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"The Lady with the Dog" and other great stories by Anton Chekhov

Thursday 5 December 2019, by Anton Chekhov


1. A TRIVIAL INCIDENT (Пустой случай) (1886) The narrator recounts how he and his companion, a Prince, had been prevented from hunting in the forest of Madame Kandurin, with whom the prince had formerly been connected. The two go to the lady’s mansion, where the narrator realises the extent of the prince’s sad situation and how close he had previously been to an entirely different fate. (4,000 words)

2. ON THE ROAD (На пути) (1887) We follow the unfolding of the intense conversation in a country inn during a snow-storm between a big, powerful man who is resting there for the night with his daughter and a young noblewoman on her way to her family property nearby. The man has done everything, seen everything and believed in everything, and opens his soul to his fellow-traveller, especially about the role women had played in his life. (6,600 words)

3. ENEMIES (Враги) (1887) On a dark autumn evening the only child of the district doctor Kirilov has just died of diphtheria when a well-dressed man arrives at his door in a panic, urgently requesting that the doctor come to care for his wife. Kirilov is completely stunned with despair at what has happened and can hardly talk, but the man insists and Kirilov acknowledges that he is obliged to go with him. When they finally arrive what they discover scandalises both of them for different reasons. (5,400 words)

4. VEROCHKA (Верочка) (1887) Ivan Alexeyitch is leaving his hosts on a late-summer evening after having spent several months with them on a mission for the government. He has been enchanted by his stay, by the beauty of the surrounding fields and forests, and by the host’s daughter Verochka. She walks with him along the road to town when he has finished his good-byes, and when they pause she breaks down in an impassioned avowal of love. But Ivan cannot find it in his heart to respond in kind. (5,000 words)

5. UPROOTED (Перекати-поле) (1887) The narrator remembers a long conversation with a young man, recently-converted to Orthodoxy from the Jewish faith, at the great monastery in the Holy Mountains in the Ukraine where thousands of people had congregated for the yearly festivities there. The young man was constantly on the move and deeply impressed the narrator with his eternal quest for enlightenment. (6,300 words)

6. THE STEPPE (Степь) (1888) The long journey of a young eight-year-old boy travelling with his uncle and a priest on an ancient carriage across the Ukrainian steppe to a distant town where he will go to school. On the way they meet a wagon-train driven by peasants with whom the young boy travels most of the way to his final destination. We see the sights and sounds of the steppe in the day and at night, we listen with Yegory to the talk of the peasants and their tales, and we are plunged intensely into the atmosphere of that vast land. (39,000 words)

7. THE PRINCESS (Княгиня) (1889) The Princess Gavrilovna arrives in a splendid carriage at an historic monastery and tours the grounds in style, as she has been in the habit of doing for several years during the summer months. On her walk she sees the doctor Mihail Ivanovitch, but the conversation takes an unexpected turn as the doctor’s severe demeanour provokes her into probing his obvious lack of sympathy for her lamentations about the mistakes she had made since she had last seen him five years previously. The doctor tells her bluntly about what he and everyone else really think about her. (4,800 words)

8. A DREARY STORY (Скучная история) (1889) A distinguished university professor of medicine ponders at length on his unsatisfying life, his unloving family, his financial problems, his fatuous colleagues, his failing health and his insomnia, and recounts his surprisingly unhappy daily existence and notably his intense but essentially unsatisfying relationship with the one person who really counts for him, his god-daughter Katya. (24,000 words)

9. GUSEV (Гусев) (1890) Gusev, a discharged soldier, is returning home from the Far East in a hammock in the sick ward of a military ship, and is suffering with the others in the ward from the continuing rocking of the ship, the pounding of the waves and the severe heat. He carries on a desultory conversation with his neighbour who rallies incessantly against the system and the inevitable fate of the men in the sick bay, most of whom are dying. We follow Gusev and his neighbour to the bitter end. (5,500 words)

10. ROTHSCHILD’S VIOLIN (Скрипка Ротшильда) (1894) Yakov Ivanov is a poor, elderly man who ekes out a living making coffins in a small provincial town, also earning a few half-roubles on the side playing the fiddle in the town’s Jewish orchestra. Which he disliked doing because of the piercing way the flute player Rothschild played right beside him, so he developed a hatred for Rothschild and for Jews in general. But when he was taken ill and Rothschild came to see him, he called him brother, played one last time for him and left him his precious violin on his dying bed. (4,100 words)

11. THE LADY WITH THE DOG (Дама с собачкой) (1899) Gurov, a married man with a family, is on holiday in Yalta on his own and is attracted to a woman who has just arrived there, also alone except for a small lapdog. He proceeds to apply his practiced charm on her with success, and they separate after a while when she is summoned back to her home by her husband. When Gurov returns to Moscow he realises that he misses the lady with the lapdog, seeks her out in her home town and renews their relationship. (6,700 words)

12. THE BISHOP (Архиерей) (1902) Bishop Pyotr is seized with such emotion celebrating the service on the eve of Palm Sunday that he starts weeping, and everyone in the crowd starts weeping with him. After the service he is not feeling well and thinks about his mother and his childhood and his whole life, but he soon dies from consumption and is forgotten by everyone except his old mother. (6,400 words)

All of these stories were translated into English by Constance Garnett in various editions between 1886 and 1919.

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.


IT was a sunny August midday as, in company with a Russian prince who had come down in the world, I drove into the immense so-called Shabelsky pine-forest where we were intending to look for woodcocks. In virtue of the part he plays in this story my poor prince deserves a detailed description. He was a tall, dark man, still youngish, though already somewhat battered by life; with long moustaches like a police captain’s; with prominent black eyes, and with the manners of a retired army man. He was a man of Oriental type, not very intelligent, but straightforward and honest, not a bully, not a fop, and not a rake—virtues which, in the eyes of the general public, are equivalent to a certificate of being a nonentity and a poor creature. People generally did not like him (he was never spoken of in the district, except as "the illustrious duffer"). I personally found the poor prince extremely nice with his misfortunes and failures, which made up indeed his whole life. First of all he was poor. He did not play cards, did not drink, had no occupation, did not poke his nose into anything, and maintained a perpetual silence but yet he had somehow succeeded in getting through thirty to forty thousand roubles left him at his father’s death. God only knows what had become of the money. All that I can say is that owing to lack of supervision a great deal was stolen by stewards, bailiffs, and even footmen; a great deal went on lending money, giving bail, and standing security. There were few landowners in the district who did not owe him money. He gave to all who asked, and not so much from good nature or confidence in people as from exaggerated gentlemanliness as though he would say: "Take it and feel how comme il faut I am!" By the time I made his acquaintance he had got into debt himself, had learned what it was like to have a second mortgage on his land, and had sunk so deeply into difficulties that there was no chance of his ever getting out of them again. There were days when he had no dinner, and went about with an empty cigar-holder, but he was always seen clean and fashionably dressed, and always smelt strongly of ylang-ylang.
The prince’s second misfortune was his absolute solitariness. He was not married, he had no friends nor relations. His silent and reserved character and his comme il faut deportment, which became the more conspicuous the more anxious he was to conceal his poverty, prevented him from becoming intimate with people. For love affairs he was too heavy, spiritless, and cold, and so rarely got on with women. . . .
When we reached the forest this prince and I got out of the chaise and walked along a narrow woodland path which was hidden among huge ferns. But before we had gone a hundred paces a tall, lank figure with a long oval face, wearing a shabby reefer jacket, a straw hat, and patent leather boots, rose up from behind a young fir-tree some three feet high, as though he had sprung out of the ground. The stranger held in one hand a basket of mushrooms, with the other he playfully fingered a cheap watch-chain on his waistcoat. On seeing us he was taken aback, smoothed his waistcoat, coughed politely, and gave an agreeable smile, as though he were delighted to see such nice people as us. Then, to our complete surprise, he came up to us, scraping with his long feet on the grass, bending his whole person, and, still smiling agreeably, lifted his hat and pronounced in a sugary voice with the intonations of a whining dog:
"Aie, aie . . . gentlemen, painful as it is, it is my duty to warn you that shooting is forbidden in this wood. Pardon me for venturing to disturb you, though unacquainted, but . . . allow me to present myself. I am Grontovsky, the head clerk on Madame Kandurin’s estate."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, but why can’t we shoot?"
"Such is the wish of the owner of this forest!"
The prince and I exchanged glances. A moment passed in silence. The prince stood looking pensively at a big fly agaric at his feet, which he had crushed with his stick. Grontovsky went on smiling agreeably. His whole face was twitching, exuding honey, and even the watch-chain on his waistcoat seemed to be smiling and trying to impress us all with its refinement. A shade of embarrassment passed over us like an angel passing; all three of us felt awkward.
"Nonsense!" I said. "Only last week I was shooting here!"
"Very possible!" Grontovsky sniggered through his teeth. "As a matter of fact everyone shoots here regardless of the prohibition. But once I have met you, it is my duty . . . my sacred duty to warn you. I am a man in a dependent position. If the forest were mine, on the word of honour of a Grontovsky, I should not oppose your agreeable pleasure. But whose fault is it that I am in a dependent position?"
The lanky individual sighed and shrugged his shoulders. I began arguing, getting hot and protesting, but the more loudly and impressively I spoke the more mawkish and sugary Grontovsky’s face became. Evidently the consciousness of a certain power over us afforded him the greatest gratification. He was enjoying his condescending tone, his politeness, his manners, and with peculiar relish pronounced his sonorous surname, of which he was probably very fond. Standing before us he felt more than at ease, but judging from the confused sideway glances he cast from time to time at his basket, only one thing was spoiling his satisfaction—the mushrooms, womanish, peasantish, prose, derogatory to his dignity.
"We can’t go back!" I said. "We have come over ten miles!"
"What’s to be done?" sighed Grontovsky. "If you had come not ten but a hundred thousand miles, if the king even had come from America or from some other distant land, even then I should think it my duty . . . sacred, so to say, obligation . . ."
"Does the forest belong to Nadyezhda Lvovna?" asked the prince.
"Yes, Nadyezhda Lvovna . . ."
"Is she at home now?"
"Yes . . . I tell you what, you go to her, it is not more than half a mile from here; if she gives you a note, then I. . . . I needn’t say! Ha—ha . . . he—he—!"
"By all means," I agreed. "It’s much nearer than to go back. . . . You go to her, Sergey Ivanitch," I said, addressing the prince. "You know her."
The prince, who had been gazing the whole time at the crushed agaric, raised his eyes to me, thought a minute, and said:
"I used to know her at one time, but . . . it’s rather awkward for me to go to her. Besides, I am in shabby clothes. . . . You go, you don’t know her. . . . It’s more suitable for you to go."
I agreed. We got into our chaise and, followed by Grontovsky’s smiles, drove along the edge of the forest to the manor house. I was not acquainted with Nadyezhda Lvovna Kandurin, née Shabelsky. I had never seen her at close quarters, and knew her only by hearsay. I knew that she was incredibly wealthy, richer than anyone else in the province. After the death of her father, Shabelsky, who was a landowner with no other children, she was left with several estates, a stud farm, and a lot of money. I had heard that, though she was only twenty-five or twenty-six, she was ugly, uninteresting, and as insignificant as anybody, and was only distinguished from the ordinary ladies of the district by her immense wealth.
It has always seemed to me that wealth is felt, and that the rich must have special feelings unknown to the poor. Often as I passed by Nadyezhda Lvovna’s big fruit garden, in which stood the large, heavy house with its windows always curtained, I thought: "What is she thinking at this moment? Is there happiness behind those blinds?" and so on. Once I saw her from a distance in a fine light cabriolet, driving a handsome white horse, and, sinful man that I am, I not only envied her, but even thought that in her poses, in her movements, there was something special, not to be found in people who are not rich, just as persons of a servile nature succeed in discovering "good family" at the first glance in people of the most ordinary exterior, if they are a little more distinguished than themselves. Nadyezhda Lvovna’s inner life was only known to me by scandal. It was said in the district that five or six years ago, before she was married, during her father’s lifetime, she had been passionately in love with Prince Sergey Ivanitch, who was now beside me in the chaise. The prince had been fond of visiting her father, and used to spend whole days in his billiard room, where he played pyramids indefatigably till his arms and legs ached. Six months before the old man’s death he had suddenly given up visiting the Shabelskys. The gossip of the district having no positive facts to go upon explained this abrupt change in their relations in various ways. Some said that the prince, having observed the plain daughter’s feeling for him and being unable to reciprocate it, considered it the duty of a gentleman to cut short his visits. Others maintained that old Shabelsky had discovered why his daughter was pining away, and had proposed to the poverty-stricken prince that he should marry her; the prince, imagining in his narrow-minded way that they were trying to buy him together with his title, was indignant, said foolish things, and quarrelled with them. What was true and what was false in this nonsense was difficult to say. But that there was a portion of truth in it was evident, from the fact that the prince always avoided conversation about Nadyezhda Lvovna.
I knew that soon after her father’s death Nadyezhda Lvovna had married one Kandurin, a bachelor of law, not wealthy, but adroit, who had come on a visit to the neighbourhood. She married him not from love, but because she was touched by the love of the legal gentleman who, so it was said, had cleverly played the love-sick swain. At the time I am describing, Kandurin was for some reason living in Cairo, and writing thence to his friend, the marshal of the district, "Notes of Travel," while she sat languishing behind lowered blinds, surrounded by idle parasites, and whiled away her dreary days in petty philanthropy.
On the way to the house the prince fell to talking.
"It’s three days since I have been at home," he said in a half whisper, with a sidelong glance at the driver. "I am not a child, nor a silly woman, and I have no prejudices, but I can’t stand the bailiffs. When I see a bailiff in my house I turn pale and tremble, and even have a twitching in the calves of my legs. Do you know Rogozhin refused to honour my note?"
The prince did not, as a rule, like to complain of his straitened circumstances; where poverty was concerned he was reserved and exceedingly proud and sensitive, and so this announcement surprised me. He stared a long time at the yellow clearing, warmed by the sun, watched a long string of cranes float in the azure sky, and turned facing me.
"And by the sixth of September I must have the money ready for the bank . . . the interest for my estate," he said aloud, by now regardless of the coachman. "And where am I to get it? Altogether, old man, I am in a tight fix! An awfully tight fix!"
The prince examined the cock of his gun, blew on it for some reason, and began looking for the cranes which by now were out of sight.
"Sergey Ivanitch," I asked, after a minute’s silence, "imagine if they sell your Shatilovka, what will you do?"
"I? I don’t know! Shatilovka can’t be saved, that’s clear as daylight, but I cannot imagine such a calamity. I can’t imagine myself without my daily bread secure. What can I do? I have had hardly any education; I have not tried working yet; for government service it is late to begin, . . . Besides, where could I serve? Where could I be of use? Admitting that no great cleverness is needed for serving in our Zemstvo, for example, yet I suffer from . . . the devil knows what, a sort of faintheartedness, I haven’t a ha’p’orth of pluck. If I went into the Service I should always feel I was not in my right place. I am not an idealist; I am not a Utopian; I haven’t any special principles; but am simply, I suppose, stupid and thoroughly incompetent, a neurotic and a coward. Altogether not like other people. All other people are like other people, only I seem to be something . . . a poor thing. . . . I met Naryagin last Wednesday—you know him?—drunken, slovenly . . . doesn’t pay his debts, stupid" (the prince frowned and tossed his head) . . . "a horrible person! He said to me, staggering: ’I’m being balloted for as a justice of the peace!’ Of course, they won’t elect him, but, you see, he believes he is fit to be a justice of the peace and considers that position within his capacity. He has boldness and self-confidence. I went to see our investigating magistrate too. The man gets two hundred and fifty roubles a month, and does scarcely anything. All he can do is to stride backwards and forwards for days together in nothing but his underclothes, but, ask him, he is convinced he is doing his work and honourably performing his duty. I couldn’t go on like that! I should be ashamed to look the clerk in the face."
At that moment Grontovsky, on a chestnut horse, galloped by us with a flourish. On his left arm the basket bobbed up and down with the mushrooms dancing in it. As he passed us he grinned and waved his hand, as though we were old friends.
"Blockhead!" the prince filtered through his teeth, looking after him. "It’s wonderful how disgusting it sometimes is to see satisfied faces. A stupid, animal feeling due to hunger, I expect. . . . What was I saying? Oh, yes, about going into the Service, . . . I should be ashamed to take the salary, and yet, to tell the truth, it is stupid. If one looks at it from a broader point of view, more seriously, I am eating what isn’t mine now. Am I not? But why am I not ashamed of that. . . . It is a case of habit, I suppose . . . and not being able to realize one’s true position. . . . But that position is most likely awful. . ."
I looked at him, wondering if the prince were showing off. But his face was mild and his eyes were mournfully following the movements of the chestnut horse racing away, as though his happiness were racing away with it.
Apparently he was in that mood of irritation and sadness when women weep quietly for no reason, and men feel a craving to complain of themselves, of life, of God. . . .
When I got out of the chaise at the gates of the house the prince said to me:
"A man once said, wanting to annoy me, that I have the face of a cardsharper. I have noticed that cardsharpers are usually dark. Do you know, it seems that if I really had been born a cardsharper I should have remained a decent person to the day of my death, for I should never have had the boldness to do wrong. I tell you frankly I have had the chance once in my life of getting rich if I had told a lie, a lie to myself and one woman . . . and one other person whom I know would have forgiven me for lying; I should have put into my pocket a million. But I could not. I hadn’t the pluck!"
From the gates we had to go to the house through the copse by a long road, level as a ruler, and planted on each side with thick, lopped lilacs. The house looked somewhat heavy, tasteless, like a façade on the stage. It rose clumsily out of a mass of greenery, and caught the eye like a great stone thrown on the velvety turf. At the chief entrance I was met by a fat old footman in a green swallow-tail coat and big silver-rimmed spectacles; without making any announcement, only looking contemptuously at my dusty figure, he showed me in. As I mounted the soft carpeted stairs there was, for some reason, a strong smell of india-rubber. At the top I was enveloped in an atmosphere found only in museums, in signorial mansions and old-fashioned merchant houses; it seemed like the smell of something long past, which had once lived and died and had left its soul in the rooms. I passed through three or four rooms on my way from the entry to the drawing-room. I remember bright yellow, shining floors, lustres wrapped in stiff muslin, narrow, striped rugs which stretched not straight from door to door, as they usually do, but along the walls, so that not venturing to touch the bright floor with my muddy boots I had to describe a rectangle in each room. In the drawing-room, where the footman left me, stood old-fashioned ancestral furniture in white covers, shrouded in twilight. It looked surly and elderly, and, as though out of respect for its repose, not a sound was audible.
Even the clock was silent . . . it seemed as though the Princess Tarakanov had fallen asleep in the golden frame, and the water and the rats were still and motionless through magic. The daylight, afraid of disturbing the universal tranquillity, scarcely pierced through the lowered blinds, and lay on the soft rugs in pale, slumbering streaks.
Three minutes passed and a big, elderly woman in black, with her cheek bandaged up, walked noiselessly into the drawing-room. She bowed to me and pulled up the blinds. At once, enveloped in the bright sunlight, the rats and water in the picture came to life and movement, Princess Tarakanov was awakened, and the old chairs frowned gloomily.
"Her honour will be here in a minute, sir . . ." sighed the old lady, frowning too.
A few more minutes of waiting and I saw Nadyezhda Lvovna. What struck me first of all was that she certainly was ugly, short, scraggy, and round-shouldered. Her thick, chestnut hair was magnificent; her face, pure and with a look of culture in it, was aglow with youth; there was a clear and intelligent expression in her eyes; but the whole charm of her head was lost through the thickness of her lips and the over-acute facial angle.
I mentioned my name, and announced the object of my visit.
"I really don’t know what I am to say!" she said, in hesitation, dropping her eyes and smiling. "I don’t like to refuse, and at the same time. . . ."
"Do, please," I begged.
Nadyezhda Lvovna looked at me and laughed. I laughed too. She was probably amused by what Grontovsky had so enjoyed—that is, the right of giving or withholding permission; my visit suddenly struck me as queer and strange.
"I don’t like to break the long-established rules," said Madame Kandurin. "Shooting has been forbidden on our estate for the last six years. No!" she shook her head resolutely. "Excuse me, I must refuse you. If I allow you I must allow others. I don’t like unfairness. Either let all or no one."
"I am sorry!" I sighed. "It’s all the sadder because we have come more than ten miles. I am not alone," I added, "Prince Sergey Ivanitch is with me."
I uttered the prince’s name with no arrière pensée, not prompted by any special motive or aim; I simply blurted it out without thinking, in the simplicity of my heart. Hearing the familiar name Madame Kandurin started, and bent a prolonged gaze upon me. I noticed her nose turn pale.
"That makes no difference . . ." she said, dropping her eyes.
As I talked to her I stood at the window that looked out on the shrubbery. I could see the whole shrubbery with the avenues and the ponds and the road by which I had come. At the end of the road, beyond the gates, the back of our chaise made a dark patch. Near the gate, with his back to the house, the prince was standing with his legs apart, talking to the lanky Grontovsky.
Madame Kandurin had been standing all the time at the other window. She looked from time to time towards the shrubbery, and from the moment I mentioned the prince’s name she did not turn away from the window.
"Excuse me," she said, screwing up her eyes as she looked towards the road and the gate, "but it would be unfair to allow you only to shoot. . . . And, besides, what pleasure is there in shooting birds? What’s it for? Are they in your way?"
A solitary life, immured within four walls, with its indoor twilight and heavy smell of decaying furniture, disposes people to sentimentality. Madame Kandurin’s idea did her credit, but I could not resist saying:
"If one takes that line one ought to go barefoot. Boots are made out of the leather of slaughtered animals."
"One must distinguish between a necessity and a caprice," Madame Kandurin answered in a toneless voice.
She had by now recognized the prince, and did not take her eyes off his figure. It is hard to describe the delight and the suffering with which her ugly face was radiant! Her eyes were smiling and shining, her lips were quivering and laughing, while her face craned closer to the panes. Keeping hold of a flower-pot with both hands, with bated breath and with one foot slightly lifted, she reminded me of a dog pointing and waiting with passionate impatience for "Fetch it!"
I looked at her and at the prince who could not tell a lie once in his life, and I felt angry and bitter against truth and falsehood, which play such an elemental part in the personal happiness of men.
The prince started suddenly, took aim and fired. A hawk, flying over him, fluttered its wings and flew like an arrow far away.
"He aimed too high!" I said. "And so, Nadyezhda Lvovna," I sighed, moving away from the window, "you will not permit . . ."—Madame Kandurin was silent.
"I have the honour to take my leave," I said, "and I beg you to forgive my disturbing you. . ."
Madame Kandurin would have turned facing me, and had already moved through a quarter of the angle, when she suddenly hid her face behind the hangings, as though she felt tears in her eyes that she wanted to conceal.
"Good-bye. . . . Forgive me . . ." she said softly.
I bowed to her back, and strode away across the bright yellow floors, no longer keeping to the carpet. I was glad to get away from this little domain of gilded boredom and sadness, and I hastened as though anxious to shake off a heavy, fantastic dream with its twilight, its enchanted princess, its lustres. . . .
At the front door a maidservant overtook me and thrust a note into my hand: "Shooting is permitted on showing this. N. K.," I read.


"Upon the breast of a gigantic crag, A golden cloudlet rested for one night."

IN the room which the tavern keeper, the Cossack Semyon Tchistopluy, called the "travellers’ room," that is kept exclusively for travellers, a tall, broad-shouldered man of forty was sitting at the big unpainted table. He was asleep with his elbows on the table and his head leaning on his fist. An end of tallow candle, stuck into an old pomatum pot, lighted up his light brown beard, his thick, broad nose, his sunburnt cheeks, and the thick, black eyebrows overhanging his closed eyes. . . . The nose and the cheeks and the eyebrows, all the features, each taken separately, were coarse and heavy, like the furniture and the stove in the "travellers’ room," but taken all together they gave the effect of something harmonious and even beautiful. Such is the lucky star, as it is called, of the Russian face: the coarser and harsher its features the softer and more good-natured it looks. The man was dressed in a gentleman’s reefer jacket, shabby, but bound with wide new braid, a plush waistcoat, and full black trousers thrust into big high boots.
On one of the benches, which stood in a continuous row along the wall, a girl of eight, in a brown dress and long black stockings, lay asleep on a coat lined with fox. Her face was pale, her hair was flaxen, her shoulders were narrow, her whole body was thin and frail, but her nose stood out as thick and ugly a lump as the man’s. She was sound asleep, and unconscious that her semi-circular comb had fallen off her head and was cutting her cheek.
The "travellers’ room" had a festive appearance. The air was full of the smell of freshly scrubbed floors, there were no rags hanging as usual on the line that ran diagonally across the room, and a little lamp was burning in the corner over the table, casting a patch of red light on the ikon of St. George the Victorious. From the ikon stretched on each side of the corner a row of cheap oleographs, which maintained a strict and careful gradation in the transition from the sacred to the profane. In the dim light of the candle end and the red ikon lamp the pictures looked like one continuous stripe, covered with blurs of black. When the tiled stove, trying to sing in unison with the weather, drew in the air with a howl, while the logs, as though waking up, burst into bright flame and hissed angrily, red patches began dancing on the log walls, and over the head of the sleeping man could be seen first the Elder Seraphim, then the Shah Nasir-ed-Din, then a fat, brown baby with goggle eyes, whispering in the ear of a young girl with an extraordinarily blank, and indifferent face. . . .
Outside a storm was raging. Something frantic and wrathful, but profoundly unhappy, seemed to be flinging itself about the tavern with the ferocity of a wild beast and trying to break in. Banging at the doors, knocking at the windows and on the roof, scratching at the walls, it alternately threatened and besought, then subsided for a brief interval, and then with a gleeful, treacherous howl burst into the chimney, but the wood flared up, and the fire, like a chained dog, flew wrathfully to meet its foe, a battle began, and after it—sobs, shrieks, howls of wrath. In all of this there was the sound of angry misery and unsatisfied hate, and the mortified impatience of something accustomed to triumph.
Bewitched by this wild, inhuman music the "travellers’ room" seemed spellbound for ever, but all at once the door creaked and the potboy, in a new print shirt, came in. Limping on one leg, and blinking his sleepy eyes, he snuffed the candle with his fingers, put some more wood on the fire and went out. At once from the church, which was three hundred paces from the tavern, the clock struck midnight. The wind played with the chimes as with the snowflakes; chasing the sounds of the clock it whirled them round and round over a vast space, so that some strokes were cut short or drawn out in long, vibrating notes, while others were completely lost in the general uproar. One stroke sounded as distinctly in the room as though it had chimed just under the window. The child, sleeping on the fox-skin, started and raised her head. For a minute she stared blankly at the dark window, at Nasir-ed-Din over whom a crimson glow from the fire flickered at that moment, then she turned her eyes upon the sleeping man.
"Daddy," she said.
But the man did not move. The little girl knitted her brow angrily, lay down, and curled up her legs. Someone in the tavern gave a loud, prolonged yawn. Soon afterwards there was the squeak of the swing door and the sound of indistinct voices. Someone came in, shaking the snow off, and stamping in felt boots which made a muffled thud.
"What is it?" a woman’s voice asked languidly.
"Mademoiselle Ilovaisky has come, . . ." answered a bass voice.
Again there was the squeak of the swing door. Then came the roar of the wind rushing in. Someone, probably the lame boy, ran to the door leading to the "travellers’ room," coughed deferentially, and lifted the latch.
"This way, lady, please," said a woman’s voice in dulcet tones. "It’s clean in here, my beauty. . . ."
The door was opened wide and a peasant with a beard appeared in the doorway, in the long coat of a coachman, plastered all over with snow from head to foot, and carrying a big trunk on his shoulder. He was followed into the room by a feminine figure, scarcely half his height, with no face and no arms, muffled and wrapped up like a bundle and also covered with snow. A damp chill, as from a cellar, seemed to come to the child from the coachman and the bundle, and the fire and the candles flickered.
"What nonsense!" said the bundle angrily, "We could go perfectly well. We have only nine more miles to go, mostly by the forest, and we should not get lost. . . ."
"As for getting lost, we shouldn’t, but the horses can’t go on, lady!" answered the coachman. "And it is Thy Will, O Lord! As though I had done it on purpose!"
"God knows where you have brought me. . . . Well, be quiet. . . . There are people asleep here, it seems. You can go. . . ."
The coachman put the portmanteau on the floor, and as he did so, a great lump of snow fell off his shoulders. He gave a sniff and went out.
Then the little girl saw two little hands come out from the middle of the bundle, stretch upwards and begin angrily disentangling the network of shawls, kerchiefs, and scarves. First a big shawl fell on the ground, then a hood, then a white knitted kerchief. After freeing her head, the traveller took off her pelisse and at once shrank to half the size. Now she was in a long, grey coat with big buttons and bulging pockets. From one pocket she pulled out a paper parcel, from the other a bunch of big, heavy keys, which she put down so carelessly that the sleeping man started and opened his eyes. For some time he looked blankly round him as though he didn’t know where he was, then he shook his head, went to the corner and sat down. . . . The newcomer took off her great coat, which made her shrink to half her size again, she took off her big felt boots, and sat down, too.
By now she no longer resembled a bundle: she was a thin little brunette of twenty, as slim as a snake, with a long white face and curly hair. Her nose was long and sharp, her chin, too, was long and sharp, her eyelashes were long, the corners of her mouth were sharp, and, thanks to this general sharpness, the expression of her face was biting. Swathed in a closely fitting black dress with a mass of lace at her neck and sleeves, with sharp elbows and long pink fingers, she recalled the portraits of mediæval English ladies. The grave concentration of her face increased this likeness.
The lady looked round at the room, glanced sideways at the man and the little girl, shrugged her shoulders, and moved to the window. The dark windows were shaking from the damp west wind. Big flakes of snow glistening in their whiteness, lay on the window frame, but at once disappeared, borne away by the wind. The savage music grew louder and louder. . . .
After a long silence the little girl suddenly turned over, and said angrily, emphasizing each word:
"Oh, goodness, goodness, how unhappy I am! Unhappier than anyone!"
The man got up and moved with little steps to the child with a guilty air, which was utterly out of keeping with his huge figure and big beard.
"You are not asleep, dearie?" he said, in an apologetic voice. "What do you want?"
"I don’t want anything, my shoulder aches! You are a wicked man, Daddy, and God will punish you! You’ll see He will punish you."
"My darling, I know your shoulder aches, but what can I do, dearie?" said the man, in the tone in which men who have been drinking excuse themselves to their stern spouses. "It’s the journey has made your shoulder ache, Sasha. To-morrow we shall get there and rest, and the pain will go away. . . ."
"To-morrow, to-morrow. . . . Every day you say to-morrow. We shall be going on another twenty days."
"But we shall arrive to-morrow, dearie, on your father’s word of honour. I never tell a lie, but if we are detained by the snowstorm it is not my fault."
"I can’t bear any more, I can’t, I can’t!"
Sasha jerked her leg abruptly and filled the room with an unpleasant wailing. Her father made a despairing gesture, and looked hopelessly towards the young lady. The latter shrugged her shoulders, and hesitatingly went up to Sasha.
"Listen, my dear," she said, "it is no use crying. It’s really naughty; if your shoulder aches it can’t be helped."
"You see, Madam," said the man quickly, as though defending himself, "we have not slept for two nights, and have been travelling in a revolting conveyance. Well, of course, it is natural she should be ill and miserable, . . . and then, you know, we had a drunken driver, our portmanteau has been stolen . . . the snowstorm all the time, but what’s the use of crying, Madam? I am exhausted, though, by sleeping in a sitting position, and I feel as though I were drunk. Oh, dear! Sasha, and I feel sick as it is, and then you cry!"
The man shook his head, and with a gesture of despair sat down.
"Of course you mustn’t cry," said the young lady. "It’s only little babies cry. If you are ill, dear, you must undress and go to sleep. . . . Let us take off your things!"
When the child had been undressed and pacified a silence reigned again. The young lady seated herself at the window, and looked round wonderingly at the room of the inn, at the ikon, at the stove. . . . Apparently the room and the little girl with the thick nose, in her short boy’s nightgown, and the child’s father, all seemed strange to her. This strange man was sitting in a corner; he kept looking about him helplessly, as though he were drunk, and rubbing his face with the palm of his hand. He sat silent, blinking, and judging from his guilty-looking figure it was difficult to imagine that he would soon begin to speak. Yet he was the first to begin. Stroking his knees, he gave a cough, laughed, and said:
"It’s a comedy, it really is. . . . I look and I cannot believe my eyes: for what devilry has destiny driven us to this accursed inn? What did she want to show by it? Life sometimes performs such ’salto mortale,’ one can only stare and blink in amazement. Have you come from far, Madam?"
"No, not from far," answered the young lady. "I am going from our estate, fifteen miles from here, to our farm, to my father and brother. My name is Ilovaisky, and the farm is called Ilovaiskoe. It’s nine miles away. What unpleasant weather!"
"It couldn’t be worse."
The lame boy came in and stuck a new candle in the pomatum pot.
"You might bring us the samovar, boy," said the man, addressing him.
"Who drinks tea now?" laughed the boy. "It is a sin to drink tea before mass. . . ."
"Never mind boy, you won’t burn in hell if we do. . . ."
Over the tea the new acquaintances got into conversation.
Mlle. Ilovaisky learned that her companion was called Grigory Petrovitch Liharev, that he was the brother of the Liharev who was Marshal of Nobility in one of the neighbouring districts, and he himself had once been a landowner, but had "run through everything in his time." Liharev learned that her name was Marya Mihailovna, that her father had a huge estate, but that she was the only one to look after it as her father and brother looked at life through their fingers, were irresponsible, and were too fond of harriers.
"My father and brother are all alone at the farm," she told him, brandishing her fingers (she had the habit of moving her fingers before her pointed face as she talked, and after every sentence moistened her lips with her sharp little tongue). "They, I mean men, are an irresponsible lot, and don’t stir a finger for themselves. I can fancy there will be no one to give them a meal after the fast! We have no mother, and we have such servants that they can’t lay the tablecloth properly when I am away. You can imagine their condition now! They will be left with nothing to break their fast, while I have to stay here all night. How strange it all is."
She shrugged her shoulders, took a sip from her cup, and said:
"There are festivals that have a special fragrance: at Easter, Trinity and Christmas there is a peculiar scent in the air. Even unbelievers are fond of those festivals. My brother, for instance, argues that there is no God, but he is the first to hurry to Matins at Easter."
Liharev raised his eyes to Mlle. Ilovaisky and laughed.
"They argue that there is no God," she went on, laughing too, "but why is it, tell me, all the celebrated writers, the learned men, clever people generally, in fact, believe towards the end of their life?"
"If a man does not know how to believe when he is young, Madam, he won’t believe in his old age if he is ever so much of a writer."
Judging from Liharev’s cough he had a bass voice, but, probably from being afraid to speak aloud, or from exaggerated shyness, he spoke in a tenor. After a brief pause he heaved a sign and said:
"The way I look at it is that faith is a faculty of the spirit. It is just the same as a talent, one must be born with it. So far as I can judge by myself, by the people I have seen in my time, and by all that is done around us, this faculty is present in Russians in its highest degree. Russian life presents us with an uninterrupted succession of convictions and aspirations, and if you care to know, it has not yet the faintest notion of lack of faith or scepticism. If a Russian does not believe in God, it means he believes in something else."
Liharev took a cup of tea from Mlle. Ilovaisky, drank off half in one gulp, and went on:
"I will tell you about myself. Nature has implanted in my breast an extraordinary faculty for belief. Whisper it not to the night, but half my life I was in the ranks of the Atheists and Nihilists, but there was not one hour in my life in which I ceased to believe. All talents, as a rule, show themselves in early childhood, and so my faculty showed itself when I could still walk upright under the table. My mother liked her children to eat a great deal, and when she gave me food she used to say: ’Eat! Soup is the great thing in life!’ I believed, and ate the soup ten times a day, ate like a shark, ate till I was disgusted and stupefied. My nurse used to tell me fairy tales, and I believed in house-spirits, in wood-elves, and in goblins of all kinds. I used sometimes to steal corrosive sublimate from my father, sprinkle it on cakes, and carry them up to the attic that the house-spirits, you see, might eat them and be killed. And when I was taught to read and understand what I read, then there was a fine to-do. I ran away to America and went off to join the brigands, and wanted to go into a monastery, and hired boys to torture me for being a Christian. And note that my faith was always active, never dead. If I was running away to America I was not alone, but seduced someone else, as great a fool as I was, to go with me, and was delighted when I was nearly frozen outside the town gates and when I was thrashed; if I went to join the brigands I always came back with my face battered. A most restless childhood, I assure you! And when they sent me to the high school and pelted me with all sorts of truths—that is, that the earth goes round the sun, or that white light is not white, but is made up of seven colours—my poor little head began to go round! Everything was thrown into a whirl in me: Navin who made the sun stand still, and my mother who in the name of the Prophet Elijah disapproved of lightning conductors, and my father who was indifferent to the truths I had learned. My enlightenment inspired me. I wandered about the house and stables like one possessed, preaching my truths, was horrified by ignorance, glowed with hatred for anyone who saw in white light nothing but white light. . . . But all that’s nonsense and childishness. Serious, so to speak, manly enthusiasms began only at the university. You have, no doubt, Madam, taken your degree somewhere?"
"I studied at Novotcherkask at the Don Institute."
"Then you have not been to a university? So you don’t know what science means. All the sciences in the world have the same passport, without which they regard themselves as meaningless . . . the striving towards truth! Every one of them, even pharmacology, has for its aim not utility, not the alleviation of life, but truth. It’s remarkable! When you set to work to study any science, what strikes you first of all is its beginning. I assure you there is nothing more attractive and grander, nothing is so staggering, nothing takes a man’s breath away like the beginning of any science. From the first five or six lectures you are soaring on wings of the brightest hopes, you already seem to yourself to be welcoming truth with open arms. And I gave myself up to science, heart and soul, passionately, as to the woman one loves. I was its slave; I found it the sun of my existence, and asked for no other. I studied day and night without rest, ruined myself over books, wept when before my eyes men exploited science for their own personal ends. But my enthusiasm did not last long. The trouble is that every science has a beginning but not an end, like a recurring decimal. Zoology has discovered 35,000 kinds of insects, chemistry reckons 60 elements. If in time tens of noughts can be written after these figures, Zoology and chemistry will be just as far from their end as now, and all contemporary scientific work consists in increasing these numbers. I saw through this trick when I discovered the 35,001-st and felt no satisfaction. Well, I had no time to suffer from disillusionment, as I was soon possessed by a new faith. I plunged into Nihilism, with its manifestoes, its ’black divisions,’ and all the rest of it. I ’went to the people,’ worked in factories, worked as an oiler, as a barge hauler. Afterwards, when wandering over Russia, I had a taste of Russian life, I turned into a fervent devotee of that life. I loved the Russian people with poignant intensity; I loved their God and believed in Him, and in their language, their creative genius. . . . And so on, and so on. . . . I have been a Slavophile in my time, I used to pester Aksakov with letters, and I was a Ukrainophile, and an archæologist, and a collector of specimens of peasant art. . . . I was enthusiastic over ideas, people, events, places . . . my enthusiasm was endless! Five years ago I was working for the abolition of private property; my last creed was non-resistance to evil."
Sasha gave an abrupt sigh and began moving. Liharev got up and went to her.
"Won’t you have some tea, dearie?" he asked tenderly.
"Drink it yourself," the child answered rudely. Liharev was disconcerted, and went back to the table with a guilty step.
"Then you have had a lively time," said Mlle. Ilovaisky; "you have something to remember."
"Well, yes, it’s all very lively when one sits over tea and chatters to a kind listener, but you should ask what that liveliness has cost me! What price have I paid for the variety of my life? You see, Madam, I have not held my convictions like a German doctor of philosophy, zierlichmännerlich, I have not lived in solitude, but every conviction I have had has bound my back to the yoke, has torn my body to pieces. Judge, for yourself. I was wealthy like my brothers, but now I am a beggar. In the delirium of my enthusiasm I smashed up my own fortune and my wife’s—a heap of other people’s money. Now I am forty-two, old age is close upon me, and I am homeless, like a dog that has dropped behind its waggon at night. All my life I have not known what peace meant, my soul has been in continual agitation, distressed even by its hopes . . . I have been wearied out with heavy irregular work, have endured privation, have five times been in prison, have dragged myself across the provinces of Archangel and of Tobolsk . . . it’s painful to think of it! I have lived, but in my fever I have not even been conscious of the process of life itself. Would you believe it, I don’t remember a single spring, I never noticed how my wife loved me, how my children were born. What more can I tell you? I have been a misfortune to all who have loved me. . . . My mother has worn mourning for me all these fifteen years, while my proud brothers, who have had to wince, to blush, to bow their heads, to waste their money on my account, have come in the end to hate me like poison."
Liharev got up and sat down again.
"If I were simply unhappy I should thank God," he went on without looking at his listener. "My personal unhappiness sinks into the background when I remember how often in my enthusiasms I have been absurd, far from the truth, unjust, cruel, dangerous! How often I have hated and despised those whom I ought to have loved, and vice versa, I have changed a thousand times. One day I believe, fall down and worship, the next I flee like a coward from the gods and friends of yesterday, and swallow in silence the ’scoundrel!’ they hurl after me. God alone has seen how often I have wept and bitten my pillow in shame for my enthusiasms. Never once in my life have I intentionally lied or done evil, but my conscience is not clear! I cannot even boast, Madam, that I have no one’s life upon my conscience, for my wife died before my eyes, worn out by my reckless activity. Yes, my wife! I tell you they have two ways of treating women nowadays. Some measure women’s skulls to prove woman is inferior to man, pick out her defects to mock at her, to look original in her eyes, and to justify their sensuality. Others do their utmost to raise women to their level, that is, force them to learn by heart the 35,000 species, to speak and write the same foolish things as they speak and write themselves."
Liharev’s face darkened.
"I tell you that woman has been and always will be the slave of man," he said in a bass voice, striking his fist on the table. "She is the soft, tender wax which a man always moulds into anything he likes. . . . My God! for the sake of some trumpery masculine enthusiasm she will cut off her hair, abandon her family, die among strangers! . . . among the ideas for which she has sacrificed herself there is not a single feminine one. . . . An unquestioning, devoted slave! I have not measured skulls, but I say this from hard, bitter experience: the proudest, most independent women, if I have succeeded in communicating to them my enthusiasm, have followed me without criticism, without question, and done anything I chose; I have turned a nun into a Nihilist who, as I heard afterwards, shot a gendarme; my wife never left me for a minute in my wanderings, and like a weathercock changed her faith in step with my changing enthusiasms."
Liharev jumped up and walked up and down the room.
"A noble, sublime slavery!" he said, clasping his hands. "It is just in it that the highest meaning of woman’s life lies! Of all the fearful medley of thoughts and impressions accumulated in my brain from my association with women my memory, like a filter, has retained no ideas, no clever saying, no philosophy, nothing but that extraordinary, resignation to fate, that wonderful mercifulness, forgiveness of everything."
Liharev clenched his fists, stared at a fixed point, and with a sort of passionate intensity, as though he were savouring each word as he uttered it, hissed through his clenched teeth:
"That . . . that great-hearted fortitude, faithfulness unto death, poetry of the heart. . . . The meaning of life lies in just that unrepining martyrdom, in the tears which would soften a stone, in the boundless, all-forgiving love which brings light and warmth into the chaos of life. . . ."
Mlle. Ilovaisky got up slowly, took a step towards Liharev, and fixed her eyes upon his face. From the tears that glittered on his eyelashes, from his quivering, passionate voice, from the flush on his cheeks, it was clear to her that women were not a chance, not a simple subject of conversation. They were the object of his new enthusiasm, or, as he said himself, his new faith! For the first time in her life she saw a man carried away, fervently believing. With his gesticulations, with his flashing eyes he seemed to her mad, frantic, but there was a feeling of such beauty in the fire of his eyes, in his words, in all the movements of his huge body, that without noticing what she was doing she stood facing him as though rooted to the spot, and gazed into his face with delight.
"Take my mother," he said, stretching out his hand to her with an imploring expression on his face, "I poisoned her existence, according to her ideas disgraced the name of Liharev, did her as much harm as the most malignant enemy, and what do you think? My brothers give her little sums for holy bread and church services, and outraging her religious feelings, she saves that money and sends it in secret to her erring Grigory. This trifle alone elevates and ennobles the soul far more than all the theories, all the clever sayings and the 35,000 species. I can give you thousands of instances. Take you, even, for instance! With tempest and darkness outside you are going to your father and your brother to cheer them with your affection in the holiday, though very likely they have forgotten and are not thinking of you. And, wait a bit, and you will love a man and follow him to the North Pole. You would, wouldn’t you?"
"Yes, if I loved him."
"There, you see," cried Liharev delighted, and he even stamped with his foot. "Oh dear! How glad I am that I have met you! Fate is kind to me, I am always meeting splendid people. Not a day passes but one makes acquaintance with somebody one would give one’s soul for. There are ever so many more good people than bad in this world. Here, see, for instance, how openly and from our hearts we have been talking as though we had known each other a hundred years. Sometimes, I assure you, one restrains oneself for ten years and holds one’s tongue, is reserved with one’s friends and one’s wife, and meets some cadet in a train and babbles one’s whole soul out to him. It is the first time I have the honour of seeing you, and yet I have confessed to you as I have never confessed in my life. Why is it?"
Rubbing his hands and smiling good-humouredly Liharev walked up and down the room, and fell to talking about women again. Meanwhile they began ringing for matins.
"Goodness," wailed Sasha. "He won’t let me sleep with his talking!"
"Oh, yes!" said Liharev, startled. "I am sorry, darling, sleep, sleep. . . . I have two boys besides her," he whispered. "They are living with their uncle, Madam, but this one can’t exist a day without her father. She’s wretched, she complains, but she sticks to me like a fly to honey. I have been chattering too much, Madam, and it would do you no harm to sleep. Wouldn’t you like me to make up a bed for you?"
Without waiting for permission he shook the wet pelisse, stretched it on a bench, fur side upwards, collected various shawls and scarves, put the overcoat folded up into a roll for a pillow, and all this he did in silence with a look of devout reverence, as though he were not handling a woman’s rags, but the fragments of holy vessels. There was something apologetic, embarrassed about his whole figure, as though in the presence of a weak creature he felt ashamed of his height and strength. . . .
When Mlle. Ilovaisky had lain down, he put out the candle and sat down on a stool by the stove.
"So, Madam," he whispered, lighting a fat cigarette and puffing the smoke into the stove. "Nature has put into the Russian an extraordinary faculty for belief, a searching intelligence, and the gift of speculation, but all that is reduced to ashes by irresponsibility, laziness, and dreamy frivolity. . . . Yes. . . ."
She gazed wonderingly into the darkness, and saw only a spot of red on the ikon and the flicker of the light of the stove on Liharev’s face. The darkness, the chime of the bells, the roar of the storm, the lame boy, Sasha with her fretfulness, unhappy Liharev and his sayings—all this was mingled together, and seemed to grow into one huge impression, and God’s world seemed to her fantastic, full of marvels and magical forces. All that she had heard was ringing in her ears, and human life presented itself to her as a beautiful poetic fairy-tale without an end.
The immense impression grew and grew, clouded consciousness, and turned into a sweet dream. She was asleep, though she saw the little ikon lamp and a big nose with the light playing on it.
She heard the sound of weeping.
"Daddy, darling," a child’s voice was tenderly entreating, "let’s go back to uncle! There is a Christmas-tree there! Styopa and Kolya are there!"
"My darling, what can I do?" a man’s bass persuaded softly. "Understand me! Come, understand!"
And the man’s weeping blended with the child’s. This voice of human sorrow, in the midst of the howling of the storm, touched the girl’s ear with such sweet human music that she could not bear the delight of it, and wept too. She was conscious afterwards of a big, black shadow coming softly up to her, picking up a shawl that had dropped on to the floor and carefully wrapping it round her feet.
Mlle. Ilovaisky was awakened by a strange uproar. She jumped up and looked about her in astonishment. The deep blue dawn was looking in at the window half-covered with snow. In the room there was a grey twilight, through which the stove and the sleeping child and Nasir-ed-Din stood out distinctly. The stove and the lamp were both out. Through the wide-open door she could see the big tavern room with a counter and chairs. A man, with a stupid, gipsy face and astonished eyes, was standing in the middle of the room in a puddle of melting snow, holding a big red star on a stick. He was surrounded by a group of boys, motionless as statues, and plastered over with snow. The light shone through the red paper of the star, throwing a glow of red on their wet faces. The crowd was shouting in disorder, and from its uproar Mlle. Ilovaisky could make out only one couplet:
"Hi, you Little Russian lad,
Bring your sharp knife,
We will kill the Jew, we will kill him,
The son of tribulation. . ."
Liharev was standing near the counter, looking feelingly at the singers and tapping his feet in time. Seeing Mlle. Ilovaisky, he smiled all over his face and came up to her. She smiled too.
"A happy Christmas!" he said. "I saw you slept well."
She looked at him, said nothing, and went on smiling.
After the conversation in the night he seemed to her not tall and broad shouldered, but little, just as the biggest steamer seems to us a little thing when we hear that it has crossed the ocean.
"Well, it is time for me to set off," she said. "I must put on my things. Tell me where you are going now?"
"I? To the station of Klinushki, from there to Sergievo, and from Sergievo, with horses, thirty miles to the coal mines that belong to a horrid man, a general called Shashkovsky. My brothers have got me the post of superintendent there. . . . I am going to be a coal miner."
"Stay, I know those mines. Shashkovsky is my uncle, you know. But . . . what are you going there for?" asked Mlle. Ilovaisky, looking at Liharev in surprise.
"As superintendent. To superintend the coal mines."
"I don’t understand!" she shrugged her shoulders. "You are going to the mines. But you know, it’s the bare steppe, a desert, so dreary that you couldn’t exist a day there! It’s horrible coal, no one will buy it, and my uncle’s a maniac, a despot, a bankrupt . . . . You won’t get your salary!"
"No matter," said Liharev, unconcernedly, "I am thankful even for coal mines."
She shrugged her shoulders, and walked about the room in agitation.
"I don’t understand, I don’t understand," she said, moving her fingers before her face. "It’s impossible, and . . . and irrational! You must understand that it’s . . . it’s worse than exile. It is a living tomb! O Heavens!" she said hotly, going up to Liharev and moving her fingers before his smiling face; her upper lip was quivering, and her sharp face turned pale, "Come, picture it, the bare steppe, solitude. There is no one to say a word to there, and you . . . are enthusiastic over women! Coal mines . . . and women!"
Mlle. Ilovaisky was suddenly ashamed of her heat and, turning away from Liharev, walked to the window.
"No, no, you can’t go there," she said, moving her fingers rapidly over the pane.
Not only in her heart, but even in her spine she felt that behind her stood an infinitely unhappy man, lost and outcast, while he, as though he were unaware of his unhappiness, as though he had not shed tears in the night, was looking at her with a kindly smile. Better he should go on weeping! She walked up and down the room several times in agitation, then stopped short in a corner and sank into thought. Liharev was saying something, but she did not hear him. Turning her back on him she took out of her purse a money note, stood for a long time crumpling it in her hand, and looking round at Liharev, blushed and put it in her pocket.
The coachman’s voice was heard through the door. With a stern, concentrated face she began putting on her things in silence. Liharev wrapped her up, chatting gaily, but every word he said lay on her heart like a weight. It is not cheering to hear the unhappy or the dying jest.
When the transformation of a live person into a shapeless bundle had been completed, Mlle. Ilovaisky looked for the last time round the "travellers’ room," stood a moment in silence, and slowly walked out. Liharev went to see her off. . . .
Outside, God alone knows why, the winter was raging still. Whole clouds of big soft snowflakes were whirling restlessly over the earth, unable to find a resting-place. The horses, the sledge, the trees, a bull tied to a post, all were white and seemed soft and fluffy.
"Well, God help you," muttered Liharev, tucking her into the sledge. "Don’t remember evil against me . . . ."
She was silent. When the sledge started, and had to go round a huge snowdrift, she looked back at Liharev with an expression as though she wanted to say something to him. He ran up to her, but she did not say a word to him, she only looked at him through her long eyelashes with little specks of snow on them.
Whether his finely intuitive soul were really able to read that look, or whether his imagination deceived him, it suddenly began to seem to him that with another touch or two that girl would have forgiven him his failures, his age, his desolate position, and would have followed him without question or reasonings. He stood a long while as though rooted to the spot, gazing at the tracks left by the sledge runners. The snowflakes greedily settled on his hair, his beard, his shoulders. . . . Soon the track of the runners had vanished, and he himself covered with snow, began to look like a white rock, but still his eyes kept seeking something in the clouds of snow.


