описания. Это богатство красок и звуков, какое всякий получает от природы путем впечатлений, писатели выбалтывают в безобразном, неузнаваемом виде.
— Будто бы? — холодно спросил фон Корен, выбрав себе самый большой камень около воды и стараясь взобраться на него и сесть. — Будто бы? — повторил он, глядя в упор на Лаевского. — А Ромео и Джульета? А, например, Украинская ночь Пушкина? Природа должна прийти и в ножки поклониться.
— Пожалуй… — согласился Лаевский, которому было лень соображать и противоречить. — Впрочем, — сказал он немного погодя, — что такое Ромео и Джульета, в сущности? Красивая, поэтическая святая любовь — это розы, под которыми хотят спрятать гниль. Ромео — такое же животное, как и все.
— О чем с вами ни заговоришь, вы всё сводите к…
Фон Корен оглянулся на Катю и не договорил.
— К чему я свожу? — спросил Лаевский.
— Вам говоришь, например: «как красива кисть винограда!», а вы: «да, но как она безобразна, когда ее жуют и переваривают в желудках». К чему это говорить? Не ново и… вообще странная манера.
Лаевский знал, что его не любит фон Корен, и потому боялся его и в его присутствии чувствовал себя так, как будто всем было тесно и за спиной стоял кто-то. Он ничего не ответил, отошел в сторону и пожалел, что поехал.
— Господа, марш за хворостом для костра! — скомандовал Самойленко.
Все разбрелись, куда попало, и на месте остались только Кирилин, Ачмианов и Никодим Александрыч. Кербалай принес стулья, разостлал на земле ковер и поставил несколько бутылок вина. Пристав Кирилин, высокий, видный мужчина, во всякую погоду носивший сверх кителя шинель, своею горделивою осанкою, важной походкой и густым, несколько хриплым голосом, напоминал провинциальных полицеймейстеров из молодых. Выражение у него было грустное и сонное, как будто его только что разбудили против его желания.
— Ты что же это, скотина, принес? — спросил он у Кербалая, медленно выговаривая каждое слово. — Я приказывал тебе подать кварели, а ты что принес, татарская морда? А? Кого?
— У нас много своего вина, Егор Алексеич, — робко и вежливо заметил Никодим Александрыч.
— Что-с? Но я желаю, чтобы и мое вино было. Я участвую в пикнике и, полагаю, имею полное право внести свою долю. По-ла-гаю! Принеси десять бутылок кварели!
— Для чего так много? — удивился Никодим Александрыч, знавший, что у Кирилина не было денег.
— Двадцать бутылок! Тридцать! — крикнул Кирилин.
— Ничего, пусть, — шепнул Ачмианов Никодиму Александрычу, — я заплачу.
Надежда Федоровна была в веселом, шаловливом настроении. Ей хотелось прыгать, хохотать, кричать, дразнить, кокетничать. В своем дешевом платье из ситчика с голубыми глазками, в красных туфельках и в той же самой соломенной шляпе она казалась себе маленькой, простенькой, легкой и воздушной, как бабочка. Она пробежала по жидкому мостику и минуту глядела в воду, чтобы закружилась голова, потом вскрикнула и со смехом побежала на ту сторону к сушильне, и ей казалось, что все мужчины и даже Кербалай любовались ею. Когда в быстро наступавших потемках деревья сливались с горами, лошади с экипажами и в окнах духана блеснул огонек, она по тропинке, которая вилась между камнями и колючими кустами, взобралась на гору и села на камень. Внизу уже горел костер. Около огня с засученными рукавами двигался дьякон, и его длинная черная тень радиусом ходила вокруг костра; он подкладывал хворост и ложкой, привязанной к длинной палке, мешал в котле. Самойленко, с медно-красным лицом, хлопотал около огня, как у себя в кухне, и кричал свирепо:
— Где же соль, господа? Небось, забыли? Что же это все расселись, как помещики, а я один хлопочи?
На поваленном дереве рядышком сидели Лаевский и Никодим Александрыч и задумчиво смотрели на огонь. Марья Константиновна, Катя и Костя вынимали из корзин чайную посуду и тарелки. Фон Корен, скрестив руки и поставив одну ногу на камень, стоял на берегу около самой воды и о чем-то думал. Красные пятна от костра, вместе с тенями, ходили по земле около темных человеческих фигур, дрожали на горе, на деревьях, на мосту, на сушильне; на другой стороне обрывистый, изрытый бережок весь был освещен, мигал и отражался в речке, и быстро бегущая бурливая вода рвала на части его отражение.
Дьякон пошел за рыбой, которую на берегу чистил и мыл Кербалай, но на полдороге остановился и посмотрел вокруг.
«Боже мой, как хорошо! — подумал он. — Люди, камни, огонь, сумерки, уродливое дерево — ничего больше, но как хорошо!»
На том берегу около сушильни появились какие-то незнакомые люди. Оттого, что свет мелькал и дым от костра несло на ту сторону, нельзя было рассмотреть всех этих людей сразу, а видны были по частям то мохнатая шапка и седая борода, то синяя рубаха, то лохмотья от плеч до колен и кинжал поперек живота, то молодое смуглое лицо с черными бровями, такими густыми и резкими, как будто они были написаны углем. Человек пять из них сели в кружок на земле, а остальные пять пошли в сушильню. Один стал в дверях спиною к костру и, заложив руки назад, стал рассказывать что-то, должно быть, очень интересное, потому что, когда Самойленко подложил хворосту и костер вспыхнул, брызнул искрами и ярко осветил сушильню, было видно, как из дверей глядели две физиономии, спокойные, выражавшие глубокое внимание, и как те, которые сидели в кружок, обернулись и стали прислушиваться к рассказу. Немного погодя сидевшие в кружок тихо запели что-то протяжное, мелодичное, похожее на великопостную церковную песню… Слушая их, дьякон вообразил, что будет с ним через десять лет, когда он вернется из экспедиции: он — молодой иеромонах-миссионер, автор с именем и великолепным прошлым; его посвящают в архимандриты, потом в архиереи; он служит в кафедральном соборе обедню; в золотой митре, с панагией выходит на амвон и, осеняя массу народа трикирием и дикирием, возглашает: «Призри с небесе, боже, и виждь и посети виноград сей, его же насади десница твоя!» А дети ангельскими голосами поют в ответ: «Святый боже»…
— Дьякон, где же рыба? — послышался голос Самойленка.
Вернувшись к костру, дьякон вообразил, как в жаркий июльский день по пыльной дороге идет крестный ход; впереди мужики несут хоругви, а бабы и девки иконы, за ними мальчишки-певчие и дьячок с подвязанной щекой и с соломой в волосах, потом по порядку он, дьякон, за ним поп в скуфейке и с крестом, а сзади пылит толпа мужиков, баб, мальчишек; тут же в толпе попадья и дьяконица в платочках. Поют певчие, ревут дети, кричат перепела, заливается жаворонок… Вот остановились и покропили святой водой стадо… Пошли дальше и с коленопреклонением попросили дождя. Потом закуска, разговоры…
«И это тоже хорошо…» — подумал дьякон.


Кирилин и Ачмианов взбирались на гору по тропинке. Ачмианов отстал и остановился, а Кирилин подошел к Надежде Федоровне.
— Добрый вечер! — сказал он, делая под козырек.
— Добрый вечер.
— Да-с! — сказал Кирилин, глядя на небо и думая.
— Что — да-с? — спросила Надежда Федоровна, помолчав немного и замечая, что Ачмианов наблюдает за ними обоими.
— Итак, значит, — медленно выговорил офицер, — наша любовь увяла, не успев расцвесть, так сказать. Как прикажете это понять? Кокетство это с вашей стороны, в своем роде, или же вы считаете меня шалопаем, с которым можно поступать как угодно?
— Это была ошибка! Оставьте меня! — сказала резко Надежда Федоровна, в этот прекрасный, чудесный вечер глядя на него со страхом и спрашивая себя в недоумении: неужели в самом деле была минута, когда этот человек нравился ей и был близок?
— Так-с! — сказал Кирилин; он молча постоял немного, подумал и сказал: — Что ж? Подождем, когда вы будете в лучшем настроении, а пока смею вас уверить, я человек порядочный и сомневаться в этом никому не позволю. Мной играть нельзя! Adieu!
Он сделал под козырек и пошел в сторону, пробираясь меж кустами. Немного погодя нерешительно подошел Ачмианов.
— Хороший вечер сегодня! — сказал он с легким армянским акцентом.
Он был недурен собой, одевался по моде, держался просто, как благовоспитанный юноша, но Надежда Федоровна не любила его за то, что была должна его отцу триста рублей; ей неприятно было также, что на пикник пригласили лавочника, и было неприятно, что он подошел к ней именно в этот вечер, когда на душе у нее было так чисто.
— Вообще пикник удался, — сказал он, помолчав.
— Да, — согласилась она и, как будто только что вспомнив про свой долг, сказала небрежно: — Да, скажите в своем магазине, что на днях зайдет Иван Андреич и заплатит там триста… или не помню сколько.
— Я готов дать еще триста, только чтобы вы каждый день не напоминали об этом долге. К чему проза?
Надежда Федоровна засмеялась; ей пришла в голову смешная мысль, что если бы она была недостаточно нравственной и пожелала, то в одну минуту могла бы отделаться от долга. Если бы, например, этому красивому, молодому дурачку вскружить голову! Как бы это в сущности было смешно, нелепо, дико! И ей вдруг захотелось влюбить, обобрать, бросить, потом посмотреть, что из этого выйдет.