BETWEEN nine and ten on a dark September evening the only son of the district doctor, Kirilov, a child of six, called Andrey, died of diphtheria. Just as the doctor’s wife sank on her knees by the dead child’s bedside and was overwhelmed by the first rush of despair there came a sharp ring at the bell in the entry.
All the servants had been sent out of the house that morning on account of the diphtheria. Kirilov went to open the door just as he was, without his coat on, with his waistcoat unbuttoned, without wiping his wet face or his hands which were scalded with carbolic. It was dark in the entry and nothing could be distinguished in the man who came in but medium height, a white scarf, and a large, extremely pale face, so pale that its entrance seemed to make the passage lighter.
“Is the doctor at home?” the newcomer asked quickly.
“I am at home,” answered Kirilov. “What do you want?”
“Oh, it’s you? I am very glad,” said the stranger in a tone of relief, and he began feeling in the dark for the doctor’s hand, found it and squeezed it tightly in his own. “I am very . . . very glad! We are acquainted. My name is Abogin, and I had the honour of meeting you in the summer at Gnutchev’s. I am very glad I have found you at home. For God’s sake don’t refuse to come back with me at once. . . . My wife has been taken dangerously ill. . . . And the carriage is waiting. . . .”
From the voice and gestures of the speaker it could be seen that he was in a state of great excitement. Like a man terrified by a house on fire or a mad dog, he could hardly restrain his rapid breathing and spoke quickly in a shaking voice, and there was a note of unaffected sincerity and childish alarm in his voice. As people always do who are frightened and overwhelmed, he spoke in brief, jerky sentences and uttered a great many unnecessary, irrelevant words.
“I was afraid I might not find you in,” he went on. “I was in a perfect agony as I drove here. Put on your things and let us go, for God’s sake. . . . This is how it happened. Alexandr Semyonovitch Paptchinsky, whom you know, came to see me. . . . We talked a little and then we sat down to tea; suddenly my wife cried out, clutched at her heart, and fell back on her chair. We carried her to bed and . . . and I rubbed her forehead with ammonia and sprinkled her with water . . . she lay as though she were dead. . . . I am afraid it is aneurism . . . . Come along . . . her father died of aneurism.”
Kirilov listened and said nothing, as though he did not understand Russian.
When Abogin mentioned again Paptchinsky and his wife’s father and once more began feeling in the dark for his hand the doctor shook his head and said apathetically, dragging out each word:
“Excuse me, I cannot come . . . my son died . . . five minutes ago!”
“Is it possible!” whispered Abogin, stepping back a pace. “My God, at what an unlucky moment I have come! A wonderfully unhappy day . . . wonderfully. What a coincidence. . . . It’s as though it were on purpose!”
Abogin took hold of the door-handle and bowed his head. He was evidently hesitating and did not know what to do—whether to go away or to continue entreating the doctor.
“Listen,” he said fervently, catching hold of Kirilov’s sleeve. “I well understand your position! God is my witness that I am ashamed of attempting at such a moment to intrude on your attention, but what am I to do? Only think, to whom can I go? There is no other doctor here, you know. For God’s sake come! I am not asking you for myself. . . . I am not the patient!”
A silence followed. Kirilov turned his back on Abogin, stood still a moment, and slowly walked into the drawing-room. Judging from his unsteady, mechanical step, from the attention with which he set straight the fluffy shade on the unlighted lamp in the drawing-room and glanced into a thick book lying on the table, at that instant he had no intention, no desire, was thinking of nothing and most likely did not remember that there was a stranger in the entry. The twilight and stillness of the drawing-room seemed to increase his numbness. Going out of the drawing-room into his study he raised his right foot higher than was necessary, and felt for the doorposts with his hands, and as he did so there was an air of perplexity about his whole figure as though he were in somebody else’s house, or were drunk for the first time in his life and were now abandoning himself with surprise to the new sensation. A broad streak of light stretched across the bookcase on one wall of the study; this light came together with the close, heavy smell of carbolic and ether from the door into the bedroom, which stood a little way open. . . . The doctor sank into a low chair in front of the table; for a minute he stared drowsily at his books, which lay with the light on them, then got up and went into the bedroom.
Here in the bedroom reigned a dead silence. Everything to the smallest detail was eloquent of the storm that had been passed through, of exhaustion, and everything was at rest. A candle standing among a crowd of bottles, boxes, and pots on a stool and a big lamp on the chest of drawers threw a brilliant light over all the room. On the bed under the window lay a boy with open eyes and a look of wonder on his face. He did not move, but his open eyes seemed every moment growing darker and sinking further into his head. The mother was kneeling by the bed with her arms on his body and her head hidden in the bedclothes. Like the child, she did not stir; but what throbbing life was suggested in the curves of her body and in her arms! She leaned against the bed with all her being, pressing against it greedily with all her might, as though she were afraid of disturbing the peaceful and comfortable attitude she had found at last for her exhausted body. The bedclothes, the rags and bowls, the splashes of water on the floor, the little paint-brushes and spoons thrown down here and there, the white bottle of lime water, the very air, heavy and stifling—were all hushed and seemed plunged in repose.
The doctor stopped close to his wife, thrust his hands in his trouser pockets, and slanting his head on one side fixed his eyes on his son. His face bore an expression of indifference, and only from the drops that glittered on his beard it could be seen that he had just been crying.
That repellent horror which is thought of when we speak of death was absent from the room. In the numbness of everything, in the mother’s attitude, in the indifference on the doctor’s face there was something that attracted and touched the heart, that subtle, almost elusive beauty of human sorrow which men will not for a long time learn to understand and describe, and which it seems only music can convey. There was a feeling of beauty, too, in the austere stillness. Kirilov and his wife were silent and not weeping, as though besides the bitterness of their loss they were conscious, too, of all the tragedy of their position; just as once their youth had passed away, so now together with this boy their right to have children had gone for ever to all eternity! The doctor was forty-four, his hair was grey and he looked like an old man; his faded and invalid wife was thirty-five. Andrey was not merely the only child, but also the last child.
In contrast to his wife the doctor belonged to the class of people who at times of spiritual suffering feel a craving for movement. After standing for five minutes by his wife, he walked, raising his right foot high, from the bedroom into a little room which was half filled up by a big sofa; from there he went into the kitchen. After wandering by the stove and the cook’s bed he bent down and went by a little door into the passage.
There he saw again the white scarf and the white face.
“At last,” sighed Abogin, reaching towards the door-handle. “Let us go, please.”
The doctor started, glanced at him, and remembered. . . .
“Why, I have told you already that I can’t go!” he said, growing more animated. “How strange!”
“Doctor, I am not a stone, I fully understand your position . . . I feel for you,” Abogin said in an imploring voice, laying his hand on his scarf. “But I am not asking you for myself. My wife is dying. If you had heard that cry, if you had seen her face, you would understand my pertinacity. My God, I thought you had gone to get ready! Doctor, time is precious. Let us go, I entreat you.”
“I cannot go,” said Kirilov emphatically and he took a step into the drawing-room.
Abogin followed him and caught hold of his sleeve.
“You are in sorrow, I understand. But I’m not asking you to a case of toothache, or to a consultation, but to save a human life!” he went on entreating like a beggar. “Life comes before any personal sorrow! Come, I ask for courage, for heroism! For the love of humanity!”
“Humanity—that cuts both ways,” Kirilov said irritably. “In the name of humanity I beg you not to take me. And how queer it is, really! I can hardly stand and you talk to me about humanity! I am fit for nothing just now. . . . Nothing will induce me to go, and I can’t leave my wife alone. No, no. . .”
Kirilov waved his hands and staggered back.
“And . . . and don’t ask me,” he went on in a tone of alarm. “Excuse me. By No. XIII of the regulations I am obliged to go and you have the right to drag me by my collar . . . drag me if you like, but . . . I am not fit . . . I can’t even speak . . . excuse me.”
“There is no need to take that tone to me, doctor!” said Abogin, again taking the doctor by his sleeve. “What do I care about No. XIII! To force you against your will I have no right whatever. If you will, come; if you will not—God forgive you; but I am not appealing to your will, but to your feelings. A young woman is dying. You were just speaking of the death of your son. Who should understand my horror if not you?”
Abogin’s voice quivered with emotion; that quiver and his tone were far more persuasive than his words. Abogin was sincere, but it was remarkable that whatever he said his words sounded stilted, soulless, and inappropriately flowery, and even seemed an outrage on the atmosphere of the doctor’s home and on the woman who was somewhere dying. He felt this himself, and so, afraid of not being understood, did his utmost to put softness and tenderness into his voice so that the sincerity of his tone might prevail if his words did not. As a rule, however fine and deep a phrase may be, it only affects the indifferent, and cannot fully satisfy those who are happy or unhappy; that is why dumbness is most often the highest expression of happiness or unhappiness; lovers understand each other better when they are silent, and a fervent, passionate speech delivered by the grave only touches outsiders, while to the widow and children of the dead man it seems cold and trivial.
Kirilov stood in silence. When Abogin uttered a few more phrases concerning the noble calling of a doctor, self-sacrifice, and so on, the doctor asked sullenly: “Is it far?”
“Something like eight or nine miles. I have capital horses, doctor! I give you my word of honour that I will get you there and back in an hour. Only one hour.”
These words had more effect on Kirilov than the appeals to humanity or the noble calling of the doctor. He thought a moment and said with a sigh: “Very well, let us go!”
He went rapidly with a more certain step to his study, and afterwards came back in a long frock-coat. Abogin, greatly relieved, fidgeted round him and scraped with his feet as he helped him on with his overcoat, and went out of the house with him.
It was dark out of doors, though lighter than in the entry. The tall, stooping figure of the doctor, with his long, narrow beard and aquiline nose, stood out distinctly in the darkness. Abogin’s big head and the little student’s cap that barely covered it could be seen now as well as his pale face. The scarf showed white only in front, behind it was hidden by his long hair.
“Believe me, I know how to appreciate your generosity,” Abogin muttered as he helped the doctor into the carriage. “We shall get there quickly. Drive as fast as you can, Luka, there’s a good fellow! Please!”
The coachman drove rapidly. At first there was a row of indistinct buildings that stretched alongside the hospital yard; it was dark everywhere except for a bright light from a window that gleamed through the fence into the furthest part of the yard while three windows of the upper storey of the hospital looked paler than the surrounding air. Then the carriage drove into dense shadow; here there was the smell of dampness and mushrooms, and the sound of rustling trees; the crows, awakened by the noise of the wheels, stirred among the foliage and uttered prolonged plaintive cries as though they knew the doctor’s son was dead and that Abogin’s wife was ill. Then came glimpses of separate trees, of bushes; a pond, on which great black shadows were slumbering, gleamed with a sullen light—and the carriage rolled over a smooth level ground. The clamour of the crows sounded dimly far away and soon ceased altogether.
Kirilov and Abogin were silent almost all the way. Only once Abogin heaved a deep sigh and muttered:
“It’s an agonizing state! One never loves those who are near one so much as when one is in danger of losing them.”
And when the carriage slowly drove over the river, Kirilov started all at once as though the splash of the water had frightened him, and made a movement.
“Listen—let me go,” he said miserably. “I’ll come to you later. I must just send my assistant to my wife. She is alone, you know!”
Abogin did not speak. The carriage swaying from side to side and crunching over the stones drove up the sandy bank and rolled on its way. Kirilov moved restlessly and looked about him in misery. Behind them in the dim light of the stars the road could be seen and the riverside willows vanishing into the darkness. On the right lay a plain as uniform and as boundless as the sky; here and there in the distance, probably on the peat marshes, dim lights were glimmering. On the left, parallel with the road, ran a hill tufted with small bushes, and above the hill stood motionless a big, red half-moon, slightly veiled with mist and encircled by tiny clouds, which seemed to be looking round at it from all sides and watching that it did not go away.
In all nature there seemed to be a feeling of hopelessness and pain. The earth, like a ruined woman sitting alone in a dark room and trying not to think of the past, was brooding over memories of spring and summer and apathetically waiting for the inevitable winter. Wherever one looked, on all sides, nature seemed like a dark, infinitely deep, cold pit from which neither Kirilov nor Abogin nor the red half-moon could escape. . . .
The nearer the carriage got to its goal the more impatient Abogin became. He kept moving, leaping up, looking over the coachman’s shoulder. And when at last the carriage stopped before the entrance, which was elegantly curtained with striped linen, and when he looked at the lighted windows of the second storey there was an audible catch in his breath.
“If anything happens . . . I shall not survive it,” he said, going into the hall with the doctor, and rubbing his hands in agitation. “But there is no commotion, so everything must be going well so far,” he added, listening in the stillness.
There was no sound in the hall of steps or voices and all the house seemed asleep in spite of the lighted windows. Now the doctor and Abogin, who till then had been in darkness, could see each other clearly. The doctor was tall and stooped, was untidily dressed and not good-looking. There was an unpleasantly harsh, morose, and unfriendly look about his lips, thick as a negro’s, his aquiline nose, and listless, apathetic eyes. His unkempt head and sunken temples, the premature greyness of his long, narrow beard through which his chin was visible, the pale grey hue of his skin and his careless, uncouth manners—the harshness of all this was suggestive of years of poverty, of ill fortune, of weariness with life and with men. Looking at his frigid figure one could hardly believe that this man had a wife, that he was capable of weeping over his child. Abogin presented a very different appearance. He was a thick-set, sturdy-looking, fair man with a big head and large, soft features; he was elegantly dressed in the very latest fashion. In his carriage, his closely buttoned coat, his long hair, and his face there was a suggestion of something generous, leonine; he walked with his head erect and his chest squared, he spoke in an agreeable baritone, and there was a shade of refined almost feminine elegance in the manner in which he took off his scarf and smoothed his hair. Even his paleness and the childlike terror with which he looked up at the stairs as he took off his coat did not detract from his dignity nor diminish the air of sleekness, health, and aplomb which characterized his whole figure.
“There is nobody and no sound,” he said going up the stairs. “There is no commotion. God grant all is well.”
He led the doctor through the hall into a big drawing-room where there was a black piano and a chandelier in a white cover; from there they both went into a very snug, pretty little drawing-room full of an agreeable, rosy twilight.
“Well, sit down here, doctor, and I . . . will be back directly. I will go and have a look and prepare them.”
Kirilov was left alone. The luxury of the drawing-room, the agreeably subdued light and his own presence in the stranger’s unfamiliar house, which had something of the character of an adventure, did not apparently affect him. He sat in a low chair and scrutinized his hands, which were burnt with carbolic. He only caught a passing glimpse of the bright red lamp-shade and the violoncello case, and glancing in the direction where the clock was ticking he noticed a stuffed wolf as substantial and sleek-looking as Abogin himself.
It was quiet. . . . Somewhere far away in the adjoining rooms someone uttered a loud exclamation:
“Ah!” There was a clang of a glass door, probably of a cupboard, and again all was still. After waiting five minutes Kirilov left off scrutinizing his hands and raised his eyes to the door by which Abogin had vanished.
In the doorway stood Abogin, but he was not the same as when he had gone out. The look of sleekness and refined elegance had disappeared —his face, his hands, his attitude were contorted by a revolting expression of something between horror and agonizing physical pain. His nose, his lips, his moustache, all his features were moving and seemed trying to tear themselves from his face, his eyes looked as though they were laughing with agony. . . .
Abogin took a heavy stride into the drawing-room, bent forward, moaned, and shook his fists.
“She has deceived me,” he cried, with a strong emphasis on the second syllable of the verb. “Deceived me, gone away. She fell ill and sent me for the doctor only to run away with that clown Paptchinsky! My God!”
Abogin took a heavy step towards the doctor, held out his soft white fists in his face, and shaking them went on yelling:
“Gone away! Deceived me! But why this deception? My God! My God! What need of this dirty, scoundrelly trick, this diabolical, snakish farce? What have I done to her? Gone away!”
Tears gushed from his eyes. He turned on one foot and began pacing up and down the drawing-room. Now in his short coat, his fashionable narrow trousers which made his legs look disproportionately slim, with his big head and long mane he was extremely like a lion. A gleam of curiosity came into the apathetic face of the doctor. He got up and looked at Abogin.
“Excuse me, where is the patient?” he said.
“The patient! The patient!” cried Abogin, laughing, crying, and still brandishing his fists. “She is not ill, but accursed! The baseness! The vileness! The devil himself could not have imagined anything more loathsome! She sent me off that she might run away with a buffoon, a dull-witted clown, an Alphonse! Oh God, better she had died! I cannot bear it! I cannot bear it!”
The doctor drew himself up. His eyes blinked and filled with tears, his narrow beard began moving to right and to left together with his jaw.
“Allow me to ask what’s the meaning of this?” he asked, looking round him with curiosity. “My child is dead, my wife is in grief alone in the whole house. . . . I myself can scarcely stand up, I have not slept for three nights. . . . And here I am forced to play a part in some vulgar farce, to play the part of a stage property! I don’t . . . don’t understand it!”
Abogin unclenched one fist, flung a crumpled note on the floor, and stamped on it as though it were an insect he wanted to crush.
“And I didn’t see, didn’t understand,” he said through his clenched teeth, brandishing one fist before his face with an expression as though some one had trodden on his corns. “I did not notice that he came every day! I did not notice that he came today in a closed carriage! What did he come in a closed carriage for? And I did not see it! Noodle!”
“I don’t understand . . .” muttered the doctor. “Why, what’s the meaning of it? Why, it’s an outrage on personal dignity, a mockery of human suffering! It’s incredible. . . . It’s the first time in my life I have had such an experience!”
With the dull surprise of a man who has only just realized that he has been bitterly insulted the doctor shrugged his shoulders, flung wide his arms, and not knowing what to do or to say sank helplessly into a chair.
“If you have ceased to love me and love another—so be it; but why this deceit, why this vulgar, treacherous trick?” Abogin said in a tearful voice. “What is the object of it? And what is there to justify it? And what have I done to you? Listen, doctor,” he said hotly, going up to Kirilov. “You have been the involuntary witness of my misfortune and I am not going to conceal the truth from you. I swear that I loved the woman, loved her devotedly, like a slave! I have sacrificed everything for her; I have quarrelled with my own people, I have given up the service and music, I have forgiven her what I could not have forgiven my own mother or sister . . . I have never looked askance at her. . . . I have never gainsaid her in anything. Why this deception? I do not demand love, but why this loathsome duplicity? If she did not love me, why did she not say so openly, honestly, especially as she knows my views on the subject? . . .”
With tears in his eyes, trembling all over, Abogin opened his heart to the doctor with perfect sincerity. He spoke warmly, pressing both hands on his heart, exposing the secrets of his private life without the faintest hesitation, and even seemed to be glad that at last these secrets were no longer pent up in his breast. If he had talked in this way for an hour or two, and opened his heart, he would undoubtedly have felt better. Who knows, if the doctor had listened to him and had sympathized with him like a friend, he might perhaps, as often happens, have reconciled himself to his trouble without protest, without doing anything needless and absurd. . . . But what happened was quite different. While Abogin was speaking the outraged doctor perceptibly changed. The indifference and wonder on his face gradually gave way to an expression of bitter resentment, indignation, and anger. The features of his face became even harsher, coarser, and more unpleasant. When Abogin held out before his eyes the photograph of a young woman with a handsome face as cold and expressionless as a nun’s and asked him whether, looking at that face, one could conceive that it was capable of duplicity, the doctor suddenly flew out, and with flashing eyes said, rudely rapping out each word:
“What are you telling me all this for? I have no desire to hear it! I have no desire to!” he shouted and brought his fist down on the table. “I don’t want your vulgar secrets! Damnation take them! Don’t dare to tell me of such vulgar doings! Do you consider that I have not been insulted enough already? That I am a flunkey whom you can insult without restraint? Is that it?”
Abogin staggered back from Kirilov and stared at him in amazement.
“Why did you bring me here?” the doctor went on, his beard quivering. “If you are so puffed up with good living that you go and get married and then act a farce like this, how do I come in? What have I to do with your love affairs? Leave me in peace! Go on squeezing money out of the poor in your gentlemanly way. Make a display of humane ideas, play (the doctor looked sideways at the violoncello case) play the bassoon and the trombone, grow as fat as capons, but don’t dare to insult personal dignity! If you cannot respect it, you might at least spare it your attention!”
“Excuse me, what does all this mean?” Abogin asked, flushing red.
“It means that it’s base and low to play with people like this! I am a doctor; you look upon doctors and people generally who work and don’t stink of perfume and prostitution as your menials and mauvais ton; well, you may look upon them so, but no one has given you the right to treat a man who is suffering as a stage property!”
“How dare you say that to me!” Abogin said quietly, and his face began working again, and this time unmistakably from anger.
“No, how dared you, knowing of my sorrow, bring me here to listen to these vulgarities!” shouted the doctor, and he again banged on the table with his fist. “Who has given you the right to make a mockery of another man’s sorrow?”
“You have taken leave of your senses,” shouted Abogin. “It is ungenerous. I am intensely unhappy myself and . . . and . . .”
“Unhappy!” said the doctor, with a smile of contempt. “Don’t utter that word, it does not concern you. The spendthrift who cannot raise a loan calls himself unhappy, too. The capon, sluggish from over-feeding, is unhappy, too. Worthless people!”
“Sir, you forget yourself,” shrieked Abogin. “For saying things like that . . . people are thrashed! Do you understand?”
Abogin hurriedly felt in his side pocket, pulled out a pocket-book, and extracting two notes flung them on the table.
“Here is the fee for your visit,” he said, his nostrils dilating. “You are paid.”
“How dare you offer me money?” shouted the doctor and he brushed the notes off the table on to the floor. “An insult cannot be paid for in money!”
Abogin and the doctor stood face to face, and in their wrath continued flinging undeserved insults at each other. I believe that never in their lives, even in delirium, had they uttered so much that was unjust, cruel, and absurd. The egoism of the unhappy was conspicuous in both. The unhappy are egoistic, spiteful, unjust, cruel, and less capable of understanding each other than fools. Unhappiness does not bring people together but draws them apart, and even where one would fancy people should be united by the similarity of their sorrow, far more injustice and cruelty is generated than in comparatively placid surroundings.
“Kindly let me go home!” shouted the doctor, breathing hard.
Abogin rang the bell sharply. When no one came to answer the bell he rang again and angrily flung the bell on the floor; it fell on the carpet with a muffled sound, and uttered a plaintive note as though at the point of death. A footman came in.
“Where have you been hiding yourself, the devil take you?” His master flew at him, clenching his fists. “Where were you just now? Go and tell them to bring the victoria round for this gentleman, and order the closed carriage to be got ready for me. Stay,” he cried as the footman turned to go out. “I won’t have a single traitor in the house by to-morrow! Away with you all! I will engage fresh servants! Reptiles!”
Abogin and the doctor remained in silence waiting for the carriage. The first regained his expression of sleekness and his refined elegance. He paced up and down the room, tossed his head elegantly, and was evidently meditating on something. His anger had not cooled, but he tried to appear not to notice his enemy. . . . The doctor stood, leaning with one hand on the edge of the table, and looked at Abogin with that profound and somewhat cynical, ugly contempt only to be found in the eyes of sorrow and indigence when they are confronted with well-nourished comfort and elegance.
When a little later the doctor got into the victoria and drove off there was still a look of contempt in his eyes. It was dark, much darker than it had been an hour before. The red half-moon had sunk behind the hill and the clouds that had been guarding it lay in dark patches near the stars. The carriage with red lamps rattled along the road and soon overtook the doctor. It was Abogin driving off to protest, to do absurd things. . . .
All the way home the doctor thought not of his wife, nor of his Andrey, but of Abogin and the people in the house he had just left. His thoughts were unjust and inhumanly cruel. He condemned Abogin and his wife and Paptchinsky and all who lived in rosy, subdued light among sweet perfumes, and all the way home he hated and despised them till his head ached. And a firm conviction concerning those people took shape in his mind.
Time will pass and Kirilov’s sorrow will pass, but that conviction, unjust and unworthy of the human heart, will not pass, but will remain in the doctor’s mind to the grave.


IVAN ALEXEYITCH OGNEV remembers how on that August evening he opened the glass door with a rattle and went out on to the verandah. He was wearing a light Inverness cape and a wide-brimmed straw hat, the very one that was lying with his top-boots in the dust under his bed. In one hand he had a big bundle of books and notebooks, in the other a thick knotted stick.
Behind the door, holding the lamp to show the way, stood the master of the house, Kuznetsov, a bald old man with a long grey beard, in a snow-white piqué jacket. The old man was smiling cordially and nodding his head.
"Good-bye, old fellow!" said Ognev.
Kuznetsov put the lamp on a little table and went out to the verandah. Two long narrow shadows moved down the steps towards the flower-beds, swayed to and fro, and leaned their heads on the trunks of the lime-trees.
"Good-bye and once more thank you, my dear fellow!" said Ivan Alexeyitch. "Thank you for your welcome, for your kindness, for your affection. . . . I shall never forget your hospitality as long as I live. You are so good, and your daughter is so good, and everyone here is so kind, so good-humoured and friendly . . . Such a splendid set of people that I don’t know how to say what I feel!"
From excess of feeling and under the influence of the home-made wine he had just drunk, Ognev talked in a singing voice like a divinity student, and was so touched that he expressed his feelings not so much by words as by the blinking of his eyes and the twitching of his shoulders. Kuznetsov, who had also drunk a good deal and was touched, craned forward to the young man and kissed him.
"I’ve grown as fond of you as if I were your dog," Ognev went on. "I’ve been turning up here almost every day; I’ve stayed the night a dozen times. It’s dreadful to think of all the home-made wine I’ve drunk. And thank you most of all for your co-operation and help. Without you I should have been busy here over my statistics till October. I shall put in my preface: ’I think it my duty to express my gratitude to the President of the District Zemstvo of N——, Kuznetsov, for his kind co-operation.’ There is a brilliant future before statistics! My humble respects to Vera Gavrilovna, and tell the doctors, both the lawyers and your secretary, that I shall never forget their help! And now, old fellow, let us embrace one another and kiss for the last time!"
Ognev, limp with emotion, kissed the old man once more and began going down the steps. On the last step he looked round and asked: "Shall we meet again some day?"
"God knows!" said the old man. "Most likely not!"
"Yes, that’s true! Nothing will tempt you to Petersburg and I am never likely to turn up in this district again. Well, good-bye!"
"You had better leave the books behind!" Kuznetsov called after him. "You don’t want to drag such a weight with you. I would send them by a servant to-morrow!"
But Ognev was rapidly walking away from the house and was not listening. His heart, warmed by the wine, was brimming over with good-humour, friendliness, and sadness. He walked along thinking how frequently one met with good people, and what a pity it was that nothing was left of those meetings but memories. At times one catches a glimpse of cranes on the horizon, and a faint gust of wind brings their plaintive, ecstatic cry, and a minute later, however greedily one scans the blue distance, one cannot see a speck nor catch a sound; and like that, people with their faces and their words flit through our lives and are drowned in the past, leaving nothing except faint traces in the memory. Having been in the N—— District from the early spring, and having been almost every day at the friendly Kuznetsovs’, Ivan Alexeyitch had become as much at home with the old man, his daughter, and the servants as though they were his own people; he had grown familiar with the whole house to the smallest detail, with the cosy verandah, the windings of the avenues, the silhouettes of the trees over the kitchen and the bath-house; but as soon as he was out of the gate all this would be changed to memory and would lose its meaning as reality for ever, and in a year or two all these dear images would grow as dim in his consciousness as stories he had read or things he had imagined.
"Nothing in life is so precious as people!" Ognev thought in his emotion, as he strode along the avenue to the gate. "Nothing!"
It was warm and still in the garden. There was a scent of the mignonette, of the tobacco-plants, and of the heliotrope, which were not yet over in the flower-beds. The spaces between the bushes and the tree-trunks were filled with a fine soft mist soaked through and through with moonlight, and, as Ognev long remembered, coils of mist that looked like phantoms slowly but perceptibly followed one another across the avenue. The moon stood high above the garden, and below it transparent patches of mist were floating eastward. The whole world seemed to consist of nothing but black silhouettes and wandering white shadows. Ognev, seeing the mist on a moonlight August evening almost for the first time in his life, imagined he was seeing, not nature, but a stage effect in which unskilful workmen, trying to light up the garden with white Bengal fire, hid behind the bushes and let off clouds of white smoke together with the light.
When Ognev reached the garden gate a dark shadow moved away from the low fence and came towards him.
"Vera Gavrilovna!" he said, delighted. "You here? And I have been looking everywhere for you; wanted to say good-bye. . . . Good-bye; I am going away!"
"So early? Why, it’s only eleven o’clock."
"Yes, it’s time I was off. I have a four-mile walk and then my packing. I must be up early to-morrow."
Before Ognev stood Kuznetsov’s daughter Vera, a girl of one-and-twenty, as usual melancholy, carelessly dressed, and attractive. Girls who are dreamy and spend whole days lying down, lazily reading whatever they come across, who are bored and melancholy, are usually careless in their dress. To those of them who have been endowed by nature with taste and an instinct of beauty, the slight carelessness adds a special charm. When Ognev later on remembered her, he could not picture pretty Verotchka except in a full blouse which was crumpled in deep folds at the belt and yet did not touch her waist; without her hair done up high and a curl that had come loose from it on her forehead; without the knitted red shawl with ball fringe at the edge which hung disconsolately on Vera’s shoulders in the evenings, like a flag on a windless day, and in the daytime lay about, crushed up, in the hall near the men’s hats or on a box in the dining-room, where the old cat did not hesitate to sleep on it. This shawl and the folds of her blouse suggested a feeling of freedom and laziness, of good-nature and sitting at home. Perhaps because Vera attracted Ognev he saw in every frill and button something warm, naïve, cosy, something nice and poetical, just what is lacking in cold, insincere women that have no instinct for beauty.
Verotchka had a good figure, a regular profile, and beautiful curly hair. Ognev, who had seen few women in his life, thought her a beauty.
"I am going away," he said as he took leave of her at the gate. "Don’t remember evil against me! Thank you for everything!"
In the same singing divinity student’s voice in which he had talked to her father, with the same blinking and twitching of his shoulders, he began thanking Vera for her hospitality, kindness, and friendliness.
"I’ve written about you in every letter to my mother," he said. "If everyone were like you and your dad, what a jolly place the world would be! You are such a splendid set of people! All such genuine, friendly people with no nonsense about you."
"Where are you going to now?" asked Vera.
"I am going now to my mother’s at Oryol; I shall be a fortnight with her, and then back to Petersburg and work."
"And then?"
"And then? I shall work all the winter and in the spring go somewhere into the provinces again to collect material. Well, be happy, live a hundred years . . . don’t remember evil against me. We shall not see each other again."
Ognev stooped down and kissed Vera’s hand. Then, in silent emotion, he straightened his cape, shifted his bundle of books to a more comfortable position, paused, and said:
"What a lot of mist!"
"Yes. Have you left anything behind?"
"No, I don’t think so. . . ."
For some seconds Ognev stood in silence, then he moved clumsily towards the gate and went out of the garden.
"Stay; I’ll see you as far as our wood," said Vera, following him out.
They walked along the road. Now the trees did not obscure the view, and one could see the sky and the distance. As though covered with a veil all nature was hidden in a transparent, colourless haze through which her beauty peeped gaily; where the mist was thicker and whiter it lay heaped unevenly about the stones, stalks, and bushes or drifted in coils over the road, clung close to the earth and seemed trying not to conceal the view. Through the haze they could see all the road as far as the wood, with dark ditches at the sides and tiny bushes which grew in the ditches and caught the straying wisps of mist. Half a mile from the gate they saw the dark patch of Kuznetsov’s wood.
"Why has she come with me? I shall have to see her back," thought Ognev, but looking at her profile he gave a friendly smile and said: "One doesn’t want to go away in such lovely weather. It’s quite a romantic evening, with the moon, the stillness, and all the etceteras. Do you know, Vera Gavrilovna, here I have lived twenty-nine years in the world and never had a romance. No romantic episode in my whole life, so that I only know by hearsay of rendezvous, ’avenues of sighs,’ and kisses. It’s not normal! In town, when one sits in one’s lodgings, one does not notice the blank, but here in the fresh air one feels it. . . . One resents it!"
"Why is it?"
"I don’t know. I suppose I’ve never had time, or perhaps it was I have never met women who. . . . In fact, I have very few acquaintances and never go anywhere."
For some three hundred paces the young people walked on in silence. Ognev kept glancing at Verotchka’s bare head and shawl, and days of spring and summer rose to his mind one after another. It had been a period when far from his grey Petersburg lodgings, enjoying the friendly warmth of kind people, nature, and the work he loved, he had not had time to notice how the sunsets followed the glow of dawn, and how, one after another foretelling the end of summer, first the nightingale ceased singing, then the quail, then a little later the landrail. The days slipped by unnoticed, so that life must have been happy and easy. He began calling aloud how reluctantly he, poor and unaccustomed to change of scene and society, had come at the end of April to the N—— District, where he had expected dreariness, loneliness, and indifference to statistics, which he considered was now the foremost among the sciences. When he arrived on an April morning at the little town of N—— he had put up at the inn kept by Ryabuhin, the Old Believer, where for twenty kopecks a day they had given him a light, clean room on condition that he should not smoke indoors. After resting and finding who was the president of the District Zemstvo, he had set off at once on foot to Kuznetsov. He had to walk three miles through lush meadows and young copses. Larks were hovering in the clouds, filling the air with silvery notes, and rooks flapping their wings with sedate dignity floated over the green cornland.
"Good heavens!" Ognev had thought in wonder; "can it be that there’s always air like this to breathe here, or is this scent only to-day, in honour of my coming?"
Expecting a cold business-like reception, he went in to Kuznetsov’s diffidently, looking up from under his eyebrows and shyly pulling his beard. At first Kuznetsov wrinkled up his brows and could not understand what use the Zemstvo could be to the young man and his statistics; but when the latter explained at length what was material for statistics and how such material was collected, Kuznetsov brightened, smiled, and with childish curiosity began looking at his notebooks. On the evening of the same day Ivan Alexeyitch was already sitting at supper with the Kuznetsovs, was rapidly becoming exhilarated by their strong home-made wine, and looking at the calm faces and lazy movements of his new acquaintances, felt all over that sweet, drowsy indolence which makes one want to sleep and stretch and smile; while his new acquaintances looked at him good-naturedly and asked him whether his father and mother were living, how much he earned a month, how often he went to the theatre. . . .
Ognev recalled his expeditions about the neighbourhood, the picnics, the fishing parties, the visit of the whole party to the convent to see the Mother Superior Marfa, who had given each of the visitors a bead purse; he recalled the hot, endless typically Russian arguments in which the opponents, spluttering and banging the table with their fists, misunderstand and interrupt one another, unconsciously contradict themselves at every phrase, continually change the subject, and after arguing for two or three hours, laugh and say: "Goodness knows what we have been arguing about! Beginning with one thing and going on to another!"
"And do you remember how the doctor and you and I rode to Shestovo?" said Ivan Alexeyitch to Vera as they reached the copse. "It was there that the crazy saint met us: I gave him a five-kopeck piece, and he crossed himself three times and flung it into the rye. Good heavens! I am carrying away such a mass of memories that if I could gather them together into a whole it would make a good nugget of gold! I don’t understand why clever, perceptive people crowd into Petersburg and Moscow and don’t come here. Is there more truth and freedom in the Nevsky and in the big damp houses than here? Really, the idea of artists, scientific men, and journalists all living crowded together in furnished rooms has always seemed to me a mistake."
Twenty paces from the copse the road was crossed by a small narrow bridge with posts at the corners, which had always served as a resting-place for the Kuznetsovs and their guests on their evening walks. From there those who liked could mimic the forest echo, and one could see the road vanish in the dark woodland track.
"Well, here is the bridge!" said Ognev. "Here you must turn back."
Vera stopped and drew a breath.
"Let us sit down," she said, sitting down on one of the posts. "People generally sit down when they say good-bye before starting on a journey."
Ognev settled himself beside her on his bundle of books and went on talking. She was breathless from the walk, and was looking, not at Ivan Alexeyitch, but away into the distance so that he could not see her face.
"And what if we meet in ten years’ time?" he said. "What shall we be like then? You will be by then the respectable mother of a family, and I shall be the author of some weighty statistical work of no use to anyone, as thick as forty thousand such works. We shall meet and think of old days. . . . Now we are conscious of the present; it absorbs and excites us, but when we meet we shall not remember the day, nor the month, nor even the year in which we saw each other for the last time on this bridge. You will be changed, perhaps . . . . Tell me, will you be different?"
Vera started and turned her face towards him.
"What?" she asked.
"I asked you just now. . . ."
"Excuse me, I did not hear what you were saying."
Only then Ognev noticed a change in Vera. She was pale, breathing fast, and the tremor in her breathing affected her hands and lips and head, and not one curl as usual, but two, came loose and fell on her forehead. . . . Evidently she avoided looking him in the face, and, trying to mask her emotion, at one moment fingered her collar, which seemed to be rasping her neck, at another pulled her red shawl from one shoulder to the other.
"I am afraid you are cold," said Ognev. "It’s not at all wise to sit in the mist. Let me see you back nach-haus."
Vera sat mute.
"What is the matter?" asked Ognev, with a smile. "You sit silent and don’t answer my questions. Are you cross, or don’t you feel well?"
Vera pressed the palm of her hand to the cheek nearest to Ognev, and then abruptly jerked it away.
"An awful position!" she murmured, with a look of pain on her face. "Awful!"
"How is it awful?" asked Ognev, shrugging his shoulders and not concealing his surprise. "What’s the matter?"
Still breathing hard and twitching her shoulders, Vera turned her back to him, looked at the sky for half a minute, and said:
"There is something I must say to you, Ivan Alexeyitch. . . ."
"I am listening."
"It may seem strange to you. . . . You will be surprised, but I don’t care. . . ."
Ognev shrugged his shoulders once more and prepared himself to listen.
"You see . . ." Verotchka began, bowing her head and fingering a ball on the fringe of her shawl. "You see . . . this is what I wanted to tell you. . . . You’ll think it strange . . . and silly, but I . . . can’t bear it any longer."
Vera’s words died away in an indistinct mutter and were suddenly cut short by tears. The girl hid her face in her handkerchief, bent lower than ever, and wept bitterly. Ivan Alexeyitch cleared his throat in confusion and looked about him hopelessly, at his wits’ end, not knowing what to say or do. Being unused to the sight of tears, he felt his own eyes, too, beginning to smart.
"Well, what next!" he muttered helplessly. "Vera Gavrilovna, what’s this for, I should like to know? My dear girl, are you . . . are you ill? Or has someone been nasty to you? Tell me, perhaps I could, so to say . . . help you. . . ."
When, trying to console her, he ventured cautiously to remove her hands from her face, she smiled at him through her tears and said:
"I . . . love you!"
These words, so simple and ordinary, were uttered in ordinary human language, but Ognev, in acute embarrassment, turned away from Vera, and got up, while his confusion was followed by terror.
The sad, warm, sentimental mood induced by leave-taking and the home-made wine suddenly vanished, and gave place to an acute and unpleasant feeling of awkwardness. He felt an inward revulsion; he looked askance at Vera, and now that by declaring her love for him she had cast off the aloofness which so adds to a woman’s charm, she seemed to him, as it were, shorter, plainer, more ordinary.
"What’s the meaning of it?" he thought with horror. "But I . . . do I love her or not? That’s the question!"
And she breathed easily and freely now that the worst and most difficult thing was said. She, too, got up, and looking Ivan Alexeyitch straight in the face, began talking rapidly, warmly, irrepressibly.
As a man suddenly panic-stricken cannot afterwards remember the succession of sounds accompanying the catastrophe that overwhelmed him, so Ognev cannot remember Vera’s words and phrases. He can only recall the meaning of what she said, and the sensation her words evoked in him. He remembers her voice, which seemed stifled and husky with emotion, and the extraordinary music and passion of her intonation. Laughing, crying with tears glistening on her eyelashes, she told him that from the first day of their acquaintance he had struck her by his originality, his intelligence, his kind intelligent eyes, by his work and objects in life; that she loved him passionately, deeply, madly; that when coming into the house from the garden in the summer she saw his cape in the hall or heard his voice in the distance, she felt a cold shudder at her heart, a foreboding of happiness; even his slightest jokes had made her laugh; in every figure in his note-books she saw something extraordinarily wise and grand; his knotted stick seemed to her more beautiful than the trees.
The copse and the wisps of mist and the black ditches at the side of the road seemed hushed listening to her, whilst something strange and unpleasant was passing in Ognev’s heart. . . . Telling him of her love, Vera was enchantingly beautiful; she spoke eloquently and passionately, but he felt neither pleasure nor gladness, as he would have liked to; he felt nothing but compassion for Vera, pity and regret that a good girl should be distressed on his account. Whether he was affected by generalizations from reading or by the insuperable habit of looking at things objectively, which so often hinders people from living, but Vera’s ecstasies and suffering struck him as affected, not to be taken seriously, and at the same time rebellious feeling whispered to him that all he was hearing and seeing now, from the point of view of nature and personal happiness, was more important than any statistics and books and truths. . . . And he raged and blamed himself, though he did not understand exactly where he was in fault.
To complete his embarrassment, he was absolutely at a loss what to say, and yet something he must say. To say bluntly, "I don’t love you," was beyond him, and he could not bring himself to say "Yes," because however much he rummaged in his heart he could not find one spark of feeling in it. . . .
He was silent, and she meanwhile was saying that for her there was no greater happiness than to see him, to follow him wherever he liked this very moment, to be his wife and helper, and that if he went away from her she would die of misery.
"I cannot stay here!" she said, wringing her hands. "I am sick of the house and this wood and the air. I cannot bear the everlasting peace and aimless life, I can’t endure our colourless, pale people, who are all as like one another as two drops of water! They are all good-natured and warm-hearted because they are all well-fed and know nothing of struggle or suffering, . . . I want to be in those big damp houses where people suffer, embittered by work and need. . ."
And this, too, seemed to Ognev affected and not to be taken seriously. When Vera had finished he still did not know what to say, but it was impossible to be silent, and he muttered:
"Vera Gavrilovna, I am very grateful to you, though I feel I’ve done nothing to deserve such . . . feeling . . . on your part. Besides, as an honest man I ought to tell you that . . . happiness depends on equality—that is, when both parties are . . . equally in love. . . ."
But he was immediately ashamed of his mutterings and ceased. He felt that his face at that moment looked stupid, guilty, blank, that it was strained and affected. . . . Vera must have been able to read the truth on his countenance, for she suddenly became grave, turned pale, and bent her head.
"You must forgive me," Ognev muttered, not able to endure the silence. "I respect you so much that . . . it pains me. . . ."
Vera turned sharply and walked rapidly homewards. Ognev followed her.
"No, don’t!" said Vera, with a wave of her hand. "Don’t come; I can go alone."
"Oh, yes . . . I must see you home anyway."
Whatever Ognev said, it all to the last word struck him as loathsome and flat. The feeling of guilt grew greater at every step. He raged inwardly, clenched his fists, and cursed his coldness and his stupidity with women. Trying to stir his feelings, he looked at Verotchka’s beautiful figure, at her hair and the traces of her little feet on the dusty road; he remembered her words and her tears, but all that only touched his heart and did not quicken his pulse.
"Ach! one can’t force oneself to love," he assured himself, and at the same time he thought, "But shall I ever fall in love without? I am nearly thirty! I have never met anyone better than Vera and I never shall. . . . Oh, this premature old age! Old age at thirty!"
Vera walked on in front more and more rapidly, without looking back at him or raising her head. It seemed to him that sorrow had made her thinner and narrower in the shoulders.
"I can imagine what’s going on in her heart now!" he thought, looking at her back. "She must be ready to die with shame and mortification! My God, there’s so much life, poetry, and meaning in it that it would move a stone, and I . . . I am stupid and absurd!"
At the gate Vera stole a glance at him, and, shrugging and wrapping her shawl round her walked rapidly away down the avenue.
Ivan Alexeyitch was left alone. Going back to the copse, he walked slowly, continually standing still and looking round at the gate with an expression in his whole figure that suggested that he could not believe his own memory. He looked for Vera’s footprints on the road, and could not believe that the girl who had so attracted him had just declared her love, and that he had so clumsily and bluntly "refused" her. For the first time in his life it was his lot to learn by experience how little that a man does depends on his own will, and to suffer in his own person the feelings of a decent kindly man who has against his will caused his neighbour cruel, undeserved anguish.
His conscience tormented him, and when Vera disappeared he felt as though he had lost something very precious, something very near and dear which he could never find again. He felt that with Vera a part of his youth had slipped away from him, and that the moments which he had passed through so fruitlessly would never be repeated.
When he reached the bridge he stopped and sank into thought. He wanted to discover the reason of his strange coldness. That it was due to something within him and not outside himself was clear to him. He frankly acknowledged to himself that it was not the intellectual coldness of which clever people so often boast, not the coldness of a conceited fool, but simply impotence of soul, incapacity for being moved by beauty, premature old age brought on by education, his casual existence, struggling for a livelihood, his homeless life in lodgings. From the bridge he walked slowly, as it were reluctantly, into the wood. Here, where in the dense black darkness glaring patches of moonlight gleamed here and there, where he felt nothing except his thoughts, he longed passionately to regain what he had lost.
And Ivan Alexeyitch remembers that he went back again. Urging himself on with his memories, forcing himself to picture Vera, he strode rapidly towards the garden. There was no mist by then along the road or in the garden, and the bright moon looked down from the sky as though it had just been washed; only the eastern sky was dark and misty. . . . Ognev remembers his cautious steps, the dark windows, the heavy scent of heliotrope and mignonette. His old friend Karo, wagging his tail amicably, came up to him and sniffed his hand. This was the one living creature who saw him walk two or three times round the house, stand near Vera’s dark window, and with a deep sigh and a wave of his hand walk out of the garden.
An hour later he was in the town, and, worn out and exhausted, leaned his body and hot face against the gatepost of the inn as he knocked at the gate. Somewhere in the town a dog barked sleepily, and as though in response to his knock, someone clanged the hour on an iron plate near the church.
"You prowl about at night," grumbled his host, the Old Believer, opening the door to him, in a long nightgown like a woman’s. "You had better be saying your prayers instead of prowling about."
When Ivan Alexeyitch reached his room he sank on the bed and gazed a long, long time at the light. Then he tossed his head and began packing.