— Позвольте дать вам один совет, — робко сказал Ачмианов. — Прошу вас, остерегайтесь Кирилина. Он всюду рассказывает про вас ужасные вещи.
— Мне неинтересно знать, что рассказывает про меня всякий дурак, — сказала холодно Надежда Федоровна, и ею овладело беспокойство, и смешная мысль поиграть молодым, хорошеньким Ачмиановым вдруг потеряла свою прелесть.
— Надо вниз идти, — сказала она. — Зовут.
Внизу уже была готова уха. Ее разливали по тарелкам и ели с тем священнодействием, с каким это делается только на пикниках; и все находили, что уха очень вкусна и что дома они никогда не ели ничего такого вкусного. Как это водится на всех пикниках, теряясь в массе салфеток, свертков, ненужных, ползающих от ветра сальных бумаг, не знали, где чей стакан и где чей хлеб, проливали вино на ковер и себе на колени, рассыпали соль, а кругом было темно и костер горел уже не так ярко и каждому было лень встать и подложить хворосту. Все пили вино, и Косте, и Кате дали по полустакану. Надежда Федоровна выпила стакан, потом другой, опьянела и забыла про Кирилина.
— Роскошный пикник, очаровательный вечер, — сказал Лаевский, веселея от вина, — но я предпочел бы всему этому хорошую зиму. «Морозной пылью серебрится его бобровый воротник».
— У всякого свой вкус, — заметил фон Корен.
Лаевский почувствовал неловкость: в спину ему бил жар от костра, а в грудь и в лицо — ненависть фон Корена; эта ненависть порядочного, умного человека, в которой таилась, вероятно, основательная причина, унижала его, ослабляла, и он, не будучи в силах противостоять ей, сказал заискивающим тоном:
— Я страстно люблю природу и жалею, что я не естественник. Я завидую вам.
— Ну, а я не жалею и не завидую, — сказала Надежда Федоровна. — Я не понимаю, как это можно серьезно заниматься букашками и козявками, когда страдает народ.
Лаевский разделял ее мнение. Он был совершенно незнаком с естественными науками и потому никогда не мог помириться с авторитетным тоном и ученым, глубокомысленным видом людей, которые занимаются муравьиными усиками и тараканьими лапками, и ему всегда было досадно, что эти люди, на основании усиков, лапок и какой-то протоплазмы (он почему-то воображал ее в виде устрицы), берутся решать вопросы, охватывающие собою происхождение и жизнь человека. Но в словах Надежды Федоровны ему послышалась ложь, и он сказал только для того, чтобы противоречить ей:
— Дело не в козявках, а в выводах!


Стали садиться в экипажи, чтобы ехать домой, поздно, часу в одиннадцатом. Все сели и недоставало только Надежды Федоровны и Ачмианова, которые по ту сторону реки бегали вперегонки и хохотали.
— Господа, поскорей! — крикнул им Самойленко.
— Не следовало бы дамам давать вино, — тихо сказал фон Корен.
Лаевский, утомленный пикником, ненавистью фон Корена и своими мыслями, пошел к Надежде Федоровне навстречу и, когда она, веселая, радостная, чувствуя себя легкой, как перышко, запыхавшись и хохоча, схватила его за обе руки и положила ему голову на грудь, он сделал шаг назад и сказал сурово:
— Ты ведешь себя, как… кокотка.
Это вышло уж очень грубо, так что ему даже стало жаль ее. На его сердитом, утомленном лице она прочла ненависть, жалость, досаду на себя, и вдруг пала духом. Она поняла, что пересолила, вела себя слишком развязно, и, опечаленная, чувствуя себя тяжелой, толстой, грубой и пьяною, села в первый попавшийся пустой экипаж вместе с Ачмиановым. Лаевский сел с Кирилиным, зоолог с Самойленко, дьякон с дамами, и поезд тронулся.
— Вот они каковы макаки… — начал фон Корен, кутаясь в плащ и закрывая глаза. — Ты слышал, она не хотела бы заниматься букашками и козявками, потому что страдает народ. Так судят нашего брата все макаки. Племя рабское, лукавое, в десяти поколениях запуганное кнутом и кулаком; оно трепещет, умиляется и курит фимиамы только перед насилием, но впусти макаку в свободную область, где ее некому брать за шиворот, там она развертывается и дает себя знать. Посмотри, как она смела на картинных выставках, в музеях, в театрах или когда судит о науке: она топорщится, становится на дыбы, ругается, критикует… И непременно критикует — рабская черта! Ты прислушайся: людей свободных профессий ругают чаще, чем мошенников — это оттого, что общество на три четверти состоит из рабов, из таких же вот макак. Не случается, чтобы раб протянул тебе руку и сказал искренно спасибо за то, что ты работаешь.
— Не знаю, что ты хочешь! — сказал Самойленко, зевая. — Бедненькой по простоте захотелось поговорить с тобой об умном, а ты уж заключение выводишь. Ты сердит на него за что-то, ну и на нее за компанию. А она прекрасная женщина!
— Э, полно! Обыкновенная содержанка, развратная и пошлая. Послушай, Александр Давидыч, когда ты встречаешь простую бабу, которая не живет с мужем, ничего не делает и только хи-хи да ха-ха, ты говоришь ей: ступай работать. Почему же ты тут робеешь и боишься говорить правду? Потому только, что Надежда Федоровна живет на содержании не у матроса, а у чиновника?
— Что же мне с ней делать? — рассердился Самойленко. — Бить ее, что ли?
— Не льстить пороку. Мы проклинаем порок только за глаза, а это похоже на кукиш в кармане. Я зоолог, или социолог, что одно и то же, ты — врач; общество нам верит; мы обязаны указывать ему на тот страшный вред, каким угрожает ему и будущим поколениям существование госпож вроде этой Надежды Ивановны.
— Федоровны, — поправил Самойленко. — А что должно делать общество?
— Оно? Это его дело. По-моему, самый прямой и верный путь — это насилие. Manu militari ее следует отправить к мужу, а если муж не примет, то отдать ее в каторжные работы или какое-нибудь исправительное заведение.
— Уф! — вздохнул Самойленко; он помолчал и спросил тихо: — Как-то на днях ты говорил, что таких людей, как Лаевский, уничтожать надо… Скажи мне, если бы того… положим, государство или общество поручило тебе уничтожить его, то ты бы… решился?
— Рука бы не дрогнула.


Приехав домой, Лаевский и Надежда Федоровна вошли в свои темные, душные, скучные комнаты. Оба молчали. Лаевский зажег свечу, а Надежда Федоровна села и, не снимая манто и шляпы, подняла на него печальные, виноватые глаза.
Он понял, что она ждет от него объяснения; но объясняться было бы скучно, бесполезно и утомительно, и на душе было тяжело оттого, что он не удержался и сказал ей грубость. Случайно он нащупал у себя в кармане письмо, которое каждый день собирался прочесть ей, и подумал, что если показать ей теперь это письмо, то оно отвлечет ее внимание в другую сторону.
«Пора уж выяснить отношения, — подумал он. — Дам ей; что будет, то будет».
Он вынул письмо и подал ей.
— Прочти. Это тебя касается.
Сказавши это, он пошел к себе в кабинет и лег на диван в потемках, без подушки. Надежда Федоровна прочла письмо, и показалось ей, что потолок опустился и стены подошли близко к ней. Стало вдруг тесно, темно и страшно. Она быстро перекрестилась три раза и проговорила:
— Упокой господи… упокой господи…
И заплакала.
— Ваня! — позвала она. — Иван Андреич!
Ответа не было. Думая, что Лаевский вошел и стоит у нее за стулом, она всхлипывала, как ребенок, и говорила:
— Зачем ты раньше не сказал мне, что он умер? Я бы не поехала на пикник, не хохотала бы так страшно… Мужчины говорили мне пошлости. Какой грех, какой грех! Спаси меня, Ваня, спаси меня… Я обезумела… Я пропала…
Лаевский слышал ее всхлипыванья. Ему было нестерпимо душно, и сильно стучало сердце. В тоске он поднялся, постоял посреди комнаты, нащупал в потемках кресло около стола и сел.
«Это тюрьма… — подумал он. — Надо уйти… Я не могу…»
Идти играть в карты было уже поздно, ресторанов в городе не было. Он опять лег и заткнул уши, чтобы не слышать всхлипываний, и вдруг вспомнил, что можно пойти к Самойленку. Чтобы не проходить мимо Надежды Федоровны, он через окно пробрался в садик, перелез через палисадник и пошел по улице. Было темно. Только что пришел какой-то пароход, судя по огням, большой пассажирский… Загремела якорная цепь. От берега по направлению к пароходу быстро двигался красный огонек: это плыла таможенная лодка.
«Спят себе пассажиры в каютах»… — подумал Лаевский и позавидовал чужому покою.
Окна в доме Самойленка были открыты. Лаевский поглядел в одно из них, потом в другое: в комнатах было темно и тихо.
— Александр Давидыч, ты спишь? — позвал он. — Александр Давидыч!
Послышался кашель и тревожный окрик:
— Кто там? Какого чёрта?
— Это я, Александр Давидыч. Извини.
Немного погодя отворилась дверь; блеснул мягкий свет от лампадки, и показался громадный Самойленко весь в белом и в белом колпаке.
— Что тебе? — спросил он, тяжело дыша спросонок и почесываясь. — Погоди, я сейчас отопру.
— Не трудись, я в окно…
Лаевский влез в окошко и, подойдя к Самойленку, схватил его за руку.
— Александр Давидыч, — сказал он дрожащим голосом, — спаси меня! Умоляю тебя, заклинаю, пойми меня! Положение мое мучительно. Если оно продолжится еще хотя день-два, то я задушу себя, как… как собаку!
— Постой… Ты насчет чего, собственно?
— Зажги свечу.
— Ox, ox… — вздохнул Самойленко, зажигая свечу. — Боже мой, боже мой… А уже второй час, брат.
— Извини, но я не могу дома сидеть, — сказал Лаевский, чувствуя большое облегчение от света и присутствия Самойленка. — Ты, Александр Давидыч, мой единственный, мой лучший друг… Вся надежда на тебя. Хочешь, не хочешь, бога ради выручай. Во что бы то ни стало, я должен уехать отсюда. Дай мне денег взаймы!
— Ох, боже мой, боже мой!.. — вздохнул Самойленко, почесываясь. — Засыпаю и слышу: свисток, пароход пришел, а потом ты… Много тебе нужно?
— По крайней мере рублей триста. Ей нужно оставить сто и мне на дорогу двести… Я тебе должен уже около четырехсот, но я всё вышлю… всё…
Самойленко забрал в одну руку оба бакена, расставил ноги и задумался.
— Так… — пробормотал он в раздумье. — Триста… Да… Но у меня нет столько. Придется занять у кого-нибудь.
— Займи, бога ради! — сказал Лаевский, видя по лицу Самойленка, что он хочет дать ему денег и непременно даст. — Займи, а я непременно отдам. Вышлю из Петербурга, как только приеду туда. Это уж будь покоен. Вот что, Саша, — сказал он, оживляясь, — давай выпьем вина!
— Так… Можно и вина.
Оба пошли в столовую.
— А как же Надежда Федоровна? — спросил Самойленко, ставя на стол три бутылки и тарелку с персиками. — Она останется разве?
— Всё устрою, всё устрою… — сказал Лаевский, чувствуя неожиданный прилив радости. — Я потом вышлю ей денег, она и приедет ко мне… Там уж мы и выясним наши отношения. За твое здоровье, друже.
— Погоди! — сказал Самойленко. — Сначала ты этого выпей… Это из моего виноградника. Это вот бутылка из виноградника Наваридзе, а это Ахатулова… Попробуй все три сорта и скажи откровенно… Мое как будто с кислотцой. А? Не находишь?
— Да. Утешил ты меня, Александр Давидыч. Спасибо… Я ожил.
— С кислотцой?
— А чёрт его знает, не знаю. Но ты великолепный, чудный человек!
Глядя на его бледное, возбужденное, доброе лицо, Самойленко вспомнил мнение фон Корена, что таких уничтожать нужно, и Лаевский показался ему слабым, беззащитным ребенком, которого всякий может обидеть и уничтожить.
— А ты, когда поедешь, с матерью помирись, — сказал он. — Нехорошо.
— Да, да, непременно.
Помолчали немного. Когда выпили первую бутылку, Самойленко сказал:
— Помирился бы ты и с фон Кореном. Оба вы прекраснейшие, умнейшие люди, а глядите друг на дружку, как волки.
— Да, он прекраснейший, умнейший человек, — согласился Лаевский, готовый теперь всех хвалить и прощать. — Он замечательный человек, но сойтись с ним для меня невозможно. Нет! Наши натуры слишком различны. Я натура вялая, слабая, подчиненная; быть может, в хорошую минуту и протянул бы ему руку, но он отвернулся бы от меня… с презрением.
Лаевский хлебнул вина, прошелся из угла в угол и продолжал, стоя посреди комнаты:
— Я отлично понимаю фон Корена. Это натура твердая, сильная, деспотическая. Ты слышал, он постоянно говорит об экспедиции, и это не пустые слова. Ему нужна пустыня, лунная ночь: кругом в палатках и под открытым небом спят его голодные и больные, замученные тяжелыми переходами казаки, проводники, носильщики, доктор, священник, и не спит только один он и, как Стэнли, сидит на складном стуле и чувствует себя царем пустыни и хозяином этих людей. Он идет, идет, идет куда-то, люди его стонут и мрут один за другим, а он идет и идет, в конце концов погибает сам и все-таки остается деспотом и царем пустыни, так как крест у его могилы виден караванам за тридцать-сорок миль и царит над пустыней. Я жалею, что этот человек не на военной службе. Из него вышел бы превосходный, гениальный полководец. Он умел бы топить в реке свою конницу и делать из трупов мосты, а такая смелость на войне нужнее всяких фортификаций и тактик. О, я его отлично понимаю! Скажи: зачем он проедается здесь? Что ему тут нужно?
— Он морскую фауну изучает.
— Нет. Нет, брат, нет! — вздохнул Лаевский. — Мне на пароходе один проезжий ученый рассказывал, что Черное море бедно фауной и что на глубине его, благодаря изобилию сероводорода, невозможна органическая жизнь. Все серьезные зоологи работают на биологических станциях в Неаполе или Villefranche. Но фон Корен самостоятелен и упрям: он работает на Черном море, потому что никто здесь не работает; он порвал с университетом, не хочет знать ученых и товарищей, потому что он прежде всего деспот, а потом уж зоолог. И из него, увидишь, выйдет большой толк. Он уж и теперь мечтает, что когда вернется из экспедиции, то выкурит из наших университетов интригу и посредственность и скрутит ученых в бараний рог. Деспотия и в науке так же сильна, как на войне. А живет он второе лето в этом вонючем городишке, потому что лучше быть первым в деревне, чем в городе вторым. Он здесь король и орел; он держит всех жителей в ежах и гнетет их своим авторитетом. Он прибрал к рукам всех, вмешивается в чужие дела, всё ему нужно и все боятся его. Я ускользаю из-под его лапы, он чувствует это и ненавидит меня. Не говорил ли он тебе, что меня нужно уничтожить или отдать в общественные работы?
— Да, — засмеялся Самойленко.
Лаевский тоже засмеялся и выпил вина.
— И идеалы у него деспотические, — сказал он, смеясь и закусывая персиком. — Обыкновенные смертные, если работают на общую пользу, то имеют в виду своего ближнего: меня, тебя, одним словом человека. Для фон Корена же люди — щенки и ничтожества, слишком мелкие для того, чтобы быть целью его жизни. Он работает, пойдет в экспедицию и свернет себе там шею не во имя любви к ближнему, а во имя таких абстрактов, как человечество, будущие поколения, идеальная порода людей. Он хлопочет об улучшении человеческой породы, и в этом отношении мы для него только рабы, мясо для пушек, вьючные животные; одних бы он уничтожил или законопатил на каторгу, других скрутил бы дисциплиной, заставил бы, как Аракчеев, вставать и ложиться по барабану, поставил бы евнухов, чтобы стеречь наше целомудрие и нравственность, велел бы стрелять во всякого, кто выходит за круг нашей узкой, консервативной морали, и всё это во имя улучшения человеческой породы… А что такое человеческая порода? Иллюзия, мираж… Деспоты всегда были иллюзионистами. Я, брат, отлично понимаю его. Я ценю его и не отрицаю его значения; на таких, как он, этот мир держится, и если бы мир был предоставлен только одним нам, то мы, при всей своей доброте и благих намерениях, сделали бы из него то же самое, что вот мухи из этой картины. Да.
Лаевский сел рядом с Самойленком и сказал с искренним увлечением:
— Я пустой, ничтожный, падший человек! Воздух, которым дышу, это вино, любовь, одним словом, жизнь я до сих пор покупал ценою лжи, праздности и малодушия. До сих пор я обманывал людей и себя, я страдал от этого, и страдания мои были дешевы и пошлы. Перед ненавистью фон Корена я робко гну спину, потому что временами сам ненавижу и презираю себя.
Лаевский опять в волнении прошелся из угла в угол и сказал:
— Я рад, что ясно вижу свои недостатки и сознаю их. Это поможет мне воскреснуть и стать другим человеком. Голубчик мой, если б ты знал, как страстно, с какою тоской я жажду своего обновления. И, клянусь тебе, я буду человеком! Буду! Не знаю, вино ли во мне заговорило, или оно так и есть на самом деле, но мне кажется, что я давно уже не переживал таких светлых, чистых минут, как сейчас у тебя.
— Пора, братец, спать… — сказал Самойленко.
— Да, да… Извини. Я сейчас.
Лаевский засуетился около мебели и окон, ища своей фуражки.
— Спасибо… — бормотал он, вздыхая. — Спасибо… Ласка и доброе слово выше милостыни. Ты оживил меня.
Он нашел свою фуражку, остановился и виновато посмотрел на Самойленка.
— Александр Давидыч! — сказал он умоляющим голосом.
— Что?
— Позволь, голубчик, остаться у тебя ночевать!
— Сделай милость… отчего же?
Лаевский лег спать на диване и еще долго разговаривал с доктором.


Дня через три после пикника к Надежде Федоровне неожиданно пришла Марья Константиновна и, не здороваясь, не снимая шляпы, схватила ее за обе руки, прижала их к своей груди и сказала в сильном волнении:
— Дорогая моя, я взволнована, поражена. Наш милый, симпатичный доктор вчера передавал моему Никодиму Александрычу, что будто скончался ваш муж. Скажите, дорогая… Скажите, это правда?
— Да, правда, он умер, — ответила Надежда Федоровна.