An Incident of My Travels

I WAS on my way back from evening service. The clock in the belfry of the Svyatogorsky Monastery pealed out its soft melodious chimes by way of prelude and then struck twelve. The great courtyard of the monastery stretched out at the foot of the Holy Mountains on the banks of the Donets, and, enclosed by the high hostel buildings as by a wall, seemed now in the night, when it was lighted up only by dim lanterns, lights in the windows, and the stars, a living hotch-potch full of movement, sound, and the most original confusion. From end to end, so far as the eye could see, it was all choked up with carts, old-fashioned coaches and chaises, vans, tilt-carts, about which stood crowds of horses, dark and white, and horned oxen, while people bustled about, and black long-skirted lay brothers threaded their way in and out in all directions. Shadows and streaks of light cast from the windows moved over the carts and the heads of men and horses, and in the dense twilight this all assumed the most monstrous capricious shapes: here the tilted shafts stretched upwards to the sky, here eyes of fire appeared in the face of a horse, there a lay brother grew a pair of black wings. . . . There was the noise of talk, the snorting and munching of horses, the creaking of carts, the whimpering of children. Fresh crowds kept walking in at the gate and belated carts drove up.
The pines which were piled up on the overhanging mountain, one above another, and leaned towards the roof of the hostel, gazed into the courtyard as into a deep pit, and listened in wonder; in their dark thicket the cuckoos and nightingales never ceased calling. . . . Looking at the confusion, listening to the uproar, one fancied that in this living hotch-potch no one understood anyone, that everyone was looking for something and would not find it, and that this multitude of carts, chaises and human beings could not ever succeed in getting off.
More than ten thousand people flocked to the Holy Mountains for the festivals of St. John the Divine and St. Nikolay the wonder-worker. Not only the hostel buildings, but even the bakehouse, the tailoring room, the carpenter’s shop, the carriage house, were filled to overflowing. . . . Those who had arrived towards night clustered like flies in autumn, by the walls, round the wells in the yard, or in the narrow passages of the hostel, waiting to be shown a resting-place for the night. The lay brothers, young and old, were in an incessant movement, with no rest or hope of being relieved. By day or late at night they produced the same impression of men hastening somewhere and agitated by something, yet, in spite of their extreme exhaustion, their faces remained full of courage and kindly welcome, their voices friendly, their movements rapid. . . . For everyone who came they had to find a place to sleep, and to provide food and drink; to those who were deaf, slow to understand, or profuse in questions, they had to give long and wearisome explanations, to tell them why there were no empty rooms, at what o’clock the service was to be where holy bread was sold, and so on. They had to run, to carry, to talk incessantly, but more than that, they had to be polite, too, to be tactful, to try to arrange that the Greeks from Mariupol, accustomed to live more comfortably than the Little Russians, should be put with other Greeks, that some shopkeeper from Bahmut or Lisitchansk, dressed like a lady, should not be offended by being put with peasants. There were continual cries of: “Father, kindly give us some kvass! Kindly give us some hay!” or “Father, may I drink water after confession?” And the lay brother would have to give out kvass or hay or to answer: “Address yourself to the priest, my good woman, we have not the authority to give permission.” Another question would follow, “Where is the priest then?” and the lay brother would have to explain where was the priest’s cell. With all this bustling activity, he yet had to make time to go to service in the church, to serve in the part devoted to the gentry, and to give full answers to the mass of necessary and unnecessary questions which pilgrims of the educated class are fond of showering about them. Watching them during the course of twenty-four hours, I found it hard to imagine when these black moving figures sat down and when they slept.
When, coming back from the evening service, I went to the hostel in which a place had been assigned me, the monk in charge of the sleeping quarters was standing in the doorway, and beside him, on the steps, was a group of several men and women dressed like townsfolk.
“Sir,” said the monk, stopping me, “will you be so good as to allow this young man to pass the night in your room? If you would do us the favour! There are so many people and no place left—it is really dreadful!”
And he indicated a short figure in a light overcoat and a straw hat. I consented, and my chance companion followed me. Unlocking the little padlock on my door, I was always, whether I wanted to or not, obliged to look at the picture that hung on the doorpost on a level with my face. This picture with the title, “A Meditation on Death,” depicted a monk on his knees, gazing at a coffin and at a skeleton laying in it. Behind the man’s back stood another skeleton, somewhat more solid and carrying a scythe.
“There are no bones like that,” said my companion, pointing to the place in the skeleton where there ought to have been a pelvis. “Speaking generally, you know, the spiritual fare provided for the people is not of the first quality,” he added, and heaved through his nose a long and very melancholy sigh, meant to show me that I had to do with a man who really knew something about spiritual fare.
While I was looking for the matches to light a candle he sighed once more and said:
“When I was in Harkov I went several times to the anatomy theatre and saw the bones there; I have even been in the mortuary. Am I not in your way?”
My room was small and poky, with neither table nor chairs in it, but quite filled up with a chest of drawers by the window, the stove and two little wooden sofas which stood against the walls, facing one another, leaving a narrow space to walk between them. Thin rusty-looking little mattresses lay on the little sofas, as well as my belongings. There were two sofas, so this room was evidently intended for two, and I pointed out the fact to my companion.
“They will soon be ringing for mass, though,” he said, “and I shan’t have to be in your way very long.”
Still under the impression that he was in my way and feeling awkward, he moved with a guilty step to his little sofa, sighed guiltily and sat down. When the tallow candle with its dim, dilatory flame had left off flickering and burned up sufficiently to make us both visible, I could make out what he was like. He was a young man of two-and-twenty, with a round and pleasing face, dark childlike eyes, dressed like a townsman in grey cheap clothes, and as one could judge from his complexion and narrow shoulders, not used to manual labour. He was of a very indefinite type; one could take him neither for a student nor for a man in trade, still less for a workman. But looking at his attractive face and childlike friendly eyes, I was unwilling to believe he was one of those vagabond impostors with whom every conventual establishment where they give food and lodging is flooded, and who give themselves out as divinity students, expelled for standing up for justice, or for church singers who have lost their voice. . . . There was something characteristic, typical, very familiar in his face, but what exactly, I could not remember nor make out.
For a long time he sat silent, pondering. Probably because I had not shown appreciation of his remarks about bones and the mortuary, he thought that I was ill-humoured and displeased at his presence. Pulling a sausage out of his pocket, he turned it about before his eyes and said irresolutely:
“Excuse my troubling you, . . . have you a knife?”
I gave him a knife.
“The sausage is disgusting,” he said, frowning and cutting himself off a little bit. “In the shop here they sell you rubbish and fleece you horribly. . . . I would offer you a piece, but you would scarcely care to consume it. Will you have some?”
In his language, too, there was something typical that had a very great deal in common with what was characteristic in his face, but what it was exactly I still could not decide. To inspire confidence and to show that I was not ill-humoured, I took some of the proffered sausage. It certainly was horrible; one needed the teeth of a good house-dog to deal with it. As we worked our jaws we got into conversation; we began complaining to each other of the lengthiness of the service.
“The rule here approaches that of Mount Athos,” I said; “but at Athos the night services last ten hours, and on great feast-days —fourteen! You should go there for prayers!”
“Yes,” answered my companion, and he wagged his head, “I have been here for three weeks. And you know, every day services, every day services. On ordinary days at midnight they ring for matins, at five o’clock for early mass, at nine o’clock for late mass. Sleep is utterly out of the question. In the daytime there are hymns of praise, special prayers, vespers. . . . And when I was preparing for the sacrament I was simply dropping from exhaustion.” He sighed and went on: “And it’s awkward not to go to church. . . . The monks give one a room, feed one, and, you know, one is ashamed not to go. One wouldn’t mind standing it for a day or two, perhaps, but three weeks is too much—much too much! Are you here for long?”
“I am going to-morrow evening.”
“But I am staying another fortnight.”
“But I thought it was not the rule to stay for so long here?” I said.
“Yes, that’s true: if anyone stays too long, sponging on the monks, he is asked to go. Judge for yourself, if the proletariat were allowed to stay on here as long as they liked there would never be a room vacant, and they would eat up the whole monastery. That’s true. But the monks make an exception for me, and I hope they won’t turn me out for some time. You know I am a convert.”
“You mean?”
“I am a Jew baptized. . . . Only lately I have embraced orthodoxy.”
Now I understood what I had before been utterly unable to understand from his face: his thick lips, and his way of twitching up the right corner of his mouth and his right eyebrow, when he was talking, and that peculiar oily brilliance of his eyes which is only found in Jews. I understood, too, his phraseology. . . . From further conversation I learned that his name was Alexandr Ivanitch, and had in the past been Isaac, that he was a native of the Mogilev province, and that he had come to the Holy Mountains from Novotcherkassk, where he had adopted the orthodox faith.
Having finished his sausage, Alexandr Ivanitch got up, and, raising his right eyebrow, said his prayer before the ikon. The eyebrow remained up when he sat down again on the little sofa and began giving me a brief account of his long biography.
“From early childhood I cherished a love for learning,” he began in a tone which suggested he was not speaking of himself, but of some great man of the past. “My parents were poor Hebrews; they exist by buying and selling in a small way; they live like beggars, you know, in filth. In fact, all the people there are poor and superstitious; they don’t like education, because education, very naturally, turns a man away from religion. . . . They are fearful fanatics. . . . Nothing would induce my parents to let me be educated, and they wanted me to take to trade, too, and to know nothing but the Talmud. . . . But you will agree, it is not everyone who can spend his whole life struggling for a crust of bread, wallowing in filth, and mumbling the Talmud. At times officers and country gentlemen would put up at papa’s inn, and they used to talk a great deal of things which in those days I had never dreamed of; and, of course, it was alluring and moved me to envy. I used to cry and entreat them to send me to school, but they taught me to read Hebrew and nothing more. Once I found a Russian newspaper, and took it home with me to make a kite of it. I was beaten for it, though I couldn’t read Russian. Of course, fanaticism is inevitable, for every people instinctively strives to preserve its nationality, but I did not know that then and was very indignant. . . .”
Having made such an intellectual observation, Isaac, as he had been, raised his right eyebrow higher than ever in his satisfaction and looked at me, as it were, sideways, like a cock at a grain of corn, with an air as though he would say: “Now at last you see for certain that I am an intellectual man, don’t you?” After saying something more about fanaticism and his irresistible yearning for enlightenment, he went on:
“What could I do? I ran away to Smolensk. And there I had a cousin who relined saucepans and made tins. Of course, I was glad to work under him, as I had nothing to live upon; I was barefoot and in rags. . . . I thought I could work by day and study at night and on Saturdays. And so I did, but the police found out I had no passport and sent me back by stages to my father. . . .”
Alexandr Ivanitch shrugged one shoulder and sighed.
“What was one to do?” he went on, and the more vividly the past rose up before his mind, the more marked his Jewish accent became. “My parents punished me and handed me over to my grandfather, a fanatical old Jew, to be reformed. But I went off at night to Shklov. And when my uncle tried to catch me in Shklov, I went off to Mogilev; there I stayed two days and then I went off to Starodub with a comrade.”
Later on he mentioned in his story Gonel, Kiev, Byelaya, Tserkov, Uman, Balt, Bendery and at last reached Odessa.
“In Odessa I wandered about for a whole week, out of work and hungry, till I was taken in by some Jews who went about the town buying second-hand clothes. I knew how to read and write by then, and had done arithmetic up to fractions, and I wanted to go to study somewhere, but I had not the means. What was I to do? For six months I went about Odessa buying old clothes, but the Jews paid me no wages, the rascals. I resented it and left them. Then I went by steamer to Perekop.”
“What for?”
“Oh, nothing. A Greek promised me a job there. In short, till I was sixteen I wandered about like that with no definite work and no roots till I got to Poltava. There a student, a Jew, found out that I wanted to study, and gave me a letter to the Harkov students. Of course, I went to Harkov. The students consulted together and began to prepare me for the technical school. And, you know, I must say the students that I met there were such that I shall never forget them to the day of my death. To say nothing of their giving me food and lodging, they set me on the right path, they made me think, showed me the object of life. Among them were intellectual remarkable people who by now are celebrated. For instance, you have heard of Grumaher, haven’t you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“You haven’t! He wrote very clever articles in the Harkov Gazette, and was preparing to be a professor. Well, I read a great deal and attended the student’s societies, where you hear nothing that is commonplace. I was working up for six months, but as one has to have been through the whole high-school course of mathematics to enter the technical school, Grumaher advised me to try for the veterinary institute, where they admit high-school boys from the sixth form. Of course, I began working for it. I did not want to be a veterinary surgeon but they told me that after finishing the course at the veterinary institute I should be admitted to the faculty of medicine without examination. I learnt all Kühner; I could read Cornelius Nepos, à livre ouvert; and in Greek I read through almost all Curtius. But, you know, one thing and another, . . . the students leaving and the uncertainty of my position, and then I heard that my mamma had come and was looking for me all over Harkov. Then I went away. What was I to do? But luckily I learned that there was a school of mines here on the Donets line. Why should I not enter that? You know the school of mines qualifies one as a mining foreman—a splendid berth. I know of mines where the foremen get a salary of fifteen hundred a year. Capital. . . . I entered it. . . .”
With an expression of reverent awe on his face Alexandr Ivanitch enumerated some two dozen abstruse sciences in which instruction was given at the school of mines; he described the school itself, the construction of the shafts, and the condition of the miners. . . . Then he told me a terrible story which sounded like an invention, though I could not help believing it, for his tone in telling it was too genuine and the expression of horror on his Semitic face was too evidently sincere.
“While I was doing the practical work, I had such an accident one day!” he said, raising both eyebrows. “I was at a mine here in the Donets district. You have seen, I dare say, how people are let down into the mine. You remember when they start the horse and set the gates moving one bucket on the pulley goes down into the mine, while the other comes up; when the first begins to come up, then the second goes down—exactly like a well with two pails. Well, one day I got into the bucket, began going down, and can you fancy, all at once I heard, Trrr! The chain had broken and I flew to the devil together with the bucket and the broken bit of chain. . . . I fell from a height of twenty feet, flat on my chest and stomach, while the bucket, being heavier, reached the bottom before me, and I hit this shoulder here against its edge. I lay, you know, stunned. I thought I was killed, and all at once I saw a fresh calamity: the other bucket, which was going up, having lost the counter-balancing weight, was coming down with a crash straight upon me. . . . What was I to do? Seeing the position, I squeezed closer to the wall, crouching and waiting for the bucket to come full crush next minute on my head. I thought of papa and mamma and Mogilev and Grumaher. . . . I prayed. . . . But happily . . . it frightens me even to think of it. . . .”
Alexandr Ivanitch gave a constrained smile and rubbed his forehead with his hand.
“But happily it fell beside me and only caught this side a little. . . . It tore off coat, shirt and skin, you know, from this side. . . . The force of it was terrific. I was unconscious after it. They got me out and sent me to the hospital. I was there four months, and the doctors there said I should go into consumption. I always have a cough now and a pain in my chest. And my psychic condition is terrible. . . . When I am alone in a room I feel overcome with terror. Of course, with my health in that state, to be a mining foreman is out of the question. I had to give up the school of mines. . . .”
“And what are you doing now?” I asked.
“I have passed my examination as a village schoolmaster. Now I belong to the orthodox church, and I have a right to be a teacher. In Novotcherkassk, where I was baptized, they took a great interest in me and promised me a place in a church parish school. I am going there in a fortnight, and shall ask again.”
Alexandr Ivanitch took off his overcoat and remained in a shirt with an embroidered Russian collar and a worsted belt.
“It is time for bed,” he said, folding his overcoat for a pillow, and yawning. “Till lately, you know, I had no knowledge of God at all. I was an atheist. When I was lying in the hospital I thought of religion, and began reflecting on that subject. In my opinion, there is only one religion possible for a thinking man, and that is the Christian religion. If you don’t believe in Christ, then there is nothing else to believe in, . . . is there? Judaism has outlived its day, and is preserved only owing to the peculiarities of the Jewish race. When civilization reaches the Jews there will not be a trace of Judaism left. All young Jews are atheists now, observe. The New Testament is the natural continuation of the Old, isn’t it?”
I began trying to find out the reasons which had led him to take so grave and bold a step as the change of religion, but he kept repeating the same, “The New Testament is the natural continuation of the Old”—a formula obviously not his own, but acquired— which did not explain the question in the least. In spite of my efforts and artifices, the reasons remained obscure. If one could believe that he had embraced Orthodoxy from conviction, as he said he had done, what was the nature and foundation of this conviction it was impossible to grasp from his words. It was equally impossible to assume that he had changed his religion from interested motives: his cheap shabby clothes, his going on living at the expense of the convent, and the uncertainty of his future, did not look like interested motives. There was nothing for it but to accept the idea that my companion had been impelled to change his religion by the same restless spirit which had flung him like a chip of wood from town to town, and which he, using the generally accepted formula, called the craving for enlightenment.
Before going to bed I went into the corridor to get a drink of water. When I came back my companion was standing in the middle of the room, and he looked at me with a scared expression. His face looked a greyish white, and there were drops of perspiration on his forehead.
“My nerves are in an awful state,” he muttered with a sickly smile,” awful! It’s acute psychological disturbance. But that’s of no consequence.”
And he began reasoning again that the New Testament was a natural continuation of the Old, that Judaism has outlived its day. . . . Picking out his phrases, he seemed to be trying to put together the forces of his conviction and to smother with them the uneasiness of his soul, and to prove to himself that in giving up the religion of his fathers he had done nothing dreadful or peculiar, but had acted as a thinking man free from prejudice, and that therefore he could boldly remain in a room all alone with his conscience. He was trying to convince himself, and with his eyes besought my assistance.
Meanwhile a big clumsy wick had burned up on our tallow candle. It was by now getting light. At the gloomy little window, which was turning blue, we could distinctly see both banks of the Donets River and the oak copse beyond the river. It was time to sleep.
“It will be very interesting here to-morrow,” said my companion when I put out the candle and went to bed. “After early mass, the procession will go in boats from the Monastery to the Hermitage.”
Raising his right eyebrow and putting his head on one side, he prayed before the ikons, and, without undressing, lay down on his little sofa.
“Yes,” he said, turning over on the other side.
“Why yes?” I asked.
“When I accepted orthodoxy in Novotcherkassk my mother was looking for me in Rostov. She felt that I meant to change my religion,” he sighed, and went on: “It is six years since I was there in the province of Mogilev. My sister must be married by now.”
After a short silence, seeing that I was still awake, he began talking quietly of how they soon, thank God, would give him a job, and that at last he would have a home of his own, a settled position, his daily bread secure. . . . And I was thinking that this man would never have a home of his own, nor a settled position, nor his daily bread secure. He dreamed aloud of a village school as of the Promised Land; like the majority of people, he had a prejudice against a wandering life, and regarded it as something exceptional, abnormal and accidental, like an illness, and was looking for salvation in ordinary workaday life. The tone of his voice betrayed that he was conscious of his abnormal position and regretted it. He seemed as it were apologizing and justifying himself.
Not more than a yard from me lay a homeless wanderer; in the rooms of the hostels and by the carts in the courtyard among the pilgrims some hundreds of such homeless wanderers were waiting for the morning, and further away, if one could picture to oneself the whole of Russia, a vast multitude of such uprooted creatures was pacing at that moment along highroads and side-tracks, seeking something better, or were waiting for the dawn, asleep in wayside inns and little taverns, or on the grass under the open sky. . . . As I fell asleep I imagined how amazed and perhaps even overjoyed all these people would have been if reasoning and words could be found to prove to them that their life was as little in need of justification as any other. In my sleep I heard a bell ring outside as plaintively as though shedding bitter tears, and the lay brother calling out several times:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us! Come to mass!”
When I woke up my companion was not in the room. It was sunny and there was a murmur of the crowds through the window. Going out, I learned that mass was over and that the procession had set off for the Hermitage some time before. The people were wandering in crowds upon the river bank and, feeling at liberty, did not know what to do with themselves: they could not eat or drink, as the late mass was not yet over at the Hermitage; the Monastery shops where pilgrims are so fond of crowding and asking prices were still shut. In spite of their exhaustion, many of them from sheer boredom were trudging to the Hermitage. The path from the Monastery to the Hermitage, towards which I directed my steps, twined like a snake along the high steep bank, going up and down and threading in and out among the oaks and pines. Below, the Donets gleamed, reflecting the sun; above, the rugged chalk cliff stood up white with bright green on the top from the young foliage of oaks and pines, which, hanging one above another, managed somehow to grow on the vertical cliff without falling. The pilgrims trailed along the path in single file, one behind another. The majority of them were Little Russians from the neighbouring districts, but there were many from a distance, too, who had come on foot from the provinces of Kursk and Orel; in the long string of varied colours there were Greek settlers, too, from Mariupol, strongly built, sedate and friendly people, utterly unlike their weakly and degenerate compatriots who fill our southern seaside towns. There were men from the Donets, too, with red stripes on their breeches, and emigrants from the Tavritchesky province. There were a good many pilgrims of a nondescript class, like my Alexandr Ivanitch; what sort of people they were and where they came from it was impossible to tell from their faces, from their clothes, or from their speech. The path ended at the little landing-stage, from which a narrow road went to the left to the Hermitage, cutting its way through the mountain. At the landing-stage stood two heavy big boats of a forbidding aspect, like the New Zealand pirogues which one may see in the works of Jules Verne. One boat with rugs on the seats was destined for the clergy and the singers, the other without rugs for the public. When the procession was returning I found myself among the elect who had succeeded in squeezing themselves into the second. There were so many of the elect that the boat scarcely moved, and one had to stand all the way without stirring and to be careful that one’s hat was not crushed. The route was lovely. Both banks—one high, steep and white, with overhanging pines and oaks, with the crowds hurrying back along the path, and the other shelving, with green meadows and an oak copse bathed in sunshine—looked as happy and rapturous as though the May morning owed its charm only to them. The reflection of the sun in the rapidly flowing Donets quivered and raced away in all directions, and its long rays played on the chasubles, on the banners and on the drops splashed up by the oars. The singing of the Easter hymns, the ringing of the bells, the splash of the oars in the water, the calls of the birds, all mingled in the air into something tender and harmonious. The boat with the priests and the banners led the way; at its helm the black figure of a lay brother stood motionless as a statue.
When the procession was getting near the Monastery, I noticed Alexandr Ivanitch among the elect. He was standing in front of them all, and, his mouth wide open with pleasure and his right eyebrow cocked up, was gazing at the procession. His face was beaming; probably at such moments, when there were so many people round him and it was so bright, he was satisfied with himself, his new religion, and his conscience.
When a little later we were sitting in our room, drinking tea, he still beamed with satisfaction; his face showed that he was satisfied both with the tea and with me, that he fully appreciated my being an intellectual, but that he would know how to play his part with credit if any intellectual topic turned up. . . .
“Tell me, what psychology ought I to read?” he began an intellectual conversation, wrinkling up his nose.
“Why, what do you want it for?”
“One cannot be a teacher without a knowledge of psychology. Before teaching a boy I ought to understand his soul.”
I told him that psychology alone would not be enough to make one understand a boy’s soul, and moreover psychology for a teacher who had not yet mastered the technical methods of instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic would be a luxury as superfluous as the higher mathematics. He readily agreed with me, and began describing how hard and responsible was the task of a teacher, how hard it was to eradicate in the boy the habitual tendency to evil and superstition, to make him think honestly and independently, to instil into him true religion, the ideas of personal dignity, of freedom, and so on. In answer to this I said something to him. He agreed again. He agreed very readily, in fact. Obviously his brain had not a very firm grasp of all these “intellectual subjects.”
Up to the time of my departure we strolled together about the Monastery, whiling away the long hot day. He never left my side a minute; whether he had taken a fancy to me or was afraid of solitude, God only knows! I remember we sat together under a clump of yellow acacia in one of the little gardens that are scattered on the mountain side.
“I am leaving here in a fortnight,” he said; “it is high time.”
“Are you going on foot?”
“From here to Slavyansk I shall walk, then by railway to Nikitovka; from Nikitovka the Donets line branches off, and along that branch line I shall walk as far as Hatsepetovka, and there a railway guard, I know, will help me on my way.”
I thought of the bare, deserted steppe between Nikitovka and Hatsepetovka, and pictured to myself Alexandr Ivanitch striding along it, with his doubts, his homesickness, and his fear of solitude . . . . He read boredom in my face, and sighed.
“And my sister must be married by now,” he said, thinking aloud, and at once, to shake off melancholy thoughts, pointed to the top of the rock and said:
“From that mountain one can see Izyum.”
As we were walking up the mountain he had a little misfortune. I suppose he stumbled, for he slit his cotton trousers and tore the sole of his shoe.
“Tss!” he said, frowning as he took off a shoe and exposed a bare foot without a stocking. “How unpleasant! . . . That’s a complication, you know, which . . . Yes!”
Turning the shoe over and over before his eyes, as though unable to believe that the sole was ruined for ever, he spent a long time frowning, sighing, and clicking with his tongue.
I had in my trunk a pair of boots, old but fashionable, with pointed toes and laces. I had brought them with me in case of need, and only wore them in wet weather. When we got back to our room I made up a phrase as diplomatic as I could and offered him these boots. He accepted them and said with dignity:
“I should thank you, but I know that you consider thanks a convention.”
He was pleased as a child with the pointed toes and the laces, and even changed his plans.
“Now I shall go to Novotcherkassk in a week, and not in a fortnight,” he said, thinking aloud. “In shoes like these I shall not be ashamed to show myself to my godfather. I was not going away from here just because I hadn’t any decent clothes. . . .”
When the coachman was carrying out my trunk, a lay brother with a good ironical face came in to sweep out the room. Alexandr Ivanitch seemed flustered and embarrassed and asked him timidly:
“Am I to stay here or go somewhere else?”
He could not make up his mind to occupy a whole room to himself, and evidently by now was feeling ashamed of living at the expense of the Monastery. He was very reluctant to part from me; to put off being lonely as long as possible, he asked leave to see me on my way.
The road from the Monastery, which had been excavated at the cost of no little labour in the chalk mountain, moved upwards, going almost like a spiral round the mountain, over roots and under sullen overhanging pines. . . .
The Donets was the first to vanish from our sight, after it the Monastery yard with its thousands of people, and then the green roofs. . . . Since I was mounting upwards everything seemed vanishing into a pit. The cross on the church, burnished by the rays of the setting sun, gleamed brightly in the abyss and vanished. Nothing was left but the oaks, the pines, and the white road. But then our carriage came out on a level country, and that was all left below and behind us. Alexandr Ivanitch jumped out and, smiling mournfully, glanced at me for the last time with his childish eyes, and vanished from me for ever. . . .
The impressions of the Holy Mountains had already become memories, and I saw something new: the level plain, the whitish-brown distance, the way side copse, and beyond it a windmill which stood with out moving, and seemed bored at not being allowed to wave its sails because it was a holiday.



EARLY one morning in July a shabby covered chaise, one of those antediluvian chaises without springs in which no one travels in Russia nowadays, except merchant’s clerks, dealers and the less well-to-do among priests, drove out of N., the principal town of the province of Z., and rumbled noisily along the posting-track. It rattled and creaked at every movement; the pail, hanging on behind, chimed in gruffly, and from these sounds alone and from the wretched rags of leather hanging loose about its peeling body one could judge of its decrepit age and readiness to drop to pieces.
Two of the inhabitants of N. were sitting in the chaise; they were a merchant of N. called Ivan Ivanitch Kuzmitchov, a man with a shaven face wearing glasses and a straw hat, more like a government clerk than a merchant, and Father Christopher Sireysky, the priest of the Church of St. Nikolay at N., a little old man with long hair, in a grey canvas cassock, a wide-brimmed top-hat and a coloured embroidered girdle. The former was absorbed in thought, and kept tossing his head to shake off drowsiness; in his countenance an habitual business-like reserve was struggling with the genial expression of a man who has just said good-bye to his relatives and has had a good drink at parting. The latter gazed with moist eyes wonderingly at God’s world, and his smile was so broad that it seemed to embrace even the brim of his hat; his face was red and looked frozen. Both of them, Father Christopher as well as Kuzmitchov, were going to sell wool. At parting with their families they had just eaten heartily of pastry puffs and cream, and although it was so early in the morning had had a glass or two. . . . Both were in the best of humours.
Apart from the two persons described above and the coachman Deniska, who lashed the pair of frisky bay horses, there was another figure in the chaise—a boy of nine with a sunburnt face, wet with tears. This was Yegorushka, Kuzmitchov’s nephew. With the sanction of his uncle and the blessing of Father Christopher, he was now on his way to go to school. His mother, Olga Ivanovna, the widow of a collegiate secretary, and Kuzmitchov’s sister, who was fond of educated people and refined society, had entreated her brother to take Yegorushka with him when he went to sell wool and to put him to school; and now the boy was sitting on the box beside the coachman Deniska, holding on to his elbow to keep from falling off, and dancing up and down like a kettle on the hob, with no notion where he was going or what he was going for. The rapid motion through the air blew out his red shirt like a balloon on his back and made his new hat with a peacock’s feather in it, like a coachman’s, keep slipping on to the back of his head. He felt himself an intensely unfortunate person, and had an inclination to cry.
When the chaise drove past the prison, Yegorushka glanced at the sentinels pacing slowly by the high white walls, at the little barred windows, at the cross shining on the roof, and remembered how the week before, on the day of the Holy Mother of Kazan, he had been with his mother to the prison church for the Dedication Feast, and how before that, at Easter, he had gone to the prison with Deniska and Ludmila the cook, and had taken the prisoners Easter bread, eggs, cakes and roast beef. The prisoners had thanked them and made the sign of the cross, and one of them had given Yegorushka a pewter buckle of his own making.
The boy gazed at the familiar places, while the hateful chaise flew by and left them all behind. After the prison he caught glimpses of black grimy foundries, followed by the snug green cemetery surrounded by a wall of cobblestones; white crosses and tombstones, nestling among green cherry-trees and looking in the distance like patches of white, peeped out gaily from behind the wall. Yegorushka remembered that when the cherries were in blossom those white patches melted with the flowers into a sea of white; and that when the cherries were ripe the white tombstones and crosses were dotted with splashes of red like bloodstains. Under the cherry trees in the cemetery Yegorushka’s father and granny, Zinaida Danilovna, lay sleeping day and night. When Granny had died she had been put in a long narrow coffin and two pennies had been put upon her eyes, which would not keep shut. Up to the time of her death she had been brisk, and used to bring soft rolls covered with poppy seeds from the market. Now she did nothing but sleep and sleep. . . .
Beyond the cemetery came the smoking brickyards. From under the long roofs of reeds that looked as though pressed flat to the ground, a thick black smoke rose in great clouds and floated lazily upwards. The sky was murky above the brickyards and the cemetery, and great shadows from the clouds of smoke crept over the fields and across the roads. Men and horses covered with red dust were moving about in the smoke near the roofs.
The town ended with the brickyards and the open country began. Yegorushka looked at the town for the last time, pressed his face against Deniska’s elbow, and wept bitterly.
“Come, not done howling yet, cry-baby!” cried Kuzmitchov. “You are blubbering again, little milksop! If you don’t want to go, stay behind; no one is taking you by force!
“Never mind, never mind, Yegor boy, never mind,” Father Christopher muttered rapidly—“never mind, my boy. . . . Call upon God. . . . You are not going for your harm, but for your good. Learning is light, as the saying is, and ignorance is darkness. . . . That is so, truly.”
“Do you want to go back?” asked Kuzmitchov.
“Yes, . . . yes, . . .” answered Yegorushka, sobbing.
“Well, you’d better go back then. Anyway, you are going for nothing; it’s a day’s journey for a spoonful of porridge.”
“Never mind, never mind, my boy,” Father Christopher went on. “Call upon God. . . . Lomonosov set off with the fishermen in the same way, and he became a man famous all over Europe. Learning in conjunction with faith brings forth fruit pleasing to God. What are the words of the prayer? For the glory of our Maker, for the comfort of our parents, for the benefit of our Church and our country. . . . Yes, indeed!”
“The benefit is not the same in all cases,” said Kuzmitchov, lighting a cheap cigar; “some will study twenty years and get no sense from it.”
“That does happen.”
“Learning is a benefit to some, but others only muddle their brains. My sister is a woman who does not understand; she is set upon refinement, and wants to turn Yegorka into a learned man, and she does not understand that with my business I could settle Yegorka happily for the rest of his life. I tell you this, that if everyone were to go in for being learned and refined there would be no one to sow the corn and do the trading; they would all die of hunger.”
“And if all go in for trading and sowing corn there will be no one to acquire learning.”
And considering that each of them had said something weighty and convincing, Kuzmitchov and Father Christopher both looked serious and cleared their throats simultaneously.
Deniska, who had been listening to their conversation without understanding a word of it, shook his head and, rising in his seat, lashed at both the bays. A silence followed.
Meanwhile a wide boundless plain encircled by a chain of low hills lay stretched before the travellers’ eyes. Huddling together and peeping out from behind one another, these hills melted together into rising ground, which stretched right to the very horizon and disappeared into the lilac distance; one drives on and on and cannot discern where it begins or where it ends. . . . The sun had already peeped out from beyond the town behind them, and quietly, without fuss, set to its accustomed task. At first in the distance before them a broad, bright, yellow streak of light crept over the ground where the earth met the sky, near the little barrows and the windmills, which in the distance looked like tiny men waving their arms. A minute later a similar streak gleamed a little nearer, crept to the right and embraced the hills. Something warm touched Yegorushka’s spine; the streak of light, stealing up from behind, darted between the chaise and the horses, moved to meet the other streak, and soon the whole wide steppe flung off the twilight of early morning, and was smiling and sparkling with dew.
The cut rye, the coarse steppe grass, the milkwort, the wild hemp, all withered from the sultry heat, turned brown and half dead, now washed by the dew and caressed by the sun, revived, to fade again. Arctic petrels flew across the road with joyful cries; marmots called to one another in the grass. Somewhere, far away to the left, lapwings uttered their plaintive notes. A covey of partridges, scared by the chaise, fluttered up and with their soft “trrrr!” flew off to the hills. In the grass crickets, locusts and grasshoppers kept up their churring, monotonous music.
But a little time passed, the dew evaporated, the air grew stagnant, and the disillusioned steppe began to wear its jaded July aspect. The grass drooped, everything living was hushed. The sun-baked hills, brownish-green and lilac in the distance, with their quiet shadowy tones, the plain with the misty distance and, arched above them, the sky, which seems terribly deep and transparent in the steppes, where there are no woods or high hills, seemed now endless, petrified with dreariness. . . .
How stifling and oppressive it was! The chaise raced along, while Yegorushka saw always the same—the sky, the plain, the low hills . . . . The music in the grass was hushed, the petrels had flown away, the partridges were out of sight, rooks hovered idly over the withered grass; they were all alike and made the steppe even more monotonous.
A hawk flew just above the ground, with an even sweep of its wings, suddenly halted in the air as though pondering on the dreariness of life, then fluttered its wings and flew like an arrow over the steppe, and there was no telling why it flew off and what it wanted. In the distance a windmill waved its sails. . . .
Now and then a glimpse of a white potsherd or a heap of stones broke the monotony; a grey stone stood out for an instant or a parched willow with a blue crow on its top branch; a marmot would run across the road and—again there flitted before the eyes only the high grass, the low hills, the rooks. . . .
But at last, thank God, a waggon loaded with sheaves came to meet them; a peasant wench was lying on the very top. Sleepy, exhausted by the heat, she lifted her head and looked at the travellers. Deniska gaped, looking at her; the horses stretched out their noses towards the sheaves; the chaise, squeaking, kissed the waggon, and the pointed ears passed over Father Christopher’s hat like a brush.
“You are driving over folks, fatty!” cried Deniska. “What a swollen lump of a face, as though a bumble-bee had stung it!”
The girl smiled drowsily, and moving her lips lay down again; then a solitary poplar came into sight on the low hill. Someone had planted it, and God only knows why it was there. It was hard to tear the eyes away from its graceful figure and green drapery. Was that lovely creature happy? Sultry heat in summer, in winter frost and snowstorms, terrible nights in autumn when nothing is to be seen but darkness and nothing is to be heard but the senseless angry howling wind, and, worst of all, alone, alone for the whole of life . . . . Beyond the poplar stretches of wheat extended like a bright yellow carpet from the road to the top of the hills. On the hills the corn was already cut and laid up in sheaves, while at the bottom they were still cutting. . . . Six mowers were standing in a row swinging their scythes, and the scythes gleamed gaily and uttered in unison together “Vzhee, vzhee!” From the movements of the peasant women binding the sheaves, from the faces of the mowers, from the glitter of the scythes, it could be seen that the sultry heat was baking and stifling. A black dog with its tongue hanging out ran from the mowers to meet the chaise, probably with the intention of barking, but stopped halfway and stared indifferently at Deniska, who shook his whip at him; it was too hot to bark! One peasant woman got up and, putting both hands to her aching back, followed Yegorushka’s red shirt with her eyes. Whether it was that the colour pleased her or that he reminded her of her children, she stood a long time motionless staring after him.
But now the wheat, too, had flashed by; again the parched plain, the sunburnt hills, the sultry sky stretched before them; again a hawk hovered over the earth. In the distance, as before, a windmill whirled its sails, and still it looked like a little man waving his arms. It was wearisome to watch, and it seemed as though one would never reach it, as though it were running away from the chaise.
Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov were silent. Deniska lashed the horses and kept shouting to them, while Yegorushka had left off crying, and gazed about him listlessly. The heat and the tedium of the steppes overpowered him. He felt as though he had been travelling and jolting up and down for a very long time, that the sun had been baking his back a long time. Before they had gone eight miles he began to feel “It must be time to rest.” The geniality gradually faded out of his uncle’s face and nothing else was left but the air of business reserve; and to a gaunt shaven face, especially when it is adorned with spectacles and the nose and temples are covered with dust, this reserve gives a relentless, inquisitorial appearance. Father Christopher never left off gazing with wonder at God’s world, and smiling. Without speaking, he brooded over something pleasant and nice, and a kindly, genial smile remained imprinted on his face. It seemed as though some nice and pleasant thought were imprinted on his brain by the heat.
“Well, Deniska, shall we overtake the waggons to-day?” asked Kuzmitchov.
Deniska looked at the sky, rose in his seat, lashed at his horses and then answered:
“By nightfall, please God, we shall overtake them.”
There was a sound of dogs barking. Half a dozen steppe sheep-dogs, suddenly leaping out as though from ambush, with ferocious howling barks, flew to meet the chaise. All of them, extraordinarily furious, surrounded the chaise, with their shaggy spider-like muzzles and their eyes red with anger, and jostling against one another in their anger, raised a hoarse howl. They were filled with passionate hatred of the horses, of the chaise, and of the human beings, and seemed ready to tear them into pieces. Deniska, who was fond of teasing and beating, was delighted at the chance of it, and with a malignant expression bent over and lashed at the sheep-dogs with his whip. The brutes growled more than ever, the horses flew on; and Yegorushka, who had difficulty in keeping his seat on the box, realized, looking at the dogs’ eyes and teeth, that if he fell down they would instantly tear him to bits; but he felt no fear and looked at them as malignantly as Deniska, and regretted that he had no whip in his hand.
The chaise came upon a flock of sheep.
“Stop!” cried Kuzmitchov. “Pull up! Woa!”
Deniska threw his whole body backwards and pulled up the horses.
“Come here!” Kuzmitchov shouted to the shepherd. “Call off the dogs, curse them!”
The old shepherd, tattered and barefoot, wearing a fur cap, with a dirty sack round his loins and a long crook in his hand—a regular figure from the Old Testament—called off the dogs, and taking off his cap, went up to the chaise. Another similar Old Testament figure was standing motionless at the other end of the flock, staring without interest at the travellers.
“Whose sheep are these?” asked Kuzmitchov.
“Varlamov’s,” the old man answered in a loud voice.
“Varlamov’s,” repeated the shepherd standing at the other end of the flock.
“Did Varlamov come this way yesterday or not?”
“He did not; his clerk came. . . .”
“Drive on!”
The chaise rolled on and the shepherds, with their angry dogs, were left behind. Yegorushka gazed listlessly at the lilac distance in front, and it began to seem as though the windmill, waving its sails, were getting nearer. It became bigger and bigger, grew quite large, and now he could distinguish clearly its two sails. One sail was old and patched, the other had only lately been made of new wood and glistened in the sun. The chaise drove straight on, while the windmill, for some reason, began retreating to the left. They drove on and on, and the windmill kept moving away to the left, and still did not disappear.
“A fine windmill Boltva has put up for his son,” observed Deniska.
“And how is it we don’t see his farm?”
“It is that way, beyond the creek.”
Boltva’s farm, too, soon came into sight, but yet the windmill did not retreat, did not drop behind; it still watched Yegorushka with its shining sail and waved. What a sorcerer!