— Это ужасно, ужасно, дорогая! Но нет худа без добра. Ваш муж, был, вероятно, дивный, чудный, святой человек, а такие на небе нужнее, чем на земле.
На лице у Марьи Константиновны задрожали все черточки и точечки, как будто под кожей запрыгали мелкие иголочки, она миндально улыбнулась и сказала восторженно, задыхаясь:
— Итак, вы свободны, дорогая. Вы можете теперь высоко держать голову и смело глядеть людям в глаза. Отныне бог и люди благословят ваш союз с Иваном Андреичем. Это очаровательно. Я дрожу от радости, не нахожу слов. Милая, я буду вашей свахой… Мы с Никодимом Александрычем так любили вас, вы позволите нам благословить ваш законный, чистый союз. Когда, когда вы думаете венчаться?
— Я и не думала об этом, — сказала Надежда Федоровна, освобождая свои руки.
— Это невозможно, милая. Вы думали, думали!
— Ей-богу, не думала, — засмеялась Надежда Федоровна. — К чему нам венчаться? Я не вижу в этом никакой надобности. Будем жить, как жили.
— Что вы говорите! — ужаснулась Марья Константиновна. — Ради бога, что вы говорите!
— Оттого, что мы повенчаемся, не станет лучше. Напротив, даже хуже. Мы потеряем свою свободу.
— Милая! Милая, что вы говорите! — вскрикнула Марья Константиновна, отступая назад и всплескивая руками. — Вы экстравагантны! Опомнитесь! Угомонитесь!
— То есть, как угомониться? Я еще не жила, а вы — угомонитесь!
Надежда Федоровна вспомнила, что она в самом деле еще не жила. Кончила курс в институте и вышла за нелюбимого человека, потом сошлась с Лаевским и всё время жила с ним на этом скучном, пустынном берегу в ожидании чего-то лучшего. Разве это жизнь?
«А повенчаться бы следовало…» — подумала она, но вспомнила про Кирилина и Ачмианова, покраснела и сказала:
— Нет, это невозможно. Если бы даже Иван Андреич стал просить меня об этом на коленях, то и тогда бы я отказалась.
Марья Константиновна минуту сидела молча на диване печальная, серьезная и глядела в одну точку, потом встала и проговорила холодно:
— Прощайте, милая! Извините, что побеспокоила. Хотя это для меня и не легко, но я должна сказать вам, что с этого дня между нами всё кончено и, несмотря на мое глубокое уважение к Ивану Андреичу, дверь моего дома для вас закрыта.
Она проговорила это с торжественностью, и сама же была подавлена своим торжественным тоном; лицо ее опять задрожало, приняло мягкое, миндальное выражение, она протянула испуганной, сконфуженной Надежде Федоровне обе руки и сказала умоляюще:
— Милая моя, позвольте мне хотя одну минуту побыть вашею матерью или старшей сестрой! Я буду откровенна с вами, как мать.
Надежда Федоровна почувствовала в своей груди такую теплоту, радость и сострадание к себе, как будто в самом деле воскресла ее мать и стояла перед ней. Она порывисто обняла Марью Константиновну и прижалась лицом к ее плечу. Обе заплакали. Они сели на диван и несколько минут всхлипывали, не глядя друг на друга и будучи не в силах выговорить ни одного слова.
— Милая, дитя мое, — начала Марья Константиновна, — я буду говорить вам суровые истины, не щадя вас.
— Ради бога, ради бога!
— Доверьтесь мне, милая. Вы вспомните, из всех здешних дам только я одна принимала вас. Вы ужаснули меня с первого же дня, но я была не в силах отнестись к вам с пренебрежением, как все. Я страдала за милого, доброго Ивана Андреича, как за сына. Молодой человек на чужой стороне, неопытен, слаб, без матери, и я мучилась, мучилась… Муж был против знакомства с ним, но я уговорила… убедила… Мы стали принимать Ивана Андреича, а с ним, конечно, и вас, иначе бы он оскорбился. У меня дочь, сын… Вы понимаете, нежный детский ум, чистое сердце.. аще кто соблазнит единого из малых сих… Я принимала вас и дрожала за детей. О, когда вы будете матерью, вы поймете мой страх. И все удивлялись, что я принимаю вас, извините, как порядочную, намекали мне… ну, конечно, сплетни, гипотезы… В глубине моей души я осудила вас, но вы были несчастны, жалки, экстравагантны, и я страдала от жалости.
— Но почему? Почему? — спросила Надежда Федоровна, дрожа всем телом. — Что я кому сделала?
— Вы страшная грешница. Вы нарушили обет, который дали мужу перед алтарем. Вы соблазнили прекрасного молодого человека, который, быть может, если бы не встретился с вами, взял бы себе законную подругу жизни из хорошей семьи своего круга и был бы теперь, как все. Вы погубили его молодость. Не говорите, не говорите, милая! Я не поверю, чтобы в наших грехах был виноват мужчина. Всегда виноваты женщины. Мужчины в домашнем быту легкомысленны, живут умом, а не сердцем, не понимают многого, но женщина всё понимает. От нее всё зависит. Ей много дано, с нее много и взыщется. О, милая, если бы она была в этом отношении глупее или слабее мужчины, то бог не вверил бы ей воспитания мальчиков и девочек. И затем, дорогая, вы вступили на стезю порока, забыв всякую стыдливость; другая в вашем положении укрылась бы от людей, сидела бы дома запершись, и люди видели бы ее только в храме божием, бледную, одетую во все черное, плачущую, и каждый бы в искреннем сокрушении сказал: «Боже, это согрешивший ангел опять возвращается к тебе…» Но вы, милая, забыли всякую скромность, жили открыто, экстравагантно, точно гордились грехом, вы резвились, хохотали, и я, глядя на вас, дрожала от ужаса и боялась, чтобы гром небесный не поразил нашего дома в то время, когда вы сидите у нас. Милая, не говорите, не говорите! — вскрикнула Марья Константиновна, заметив, что Надежда Федоровна хочет говорить. — Доверьтесь мне, я не обману вас и не скрою от взоров вашей души ни одной истины. Слушайте же меня, дорогая… Бог отмечает великих грешников, и вы были отмечены. Вспомните, костюмы ваши всегда были ужасны!
Надежда Федоровна, бывшая всегда самого лучшего мнения о своих костюмах, перестала плакать и посмотрела на нее с удивлением.
— Да, ужасны! — продолжала Марья Константиновна. — По изысканности и пестроте ваших нарядов всякий может судить о вашем поведении. Все, глядя на вас, посмеивались и пожимали плечами, а я страдала, страдала… И простите меня, милая, вы нечистоплотны! Когда мы встречались в купальне, вы заставляли меня трепетать. Верхнее платье еще туда-сюда, но юбка, сорочка… милая, я краснею! Бедному Ивану Андреичу тоже никто не завяжет галстука, как следует, и по белью, и по сапогам бедняжки видно, что дома за ним никто не смотрит. И всегда он у вас, мой голубчик, голоден, и в самом деле, если дома некому позаботиться насчет самовара и кофе, то поневоле будешь проживать в павильоне половину своего жалованья. А дома у вас просто ужас, ужас! Во всем городе ни у кого нет мух, а у вас от них отбою нет, все тарелки и блюдечки черны. На окнах и на столах, посмотрите, пыль, дохлые мухи, стаканы… К чему тут стаканы? И, милая, до сих пор у вас со стола не убрано. А в спальню к вам войти стыдно: разбросано везде белье, висят на стенах эти ваши разные каучуки, стоит какая-то посуда… Милая! Муж ничего не должен знать, и жена должна быть перед ним чистой, как ангельчик! Я каждое утро просыпаюсь чуть свет и мою холодной водой лицо, чтобы мой Никодим Александрыч не заметил, что я заспанная.
— Это все пустяки, — зарыдала Надежда Федоровна. — Если бы я была счастлива, но я так несчастна!
— Да, да, вы очень несчастны! — вздохнула Марья Константиновна, едва удерживаясь, чтобы не заплакать. — И вас ожидает в будущем страшное горе! Одинокая старость, болезни, а потом ответ на страшном судилище… Ужасно, ужасно! Теперь сама судьба протягивает вам руку помощи, а вы неразумно отстраняете ее. Венчайтесь, скорее венчайтесь!
— Да, надо, надо, — сказала Надежда Федоровна, — но это невозможно!
— Почему же?
— Невозможно! О, если б вы знали!
Надежда Федоровна хотела рассказать про Кирилина и про то, как она вчера вечером встретилась на пристани с молодым, красивым Ачмиановым и как ей пришла в голову сумасшедшая, смешная мысль отделаться от долга в триста рублей, ей было очень смешно, и она вернулась домой поздно вечером, чувствуя себя бесповоротно падшей и продажной. Она сама не знала, как это случилось. И ей хотелось теперь поклясться перед Марьей Константиновной, что она непременно отдаст долг, но рыдания и стыд мешали ей говорить.
— Я уеду, — сказала она. — Иван Андреич пусть остается, а я уеду.
— Куда?
— В Россию.
— Но чем вы будете там жить? Ведь у вас ничего нет.
— Я буду переводами заниматься или… или открою библиотечку…
— Не фантазируйте, моя милая. На библиотечку деньги нужны. Ну, я вас теперь оставлю, а вы успокойтесь и подумайте, а завтра приходите ко мне веселенькая. Это будет очаровательно! Ну, прощайте, мой ангелочек. Дайте я вас поцелую.