Towards midday the chaise turned off the road to the right; it went on a little way at walking pace and then stopped. Yegorushka heard a soft, very caressing gurgle, and felt a different air breathe on his face with a cool velvety touch. Through a little pipe of hemlock stuck there by some unknown benefactor, water was running in a thin trickle from a low hill, put together by nature of huge monstrous stones. It fell to the ground, and limpid, sparkling gaily in the sun, and softly murmuring as though fancying itself a great tempestuous torrent, flowed swiftly away to the left. Not far from its source the little stream spread itself out into a pool; the burning sunbeams and the parched soil greedily drank it up and sucked away its strength; but a little further on it must have mingled with another rivulet, for a hundred paces away thick reeds showed green and luxuriant along its course, and three snipe flew up from them with a loud cry as the chaise drove by.
The travellers got out to rest by the stream and feed the horses. Kuzmitchov, Father Christopher and Yegorushka sat down on a mat in the narrow strip of shade cast by the chaise and the unharnessed horses. The nice pleasant thought that the heat had imprinted in Father Christopher’s brain craved expression after he had had a drink of water and eaten a hard-boiled egg. He bent a friendly look upon Yegorushka, munched, and began:
“I studied too, my boy; from the earliest age God instilled into me good sense and understanding, so that while I was just such a lad as you I was beyond others, a comfort to my parents and preceptors by my good sense. Before I was fifteen I could speak and make verses in Latin, just as in Russian. I was the crosier-bearer to his Holiness Bishop Christopher. After mass one day, as I remember it was the patron saint’s day of His Majesty Tsar Alexandr Pavlovitch of blessed memory, he unrobed at the altar, looked kindly at me and asked, ‘Puer bone, quam appelaris?’ And I answered, ‘Christopherus sum;’ and he said, ‘Ergo connominati sumus’—that is, that we were namesakes. . . Then he asked in Latin, ‘Whose son are you?’ To which I answered, also in Latin, that I was the son of deacon Sireysky of the village of Lebedinskoe. Seeing my readiness and the clearness of my answers, his Holiness blessed me and said, ‘Write to your father that I will not forget him, and that I will keep you in view.’ The holy priests and fathers who were standing round the altar, hearing our discussion in Latin, were not a little surprised, and everyone expressed his pleasure in praise of me. Before I had moustaches, my boy, I could read Latin, Greek, and French; I knew philosophy, mathematics, secular history, and all the sciences. The Lord gave me a marvellous memory. Sometimes, if I read a thing once or twice, I knew it by heart. My preceptors and patrons were amazed, and so they expected I should make a learned man, a luminary of the Church. I did think of going to Kiev to continue my studies, but my parents did not approve. ‘You’ll be studying all your life,’ said my father; ‘when shall we see you finished?’ Hearing such words, I gave up study and took a post. . . . Of course, I did not become a learned man, but then I did not disobey my parents; I was a comfort to them in their old age and gave them a creditable funeral. Obedience is more than fasting and prayer.
“I suppose you have forgotten all your learning?” observed Kuzmitchov.
“I should think so! Thank God, I have reached my eightieth year! Something of philosophy and rhetoric I do remember, but languages and mathematics I have quite forgotten.”
Father Christopher screwed up his eyes, thought a minute and said in an undertone:
“What is a substance? A creature is a self-existing object, not requiring anything else for its completion.”
He shook his head and laughed with feeling.
“Spiritual nourishment!” he said. “Of a truth matter nourishes the flesh and spiritual nourishment the soul!”
“Learning is all very well,” sighed Kuzmitchov, “but if we don’t overtake Varlamov, learning won’t do much for us.”
“A man isn’t a needle—we shall find him. He must be going his rounds in these parts.”
Among the sedge were flying the three snipe they had seen before, and in their plaintive cries there was a note of alarm and vexation at having been driven away from the stream. The horses were steadily munching and snorting. Deniska walked about by them and, trying to appear indifferent to the cucumbers, pies, and eggs that the gentry were eating, he concentrated himself on the gadflies and horseflies that were fastening upon the horses’ backs and bellies; he squashed his victims apathetically, emitting a peculiar, fiendishly triumphant, guttural sound, and when he missed them cleared his throat with an air of vexation and looked after every lucky one that escaped death.
“Deniska, where are you? Come and eat,” said Kuzmitchov, heaving a deep sigh, a sign that he had had enough.
Deniska diffidently approached the mat and picked out five thick and yellow cucumbers (he did not venture to take the smaller and fresher ones), took two hard-boiled eggs that looked dark and were cracked, then irresolutely, as though afraid he might get a blow on his outstretched hand, touched a pie with his finger.
“Take them, take them,” Kuzmitchov urged him on.
Deniska took the pies resolutely, and, moving some distance away, sat down on the grass with his back to the chaise. At once there was such a sound of loud munching that even the horses turned round to look suspiciously at Deniska.
After his meal Kuzmitchov took a sack containing something out of the chaise and said to Yegorushka:
“I am going to sleep, and you mind that no one takes the sack from under my head.”
Father Christopher took off his cassock, his girdle, and his full coat, and Yegorushka, looking at him, was dumb with astonishment. He had never imagined that priests wore trousers, and Father Christopher had on real canvas trousers thrust into high boots, and a short striped jacket. Looking at him, Yegorushka thought that in this costume, so unsuitable to his dignified position, he looked with his long hair and beard very much like Robinson Crusoe. After taking off their outer garments Kuzmitchov and Father Christopher lay down in the shade under the chaise, facing one another, and closed their eyes. Deniska, who had finished munching, stretched himself out on his back and also closed his eyes.
“You look out that no one takes away the horses!” he said to Yegorushka, and at once fell asleep.
Stillness reigned. There was no sound except the munching and snorting of the horses and the snoring of the sleepers; somewhere far away a lapwing wailed, and from time to time there sounded the shrill cries of the three snipe who had flown up to see whether their uninvited visitors had gone away; the rivulet babbled, lisping softly, but all these sounds did not break the stillness, did not stir the stagnation, but, on the contrary, lulled all nature to slumber.
Yegorushka, gasping with the heat, which was particularly oppressive after a meal, ran to the sedge and from there surveyed the country. He saw exactly the same as he had in the morning: the plain, the low hills, the sky, the lilac distance; only the hills stood nearer; and he could not see the windmill, which had been left far behind. From behind the rocky hill from which the stream flowed rose another, smoother and broader; a little hamlet of five or six homesteads clung to it. No people, no trees, no shade were to be seen about the huts; it looked as though the hamlet had expired in the burning air and was dried up. To while away the time Yegorushka caught a grasshopper in the grass, held it in his closed hand to his ear, and spent a long time listening to the creature playing on its instrument. When he was weary of its music he ran after a flock of yellow butterflies who were flying towards the sedge on the watercourse, and found himself again beside the chaise, without noticing how he came there. His uncle and Father Christopher were sound asleep; their sleep would be sure to last two or three hours till the horses had rested. . . . How was he to get through that long time, and where was he to get away from the heat? A hard problem. . . . Mechanically Yegorushka put his lips to the trickle that ran from the waterpipe; there was a chilliness in his mouth and there was the smell of hemlock. He drank at first eagerly, then went on with effort till the sharp cold had run from his mouth all over his body and the water was spilt on his shirt. Then he went up to the chaise and began looking at the sleeping figures. His uncle’s face wore, as before, an expression of business-like reserve. Fanatically devoted to his work, Kuzmitchov always, even in his sleep and at church when they were singing, “Like the cherubim,” thought about his business and could never forget it for a moment; and now he was probably dreaming about bales of wool, waggons, prices, Varlamov. . . . Father Christopher, now, a soft, frivolous and absurd person, had never all his life been conscious of anything which could, like a boa-constrictor, coil about his soul and hold it tight. In all the numerous enterprises he had undertaken in his day what attracted him was not so much the business itself, but the bustle and the contact with other people involved in every undertaking. Thus, in the present expedition, he was not so much interested in wool, in Varlamov, and in prices, as in the long journey, the conversations on the way, the sleeping under a chaise, and the meals at odd times. . . . And now, judging from his face, he must have been dreaming of Bishop Christopher, of the Latin discussion, of his wife, of puffs and cream and all sorts of things that Kuzmitchov could not possibly dream of.
While Yegorushka was watching their sleeping faces he suddenly heard a soft singing; somewhere at a distance a woman was singing, and it was difficult to tell where and in what direction. The song was subdued, dreary and melancholy, like a dirge, and hardly audible, and seemed to come first from the right, then from the left, then from above, and then from underground, as though an unseen spirit were hovering over the steppe and singing. Yegorushka looked about him, and could not make out where the strange song came from. Then as he listened he began to fancy that the grass was singing; in its song, withered and half-dead, it was without words, but plaintively and passionately, urging that it was not to blame, that the sun was burning it for no fault of its own; it urged that it ardently longed to live, that it was young and might have been beautiful but for the heat and the drought; it was guiltless, but yet it prayed forgiveness and protested that it was in anguish, sad and sorry for itself. . . .
Yegorushka listened for a little, and it began to seem as though this dreary, mournful song made the air hotter, more suffocating and more stagnant. . . . To drown the singing he ran to the sedge, humming to himself and trying to make a noise with his feet. From there he looked about in all directions and found out who was singing. Near the furthest hut in the hamlet stood a peasant woman in a short petticoat, with long thin legs like a heron. She was sowing something. A white dust floated languidly from her sieve down the hillock. Now it was evident that she was singing. A couple of yards from her a little bare-headed boy in nothing but a smock was standing motionless. As though fascinated by the song, he stood stock-still, staring away into the distance, probably at Yegorushka’s crimson shirt.
The song ceased. Yegorushka sauntered back to the chaise, and to while away the time went again to the trickle of water.
And again there was the sound of the dreary song. It was the same long-legged peasant woman in the hamlet over the hill. Yegorushka’s boredom came back again. He left the pipe and looked upwards. What he saw was so unexpected that he was a little frightened. Just above his head on one of the big clumsy stones stood a chubby little boy, wearing nothing but a shirt, with a prominent stomach and thin legs, the same boy who had been standing before by the peasant woman. He was gazing with open mouth and unblinking eyes at Yegorushka’s crimson shirt and at the chaise, with a look of blank astonishment and even fear, as though he saw before him creatures of another world. The red colour of the shirt charmed and allured him. But the chaise and the men sleeping under it excited his curiosity; perhaps he had not noticed how the agreeable red colour and curiosity had attracted him down from the hamlet, and now probably he was surprised at his own boldness. For a long while Yegorushka stared at him, and he at Yegorushka. Both were silent and conscious of some awkwardness. After a long silence Yegorushka asked:
“What’s your name?”
The stranger’s cheeks puffed out more than ever; he pressed his back against the rock, opened his eyes wide, moved his lips, and answered in a husky bass: “Tit!”
The boys said not another word to each other; after a brief silence, still keeping his eyes fixed on Yegorushka, the mysterious Tit kicked up one leg, felt with his heel for a niche and clambered up the rock; from that point he ascended to the next rock, staggering backwards and looking intently at Yegorushka, as though afraid he might hit him from behind, and so made his way upwards till he disappeared altogether behind the crest of the hill.
After watching him out of sight, Yegorushka put his arms round his knees and leaned his head on them. . . . The burning sun scorched the back of his head, his neck, and his spine. The melancholy song died away, then floated again on the stagnant stifling air. The rivulet gurgled monotonously, the horses munched, and time dragged on endlessly, as though it, too, were stagnant and had come to a standstill. It seemed as though a hundred years had passed since the morning. Could it be that God’s world, the chaise and the horses would come to a standstill in that air, and, like the hills, turn to stone and remain for ever in one spot? Yegorushka raised his head, and with smarting eyes looked before him; the lilac distance, which till then had been motionless, began heaving, and with the sky floated away into the distance. . . . It drew after it the brown grass, the sedge, and with extraordinary swiftness Yegorushka floated after the flying distance. Some force noiselessly drew him onwards, and the heat and the wearisome song flew after in pursuit. Yegorushka bent his head and shut his eyes. . . .
Deniska was the first to wake up. Something must have bitten him, for he jumped up, quickly scratched his shoulder and said:
“Plague take you, cursed idolater!”
Then he went to the brook, had a drink and slowly washed. His splashing and puffing roused Yegorushka from his lethargy. The boy looked at his wet face with drops of water and big freckles which made it look like marble, and asked:
“Shall we soon be going?”
Deniska looked at the height of the sun and answered:
“I expect so.”
He dried himself with the tail of his shirt and, making a very serious face, hopped on one leg.
“I say, which of us will get to the sedge first?” he said.
Yegorushka was exhausted by the heat and drowsiness, but he raced off after him all the same. Deniska was in his twentieth year, was a coachman and going to be married, but he had not left off being a boy. He was very fond of flying kites, chasing pigeons, playing knuckle-bones, running races, and always took part in children’s games and disputes. No sooner had his master turned his back or gone to sleep than Deniska would begin doing something such as hopping on one leg or throwing stones. It was hard for any grown-up person, seeing the genuine enthusiasm with which he frolicked about in the society of children, to resist saying, “What a baby!” Children, on the other hand, saw nothing strange in the invasion of their domain by the big coachman. “Let him play,” they thought, “as long as he doesn’t fight!” In the same way little dogs see nothing strange in it when a simple-hearted big dog joins their company uninvited and begins playing with them.
Deniska outstripped Yegorushka, and was evidently very much pleased at having done so. He winked at him, and to show that he could hop on one leg any distance, suggested to Yegorushka that he should hop with him along the road and from there, without resting, back to the chaise. Yegorushka declined this suggestion, for he was very much out of breath and exhausted.
All at once Deniska looked very grave, as he did not look even when Kuzmitchov gave him a scolding or threatened him with a stick; listening intently, he dropped quietly on one knee and an expression of sternness and alarm came into his face, such as one sees in people who hear heretical talk. He fixed his eyes on one spot, raised his hand curved into a hollow, and suddenly fell on his stomach on the ground and slapped the hollow of his hand down upon the grass.
“Caught!” he wheezed triumphantly, and, getting up, lifted a big grasshopper to Yegorushka’s eyes.
The two boys stroked the grasshopper’s broad green back with their fingers and touched his antenna, supposing that this would please the creature. Then Deniska caught a fat fly that had been sucking blood and offered it to the grasshopper. The latter moved his huge jaws, that were like the visor of a helmet, with the utmost unconcern, as though he had been long acquainted with Deniska, and bit off the fly’s stomach. They let him go. With a flash of the pink lining of his wings, he flew down into the grass and at once began his churring notes again. They let the fly go, too. It preened its wings, and without its stomach flew off to the horses.
A loud sigh was heard from under the chaise. It was Kuzmitchov waking up. He quickly raised his head, looked uneasily into the distance, and from that look, which passed by Yegorushka and Deniska without sympathy or interest, it could be seen that his thought on awaking was of the wool and of Varlamov.
“Father Christopher, get up; it is time to start,” he said anxiously. “Wake up; we’ve slept too long as it is! Deniska, put the horses in.”
Father Christopher woke up with the same smile with which he had fallen asleep; his face looked creased and wrinkled from sleep, and seemed only half the size. After washing and dressing, he proceeded without haste to take out of his pocket a little greasy psalter; and standing with his face towards the east, began in a whisper repeating the psalms of the day and crossing himself.
“Father Christopher,” said Kuzmitchov reproachfully, “it’s time to start; the horses are ready, and here are you, . . . upon my word.”
“In a minute, in a minute,” muttered Father Christopher. “I must read the psalms. . . . I haven’t read them to-day.”
“The psalms can wait.”
“Ivan Ivanitch, that is my rule every day. . . . I can’t . . .”
“God will overlook it.”
For a full quarter of an hour Father Christopher stood facing the east and moving his lips, while Kuzmitchov looked at him almost with hatred and impatiently shrugged his shoulders. He was particularly irritated when, after every “Hallelujah,” Father Christopher drew a long breath, rapidly crossed himself and repeated three times, intentionally raising his voice so that the others might cross themselves, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! Glory be to Thee, O Lord!” At last he smiled, looked upwards at the sky, and, putting the psalter in his pocket, said:
A minute later the chaise had started on the road. As though it were going backwards and not forwards, the travellers saw the same scene as they had before midday.
The low hills were still plunged in the lilac distance, and no end could be seen to them. There were glimpses of high grass and heaps of stones; strips of stubble land passed by them and still the same rooks, the same hawk, moving its wings with slow dignity, moved over the steppe. The air was more sultry than ever; from the sultry heat and the stillness submissive nature was spellbound into silence . . . . No wind, no fresh cheering sound, no cloud.
But at last, when the sun was beginning to sink into the west, the steppe, the hills and the air could bear the oppression no longer, and, driven out of all patience, exhausted, tried to fling off the yoke. A fleecy ashen-grey cloud unexpectedly appeared behind the hills. It exchanged glances with the steppe, as though to say, “Here I am,” and frowned. Suddenly something burst in the stagnant air; there was a violent squall of wind which whirled round and round, roaring and whistling over the steppe. At once a murmur rose from the grass and last year’s dry herbage, the dust curled in spiral eddies over the road, raced over the steppe, and carrying with it straws, dragon flies and feathers, rose up in a whirling black column towards the sky and darkened the sun. Prickly uprooted plants ran stumbling and leaping in all directions over the steppe, and one of them got caught in the whirlwind, turned round and round like a bird, flew towards the sky, and turning into a little black speck, vanished from sight. After it flew another, and then a third, and Yegorushka saw two of them meet in the blue height and clutch at one another as though they were wrestling.
A bustard flew up by the very road. Fluttering his wings and his tail, he looked, bathed in the sunshine, like an angler’s glittering tin fish or a waterfly flashing so swiftly over the water that its wings cannot be told from its antenna, which seem to be growing before, behind and on all sides. . . . Quivering in the air like an insect with a shimmer of bright colours, the bustard flew high up in a straight line, then, probably frightened by a cloud of dust, swerved to one side, and for a long time the gleam of his wings could be seen. . . .
Then a corncrake flew up from the grass, alarmed by the hurricane and not knowing what was the matter. It flew with the wind and not against it, like all the other birds, so that all its feathers were ruffled up and it was puffed out to the size of a hen and looked very angry and impressive. Only the rooks who had grown old on the steppe and were accustomed to its vagaries hovered calmly over the grass, or taking no notice of anything, went on unconcernedly pecking with their stout beaks at the hard earth.
There was a dull roll of thunder beyond the hills; there came a whiff of fresh air. Deniska gave a cheerful whistle and lashed his horses. Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov held their hats and looked intently towards the hills. . . . How pleasant a shower of rain would have been!
One effort, one struggle more, and it seemed the steppe would have got the upper hand. But the unseen oppressive force gradually riveted its fetters on the wind and the air, laid the dust, and the stillness came back again as though nothing had happened, the cloud hid, the sun-baked hills frowned submissively, the air grew calm, and only somewhere the troubled lapwings wailed and lamented their destiny. . . .
Soon after that the evening came on.


In the dusk of evening a big house of one storey, with a rusty iron roof and with dark windows, came into sight. This house was called a posting-inn, though it had nothing like a stableyard, and it stood in the middle of the steppe, with no kind of enclosure round it. A little to one side of it a wretched little cherry orchard shut in by a hurdle fence made a dark patch, and under the windows stood sleepy sunflowers drooping their heavy heads. From the orchard came the clatter of a little toy windmill, set there to frighten away hares by the rattle. Nothing more could be seen near the house, and nothing could be heard but the steppe. The chaise had scarcely stopped at the porch with an awning over it, when from the house there came the sound of cheerful voices, one a man’s, another a woman’s; there was the creak of a swing-door, and in a flash a tall gaunt figure, swinging its arms and fluttering its coat, was standing by the chaise. This was the innkeeper, Moisey Moisevitch, a man no longer young, with a very pale face and a handsome beard as black as charcoal. He was wearing a threadbare black coat, which hung flapping on his narrow shoulders as though on a hatstand, and fluttered its skirts like wings every time Moisey Moisevitch flung up his hands in delight or horror. Besides his coat the innkeeper was wearing full white trousers, not stuck into his boots, and a velvet waistcoat with brown flowers on it that looked like gigantic bugs.
Moisey Moisevitch was at first dumb with excess of feeling on recognizing the travellers, then he clasped his hands and uttered a moan. His coat swung its skirts, his back bent into a bow, and his pale face twisted into a smile that suggested that to see the chaise was not merely a pleasure to him, but actually a joy so sweet as to be painful.
“Oh dear! oh dear!” he began in a thin sing-song voice, breathless, fussing about and preventing the travellers from getting out of the chaise by his antics. “What a happy day for me! Oh, what am I to do now? Ivan Ivanitch! Father Christopher! What a pretty little gentleman sitting on the box, God strike me dead! Oh, my goodness! why am I standing here instead of asking the visitors indoors? Please walk in, I humbly beg you. . . . You are kindly welcome! Give me all your things. . . . Oh, my goodness me!”
Moisey Moisevitch, who was rummaging in the chaise and assisting the travellers to alight, suddenly turned back and shouted in a voice as frantic and choking as though he were drowning and calling for help:
“Solomon! Solomon!”
“Solomon! Solomon!” a woman’s voice repeated indoors.
The swing-door creaked, and in the doorway appeared a rather short young Jew with a big beak-like nose, with a bald patch surrounded by rough red curly hair; he was dressed in a short and very shabby reefer jacket, with rounded lappets and short sleeves, and in short serge trousers, so that he looked skimpy and short-tailed like an unfledged bird. This was Solomon, the brother of Moisey Moisevitch. He went up to the chaise, smiling rather queerly, and did not speak or greet the travellers.
“Ivan Ivanitch and Father Christopher have come,” said Moisey Moisevitch in a tone as though he were afraid his brother would not believe him. “Dear, dear! What a surprise! Such honoured guests to have come us so suddenly! Come, take their things, Solomon. Walk in, honoured guests.”
A little later Kuzmitchov, Father Christopher, and Yegorushka were sitting in a big gloomy empty room at an old oak table. The table was almost in solitude, for, except a wide sofa covered with torn American leather and three chairs, there was no other furniture in the room. And, indeed, not everybody would have given the chairs that name. They were a pitiful semblance of furniture, covered with American leather that had seen its best days, and with backs bent backwards at an unnaturally acute angle, so that they looked like children’s sledges. It was hard to imagine what had been the unknown carpenter’s object in bending the chairbacks so mercilessly, and one was tempted to imagine that it was not the carpenter’s fault, but that some athletic visitor had bent the chairs like this as a feat, then had tried to bend them back again and had made them worse. The room looked gloomy, the walls were grey, the ceilings and the cornices were grimy; on the floor were chinks and yawning holes that were hard to account for (one might have fancied they were made by the heel of the same athlete), and it seemed as though the room would still have been dark if a dozen lamps had hung in it. There was nothing approaching an ornament on the walls or the windows. On one wall, however, there hung a list of regulations of some sort under a two-headed eagle in a grey wooden frame, and on another wall in the same sort of frame an engraving with the inscription, “The Indifference of Man.” What it was to which men were indifferent it was impossible to make out, as the engraving was very dingy with age and was extensively flyblown. There was a smell of something decayed and sour in the room.
As he led the visitors into the room, Moisey Moisevitch went on wriggling, gesticulating, shrugging and uttering joyful exclamations; he considered these antics necessary in order to seem polite and agreeable.
“When did our waggons go by?” Kuzmitchov asked.
“One party went by early this morning, and the other, Ivan Ivanitch, put up here for dinner and went on towards evening.”
“Ah! . . . Has Varlamov been by or not?”
“No, Ivan Ivanitch. His clerk, Grigory Yegoritch, went by yesterday morning and said that he had to be to-day at the Molokans’ farm.”
“Good! so we will go after the waggons directly and then on to the Molokans’.”
“Mercy on us, Ivan Ivanitch!” Moisey Moisevitch cried in horror, flinging up his hands. “Where are you going for the night? You will have a nice little supper and stay the night, and to-morrow morning, please God, you can go on and overtake anyone you like.”
“There is no time for that. . . . Excuse me, Moisey Moisevitch, another time; but now I must make haste. We’ll stay a quarter of an hour and then go on; we can stay the night at the Molokans’.”
“A quarter of an hour!” squealed Moisey Moisevitch. “Have you no fear of God, Ivan Ivanitch? You will compel me to hide your caps and lock the door! You must have a cup of tea and a snack of something, anyway.”
“We have no time for tea,” said Kuzmitchov.
Moisey Moisevitch bent his head on one side, crooked his knees, and put his open hands before him as though warding off a blow, while with a smile of agonized sweetness he began imploring:
“Ivan Ivanitch! Father Christopher! Do be so good as to take a cup of tea with me. Surely I am not such a bad man that you can’t even drink tea in my house? Ivan Ivanitch!”
“Well, we may just as well have a cup of tea,” said Father Christopher, with a sympathetic smile; “that won’t keep us long.”
“Very well,” Kuzmitchov assented.
Moisey Moisevitch, in a fluster uttered an exclamation of joy, and shrugging as though he had just stepped out of cold weather into warm, ran to the door and cried in the same frantic voice in which he had called Solomon:
“Rosa! Rosa! Bring the samovar!”
A minute later the door opened, and Solomon came into the room carrying a large tray in his hands. Setting the tray on the table, he looked away sarcastically with the same queer smile as before. Now, by the light of the lamp, it was possible to see his smile distinctly; it was very complex, and expressed a variety of emotions, but the predominant element in it was undisguised contempt. He seemed to be thinking of something ludicrous and silly, to be feeling contempt and dislike, to be pleased at something and waiting for the favourable moment to turn something into ridicule and to burst into laughter. His long nose, his thick lips, and his sly prominent eyes seemed tense with the desire to laugh. Looking at his face, Kuzmitchov smiled ironically and asked:
“Solomon, why did you not come to our fair at N. this summer, and act some Jewish scenes?”
Two years before, as Yegorushka remembered very well, at one of the booths at the fair at N., Solomon had performed some scenes of Jewish life, and his acting had been a great success. The allusion to this made no impression whatever upon Solomon. Making no answer, he went out and returned a little later with the samovar.
When he had done what he had to do at the table he moved a little aside, and, folding his arms over his chest and thrusting out one leg, fixed his sarcastic eyes on Father Christopher. There was something defiant, haughty, and contemptuous in his attitude, and at the same time it was comic and pitiful in the extreme, because the more impressive his attitude the more vividly it showed up his short trousers, his bobtail coat, his caricature of a nose, and his bird-like plucked-looking little figure.
Moisey Moisevitch brought a footstool from the other room and sat down a little way from the table.
“I wish you a good appetite! Tea and sugar!” he began, trying to entertain his visitors. “I hope you will enjoy it. Such rare guests, such rare ones; it is years since I last saw Father Christopher. And will no one tell me who is this nice little gentleman?” he asked, looking tenderly at Yegorushka.
“He is the son of my sister, Olga Ivanovna,” answered Kuzmitchov.
“And where is he going?”
“To school. We are taking him to a high school.”
In his politeness, Moisey Moisevitch put on a look of wonder and wagged his head expressively.
“Ah, that is a fine thing,” he said, shaking his finger at the samovar. “That’s a fine thing. You will come back from the high school such a gentleman that we shall all take off our hats to you. You will be wealthy and wise and so grand that your mamma will be delighted. Oh, that’s a fine thing!”
He paused a little, stroked his knees, and began again in a jocose and deferential tone.
“You must excuse me, Father Christopher, but I am thinking of writing to the bishop to tell him you are robbing the merchants of their living. I shall take a sheet of stamped paper and write that I suppose Father Christopher is short of pence, as he has taken up with trade and begun selling wool.”
“H’m, yes . . . it’s a queer notion in my old age,” said Father Christopher, and he laughed. “I have turned from priest to merchant, brother. I ought to be at home now saying my prayers, instead of galloping about the country like a Pharaoh in his chariot. . . . Vanity!”
“But it will mean a lot of pence!”
“Oh, I dare say! More kicks than halfpence, and serve me right. The wool’s not mine, but my son-in-law Mikhail’s!”
“Why doesn’t he go himself?”
“Why, because . . . His mother’s milk is scarcely dry upon his lips. He can buy wool all right, but when it comes to selling, he has no sense; he is young yet. He has wasted all his money; he wanted to grow rich and cut a dash, but he tried here and there, and no one would give him his price. And so the lad went on like that for a year, and then he came to me and said, ‘Daddy, you sell the wool for me; be kind and do it! I am no good at the business!’ And that is true enough. As soon as there is anything wrong then it’s ‘Daddy,’ but till then they could get on without their dad. When he was buying he did not consult me, but now when he is in difficulties it’s Daddy’s turn. And what does his dad know about it? If it were not for Ivan Ivanitch, his dad could do nothing. I have a lot of worry with them.”
“Yes; one has a lot of worry with one’s children, I can tell you that,” sighed Moisey Moisevitch. “I have six of my own. One needs schooling, another needs doctoring, and a third needs nursing, and when they grow up they are more trouble still. It is not only nowadays, it was the same in Holy Scripture. When Jacob had little children he wept, and when they grew up he wept still more bitterly.”
“H’m, yes . . .” Father Christopher assented pensively, looking at his glass. “I have no cause myself to rail against the Lord. I have lived to the end of my days as any man might be thankful to live. . . . I have married my daughters to good men, my sons I have set up in life, and now I am free; I have done my work and can go where I like. I live in peace with my wife. I eat and drink and sleep and rejoice in my grandchildren, and say my prayers and want nothing more. I live on the fat of the land, and don’t need to curry favour with anyone. I have never had any trouble from childhood, and now suppose the Tsar were to ask me, ‘What do you need? What would you like?’ why, I don’t need anything. I have everything I want and everything to be thankful for. In the whole town there is no happier man than I am. My only trouble is I have so many sins, but there —only God is without sin. That’s right, isn’t it?”
“No doubt it is.”
“I have no teeth, of course; my poor old back aches; there is one thing and another, . . . asthma and that sort of thing. . . . I ache. . . . The flesh is weak, but then think of my age! I am in the eighties! One can’t go on for ever; one mustn’t outstay one’s welcome.”
Father Christopher suddenly thought of something, spluttered into his glass and choked with laughter. Moisey Moisevitch laughed, too, from politeness, and he, too, cleared his throat.
“So funny!” said Father Christopher, and he waved his hand. “My eldest son Gavrila came to pay me a visit. He is in the medical line, and is a district doctor in the province of Tchernigov. . . . ‘Very well . . .’ I said to him, ‘here I have asthma and one thing and another. . . . You are a doctor; cure your father!’ He undressed me on the spot, tapped me, listened, and all sorts of tricks, . . . kneaded my stomach, and then he said, ‘Dad, you ought to be treated with compressed air.’” Father Christopher laughed convulsively, till the tears came into his eyes, and got up.
“And I said to him, ‘God bless your compressed air!’” he brought out through his laughter, waving both hands. “God bless your compressed air!”
Moisey Moisevitch got up, too, and with his hands on his stomach, went off into shrill laughter like the yap of a lap-dog.
“God bless the compressed air!” repeated Father Christopher, laughing.
Moisey Moisevitch laughed two notes higher and so violently that he could hardly stand on his feet.
“Oh dear!” he moaned through his laughter. “Let me get my breath . . . . You’ll be the death of me.”
He laughed and talked, though at the same time he was casting timorous and suspicious looks at Solomon. The latter was standing in the same attitude and still smiling. To judge from his eyes and his smile, his contempt and hatred were genuine, but that was so out of keeping with his plucked-looking figure that it seemed to Yegorushka as though he were putting on his defiant attitude and biting sarcastic smile to play the fool for the entertainment of their honoured guests.
After drinking six glasses of tea in silence, Kuzmitchov cleared a space before him on the table, took his bag, the one which he kept under his head when he slept under the chaise, untied the string and shook it. Rolls of paper notes were scattered out of the bag on the table.
“While we have the time, Father Christopher, let us reckon up,” said Kuzmitchov.
Moisey Moisevitch was embarrassed at the sight of the money. He got up, and, as a man of delicate feeling unwilling to pry into other people’s secrets, he went out of the room on tiptoe, swaying his arms. Solomon remained where he was.
“How many are there in the rolls of roubles?” Father Christopher began.
“The rouble notes are done up in fifties, . . . the three-rouble notes in nineties, the twenty-five and hundred roubles in thousands. You count out seven thousand eight hundred for Varlamov, and I will count out for Gusevitch. And mind you don’t make a mistake. . .”
Yegorushka had never in his life seen so much money as was lying on the table before him. There must have been a great deal of money, for the roll of seven thousand eight hundred, which Father Christopher put aside for Varlamov, seemed very small compared with the whole heap. At any other time such a mass of money would have impressed Yegorushka, and would have moved him to reflect how many cracknels, buns and poppy-cakes could be bought for that money. Now he looked at it listlessly, only conscious of the disgusting smell of kerosene and rotten apples that came from the heap of notes. He was exhausted by the jolting ride in the chaise, tired out and sleepy. His head was heavy, his eyes would hardly keep open and his thoughts were tangled like threads. If it had been possible he would have been relieved to lay his head on the table, so as not to see the lamp and the fingers moving over the heaps of notes, and to have let his tired sleepy thoughts go still more at random. When he tried to keep awake, the light of the lamp, the cups and the fingers grew double, the samovar heaved and the smell of rotten apples seemed even more acrid and disgusting.
“Ah, money, money!” sighed Father Christopher, smiling. “You bring trouble! Now I expect my Mihailo is asleep and dreaming that I am going to bring him a heap of money like this.”
“Your Mihailo Timofevitch is a man who doesn’t understand business,” said Kuzmitchov in an undertone; “he undertakes what isn’t his work, but you understand and can judge. You had better hand over your wool to me, as I have said already, and I would give you half a rouble above my own price—yes, I would, simply out of regard for you. . . .”
“No, Ivan Ivanitch.” Father Christopher sighed. “I thank you for your kindness. . . . Of course, if it were for me to decide, I shouldn’t think twice about it; but as it is, the wool is not mine, as you know. . . .”
Moisey Moisevitch came in on tiptoe. Trying from delicacy not to look at the heaps of money, he stole up to Yegorushka and pulled at his shirt from behind.
“Come along, little gentleman,” he said in an undertone, “come and see the little bear I can show you! Such a queer, cross little bear. Oo-oo!”
The sleepy boy got up and listlessly dragged himself after Moisey Moisevitch to see the bear. He went into a little room, where, before he saw anything, he felt he could not breathe from the smell of something sour and decaying, which was much stronger here than in the big room and probably spread from this room all over the house. One part of the room was occupied by a big bed, covered with a greasy quilt and another by a chest of drawers and heaps of rags of all kinds from a woman’s stiff petticoat to children’s little breeches and braces. A tallow candle stood on the chest of drawers.
Instead of the promised bear, Yegorushka saw a big fat Jewess with her hair hanging loose, in a red flannel skirt with black sprigs on it; she turned with difficulty in the narrow space between the bed and the chest of drawers and uttered drawn-out moaning as though she had toothache. On seeing Yegorushka, she made a doleful, woe-begone face, heaved a long drawn-out sigh, and before he had time to look round, put to his lips a slice of bread smeared with honey.
“Eat it, dearie, eat it!” she said. “You are here without your mamma, and no one to look after you. Eat it up.”
Yegorushka did eat it, though after the goodies and poppy-cakes he had every day at home, he did not think very much of the honey, which was mixed with wax and bees’ wings. He ate while Moisey Moisevitch and the Jewess looked at him and sighed.
“Where are you going, dearie?” asked the Jewess.
“To school,” answered Yegorushka.
“And how many brothers and sisters have you got?”
“I am the only one; there are no others.”
“O-oh!” sighed the Jewess, and turned her eyes upward. “Poor mamma, poor mamma! How she will weep and miss you! We are going to send our Nahum to school in a year. O-oh!”
“Ah, Nahum, Nahum!” sighed Moisey Moisevitch, and the skin of his pale face twitched nervously. “And he is so delicate.”
The greasy quilt quivered, and from beneath it appeared a child’s curly head on a very thin neck; two black eyes gleamed and stared with curiosity at Yegorushka. Still sighing, Moisey Moisevitch and the Jewess went to the chest of drawers and began talking in Yiddish. Moisey Moisevitch spoke in a low bass undertone, and altogether his talk in Yiddish was like a continual “ghaal-ghaal-ghaal-ghaal, . . .” while his wife answered him in a shrill voice like a turkeycock’s, and the whole effect of her talk was something like “Too-too-too-too!” While they were consulting, another little curly head on a thin neck peeped out of the greasy quilt, then a third, then a fourth. . . . If Yegorushka had had a fertile imagination he might have imagined that the hundred-headed hydra was hiding under the quilt.
“Ghaal-ghaal-ghaal-ghaal!” said Moisey Moisevitch.
“Too-too-too-too!” answered the Jewess.
The consultation ended in the Jewess’s diving with a deep sigh into the chest of drawers, and, unwrapping some sort of green rag there, she took out a big rye cake made in the shape of a heart.
“Take it, dearie,” she said, giving Yegorushka the cake; “you have no mamma now—no one to give you nice things.”
Yegorushka stuck the cake in his pocket and staggered to the door, as he could not go on breathing the foul, sour air in which the innkeeper and his wife lived. Going back to the big room, he settled himself more comfortably on the sofa and gave up trying to check his straying thoughts.
As soon as Kuzmitchov had finished counting out the notes he put them back into the bag. He did not treat them very respectfully and stuffed them into the dirty sack without ceremony, as indifferently as though they had not been money but waste paper.
Father Christopher was talking to Solomon.
“Well, Solomon the Wise!” he said, yawning and making the sign of the cross over his mouth. “How is business?”
“What sort of business are you talking about?” asked Solomon, and he looked as fiendish, as though it were a hint of some crime on his part.
“Oh, things in general. What are you doing?”
“What am I doing?” Solomon repeated, and he shrugged his shoulders. “The same as everyone else. . . . You see, I am a menial, I am my brother’s servant; my brother’s the servant of the visitors; the visitors are Varlamov’s servants; and if I had ten millions, Varlamov would be my servant.”
“Why would he be your servant?”
“Why, because there isn’t a gentleman or millionaire who isn’t ready to lick the hand of a scabby Jew for the sake of making a kopeck. Now, I am a scabby Jew and a beggar. Everybody looks at me as though I were a dog, but if I had money Varlamov would play the fool before me just as Moisey does before you.”
Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov looked at each other. Neither of them understood Solomon. Kuzmitchov looked at him sternly and dryly, and asked:
“How can you compare yourself with Varlamov, you blockhead?”
“I am not such a fool as to put myself on a level with Varlamov,” answered Solomon, looking sarcastically at the speaker. “Though Varlamov is a Russian, he is at heart a scabby Jew; money and gain are all he lives for, but I threw my money in the stove! I don’t want money, or land, or sheep, and there is no need for people to be afraid of me and to take off their hats when I pass. So I am wiser than your Varlamov and more like a man!”
A little later Yegorushka, half asleep, heard Solomon in a hoarse hollow voice choked with hatred, in hurried stuttering phrases, talking about the Jews. At first he talked correctly in Russian, then he fell into the tone of a Jewish recitation, and began speaking as he had done at the fair with an exaggerated Jewish accent.
“Stop! . . .” Father Christopher said to him. “If you don’t like your religion you had better change it, but to laugh at it is a sin; it is only the lowest of the low who will make fun of his religion.”
“You don’t understand,” Solomon cut him short rudely. “I am talking of one thing and you are talking of something else. . . .”
“One can see you are a foolish fellow,” sighed Father Christopher. “I admonish you to the best of my ability, and you are angry. I speak to you like an old man quietly, and you answer like a turkeycock: ‘Bla—-bla—-bla!’ You really are a queer fellow. . . .”
Moisey Moisevitch came in. He looked anxiously at Solomon and at his visitors, and again the skin on his face quivered nervously. Yegorushka shook his head and looked about him; he caught a passing glimpse of Solomon’s face at the very moment when it was turned three-quarters towards him and when the shadow of his long nose divided his left cheek in half; the contemptuous smile mingled with that shadow; the gleaming sarcastic eyes, the haughty expression, and the whole plucked-looking little figure, dancing and doubling itself before Yegorushka’s eyes, made him now not like a buffoon, but like something one sometimes dreams of, like an evil spirit.
“What a ferocious fellow you’ve got here, Moisey Moisevitch! God bless him!” said Father Christopher with a smile. “You ought to find him a place or a wife or something. . . . There’s no knowing what to make of him. . . .”
Kuzmitchov frowned angrily. Moisey Moisevitch looked uneasily and inquiringly at his brother and the visitors again.
“Solomon, go away!” he said shortly. “Go away!” and he added something in Yiddish. Solomon gave an abrupt laugh and went out.
“What was it?” Moisey Moisevitch asked Father Christopher anxiously.
“He forgets himself,” answered Kuzmitchov. “He’s rude and thinks too much of himself.”
“I knew it!” Moisey Moisevitch cried in horror, clasping his hands. “Oh dear, oh dear!” he muttered in a low voice. “Be so kind as to excuse it, and don’t be angry. He is such a queer fellow, such a queer fellow! Oh dear, oh dear! He is my own brother, but I have never had anything but trouble from him. You know he’s. . .”
Moisey Moisevitch crooked his finger by his forehead and went on:
“He is not in his right mind; . . . he’s hopeless. And I don’t know what I am to do with him! He cares for nobody, he respects nobody, and is afraid of nobody. . . . You know he laughs at everybody, he says silly things, speaks familiarly to anyone. You wouldn’t believe it, Varlamov came here one day and Solomon said such things to him that he gave us both a taste of his whip. . . . But why whip me? Was it my fault? God has robbed him of his wits, so it is God’s will, and how am I to blame?”
Ten minutes passed and Moisey Moisevitch was still muttering in an undertone and sighing:
“He does not sleep at night, and is always thinking and thinking and thinking, and what he is thinking about God only knows. If you go to him at night he is angry and laughs. He doesn’t like me either . . . . And there is nothing he wants! When our father died he left us each six thousand roubles. I bought myself an inn, married, and now I have children; and he burnt all his money in the stove. Such a pity, such a pity! Why burn it? If he didn’t want it he could give it to me, but why burn it?”
Suddenly the swing-door creaked and the floor shook under footsteps. Yegorushka felt a draught of cold air, and it seemed to him as though some big black bird had passed by him and had fluttered its wings close in his face. He opened his eyes. . . . His uncle was standing by the sofa with his sack in his hands ready for departure; Father Christopher, holding his broad-brimmed top-hat, was bowing to someone and smiling—not his usual soft kindly smile, but a respectful forced smile which did not suit his face at all—while Moisey Moisevitch looked as though his body had been broken into three parts, and he were balancing and doing his utmost not to drop to pieces. Only Solomon stood in the corner with his arms folded, as though nothing had happened, and smiled contemptuously as before.
“Your Excellency must excuse us for not being tidy,” moaned Moisey Moisevitch with the agonizingly sweet smile, taking no more notice of Kuzmitchov or Father Christopher, but swaying his whole person so as to avoid dropping to pieces. “We are plain folks, your Excellency.”
Yegorushka rubbed his eyes. In the middle of the room there really was standing an Excellency, in the form of a young plump and very beautiful woman in a black dress and a straw hat. Before Yegorushka had time to examine her features the image of the solitary graceful poplar he had seen that day on the hill for some reason came into his mind.
“Has Varlamov been here to-day?” a woman’s voice inquired.
“No, your Excellency,” said Moisey Moisevitch.
“If you see him to-morrow, ask him to come and see me for a minute.”
All at once, quite unexpectedly, Yegorushka saw half an inch from his eyes velvety black eyebrows, big brown eyes, delicate feminine cheeks with dimples, from which smiles seemed radiating all over the face like sunbeams. There was a glorious scent.
“What a pretty boy!” said the lady. “Whose boy is it? Kazimir Mihalovitch, look what a charming fellow! Good heavens, he is asleep!”
And the lady kissed Yegorushka warmly on both cheeks, and he smiled and, thinking he was asleep, shut his eyes. The swing-door squeaked, and there was the sound of hurried footsteps, coming in and going out.
“Yegorushka, Yegorushka!” he heard two bass voices whisper. “Get up; it is time to start.”
Somebody, it seemed to be Deniska, set him on his feet and led him by the arm. On the way he half-opened his eyes and once more saw the beautiful lady in the black dress who had kissed him. She was standing in the middle of the room and watched him go out, smiling at him and nodding her head in a friendly way. As he got near the door he saw a handsome, stoutly built, dark man in a bowler hat and in leather gaiters. This must have been the lady’s escort.
“Woa!” he heard from the yard.
At the front door Yegorushka saw a splendid new carriage and a pair of black horses. On the box sat a groom in livery, with a long whip in his hands. No one but Solomon came to see the travellers off. His face was tense with a desire to laugh; he looked as though he were waiting impatiently for the visitors to be gone, so that he might laugh at them without restraint.
“The Countess Dranitsky,” whispered Father Christopher, clambering into the chaise.
“Yes, Countess Dranitsky,” repeated Kuzmitchov, also in a whisper.
The impression made by the arrival of the countess was probably very great, for even Deniska spoke in a whisper, and only ventured to lash his bays and shout when the chaise had driven a quarter of a mile away and nothing could be seen of the inn but a dim light.


Who was this elusive, mysterious Varlamov of whom people talked so much, whom Solomon despised, and whom even the beautiful countess needed? Sitting on the box beside Deniska, Yegorushka, half asleep, thought about this person. He had never seen him. But he had often heard of him and pictured him in his imagination. He knew that Varlamov possessed several tens of thousands of acres of land, about a hundred thousand sheep, and a great deal of money. Of his manner of life and occupation Yegorushka knew nothing, except that he was always “going his rounds in these parts,” and he was always being looked for.
At home Yegorushka had heard a great deal of the Countess Dranitsky, too. She, too, had some tens of thousands of acres, a great many sheep, a stud farm and a great deal of money, but she did not “go rounds,” but lived at home in a splendid house and grounds, about which Ivan Ivanitch, who had been more than once at the countess’s on business, and other acquaintances told many marvellous tales; thus, for instance, they said that in the countess’s drawing-room, where the portraits of all the kings of Poland hung on the walls, there was a big table-clock in the form of a rock, on the rock a gold horse with diamond eyes, rearing, and on the horse the figure of a rider also of gold, who brandished his sword to right and to left whenever the clock struck. They said, too, that twice a year the countess used to give a ball, to which the gentry and officials of the whole province were invited, and to which even Varlamov used to come; all the visitors drank tea from silver samovars, ate all sorts of extraordinary things (they had strawberries and raspberries, for instance, in winter at Christmas), and danced to a band which played day and night. . . .
“And how beautiful she is,” thought Yegorushka, remembering her face and smile.
Kuzmitchov, too, was probably thinking about the countess. For when the chaise had driven a mile and a half he said:
“But doesn’t that Kazimir Mihalovitch plunder her right and left! The year before last when, do you remember, I bought some wool from her, he made over three thousand from my purchase alone.”
“That is just what you would expect from a Pole,” said Father Christopher.
“And little does it trouble her. Young and foolish, as they say, her head is full of nonsense.”
Yegorushka, for some reason, longed to think of nothing but Varlamov and the countess, particularly the latter. His drowsy brain utterly refused ordinary thoughts, was in a cloud and retained only fantastic fairy-tale images, which have the advantage of springing into the brain of themselves without any effort on the part of the thinker, and completely vanishing of themselves at a mere shake of the head; and, indeed, nothing that was around him disposed to ordinary thoughts. On the right there were the dark hills which seemed to be screening something unseen and terrible; on the left the whole sky about the horizon was covered with a crimson glow, and it was hard to tell whether there was a fire somewhere, or whether it was the moon about to rise. As by day the distance could be seen, but its tender lilac tint had gone, quenched by the evening darkness, in which the whole steppe was hidden like Moisey Moisevitch’s children under the quilt.
Corncrakes and quails do not call in the July nights, the nightingale does not sing in the woodland marsh, and there is no scent of flowers, but still the steppe is lovely and full of life. As soon as the sun goes down and the darkness enfolds the earth, the day’s weariness is forgotten, everything is forgiven, and the steppe breathes a light sigh from its broad bosom. As though because the grass cannot see in the dark that it has grown old, a gay youthful twitter rises up from it, such as is not heard by day; chirruping, twittering, whistling, scratching, the basses, tenors and sopranos of the steppe all mingle in an incessant, monotonous roar of sound in which it is sweet to brood on memories and sorrows. The monotonous twitter soothes to sleep like a lullaby; you drive and feel you are falling asleep, but suddenly there comes the abrupt agitated cry of a wakeful bird, or a vague sound like a voice crying out in wonder “A-ah, a-ah!” and slumber closes one’s eyelids again. Or you drive by a little creek where there are bushes and hear the bird, called by the steppe dwellers “the sleeper,” call “Asleep, asleep, asleep!” while another laughs or breaks into trills of hysterical weeping—that is the owl. For whom do they call and who hears them on that plain, God only knows, but there is deep sadness and lamentation in their cry. . . . There is a scent of hay and dry grass and belated flowers, but the scent is heavy, sweetly mawkish and soft.
Everything can be seen through the mist, but it is hard to make out the colours and the outlines of objects. Everything looks different from what it is. You drive on and suddenly see standing before you right in the roadway a dark figure like a monk; it stands motionless, waiting, holding something in its hands. . . . Can it be a robber? The figure comes closer, grows bigger; now it is on a level with the chaise, and you see it is not a man, but a solitary bush or a great stone. Such motionless expectant figures stand on the low hills, hide behind the old barrows, peep out from the high grass, and they all look like human beings and arouse suspicion.
And when the moon rises the night becomes pale and dim. The mist seems to have passed away. The air is transparent, fresh and warm; one can see well in all directions and even distinguish the separate stalks of grass by the wayside. Stones and bits of pots can be seen at a long distance. The suspicious figures like monks look blacker against the light background of the night, and seem more sinister. More and more often in the midst of the monotonous chirruping there comes the sound of the “A-ah, a-ah!” of astonishment troubling the motionless air, and the cry of a sleepless or delirious bird. Broad shadows move across the plain like clouds across the sky, and in the inconceivable distance, if you look long and intently at it, misty monstrous shapes rise up and huddle one against another. . . . It is rather uncanny. One glances at the pale green, star-spangled sky on which there is no cloudlet, no spot, and understands why the warm air is motionless, why nature is on her guard, afraid to stir: she is afraid and reluctant to lose one instant of life. Of the unfathomable depth and infinity of the sky one can only form a conception at sea and on the steppe by night when the moon is shining. It is terribly lonely and caressing; it looks down languid and alluring, and its caressing sweetness makes one giddy.
You drive on for one hour, for a second. . . . You meet upon the way a silent old barrow or a stone figure put up God knows when and by whom; a nightbird floats noiselessly over the earth, and little by little those legends of the steppes, the tales of men you have met, the stories of some old nurse from the steppe, and all the things you have managed to see and treasure in your soul, come back to your mind. And then in the churring of insects, in the sinister figures, in the ancient barrows, in the blue sky, in the moonlight, in the flight of the nightbird, in everything you see and hear, triumphant beauty, youth, the fulness of power, and the passionate thirst for life begin to be apparent; the soul responds to the call of her lovely austere fatherland, and longs to fly over the steppes with the nightbird. And in the triumph of beauty, in the exuberance of happiness you are conscious of yearning and grief, as though the steppe knew she was solitary, knew that her wealth and her inspiration were wasted for the world, not glorified in song, not wanted by anyone; and through the joyful clamour one hears her mournful, hopeless call for singers, singers!
“Woa! Good-evening, Panteley! Is everything all right?”
“First-rate, Ivan Ivanitch!
“Haven’t you seen Varlamov, lads?”
“No, we haven’t.”
Yegorushka woke up and opened his eyes. The chaise had stopped. On the right the train of waggons stretched for a long way ahead on the road, and men were moving to and fro near them. All the waggons being loaded up with great bales of wool looked very high and fat, while the horses looked short-legged and little.
“Well, then, we shall go on to the Molokans’!” Kuzmitchov said aloud. “The Jew told us that Varlamov was putting up for the night at the Molokans’. So good-bye, lads! Good luck to you!”
“Good-bye, Ivan Ivanitch,” several voices replied.
“I say, lads,” Kuzmitchov cried briskly, “you take my little lad along with you! Why should he go jolting off with us for nothing? You put him on the bales, Panteley, and let him come on slowly, and we shall overtake you. Get down, Yegor! Go on; it’s all right. . . .”
Yegorushka got down from the box-seat. Several hands caught him, lifted him high into the air, and he found himself on something big, soft, and rather wet with dew. It seemed to him now as though the sky were quite close and the earth far away.
“Hey, take his little coat!” Deniska shouted from somewhere far below.
His coat and bundle flung up from far below fell close to Yegorushka. Anxious not to think of anything, he quickly put his bundle under his head and covered himself with his coat, and stretching his legs out and shrinking a little from the dew, he laughed with content.
“Sleep, sleep, sleep, . . .” he thought.
“Don’t be unkind to him, you devils!” he heard Deniska’s voice below.
“Good-bye, lads; good luck to you,” shouted Kuzmitchov. “I rely upon you!”
“Don’t you be uneasy, Ivan Ivanitch!”
Deniska shouted to the horses, the chaise creaked and started, not along the road, but somewhere off to the side. For two minutes there was silence, as though the waggons were asleep and there was no sound except the clanking of the pails tied on at the back of the chaise as it slowly died away in the distance. Then someone at the head of the waggons shouted:
“Kiruha! Sta-art!”
The foremost of the waggons creaked, then the second, then the third. . . . Yegorushka felt the waggon he was on sway and creak also. The waggons were moving. Yegorushka took a tighter hold of the cord with which the bales were tied on, laughed again with content, shifted the cake in his pocket, and fell asleep just as he did in his bed at home. . . .
When he woke up the sun had risen, it was screened by an ancient barrow, and, trying to shed its light upon the earth, it scattered its beams in all directions and flooded the horizon with gold. It seemed to Yegorushka that it was not in its proper place, as the day before it had risen behind his back, and now it was much more to his left. . . . And the whole landscape was different. There were no hills now, but on all sides, wherever one looked, there stretched the brown cheerless plain; here and there upon it small barrows rose up and rooks flew as they had done the day before. The belfries and huts of some village showed white in the distance ahead; as it was Sunday the Little Russians were at home baking and cooking—that could be seen by the smoke which rose from every chimney and hung, a dark blue transparent veil, over the village. In between the huts and beyond the church there were blue glimpses of a river, and beyond the river a misty distance. But nothing was so different from yesterday as the road. Something extraordinarily broad, spread out and titanic, stretched over the steppe by way of a road. It was a grey streak well trodden down and covered with dust, like all roads. Its width puzzled Yegorushka and brought thoughts of fairy tales to his mind. Who travelled along that road? Who needed so much space? It was strange and unintelligible. It might have been supposed that giants with immense strides, such as Ilya Muromets and Solovy the Brigand, were still surviving in Russia, and that their gigantic steeds were still alive. Yegorushka, looking at the road, imagined some half a dozen high chariots racing along side by side, like some he used to see in pictures in his Scripture history; these chariots were each drawn by six wild furious horses, and their great wheels raised a cloud of dust to the sky, while the horses were driven by men such as one may see in one’s dreams or in imagination brooding over fairy tales. And if those figures had existed, how perfectly in keeping with the steppe and the road they would have been!
Telegraph-poles with two wires on them stretched along the right side of the road to its furthermost limit. Growing smaller and smaller they disappeared near the village behind the huts and green trees, and then again came into sight in the lilac distance in the form of very small thin sticks that looked like pencils stuck into the ground. Hawks, falcons, and crows sat on the wires and looked indifferently at the moving waggons.
Yegorushka was lying in the last of the waggons, and so could see the whole string. There were about twenty waggons, and there was a driver to every three waggons. By the last waggon, the one in which Yegorushka was, there walked an old man with a grey beard, as short and lean as Father Christopher, but with a sunburnt, stern and brooding face. It is very possible that the old man was not stern and not brooding, but his red eyelids and his sharp long nose gave his face a stern frigid expression such as is common with people in the habit of continually thinking of serious things in solitude. Like Father Christopher he was wearing a wide-brimmed top-hat, not like a gentleman’s, but made of brown felt, and in shape more like a cone with the top cut off than a real top-hat. Probably from a habit acquired in cold winters, when he must more than once have been nearly frozen as he trudged beside the waggons, he kept slapping his thighs and stamping with his feet as he walked. Noticing that Yegorushka was awake, he looked at him and said, shrugging his shoulders as though from the cold:
“Ah, you are awake, youngster! So you are the son of Ivan Ivanitch?”
“No; his nephew. . . .”
“Nephew of Ivan Ivanitch? Here I have taken off my boots and am hopping along barefoot. My feet are bad; they are swollen, and it’s easier without my boots . . . easier, youngster . . . without boots, I mean. . . . So you are his nephew? He is a good man; no harm in him. . . . God give him health. . . . No harm in him . . . I mean Ivan Ivanitch. . . . He has gone to the Molokans’. . . . O Lord, have mercy upon us!”
The old man talked, too, as though it were very cold, pausing and not opening his mouth properly; and he mispronounced the labial consonants, stuttering over them as though his lips were frozen. As he talked to Yegorushka he did not once smile, and he seemed stern.
Two waggons ahead of them there walked a man wearing a long reddish-brown coat, a cap and high boots with sagging bootlegs and carrying a whip in his hand. This was not an old man, only about forty. When he looked round Yegorushka saw a long red face with a scanty goat-beard and a spongy looking swelling under his right eye. Apart from this very ugly swelling, there was another peculiar thing about him which caught the eye at once: in his left hand he carried a whip, while he waved the right as though he were conducting an unseen choir; from time to time he put the whip under his arm, and then he conducted with both hands and hummed something to himself.
The next driver was a long rectilinear figure with extremely sloping shoulders and a back as flat as a board. He held himself as stiffly erect as though he were marching or had swallowed a yard measure. His hands did not swing as he walked, but hung down as if they were straight sticks, and he strode along in a wooden way, after the manner of toy soldiers, almost without bending his knees, and trying to take as long steps as possible. While the old man or the owner of the spongy swelling were taking two steps he succeeded in taking only one, and so it seemed as though he were walking more slowly than any of them, and would drop behind. His face was tied up in a rag, and on his head something stuck up that looked like a monk’s peaked cap; he was dressed in a short Little Russian coat, with full dark blue trousers and bark shoes.
Yegorushka did not even distinguish those that were farther on. He lay on his stomach, picked a little hole in the bale, and, having nothing better to do, began twisting the wool into a thread. The old man trudging along below him turned out not to be so stern as one might have supposed from his face. Having begun a conversation, he did not let it drop.
“Where are you going?” he asked, stamping with his feet.
“To school,” answered Yegorushka.
“To school? Aha! . . . Well, may the Queen of Heaven help you. Yes. One brain is good, but two are better. To one man God gives one brain, to another two brains, and to another three. . . . To another three, that is true. . . . One brain you are born with, one you get from learning, and a third with a good life. So you see, my lad, it is a good thing if a man has three brains. Living is easier for him, and, what’s more, dying is, too. Dying is, too. . . . And we shall all die for sure.”
The old man scratched his forehead, glanced upwards at Yegorushka with his red eyes, and went on:
“Maxim Nikolaitch, the gentleman from Slavyanoserbsk, brought a little lad to school, too, last year. I don’t know how he is getting on there in studying the sciences, but he was a nice good little lad. . . . God give them help, they are nice gentlemen. Yes, he, too, brought his boy to school. . . . In Slavyanoserbsk there is no establishment, I suppose, for study. No. . . . But it is a nice town. . . . There’s an ordinary school for simple folks, but for the higher studies there is nothing. No, that’s true. What’s your name? . . .”
“Yegory, then. . . . The holy martyr Yegory, the Bearer of Victory, whose day is the twenty-third of April. And my christian name is Panteley, . . . Panteley Zaharov Holodov. . . . We are Holodovs . . . . I am a native of—maybe you’ve heard of it—Tim in the province of Kursk. My brothers are artisans and work at trades in the town, but I am a peasant. . . . I have remained a peasant. Seven years ago I went there—home, I mean. I went to the village and to the town. . . . To Tim, I mean. Then, thank God, they were all alive and well; . . . but now I don’t know. . . . Maybe some of them are dead. . . . And it’s time they did die, for some of them are older than I am. Death is all right; it is good so long, of course, as one does not die without repentance. There is no worse evil than an impenitent death; an impenitent death is a joy to the devil. And if you want to die penitent, so that you may not be forbidden to enter the mansions of the Lord, pray to the holy martyr Varvara. She is the intercessor. She is, that’s the truth. . . . For God has given her such a place in the heavens that everyone has the right to pray to her for penitence.”
Panteley went on muttering, and apparently did not trouble whether Yegorushka heard him or not. He talked listlessly, mumbling to himself, without raising or dropping his voice, but succeeded in telling him a great deal in a short time. All he said was made up of fragments that had very little connection with one another, and quite uninteresting for Yegorushka. Possibly he talked only in order to reckon over his thoughts aloud after the night spent in silence, in order to see if they were all there. After talking of repentance, he spoke about a certain Maxim Nikolaitch from Slavyanoserbsk.
“Yes, he took his little lad; . . . he took him, that’s true . . .”
One of the waggoners walking in front darted from his place, ran to one side and began lashing on the ground with his whip. He was a stalwart, broad-shouldered man of thirty, with curly flaxen hair and a look of great health and vigour. Judging from the movements of his shoulders and the whip, and the eagerness expressed in his attitude, he was beating something alive. Another waggoner, a short stubby little man with a bushy black beard, wearing a waistcoat and a shirt outside his trousers, ran up to him. The latter broke into a deep guffaw of laughter and coughing and said: “I say, lads, Dymov has killed a snake!”
There are people whose intelligence can be gauged at once by their voice and laughter. The man with the black beard belonged to that class of fortunate individuals; impenetrable stupidity could be felt in his voice and laugh. The flaxen-headed Dymov had finished, and lifting from the ground with his whip something like a cord, flung it with a laugh into the cart.
“That’s not a viper; it’s a grass snake!” shouted someone.
The man with the wooden gait and the bandage round his face strode up quickly to the dead snake, glanced at it and flung up his stick-like arms.
“You jail-bird!” he cried in a hollow wailing voice. “What have you killed a grass snake for? What had he done to you, you damned brute? Look, he has killed a grass snake; how would you like to be treated so?”
“Grass snakes ought not to be killed, that’s true,” Panteley muttered placidly, “they ought not. . . They are not vipers; though it looks like a snake, it is a gentle, innocent creature. . . . It’s friendly to man, the grass snake is.”
Dymov and the man with the black beard were probably ashamed, for they laughed loudly, and not answering, slouched lazily back to their waggons. When the hindmost waggon was level with the spot where the dead snake lay, the man with his face tied up standing over it turned to Panteley and asked in a tearful voice:
“Grandfather, what did he want to kill the grass snake for?”
His eyes, as Yegorushka saw now, were small and dingy looking; his face was grey, sickly and looked somehow dingy too while his chin was red and seemed very much swollen.
“Grandfather, what did he kill it for?” he repeated, striding along beside Panteley.
“A stupid fellow. His hands itch to kill, and that is why he does it,” answered the old man; “but he oughtn’t to kill a grass snake, that’s true. . . . Dymov is a ruffian, we all know, he kills everything he comes across, and Kiruha did not interfere. He ought to have taken its part, but instead of that, he goes off into ‘Ha-ha-ha!’ and ‘Ho-ho-ho!’ . . . But don’t be angry, Vassya. . . . Why be angry? They’ve killed it—well, never mind them. Dymov is a ruffian and Kiruha acted from foolishness—never mind. . . . They are foolish people without understanding—but there, don’t mind them. Emelyan here never touches what he shouldn’t; he never does; . . . that is true, . . . because he is a man of education, while they are stupid. . . . Emelyan, he doesn’t touch things.”
The waggoner in the reddish-brown coat and the spongy swelling on his face, who was conducting an unseen choir, stopped. Hearing his name, and waiting till Panteley and Vassya came up to him, he walked beside them.
“What are you talking about?” he asked in a husky muffled voice.
“Why, Vassya here is angry,” said Panteley. “So I have been saying things to him to stop his being angry. . . . Oh, how my swollen feet hurt! Oh, oh! They are more inflamed than ever for Sunday, God’s holy day!”
“It’s from walking,” observed Vassya.
“No, lad, no. It’s not from walking. When I walk it seems easier; when I lie down and get warm, . . . it’s deadly. Walking is easier for me.”
Emelyan, in his reddish-brown coat, walked between Panteley and Vassya and waved his arms, as though they were going to sing. After waving them a little while he dropped them, and croaked out hopelessly:
“I have no voice. It’s a real misfortune. All last night and this morning I have been haunted by the trio ‘Lord, have Mercy’ that we sang at the wedding at Marionovsky’s. It’s in my head and in my throat. It seems as though I could sing it, but I can’t; I have no voice.”
He paused for a minute, thinking, then went on:
“For fifteen years I was in the choir. In all the Lugansky works there was, maybe, no one with a voice like mine. But, confound it, I bathed two years ago in the Donets, and I can’t get a single note true ever since. I took cold in my throat. And without a voice I am like a workman without hands.”
“That’s true,” Panteley agreed.
“I think of myself as a ruined man and nothing more.”
At that moment Vassya chanced to catch sight of Yegorushka. His eyes grew moist and smaller than ever.
“There’s a little gentleman driving with us,” and he covered his nose with his sleeve as though he were bashful. “What a grand driver! Stay with us and you shall drive the waggons and sell wool.”
The incongruity of one person being at once a little gentleman and a waggon driver seemed to strike him as very queer and funny, for he burst into a loud guffaw, and went on enlarging upon the idea. Emelyan glanced upwards at Yegorushka, too, but coldly and cursorily. He was absorbed in his own thoughts, and had it not been for Vassya, would not have noticed Yegorushka’s presence. Before five minutes had passed he was waving his arms again, then describing to his companions the beauties of the wedding anthem, “Lord, have Mercy,” which he had remembered in the night. He put the whip under his arm and waved both hands.
A mile from the village the waggons stopped by a well with a crane. Letting his pail down into the well, black-bearded Kiruha lay on his stomach on the framework and thrust his shaggy head, his shoulders, and part of his chest into the black hole, so that Yegorushka could see nothing but his short legs, which scarcely touched the ground. Seeing the reflection of his head far down at the bottom of the well, he was delighted and went off into his deep bass stupid laugh, and the echo from the well answered him. When he got up his neck and face were as red as beetroot. The first to run up and drink was Dymov. He drank laughing, often turning from the pail to tell Kiruha something funny, then he turned round, and uttered aloud, to be heard all over the steppe, five very bad words. Yegorushka did not understand the meaning of such words, but he knew very well they were bad words. He knew the repulsion his friends and relations silently felt for such words. He himself, without knowing why, shared that feeling and was accustomed to think that only drunk and disorderly people enjoy the privilege of uttering such words aloud. He remembered the murder of the grass snake, listened to Dymov’s laughter, and felt something like hatred for the man. And as ill-luck would have it, Dymov at that moment caught sight of Yegorushka, who had climbed down from the waggon and gone up to the well. He laughed aloud and shouted:
“I say, lads, the old man has been brought to bed of a boy in the night!”
Kiruha laughed his bass laugh till he coughed. Someone else laughed too, while Yegorushka crimsoned and made up his mind finally that Dymov was a very wicked man.
With his curly flaxen head, with his shirt opened on his chest and no hat on, Dymov looked handsome and exceptionally strong; in every movement he made one could see the reckless dare-devil and athlete, knowing his value. He shrugged his shoulders, put his arms akimbo, talked and laughed louder than any of the rest, and looked as though he were going to lift up something very heavy with one hand and astonish the whole world by doing so. His mischievous mocking eyes glided over the road, the waggons, and the sky without resting on anything, and seemed looking for someone to kill, just as a pastime, and something to laugh at. Evidently he was afraid of no one, would stick at nothing, and most likely was not in the least interested in Yegorushka’s opinion of him. . . . Yegorushka meanwhile hated his flaxen head, his clear face, and his strength with his whole heart, listened with fear and loathing to his laughter, and kept thinking what word of abuse he could pay him out with.
Panteley, too, went up to the pail. He took out of his pocket a little green glass of an ikon lamp, wiped it with a rag, filled it from the pail and drank from it, then filled it again, wrapped the little glass in the rag, and then put it back into his pocket.
“Grandfather, why do you drink out of a lamp?” Yegorushka asked him, surprised.
“One man drinks out of a pail and another out of a lamp,” the old man answered evasively. “Every man to his own taste. . . . You drink out of the pail—well, drink, and may it do you good. . . .”
“You darling, you beauty!” Vassya said suddenly, in a caressing, plaintive voice. “You darling!”
His eyes were fixed on the distance; they were moist and smiling, and his face wore the same expression as when he had looked at Yegorushka.
“Who is it you are talking to?” asked Kiruha.
“A darling fox, . . . lying on her back, playing like a dog.”
Everyone began staring into the distance, looking for the fox, but no one could see it, only Vassya with his grey muddy-looking eyes, and he was enchanted by it. His sight was extraordinarily keen, as Yegorushka learnt afterwards. He was so long-sighted that the brown steppe was for him always full of life and interest. He had only to look into the distance to see a fox, a hare, a bustard, or some other animal keeping at a distance from men. There was nothing strange in seeing a hare running away or a flying bustard—everyone crossing the steppes could see them; but it was not vouchsafed to everyone to see wild animals in their own haunts when they were not running nor hiding, nor looking about them in alarm. Yet Vassya saw foxes playing, hares washing themselves with their paws, bustards preening their wings and hammering out their hollow nests. Thanks to this keenness of sight, Vassya had, besides the world seen by everyone, another world of his own, accessible to no one else, and probably a very beautiful one, for when he saw something and was in raptures over it it was impossible not to envy him.
When the waggons set off again, the church bells were ringing for service.