Марья Константиновна поцеловала Надежду Федоровну в лоб, перекрестила ее и тихо вышла. Становилось уже темно, и Ольга в кухне зажгла огонь. Продолжая плакать, Надежда Федоровна пошла в спальню и легла на постель. Ее стала бить сильная лихорадка. Лежа, она разделась, смяла платье к ногам и свернулась под одеялом клубочком. Ей хотелось пить, и некому было подать.
— Я отдам! — говорила она себе, и ей в бреду казалось, что она сидит возле какой-то больной и узнает в ней самоё себя. — Я отдам. Было бы глупо думать, что я из-за денег… Я уеду и вышлю ему деньги из Петербурга. Сначала сто… потом сто… и потом — сто…
Поздно ночью пришел Лаевский.
— Сначала сто… — сказала ему Надежда Федоровна, — потом сто…
— Ты бы приняла хины, — сказал он, и подумал: «Завтра среда, отходит пароход, и я не еду. Значит, придется жить здесь до субботы».
Надежда Федоровна поднялась в постели на колени.
— Я ничего сейчас не говорила? — спросила она, улыбаясь и щурясь от свечи.
— Ничего. Надо будет завтра утром за доктором послать. Спи.
Он взял подушку и пошел к двери. После того, как он окончательно решил уехать и оставить Надежду Федоровну, она стала возбуждать в нем жалость и чувство вины; ему было в ее присутствии немножко совестно, как в присутствии больной или старой лошади, которую решили убить. Он остановился в дверях и оглянулся на нее.
— На пикнике я был раздражен и сказал тебе грубость. Ты извини меня, бога ради.
Сказавши это, он пошел к себе в кабинет, лег и долго не мог уснуть.
Когда на другой день утром Самойленко, одетый, по случаю табельного дня, в полную парадную форму с эполетами и орденами, пощупав у Надежды Федоровны пульс и поглядев ей на язык, выходил из спальни, Лаевский, стоявший у порога, спросил его с тревогой:
— Ну, что? Что?
Лицо его выражало страх, крайнее беспокойство и надежду.
— Успокойся, ничего опасного, — сказал Самойленко. — Обыкновенная лихорадка.
— Я не о том, — нетерпеливо поморщился Лаевский. — Достал денег?
— Душа моя, извини, — зашептал Самойленко, оглядываясь на дверь и конфузясь. — Бога ради извини! Ни у кого нет свободных денег, и я собрал пока по пяти да по десяти рублей — всего-навсего сто десять. Сегодня еще кое с кем поговорю. Потерпи.
— Но крайний срок суббота! — прошептал Лаевский, дрожа от нетерпения. — Ради всех святых, до субботы! Если я в субботу не уеду, то ничего мне не нужно… ничего! Не понимаю, как это у доктора могут не быть деньги!
— Да, господи, твоя воля, — быстро и с напряжением зашептал Самойленко, и что-то даже пискнуло у него в горле, — у меня всё разобрали, должны мне семь тысяч, и я кругом должен. Разве я виноват?
— Значит: к субботе достанешь? Да?
— Постараюсь.
— Умоляю, голубчик! Так, чтобы в пятницу утром деньги у меня в руках были.
Самойленко сел и прописал хину в растворе, kalii bromati, ревенной настойки, tincturae gentianae, aquae foeniculi — все это в одной микстуре, прибавил розового сиропу, чтобы горько не было, и ушел.


— У тебя такой вид, как будто ты идешь арестовать меня, — сказал фон Корен, увидев входившего к нему Самойленка в парадной форме.
— А я иду мимо и думаю: дай-ка зайду, зоологию проведаю, — сказал Самойленко, садясь у большого стола, сколоченного самим зоологом из простых досок. — Здравствуй, святой отец! — кивнул он дьякону, который сидел у окна и что-то переписывал. — Посижу минуту и побегу домой распорядиться насчет обеда. Уже пора… Я вам не помешал?
— Нисколько, — ответил зоолог, раскладывая по столу мелко исписанные бумажки. — Мы перепиской занимаемся.
— Так… Ох, боже мой, боже мой… — вздохнул Самойленко; он осторожно потянул со стола запыленную книгу, на которой лежала мертвая сухая фаланга, и сказал: — Однако! Представь, идет по своим делам какой-нибудь зелененький жучок и вдруг по дороге встречает такую анафему. Воображаю, какой ужас!
— Да, полагаю.
— Ей яд дан, чтобы защищаться от врагов?
— Да, защищаться и самой нападать.
— Так, так, так… И всё в природе, голубчики мои, целесообразно и объяснимо, — вздохнул Самойленко. — Только вот чего я не понимаю. Ты, величайшего ума человек, объясни-ка мне, пожалуйста. Бывают, знаешь, зверьки, не больше крысы, на вид красивенькие, но в высочайшей степени, скажу я тебе, подлые и безнравственные. Идет такой зверек, положим, по лесу, увидал птичку, поймал и съел. Идет дальше и видит в траве гнездышко с яйцами; жрать ему уже не хочется, сыт, но все-таки раскусывает яйцо, а другие вышвыривает из гнезда лапкой. Потом встречает лягушку и давай с ней играть. Замучил лягушку, идет и облизывается, а навстречу ему жук. Он жука лапкой… И всё он портит и разрушает на своем пути… Залезает и в чужие норы, разрывает зря муравейники, раскусывает улиток… Встретится крыса — он с ней в драку; увидит змейку или мышонка — задушить надо. И так целый день. Ну, скажи, для чего такой зверь нужен? Зачем он создан?
— Я не знаю, про какого зверька ты говоришь, — сказал фон Корен, — вероятно, про какого-нибудь из насекомоядных. Ну, что ж? Птица попалась ему, потому что неосторожна; он разрушил гнездо с яйцами, потому что птица не искусна, дурно сделала гнездо и не сумела замаскировать его. У лягушки, вероятно, какой-нибудь изъян в цветовой окраске, иначе бы он не увидел ее, и так далее. Твой зверь сокрушает только слабых, неискусных, неосторожных, одним словом, имеющих недостатки, которые природа не находит нужным передавать в потомство. Остаются в живых только более ловкие, осторожные, сильные и развитые. Таким образом, твой зверек, сам того не подозревая, служит великим целям усовершенствования.
— Да, да, да… Кстати, брат, — сказал Самойленко развязно, — дай-ка мне взаймы рублей сто.
— Хорошо. Между насекомоядными попадаются очень интересные субъекты. Например, крот. Про него говорят, что он полезен, так как истребляет вредных насекомых. Рассказывают, что будто какой-то немец прислал императору Вильгельму I шубу из кротовых шкурок и будто император приказал сделать ему выговор за то, что он истребил такое множество полезных животных. А между тем крот в жестокости нисколько не уступит твоему зверьку и к тому же очень вреден, так как страшно портит луга.
Фон Корен отпер шкатулку и достал оттуда сторублевую бумажку.
— У крота сильная грудная клетка, как у летучей мыши, — продолжал он, запирая шкатулку, — страшно развитые кости и мышцы, необыкновенное вооружение рта. Если бы он имел размеры слона, то был бы всесокрушающим, непобедимым животным. Интересно, когда два крота встречаются под землей, то они оба, точно сговорившись, начинают рыть площадку; эта площадка нужна им для того, чтобы удобнее было сражаться. Сделав ее, они вступают в жестокий бой и дерутся до тех пор, пока не падает слабейший. Возьми же сто рублей, — сказал фон Корен, понизив тон, — но с условием, что ты берешь не для Лаевского.
— А хоть бы и для Лаевского! — вспыхнул Самойленко. — Тебе какое дело?
— Для Лаевского я не могу дать. Я знаю, ты любишь давать взаймы. Ты дал бы и разбойнику Кериму, если бы он попросил у тебя, но, извини, помогать тебе в этом направлении я не могу.
— Да, я прошу для Лаевского! — сказал Самойленко, вставая и размахивая правой рукой. — Да! Для Лаевского! И никакой ни чёрт, ни дьявол не имеет права учить меня, как я должен распоряжаться своими деньгами. Вам не угодно дать? Нет?
Дьякон захохотал.
— Ты не кипятись, а рассуждай, — сказал зоолог. — Благодетельствовать г. Лаевскому так же неумно, по-моему, как поливать сорную траву или прикармливать саранчу.
— А по-моему, мы обязаны помогать нашим ближним! — крикнул Самойленко.
— В таком случае помоги вот этому голодному турку, что лежит под забором! Он работник и нужнее, полезнее твоего Лаевского. Отдай ему эти сто рублей! Или пожертвуй мне сто рублей на экспедицию!
— Ты дашь или нет, я тебя спрашиваю?
— Ты скажи откровенно: на что ему нужны деньги?
— Это не секрет. Ему нужно в субботу в Петербург ехать.
— Вот как! — сказал протяжно фон Корен. — Ага… Понимаем. А она с ним поедет или как?
— Она пока здесь остается. Он устроит в Петербурге свои дела и пришлет ей денег, тогда и она поедет.
— Ловко!.. — сказал зоолог и засмеялся коротким теноровым смехом. — Ловко! Умно придумано.
Он быстро подошел к Самойленку и, став лицом к лицу, глядя ему в глаза, спросил:
— Ты говори откровенно: он разлюбил? Да? Говори: разлюбил? Да?
— Да, — выговорил Самойленко и вспотел.