The train of waggons drew up on the bank of a river on one side of a village. The sun was blazing, as it had been the day before; the air was stagnant and depressing. There were a few willows on the bank, but the shade from them did not fall on the earth, but on the water, where it was wasted; even in the shade under the waggon it was stifling and wearisome. The water, blue from the reflection of the sky in it, was alluring.
Styopka, a waggoner whom Yegorushka noticed now for the first time, a Little Russian lad of eighteen, in a long shirt without a belt, and full trousers that flapped like flags as he walked, undressed quickly, ran along the steep bank and plunged into the water. He dived three times, then swam on his back and shut his eyes in his delight. His face was smiling and wrinkled up as though he were being tickled, hurt and amused.
On a hot day when there is nowhere to escape from the sultry, stifling heat, the splash of water and the loud breathing of a man bathing sounds like good music to the ear. Dymov and Kiruha, looking at Styopka, undressed quickly and one after the other, laughing loudly in eager anticipation of their enjoyment, dropped into the water, and the quiet, modest little river resounded with snorting and splashing and shouting. Kiruha coughed, laughed and shouted as though they were trying to drown him, while Dymov chased him and tried to catch him by the leg.
“Ha-ha-ha!” he shouted. “Catch him! Hold him!”
Kiruha laughed and enjoyed himself, but his expression was the same as it had been on dry land, stupid, with a look of astonishment on it as though someone had, unnoticed, stolen up behind him and hit him on the head with the butt-end of an axe. Yegorushka undressed, too, but did not let himself down by the bank, but took a run and a flying leap from the height of about ten feet. Describing an arc in the air, he fell into the water, sank deep, but did not reach the bottom; some force, cold and pleasant to the touch, seemed to hold him up and bring him back to the surface. He popped out and, snorting and blowing bubbles, opened his eyes; but the sun was reflected in the water quite close to his face. At first blinding spots of light, then rainbow colours and dark patches, flitted before his eyes. He made haste to dive again, opened his eyes in the water and saw something cloudy-green like a sky on a moonlight night. Again the same force would not let him touch the bottom and stay in the coolness, but lifted him to the surface. He popped out and heaved a sigh so deep that he had a feeling of space and freshness, not only in his chest, but in his stomach. Then, to get from the water everything he possibly could get, he allowed himself every luxury; he lay on his back and basked, splashed, frolicked, swam on his face, on his side, on his back and standing up—just as he pleased till he was exhausted. The other bank was thickly overgrown with reeds; it was golden in the sun, and the flowers of the reeds hung drooping to the water in lovely tassels. In one place the reeds were shaking and nodding, with their flowers rustling— Styopka and Kiruha were hunting crayfish.
“A crayfish, look, lads! A crayfish!” Kiruha cried triumphantly and actually showed a crayfish.
Yegorushka swam up to the reeds, dived, and began fumbling among their roots. Burrowing in the slimy, liquid mud, he felt something sharp and unpleasant—perhaps it really was a crayfish. But at that minute someone seized him by the leg and pulled him to the surface. Spluttering and coughing, Yegorushka opened his eyes and saw before him the wet grinning face of the dare-devil Dymov. The impudent fellow was breathing hard, and from a look in his eyes he seemed inclined for further mischief. He held Yegorushka tight by the leg, and was lifting his hand to take hold of his neck. But Yegorushka tore himself away with repulsion and terror, as though disgusted at being touched and afraid that the bully would drown him, and said:
“Fool! I’ll punch you in the face.”
Feeling that this was not sufficient to express his hatred, he thought a minute and added:
“You blackguard! You son of a bitch!”
But Dymov, as though nothing were the matter, took no further notice of Yegorushka, but swam off to Kiruha, shouting:
“Ha-ha-ha! Let us catch fish! Mates, let us catch fish.”
“To be sure,” Kiruha agreed; “there must be a lot of fish here.”
“Styopka, run to the village and ask the peasants for a net!
“They won’t give it to me.”
“They will, you ask them. Tell them that they should give it to us for Christ’s sake, because we are just the same as pilgrims.”
“That’s true.”
Styopka clambered out of the water, dressed quickly, and without a cap on he ran, his full trousers flapping, to the village. The water lost all its charm for Yegorushka after his encounter with Dymov. He got out and began dressing. Panteley and Vassya were sitting on the steep bank, with their legs hanging down, looking at the bathers. Emelyan was standing naked, up to his knees in the water, holding on to the grass with one hand to prevent himself from falling while the other stroked his body. With his bony shoulder-blades, with the swelling under his eye, bending down and evidently afraid of the water, he made a ludicrous figure. His face was grave and severe. He looked angrily at the water, as though he were just going to upbraid it for having given him cold in the Donets and robbed him of his voice.
“And why don’t you bathe?” Yegorushka asked Vassya.
“Oh, I don’t care for it, . . .” answered Vassya.
“How is it your chin is swollen?”
“It’s bad. . . . I used to work at the match factory, little sir. . . . The doctor used to say that it would make my jaw rot. The air is not healthy there. There were three chaps beside me who had their jaws swollen, and with one of them it rotted away altogether.”
Styopka soon came back with the net. Dymov and Kiruha were already turning blue and getting hoarse by being so long in the water, but they set about fishing eagerly. First they went to a deep place beside the reeds; there Dymov was up to his neck, while the water went over squat Kiruha’s head. The latter spluttered and blew bubbles, while Dymov stumbling on the prickly roots, fell over and got caught in the net; both flopped about in the water, and made a noise, and nothing but mischief came of their fishing.
“It’s deep,” croaked Kiruha. “You won’t catch anything.”
“Don’t tug, you devil!” shouted Dymov trying to put the net in the proper position. “Hold it up.”
“You won’t catch anything here,” Panteley shouted from the bank. “You are only frightening the fish, you stupids! Go more to the left! It’s shallower there!”
Once a big fish gleamed above the net; they all drew a breath, and Dymov struck the place where it had vanished with his fist, and his face expressed vexation.
“Ugh!” cried Panteley, and he stamped his foot. “You’ve let the perch slip! It’s gone!”
Moving more to the left, Dymov and Kiruha picked out a shallower place, and then fishing began in earnest. They had wandered off some hundred paces from the waggons; they could be seen silently trying to go as deep as they could and as near the reeds, moving their legs a little at a time, drawing out the nets, beating the water with their fists to drive them towards the nets. From the reeds they got to the further bank; they drew the net out, then, with a disappointed air, lifting their knees high as they walked, went back into the reeds. They were talking about something, but what it was no one could hear. The sun was scorching their backs, the flies were stinging them, and their bodies had turned from purple to crimson. Styopka was walking after them with a pail in his hands; he had tucked his shirt right up under his armpits, and was holding it up by the hem with his teeth. After every successful catch he lifted up some fish, and letting it shine in the sun, shouted:
“Look at this perch! We’ve five like that!”
Every time Dymov, Kiruha and Styopka pulled out the net they could be seen fumbling about in the mud in it, putting some things into the pail and throwing other things away; sometimes they passed something that was in the net from hand to hand, examined it inquisitively, then threw that, too, away.
“What is it?” they shouted to them from the bank.
Styopka made some answer, but it was hard to make out his words. Then he climbed out of the water and, holding the pail in both hands, forgetting to let his shirt drop, ran to the waggons.
“It’s full!” he shouted, breathing hard. “Give us another!”
Yegorushka looked into the pail: it was full. A young pike poked its ugly nose out of the water, and there were swarms of crayfish and little fish round about it. Yegorushka put his hand down to the bottom and stirred up the water; the pike vanished under the crayfish and a perch and a tench swam to the surface instead of it. Vassya, too, looked into the pail. His eyes grew moist and his face looked as caressing as before when he saw the fox. He took something out of the pail, put it to his mouth and began chewing it.
“Mates,” said Styopka in amazement, “Vassya is eating a live gudgeon! Phoo!”
“It’s not a gudgeon, but a minnow,” Vassya answered calmly, still munching.
He took a fish’s tail out of his mouth, looked at it caressingly, and put it back again. While he was chewing and crunching with his teeth it seemed to Yegorushka that he saw before him something not human. Vassya’s swollen chin, his lustreless eyes, his extraordinary sharp sight, the fish’s tail in his mouth, and the caressing friendliness with which he crunched the gudgeon made him like an animal.
Yegorushka felt dreary beside him. And the fishing was over, too. He walked about beside the waggons, thought a little, and, feeling bored, strolled off to the village.
Not long afterwards he was standing in the church, and with his forehead leaning on somebody’s back, listened to the singing of the choir. The service was drawing to a close. Yegorushka did not understand church singing and did not care for it. He listened a little, yawned, and began looking at the backs and heads before him. In one head, red and wet from his recent bathe, he recognized Emelyan. The back of his head had been cropped in a straight line higher than is usual; the hair in front had been cut unbecomingly high, and Emelyan’s ears stood out like two dock leaves, and seemed to feel themselves out of place. Looking at the back of his head and his ears, Yegorushka, for some reason, thought that Emelyan was probably very unhappy. He remembered the way he conducted with his hands, his husky voice, his timid air when he was bathing, and felt intense pity for him. He longed to say something friendly to him.
“I am here, too,” he said, putting out his hand.
People who sing tenor or bass in the choir, especially those who have at any time in their lives conducted, are accustomed to look with a stern and unfriendly air at boys. They do not give up this habit, even when they leave off being in a choir. Turning to Yegorushka, Emelyan looked at him from under his brows and said:
“Don’t play in church!”
Then Yegorushka moved forwards nearer to the ikon-stand. Here he saw interesting people. On the right side, in front of everyone, a lady and a gentleman were standing on a carpet. There were chairs behind them. The gentleman was wearing newly ironed shantung trousers; he stood as motionless as a soldier saluting, and held high his bluish shaven chin. There was a very great air of dignity in his stand-up collar, in his blue chin, in his small bald patch and his cane. His neck was so strained from excess of dignity, and his chin was drawn up so tensely, that it looked as though his head were ready to fly off and soar upwards any minute. The lady, who was stout and elderly and wore a white silk shawl, held her head on one side and looked as though she had done someone a favour, and wanted to say: “Oh, don’t trouble yourself to thank me; I don’t like it . . . .” A thick wall of Little Russian heads stood all round the carpet.
Yegorushka went up to the ikon-stand and began kissing the local ikons. Before each image he slowly bowed down to the ground, without getting up, looked round at the congregation, then got up and kissed the ikon. The contact of his forehead with the cold floor afforded him great satisfaction. When the beadle came from the altar with a pair of long snuffers to put out the candles, Yegorushka jumped up quickly from the floor and ran up to him.
“Have they given out the holy bread?” he asked.
“There is none; there is none,” the beadle muttered gruffly. “It is no use your. . .”
The service was over; Yegorushka walked out of the church in a leisurely way, and began strolling about the market-place. He had seen a good many villages, market-places, and peasants in his time, and everything that met his eyes was entirely without interest for him. At a loss for something to do, he went into a shop over the door of which hung a wide strip of red cotton. The shop consisted of two roomy, badly lighted parts; in one half they sold drapery and groceries, in the other there were tubs of tar, and there were horse-collars hanging from the ceiling; from both came the savoury smell of leather and tar. The floor of the shop had been watered; the man who watered it must have been a very whimsical and original person, for it was sprinkled in patterns and mysterious symbols. The shopkeeper, an overfed-looking man with a broad face and round beard, apparently a Great Russian, was standing, leaning his person over the counter. He was nibbling a piece of sugar as he drank his tea, and heaved a deep sigh at every sip. His face expressed complete indifference, but each sigh seemed to be saying:
“Just wait a minute; I will give it you.”
“Give me a farthing’s worth of sunflower seeds,” Yegorushka said, addressing him.
The shopkeeper raised his eyebrows, came out from behind the counter, and poured a farthing’s worth of sunflower seeds into Yegorushka’s pocket, using an empty pomatum pot as a measure. Yegorushka did not want to go away. He spent a long time in examining the box of cakes, thought a little and asked, pointing to some little cakes covered with the mildew of age:
“How much are these cakes?”
“Two for a farthing.”
Yegorushka took out of his pocket the cake given him the day before by the Jewess, and asked him:
“And how much do you charge for cakes like this?”
The shopman took the cake in his hands, looked at it from all sides, and raised one eyebrow.
“Like that?” he asked.
Then he raised the other eyebrow, thought a minute, and answered:
“Two for three farthings. . . .”
A silence followed.
“Whose boy are you?” the shopman asked, pouring himself out some tea from a red copper teapot.
“The nephew of Ivan Ivanitch.”
“There are all sorts of Ivan Ivanitchs,” the shopkeeper sighed. He looked over Yegorushka’s head towards the door, paused a minute and asked:
“Would you like some tea?”
“Please. . . .” Yegorushka assented not very readily, though he felt an intense longing for his usual morning tea.
The shopkeeper poured him out a glass and gave him with it a bit of sugar that looked as though it had been nibbled. Yegorushka sat down on the folding chair and began drinking it. He wanted to ask the price of a pound of sugar almonds, and had just broached the subject when a customer walked in, and the shopkeeper, leaving his glass of tea, attended to his business. He led the customer into the other half, where there was a smell of tar, and was there a long time discussing something with him. The customer, a man apparently very obstinate and pig-headed, was continually shaking his head to signify his disapproval, and retreating towards the door. The shopkeeper tried to persuade him of something and began pouring some oats into a big sack for him.
“Do you call those oats?” the customer said gloomily. “Those are not oats, but chaff. It’s a mockery to give that to the hens; enough to make the hens laugh. . . . No, I will go to Bondarenko.”
When Yegorushka went back to the river a small camp fire was smoking on the bank. The waggoners were cooking their dinner. Styopka was standing in the smoke, stirring the cauldron with a big notched spoon. A little on one side Kiruha and Vassya, with eyes reddened from the smoke, were sitting cleaning the fish. Before them lay the net covered with slime and water weeds, and on it lay gleaming fish and crawling crayfish.
Emelyan, who had not long been back from the church, was sitting beside Panteley, waving his arm and humming just audibly in a husky voice: “To Thee we sing. . . .” Dymov was moving about by the horses.
When they had finished cleaning them, Kiruha and Vassya put the fish and the living crayfish together in the pail, rinsed them, and from the pail poured them all into the boiling water.
“Shall I put in some fat?” asked Styopka, skimming off the froth.
“No need. The fish will make its own gravy,” answered Kiruha.
Before taking the cauldron off the fire Styopka scattered into the water three big handfuls of millet and a spoonful of salt; finally he tried it, smacked his lips, licked the spoon, and gave a self-satisfied grunt, which meant that the grain was done.
All except Panteley sat down near the cauldron and set to work with their spoons.
“You there! Give the little lad a spoon!” Panteley observed sternly. “I dare say he is hungry too!”
“Ours is peasant fare,” sighed Kiruha.
“Peasant fare is welcome, too, when one is hungry.”
They gave Yegorushka a spoon. He began eating, not sitting, but standing close to the cauldron and looking down into it as in a hole. The grain smelt of fish and fish-scales were mixed up with the millet. The crayfish could not be hooked out with a spoon, and the men simply picked them out of the cauldron with their hands; Vassya did so particularly freely, and wetted his sleeves as well as his hands in the mess. But yet the stew seemed to Yegorushka very nice, and reminded him of the crayfish soup which his mother used to make at home on fast-days. Panteley was sitting apart munching bread.
“Grandfather, why aren’t you eating?” Emelyan asked him.
“I don’t eat crayfish. . . . Nasty things,” the old man said, and turned away with disgust.
While they were eating they all talked. From this conversation Yegorushka gathered that all his new acquaintances, in spite of the differences of their ages and their characters, had one point in common which made them all alike: they were all people with a splendid past and a very poor present. Of their past they all— every one of them—spoke with enthusiasm; their attitude to the present was almost one of contempt. The Russian loves recalling life, but he does not love living. Yegorushka did not yet know that, and before the stew had been all eaten he firmly believed that the men sitting round the cauldron were the injured victims of fate. Panteley told them that in the past, before there were railways, he used to go with trains of waggons to Moscow and to Nizhni, and used to earn so much that he did not know what to do with his money; and what merchants there used to be in those days! what fish! how cheap everything was! Now the roads were shorter, the merchants were stingier, the peasants were poorer, the bread was dearer, everything had shrunk and was on a smaller scale. Emelyan told them that in old days he had been in the choir in the Lugansky works, and that he had a remarkable voice and read music splendidly, while now he had become a peasant and lived on the charity of his brother, who sent him out with his horses and took half his earnings. Vassya had once worked in a match factory; Kiruha had been a coachman in a good family, and had been reckoned the smartest driver of a three-in-hand in the whole district. Dymov, the son of a well-to-do peasant, lived at ease, enjoyed himself and had known no trouble till he was twenty, when his stern harsh father, anxious to train him to work, and afraid he would be spoiled at home, had sent him to a carrier’s to work as a hired labourer. Styopka was the only one who said nothing, but from his beardless face it was evident that his life had been a much better one in the past.
Thinking of his father, Dymov frowned and left off eating. Sullenly from under his brows he looked round at his companions and his eye rested upon Yegorushka.
“You heathen, take off your cap,” he said rudely. “You can’t eat with your cap on, and you a gentleman too!”
Yegorushka took off his hat and did not say a word, but the stew lost all savour for him, and he did not hear Panteley and Vassya intervening on his behalf. A feeling of anger with the insulting fellow was rankling oppressively in his breast, and he made up his mind that he would do him some injury, whatever it cost him.
After dinner everyone sauntered to the waggons and lay down in the shade.
“Are we going to start soon, grandfather?” Yegorushka asked Panteley.
“In God’s good time we shall set off. There’s no starting yet; it is too hot. . . . O Lord, Thy will be done. Holy Mother. . . Lie down, little lad.”
Soon there was a sound of snoring from under the waggons. Yegorushka meant to go back to the village, but on consideration, yawned and lay down by the old man.


The waggons remained by the river the whole day, and set off again when the sun was setting.
Yegorushka was lying on the bales again; the waggon creaked softly and swayed from side to side. Panteley walked below, stamping his feet, slapping himself on his thighs and muttering. The air was full of the churring music of the steppes, as it had been the day before.
Yegorushka lay on his back, and, putting his hands under his head, gazed upwards at the sky. He watched the glow of sunset kindle, then fade away; guardian angels covering the horizon with their gold wings disposed themselves to slumber. The day had passed peacefully; the quiet peaceful night had come, and they could stay tranquilly at home in heaven. . . . Yegorushka saw the sky by degrees grow dark and the mist fall over the earth—saw the stars light up, one after the other. . . .
When you gaze a long while fixedly at the deep sky thoughts and feelings for some reason merge in a sense of loneliness. One begins to feel hopelessly solitary, and everything one used to look upon as near and akin becomes infinitely remote and valueless; the stars that have looked down from the sky thousands of years already, the mists and the incomprehensible sky itself, indifferent to the brief life of man, oppress the soul with their silence when one is left face to face with them and tries to grasp their significance. One is reminded of the solitude awaiting each one of us in the grave, and the reality of life seems awful . . . full of despair. . . .
Yegorushka thought of his grandmother, who was sleeping now under the cherry-trees in the cemetery. He remembered how she lay in her coffin with pennies on her eyes, how afterwards she was shut in and let down into the grave; he even recalled the hollow sound of the clods of earth on the coffin lid. . . . He pictured his granny in the dark and narrow coffin, helpless and deserted by everyone. His imagination pictured his granny suddenly awakening, not understanding where she was, knocking upon the lid and calling for help, and in the end swooning with horror and dying again. He imagined his mother dead, Father Christopher, Countess Dranitsky, Solomon. But however much he tried to imagine himself in the dark tomb, far from home, outcast, helpless and dead, he could not succeed; for himself personally he could not admit the possibility of death, and felt that he would never die. . . .
Panteley, for whom death could not be far away, walked below and went on reckoning up his thoughts.
“All right. . . . Nice gentlefolk, . . .” he muttered. “Took his little lad to school—but how he is doing now I haven’t heard say —in Slavyanoserbsk. I say there is no establishment for teaching them to be very clever. . . . No, that’s true—a nice little lad, no harm in him. . . . He’ll grow up and be a help to his father . . . . You, Yegory, are little now, but you’ll grow big and will keep your father and mother. . . . So it is ordained of God, ‘Honour your father and your mother.’ . . . I had children myself, but they were burnt. . . . My wife was burnt and my children, . . . that’s true. . . . The hut caught fire on the night of Epiphany. . . . I was not at home, I was driving in Oryol. In Oryol. . . . Marya dashed out into the street, but remembering that the children were asleep in the hut, ran back and was burnt with her children. . . . Next day they found nothing but bones.”
About midnight Yegorushka and the waggoners were again sitting round a small camp fire. While the dry twigs and stems were burning up, Kiruha and Vassya went off somewhere to get water from a creek; they vanished into the darkness, but could be heard all the time talking and clinking their pails; so the creek was not far away. The light from the fire lay a great flickering patch on the earth; though the moon was bright, yet everything seemed impenetrably black beyond that red patch. The light was in the waggoners’ eyes, and they saw only part of the great road; almost unseen in the darkness the waggons with the bales and the horses looked like a mountain of undefined shape. Twenty paces from the camp fire at the edge of the road stood a wooden cross that had fallen aslant. Before the camp fire had been lighted, when he could still see things at a distance, Yegorushka had noticed that there was a similar old slanting cross on the other side of the great road.
Coming back with the water, Kiruha and Vassya filled the cauldron and fixed it over the fire. Styopka, with the notched spoon in his hand, took his place in the smoke by the cauldron, gazing dreamily into the water for the scum to rise. Panteley and Emelyan were sitting side by side in silence, brooding over something. Dymov was lying on his stomach, with his head propped on his fists, looking into the fire. . . . Styopka’s shadow was dancing over him, so that his handsome face was at one minute covered with darkness, at the next lighted up. . . . Kiruha and Vassya were wandering about at a little distance gathering dry grass and bark for the fire. Yegorushka, with his hands in his pockets, was standing by Panteley, watching how the fire devoured the grass.
All were resting, musing on something, and they glanced cursorily at the cross over which patches of red light were dancing. There is something melancholy, pensive, and extremely poetical about a solitary tomb; one feels its silence, and the silence gives one the sense of the presence of the soul of the unknown man who lies under the cross. Is that soul at peace on the steppe? Does it grieve in the moonlight? Near the tomb the steppe seems melancholy, dreary and mournful; the grass seems more sorrowful, and one fancies the grasshoppers chirrup less freely, and there is no passer-by who would not remember that lonely soul and keep looking back at the tomb, till it was left far behind and hidden in the mists. . . .
“Grandfather, what is that cross for?” asked Yegorushka.
Panteley looked at the cross and then at Dymov and asked:
“Nikola, isn’t this the place where the mowers killed the merchants?”
Dymov not very readily raised himself on his elbow, looked at the road and said:
“Yes, it is. . . .”
A silence followed. Kiruha broke up some dry stalks, crushed them up together and thrust them under the cauldron. The fire flared up brightly; Styopka was enveloped in black smoke, and the shadow cast by the cross danced along the road in the dusk beside the waggons.
“Yes, they were killed,” Dymov said reluctantly. “Two merchants, father and son, were travelling, selling holy images. They put up in the inn not far from here that is now kept by Ignat Fomin. The old man had a drop too much, and began boasting that he had a lot of money with him. We all know merchants are a boastful set, God preserve us. . . . They can’t resist showing off before the likes of us. And at the time some mowers were staying the night at the inn. So they overheard what the merchants said and took note of it.”
“O Lord! . . . Holy Mother!” sighed Panteley.
“Next day, as soon as it was light,” Dymov went on, “the merchants were preparing to set off and the mowers tried to join them. ‘Let us go together, your worships. It will be more cheerful and there will be less danger, for this is an out-of-the-way place. . . .’ The merchants had to travel at a walking pace to avoid breaking the images, and that just suited the mowers. . . .”
Dymov rose into a kneeling position and stretched.
“Yes,” he went on, yawning. “Everything went all right till they reached this spot, and then the mowers let fly at them with their scythes. The son, he was a fine young fellow, snatched the scythe from one of them, and he used it, too. . . . Well, of course, they got the best of it because there were eight of them. They hacked at the merchants so that there was not a sound place left on their bodies; when they had finished they dragged both of them off the road, the father to one side and the son to the other. Opposite that cross there is another cross on this side. . . . Whether it is still standing, I don’t know. . . . I can’t see from here. . . .”
“It is,” said Kiruha.
“They say they did not find much money afterwards.”
“No,” Panteley confirmed; “they only found a hundred roubles.”
“And three of them died afterwards, for the merchant had cut them badly with the scythe, too. They died from loss of blood. One had his hand cut off, so that they say he ran three miles without his hand, and they found him on a mound close to Kurikovo. He was squatting on his heels, with his head on his knees, as though he were lost in thought, but when they looked at him there was no life in him and he was dead. . . .”
“They found him by the track of blood,” said Panteley.
Everyone looked at the cross, and again there was a hush. From somewhere, most likely from the creek, floated the mournful cry of the bird: “Sleep! sleep! sleep!”
“There are a great many wicked people in the world,” said Emelyan.
“A great many,” assented Panteley, and he moved up closer to the fire as though he were frightened. “A great many,” he went on in a low voice. “I’ve seen lots and lots of them. . . . Wicked people! . . . I have seen a great many holy and just, too. . . . Queen of Heaven, save us and have mercy on us. I remember once thirty years ago, or maybe more, I was driving a merchant from Morshansk. The merchant was a jolly handsome fellow, with money, too . . . the merchant was . . . a nice man, no harm in him. . . . So we put up for the night at an inn. And in Russia the inns are not what they are in these parts. There the yards are roofed in and look like the ground floor, or let us say like barns in good farms. Only a barn would be a bit higher. So we put up there and were all right. My merchant was in a room, while I was with the horses, and everything was as it should be. So, lads, I said my prayers before going to sleep and began walking about the yard. And it was a dark night, I couldn’t see anything; it was no good trying. So I walked about a bit up to the waggons, or nearly, when I saw a light gleaming. What could it mean? I thought the people of the inn had gone to bed long ago, and besides the merchant and me there were no other guests in the inn. . . . Where could the light have come from? I felt suspicious. . . . I went closer . . . towards the light. . . . The Lord have mercy upon me! and save me, Queen of Heaven! I looked and there was a little window with a grating, . . . close to the ground, in the house. . . I lay down on the ground and looked in; as soon as I looked in a cold chill ran all down me. . . .”
Kiruha, trying not to make a noise, thrust a handful of twigs into the fire. After waiting for it to leave off crackling and hissing, the old man went on:
“I looked in and there was a big cellar, black and dark. . . . There was a lighted lantern on a tub. In the middle of the cellar were about a dozen men in red shirts with their sleeves turned up, sharpening long knives. . . . Ugh! So we had fallen into a nest of robbers. . . . What’s to be done? I ran to the merchant, waked him up quietly, and said: ‘Don’t be frightened, merchant,’ said I, ‘but we are in a bad way. We have fallen into a nest of robbers,’ I said. He turned pale and asked: ‘What are we to do now, Panteley? I have a lot of money that belongs to orphans. As for my life,’ he said, ‘that’s in God’s hands. I am not afraid to die, but it’s dreadful to lose the orphans’ money,’ said he. . . . What were we to do? The gates were locked; there was no getting out. If there had been a fence one could have climbed over it, but with the yard shut up! . . . ‘Come, don’t be frightened, merchant,’ said I; ‘but pray to God. Maybe the Lord will not let the orphans suffer. Stay still.’ said I, ‘and make no sign, and meanwhile, maybe, I shall think of something. . . .’ Right! . . . I prayed to God and the Lord put the thought into my mind. . . . I clambered up on my chaise and softly, . . . softly so that no one should hear, began pulling out the straw in the thatch, made a hole and crept out, crept out. . . . Then I jumped off the roof and ran along the road as fast as I could. I ran and ran till I was nearly dead. . . . I ran maybe four miles without taking breath, if not more. Thank God I saw a village. I ran up to a hut and began tapping at a window. ‘Good Christian people,’ I said, and told them all about it, ‘do not let a Christian soul perish. . . .’ I waked them all up. . . . The peasants gathered together and went with me, . . one with a cord, one with an oakstick, others with pitchforks. . . . We broke in the gates of the inn-yard and went straight to the cellar. . . . And the robbers had just finished sharpening their knives and were going to kill the merchant. The peasants took them, every one of them, bound them and carried them to the police. The merchant gave them three hundred roubles in his joy, and gave me five gold pieces and put my name down. They said that they found human bones in the cellar afterwards, heaps and heaps of them. . . . Bones! . . . So they robbed people and then buried them, so that there should be no traces. . . . Well, afterwards they were punished at Morshansk.”
Panteley had finished his story, and he looked round at his listeners. They were gazing at him in silence. The water was boiling by now and Styopka was skimming off the froth.
“Is the fat ready?” Kiruha asked him in a whisper.
“Wait a little. . . . Directly.”
Styopka, his eyes fixed on Panteley as though he were afraid that the latter might begin some story before he was back, ran to the waggons; soon he came back with a little wooden bowl and began pounding some lard in it.
“I went another journey with a merchant, too, . . .” Panteley went on again, speaking as before in a low voice and with fixed unblinking eyes. “His name, as I remember now, was Pyotr Grigoritch. He was a nice man, . . . the merchant was. We stopped in the same way at an inn. . . . He indoors and me with the horses. . . . The people of the house, the innkeeper and his wife, seemed friendly good sort of people; the labourers, too, seemed all right; but yet, lads, I couldn’t sleep. I had a queer feeling in my heart, . . . a queer feeling, that was just it. The gates were open and there were plenty of people about, and yet I felt afraid and not myself. Everyone had been asleep long ago. It was the middle of the night; it would soon be time to get up, and I was lying alone in my chaise and could not close my eyes, as though I were some owl. And then, lads, I heard this sound, ‘Toop! toop! toop!’ Someone was creeping up to the chaise. I poke my head out, and there was a peasant woman in nothing but her shift and with her feet bare. . . . ‘What do you want, good woman?’ I asked. And she was all of a tremble; her face was terror-stricken. . . ‘Get up, good man,’ said she; ‘the people are plotting evil. . . . They mean to kill your merchant. With my own ears I heard the master whispering with his wife. . . .’ So it was not for nothing, the foreboding of my heart! ‘And who are you?’ I asked. ‘I am their cook,’ she said. . . . Right! . . . So I got out of the chaise and went to the merchant. I waked him up and said: ‘Things aren’t quite right, Pyotr Grigoritch. . . . Make haste and rouse yourself from sleep, your worship, and dress now while there is still time,’ I said; ‘and to save our skins, let us get away from trouble.’ He had no sooner begun dressing when the door opened and, mercy on us! I saw, Holy Mother! the innkeeper and his wife come into the room with three labourers. . . . So they had persuaded the labourers to join them. ‘The merchant has a lot of money, and we’ll go shares,’ they told them. Every one of the five had a long knife in their hand each a knife. The innkeeper locked the door and said: ‘Say your prayers, travellers, . . . and if you begin screaming,’ they said, ‘we won’t let you say your prayers before you die. . . .’ As though we could scream! I had such a lump in my throat I could not cry out. . . . The merchant wept and said: ‘Good Christian people! you have resolved to kill me because my money tempts you. Well, so be it; I shall not be the first nor shall I be the last. Many of us merchants have been murdered at inns. But why, good Christian brothers,’ says he, ‘murder my driver? Why should he have to suffer for my money?’ And he said that so pitifully! And the innkeeper answered him: ‘If we leave him alive,’ said he, ‘he will be the first to bear witness against us. One may just as well kill two as one. You can but answer once for seven misdeeds. . . Say your prayers, that’s all you can do, and it is no good talking!’ The merchant and I knelt down side by side and wept and said our prayers. He thought of his children. I was young in those days; I wanted to live. . . . We looked at the images and prayed, and so pitifully that it brings a tear even now. . . . And the innkeeper’s wife looks at us and says: ‘Good people,’ said she, ‘don’t bear a grudge against us in the other world and pray to God for our punishment, for it is want that drives us to it.’ We prayed and wept and prayed and wept, and God heard us. He had pity on us, I suppose. . . . At the very minute when the innkeeper had taken the merchant by the beard to rip open his throat with his knife suddenly someone seemed to tap at the window from the yard! We all started, and the innkeeper’s hands dropped. . . . Someone was tapping at the window and shouting: ‘Pyotr Grigoritch,’ he shouted, ‘are you here? Get ready and let’s go!’ The people saw that someone had come for the merchant; they were terrified and took to their heels. . . . And we made haste into the yard, harnessed the horses, and were out of sight in a minute. . .”
“Who was it knocked at the window?” asked Dymov.
“At the window? It must have been a holy saint or angel, for there was no one else. . . . When we drove out of the yard there wasn’t a soul in the street. . . . It was the Lord’s doing.”
Panteley told other stories, and in all of them “long knives” figured and all alike sounded made up. Had he heard these stories from someone else, or had he made them up himself in the remote past, and afterwards, as his memory grew weaker, mixed up his experiences with his imaginations and become unable to distinguish one from the other? Anything is possible, but it is strange that on this occasion and for the rest of the journey, whenever he happened to tell a story, he gave unmistakable preference to fiction, and never told of what he really had experienced. At the time Yegorushka took it all for the genuine thing, and believed every word; later on it seemed to him strange that a man who in his day had travelled all over Russia and seen and known so much, whose wife and children had been burnt to death, so failed to appreciate the wealth of his life that whenever he was sitting by the camp fire he was either silent or talked of what had never been.
Over their porridge they were all silent, thinking of what they had just heard. Life is terrible and marvellous, and so, however terrible a story you tell in Russia, however you embroider it with nests of robbers, long knives and such marvels, it always finds an echo of reality in the soul of the listener, and only a man who has been a good deal affected by education looks askance distrustfully, and even he will be silent. The cross by the roadside, the dark bales of wool, the wide expanse of the plain, and the lot of the men gathered together by the camp fire—all this was of itself so marvellous and terrible that the fantastic colours of legend and fairy-tale were pale and blended with life.
All the others ate out of the cauldron, but Panteley sat apart and ate his porridge out of a wooden bowl. His spoon was not like those the others had, but was made of cypress wood, with a little cross on it. Yegorushka, looking at him, thought of the little ikon glass and asked Styopka softly:
“Why does Grandfather sit apart?”
“He is an Old Believer,” Styopka and Vassya answered in a whisper. And as they said it they looked as though they were speaking of some secret vice or weakness.
All sat silent, thinking. After the terrible stories there was no inclination to speak of ordinary things. All at once in the midst of the silence Vassya drew himself up and, fixing his lustreless eyes on one point, pricked up his ears.
“What is it?” Dymov asked him.
“Someone is coming,” answered Vassya.
“Where do you see him?”
“Yo-on-der! There’s something white. . .”
There was nothing to be seen but darkness in the direction in which Vassya was looking; everyone listened, but they could hear no sound of steps.
“Is he coming by the highroad?” asked Dymov.
“No, over the open country. . . . He is coming this way.”
A minute passed in silence.
“And maybe it’s the merchant who was buried here walking over the steppe,” said Dymov.
All looked askance at the cross, exchanged glances and suddenly broke into a laugh. They felt ashamed of their terror.
“Why should he walk?” asked Panteley. “It’s only those walk at night whom the earth will not take to herself. And the merchants were all right. . . . The merchants have received the crown of martyrs.”
But all at once they heard the sound of steps; someone was coming in haste.
“He’s carrying something,” said Vassya.
They could hear the grass rustling and the dry twigs crackling under the feet of the approaching wayfarer. But from the glare of the camp fire nothing could be seen. At last the steps sounded close by, and someone coughed. The flickering light seemed to part; a veil dropped from the waggoners’ eyes, and they saw a man facing them.
Whether it was due to the flickering light or because everyone wanted to make out the man’s face first of all, it happened, strangely enough, that at the first glance at him they all saw, first of all, not his face nor his clothes, but his smile. It was an extraordinarily good-natured, broad, soft smile, like that of a baby on waking, one of those infectious smiles to which it is difficult not to respond by smiling too. The stranger, when they did get a good look at him, turned out to be a man of thirty, ugly and in no way remarkable. He was a tall Little Russian, with a long nose, long arms and long legs; everything about him seemed long except his neck, which was so short that it made him seem stooping. He was wearing a clean white shirt with an embroidered collar, white trousers, and new high boots, and in comparison with the waggoners he looked quite a dandy. In his arms he was carrying something big, white, and at the first glance strange-looking, and the stock of a gun also peeped out from behind his shoulder.
Coming from the darkness into the circle of light, he stopped short as though petrified, and for half a minute looked at the waggoners as though he would have said: “Just look what a smile I have!”
Then he took a step towards the fire, smiled still more radiantly and said:
“Bread and salt, friends!”
“You are very welcome!” Panteley answered for them all.
The stranger put down by the fire what he was carrying in his arms —it was a dead bustard—and greeted them once more.
They all went up to the bustard and began examining it.
“A fine big bird; what did you kill it with?” asked Dymov.
“Grape-shot. You can’t get him with small shot, he won’t let you get near enough. Buy it, friends! I will let you have it for twenty kopecks.”
“What use would it be to us? It’s good roast, but I bet it would be tough boiled; you could not get your teeth into it. . . .”
“Oh, what a pity! I would take it to the gentry at the farm; they would give me half a rouble for it. But it’s a long way to go— twelve miles!”
The stranger sat down, took off his gun and laid it beside him.
He seemed sleepy and languid; he sat smiling, and, screwing up his eyes at the firelight, apparently thinking of something very agreeable. They gave him a spoon; he began eating.
“Who are you?” Dymov asked him.
The stranger did not hear the question; he made no answer, and did not even glance at Dymov. Most likely this smiling man did not taste the flavour of the porridge either, for he seemed to eat it mechanically, lifting the spoon to his lips sometimes very full and sometimes quite empty. He was not drunk, but he seemed to have something nonsensical in his head.
“I ask you who you are?” repeated Dymov.
“I?” said the unknown, starting. “Konstantin Zvonik from Rovno. It’s three miles from here.”
And anxious to show straight off that he was not quite an ordinary peasant, but something better, Konstantin hastened to add:
“We keep bees and fatten pigs.”
“Do you live with your father or in a house of your own?”
“No; now I am living in a house of my own. I have parted. This month, just after St. Peter’s Day, I got married. I am a married man now! . . . It’s eighteen days since the wedding.”
“That’s a good thing,” said Panteley. “Marriage is a good thing . . . . God’s blessing is on it.”
“His young wife sits at home while he rambles about the steppe,” laughed Kiruha. “Queer chap!”
As though he had been pinched on the tenderest spot, Konstantin started, laughed and flushed crimson.
“But, Lord, she is not at home!” he said quickly, taking the spoon out of his mouth and looking round at everyone with an expression of delight and wonder. “She is not; she has gone to her mother’s for three days! Yes, indeed, she has gone away, and I feel as though I were not married. . . .”
Konstantin waved his hand and turned his head; he wanted to go on thinking, but the joy which beamed in his face prevented him. As though he were not comfortable, he changed his attitude, laughed, and again waved his hand. He was ashamed to share his happy thoughts with strangers, but at the same time he had an irresistible longing to communicate his joy.
“She has gone to Demidovo to see her mother,” he said, blushing and moving his gun. “She’ll be back to-morrow. . . . She said she would be back to dinner.”
“And do you miss her?” said Dymov.
“Oh, Lord, yes; I should think so. We have only been married such a little while, and she has gone away. . . . Eh! Oh, but she is a tricky one, God strike me dead! She is such a fine, splendid girl, such a one for laughing and singing, full of life and fire! When she is there your brain is in a whirl, and now she is away I wander about the steppe like a fool, as though I had lost something. I have been walking since dinner.”
Konstantin rubbed his eyes, looked at the fire and laughed.
“You love her, then, . . .” said Panteley.
“She is so fine and splendid,” Konstantin repeated, not hearing him; “such a housewife, clever and sensible. You wouldn’t find another like her among simple folk in the whole province. She has gone away. . . . But she is missing me, I kno-ow! I know the little magpie. She said she would be back to-morrow by dinner-time. . . . And just think how queer!” Konstantin almost shouted, speaking a note higher and shifting his position. “Now she loves me and is sad without me, and yet she would not marry me.”
“But eat,” said Kiruha.
“She would not marry me,” Konstantin went on, not heeding him. “I have been struggling with her for three years! I saw her at the Kalatchik fair; I fell madly in love with her, was ready to hang myself. . . . I live at Rovno, she at Demidovo, more than twenty miles apart, and there was nothing I could do. I sent match-makers to her, and all she said was: ‘I won’t!’ Ah, the magpie! I sent her one thing and another, earrings and cakes, and twenty pounds of honey—but still she said: ‘I won’t!’ And there it was. If you come to think of it, I was not a match for her! She was young and lovely, full of fire, while I am old: I shall soon be thirty, and a regular beauty, too; a fine beard like a goat’s, a clear complexion all covered with pimples—how could I be compared with her! The only thing to be said is that we are well off, but then the Vahramenkys are well off, too. They’ve six oxen, and they keep a couple of labourers. I was in love, friends, as though I were plague-stricken. I couldn’t sleep or eat; my brain was full of thoughts, and in such a maze, Lord preserve us! I longed to see her, and she was in Demidovo. What do you think? God be my witness, I am not lying, three times a week I walked over there on foot just to have a look at her. I gave up my work! I was so frantic that I even wanted to get taken on as a labourer in Demidovo, so as to be near her. I was in misery! My mother called in a witch a dozen times; my father tried thrashing me. For three years I was in this torment, and then I made up my mind. ‘Damn my soul!’ I said. ‘I will go to the town and be a cabman. . . . It seems it is fated not to be.’ At Easter I went to Demidovo to have a last look at her. . . .”
Konstantin threw back his head and went off into a mirthful tinkling laugh, as though he had just taken someone in very cleverly.
“I saw her by the river with the lads,” he went on. “I was overcome with anger. . . . I called her aside and maybe for a full hour I said all manner of things to her. She fell in love with me! For three years she did not like me! she fell in love with me for what I said to her. . . .”
“What did you say to her?” asked Dymov.
“What did I say? I don’t remember. . . How could one remember? My words flowed at the time like water from a tap, without stopping to take breath. Ta-ta-ta! And now I can’t utter a word. . . . Well, so she married me. . . . She’s gone now to her mother’s, the magpie, and while she is away here I wander over the steppe. I can’t stay at home. It’s more than I can do!”
Konstantin awkwardly released his feet, on which he was sitting, stretched himself on the earth, and propped his head in his fists, then got up and sat down again. Everyone by now thoroughly understood that he was in love and happy, poignantly happy; his smile, his eyes, and every movement, expressed fervent happiness. He could not find a place for himself, and did not know what attitude to take to keep himself from being overwhelmed by the multitude of his delightful thoughts. Having poured out his soul before these strangers, he settled down quietly at last, and, looking at the fire, sank into thought.
At the sight of this happy man everyone felt depressed and longed to be happy, too. Everyone was dreamy. Dymov got up, walked about softly by the fire, and from his walk, from the movement of his shoulder-blades, it could be seen that he was weighed down by depression and yearning. He stood still for a moment, looked at Konstantin and sat down.
The camp fire had died down by now; there was no flicker, and the patch of red had grown small and dim. . . . And as the fire went out the moonlight grew clearer and clearer. Now they could see the full width of the road, the bales of wool, the shafts of the waggons, the munching horses; on the further side of the road there was the dim outline of the second cross. . . .
Dymov leaned his cheek on his hand and softly hummed some plaintive song. Konstantin smiled drowsily and chimed in with a thin voice. They sang for half a minute, then sank into silence. Emelyan started, jerked his elbows and wriggled his fingers.
“Lads,” he said in an imploring voice, “let’s sing something sacred!” Tears came into his eyes. “Lads,” he repeated, pressing his hands on his heart, “let’s sing something sacred!”
“I don’t know anything,” said Konstantin.
Everyone refused, then Emelyan sang alone. He waved both arms, nodded his head, opened his mouth, but nothing came from his throat but a discordant gasp. He sang with his arms, with his head, with his eyes, even with the swelling on his face; he sang passionately with anguish, and the more he strained his chest to extract at least one note from it, the more discordant were his gasps.
Yegorushka, like the rest, was overcome with depression. He went to his waggon, clambered up on the bales and lay down. He looked at the sky, and thought of happy Konstantin and his wife. Why did people get married? What were women in the world for? Yegorushka put the vague questions to himself, and thought that a man would certainly be happy if he had an affectionate, merry and beautiful woman continually living at his side. For some reason he remembered the Countess Dranitsky, and thought it would probably be very pleasant to live with a woman like that; he would perhaps have married her with pleasure if that idea had not been so shameful. He recalled her eyebrows, the pupils of her eyes, her carriage, the clock with the horseman. . . . The soft warm night moved softly down upon him and whispered something in his ear, and it seemed to him that it was that lovely woman bending over him, looking at him with a smile and meaning to kiss him. . . .
Nothing was left of the fire but two little red eyes, which kept on growing smaller and smaller. Konstantin and the waggoners were sitting by it, dark motionless figures, and it seemed as though there were many more of them than before. The twin crosses were equally visible, and far, far away, somewhere by the highroad there gleamed a red light—other people cooking their porridge, most likely.
“Our Mother Russia is the he-ad of all the world!” Kiruha sang out suddenly in a harsh voice, choked and subsided. The steppe echo caught up his voice, carried it on, and it seemed as though stupidity itself were rolling on heavy wheels over the steppe.
“It’s time to go,” said Panteley. “Get up, lads.”
While they were putting the horses in, Konstantin walked by the waggons and talked rapturously of his wife.
“Good-bye, mates!” he cried when the waggons started. “Thank you for your hospitality. I shall go on again towards that light. It’s more than I can stand.”
And he quickly vanished in the mist, and for a long time they could hear him striding in the direction of the light to tell those other strangers of his happiness.
When Yegorushka woke up next day it was early morning; the sun had not yet risen. The waggons were at a standstill. A man in a white cap and a suit of cheap grey material, mounted on a little Cossack stallion, was talking to Dymov and Kiruha beside the foremost waggon. A mile and a half ahead there were long low white barns and little houses with tiled roofs; there were neither yards nor trees to be seen beside the little houses.
“What village is that, Grandfather?” asked Yegorushka.
“That’s the Armenian Settlement, youngster,” answered Panteley. “The Armenians live there. They are a good sort of people, . . . the Arnienians are.”
The man in grey had finished talking to Dymov and Kiruha; he pulled up his little stallion and looked across towards the settlement.
“What a business, only think!” sighed Panteley, looking towards the settlement, too, and shuddering at the morning freshness. “He has sent a man to the settlement for some papers, and he doesn’t come . . . . He should have sent Styopka.”
“Who is that, Grandfather?” asked Yegorushka.
My goodness! Yegorushka jumped up quickly, getting upon his knees, and looked at the white cap. It was hard to recognize the mysterious elusive Varlamov, who was sought by everyone, who was always “on his rounds,” and who had far more money than Countess Dranitsky, in the short, grey little man in big boots, who was sitting on an ugly little nag and talking to peasants at an hour when all decent people were asleep.
“He is all right, a good man,” said Panteley, looking towards the settlement. “God give him health—a splendid gentleman, Semyon Alexandritch. . . . It’s people like that the earth rests upon. That’s true. . . . The cocks are not crowing yet, and he is already up and about. . . . Another man would be asleep, or gallivanting with visitors at home, but he is on the steppe all day, . . . on his rounds. . . . He does not let things slip. . . . No-o! He’s a fine fellow. . .”
Varlamov was talking about something, while he kept his eyes fixed. The little stallion shifted from one leg to another impatiently.
“Semyon Alexandritch!” cried Panteley, taking off his hat. “Allow us to send Styopka! Emelyan, call out that Styopka should be sent.”
But now at last a man on horseback could be seen coming from the settlement. Bending very much to one side and brandishing his whip above his head like a gallant young Caucasian, and wanting to astonish everyone by his horsemanship, he flew towards the waggons with the swiftness of a bird.
“That must be one of his circuit men,” said Panteley. “He must have a hundred such horsemen or maybe more.”
Reaching the first waggon, he pulled up his horse, and taking off his hat, handed Varlamov a little book. Varlamov took several papers out of the book, read them and cried:
“And where is Ivantchuk’s letter?”
The horseman took the book back, looked at the papers and shrugged his shoulders. He began saying something, probably justifying himself and asking to be allowed to ride back to the settlement again. The little stallion suddenly stirred as though Varlamov had grown heavier. Varlamov stirred too.
“Go along!” he cried angrily, and he waved his whip at the man.
Then he turned his horse round and, looking through the papers in the book, moved at a walking pace alongside the waggons. When he reached the hindmost, Yegorushka strained his eyes to get a better look at him. Varlamov was an elderly man. His face, a simple Russian sunburnt face with a small grey beard, was red, wet with dew and covered with little blue veins; it had the same expression of businesslike coldness as Ivan Ivanitch’s face, the same look of fanatical zeal for business. But yet what a difference could be felt between him and Kuzmitchov! Uncle Ivan Ivanitch always had on his face, together with his business-like reserve, a look of anxiety and apprehension that he would not find Varlamov, that he would be late, that he would miss a good price; nothing of that sort, so characteristic of small and dependent persons, could be seen in the face or figure of Varlamov. This man made the price himself, was not looking for anyone, and did not depend on anyone; however ordinary his exterior, yet in everything, even in the manner of holding his whip, there was a sense of power and habitual authority over the steppe.
As he rode by Yegorushka he did not glance at him. Only the little stallion deigned to notice Yegorushka; he looked at him with his large foolish eyes, and even he showed no interest. Panteley bowed to Varlamov; the latter noticed it, and without taking his eyes off the sheets of paper, said lisping:
“How are you, old man?”
Varlamov’s conversation with the horseman and the way he had brandished his whip had evidently made an overwhelming impression on the whole party. Everyone looked grave. The man on horseback, cast down at the anger of the great man, remained stationary, with his hat off, and the rein loose by the foremost waggon; he was silent, and seemed unable to grasp that the day had begun so badly for him.
“He is a harsh old man, . .” muttered Panteley. “It’s a pity he is so harsh! But he is all right, a good man. . . . He doesn’t abuse men for nothing. . . . It’s no matter. . . .”
After examining the papers, Varlamov thrust the book into his pocket; the little stallion, as though he knew what was in his mind, without waiting for orders, started and dashed along the highroad.