— Как это отвратительно! — сказал фон Корен, и по лицу его видно было, что он чувствовал отвращение. — Что-нибудь из двух, Александр Давидыч: или ты с ним в заговоре или же, извини, ты простофиля. Неужели ты не понимаешь, что он проводит тебя, как мальчишку, самым бессовестным образом? Ведь ясно, как день, что он хочет отделаться от нее и бросить ее здесь. Она останется на твоей шее, и ясно, как день, что тебе придется отправлять ее в Петербург на свой счет. Неужели твой прекрасный друг до такой степени ослепил тебя своими достоинствами, что ты не видишь даже самых простых вещей?
— Это одни только предположения, — сказал Самойленко, садясь.
— Предположения? Но почему он едет один, а не вместе с ней? И почему, спроси его, не поехать бы ей вперед, а ему после? Продувная бестия!
Подавленный внезапными сомнениями и подозрениями насчет своего приятеля, Самойленко вдруг ослабел и понизил тон.
— Но это невозможно! — сказал он, вспоминая ту ночь, когда Лаевский ночевал у него. — Он так страдает!
— Что ж из этого? Воры и поджигатели тоже страдают!
— Положим даже, что ты прав… — сказал в раздумье Самойленко. — Допустим… Но он молодой человек, на чужой стороне… студент, мы тоже студенты, и кроме нас тут некому оказать ему поддержку.
— Помогать ему делать мерзости только потому, что ты и он в разное время были в университете и оба там ничего не делали! Что за вздор!
— Постой, давай хладнокровно рассудим. Можно будет, полагаю, устроить вот как… — соображал Самойленко, шевеля пальцами. — Я, понимаешь, дам ему деньги, но возьму с него честное, благородное слово, что через неделю же он пришлет Надежде Федоровне на дорогу.
— И он даст тебе честное слово, даже прослезится и сам себе поверит, но цена-то этому слову? Он его не сдержит, и когда через год-два ты встретишь его на Невском под ручку с новой любовью, то он будет оправдываться тем, что его искалечила цивилизация и что он сколок с Рудина. Брось ты его, бога ради! Уйди от грязи и не копайся в ней обеими руками!
Самойленко подумал минуту и сказал решительно:
— Но я всё-таки дам ему денег. Как хочешь. Я не в состоянии отказать человеку на основании одних только предположений.
— И превосходно. Поцелуйся с ним.
— Так дай же мне сто рублей, — робко попросил Самойленко.
— Не дам.
Наступило молчание. Самойленко совсем ослабел: лицо его приняло виноватое, пристыженное и заискивающее выражение, и как-то странно было видеть это жалкое, детски-сконфуженное лицо у громадного человека с эполетами и орденами.
— Здешний преосвященный объезжает свою епархию не в карете, а верхом на лошади, — сказал дьякон, кладя перо. — Вид его, сидящего на лошадке, до чрезвычайности трогателен. Простота и скромность его преисполнены библейского величия.
— Он хороший человек? — спросил фон Корен, который рад был переменить разговор.
— А то как же? Если б не был хорошим, то разве его посвятили бы в архиереи?
— Между архиереями встречаются очень хорошие и даровитые люди, — сказал фон Корен. — Жаль только, что у многих из них есть слабость — воображать себя государственными мужами. Один занимается обрусением, другой критикует науки. Это не их дело. Они бы лучше почаще в консисторию заглядывали.
— Светский человек не может судить архиереев.
— Почему же, дьякон? Архиерей такой же человек, как и я.
— Такой да не такой, — обиделся дьякон, принимаясь за перо. — Ежели бы вы были такой, то на вас почила бы благодать и вы сами были бы архиереем, а ежели вы не архиерей, то, значит, не такой.
— Не мели, дьякон! — сказал Самойленко с тоской. — Послушай, вот что я придумал, — обратился он к фон Корену. — Ты мне этих ста рублей не давай. Ты у меня до зимы будешь столоваться еще три месяца, так вот дай мне вперед за три месяца.
— Не дам.
Самойленко замигал глазами и побагровел; он машинально потянул к себе книгу с фалангой и посмотрел на нее, потом встал и взялся за шапку. Фон Корену стало жаль его.
— Вот извольте жить и дело делать с такими господами! — сказал зоолог и в негодовании швырнул ногой в угол какую-то бумагу. — Пойми же, что это не доброта, не любовь, а малодушие, распущенность, яд! Что делает разум, то разрушают ваши дряблые, никуда не годные сердца! Когда я гимназистом был болен брюшным тифом, моя тетушка из сострадания обкормила меня маринованными грибами, и я чуть не умер. Пойми ты вместе с тетушкой, что любовь к человеку должна находиться не в сердце, не под ложечкой и не в пояснице, а вот здесь!
Фон Корен хлопнул себя по лбу.
— Возьми! — сказал он и швырнул сторублевую бумажку.
— Напрасно ты сердишься, Коля, — кротко сказал Самойленко, складывая бумажку. — Я тебя отлично понимаю, но… войди в мое положение.
— Баба ты старая, вот что!
Дьякон захохотал.
— Послушай, Александр Давидыч, последняя просьба! — горячо сказал фон Корен. — Когда ты будешь давать тому прохвосту деньги, то предложи ему условие: пусть уезжает вместе со своей барыней или же отошлет ее вперед, а иначе не давай. Церемониться с ним нечего. Так ему и скажи, а если не скажешь, то, даю тебе честное слово, я пойду к нему в присутствие и спущу его там с лестницы, а с тобою знаться не буду. Так и знай!
— Что ж? Если он уедет вместе с ней или вперед ее отправит, то для него же удобнее, — сказал Самойленко. — Он даже рад будет. Ну, прощай.
Он нежно простился и вышел, но, прежде чем затворить за собою дверь, оглянулся на фон Корена, сделал страшное лицо и сказал:
— Это тебя, брат, немцы испортили! Да! Немцы!


На другой день, в четверг, Марья Константиновна праздновала день рождения своего Кости. В полдень все были приглашены кушать пирог, а вечером пить шоколад. Когда вечером пришли Лаевский и Надежда Федоровна, зоолог, уже сидевший в гостиной и пивший шоколад, спросил у Самойленка:
— Ты говорил с ним?
— Нет еще.
— Смотри же не церемонься. Не понимаю я наглости этих господ! Ведь отлично знают взгляд здешней семьи на их сожительство, а между тем лезут сюда.
— Если обращать внимание на каждый предрассудок, — сказал Самойленко, — то придется никуда не ходить.
— Разве отвращение массы к внебрачной любви и распущенности предрассудок?
— Конечно. Предрассудок и ненавистничество. Солдаты как увидят девицу легкого поведения, то хохочут и свищут, а спроси-ка их: кто они сами?
— Недаром они свищут. То, что девки душат своих незаконноприжитых детей и идут на каторгу, и что Анна Каренина бросилась под поезд, и что в деревнях мажут ворота дегтем, и что нам с тобой, неизвестно почему, нравится в Кате ее чистота, и то, что каждый смутно чувствует потребность в чистой любви, хотя знает, что такой любви нет, — разве всё это предрассудок? Это, братец, единственное, что уцелело от естественного подбора, и, не будь этой темной силы, регулирующей отношения полов, господа Лаевские показали бы тебе, где раки зимуют, и человечество выродилось бы в два года.
Лаевский вошел в гостиную, со всеми поздоровался и, пожимая руку фон Корену, заискивающе улыбнулся. Он выждал удобную минуту и сказал Самойленку:
— Извини, Александр Давидыч, мне нужно сказать тебе два слова.
Самойленко встал, обнял его за талию, и оба пошли в кабинет Никодима Александрыча.
— Завтра пятница… — сказал Лаевский, грызя ногти. — Ты достал, что обещал?
— Достал только двести десять. Остальные сегодня достану или завтра. Будь покоен.
— Слава богу!.. — вздохнул Лаевский, и руки задрожали у него от радости. — Ты меня спасаешь, Александр Давидыч, и, клянусь тебе богом, своим счастьем и чем хочешь, эти деньги я вышлю тебе тотчас же по приезде. И старый долг вышлю.
— Вот что, Ваня… — сказал Самойленко, беря его за пуговицу и краснея. — Ты извини, что я вмешиваюсь в твои семейные дела, но… почему бы тебе не уехать вместе с Надеждой Федоровной?
— Чудак, но разве это можно? Одному из нас непременно надо остаться, иначе кредиторы завопиют. Ведь я должен по лавкам рублей семьсот, если не больше. Погоди, вышлю им деньги, заткну зубы, тогда и она выедет отсюда.
— Так… Но почему бы тебе не отправить ее вперед?
— Ах, боже мой, разве это возможно? — ужаснулся Лаевский. — Ведь она женщина, что она там одна сделает? Что она понимает? Это только проволочка времени и лишняя трата денег.
«Резонно»… — подумал Самойленко, но вспомнил разговор свой с фон Кореном, потупился и сказал угрюмо:
— С тобою я не могу согласиться. Или поезжай вместе с ней или же отправь ее вперед, иначе… иначе я не дам тебе денег. Это мое последнее слово…
Он попятился назад, навалился спиною на дверь и вышел в гостиную красный, в страшном смущении.
«Пятница… пятница, — думал Лаевский, возвращаясь в гостиную. — Пятница…»
Ему подали чашку шоколаду. Он ожег губы и язык горячим шоколадом и думал:
«Пятница… пятница…»
Слово «пятница» почему-то не выходило у него из головы; он ни о чем, кроме пятницы, не думал, и для него ясно было только, но не в голове, а где-то под сердцем, что в субботу ему не уехать. Перед ним стоял Никодим Александрыч, аккуратненький, с зачесанными височками и просил:
— Кушайте, покорнейше прошу-с…
Марья Константиновна показывала гостям отметки Кати и говорила протяжно:
— Теперь ужасно, ужасно трудно учиться! Так много требуют…
— Мама! — стонала Катя, не зная куда спрятаться от стыда и похвал.
Лаевский тоже посмотрел в отметки и похвалил. Закон божий, русский язык, поведение, пятерки и четверки запрыгали в его глазах, и всё это вместе с привязавшейся к нему пятницей, с зачесанными височками Никодима Александрыча и с красными щеками Кати представилось ему такой необъятной, непобедимой скукой, что он едва не вскрикнул с отчаяния и спросил себя: «Неужели, неужели я не уеду?»
Поставили рядом два ломберных стола и сели играть в почту. Лаевский тоже сел.
«Пятница… пятница… — думал он, улыбаясь и вынимая из кармана карандаш. — Пятница…»
Он хотел обдумать свое положение и боялся думать. Ему страшно было сознаться, что доктор поймал его на обмане, который он так долго и тщательно скрывал от самого себя. Всякий раз, думая о своем будущем, он не давал своим мыслям полной свободы. Он сядет в вагон и поедет — этим решался вопрос его жизни, и дальше он не пускал своих мыслей. Как далекий тусклый огонек в поле, так изредка в голове его мелькала мысль, что где-то в одном из переулков Петербурга, в отдаленном будущем, для того, чтобы разойтись с Надеждой Федоровной и уплатить долги, ему придется прибегнуть к маленькой лжи; он солжет только один раз, и затем наступит полное обновление. И это хорошо: ценою маленькой лжи он купит большую правду.
Теперь же, когда доктор своим отказом грубо намекнул ему на обман, ему стало понятно, что ложь понадобится ему не только в отдаленном будущем, но и сегодня, и завтра, и через месяц, и, быть может, даже до конца жизни. В самом деле, чтобы уехать, ему нужно будет солгать Надежде Федоровне, кредиторам и начальству; затем, чтобы добыть в Петербурге денег, придется солгать матери, сказать ей, что он уже разошелся с Надеждой Федоровной; и мать не даст ему больше пятисот рублей, значит, он уже обманул доктора, так как будет не в состоянии в скором времени прислать ему денег. Затем, когда в Петербург приедет Надежда Федоровна, нужно будет употребить целый ряд мелких и крупных обманов, чтобы разойтись с ней; и опять слезы, скука, постылая жизнь, раскаяние и, значит, никакого обновления не будет. Обман и больше ничего. В воображении Лаевского выросла целая гора лжи. Чтобы перескочить ее в один раз, а не лгать по частям, нужно было решиться на крутую меру, например, ни слова не говоря, встать с места, надеть шапку и тотчас же уехать без денег, не говоря ни слова, но Лаевский чувствовал, что для него это невозможно.
«Пятница, пятница… — думал он. — Пятница…»
Писали записки, складывали их вдвое и клали в старый цилиндр Никодима Александрыча и, когда скоплялось достаточно записок, Костя, изображавший почтальона, ходил вокруг стола и раздавал их. Дьякон, Катя и Костя, получавшие смешные записки и старавшиеся писать посмешнее, были в восторге.
«Нам надо поговорить», — прочла Надежда Федоровна на записочке. Она переглянулась с Марьей Константиновной, и та миндально улыбнулась и закивала ей головой.
«О чем же говорить? — подумала Надежда Федоровна. — Если нельзя рассказать всего, то и говорить незачем».
Перед тем, как идти в гости, она завязала Лаевскому галстук, и это пустое дело наполнило ее душу нежностью и печалью. Тревога на его лице, рассеянные взгляды, бледность и непонятная перемена, происшедшая с ним в последнее время, и то, что она имела от него страшную, отвратительную тайну, и то, что у нее дрожали руки, когда она завязывала галстук, — всё это почему-то говорило ей, что им обоим уже недолго осталось жить вместе. Она глядела на него, как на икону, со страхом и раскаянием, и думала: «Прости, прости…» Против нее за столом сидел Ачмианов и не отрывал от нее своих черных влюбленных глаз; ее волновали желания, она стыдилась себя и боялась, что даже тоска и печаль не помешают ей уступить нечистой страсти, не сегодня, так завтра, — и что она, как запойный пьяница, уже не в силах остановиться.
Чтобы не продолжать этой жизни, позорной для нее и оскорбительной для Лаевского, она решила уехать. Она будет с плачем умолять его, чтобы он отпустил ее, и если он будет противиться, то она уйдет от него тайно. Она не расскажет ему о том, что произошло. Пусть он сохранит о ней чистое воспоминание.
«Люблю, люблю, люблю», — прочла она. — Это от Ачмианова.
Она будет жить где-нибудь в глуши, работать и высылать Лаевскому «от неизвестного» деньги, вышитые сорочки, табак, и вернется к нему только в старости и в случае, если он опасно заболеет и понадобится ему сиделка. Когда в старости он узнает, по каким причинам она отказалась быть его женой и оставила его, он оценит ее жертву и простит.
«У вас длинный нос». — Это, должно быть, от дьякона или от Кости.
Надежда Федоровна вообразила, как, прощаясь с Лаевским, она крепко обнимет его, поцелует ему руку и поклянется, что будет любить его всю, всю жизнь, а потом, живя в глуши, среди чужих людей, она будет каждый день думать о том, что где-то у нее есть друг, любимый человек, чистый, благородный и возвышенный, который хранит о ней чистое воспоминание.
«Если вы сегодня не назначите мне свидания, то я приму меры, уверяю честным словом. Так с порядочными людьми не поступают, надо это понять». — Это от Кирилина.


Лаевский получил две записки; он развернул одну и прочел: «Не уезжай, голубчик мой».
«Кто бы это мог написать? — подумал он. — Конечно, не Самойленко… И не дьякон, так как он не знает, что я хочу уехать. Фон Корен разве?»
Зоолог нагнулся к столу и рисовал пирамиду. Лаевскому показалось, что глаза его улыбаются.
«Вероятно, Самойленко проболтался…» — подумал Лаевский.
На другой записке тем же самым изломанным почерком с длинными хвостами и закорючками было написано: «А кто-то в субботу не уедет».
«Глупое издевательство, — подумал Лаевский. — Пятница, пятница…»
Что-то подступило у него к горлу. Он потрогал воротничок и кашлянул, но вместо кашля из горла вырвался смех.
— Ха-ха-ха! — захохотал он. — Ха-ха-ха! «Чему это я?» — подумал он. — Ха-ха-ха!
Он попытался удержать себя, закрыл рукою рот, но смех давил ему грудь и шею, и рука не могла закрыть рта.
«Как это, однако, глупо! — думал он, покатываясь со смеху. — Я с ума сошел, что ли?»
Хохот становился всё выше и выше и обратился во что-то похожее на лай болонки. Лаевский хотел встать из-за стола, но ноги его не слушались и правая рука как-то странно, помимо его воли, прыгала по столу, судорожно ловила бумажки и сжимала их. Он увидел удивленные взгляды, серьезное испуганное лицо Самойленка и взгляд зоолога, полный холодной насмешки и гадливости, и понял, что с ним истерика.
«Какое безобразие, какой стыд, — думал он, чувствуя на лице теплоту от слез… — Ах, ах, какой срам! Никогда со мною этого не было…»
Вот взяли его под руки и, поддерживая сзади голову, повели куда-то; вот стакан блеснул перед глазами и стукнул по зубам, и вода пролилась на грудь; вот маленькая комната, посреди две постели рядом, покрытые чистыми, белыми, как снег, покрывалами. Он повалился на одну постель и зарыдал.
— Ничего, ничего… — говорил Самойленко. — Это бывает… Это бывает…
Похолодевшая от страха, дрожа всем телом и предчувствуя что-то ужасное, Надежда Федоровна стояла у постели и спрашивала:
— Что с тобой? Что? Ради бога говори…
«Не написал ли ему чего-нибудь Кирилин?» — думала она.
— Ничего… — сказал Лаевский, смеясь и плача. — Уйди отсюда… голубка.
Лицо его не выражало ни ненависти, ни отвращения: значит, он ничего не знает; Надежда Федоровна немного успокоилась и пошла в гостиную.
— Не волнуйтесь, милая! — сказала ей Марья Константиновна, садясь рядом и беря ее за руку. — Это пройдет. Мужчины так же слабы, как и мы, грешные. Вы оба теперь переживаете кризис… это так понятно! Ну, милая, я жду ответа. Давайте поговорим.
— Нет, не будем говорить… — сказала Надежда Федоровна, прислушиваясь к рыданиям Лаевского. — У меня тоска… Позвольте мне уйти.
— Что вы, что вы, милая! — испугалась Марья Константиновна. — Неужели вы думаете, что я отпущу вас без ужина? Закусим, тогда и с богом.
— У меня тоска… — прошептала Надежда Федоровна и, чтобы не упасть, взялась обеими руками за ручку кресла.
— У него родимчик! — сказал весело фон Корен, входя в гостиную, но, увидев Надежду Федоровну, смутился и вышел.
Когда кончилась истерика, Лаевский сидел на чужой постели и думал:
«Срам, разревелся, как девчонка! Должно быть, я смешон и гадок. Уйду черным ходом… Впрочем, это значило бы, что я придаю своей истерике серьезное значение. Следовало бы ее разыграть в шутку…»
Он посмотрелся в зеркало, посидел немного и вышел в гостиную.