On the following night the waggoners had halted and were cooking their porridge. On this occasion there was a sense of overwhelming oppression over everyone. It was sultry; they all drank a great deal, but could not quench their thirst. The moon was intensely crimson and sullen, as though it were sick. The stars, too, were sullen, the mist was thicker, the distance more clouded. Nature seemed as though languid and weighed down by some foreboding.
There was not the same liveliness and talk round the camp fire as there had been the day before. All were dreary and spoke listlessly and without interest. Panteley did nothing but sigh and complain of his feet, and continually alluded to impenitent deathbeds.
Dymov was lying on his stomach, chewing a straw in silence; there was an expression of disgust on his face as though the straw smelt unpleasant, a spiteful and exhausted look. . . . Vassya complained that his jaw ached, and prophesied bad weather; Emelyan was not waving his arms, but sitting still and looking gloomily at the fire. Yegorushka, too, was weary. This slow travelling exhausted him, and the sultriness of the day had given him a headache.
While they were cooking the porridge, Dymov, to relieve his boredom, began quarrelling with his companions.
“Here he lolls, the lumpy face, and is the first to put his spoon in,” he said, looking spitefully at Emelyan. “Greedy! always contrives to sit next the cauldron. He’s been a church-singer, so he thinks he is a gentleman! There are a lot of singers like you begging along the highroad!”
“What are you pestering me for?” asked Emelyan, looking at him angrily.
“To teach you not to be the first to dip into the cauldron. Don’t think too much of yourself!”
“You are a fool, and that is all about it!” wheezed out Emelyan.
Knowing by experience how such conversations usually ended, Panteley and Vassya intervened and tried to persuade Dymov not to quarrel about nothing.
“A church-singer!” The bully would not desist, but laughed contemptuously. “Anyone can sing like that—sit in the church porch and sing ‘Give me alms, for Christ’s sake!’ Ugh! you are a nice fellow!”
Emelyan did not speak. His silence had an irritating effect on Dymov. He looked with still greater hatred at the ex-singer and said:
“I don’t care to have anything to do with you, or I would show you what to think of yourself.”
“But why are you pushing me, you Mazeppa?” Emelyan cried, flaring up. “Am I interfering with you?”
“What did you call me?” asked Dymov, drawing himself up, and his eyes were suffused with blood. “Eh! I am a Mazeppa? Yes? Take that, then; go and look for it.”
Dymov snatched the spoon out of Emelyan’s hand and flung it far away. Kiruha, Vassya, and Styopka ran to look for it, while Emelyan fixed an imploring and questioning look on Panteley. His face suddenly became small and wrinkled; it began twitching, and the ex-singer began to cry like a child.
Yegorushka, who had long hated Dymov, felt as though the air all at once were unbearably stifling, as though the fire were scorching his face; he longed to run quickly to the waggons in the darkness, but the bully’s angry bored eyes drew the boy to him. With a passionate desire to say something extremely offensive, he took a step towards Dymov and brought out, gasping for breath:
“You are the worst of the lot; I can’t bear you!”
After this he ought to have run to the waggons, but he could not stir from the spot and went on:
“In the next world you will burn in hell! I’ll complain to Ivan Ivanitch. Don’t you dare insult Emelyan!”
“Say this too, please,” laughed Dyrnov: “‘every little sucking-pig wants to lay down the law.’ Shall I pull your ear?”
Yegorushka felt that he could not breathe; and something which had never happened to him before—he suddenly began shaking all over, stamping his feet and crying shrilly:
“Beat him, beat him!”
Tears gushed from his eyes; he felt ashamed, and ran staggering back to the waggon. The effect produced by his outburst he did not see. Lying on the bales and twitching his arms and legs, he whispered:
“Mother, mother!”
And these men and the shadows round the camp fire, and the dark bales and the far-away lightning, which was flashing every minute in the distance—all struck him now as terrible and unfriendly. He was overcome with terror and asked himself in despair why and how he had come into this unknown land in the company of terrible peasants? Where was his uncle now, where was Father Christopher, where was Deniska? Why were they so long in coming? Hadn’t they forgotten him? At the thought that he was forgotten and cast out to the mercy of fate, he felt such a cold chill of dread that he had several times an impulse to jump off the bales of wool, and run back full speed along the road; but the thought of the huge dark crosses, which would certainly meet him on the way, and the lightning flashing in the distance, stopped him. . . . And only when he whispered, “Mother, mother!” he felt as it were a little better.
The waggoners must have been full of dread, too. After Yegorushka had run away from the camp fire they sat at first for a long time in silence, then they began speaking in hollow undertones about something, saying that it was coming and that they must make haste and get away from it. . . . They quickly finished supper, put out the fire and began harnessing the horses in silence. From their fluster and the broken phrases they uttered it was apparent they foresaw some trouble. Before they set off on their way, Dymov went up to Panteley and asked softly:
“What’s his name?”
“Yegory,” answered Panteley.
Dymov put one foot on the wheel, caught hold of the cord which was tied round the bales and pulled himself up. Yegorushka saw his face and curly head. The face was pale and looked grave and exhausted, but there was no expression of spite in it.
“Yera!” he said softly, “here, hit me!”
Yegorushka looked at him in surprise. At that instant there was a flash of lightning.
“It’s all right, hit me,” repeated Dymov. And without waiting for Yegorushka to hit him or to speak to him, he jumped down and said: “How dreary I am!”
Then, swaying from one leg to the other and moving his shoulder-blades, he sauntered lazily alongside the string of waggons and repeated in a voice half weeping, half angry:
“How dreary I am! O Lord! Don’t you take offence, Emelyan,” he said as he passed Emelyan. “Ours is a wretched cruel life!”
There was a flash of lightning on the right, and, like a reflection in the looking-glass, at once a second flash in the distance.
“Yegory, take this,” cried Panteley, throwing up something big and dark.
“What is it?” asked Yegorushka.
“A mat. There will be rain, so cover yourself up.”
Yegorushka sat up and looked about him. The distance had grown perceptibly blacker, and now oftener than every minute winked with a pale light. The blackness was being bent towards the right as though by its own weight.
“Will there be a storm, Grandfather?” asked Yegorushka.
“Ah, my poor feet, how they ache!” Panteley said in a high-pitched voice, stamping his feet and not hearing the boy.
On the left someone seemed to strike a match in the sky; a pale phosphorescent streak gleamed and went out. There was a sound as though someone very far away were walking over an iron roof, probably barefoot, for the iron gave a hollow rumble.
“It’s set in!” cried Kiruha.
Between the distance and the horizon on the right there was a flash of lightning so vivid that it lighted up part of the steppe and the spot where the clear sky met the blackness. A terrible cloud was swooping down, without haste, a compact mass; big black shreds hung from its edge; similar shreds pressing one upon another were piling up on the right and left horizon. The tattered, ragged look of the storm-cloud gave it a drunken disorderly air. There was a distinct, not smothered, growl of thunder. Yegorushka crossed himself and began quickly putting on his great-coat.
“I am dreary!” Dymov’s shout floated from the foremost waggon, and it could be told from his voice that he was beginning to be ill-humoured again. “I am so dreary!”
All at once there was a squall of wind, so violent that it almost snatched away Yegorushka’s bundle and mat; the mat fluttered in all directions and flapped on the bale and on Yegorushka’s face. The wind dashed whistling over the steppe, whirled round in disorder and raised such an uproar from the grass that neither the thunder nor the creaking of the wheels could be heard; it blew from the black storm-cloud, carrying with it clouds of dust and the scent of rain and wet earth. The moonlight grew mistier, as it were dirtier; the stars were even more overcast; and clouds of dust could be seen hurrying along the edge of the road, followed by their shadows. By now, most likely, the whirlwind eddying round and lifting from the earth dust, dry grass and feathers, was mounting to the very sky; uprooted plants must have been flying by that very black storm-cloud, and how frightened they must have been! But through the dust that clogged the eyes nothing could be seen but the flash of lightning.
Yegorushka, thinking it would pour with rain in a minute, knelt up and covered himself with the mat.
“Panteley-ey!” someone shouted in the front. “A. . . a. . . va!”
“I can’t!” Panteley answered in a loud high voice. “A . . . a . . . va! Arya . . . a!”
There was an angry clap of thunder, which rolled across the sky from right to left, then back again, and died away near the foremost waggon.
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth,” whispered Yegorushka, crossing himself. “Fill heaven and earth with Thy glory.”
The blackness in the sky yawned wide and breathed white fire. At once there was another clap of thunder. It had scarcely ceased when there was a flash of lightning so broad that Yegorushka suddenly saw through a slit in the mat the whole highroad to the very horizon, all the waggoners and even Kiruha’s waistcoat. The black shreds had by now moved upwards from the left, and one of them, a coarse, clumsy monster like a claw with fingers, stretched to the moon. Yegorushka made up his mind to shut his eyes tight, to pay no attention to it, and to wait till it was all over.
The rain was for some reason long in coming. Yegorushka peeped out from the mat in the hope that perhaps the storm-cloud was passing over. It was fearfully dark. Yegorushka could see neither Panteley, nor the bale of wool, nor himself; he looked sideways towards the place where the moon had lately been, but there was the same black darkness there as over the waggons. And in the darkness the flashes of lightning seemed more violent and blinding, so that they hurt his eyes.
“Panteley!” called Yegorushka.
No answer followed. But now a gust of wind for the last time flung up the mat and hurried away. A quiet regular sound was heard. A big cold drop fell on Yegorushka’s knee, another trickled over his hand. He noticed that his knees were not covered, and tried to rearrange the mat, but at that moment something began pattering on the road, then on the shafts and the bales. It was the rain. As though they understood one another, the rain and the mat began prattling of something rapidly, gaily and most annoyingly like two magpies.
Yegorushka knelt up or rather squatted on his boots. While the rain was pattering on the mat, he leaned forward to screen his knees, which were suddenly wet. He succeeded in covering his knees, but in less than a minute was aware of a penetrating, unpleasant dampness behind on his back and the calves of his legs. He returned to his former position, exposing his knees to the rain, and wondered what to do to rearrange the mat which he could not see in the darkness. But his arms were already wet, the water was trickling up his sleeves and down his collar, and his shoulder-blades felt chilly. And he made up his mind to do nothing but sit motionless and wait till it was all over.
“Holy, holy, holy!” he whispered.
Suddenly, exactly over his head, the sky cracked with a fearful deafening din; he huddled up and held his breath, waiting for the fragments to fall upon his head and back. He inadvertently opened his eyes and saw a blinding intense light flare out and flash five times on his fingers, his wet sleeves, and on the trickles of water running from the mat upon the bales and down to the ground. There was a fresh peal of thunder as violent and awful; the sky was not growling and rumbling now, but uttering short crashing sounds like the crackling of dry wood.
“Trrah! tah! tah! tah!” the thunder rang out distinctly, rolled over the sky, seemed to stumble, and somewhere by the foremost waggons or far behind to fall with an abrupt angry “Trrra!”
The flashes of lightning had at first been only terrible, but with such thunder they seemed sinister and menacing. Their magic light pierced through closed eyelids and sent a chill all over the body. What could he do not to see them? Yegorushka made up his mind to turn over on his face. Cautiously, as though afraid of being watched, he got on all fours, and his hands slipping on the wet bale, he turned back again.
“Trrah! tah! tah!” floated over his head, rolled under the waggons and exploded “Kraa!”
Again he inadvertently opened his eyes and saw a new danger: three huge giants with long pikes were following the waggon! A flash of lightning gleamed on the points of their pikes and lighted up their figures very distinctly. They were men of huge proportions, with covered faces, bowed heads, and heavy footsteps. They seemed gloomy and dispirited and lost in thought. Perhaps they were not following the waggons with any harmful intent, and yet there was something awful in their proximity.
Yegorushka turned quickly forward, and trembling all over cried: “Panteley! Grandfather!”
“Trrah! tah! tah!” the sky answered him.
He opened his eyes to see if the waggoners were there. There were flashes of lightning in two places, which lighted up the road to the far distance, the whole string of waggons and all the waggoners. Streams of water were flowing along the road and bubbles were dancing. Panteley was walking beside the waggon; his tall hat and his shoulder were covered with a small mat; his figure expressed neither terror nor uneasiness, as though he were deafened by the thunder and blinded by the lightning.
“Grandfather, the giants!” Yegorushka shouted to him in tears.
But the old man did not hear. Further away walked Emelyan. He was covered from head to foot with a big mat and was triangular in shape. Vassya, without anything over him, was walking with the same wooden step as usual, lifting his feet high and not bending his knees. In the flash of lightning it seemed as though the waggons were not moving and the men were motionless, that Vassya’s lifted foot was rigid in the same position. . . .
Yegorushka called the old man once more. Getting no answer, he sat motionless, and no longer waited for it all to end. He was convinced that the thunder would kill him in another minute, that he would accidentally open his eyes and see the terrible giants, and he left off crossing himself, calling the old man and thinking of his mother, and was simply numb with cold and the conviction that the storm would never end.
But at last there was the sound of voices.
“Yegory, are you asleep?” Panteley cried below. “Get down! Is he deaf, the silly little thing? . . .”
“Something like a storm!” said an unfamiliar bass voice, and the stranger cleared his throat as though he had just tossed off a good glass of vodka.
Yegorushka opened his eyes. Close to the waggon stood Panteley, Emelyan, looking like a triangle, and the giants. The latter were by now much shorter, and when Yegorushka looked more closely at them they turned out to be ordinary peasants, carrying on their shoulders not pikes but pitchforks. In the space between Panteley and the triangular figure, gleamed the window of a low-pitched hut. So the waggons were halting in the village. Yegorushka flung off the mat, took his bundle and made haste to get off the waggon. Now when close to him there were people talking and a lighted window he no longer felt afraid, though the thunder was crashing as before and the whole sky was streaked with lightning.
“It was a good storm, all right, . . .” Panteley was muttering. “Thank God, . . . my feet are a little softened by the rain. It was all right. . . . Have you got down, Yegory? Well, go into the hut; it is all right. . . .”
“Holy, holy, holy!” wheezed Emelyan, “it must have struck something . . . . Are you of these parts?” he asked the giants.
“No, from Glinovo. We belong to Glinovo. We are working at the Platers’.”
“All sorts. Just now we are getting in the wheat. The lightning, the lightning! It is long since we have had such a storm. . . .”
Yegorushka went into the hut. He was met by a lean hunchbacked old woman with a sharp chin. She stood holding a tallow candle in her hands, screwing up her eyes and heaving prolonged sighs.
“What a storm God has sent us!” she said. “And our lads are out for the night on the steppe; they’ll have a bad time, poor dears! Take off your things, little sir, take off your things.”
Shivering with cold and shrugging squeamishly, Yegorushka pulled off his drenched overcoat, then stretched out his arms and straddled his legs, and stood a long time without moving. The slightest movement caused an unpleasant sensation of cold and wetness. His sleeves and the back of his shirt were sopped, his trousers stuck to his legs, his head was dripping.
“What’s the use of standing there, with your legs apart, little lad?” said the old woman. “Come, sit down.”
Holding his legs wide apart, Yegorushka went up to the table and sat down on a bench near somebody’s head. The head moved, puffed a stream of air through its nose, made a chewing sound and subsided. A mound covered with a sheepskin stretched from the head along the bench; it was a peasant woman asleep.
The old woman went out sighing, and came back with a big water melon and a little sweet melon.
“Have something to eat, my dear! I have nothing else to offer you, . . .” she said, yawning. She rummaged in the table and took out a long sharp knife, very much like the one with which the brigands killed the merchants in the inn. “Have some, my dear!”
Yegorushka, shivering as though he were in a fever, ate a slice of sweet melon with black bread and then a slice of water melon, and that made him feel colder still.
“Our lads are out on the steppe for the night, . . .” sighed the old woman while he was eating. “The terror of the Lord! I’d light the candle under the ikon, but I don’t know where Stepanida has put it. Have some more, little sir, have some more. . . .”
The old woman gave a yawn and, putting her right hand behind her, scratched her left shoulder.
“It must be two o’clock now,” she said; “it will soon be time to get up. Our lads are out on the steppe for the night; they are all wet through for sure. . . .”
“Granny,” said Yegorushka. “I am sleepy.”
“Lie down, my dear, lie down,” the old woman sighed, yawning. “Lord Jesus Christ! I was asleep, when I heard a noise as though someone were knocking. I woke up and looked, and it was the storm God had sent us. . . . I’d have lighted the candle, but I couldn’t find it.”
Talking to herself, she pulled some rags, probably her own bed, off the bench, took two sheepskins off a nail by the stove, and began laying them out for a bed for Yegorushka. “The storm doesn’t grow less,” she muttered. “If only nothing’s struck in an unlucky hour. Our lads are out on the steppe for the night. Lie down and sleep, my dear. . . . Christ be with you, my child. . . . I won’t take away the melon; maybe you’ll have a bit when you get up.”
The sighs and yawns of the old woman, the even breathing of the sleeping woman, the half-darkness of the hut, and the sound of the rain outside, made one sleepy. Yegorushka was shy of undressing before the old woman. He only took off his boots, lay down and covered himself with the sheepskin.
“Is the little lad lying down?” he heard Panteley whisper a little later.
“Yes,” answered the old woman in a whisper. “The terror of the Lord! It thunders and thunders, and there is no end to it.”
“It will soon be over,” wheezed Panteley, sitting down; “it’s getting quieter. . . . The lads have gone into the huts, and two have stayed with the horses. The lads have. . . . They can’t; . . . the horses would be taken away. . . . I’ll sit here a bit and then go and take my turn. . . . We can’t leave them; they would be taken. . . .”
Panteley and the old woman sat side by side at Yegorushka’s feet, talking in hissing whispers and interspersing their speech with sighs and yawns. And Yegorushka could not get warm. The warm heavy sheepskin lay on him, but he was trembling all over; his arms and legs were twitching, and his whole inside was shivering. . . . He undressed under the sheepskin, but that was no good. His shivering grew more and more acute.
Panteley went out to take his turn with the horses, and afterwards came back again, and still Yegorushka was shivering all over and could not get to sleep. Something weighed upon his head and chest and oppressed him, and he did not know what it was, whether it was the old people whispering, or the heavy smell of the sheepskin. The melon he had eaten had left an unpleasant metallic taste in his mouth. Moreover he was being bitten by fleas.
“Grandfather, I am cold,” he said, and did not know his own voice.
“Go to sleep, my child, go to sleep,” sighed the old woman.
Tit came up to the bedside on his thin little legs and waved his arms, then grew up to the ceiling and turned into a windmill. . . . Father Christopher, not as he was in the chaise, but in his full vestments with the sprinkler in his hand, walked round the mill, sprinkling it with holy water, and it left off waving. Yegorushka, knowing this was delirium, opened his eyes.
“Grandfather,” he called, “give me some water.”
No one answered. Yegorushka felt it insufferably stifling and uncomfortable lying down. He got up, dressed, and went out of the hut. Morning was beginning. The sky was overcast, but it was no longer raining. Shivering and wrapping himself in his wet overcoat, Yegorushka walked about the muddy yard and listened to the silence; he caught sight of a little shed with a half-open door made of reeds. He looked into this shed, went into it, and sat down in a dark corner on a heap of dry dung.
There was a tangle of thoughts in his heavy head; his mouth was dry and unpleasant from the metallic taste. He looked at his hat, straightened the peacock’s feather on it, and thought how he had gone with his mother to buy the hat. He put his hand into his pocket and took out a lump of brownish sticky paste. How had that paste come into his pocket? He thought a minute, smelt it; it smelt of honey. Aha! it was the Jewish cake! How sopped it was, poor thing!
Yegorushka examined his coat. It was a little grey overcoat with big bone buttons, cut in the shape of a frock-coat. At home, being a new and expensive article, it had not been hung in the hall, but with his mother’s dresses in her bedroom; he was only allowed to wear it on holidays. Looking at it, Yegorushka felt sorry for it. He thought that he and the great-coat were both abandoned to the mercy of destiny; he thought that he would never get back home, and began sobbing so violently that he almost fell off the heap of dung.
A big white dog with woolly tufts like curl-papers about its face, sopping from the rain, came into the shed and stared with curiosity at Yegorushka. It seemed to be hesitating whether to bark or not. Deciding that there was no need to bark, it went cautiously up to Yegorushka, ate the sticky plaster and went out again.
“There are Varlamov’s men!” someone shouted in the street.
After having his cry out, Yegorushka went out of the shed and, walking round a big puddle, made his way towards the street. The waggons were standing exactly opposite the gateway. The drenched waggoners, with their muddy feet, were sauntering beside them or sitting on the shafts, as listless and drowsy as flies in autumn. Yegorushka looked at them and thought: “How dreary and comfortless to be a peasant!” He went up to Panteley and sat down beside him on the shaft.
“Grandfather, I’m cold,” he said, shivering and thrusting his hands up his sleeves.
“Never mind, we shall soon be there,” yawned Panteley. “Never mind, you will get warm.”
It must have been early when the waggons set off, for it was not hot. Yegorushka lay on the bales of wool and shivered with cold, though the sun soon came out and dried his clothes, the bales, and the earth. As soon as he closed his eyes he saw Tit and the windmill again. Feeling a sickness and heaviness all over, he did his utmost to drive away these images, but as soon as they vanished the dare-devil Dymov, with red eyes and lifted fists, rushed at Yegorushka with a roar, or there was the sound of his complaint: “I am so dreary!” Varlamov rode by on his little Cossack stallion; happy Konstantin passed, with a smile and the bustard in his arms. And how tedious these people were, how sickening and unbearable!
Once—it was towards evening—he raised his head to ask for water. The waggons were standing on a big bridge across a broad river. There was black smoke below over the river, and through it could be seen a steamer with a barge in tow. Ahead of them, beyond the river, was a huge mountain dotted with houses and churches; at the foot of the mountain an engine was being shunted along beside some goods trucks.
Yegorushka had never before seen steamers, nor engines, nor broad rivers. Glancing at them now, he was not alarmed or surprised; there was not even a look of anything like curiosity in his face. He merely felt sick, and made haste to turn over to the edge of the bale. He was sick. Panteley, seeing this, cleared his throat and shook his head.
“Our little lad’s taken ill,” he said. “He must have got a chill to the stomach. The little lad must. . . away from home; it’s a bad lookout!”


The waggons stopped at a big inn for merchants, not far from the quay. As Yegorushka climbed down from the waggon he heard a very familiar voice. Someone was helping him to get down, and saying:
“We arrived yesterday evening. . . . We have been expecting you all day. We meant to overtake you yesterday, but it was out of our way; we came by the other road. I say, how you have crumpled your coat! You’ll catch it from your uncle!”
Yegorushka looked into the speaker’s mottled face and remembered that this was Deniska.
“Your uncle and Father Christopher are in the inn now, drinking tea; come along!”
And he led Yegorushka to a big two-storied building, dark and gloomy like the almshouse at N. After going across the entry, up a dark staircase and through a narrow corridor, Yegorushka and Deniska reached a little room in which Ivan Ivanitch and Father Christopher were sitting at the tea-table. Seeing the boy, both the old men showed surprise and pleasure.
“Aha! Yegor Ni-ko-la-aitch!” chanted Father Christopher. “Mr. Lomonosov!”
“Ah, our gentleman that is to be,” said Kuzmitchov, “pleased to see you!”
Yegorushka took off his great-coat, kissed his uncle’s hand and Father Christopher’s, and sat down to the table.
“Well, how did you like the journey, puer bone?” Father Christopher pelted him with questions as he poured him out some tea, with his radiant smile. “Sick of it, I’ve no doubt? God save us all from having to travel by waggon or with oxen. You go on and on, God forgive us; you look ahead and the steppe is always lying stretched out the same as it was—you can’t see the end of it! It’s not travelling but regular torture. Why don’t you drink your tea? Drink it up; and in your absence, while you have been trailing along with the waggons, we have settled all our business capitally. Thank God we have sold our wool to Tcherepahin, and no one could wish to have done better. . . . We have made a good bargain.”
At the first sight of his own people Yegorushka felt an overwhelming desire to complain. He did not listen to Father Christopher, but thought how to begin and what exactly to complain of. But Father Christopher’s voice, which seemed to him harsh and unpleasant, prevented him from concentrating his attention and confused his thoughts. He had not sat at the table five minutes before he got up, went to the sofa and lay down.
“Well, well,” said Father Christopher in surprise. “What about your tea?”
Still thinking what to complain of, Yegorushka leaned his head against the wall and broke into sobs.
“Well, well!” repeated Father Christopher, getting up and going to the sofa. “Yegory, what is the matter with you? Why are you crying?”
“I’m . . . I’m ill,” Yegorushka brought out.
“Ill?” said Father Christopher in amazement. “That’s not the right thing, my boy. . . . One mustn’t be ill on a journey. Aie, aie, what are you thinking about, boy . . . eh?”
He put his hand to Yegorushka’s head, touched his cheek and said:
“Yes, your head’s feverish. . . . You must have caught cold or else have eaten something. . . . Pray to God.”
“Should we give him quinine? . . .” said Ivan Ivanitch, troubled.
“No; he ought to have something hot. . . . Yegory, have a little drop of soup? Eh?”
“I . . . don’t want any,” said Yegorushka.
“Are you feeling chilly?”
“I was chilly before, but now . . . now I am hot. And I ache all over. . . .”
Ivan Ivanitch went up to the sofa, touched Yegorushka on the head, cleared his throat with a perplexed air, and went back to the table.
“I tell you what, you undress and go to bed,” said Father Christopher. “What you want is sleep now.”
He helped Yegorushka to undress, gave him a pillow and covered him with a quilt, and over that Ivan Ivanitch’s great-coat. Then he walked away on tiptoe and sat down to the table. Yegorushka shut his eyes, and at once it seemed to him that he was not in the hotel room, but on the highroad beside the camp fire. Emelyan waved his hands, and Dymov with red eyes lay on his stomach and looked mockingly at Yegorushka.
“Beat him, beat him!” shouted Yegorushka.
“He is delirious,” said Father Christopher in an undertone.
“It’s a nuisance!” sighed Ivan Ivanitch.
“He must be rubbed with oil and vinegar. Please God, he will be better to-morrow.”
To be rid of bad dreams, Yegorushka opened his eyes and began looking towards the fire. Father Christopher and Ivan Ivanitch had now finished their tea and were talking in a whisper. The first was smiling with delight, and evidently could not forget that he had made a good bargain over his wool; what delighted him was not so much the actual profit he had made as the thought that on getting home he would gather round him his big family, wink slyly and go off into a chuckle; at first he would deceive them all, and say that he had sold the wool at a price below its value, then he would give his son-in-law, Mihail, a fat pocket-book and say: “Well, take it! that’s the way to do business!” Kuzmitchov did not seem pleased; his face expressed, as before, a business-like reserve and anxiety.
“If I could have known that Tcherepahin would give such a price,” he said in a low voice, “I wouldn’t have sold Makarov those five tons at home. It is vexatious! But who could have told that the price had gone up here?”
A man in a white shirt cleared away the samovar and lighted the little lamp before the ikon in the corner. Father Christopher whispered something in his ear; the man looked, made a serious face like a conspirator, as though to say, “I understand,” went out, and returned a little while afterwards and put something under the sofa. Ivan Ivanitch made himself a bed on the floor, yawned several times, said his prayers lazily, and lay down.
“I think of going to the cathedral to-morrow,” said Father Christopher. “I know the sacristan there. I ought to go and see the bishop after mass, but they say he is ill.”
He yawned and put out the lamp. Now there was no light in the room but the little lamp before the ikon.
“They say he can’t receive visitors,” Father Christopher went on, undressing. “So I shall go away without seeing him.”
He took off his full coat, and Yegorushka saw Robinson Crusoe reappear. Robinson stirred something in a saucer, went up to Yegorushka and whispered:
“Lomonosov, are you asleep? Sit up; I’m going to rub you with oil and vinegar. It’s a good thing, only you must say a prayer.”
Yegorushka roused himself quickly and sat up. Father Christopher pulled down the boy’s shirt, and shrinking and breathing jerkily, as though he were being tickled himself, began rubbing Yegorushka’s chest.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” he whispered, “lie with your back upwards—that’s it. . . . You’ll be all right to-morrow, but don’t do it again. . . . You are as hot as fire. I suppose you were on the road in the storm.”
“You might well fall ill! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, . . . you might well fall ill!”
After rubbing Yegorushka, Father Christopher put on his shirt again, covered him, made the sign of the cross over him, and walked away. Then Yegorushka saw him saying his prayers. Probably the old man knew a great many prayers by heart, for he stood a long time before the ikon murmuring. After saying his prayers he made the sign of the cross over the window, the door, Yegorushka, and Ivan Ivanitch, lay down on the little sofa without a pillow, and covered himself with his full coat. A clock in the corridor struck ten. Yegorushka thought how long a time it would be before morning; feeling miserable, he pressed his forehead against the back of the sofa and left off trying to get rid of the oppressive misty dreams. But morning came much sooner than he expected.
It seemed to him that he had not been lying long with his head pressed to the back of the sofa, but when he opened his eyes slanting rays of sunlight were already shining on the floor through the two windows of the little hotel room. Father Christopher and Ivan Ivanitch were not in the room. The room had been tidied; it was bright, snug, and smelt of Father Christopher, who always smelt of cypress and dried cornflowers (at home he used to make the holy-water sprinklers and decorations for the ikonstands out of cornflowers, and so he was saturated with the smell of them). Yegorushka looked at the pillow, at the slanting sunbeams, at his boots, which had been cleaned and were standing side by side near the sofa, and laughed. It seemed strange to him that he was not on the bales of wool, that everything was dry around him, and that there was no thunder and lightning on the ceiling.
He jumped off the sofa and began dressing. He felt splendid; nothing was left of his yesterday’s illness but a slight weakness in his legs and neck. So the vinegar and oil had done good. He remembered the steamer, the railway engine, and the broad river, which he had dimly seen the day before, and now he made haste to dress, to run to the quay and have a look at them. When he had washed and was putting on his red shirt, the latch of the door clicked, and Father Christopher appeared in the doorway, wearing his top-hat and a brown silk cassock over his canvas coat and carrying his staff in his hand. Smiling and radiant (old men are always radiant when they come back from church), he put a roll of holy bread and a parcel of some sort on the table, prayed before the ikon, and said:
“God has sent us blessings—well, how are you?”
“Quite well now,” answered Yegorushka, kissing his hand.
“Thank God. . . . I have come from mass. I’ve been to see a sacristan I know. He invited me to breakfast with him, but I didn’t go. I don’t like visiting people too early, God bless them!”
He took off his cassock, stroked himself on the chest, and without haste undid the parcel. Yegorushka saw a little tin of caviare, a piece of dry sturgeon, and a French loaf.
“See; I passed a fish-shop and brought this,” said Father Christopher. “There is no need to indulge in luxuries on an ordinary weekday; but I thought, I’ve an invalid at home, so it is excusable. And the caviare is good, real sturgeon. . . .”
The man in the white shirt brought in the samovar and a tray with tea-things.
“Eat some,” said Father Christopher, spreading the caviare on a slice of bread and handing it to Yegorushka. “Eat now and enjoy yourself, but the time will soon come for you to be studying. Mind you study with attention and application, so that good may come of it. What you have to learn by heart, learn by heart, but when you have to tell the inner sense in your own words, without regard to the outer form, then say it in your own words. And try to master all subjects. One man knows mathematics excellently, but has never heard of Pyotr Mogila; another knows about Pyotr Mogila, but cannot explain about the moon. But you study so as to understand everything. Study Latin, French, German, . . . geography, of course, history, theology, philosophy, mathematics, . . . and when you have mastered everything, not with haste but with prayer and with zeal, then go into the service. When you know everything it will be easy for you in any line of life. . . . You study and strive for the divine blessing, and God will show you what to be. Whether a doctor, a judge or an engineer. . . .”
Father Christopher spread a little caviare on a piece of bread, put it in his mouth and said:
“The Apostle Paul says: ‘Do not apply yourself to strange and diverse studies.’ Of course, if it is black magic, unlawful arts, or calling up spirits from the other world, like Saul, or studying subjects that can be of no use to yourself or others, better not learn them. You must undertake only what God has blessed. Take example . . . the Holy Apostles spoke in all languages, so you study languages. Basil the Great studied mathematics and philosophy—so you study them; St. Nestor wrote history—so you study and write history. Take example from the saints.”
Father Christopher sipped the tea from his saucer, wiped his moustaches, and shook his head.
“Good!” he said. “I was educated in the old-fashioned way; I have forgotten a great deal by now, but still I live differently from other people. Indeed, there is no comparison. For instance, in company at a dinner, or at an assembly, one says something in Latin, or makes some allusion from history or philosophy, and it pleases people, and it pleases me myself. . . . Or when the circuit court comes and one has to take the oath, all the other priests are shy, but I am quite at home with the judges, the prosecutors, and the lawyers. I talk intellectually, drink a cup of tea with them, laugh, ask them what I don’t know, . . . and they like it. So that’s how it is, my boy. Learning is light and ignorance is darkness. Study! It’s hard, of course; nowadays study is expensive. . . . Your mother is a widow; she lives on her pension, but there, of course . . .”
Father Christopher glanced apprehensively towards the door, and went on in a whisper:
“Ivan Ivanitch will assist. He won’t desert you. He has no children of his own, and he will help you. Don’t be uneasy.”
He looked grave, and whispered still more softly:
“Only mind, Yegory, don’t forget your mother and Ivan Ivanitch, God preserve you from it. The commandment bids you honour your mother, and Ivan Ivanitch is your benefactor and takes the place of a father to you. If you become learned, God forbid you should be impatient and scornful with people because they are not so clever as you, then woe, woe to you!”
Father Christopher raised his hand and repeated in a thin voice:
“Woe to you! Woe to you!”
Father Christopher’s tongue was loosened, and he was, as they say, warming to his subject; he would not have finished till dinnertime but the door opened and Ivan Ivanitch walked in. He said good-morning hurriedly, sat down to the table, and began rapidly swallowing his tea.
“Well, I have settled all our business,” he said. “We might have gone home to-day, but we have still to think about Yegor. We must arrange for him. My sister told me that Nastasya Petrovna, a friend of hers, lives somewhere here, so perhaps she will take him in as a boarder.”
He rummaged in his pocket-book, found a crumpled note and read:
“‘Little Lower Street: Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov, living in a house of her own.’ We must go at once and try to find her. It’s a nuisance!”
Soon after breakfast Ivan Ivanitch and Yegorushka left the inn.
“It’s a nuisance,” muttered his uncle. “You are sticking to me like a burr. You and your mother want education and gentlemanly breeding and I have nothing but worry with you both. . . .”
When they crossed the yard, the waggons and the drivers were not there. They had all gone off to the quay early in the morning. In a far-off dark corner of the yard stood the chaise.
“Good-bye, chaise!” thought Yegorushka.
At first they had to go a long way uphill by a broad street, then they had to cross a big marketplace; here Ivan Ivanitch asked a policeman for Little Lower Street.
“I say,” said the policeman, with a grin, “it’s a long way off, out that way towards the town grazing ground.”
They met several cabs but Ivan Ivanitch only permitted himself such a weakness as taking a cab in exceptional cases and on great holidays. Yegorushka and he walked for a long while through paved streets, then along streets where there were only wooden planks at the sides and no pavements, and in the end got to streets where there were neither planks nor pavements. When their legs and their tongues had brought them to Little Lower Street they were both red in the face, and taking off their hats, wiped away the perspiration.
“Tell me, please,” said Ivan Ivanitch, addressing an old man sitting on a little bench by a gate, “where is Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov’s house?”
“There is no one called Toskunov here,” said the old man, after pondering a moment. “Perhaps it’s Timoshenko you want.”
“No, Toskunov. . . .”
“Excuse me, there’s no one called Toskunov. . . .”
Ivan Ivanitch shrugged his shoulders and trudged on farther.
“You needn’t look,” the old man called after them. “I tell you there isn’t, and there isn’t.”
“Listen, auntie,” said Ivan Ivanitch, addressing an old woman who was sitting at a corner with a tray of pears and sunflower seeds, “where is Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov’s house?”
The old woman looked at him with surprise and laughed.
“Why, Nastasya Petrovna live in her own house now!” she cried. “Lord! it is eight years since she married her daughter and gave up the house to her son-in-law! It’s her son-in-law lives there now.”
And her eyes expressed: “How is it you didn’t know a simple thing like that, you fools?”
“And where does she live now?” Ivan Ivanitch asked.
“Oh, Lord!” cried the old woman, flinging up her hands in surprise. “She moved ever so long ago! It’s eight years since she gave up her house to her son-in-law! Upon my word!”
She probably expected Ivan Ivanitch to be surprised, too, and to exclaim: “You don’t say so,” but Ivan Ivanitch asked very calmly:
“Where does she live now?”
The old woman tucked up her sleeves and, stretching out her bare arm to point, shouted in a shrill piercing voice:
“Go straight on, straight on, straight on. You will pass a little red house, then you will see a little alley on your left. Turn down that little alley, and it will be the third gate on the right. . . .”
Ivan Ivanitch and Yegorushka reached the little red house, turned to the left down the little alley, and made for the third gate on the right. On both sides of this very old grey gate there was a grey fence with big gaps in it. The first part of the fence was tilting forwards and threatened to fall, while on the left of the gate it sloped backwards towards the yard. The gate itself stood upright and seemed to be still undecided which would suit it best —to fall forwards or backwards. Ivan Ivanitch opened the little gate at the side, and he and Yegorushka saw a big yard overgrown with weeds and burdocks. A hundred paces from the gate stood a little house with a red roof and green shutters. A stout woman with her sleeves tucked up and her apron held out was standing in the middle of the yard, scattering something on the ground and shouting in a voice as shrill as that of the woman selling fruit:
“Chick! . . . Chick! . . . Chick!”
Behind her sat a red dog with pointed ears. Seeing the strangers, he ran to the little gate and broke into a tenor bark (all red dogs have a tenor bark).
“Whom do you want?” asked the woman, putting up her hand to shade her eyes from the sun.
“Good-morning!” Ivan Ivanitch shouted, too, waving off the red dog with his stick. “Tell me, please, does Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov live here?”
“Yes! But what do you want with her?”
“Perhaps you are Nastasya Petrovna?”
“Well, yes, I am!”
“Very pleased to see you. . . . You see, your old friend Olga Ivanovna Knyasev sends her love to you. This is her little son. And I, perhaps you remember, am her brother Ivan Ivanitch. . . . You are one of us from N. . . . You were born among us and married there. . . .”
A silence followed. The stout woman stared blankly at Ivan Ivanitch, as though not believing or not understanding him, then she flushed all over, and flung up her hands; the oats were scattered out of her apron and tears spurted from her eyes.
“Olga Ivanovna!” she screamed, breathless with excitement. “My own darling! Ah, holy saints, why am I standing here like a fool? My pretty little angel. . . .”
She embraced Yegorushka, wetted his face with her tears, and broke down completely.
“Heavens!” she said, wringing her hands, “Olga’s little boy! How delightful! He is his mother all over! The image of his mother! But why are you standing in the yard? Come indoors.”
Crying, gasping for breath and talking as she went, she hurried towards the house. Her visitors trudged after her.
“The room has not been done yet,” she said, ushering the visitors into a stuffy little drawing-room adorned with many ikons and pots of flowers. “Oh, Mother of God! Vassilisa, go and open the shutters anyway! My little angel! My little beauty! I did not know that Olitchka had a boy like that!”
When she had calmed down and got over her first surprise Ivan Ivanitch asked to speak to her alone. Yegorushka went into another room; there was a sewing-machine; in the window was a cage with a starling in it, and there were as many ikons and flowers as in the drawing-room. Near the machine stood a little girl with a sunburnt face and chubby cheeks like Tit’s, and a clean cotton dress. She stared at Yegorushka without blinking, and apparently felt very awkward. Yegorushka looked at her and after a pause asked:
“What’s your name?”
The little girl moved her lips, looked as if she were going to cry, and answered softly:
“Atka. . . .”
This meant Katka.
“He will live with you,” Ivan Ivanitch was whispering in the drawing-room, “if you will be so kind, and we will pay ten roubles a month for his keep. He is not a spoilt boy; he is quiet. . . .”
“I really don’t know what to say, Ivan Ivanitch!” Nastasya Petrovna sighed tearfully. “Ten roubles a month is very good, but it is a dreadful thing to take another person’s child! He may fall ill or something. . . .”
When Yegorushka was summoned back to the drawing-room Ivan Ivanitch was standing with his hat in his hands, saying good-bye.
“Well, let him stay with you now, then,” he said. “Good-bye! You stay, Yegor!” he said, addressing his nephew. “Don’t be troublesome; mind you obey Nastasya Petrovna. . . . Good-bye; I am coming again to-morrow.”
And he went away. Nastasya once more embraced Yegorushka, called him a little angel, and with a tear-stained face began preparing for dinner. Three minutes later Yegorushka was sitting beside her, answering her endless questions and eating hot savoury cabbage soup.
In the evening he sat again at the same table and, resting his head on his hand, listened to Nastasya Petrovna. Alternately laughing and crying, she talked of his mother’s young days, her own marriage, her children. . . . A cricket chirruped in the stove, and there was a faint humming from the burner of the lamp. Nastasya Petrovna talked in a low voice, and was continually dropping her thimble in her excitement; and Katka her granddaughter, crawled under the table after it and each time sat a long while under the table, probably examining Yegorushka’s feet; and Yegorushka listened, half dozing and looking at the old woman’s face, her wart with hairs on it, and the stains of tears, and he felt sad, very sad. He was put to sleep on a chest and told that if he were hungry in the night he must go out into the little passage and take some chicken, put there under a plate in the window.
Next morning Ivan Ivanitch and Father Christopher came to say good-bye. Nastasya Petrovna was delighted to see them, and was about to set the samovar; but Ivan Ivanitch, who was in a great hurry, waved his hands and said:
“We have no time for tea! We are just setting off.”
Before parting they all sat down and were silent for a minute. Nastasya Petrovna heaved a deep sigh and looked towards the ikon with tear-stained eyes.
“Well,” began Ivan Ivanitch, getting up, “so you will stay. . . .”
All at once the look of business-like reserve vanished from his face; he flushed a little and said with a mournful smile:
“Mind you work hard. . . . Don’t forget your mother, and obey Nastasya Petrovna. . . . If you are diligent at school, Yegor, I’ll stand by you.”
He took his purse out of his pocket, turned his back to Yegorushka, fumbled for a long time among the smaller coins, and, finding a ten-kopeck piece, gave it to Yegorushka.
Father Christopher, without haste, blessed Yegorushka.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. . . . Study,” he said. “Work hard, my lad. If I die, remember me in your prayers. Here is a ten-kopeck piece from me, too. . . .”
Yegorushka kissed his hand, and shed tears; something whispered in his heart that he would never see the old man again.
“I have applied at the high school already,” said Ivan Ivanitch in a voice as though there were a corpse in the room. “You will take him for the entrance examination on the seventh of August. . . . Well, good-bye; God bless you, good-bye, Yegor!”
“You might at least have had a cup of tea,” wailed Nastasya Petrovna.
Through the tears that filled his eyes Yegorushka could not see his uncle and Father Christopher go out. He rushed to the window, but they were not in the yard, and the red dog, who had just been barking, was running back from the gate with the air of having done his duty. When Yegorushka ran out of the gate Ivan Ivanitch and Father Christopher, the former waving his stick with the crook, the latter his staff, were just turning the corner. Yegorushka felt that with these people all that he had known till then had vanished from him for ever. He sank helplessly on to the little bench, and with bitter tears greeted the new unknown life that was beginning for him now. . . .
What would that life be like?