— А вот и я! — сказал он, улыбаясь; ему было мучительно стыдно, и он чувствовал, что и другим стыдно в его присутствии. — Бывают же такие истории, — сказал он, садясь. — Сидел я и вдруг, знаете ли, почувствовал страшную колющую боль в боку… невыносимую, нервы не выдержали и… и вышла такая глупая штука. Наш нервный век, ничего не поделаешь!
За ужином он пил вино, разговаривал и изредка, судорожно вздыхая, поглаживал себе бок, как бы показывая, что боль еще чувствуется. И никто, кроме Надежды Федоровны, не верил ему, и он видел это.
В десятом часу пошли гулять на бульвар. Надежда Федоровна, боясь, чтобы с нею не заговорил Кирилин, всё время старалась держаться около Марии Константиновны и детей. Она ослабела от страха и тоски и, предчувствуя лихорадку, томилась и еле передвигала ноги, но не шла домой, так как была уверена, что за нею пойдет Кирилин или Ачмианов, или оба вместе. Кирилин шел сзади, рядом с Никодимом Александрычем, и напевал вполголоса:
— Я игра-ать мной не позво-олю! Не позво-олю!
С бульвара повернули к павильону и пошли по берегу и долго смотрели, как фосфорится море. Фон Корен стал рассказывать, отчего оно фосфорится.


— Однако, мне пора винтить… Меня ждут, — сказал Лаевский. — Прощайте, господа.
— И я с тобой, погоди, — сказала Надежда Федоровна и взяла его под руку.
Они простились с обществом и пошли. Кирилин тоже простился, сказал, что ему по дороге, и пошел рядом с ними.
«Что будет, то будет… — думала Надежда Федоровна. — Пусть…»
Ей казалось, что все нехорошие воспоминания вышли из ее головы и идут в потемках рядом с ней и тяжело дышат, а она сама, как муха, попавшая в чернила, ползет через силу по мостовой и пачкает в черное бок и руку Лаевского. Если Кирилин, думала она, сделает что-нибудь дурное, то в этом будет виноват не он, а она одна. Ведь было время, когда ни один мужчина не разговаривал с нею так, как Кирилин, и сама она порвала это время, как нитку, и погубила его безвозвратно — кто же виноват в этом? Одурманенная своими желаниями, она стала улыбаться совершенно незнакомому человеку только потому, вероятно, что он статен и высок ростом, в два свидания он наскучил ей, и она бросила его, и разве поэтому, — думала она теперь, — он не имеет права поступить с нею, как ему угодно?
— Тут, голубка, я с тобой прощусь, — сказал Лаевский, останавливаясь. — Тебя проводит Илья Михайлыч.
Он поклонился Кирилину и быстро пошел поперек бульвара, прошел через улицу к дому Шешковского, где светились окна, и слышно было затем, как он стукнул калиткой.
— Позвольте мне объясниться с вами, — начал Кирилин. — Я не мальчишка, не какой-нибудь Ачкасов или Лачкасов, Зачкасов… Я требую серьезного внимания!
У Надежды Федоровны сильно забилось сердце. Она ничего не ответила.
— Вашу резкую перемену в обращении со мной я объяснял сначала кокетством, — продолжал Кирилин, — теперь же вижу, что вы просто не умеете обращаться с порядочными людьми. Вам просто хотелось поиграть мной, как с этим мальчишкой армянином, но я порядочный человек и требую, чтобы со мной поступали, как с порядочным человеком. Итак, я к вашим услугам…
— У меня тоска… — сказала Надежда Федоровна и заплакала и, чтобы скрыть слезы, отвернулась.
— У меня тоже тоска, но что же из этого следует?
Кирилин помолчал немного и сказал отчетливо, с расстановкой:
— Я повторяю, сударыня, что если вы не дадите мне сегодня свидания, то сегодня же я сделаю скандал.
— Отпустите меня сегодня, — сказала Надежда Федоровна и не узнала своего голоса, до такой степени он был жалобен и тонок.
— Я должен проучить вас… Извините за грубый тон, но мне необходимо проучить вас. Да-с, к сожалению, я должен проучить вас. Я требую два свидания: сегодня и завтра. Послезавтра вы совершенно свободны и можете идти на все четыре стороны с кем вам угодно. Сегодня и завтра.
Надежда Федоровна подошла к своей калитке и остановилась.
— Отпустите меня! — шептала она, дрожа всем телом и не видя перед собою в потемках ничего, кроме белого кителя. — Вы правы, я ужасная женщина… я виновата, но отпустите… Я вас прошу… — она дотронулась до его холодной руки и вздрогнула, — я вас умоляю…
— Увы! — вздохнул Кирилин. — Увы! Не в моих планах отпускать вас, я только хочу проучить вас, дать понять, и к тому же, мадам, я слишком мало верю женщинам.
— У меня тоска…
Надежда Федоровна прислушалась к ровному шуму моря, поглядела на небо, усыпанное звездами, и ей захотелось скорее покончить всё и отделаться от проклятого ощущения жизни с ее морем, звездами, мужчинами, лихорадкой…
— Только не у меня дома… — сказала она холодно. — Уведите меня куда-нибудь.
— Пойдемте к Мюридову. Самое лучшее.
— Где это?
— Около старого вала.
Она быстро пошла по улице и потом повернула в переулок, который вел к горам. Было темно. Кое-где на мостовой лежали бледные световые полосы от освещенных окон, и ей казалось, что она, как муха, то попадает в чернила, то опять выползает из них на свет. Кирилин шел за нею. На одном месте он споткнулся, едва не упал и засмеялся.
«Он пьян… — подумала Надежда Федоровна. — Всё равно… всё равно… Пусть».
Ачмианов тоже скоро простился с компанией и пошел вслед за Надеждой Федоровной, чтобы пригласить ее покататься на лодке. Он подошел к ее дому и посмотрел через палисадник: окна были открыты настежь, огня не было.
— Надежда Федоровна! — позвал он.
Прошла минута. Он опять позвал.
— Кто там? — послышался голос Ольги.
— Надежда Федоровна дома?
— Нету. Еще не приходила.
«Странно… Очень странно, — подумал Ачмианов, начиная чувствовать сильное беспокойство. — Она пошла домой…»
Он прошелся по бульвару, потом по улице и заглянул в окна к Шешковскому. Лаевский без сюртука сидел у стола и внимательно смотрел в карты.
— Странно, странно… — пробормотал Ачмианов, и при воспоминании об истерике, которая была с Лаевским, ему стало стыдно. — Если она не дома, то где же?
Он опять пошел к квартире Надежды Федоровны и посмотрел на темные окна.
«Это обман, обман…» — думал он, вспоминая, что она же сама, встретясь с ним сегодня в полдень у Битюговых, обещала вместе кататься вечером на лодке.
Окна в том доме, где жил Кирилин, были темны, и у ворот на лавочке сидел городовой и спал. Ачмианову, когда он посмотрел на окна и на городового, стало всё ясно. Он решил идти домой и пошел, но очутился опять около квартиры Надежды Федоровны. Тут он сел на лавочку и снял шляпу, чувствуя, что его голова горит от ревности и обиды.
В городской церкви били часы только два раза в сутки: в полдень и в полночь. Вскоре после того, как они пробили полночь, послышались торопливые шаги.
— Значит, завтра вечером опять у Мюридова! — услышал Ачмианов и узнал голос Кирилина. — В восемь часов. До свиданья-с!
Около палисадника показалась Надежда Федоровна. Не замечая, что на лавочке сидит Ачмианов, она прошла тенью мимо него, отворила калитку и, оставив ее отпертою, вошла в дом. У себя в комнате она зажгла свечу, быстро разделась, но не легла в постель, а опустилась перед стулом на колени, обняла его и припала к нему лбом.
Лаевский вернулся домой в третьем часу.


Решив лгать не сразу, а по частям, Лаевский на другой день, во втором часу, пошел к Самойленку попросить денег, чтобы уехать непременно в субботу. После вчерашней истерики, которая к тяжелому состоянию его души прибавила еще острое чувство стыда, оставаться в городе было немыслимо. Если Самойленко будет настаивать на своих условиях, думал он, то можно будет согласиться на них и взять деньги, а завтра, в самый час отъезда, сказать, что Надежда Федоровна отказалась ехать; с вечера ее можно будет уговорить, что всё это делается для ее же пользы. Если же Самойленко, находящийся под очевидным влиянием фон Корена, совершенно откажет в деньгах или предложит какие-нибудь новые условия, то он, Лаевский, сегодня же уедет на грузовом пароходе, или даже на паруснике, в Новый Афон или Новороссийск, пошлет оттуда матери унизительную телеграмму и будет жить там до тех пор, пока мать не вышлет ему на дорогу.
Придя к Самойленку, он застал в гостиной фон Корена. Зоолог только что пришел обедать и, по обыкновению, раскрыв альбом, рассматривал мужчин в цилиндрах и дам в чепцах.
«Как некстати, — подумал Лаевский, увидев его. — Он может помешать». — Здравствуйте!
— Здравствуйте, — ответил фон Корен, не глядя на него.
— Александр Давидыч дома?
— Да. В кухне.
Лаевский пошел в кухню, но, увидев в дверь, что Самойленко занят салатом, вернулся в гостиную и сел. В присутствии зоолога он всегда чувствовал неловкость, а теперь боялся, что придется говорить об истерике. Прошло больше минуты в молчании. Фон Корен вдруг поднял глаза на Лаевского и спросил:
— Как вы себя чувствуете после вчерашнего?
— Превосходно, —