A CARRIAGE with four fine sleek horses drove in at the big so-called Red Gate of the N—- Monastery. While it was still at a distance, the priests and monks who were standing in a group round the part of the hostel allotted to the gentry, recognised by the coachman and horses that the lady in the carriage was Princess Vera Gavrilovna, whom they knew very well.
An old man in livery jumped off the box and helped the princess to get out of the carriage. She raised her dark veil and moved in a leisurely way up to the priests to receive their blessing; then she nodded pleasantly to the rest of the monks and went into the hostel.
“Well, have you missed your princess?” she said to the monk who brought in her things. “It’s a whole month since I’ve been to see you. But here I am; behold your princess. And where is the Father Superior? My goodness, I am burning with impatience! Wonderful, wonderful old man! You must be proud of having such a Superior.”
When the Father Superior came in, the princess uttered a shriek of delight, crossed her arms over her bosom, and went up to receive his blessing.
“No, no, let me kiss your hand,” she said, snatching it and eagerly kissing it three times. “How glad I am to see you at last, holy Father! I’m sure you’ve forgotten your princess, but my thoughts have been in your dear monastery every moment. How delightful it is here! This living for God far from the busy, giddy world has a special charm of its own, holy Father, which I feel with my whole soul although I cannot express it!”
The princess’s cheeks glowed and tears came into her eyes. She talked incessantly, fervently, while the Father Superior, a grave, plain, shy old man of seventy, remained mute or uttered abruptly, like a soldier on duty, phrases such as:
“Certainly, Your Excellency. . . . Quite so. I understand.”
“Has Your Excellency come for a long stay?” he inquired.
“I shall stay the night here, and to-morrow I’m going on to Klavdia Nikolaevna’s—it’s a long time since I’ve seen her—and the day after to-morrow I’ll come back to you and stay three or four days. I want to rest my soul here among you, holy Father. . . .”
The princess liked being at the monastery at N—-. For the last two years it had been a favourite resort of hers; she used to go there almost every month in the summer and stay two or three days, even sometimes a week. The shy novices, the stillness, the low ceilings, the smell of cypress, the modest fare, the cheap curtains on the windows—all this touched her, softened her, and disposed her to contemplation and good thoughts. It was enough for her to be half an hour in the hostel for her to feel that she, too, was timid and modest, and that she, too, smelt of cypress-wood. The past retreated into the background, lost its significance, and the princess began to imagine that in spite of her twenty-nine years she was very much like the old Father Superior, and that, like him, she was created not for wealth, not for earthly grandeur and love, but for a peaceful life secluded from the world, a life in twilight like the hostel.
It happens that a ray of light gleams in the dark cell of the anchorite absorbed in prayer, or a bird alights on the window and sings its song; the stern anchorite will smile in spite of himself, and a gentle, sinless joy will pierce through the load of grief over his sins, like water flowing from under a stone. The princess fancied she brought from the outside world just such comfort as the ray of light or the bird. Her gay, friendly smile, her gentle eyes, her voice, her jests, her whole personality in fact, her little graceful figure always dressed in simple black, must arouse in simple, austere people a feeling of tenderness and joy. Every one, looking at her, must think: “God has sent us an angel. . . .” And feeling that no one could help thinking this, she smiled still more cordially, and tried to look like a bird.
After drinking tea and resting, she went for a walk. The sun was already setting. From the monastery garden came a moist fragrance of freshly watered mignonette, and from the church floated the soft singing of men’s voices, which seemed very pleasant and mournful in the distance. It was the evening service. In the dark windows where the little lamps glowed gently, in the shadows, in the figure of the old monk sitting at the church door with a collecting-box, there was such unruffled peace that the princess felt moved to tears.
Outside the gate, in the walk between the wall and the birch-trees where there were benches, it was quite evening. The air grew rapidly darker and darker. The princess went along the walk, sat on a seat, and sank into thought.
She thought how good it would be to settle down for her whole life in this monastery where life was as still and unruffled as a summer evening; how good it would be to forget the ungrateful, dissipated prince; to forget her immense estates, the creditors who worried her every day, her misfortunes, her maid Dasha, who had looked at her impertinently that morning. It would be nice to sit here on the bench all her life and watch through the trunks of the birch-trees the evening mist gathering in wreaths in the valley below; the rooks flying home in a black cloud like a veil far, far away above the forest; two novices, one astride a piebald horse, another on foot driving out the horses for the night and rejoicing in their freedom, playing pranks like little children; their youthful voices rang out musically in the still air, and she could distinguish every word. It is nice to sit and listen to the silence: at one moment the wind blows and stirs the tops of the birch-trees, then a frog rustles in last year’s leaves, then the clock on the belfry strikes the quarter. . . . One might sit without moving, listen and think, and think. . . .
An old woman passed by with a wallet on her back. The princess thought that it would be nice to stop the old woman and to say something friendly and cordial to her, to help her. . . . But the old woman turned the corner without once looking round.
Not long afterwards a tall man with a grey beard and a straw hat came along the walk. When he came up to the princess, he took off his hat and bowed. From the bald patch on his head and his sharp, hooked nose the princess recognised him as the doctor, Mihail Ivanovitch, who had been in her service at Dubovki. She remembered that some one had told her that his wife had died the year before, and she wanted to sympathise with him, to console him.
“Doctor, I expect you don’t recognise me?” she said with an affable smile.
“Yes, Princess, I recognised you,” said the doctor, taking off his hat again.
“Oh, thank you; I was afraid that you, too, had forgotten your princess. People only remember their enemies, but they forget their friends. Have you, too, come to pray?”
“I am the doctor here, and I have to spend the night at the monastery every Saturday.”
“Well, how are you?” said the princess, sighing. “I hear that you have lost your wife. What a calamity!”
“Yes, Princess, for me it is a great calamity.”
“There’s nothing for it! We must bear our troubles with resignation. Not one hair of a man’s head is lost without the Divine Will.”
“Yes, Princess.”
To the princess’s friendly, gentle smile and her sighs the doctor responded coldly and dryly: “Yes, Princess.” And the expression of his face was cold and dry.
“What else can I say to him?” she wondered.
“How long it is since we met!” she said. “Five years! How much water has flowed under the bridge, how many changes in that time; it quite frightens one to think of it! You know, I am married. . . . I am not a countess now, but a princess. And by now I am separated from my husband too.”
“Yes, I heard so.”
“God has sent me many trials. No doubt you have heard, too, that I am almost ruined. My Dubovki, Sofyino, and Kiryakovo have all been sold for my unhappy husband’s debts. And I have only Baranovo and Mihaltsevo left. It’s terrible to look back: how many changes and misfortunes of all kinds, how many mistakes!”
“Yes, Princess, many mistakes.”
The princess was a little disconcerted. She knew her mistakes; they were all of such a private character that no one but she could think or speak of them. She could not resist asking:
“What mistakes are you thinking about?”
“You referred to them, so you know them . . .” answered the doctor, and he smiled. “Why talk about them!”
“No; tell me, doctor. I shall be very grateful to you. And please don’t stand on ceremony with me. I love to hear the truth.”
“I am not your judge, Princess.”
“Not my judge! What a tone you take! You must know something about me. Tell me!”
“If you really wish it, very well. Only I regret to say I’m not clever at talking, and people can’t always understand me.”
The doctor thought a moment and began:
“A lot of mistakes; but the most important of them, in my opinion, was the general spirit that prevailed on all your estates. You see, I don’t know how to express myself. I mean chiefly the lack of love, the aversion for people that was felt in absolutely everything. Your whole system of life was built upon that aversion. Aversion for the human voice, for faces, for heads, steps . . . in fact, for everything that makes up a human being. At all the doors and on the stairs there stand sleek, rude, and lazy grooms in livery to prevent badly dressed persons from entering the house; in the hall there are chairs with high backs so that the footmen waiting there, during balls and receptions, may not soil the walls with their heads; in every room there are thick carpets that no human step may be heard; every one who comes in is infallibly warned to speak as softly and as little as possible, and to say nothing that might have a disagreeable effect on the nerves or the imagination. And in your room you don’t shake hands with any one or ask him to sit down— just as you didn’t shake hands with me or ask me to sit down. . . .”
“By all means, if you like,” said the princess, smiling and holding out her hand. “Really, to be cross about such trifles. . . .”
“But I am not cross,” laughed the doctor, but at once he flushed, took off his hat, and waving it about, began hotly: “To be candid, I’ve long wanted an opportunity to tell you all I think. . . . That is, I want to tell you that you look upon the mass of mankind from the Napoleonic standpoint as food for the cannon. But Napoleon had at least some idea; you have nothing except aversion.”
“I have an aversion for people?” smiled the princess, shrugging her shoulders in astonishment. “I have!”
“Yes, you! You want facts? By all means. In Mihaltsevo three former cooks of yours, who have gone blind in your kitchens from the heat of the stove, are living upon charity. All the health and strength and good looks that is found on your hundreds of thousands of acres is taken by you and your parasites for your grooms, your footmen, and your coachmen. All these two-legged cattle are trained to be flunkeys, overeat themselves, grow coarse, lose the ‘image and likeness,’ in fact. . . . Young doctors, agricultural experts, teachers, intellectual workers generally—think of it!—are torn away from their honest work and forced for a crust of bread to take part in all sorts of mummeries which make every decent man feel ashamed! Some young men cannot be in your service for three years without becoming hypocrites, toadies, sneaks. . . . Is that a good thing? Your Polish superintendents, those abject spies, all those Kazimers and Kaetans, go hunting about on your hundreds of thousands of acres from morning to night, and to please you try to get three skins off one ox. Excuse me, I speak disconnectedly, but that doesn’t matter. You don’t look upon the simple people as human beings. And even the princes, counts, and bishops who used to come and see you, you looked upon simply as decorative figures, not as living beings. But the worst of all, the thing that most revolts me, is having a fortune of over a million and doing nothing for other people, nothing!”
The princess sat amazed, aghast, offended, not knowing what to say or how to behave. She had never before been spoken to in such a tone. The doctor’s unpleasant, angry voice and his clumsy, faltering phrases made a harsh clattering noise in her ears and her head. Then she began to feel as though the gesticulating doctor was hitting her on the head with his hat.
“It’s not true!” she articulated softly, in an imploring voice. “I’ve done a great deal of good for other people; you know it yourself!”
“Nonsense!” cried the doctor. “Can you possibly go on thinking of your philanthropic work as something genuine and useful, and not a mere mummery? It was a farce from beginning to end; it was playing at loving your neighbour, the most open farce which even children and stupid peasant women saw through! Take for instance your— what was it called?—house for homeless old women without relations, of which you made me something like a head doctor, and of which you were the patroness. Mercy on us! What a charming institution it was! A house was built with parquet floors and a weathercock on the roof; a dozen old women were collected from the villages and made to sleep under blankets and sheets of Dutch linen, and given toffee to eat.”
The doctor gave a malignant chuckle into his hat, and went on speaking rapidly and stammering:
“It was a farce! The attendants kept the sheets and the blankets under lock and key, for fear the old women should soil them—‘Let the old devil’s pepper-pots sleep on the floor.’ The old women did not dare to sit down on the beds, to put on their jackets, to walk over the polished floors. Everything was kept for show and hidden away from the old women as though they were thieves, and the old women were clothed and fed on the sly by other people’s charity, and prayed to God night and day to be released from their prison and from the canting exhortations of the sleek rascals to whose care you committed them. And what did the managers do? It was simply charming! About twice a week there would be thirty-five thousand messages to say that the princess—that is, you—were coming to the home next day. That meant that next day I had to abandon my patients, dress up and be on parade. Very good; I arrive. The old women, in everything clean and new, are already drawn up in a row, waiting. Near them struts the old garrison rat—the superintendent with his mawkish, sneaking smile. The old women yawn and exchange glances, but are afraid to complain. We wait. The junior steward gallops up. Half an hour later the senior steward; then the superintendent of the accounts’ office, then another, and then another of them . . . they keep arriving endlessly. They all have mysterious, solemn faces. We wait and wait, shift from one leg to another, look at the clock—all this in monumental silence because we all hate each other like poison. One hour passes, then a second, and then at last the carriage is seen in the distance, and . . . and . . .”
The doctor went off into a shrill laugh and brought out in a shrill voice:
“You get out of the carriage, and the old hags, at the word of command from the old garrison rat, begin chanting: ‘The Glory of our Lord in Zion the tongue of man cannot express. . .’ A pretty scene, wasn’t it?”
The doctor went off into a bass chuckle, and waved his hand as though to signify that he could not utter another word for laughing. He laughed heavily, harshly, with clenched teeth, as ill-natured people laugh; and from his voice, from his face, from his glittering, rather insolent eyes it could be seen that he had a profound contempt for the princess, for the home, and for the old women. There was nothing amusing or laughable in all that he described so clumsily and coarsely, but he laughed with satisfaction, even with delight.
“And the school?” he went on, panting from laughter. “Do you remember how you wanted to teach peasant children yourself? You must have taught them very well, for very soon the children all ran away, so that they had to be thrashed and bribed to come and be taught. And you remember how you wanted to feed with your own hands the infants whose mothers were working in the fields. You went about the village crying because the infants were not at your disposal, as the mothers would take them to the fields with them. Then the village foreman ordered the mothers by turns to leave their infants behind for your entertainment. A strange thing! They all ran away from your benevolence like mice from a cat! And why was it? It’s very simple. Not because our people are ignorant and ungrateful, as you always explained it to yourself, but because in all your fads, if you’ll excuse the word, there wasn’t a ha’p’orth of love and kindness! There was nothing but the desire to amuse yourself with living puppets, nothing else. . . . A person who does not feel the difference between a human being and a lap-dog ought not to go in for philanthropy. I assure you, there’s a great difference between human beings and lap-dogs!”
The princess’s heart was beating dreadfully; there was a thudding in her ears, and she still felt as though the doctor were beating her on the head with his hat. The doctor talked quickly, excitedly, and uncouthly, stammering and gesticulating unnecessarily. All she grasped was that she was spoken to by a coarse, ill-bred, spiteful, and ungrateful man; but what he wanted of her and what he was talking about, she could not understand.
“Go away!” she said in a tearful voice, putting up her hands to protect her head from the doctor’s hat; “go away!”
“And how you treat your servants!” the doctor went on, indignantly. “You treat them as the lowest scoundrels, and don’t look upon them as human beings. For example, allow me to ask, why did you dismiss me? For ten years I worked for your father and afterwards for you, honestly, without vacations or holidays. I gained the love of all for more than seventy miles round, and suddenly one fine day I am informed that I am no longer wanted. What for? I’ve no idea to this day. I, a doctor of medicine, a gentleman by birth, a student of the Moscow University, father of a family—am such a petty, insignificant insect that you can kick me out without explaining the reason! Why stand on ceremony with me! I heard afterwards that my wife went without my knowledge three times to intercede with you for me—you wouldn’t receive her. I am told she cried in your hall. And I shall never forgive her for it, never!”
The doctor paused and clenched his teeth, making an intense effort to think of something more to say, very unpleasant and vindictive. He thought of something, and his cold, frowning face suddenly brightened.
“Take your attitude to this monastery!” he said with avidity. “You’ve never spared any one, and the holier the place, the more chance of its suffering from your loving-kindness and angelic sweetness. Why do you come here? What do you want with the monks here, allow me to ask you? What is Hecuba to you or you to Hecuba? It’s another farce, another amusement for you, another sacrilege against human dignity, and nothing more. Why, you don’t believe in the monks’ God; you’ve a God of your own in your heart, whom you’ve evolved for yourself at spiritualist séances. You look with condescension upon the ritual of the Church; you don’t go to mass or vespers; you sleep till midday. . . . Why do you come here? . . . You come with a God of your own into a monastery you have nothing to do with, and you imagine that the monks look upon it as a very great honour. To be sure they do! You’d better ask, by the way, what your visits cost the monastery. You were graciously pleased to arrive here this evening, and a messenger from your estate arrived on horseback the day before yesterday to warn them of your coming. They were the whole day yesterday getting the rooms ready and expecting you. This morning your advance-guard arrived—an insolent maid, who keeps running across the courtyard, rustling her skirts, pestering them with questions, giving orders. . . . I can’t endure it! The monks have been on the lookout all day, for if you were not met with due ceremony, there would be trouble! You’d complain to the bishop! ‘The monks don’t like me, your holiness; I don’t know what I’ve done to displease them. It’s true I’m a great sinner, but I’m so unhappy!’ Already one monastery has been in hot water over you. The Father Superior is a busy, learned man; he hasn’t a free moment, and you keep sending for him to come to your rooms. Not a trace of respect for age or for rank! If at least you were a bountiful giver to the monastery, one wouldn’t resent it so much, but all this time the monks have not received a hundred roubles from you!”
Whenever people worried the princess, misunderstood her, or mortified her, and when she did not know what to say or do, she usually began to cry. And on this occasion, too, she ended by hiding her face in her hands and crying aloud in a thin treble like a child. The doctor suddenly stopped and looked at her. His face darkened and grew stern.
“Forgive me, Princess,” he said in a hollow voice. “I’ve given way to a malicious feeling and forgotten myself. It was not right.”
And coughing in an embarrassed way, he walked away quickly, without remembering to put his hat on.
Stars were already twinkling in the sky. The moon must have been rising on the further side of the monastery, for the sky was clear, soft, and transparent. Bats were flitting noiselessly along the white monastery wall.
The clock slowly struck three quarters, probably a quarter to nine. The princess got up and walked slowly to the gate. She felt wounded and was crying, and she felt that the trees and the stars and even the bats were pitying her, and that the clock struck musically only to express its sympathy with her. She cried and thought how nice it would be to go into a monastery for the rest of her life. On still summer evenings she would walk alone through the avenues, insulted, injured, misunderstood by people, and only God and the starry heavens would see the martyr’s tears. The evening service was still going on in the church. The princess stopped and listened to the singing; how beautiful the singing sounded in the still darkness! How sweet to weep and suffer to the sound of that singing!
Going into her rooms, she looked at her tear-stained face in the glass and powdered it, then she sat down to supper. The monks knew that she liked pickled sturgeon, little mushrooms, Malaga and plain honey-cakes that left a taste of cypress in the mouth, and every time she came they gave her all these dishes. As she ate the mushrooms and drank the Malaga, the princess dreamed of how she would be finally ruined and deserted—how all her stewards, bailiffs, clerks, and maid-servants for whom she had done so much, would be false to her, and begin to say rude things; how people all the world over would set upon her, speak ill of her, jeer at her. She would renounce her title, would renounce society and luxury, and would go into a convent without one word of reproach to any one; she would pray for her enemies—and then they would all understand her and come to beg her forgiveness, but by that time it would be too late. . . .
After supper she knelt down in the corner before the ikon and read two chapters of the Gospel. Then her maid made her bed and she got into it. Stretching herself under the white quilt, she heaved a sweet, deep sigh, as one sighs after crying, closed her eyes, and began to fall asleep.
In the morning she waked up and glanced at her watch. It was half-past nine. On the carpet near the bed was a bright, narrow streak of sunlight from a ray which came in at the window and dimly lighted up the room. Flies were buzzing behind the black curtain at the window. “It’s early,” thought the princess, and she closed her eyes.
Stretching and lying snug in her bed, she recalled her meeting yesterday with the doctor and all the thoughts with which she had gone to sleep the night before: she remembered she was unhappy. Then she thought of her husband living in Petersburg, her stewards, doctors, neighbours, the officials of her acquaintance . . . a long procession of familiar masculine faces passed before her imagination. She smiled and thought, if only these people could see into her heart and understand her, they would all be at her feet.
At a quarter past eleven she called her maid.
“Help me to dress, Dasha,” she said languidly. “But go first and tell them to get out the horses. I must set off for Klavdia Nikolaevna’s.”
Going out to get into the carriage, she blinked at the glaring daylight and laughed with pleasure: it was a wonderfully fine day! As she scanned from her half-closed eyes the monks who had gathered round the steps to see her off, she nodded graciously and said:
“Good-bye, my friends! Till the day after tomorrow.”
It was an agreeable surprise to her that the doctor was with the monks by the steps. His face was pale and severe.
“Princess,” he said with a guilty smile, taking off his hat, “I’ve been waiting here a long time to see you. Forgive me, for God’s sake. . . . I was carried away yesterday by an evil, vindictive feeling and I talked . . . nonsense. In short, I beg your pardon.”
The princess smiled graciously, and held out her hand for him to kiss. He kissed it, turning red.
Trying to look like a bird, the princess fluttered into the carriage and nodded in all directions. There was a gay, warm, serene feeling in her heart, and she felt herself that her smile was particularly soft and friendly. As the carriage rolled towards the gates, and afterwards along the dusty road past huts and gardens, past long trains of waggons and strings of pilgrims on their way to the monastery, she still screwed up her eyes and smiled softly. She was thinking there was no higher bliss than to bring warmth, light, and joy wherever one went, to forgive injuries, to smile graciously on one’s enemies. The peasants she passed bowed to her, the carriage rustled softly, clouds of dust rose from under the wheels and floated over the golden rye, and it seemed to the princess that her body was swaying not on carriage cushions but on clouds, and that she herself was like a light, transparent little cloud. . . .
“How happy I am!” she murmured, shutting her eyes. “How happy I am!”




THERE is in Russia an emeritus Professor Nikolay Stepanovitch, a chevalier and privy councillor; he has so many Russian and foreign decorations that when he has occasion to put them on the students nickname him “The Ikonstand.” His acquaintances are of the most aristocratic; for the last twenty-five or thirty years, at any rate, there has not been one single distinguished man of learning in Russia with whom he has not been intimately acquainted. There is no one for him to make friends with nowadays; but if we turn to the past, the long list of his famous friends winds up with such names as Pirogov, Kavelin, and the poet Nekrasov, all of whom bestowed upon him a warm and sincere affection. He is a member of all the Russian and of three foreign universities. And so on, and so on. All that and a great deal more that might be said makes up what is called my “name.”
That is my name as known to the public. In Russia it is known to every educated man, and abroad it is mentioned in the lecture-room with the addition “honoured and distinguished.” It is one of those fortunate names to abuse which or to take which in vain, in public or in print, is considered a sign of bad taste. And that is as it should be. You see, my name is closely associated with the conception of a highly distinguished man of great gifts and unquestionable usefulness. I have the industry and power of endurance of a camel, and that is important, and I have talent, which is even more important. Moreover, while I am on this subject, I am a well-educated, modest, and honest fellow. I have never poked my nose into literature or politics; I have never sought popularity in polemics with the ignorant; I have never made speeches either at public dinners or at the funerals of my friends.... In fact, there is no slur on my learned name, and there is no complaint one can make against it. It is fortunate.
The bearer of that name, that is I, see myself as a man of sixty-two, with a bald head, with false teeth, and with an incurable tic douloureux. I am myself as dingy and unsightly as my name is brilliant and splendid. My head and my hands tremble with weakness; my neck, as Turgenev says of one of his heroines, is like the handle of a double bass; my chest is hollow; my shoulders narrow; when I talk or lecture, my mouth turns down at one corner; when I smile, my whole face is covered with aged-looking, deathly wrinkles. There is nothing impressive about my pitiful figure; only, perhaps, when I have an attack of tic douloureux my face wears a peculiar expression, the sight of which must have roused in every one the grim and impressive thought, “Evidently that man will soon die.”
I still, as in the past, lecture fairly well; I can still, as in the past, hold the attention of my listeners for a couple of hours. My fervour, the literary skill of my exposition, and my humour, almost efface the defects of my voice, though it is harsh, dry, and monotonous as a praying beggar’s. I write poorly. That bit of my brain which presides over the faculty of authorship refuses to work. My memory has grown weak; there is a lack of sequence in my ideas, and when I put them on paper it always seems to me that I have lost the instinct for their organic connection; my construction is monotonous; my language is poor and timid. Often I write what I do not mean; I have forgotten the beginning when I am writing the end. Often I forget ordinary words, and I always have to waste a great deal of energy in avoiding superfluous phrases and unnecessary parentheses in my letters, both unmistakable proofs of a decline in mental activity. And it is noteworthy that the simpler the letter the more painful the effort to write it. At a scientific article I feel far more intelligent and at ease than at a letter of congratulation or a minute of proceedings. Another point: I find it easier to write German or English than to write Russian.
As regards my present manner of life, I must give a foremost place to the insomnia from which I have suffered of late. If I were asked what constituted the chief and fundamental feature of my existence now, I should answer, Insomnia. As in the past, from habit I undress and go to bed exactly at midnight. I fall asleep quickly, but before two o’clock I wake up and feel as though I had not slept at all. Sometimes I get out of bed and light a lamp. For an hour or two I walk up and down the room looking at the familiar photographs and pictures. When I am weary of walking about, I sit down to my table. I sit motionless, thinking of nothing, conscious of no inclination; if a book is lying before me, I mechanically move it closer and read it without any interest—in that way not long ago I mechanically read through in one night a whole novel, with the strange title “The Song the Lark was Singing”; or to occupy my attention I force myself to count to a thousand; or I imagine the face of one of my colleagues and begin trying to remember in what year and under what circumstances he entered the service. I like listening to sounds. Two rooms away from me my daughter Liza says something rapidly in her sleep, or my wife crosses the drawing-room with a candle and invariably drops the matchbox; or a warped cupboard creaks; or the burner of the lamp suddenly begins to hum—and all these sounds, for some reason, excite me.
To lie awake at night means to be at every moment conscious of being abnormal, and so I look forward with impatience to the morning and the day when I have a right to be awake. Many wearisome hours pass before the cock crows in the yard. He is my first bringer of good tidings. As soon as he crows I know that within an hour the porter will wake up below, and, coughing angrily, will go upstairs to fetch something. And then a pale light will begin gradually glimmering at the windows, voices will sound in the street....
The day begins for me with the entrance of my wife. She comes in to me in her petticoat, before she has done her hair, but after she has washed, smelling of flower-scented eau-de-Cologne, looking as though she had come in by chance. Every time she says exactly the same thing: “Excuse me, I have just come in for a minute.... Have you had a bad night again?”
Then she puts out the lamp, sits down near the table, and begins talking. I am no prophet, but I know what she will talk about. Every morning it is exactly the same thing. Usually, after anxious inquiries concerning my health, she suddenly mentions our son who is an officer serving at Warsaw. After the twentieth of each month we send him fifty roubles, and that serves as the chief topic of our conversation.
“Of course it is difficult for us,” my wife would sigh, “but until he is completely on his own feet it is our duty to help him. The boy is among strangers, his pay is small.... However, if you like, next month we won’t send him fifty, but forty. What do you think?”
Daily experience might have taught my wife that constantly talking of our expenses does not reduce them, but my wife refuses to learn by experience, and regularly every morning discusses our officer son, and tells me that bread, thank God, is cheaper, while sugar is a halfpenny dearer—with a tone and an air as though she were communicating interesting news.
I listen, mechanically assent, and probably because I have had a bad night, strange and inappropriate thoughts intrude themselves upon me. I gaze at my wife and wonder like a child. I ask myself in perplexity, is it possible that this old, very stout, ungainly woman, with her dull expression of petty anxiety and alarm about daily bread, with eyes dimmed by continual brooding over debts and money difficulties, who can talk of nothing but expenses and who smiles at nothing but things getting cheaper—is it possible that this woman is no other than the slender Varya whom I fell in love with so passionately for her fine, clear intelligence, for her pure soul, her beauty, and, as Othello his Desdemona, for her “sympathy” for my studies? Could that woman be no other than the Varya who had once borne me a son?
I look with strained attention into the face of this flabby, spiritless, clumsy old woman, seeking in her my Varya, but of her past self nothing is left but her anxiety over my health and her manner of calling my salary “our salary,” and my cap “our cap.” It is painful for me to look at her, and, to give her what little comfort I can, I let her say what she likes, and say nothing even when she passes unjust criticisms on other people or pitches into me for not having a private practice or not publishing text-books.
Our conversation always ends in the same way. My wife suddenly remembers with dismay that I have not had my tea.
“What am I thinking about, sitting here?” she says, getting up. “The samovar has been on the table ever so long, and here I stay gossiping. My goodness! how forgetful I am growing!”
She goes out quickly, and stops in the doorway to say:
“We owe Yegor five months’ wages. Did you know it? You mustn’t let the servants’ wages run on; how many times I have said it! It’s much easier to pay ten roubles a month than fifty roubles every five months!”
As she goes out, she stops to say:
“The person I am sorriest for is our Liza. The girl studies at the Conservatoire, always mixes with people of good position, and goodness knows how she is dressed. Her fur coat is in such a state she is ashamed to show herself in the street. If she were somebody else’s daughter it wouldn’t matter, but of course every one knows that her father is a distinguished professor, a privy councillor.”
And having reproached me with my rank and reputation, she goes away at last. That is how my day begins. It does not improve as it goes on.
As I am drinking my tea, my Liza comes in wearing her fur coat and her cap, with her music in her hand, already quite ready to go to the Conservatoire. She is two-and-twenty. She looks younger, is pretty, and rather like my wife in her young days. She kisses me tenderly on my forehead and on my hand, and says:
“Good-morning, papa; are you quite well?”
As a child she was very fond of ice-cream, and I used often to take her to a confectioner’s. Ice-cream was for her the type of everything delightful. If she wanted to praise me she would say: “You are as nice as cream, papa.” We used to call one of her little fingers “pistachio ice,” the next, “cream ice,” the third “raspberry,” and so on. Usually when she came in to say good-morning to me I used to sit her on my knee, kiss her little fingers, and say:
“Creamy ice... pistachio... lemon....”
And now, from old habit, I kiss Liza’s fingers and mutter: “Pistachio... cream... lemon...” but the effect is utterly different. I am cold as ice and I am ashamed. When my daughter comes in to me and touches my forehead with her lips I start as though a bee had stung me on the head, give a forced smile, and turn my face away. Ever since I have been suffering from sleeplessness, a question sticks in my brain like a nail. My daughter often sees me, an old man and a distinguished man, blush painfully at being in debt to my footman; she sees how often anxiety over petty debts forces me to lay aside my work and to walk up and down the room for hours together, thinking; but why is it she never comes to me in secret to whisper in my ear: “Father, here is my watch, here are my bracelets, my earrings, my dresses.... Pawn them all; you want money...”? How is it that, seeing how her mother and I are placed in a false position and do our utmost to hide our poverty from people, she does not give up her expensive pleasure of music lessons? I would not accept her watch nor her bracelets, nor the sacrifice of her lessons—God forbid! That isn’t what I want.
I think at the same time of my son, the officer at Warsaw. He is a clever, honest, and sober fellow. But that is not enough for me. I think if I had an old father, and if I knew there were moments when he was put to shame by his poverty, I should give up my officer’s commission to somebody else, and should go out to earn my living as a workman. Such thoughts about my children poison me. What is the use of them? It is only a narrow-minded or embittered man who can harbour evil thoughts about ordinary people because they are not heroes. But enough of that!
At a quarter to ten I have to go and give a lecture to my dear boys. I dress and walk along the road which I have known for thirty years, and which has its history for me. Here is the big grey house with the chemist’s shop; at this point there used to stand a little house, and in it was a beershop; in that beershop I thought out my thesis and wrote my first love-letter to Varya. I wrote it in pencil, on a page headed “Historia morbi.” Here there is a grocer’s shop; at one time it was kept by a little Jew, who sold me cigarettes on credit; then by a fat peasant woman, who liked the students because “every one of them has a mother”; now there is a red-haired shopkeeper sitting in it, a very stolid man who drinks tea from a copper teapot. And here are the gloomy gates of the University, which have long needed doing up; I see the bored porter in his sheep-skin, the broom, the drifts of snow.... On a boy coming fresh from the provinces and imagining that the temple of science must really be a temple, such gates cannot make a healthy impression. Altogether the dilapidated condition of the University buildings, the gloominess of the corridors, the griminess of the walls, the lack of light, the dejected aspect of the steps, the hat-stands and the benches, take a prominent position among predisposing causes in the history of Russian pessimism.... Here is our garden... I fancy it has grown neither better nor worse since I was a student. I don’t like it. It would be far more sensible if there were tall pines and fine oaks growing here instead of sickly-looking lime-trees, yellow acacias, and skimpy pollard lilacs. The student whose state of mind is in the majority of cases created by his surroundings, ought in the place where he is studying to see facing him at every turn nothing but what is lofty, strong and elegant.... God preserve him from gaunt trees, broken windows, grey walls, and doors covered with torn American leather!
When I go to my own entrance the door is flung wide open, and I am met by my colleague, contemporary, and namesake, the porter Nikolay. As he lets me in he clears his throat and says:
“A frost, your Excellency!”
Or, if my great-coat is wet:
“Rain, your Excellency!”
Then he runs on ahead of me and opens all the doors on my way. In my study he carefully takes off my fur coat, and while doing so manages to tell me some bit of University news. Thanks to the close intimacy existing between all the University porters and beadles, he knows everything that goes on in the four faculties, in the office, in the rector’s private room, in the library. What does he not know? When in an evil day a rector or dean, for instance, retires, I hear him in conversation with the young porters mention the candidates for the post, explain that such a one would not be confirmed by the minister, that another would himself refuse to accept it, then drop into fantastic details concerning mysterious papers received in the office, secret conversations alleged to have taken place between the minister and the trustee, and so on. With the exception of these details, he almost always turns out to be right. His estimates of the candidates, though original, are very correct, too. If one wants to know in what year some one read his thesis, entered the service, retired, or died, then summon to your assistance the vast memory of that soldier, and he will not only tell you the year, the month and the day, but will furnish you also with the details that accompanied this or that event. Only one who loves can remember like that.
He is the guardian of the University traditions. From the porters who were his predecessors he has inherited many legends of University life, has added to that wealth much of his own gained during his time of service, and if you care to hear he will tell you many long and intimate stories. He can tell one about extraordinary sages who knew everything, about remarkable students who did not sleep for weeks, about numerous martyrs and victims of science; with him good triumphs over evil, the weak always vanquishes the strong, the wise man the fool, the humble the proud, the young the old. There is no need to take all these fables and legends for sterling coin; but filter them, and you will have left what is wanted: our fine traditions and the names of real heroes, recognized as such by all.
In our society the knowledge of the learned world consists of anecdotes of the extraordinary absentmindedness of certain old professors, and two or three witticisms variously ascribed to Gruber, to me, and to Babukin. For the educated public that is not much. If it loved science, learned men, and students, as Nikolay does, its literature would long ago have contained whole epics, records of sayings and doings such as, unfortunately, it cannot boast of now.
After telling me a piece of news, Nikolay assumes a severe expression, and conversation about business begins. If any outsider could at such times overhear Nikolay’s free use of our terminology, he might perhaps imagine that he was a learned man disguised as a soldier. And, by the way, the rumours of the erudition of the University porters are greatly exaggerated. It is true that Nikolay knows more than a hundred Latin words, knows how to put the skeleton together, sometimes prepares the apparatus and amuses the students by some long, learned quotation, but the by no means complicated theory of the circulation of the blood, for instance, is as much a mystery to him now as it was twenty years ago.
At the table in my study, bending low over some book or preparation, sits Pyotr Ignatyevitch, my demonstrator, a modest and industrious but by no means clever man of five-and-thirty, already bald and corpulent; he works from morning to night, reads a lot, remembers well everything he has read—and in that way he is not a man, but pure gold; in all else he is a carthorse or, in other words, a learned dullard. The carthorse characteristics that show his lack of talent are these: his outlook is narrow and sharply limited by his specialty; outside his special branch he is simple as a child.
“Fancy! what a misfortune! They say Skobelev is dead.”
Nikolay crosses himself, but Pyotr Ignatyevitch turns to me and asks:
“What Skobelev is that?”
Another time—somewhat earlier—I told him that Professor Perov was dead. Good Pyotr Ignatyevitch asked:
“What did he lecture on?”
I believe if Patti had sung in his very ear, if a horde of Chinese had invaded Russia, if there had been an earthquake, he would not have stirred a limb, but screwing up his eye, would have gone on calmly looking through his microscope. What is he to Hecuba or Hecuba to him, in fact? I would give a good deal to see how this dry stick sleeps with his wife at night.
Another characteristic is his fanatical faith in the infallibility of science, and, above all, of everything written by the Germans. He believes in himself, in his preparations; knows the object of life, and knows nothing of the doubts and disappointments that turn the hair of talent grey. He has a slavish reverence for authorities and a complete lack of any desire for independent thought. To change his convictions is difficult, to argue with him impossible. How is one to argue with a man who is firmly persuaded that medicine is the finest of sciences, that doctors are the best of men, and that the traditions of the medical profession are superior to those of any other? Of the evil past of medicine only one tradition has been preserved—the white tie still worn by doctors; for a learned—in fact, for any educated man the only traditions that can exist are those of the University as a whole, with no distinction between medicine, law, etc. But it would be hard for Pyotr Ignatyevitch to accept these facts, and he is ready to argue with you till the day of judgment.
I have a clear picture in my mind of his future. In the course of his life he will prepare many hundreds of chemicals of exceptional purity; he will write a number of dry and very accurate memoranda, will make some dozen conscientious translations, but he won’t do anything striking. To do that one must have imagination, inventiveness, the gift of insight, and Pyotr Ignatyevitch has nothing of the kind. In short, he is not a master in science, but a journeyman.
Pyotr Ignatyevitch, Nikolay, and I, talk in subdued tones. We are not quite ourselves. There is always a peculiar feeling when one hears through the doors a murmur as of the sea from the lecture-theatre. In the course of thirty years I have not grown accustomed to this feeling, and I experience it every morning. I nervously button up my coat, ask Nikolay unnecessary questions, lose my temper.... It is just as though I were frightened; it is not timidity, though, but something different which I can neither describe nor find a name for.
Quite unnecessarily, I look at my watch and say: “Well, it’s time to go in.”
And we march into the room in the following order: foremost goes Nikolay, with the chemicals and apparatus or with a chart; after him I come; and then the carthorse follows humbly, with hanging head; or, when necessary, a dead body is carried in first on a stretcher, followed by Nikolay, and so on. On my entrance the students all stand up, then they sit down, and the sound as of the sea is suddenly hushed. Stillness reigns.
I know what I am going to lecture about, but I don’t know how I am going to lecture, where I am going to begin or with what I am going to end. I haven’t a single sentence ready in my head. But I have only to look round the lecture-hall (it is built in the form of an amphitheatre) and utter the stereotyped phrase, “Last lecture we stopped at...” when sentences spring up from my soul in a long string, and I am carried away by my own eloquence. I speak with irresistible rapidity and passion, and it seems as though there were no force which could check the flow of my words. To lecture well—that is, with profit to the listeners and without boring them—one must have, besides talent, experience and a special knack; one must possess a clear conception of one’s own powers, of the audience to which one is lecturing, and of the subject of one’s lecture. Moreover, one must be a man who knows what he is doing; one must keep a sharp lookout, and not for one second lose sight of what lies before one.
A good conductor, interpreting the thought of the composer, does twenty things at once: reads the score, waves his baton, watches the singer, makes a motion sideways, first to the drum then to the wind-instruments, and so on. I do just the same when I lecture. Before me a hundred and fifty faces, all unlike one another; three hundred eyes all looking straight into my face. My object is to dominate this many-headed monster. If every moment as I lecture I have a clear vision of the degree of its attention and its power of comprehension, it is in my power. The other foe I have to overcome is in myself. It is the infinite variety of forms, phenomena, laws, and the multitude of ideas of my own and other people’s conditioned by them. Every moment I must have the skill to snatch out of that vast mass of material what is most important and necessary, and, as rapidly as my words flow, clothe my thought in a form in which it can be grasped by the monster’s intelligence, and may arouse its attention, and at the same time one must keep a sharp lookout that one’s thoughts are conveyed, not just as they come, but in a certain order, essential for the correct composition of the picture I wish to sketch. Further, I endeavour to make my diction literary, my definitions brief and precise, my wording, as far as possible, simple and eloquent. Every minute I have to pull myself up and remember that I have only an hour and forty minutes at my disposal. In short, one has one’s work cut out. At one and the same minute one has to play the part of savant and teacher and orator, and it’s a bad thing if the orator gets the upper hand of the savant or of the teacher in one, or vice versa.
You lecture for a quarter of an hour, for half an hour, when you notice that the students are beginning to look at the ceiling, at Pyotr Ignatyevitch; one is feeling for his handkerchief, another shifts in his seat, another smiles at his thoughts.... That means that their attention is flagging. Something must be done. Taking advantage of the first opportunity, I make some pun. A broad grin comes on to a hundred and fifty faces, the eyes shine brightly, the sound of the sea is audible for a brief moment.... I laugh too. Their attention is refreshed, and I can go on.
No kind of sport, no kind of game or diversion, has ever given me such enjoyment as lecturing. Only at lectures have I been able to abandon myself entirely to passion, and have understood that inspiration is not an invention of the poets, but exists in real life, and I imagine Hercules after the most piquant of his exploits felt just such voluptuous exhaustion as I experience after every lecture.
That was in old times. Now at lectures I feel nothing but torture. Before half an hour is over I am conscious of an overwhelming weakness in my legs and my shoulders. I sit down in my chair, but I am not accustomed to lecture sitting down; a minute later I get up and go on standing, then sit down again. There is a dryness in my mouth, my voice grows husky, my head begins to go round.... To conceal my condition from my audience I continually drink water, cough, often blow my nose as though I were hindered by a cold, make puns inappropriately, and in the end break off earlier than I ought to. But above all I am ashamed.
My conscience and my intelligence tell me that the very best thing I could do now would be to deliver a farewell lecture to the boys, to say my last word to them, to bless them, and give up my post to a man younger and stronger than me. But, God, be my judge, I have not manly courage enough to act according to my conscience.
Unfortunately, I am not a philosopher and not a theologian. I know perfectly well that I cannot live more than another six months; it might be supposed that I ought now to be chiefly concerned with the question of the shadowy life beyond the grave, and the visions that will visit my slumbers in the tomb. But for some reason my soul refuses to recognize these questions, though my mind is fully alive to their importance. Just as twenty, thirty years ago, so now, on the threshold of death, I am interested in nothing but science. As I yield up my last breath I shall still believe that science is the most important, the most splendid, the most essential thing in the life of man; that it always has been and will be the highest manifestation of love, and that only by means of it will man conquer himself and nature. This faith is perhaps naive and may rest on false assumptions, but it is not my fault that I believe that and nothing else; I cannot overcome in myself this belief.
But that is not the point. I only ask people to be indulgent to my weakness, and to realize that to tear from the lecture-theatre and his pupils a man who is more interested in the history of the development of the bone medulla than in the final object of creation would be equivalent to taking him and nailing him up in his coffin without waiting for him to be dead.
Sleeplessness and the consequent strain of combating increasing weakness leads to something strange in me. In the middle of my lecture tears suddenly rise in my throat, my eyes begin to smart, and I feel a passionate, hysterical desire to stretch out my hands before me and break into loud lamentation. I want to cry out in a loud voice that I, a famous man, have been sentenced by fate to the death penalty, that within some six months another man will be in control here in the lecture-theatre. I want to shriek that I am poisoned; new ideas such as I have not known before have poisoned the last days of my life, and are still stinging my brain like mosquitoes. And at that moment my position seems to me so awful that I want all my listeners to be horrified, to leap up from their seats and to rush in panic terror, with desperate screams, to the exit.
It is not easy to get through such moments.


After my lecture I sit at home and work. I read journals and monographs, or prepare my next lecture; sometimes I write something. I work with interruptions, as I have from time to time to see visitors.
There is a ring at the bell. It is a colleague come to discuss some business matter with me. He comes in to me with his hat and his stick, and, holding out both these objects to me, says:
“Only for a minute! Only for a minute! Sit down, collega! Only a couple of words.”
To begin with, we both try to show each other that we are extraordinarily polite and highly delighted to see each other. I make him sit down in an easy-chair, and he makes me sit down; as we do so, we cautiously pat each other on the back, touch each other’s buttons, and it looks as though we were feeling each other and afraid of scorching our fingers. Both of us laugh, though we say nothing amusing. When we are seated we bow our heads towards each other and begin talking in subdued voices. However affectionately disposed we may be to one another, we cannot help adorning our conversation with all sorts of Chinese mannerisms, such as “As you so justly observed,” or “I have already had the honour to inform you”; we cannot help laughing if one of us makes a joke, however unsuccessfully. When we have finished with business my colleague gets up impulsively and, waving his hat in the direction of my work, begins to say good-bye. Again we paw one another and laugh. I see him into the hall; when I assist my colleague to put on his coat, while he does all he can to decline this high honour. Then when Yegor opens the door my colleague declares that I shall catch cold, while I make a show of being ready to go even into the street with him. And when at last I go back into my study my face still goes on smiling, I suppose from inertia.
A little later another ring at the bell. Somebody comes into the hall, and is a long time coughing and taking off his things. Yegor announces a student. I tell him to ask him in. A minute later a young man of agreeable appearance comes in. For the last year he and I have been on strained relations; he answers me disgracefully at the examinations, and I mark him one. Every year I have some seven such hopefuls whom, to express it in the students’ slang, I “chivy” or “floor.” Those of them who fail in their examination through incapacity or illness usually bear their cross patiently and do not haggle with me; those who come to the house and haggle with me are always youths of sanguine temperament, broad natures, whose failure at examinations spoils their appetites and hinders them from visiting the opera with their usual regularity. I let the first class off easily, but the second I chivy through a whole year.
“Sit down,” I say to my visitor; “what have you to tell me?”
“Excuse me, professor, for troubling you,” he begins, hesitating, and not looking me in the face. “I would not have ventured to trouble you if it had not been... I have been up for your examination five times, and have been ploughed.... I beg you, be so good as to mark me for a pass, because...”
The argument which all the sluggards bring forward on their own behalf is always the same; they have passed well in all their subjects and have only come to grief in mine, and that is the more surprising because they have always been particularly interested in my subject and knew it so well; their failure has always been entirely owing to some incomprehensible misunderstanding.
“Excuse me, my friend,” I say to the visitor; “I cannot mark you for a pass. Go and read up the lectures and come to me again. Then we shall see.”
A pause. I feel an impulse to torment the student a little for liking beer and the opera better than science, and I say, with a sigh:
“To my mind, the best thing you can do now is to give up medicine altogether. If, with your abilities, you cannot succeed in passing the examination, it’s evident that you have neither the desire nor the vocation for a doctor’s calling.”
The sanguine youth’s face lengthens.
“Excuse me, professor,” he laughs, “but that would be odd of me, to say the least of it. After studying for five years, all at once to give it up.”
“Oh, well! Better to have lost your five years than have to spend the rest of your life in doing work you do not care for.”
But at once I feel sorry for him, and I hasten to add:
“However, as you think best. And so read a little more and come again.”
“When?” the idle youth asks in a hollow voice.
“When you like. Tomorrow if you like.”
And in his good-natured eyes I read:
“I can come all right, but of course you will plough me again, you beast!”
“Of course,” I say, “you won’t know more science for going in for my examination another fifteen times, but it is training your character, and you must be thankful for that.”
Silence follows. I get up and wait for my visitor to go, but he stands and looks towards the window, fingers his beard, and thinks. It grows boring.
The sanguine youth’s voice is pleasant and mellow, his eyes are clever and ironical, his face is genial, though a little bloated from frequent indulgence in beer and overlong lying on the sofa; he looks as though he could tell me a lot of interesting things about the opera, about his affairs of the heart, and about comrades whom he likes. Unluckily, it is not the thing to discuss these subjects, or else I should have been glad to listen to him.
“Professor, I give you my word of honour that if you mark me for a pass I... I’ll...”
As soon as we reach the “word of honour” I wave my hands and sit down to the table. The student ponders a minute longer, and says dejectedly:
“In that case, good-bye... I beg your pardon.”
“Good-bye, my friend. Good luck to you.”
He goes irresolutely into the hall, slowly puts on his outdoor things, and, going out into the street, probably ponders for some time longer; unable to think of anything, except “old devil,” inwardly addressed to me, he goes into a wretched restaurant to dine and drink beer, and then home to bed. “Peace be to thy ashes, honest toiler.”
A third ring at the bell. A young doctor, in a pair of new black trousers, gold spectacles, and of course a white tie, walks in. He introduces himself. I beg him to be seated, and ask what I can do for him. Not without emotion, the young devotee of science begins telling me that he has passed his examination as a doctor of medicine, and that he has now only to write his dissertation. He would like to work with me under my guidance, and he would be greatly obliged to me if I would give him a subject for his dissertation.
“Very glad to be of use to you, colleague,” I say, “but just let us come to an understanding as to the meaning of a dissertation. That word is taken to mean a composition which is a product of independent creative effort. Is that not so? A work written on another man’s subject and under another man’s guidance is called something different....”
The doctor says nothing. I fly into a rage and jump up from my seat.
“Why is it you all come to me?” I cry angrily. “Do I keep a shop? I don’t deal in subjects. For the thousand and oneth time I ask you all to leave me in peace! Excuse my brutality, but I am quite sick of it!”
The doctor remains silent, but a faint flush is apparent on his cheek-bones. His face expresses a profound reverence for my fame and my learning, but from his eyes I can see he feels a contempt for my voice, my pitiful figure, and my nervous gesticulation. I impress him in my anger as a queer fish.
“I don’t keep a shop,” I go on angrily. “And it is a strange thing! Why don’t you want to be independent? Why have you such a distaste for independence?”
I say a great deal, but he still remains silent. By degrees I calm down, and of course give in. The doctor gets a subject from me for his theme not worth a halfpenny, writes under my supervision a dissertation of no use to any one, with dignity defends it in a dreary discussion, and receives a degree of no use to him.
The rings at the bell may follow one another endlessly, but I will confine my description here to four of them. The bell rings for the fourth time, and I hear familiar footsteps, the rustle of a dress, a dear voice....
Eighteen years ago a colleague of mine, an oculist, died leaving a little daughter Katya, a child of seven, and sixty thousand roubles. In his will he made me the child’s guardian. Till she was ten years old Katya lived with us as one of the family, then she was sent to a boarding-school, and only spent the summer holidays with us. I never had time to look after her education. I only superintended it at leisure moments, and so I can say very little about her childhood.
The first thing I remember, and like so much in remembrance, is the extraordinary trustfulness with which she came into our house and let herself be treated by the doctors, a trustfulness which was always shining in her little face. She would sit somewhere out of the way, with her face tied up, invariably watching something with attention; whether she watched me writing or turning over the pages of a book, or watched my wife bustling about, or the cook scrubbing a potato in the kitchen, or the dog playing, her eyes invariably expressed the same thought—that is, “Everything that is done in this world is nice and sensible.” She was curious, and very fond of talking to me. Sometimes she would sit at the table opposite me, watching my movements and asking questions. It interested her to know what I was reading, what I did at the University, whether I was not afraid of the dead bodies, what I did with my salary.
“Do the students fight at the University?” she would ask.
“They do, dear.”
“And do you make them go down on their knees?”
“Yes, I do.”
And she thought it funny that the students fought and I made them go down on their knees, and she laughed. She was a gentle, patient, good child. It happened not infrequently that I saw something taken away from her, saw her punished without reason, or her curiosity repressed; at such times a look of sadness was mixed with the invariable expression of trustfulness on her face—that was all. I did not know how to take her part; only when I saw her sad I had an inclination to draw her to me and to commiserate her like some old nurse: “My poor little orphan one!”
I remember, too, that she was fond of fine clothes and of sprinkling herself with scent. In that respect she was like me. I, too, am fond of pretty clothes and nice scent.
I regret that I had not time nor inclination to watch over the rise and development of the passion which took complete possession of Katya when she was fourteen or fifteen. I mean her passionate love for the theatre. When she used to come from boarding-school and stay with us for the summer holidays, she talked of nothing with such pleasure and such warmth as of plays and actors. She bored us with her continual talk of the theatre. My wife and children would not listen to her. I was the only one who had not the courage to refuse to attend to her. When she had a longing to share her transports, she used to come into my study and say in an imploring tone:
“Nikolay Stepanovitch, do let me talk to you about the theatre!”
I pointed to the clock, and said:
“I’ll give you half an hour—begin.”
Later on she used to bring with her dozens of portraits of actors and actresses which she worshipped; then she attempted several times to take part in private theatricals, and the upshot of it all was that when she left school she came to me and announced that she was born to be an actress.
I had never shared Katya’s inclinations for the theatre. To my mind, if a play is good there is no need to trouble the actors in order that it may make the right impression; it is enough to read it. If the play is poor, no acting will make it good.
In my youth I often visited the theatre, and now my family takes a box twice a year and carries me off for a little distraction. Of course, that is not enough to give me the right to judge of the theatre. In my opinion the theatre has become no better than it was thirty or forty years ago. Just as in the past, I can never find a glass of clean water in the corridors or foyers of the theatre. Just as in the past, the attendants fine me twenty kopecks for my fur coat, though there is nothing reprehensible in wearing a warm coat in winter. As in the past, for no sort of reason, music is played in the intervals, which adds something new and uncalled-for to the impression made by the play. As in the past, men go in the intervals and drink spirits in the buffet. If no progress can be seen in trifles, I should look for it in vain in what is more important. When an actor wrapped from head to foot in stage traditions and conventions tries to recite a simple ordinary speech, “To be or not to be,” not simply, but invariably with the accompaniment of hissing and convulsive movements all over his body, or when he tries to convince me at all costs that Tchatsky, who talks so much with fools and is so fond of folly, is a very clever man, and that “Woe from Wit” is not a dull play, the stage gives me the same feeling of conventionality which bored me so much forty years ago when I was regaled with the classical howling and beating on the breast. And every time I come out of the theatre more conservative than I go in.
The sentimental and confiding public may be persuaded that the stage, even in its present form, is a school; but any one who is familiar with a school in its true sense will not be caught with that bait. I cannot say what will happen in fifty or a hundred years, but in its actual condition the theatre can serve only as an entertainment. But this entertainment is too costly to be frequently enjoyed. It robs the state of thousands of healthy and talented young men and women, who, if they had not devoted themselves to the theatre, might have been good doctors, farmers, schoolmistresses, officers; it robs the public of the evening hours—the best time for intellectual work and social intercourse. I say nothing of the waste of money and the moral damage to the spectator when he sees murder, fornication, or false witness unsuitably treated on the stage.
Katya was of an entirely different opinion. She assured me that the theatre, even in its present condition, was superior to the lecture-hall, to books, or to anything in the world. The stage was a power that united in itself all the arts, and actors were missionaries. No art nor science was capable of producing so strong and so certain an effect on the soul of man as the stage, and it was with good reason that an actor of medium quality enjoys greater popularity than the greatest savant or artist. And no sort of public service could provide such enjoyment and gratification as the theatre.
And one fine day Katya joined a troupe of actors, and went off, I believe to Ufa, taking away with her a good supply of money, a store of rainbow hopes, and the most aristocratic views of her work.
Her first letters on the journey were marvellous. I read them, and was simply amazed that those small sheets of paper could contain so much youth, purity of spirit, holy innocence, and at the same time subtle and apt judgments which would have done credit to a fine masculine intellect. It was more like a rapturous paean of praise she sent me than a mere description of the Volga, the country, the towns she visited, her companions, her failures and successes; every sentence was fragrant with that confiding trustfulness I was accustomed to read in her face—and at the same time there were a great many grammatical mistakes, and there was scarcely any punctuation at all.
Before six months had passed I received a highly poetical and enthusiastic letter beginning with the words, “I have come to love...” This letter was accompanied by a photograph representing a young man with a shaven face, a wide-brimmed hat, and a plaid flung over his shoulder. The letters that followed were as splendid as before, but now commas and stops made their appearance in them, the grammatical mistakes disappeared, and there was a distinctly masculine flavour about them. Katya began writing to me how splendid it would be to build a great theatre somewhere on the Volga, on a cooperative system, and to attract to the enterprise the rich merchants and the steamer owners; there would be a great deal of money in it; there would be vast audiences; the actors would play on co-operative terms.... Possibly all this was really excellent, but it seemed to me that such schemes could only originate from a man’s mind.
However that may have been, for a year and a half everything seemed to go well: Katya was in love, believed in her work, and was happy; but then I began to notice in her letters unmistakable signs of falling off. It began with Katya’s complaining of her companions—this was the first and most ominous symptom; if a young scientific or literary man begins his career with bitter complaints of scientific and literary men, it is a sure sign that he is worn out and not fit for his work. Katya wrote to me that her companions did not attend the rehearsals and never knew their parts; that one could see in every one of them an utter disrespect for the public in the production of absurd plays, and in their behaviour on the stage; that for the benefit of the Actors’ Fund, which they only talked about, actresses of the serious drama demeaned themselves by singing chansonettes, while tragic actors sang comic songs making fun of deceived husbands and the pregnant condition of unfaithful wives, and so on. In fact, it was amazing that all this had not yet ruined the provincial stage, and that it could still maintain itself on such a rotten and unsubstantial footing.
In answer I wrote Katya a long and, I must confess, a very boring letter. Among other things, I wrote to her:
“I have more than once happened to converse with old actors, very worthy men, who showed a friendly disposition towards me; from my conversations with them I could understand that their work was controlled not so much by their own intelligence and free choice as by fashion and the mood of the public. The best of them had had to play in their day in tragedy, in operetta, in Parisian farces, and in extravaganzas, and they always seemed equally sure that they were on the right path and that they were of use. So, as you see, the cause of the evil must be sought, not in the actors, but, more deeply, in the art itself and in the attitude of the whole of society to it.”
This letter of mine only irritated Katya. She answered me:
“You and I are singing parts out of different operas. I wrote to you, not of the worthy men who showed a friendly disposition to you, but of a band of knaves who have nothing worthy about them. They are a horde of savages who have got on the stage simply because no one would have taken them elsewhere, and who call themselves artists simply because they are impudent. There are numbers of dull-witted creatures, drunkards, intriguing schemers and slanderers, but there is not one person of talent among them. I cannot tell you how bitter it is to me that the art I love has fallen into the hands of people I detest; how bitter it is that the best men look on at evil from afar, not caring to come closer, and, instead of intervening, write ponderous commonplaces and utterly useless sermons....” And so on, all in the same style.
A little time passed, and I got this letter: “I have been brutally deceived. I cannot go on living. Dispose of my money as you think best. I loved you as my father and my only friend. Good-bye.”
It turned out that he, too, belonged to the “horde of savages.” Later on, from certain hints, I gathered that there had been an attempt at suicide. I believe Katya tried to poison herself. I imagine that she must have been seriously ill afterwards, as the next letter I got was from Yalta, where she had most probably been sent by the doctors. Her last letter contained a request to send her a thousand roubles to Yalta as quickly as possible, and ended with these words:
“Excuse the gloominess of this letter; yesterday I buried my child.” After spending about a year in the Crimea, she returned home.
She had been about four years on her travels, and during those four years, I must confess, I had played a rather strange and unenviable part in regard to her. When in earlier days she had told me she was going on the stage, and then wrote to me of her love; when she was periodically overcome by extravagance, and I continually had to send her first one and then two thousand roubles; when she wrote to me of her intention of suicide, and then of the death of her baby, every time I lost my head, and all my sympathy for her sufferings found no expression except that, after prolonged reflection, I wrote long, boring letters which I might just as well not have written. And yet I took a father’s place with her and loved her like a daughter!
Now Katya is living less than half a mile off. She has taken a flat of five rooms, and has installed herself fairly comfortably and in the taste of the day. If any one were to undertake to describe her surroundings, the most characteristic note in the picture would be indolence. For the indolent body there are soft lounges, soft stools; for indolent feet soft rugs; for indolent eyes faded, dingy, or flat colours; for the indolent soul the walls are hung with a number of cheap fans and trivial pictures, in which the originality of the execution is more conspicuous than the subject; and the room contains a multitude of little tables and shelves filled with utterly useless articles of no value, and shapeless rags in place of curtains.... All this, together with the dread of bright colours, of symmetry, and of empty space, bears witness not only to spiritual indolence, but also to a corruption of natural taste. For days together Katya lies on the lounge reading, principally novels and stories. She only goes out of the house once a day, in the afternoon, to see me.
I go on working while Katya sits silent not far from me on the sofa, wrapping herself in her shawl, as though she were cold. Either because I find her sympathetic or because I was used to her frequent visits when she was a little girl, her presence does not prevent me from concentrating my attention. From time to time I mechanically ask her some question; she gives very brief replies; or, to rest for a minute, I turn round and watch her as she looks dreamily at some medical journal or review. And at such moments I notice that her face has lost the old look of confiding trustfulness. Her expression now is cold, apathetic, and absent-minded, like that of passengers who had to wait too long for a train. She is dressed, as in old days, simply and beautifully, but carelessly; her dress and her hair show visible traces of the sofas and rocking-chairs in which she spends whole days at a stretch. And she has lost the curiosity she had in old days. She has ceased to ask me questions now, as though she had experienced everything in life and looked for nothing new from it.
Towards four o’clock there begins to be sounds of movement in the hall and in the drawing-room. Liza has come back from the Conservatoire, and has brought some girl-friends in with her. We hear them playing on the piano, trying their voices and laughing; in the dining-room Yegor is laying the table, with the clatter of crockery.
“Good-bye,” said Katya. “I won’t go in and see your people today. They must excuse me. I haven’t time. Come and see me.”
While I am seeing her to the door, she looks me up and down grimly, and says with vexation:
“You are getting thinner and thinner! Why don’t you consult a doctor? I’ll call at Sergey Fyodorovitch’s and ask him to have a look at you.”
“There’s no need, Katya.”
“I can’t think where your people’s eyes are! They are a nice lot, I must say!”
She puts on her fur coat abruptly, and as she does so two or three hairpins drop unnoticed on the floor from her carelessly arranged hair. She is too lazy and in too great a hurry to do her hair up; she carelessly stuffs the falling curls under her hat, and goes away.
When I go into the dining-room my wife asks me:
“Was Katya with you just now? Why didn’t she come in to see us? It’s really strange....”
“Mamma,” Liza says to her reproachfully, “let her alone, if she doesn’t want to. We are not going down on our knees to her.”
“It’s very neglectful, anyway. To sit for three hours in the study without remembering our existence! But of course she must do as she likes.”
Varya and Liza both hate Katya. This hatred is beyond my comprehension, and probably one would have to be a woman in order to understand it. I am ready to stake my life that of the hundred and fifty young men I see every day in the lecture-theatre, and of the hundred elderly ones I meet every week, hardly one could be found capable of understanding their hatred and aversion for Katya’s past—that is, for her having been a mother without being a wife, and for her having had an illegitimate child; and at the same time I cannot recall one woman or girl of my acquaintance who would not consciously or unconsciously harbour such feelings. And this is not because woman is purer or more virtuous than man: why, virtue and purity are not very different from vice if they are not free from evil feeling. I attribute this simply to the backwardness of woman. The mournful feeling of compassion and the pang of conscience experienced by a modern man at the sight of suffering is, to my mind, far greater proof of culture and moral elevation than hatred and aversion. Woman is as tearful and as coarse in her feelings now as she was in the Middle Ages, and to my thinking those who advise that she should be educated like a man are quite right.
My wife also dislikes Katya for having been an actress, for ingratitude, for pride, for eccentricity, and for the numerous vices which one woman can always find in another.
Besides my wife and daughter and me, there are dining with us two or three of my daughter’s friends and Alexandr Adolfovitch Gnekker, her admirer and suitor. He is a fair-haired young man under thirty, of medium height, very stout and broad-shouldered, with red whiskers near his ears, and little waxed moustaches which make his plump smooth face look like a toy. He is dressed in a very short reefer jacket, a flowered waistcoat, breeches very full at the top and very narrow at the ankle, with a large check pattern on them, and yellow boots without heels. He has prominent eyes like a crab’s, his cravat is like a crab’s neck, and I even fancy there is a smell of crab-soup about the young man’s whole person. He visits us every day, but no one in my family knows anything of his origin nor of the place of his education, nor of his means of livelihood. He neither plays nor sings, but has some connection with music and singing, sells somebody’s pianos somewhere, is frequently at the Conservatoire, is acquainted with all the celebrities, and is a steward at the concerts; he criticizes music with great authority, and I have noticed that people are eager to agree with him.
Rich people always have dependents hanging about them; the arts and sciences have the same. I believe there is not an art nor a science in the world free from “foreign bodies” after the style of this Mr. Gnekker. I am not a musician, and possibly I am mistaken in regard to Mr. Gnekker, of whom, indeed, I know very little. But his air of authority and the dignity with which he takes his stand beside the piano when any one is playing or singing strike me as very suspicious.
You may be ever so much of a gentleman and a privy councillor, but if you have a daughter you cannot be secure of immunity from that petty bourgeois atmosphere which is so often brought into your house and into your mood by the attentions of suitors, by matchmaking and marriage. I can never reconcile myself, for instance, to the expression of triumph on my wife’s face every time Gnekker is in our company, nor can I reconcile myself to the bottles of Lafitte, port and sherry which are only brought out on his account, that he may see with his own eyes the liberal and luxurious way in which we live. I cannot tolerate the habit of spasmodic laughter Liza has picked up at the Conservatoire, and her way of screwing up her eyes whenever there are men in the room. Above all, I cannot understand why a creature utterly alien to my habits, my studies, my whole manner of life, completely different from the people I like, should come and see me every day, and every day should dine with me. My wife and my servants mysteriously whisper that he is a suitor, but still I don’t understand his presence; it rouses in me the same wonder and perplexity as if they were to set a Zulu beside me at the table. And it seems strange to me, too, that my daughter, whom I am used to thinking of as a child, should love that cravat, those eyes, those soft cheeks....
In the old days I used to like my dinner, or at least was indifferent about it; now it excites in me no feeling but weariness and irritation. Ever since I became an “Excellency” and one of the Deans of the Faculty my family has for some reason found it necessary to make a complete change in our menu and dining habits. Instead of the simple dishes to which I was accustomed when I was a student and when I was in practice, now they feed me with a puree with little white things like circles floating about in it, and kidneys stewed in madeira. My rank as a general and my fame have robbed me for ever of cabbage-soup and savoury pies, and goose with apple-sauce, and bream with boiled grain. They have robbed me of our maid-servant Agasha, a chatty and laughter-loving old woman, instead of whom Yegor, a dull-witted and conceited fellow with a white glove on his right hand, waits at dinner. The intervals between the courses are short, but they seem immensely long because there is nothing to occupy them. There is none of the gaiety of the old days, the spontaneous talk, the jokes, the laughter; there is nothing of mutual affection and the joy which used to animate the children, my wife, and me when in old days we met together at meals. For me, the celebrated man of science, dinner was a time of rest and reunion, and for my wife and children a fete—brief indeed, but bright and joyous—in which they knew that for half an hour I belonged, not to science, not to students, but to them alone. Our real exhilaration from one glass of wine is gone for ever, gone is Agasha, gone the bream with boiled grain, gone the uproar that greeted every little startling incident at dinner, such as the cat and dog fighting under the table, or Katya’s bandage falling off her face into her soup-plate.
To describe our dinner nowadays is as uninteresting as to eat it. My wife’s face wears a look of triumph and affected dignity, and her habitual expression of anxiety. She looks at our plates and says, “I see you don’t care for the joint. Tell me; you don’t like it, do you?” and I am obliged to answer: “There is no need for you to trouble, my dear; the meat is very nice.” And she will say: “You always stand up for me, Nikolay Stepanovitch, and you never tell the truth. Why is Alexandr Adolfovitch eating so little?” And so on in the same style all through dinner. Liza laughs spasmodically and screws up her eyes. I watch them both, and it is only now at dinner that it becomes absolutely evident to me that the inner life of these two has slipped away out of my ken. I have a feeling as though I had once lived at home with a real wife and children and that now I am dining with visitors, in the house of a sham wife who is not the real one, and am looking at a Liza who is not the real Liza. A startling change has taken place in both of them; I have missed the long process by which that change was effected, and it is no wonder that I can make nothing of it. Why did that change take place? I don’t know. Perhaps the whole trouble is that God has not given my wife and daughter the same strength of character as me. From childhood I have been accustomed to resisting external influences, and have steeled myself pretty thoroughly. Such catastrophes in life as fame, the rank of a general, the transition from comfort to living beyond our means, acquaintance with celebrities, etc., have scarcely affected me, and I have remained intact and unashamed; but on my wife and Liza, who have not been through the same hardening process and are weak, all this has fallen like an avalanche of snow, overwhelming them. Gnekker and the young ladies talk of fugues, of counterpoint, of singers and pianists, of Bach and Brahms, while my wife, afraid of their suspecting her of ignorance of music, smiles to them sympathetically and mutters: “That’s exquisite... really! You don’t say so!...” Gnekker eats with solid dignity, jests with solid dignity, and condescendingly listens to the remarks of the young ladies. From time to time he is moved to speak in bad French, and then, for some reason or other, he thinks it necessary to address me as “Votre Excellence.”
And I am glum. Evidently I am a constraint to them and they are a constraint to me. I have never in my earlier days had a close knowledge of class antagonism, but now I am tormented by something of that sort. I am on the lookout for nothing but bad qualities in Gnekker; I quickly find them, and am fretted at the thought that a man not of my circle is sitting here as my daughter’s suitor. His presence has a bad influence on me in other ways, too. As a rule, when I am alone or in the society of people I like, never think of my own achievements, or, if I do recall them, they seem to me as trivial as though I had only completed my studies yesterday; but in the presence of people like Gnekker my achievements in science seem to be a lofty mountain the top of which vanishes into the clouds, while at its foot Gnekkers are running about scarcely visible to the naked eye.
After dinner I go into my study and there smoke my pipe, the only one in the whole day, the sole relic of my old bad habit of smoking from morning till night. While I am smoking my wife comes in and sits down to talk to me. Just as in the morning, I know beforehand what our conversation is going to be about.
“I must talk to you seriously, Nikolay Stepanovitch,” she begins. “I mean about Liza.... Why don’t you pay attention to it?”
“To what?”
“You pretend to notice nothing. But that is not right. We can’t shirk responsibility.... Gnekker has intentions in regard to Liza.... What do you say?”
“That he is a bad man I can’t say, because I don’t know him, but that I don’t like him I have told you a thousand times already.”
“But you can’t... you can’t!”
She gets up and walks about in excitement.
“You can’t take up that attitude to a serious step,” she says. “When it is a question of our daughter’s happiness we must lay aside all personal feeling. I know you do not like him.... Very good... if we refuse him now, if we break it all off, how can you be sure that Liza will not have a grievance against us all her life? Suitors are not plentiful nowadays, goodness knows, and it may happen that no other match will turn up.... He is very much in love with Liza, and she seems to like him.... Of course, he has no settled position, but that can’t be helped. Please God, in time he will get one. He is of good family and well off.”
“Where did you learn that?”
“He told us so. His father has a large house in Harkov and an estate in the neighbourhood. In short, Nikolay Stepanovitch, you absolutely must go to Harkov.”
“What for?”
“You will find out all about him there.... You know the professors there; they will help you. I would go myself, but I am a woman. I cannot....”
“I am not going to Harkov,” I say morosely.
My wife is frightened, and a look of intense suffering comes into her face.
“For God’s sake, Nikolay Stepanovitch,” she implores me, with tears in her voice—“for God’s sake, take this burden off me! I am so worried!”
It is painful for me to look at her.
“Very well, Varya,” I say affectionately, “if you wish it, then certainly I will go to Harkov and do all you want.”
She presses her handkerchief to her eyes and goes off to her room to cry, and I am left alone.
A little later lights are brought in. The armchair and the lamp-shade cast familiar shadows that have long grown wearisome on the walls and on the floor, and when I look at them I feel as though the night had come and with it my accursed sleeplessness. I lie on my bed, then get up and walk about the room, then lie down again. As a rule it is after dinner, at the approach of evening, that my nervous excitement reaches its highest pitch. For no reason I begin crying and burying my head in the pillow. At such times I am afraid that some one may come in; I am afraid of suddenly dying; I am ashamed of my tears, and altogether there is something insufferable in my soul. I feel that I can no longer bear the sight of my lamp, of my books, of the shadows on the floor. I cannot bear the sound of the voices coming from the drawing-room. Some force unseen, uncomprehended, is roughly thrusting me out of my flat. I leap up hurriedly, dress, and cautiously, that my family may not notice, slip out into the street. Where am I to go?
The answer to that question has long been ready in my brain. To Katya.


As a rule she is lying on the sofa or in a lounge-chair reading. Seeing me, she raises her head languidly, sits up, and shakes hands.
“You are always lying down,” I say, after pausing and taking breath. “That’s not good for you. You ought to occupy yourself with something.”
“I say you ought to occupy yourself in some way.”
“With what? A woman can be nothing but a simple workwoman or an actress.”
“Well, if you can’t be a workwoman, be an actress.”
She says nothing.
“You ought to get married,” I say, half in jest.
“There is no one to marry. There’s no reason to, either.”
“You can’t live like this.”
“Without a husband? Much that matters; I could have as many men as I like if I wanted to.”
“That’s ugly, Katya.”
“What is ugly?”
“Why, what you have just said.”
Noticing that I am hurt and wishing to efface the disagreeable impression, Katya says:
“Let us go; come this way.”
She takes me into a very snug little room, and says, pointing to the writing-table:
“Look... I have got that ready for you. You shall work here. Come here every day and bring your work with you. They only hinder you there at home. Will you work here? Will you like to?”
Not to wound her by refusing, I answer that I will work here, and that I like the room very much. Then we both sit down in the snug little room and begin talking.
The warm, snug surroundings and the presence of a sympathetic person does not, as in old days, arouse in me a feeling of pleasure, but an intense impulse to complain and grumble. I feel for some reason that if I lament and complain I shall feel better.
“Things are in a bad way with me, my dear—very bad....”
“What is it?”
“You see how it is, my dear; the best and holiest right of kings is the right of mercy. And I have always felt myself a king, since I have made unlimited use of that right. I have never judged, I have been indulgent, I have readily forgiven every one, right and left. Where others have protested and expressed indignation, I have only advised and persuaded. All my life it has been my endeavour that my society should not be a burden to my family, to my students, to my colleagues, to my servants. And I know that this attitude to people has had a good influence on all who have chanced to come into contact with me. But now I am not a king. Something is happening to me that is only excusable in a slave; day and night my brain is haunted by evil thoughts, and feelings such as I never knew before are brooding in my soul. I am full of hatred, and contempt, and indignation, and loathing, and dread. I have become excessively severe, exacting, irritable, ungracious, suspicious. Even things that in old days would have provoked me only to an unnecessary jest and a good-natured laugh now arouse an oppressive feeling in me. My reasoning, too, has undergone a change: in old days I despised money; now I harbour an evil feeling, not towards money, but towards the rich as though they were to blame: in old days I hated violence and tyranny, but now I hate the men who make use of violence, as though they were alone to blame, and not all of us who do not know how to educate each other. What is the meaning of it? If these new ideas and new feelings have come from a change of convictions, what is that change due to? Can the world have grown worse and I better, or was I blind before and indifferent? If this change is the result of a general decline of physical and intellectual powers—I am ill, you know, and every day I am losing weight—my position is pitiable; it means that my new ideas are morbid and abnormal; I ought to be ashamed of them and think them of no consequence....”
“Illness has nothing to do with it,” Katya interrupts me; “it’s simply that your eyes are opened, that’s all. You have seen what in old days, for some reason, you refused to see. To my thinking, what you ought to do first of all, is to break with your family for good, and go away.”
“You are talking nonsense.”
“You don’t love them; why should you force your feelings? Can you call them a family? Nonentities! If they died today, no one would notice their absence tomorrow.”
Katya despises my wife and Liza as much as they hate her. One can hardly talk at this date of people’s having a right to despise one another. But if one looks at it from Katya’s standpoint and recognizes such a right, one can see she has as much right to despise my wife and Liza as they have to hate her.
“Nonentities,” she goes on. “Have you had dinner today? How was it they did not forget to tell you it was ready? How is it they still remember your existence?”
“Katya,” I say sternly, “I beg you to be silent.”
“You think I enjoy talking about them? I should be glad not to know them at all. Listen, my dear: give it all up and go away. Go abroad. The sooner the better.”
“What nonsense! What about the University?”
“The University, too. What is it to you? There’s no sense in it, anyway. You have been lecturing for thirty years, and where are your pupils? Are many of them celebrated scientific men? Count them up! And to multiply the doctors who exploit ignorance and pile up hundreds of thousands for themselves, there is no need to be a good and talented man. You are not wanted.”
“Good heavens! how harsh you are!” I cry in horror. “How harsh you are! Be quiet or I will go away! I don’t know how to answer the harsh things you say!”
The maid comes in and summons us to tea. At the samovar our conversation, thank God, changes. After having had my grumble out, I have a longing to give way to another weakness of old age, reminiscences. I tell Katya about my past, and to my great astonishment tell her incidents which, till then, I did not suspect of being still preserved in my memory, and she listens to me with tenderness, with pride, holding her breath. I am particularly fond of telling her how I was educated in a seminary and dreamed of going to the University.
“At times I used to walk about our seminary garden...” I would tell her. “If from some faraway tavern the wind floated sounds of a song and the squeaking of an accordion, or a sledge with bells dashed by the garden-fence, it was quite enough to send a rush of happiness, filling not only my heart, but even my stomach, my legs, my arms.... I would listen to the accordion or the bells dying away in the distance and imagine myself a doctor, and paint pictures, one better than another. And here, as you see, my dreams have come true. I have had more than I dared to dream of. For thirty years I have been the favourite professor, I have had splendid comrades, I have enjoyed fame and honour. I have loved, married from passionate love, have had children. In fact, looking back upon it, I see my whole life as a fine composition arranged with talent. Now all that is left to me is not to spoil the end. For that I must die like a man. If death is really a thing to dread, I must meet it as a teacher, a man of science, and a citizen of a Christian country ought to meet it, with courage and untroubled soul. But I am spoiling the end; I am sinking, I fly to you, I beg for help, and you tell me ‘Sink; that is what you ought to do.’”
But here there comes a ring at the front-door. Katya and I recognize it, and say:
“It must be Mihail Fyodorovitch.”
And a minute later my colleague, the philologist Mihail Fyodorovitch, a tall, well-built man of fifty, clean-shaven, with thick grey hair and black eyebrows, walks in. He is a good-natured man and an excellent comrade. He comes of a fortunate and talented old noble family which has played a prominent part in the history of literature and enlightenment. He is himself intelligent, talented, and very highly educated, but has his oddities. To a certain extent we are all odd and all queer fish, but in his oddities there is something exceptional, apt to cause anxiety among his acquaintances. I know a good many people for whom his oddities completely obscure his good qualities.
Coming in to us, he slowly takes off his gloves and says in his velvety bass:
“Good-evening. Are you having tea? That’s just right. It’s diabolically cold.”
Then he sits down to the table, takes a glass, and at once begins talking. What is most characteristic in his manner of talking is the continually jesting tone, a sort of mixture of philosophy and drollery as in Shakespeare’s gravediggers. He is always talking about serious things, but he never speaks seriously. His judgments are always harsh and railing, but, thanks to his soft, even, jesting tone, the harshness and abuse do not jar upon the ear, and one soon grows used to them. Every evening he brings with him five or six anecdotes from the University, and he usually begins with them when he sits down to table.
“Oh, Lord!” he sighs, twitching his black eyebrows ironically. “What comic people there are in the world!”
“Well?” asks Katya.
“As I was coming from my lecture this morning I met that old idiot N. N—— on the stairs.... He was going along as usual, sticking out his chin like a horse, looking for some one to listen to his grumblings at his migraine, at his wife, and his students who won’t attend his lectures. ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘he has seen me—I am done for now; it is all up....’”
And so on in the same style. Or he will begin like this:
“I was yesterday at our friend Z. Z——‘s public lecture. I wonder how it is our alma mater—don’t speak of it after dark—dare display in public such noodles and patent dullards as that Z. Z—— Why, he is a European fool! Upon my word, you could not find another like him all over Europe! He lectures—can you imagine?—as though he were sucking a sugar-stick—sue, sue, sue;... he is in a nervous funk; he can hardly decipher his own manuscript; his poor little thoughts crawl along like a bishop on a bicycle, and, what’s worse, you can never make out what he is trying to say. The deadly dulness is awful, the very flies expire. It can only be compared with the boredom in the assembly-hall at the yearly meeting when the traditional address is read—damn it!”
And at once an abrupt transition:
“Three years ago—Nikolay Stepanovitch here will remember it—I had to deliver that address. It was hot, stifling, my uniform cut me under the arms—it was deadly! I read for half an hour, for an hour, for an hour and a half, for two hours.... ‘Come,’ I thought; ‘thank God, there are only ten pages left!’ And at the end there were four pages that there was no need to read, and I reckoned to leave them out. ‘So there are only six really,’ I thought; ‘that is, only six pages left to read.’ But, only fancy, I chanced to glance before me, and, sitting in the front row, side by side, were a general with a ribbon on his breast and a bishop. The poor beggars were numb with boredom; they were staring with their eyes wide open to keep awake, and yet they were trying to put on an expression of attention and to pretend that they understood what I was saying and liked it. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘since you like it you shall have it! I’ll pay you out;’ so I just gave them those four pages too.”
As is usual with ironical people, when he talks nothing in his face smiles but his eyes and eyebrows. At such times there is no trace of hatred or spite in his eyes, but a great deal of humour, and that peculiar fox-like slyness which is only to be noticed in very observant people. Since I am speaking about his eyes, I notice another peculiarity in them. When he takes a glass from Katya, or listens to her speaking, or looks after her as she goes out of the room for a moment, I notice in his eyes something gentle, beseeching, pure....
The maid-servant takes away the samovar and puts on the table a large piece of cheese, some fruit, and a bottle of Crimean champagne—a rather poor wine of which Katya had grown fond in the Crimea. Mihail Fyodorovitch takes two packs of cards off the whatnot and begins to play patience. According to him, some varieties of patience require great concentration and attention, yet while he lays out the cards he does not leave off distracting his attention with talk. Katya watches his cards attentively, and more by gesture than by words helps him in his play. She drinks no more than a couple of wine-glasses of wine the whole evening; I drink four glasses, and the rest of the bottle falls to the share of Mihail Fyodorovitch, who can drink a great deal and never get drunk.
Over our patience we settle various questions, principally of the higher order, and what we care for most of all—that is, science and learning—is more roughly handled than anything.
“Science, thank God, has outlived its day,” says Mihail Fyodorovitch emphatically. “Its song is sung. Yes, indeed. Mankind begins to feel impelled to replace it by something different. It has grown on the soil of superstition, been nourished by superstition, and is now just as much the quintessence of superstition as its defunct granddames, alchemy, metaphysics, and philosophy. And, after all, what has it given to mankind? Why, the difference between the learned Europeans and the Chinese who have no science is trifling, purely external. The Chinese know nothing of science, but what have they lost thereby?”
“Flies know nothing of science, either,” I observe, “but what of that?”
“There is no need to be angry, Nikolay Stepanovitch. I only say this here between ourselves... I am more careful than you think, and I am not going to say this in public—God forbid! The superstition exists in the multitude that the arts and sciences are superior to agriculture, commerce, superior to handicrafts. Our sect is maintained by that superstition, and it is not for you and me to destroy it. God forbid!”
After patience the younger generation comes in for a dressing too.
“Our audiences have degenerated,” sighs Mihail Fyodorovitch. “Not to speak of ideals and all the rest of it, if only they were capable of work and rational thought! In fact, it’s a case of ‘I look with mournful eyes on the young men of today.’”
“Yes; they have degenerated horribly,” Katya agrees. “Tell me, have you had one man of distinction among them for the last five or ten years?”
“I don’t know how it is with the other professors, but I can’t remember any among mine.”
“I have seen in my day many of your students and young scientific men and many actors—well, I have never once been so fortunate as to meet—I won’t say a hero or a man of talent, but even an interesting man. It’s all the same grey mediocrity, puffed up with self-conceit.”
All this talk of degeneration always affects me as though I had accidentally overheard offensive talk about my own daughter. It offends me that these charges are wholesale, and rest on such worn-out commonplaces, on such wordy vapourings as degeneration and absence of ideals, or on references to the splendours of the past. Every accusation, even if it is uttered in ladies’ society, ought to be formulated with all possible definiteness, or it is not an accusation, but idle disparagement, unworthy of decent people.
I am an old man, I have been lecturing for thirty years, but I notice neither degeneration nor lack of ideals, and I don’t find that the present is worse than the past. My porter Nikolay, whose experience of this subject has its value, says that the students of today are neither better nor worse than those of the past.
If I were asked what I don’t like in my pupils of today, I should answer the question, not straight off and not at length, but with sufficient definiteness. I know their failings, and so have no need to resort to vague generalities. I don’t like their smoking, using spirituous beverages, marrying late, and often being so irresponsible and careless that they will let one of their number be starving in their midst while they neglect to pay their subscriptions to the Students’ Aid Society. They don’t know modern languages, and they don’t express themselves correctly in Russian; no longer ago than yesterday my colleague, the professor of hygiene, complained to me that he had to give twice as many lectures, because the students had a very poor knowledge of physics and were utterly ignorant of meteorology. They are readily carried away by the influence of the last new writers, even when they are not first-rate, but they take absolutely no interest in classics such as Shakespeare, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, or Pascal, and this inability to distinguish the great from the small betrays their ignorance of practical life more than anything. All difficult questions that have more or less a social character (for instance the migration question) they settle by studying monographs on the subject, but not by way of scientific investigation or experiment, though that method is at their disposal and is more in keeping with their calling. They gladly become ward-surgeons, assistants, demonstrators, external teachers, and are ready to fill such posts until they are forty, though independence, a sense of freedom and personal initiative, are no less necessary in science than, for instance, in art or commerce. I have pupils and listeners, but no successors and helpers, and so I love them and am touched by them, but am not proud of them. And so on, and so on....
Such shortcomings, however numerous they may be, can only give rise to a pessimistic or fault-finding temper in a faint-hearted and timid man. All these failings have a casual, transitory character, and are completely dependent on conditions of life; in some ten years they will have disappeared or given place to other fresh defects, which are all inevitable and will in their turn alarm the faint-hearted. The students’ sins often vex me, but that vexation is nothing in comparison with the joy I have been experiencing now for the last thirty years when I talk to my pupils, lecture to them, watch their relations, and compare them with people not of their circle.
Mihail Fyodorovitch speaks evil of everything. Katya listens, and neither of them notices into what depths the apparently innocent diversion of finding fault with their neighbours is gradually drawing them. They are not conscious how by degrees simple talk passes into malicious mockery and jeering, and how they are both beginning to drop into the habits and methods of slander.
“Killing types one meets with,” says Mihail Fyodorovitch. “I went yesterday to our friend Yegor Petrovitch’s, and there I found a studious gentleman, one of your medicals in his third year, I believe. Such a face!... in the Dobrolubov style, the imprint of profound thought on his brow; we got into talk. ‘Such doings, young man,’ said I. ‘I’ve read,’ said I, ‘that some German—I’ve forgotten his name—has created from the human brain a new kind of alkaloid, idiotine.’ What do you think? He believed it, and there was positively an expression of respect on his face, as though to say, ‘See what we fellows can do!’ And the other day I went to the theatre. I took my seat. In the next row directly in front of me were sitting two men: one of ‘us fellows’ and apparently a law student, the other a shaggy-looking figure, a medical student. The latter was as drunk as a cobbler. He did not look at the stage at all. He was dozing with his nose on his shirt-front. But as soon as an actor begins loudly reciting a monologue, or simply raises his voice, our friend starts, pokes his neighbour in the ribs, and asks, ‘What is he saying? Is it elevating?’ ‘Yes,’ answers one of our fellows. ‘B-r-r-ravo!’ roars the medical student. ‘Elevating! Bravo!’ He had gone to the theatre, you see, the drunken blockhead, not for the sake of art, the play, but for elevation! He wanted noble sentiments.”
Katya listens and laughs. She has a strange laugh; she catches her breath in rhythmically regular gasps, very much as though she were playing the accordion, and nothing in her face is laughing but her nostrils. I grow depressed and don’t know what to say. Beside myself, I fire up, leap up from my seat, and cry:
“Do leave off! Why are you sitting here like two toads, poisoning the air with your breath? Give over!”
And without waiting for them to finish their gossip I prepare to go home. And, indeed, it is high time: it is past ten.
“I will stay a little longer,” says Mihail Fyodorovitch. “Will you allow me, Ekaterina Vladimirovna?”
“I will,” answers Katya.
“Bene! In that case have up another little bottle.”
They both accompany me with candles to the hall, and while I put on my fur coat, Mihail Fyodorovitch says:
“You have grown dreadfully thin and older looking, Nikolay Stepanovitch. What’s the matter with you? Are you ill?”
“Yes; I am not very well.”
“And you are not doing anything for it...” Katya puts in grimly.
“Why don’t you? You can’t go on like that! God helps those who help themselves, my dear fellow. Remember me to your wife and daughter, and make my apologies for not having been to see them. In a day or two, before I go abroad, I shall come to say good-bye. I shall be sure to. I am going away next week.”
I come away from Katya, irritated and alarmed by what has been said about my being ill, and dissatisfied with myself. I ask myself whether I really ought not to consult one of my colleagues. And at once I imagine how my colleague, after listening to me, would walk away to the window without speaking, would think a moment, then would turn round to me and, trying to prevent my reading the truth in his face, would say in a careless tone: “So far I see nothing serious, but at the same time, collega, I advise you to lay aside your work....” And that would deprive me of my last hope.
Who is without hope? Now that I am diagnosing my illness and prescribing for myself, from time to time I hope that I am deceived by my own illness, that I am mistaken in regard to the albumen and the sugar I find, and in regard to my heart, and in regard to the swellings I have twice noticed in the mornings; when with the fervour of the hypochondriac I look through the textbooks of therapeutics and take a different medicine every day, I keep fancying that I shall hit upon something comforting. All that is petty.
Whether the sky is covered with clouds or the moon and the stars are shining, I turn my eyes towards it every evening and think that death is taking me soon. One would think that my thoughts at such times ought to be deep as the sky, brilliant, striking.... But no! I think about myself, about my wife, about Liza, Gnekker, the students, people in general; my thoughts are evil, petty, I am insincere with myself, and at such times my theory of life may be expressed in the words the celebrated Araktcheev said in one of his intimate letters: “Nothing good can exist in the world without evil, and there is more evil than good.” That is, everything is disgusting; there is nothing to live for, and the sixty-two years I have already lived must be reckoned as wasted. I catch myself in these thoughts, and try to persuade myself that they are accidental, temporary, and not deeply rooted in me, but at once I think:
“If so, what drives me every evening to those two toads?”
And I vow to myself that I will never go to Katya’s again, though I know I shall go next evening.
Ringing the bell at the door and going upstairs, I feel that I have no family now and no desire to bring it back again. It is clear that the new Araktcheev thoughts are not casual, temporary visitors, but have possession of my whole being. With my conscience ill at ease, dejected, languid, hardly able to move my limbs, feeling as though tons were added to my weight, I get into bed and quickly drop asleep.
And then—insomnia!


Summer comes on and life is changed.
One fine morning Liza comes in to me and says in a jesting tone:
“Come, your Excellency! We are ready.”
My Excellency is conducted into the street, and seated in a cab. As I go along, having nothing to do, I read the signboards from right to left. The word “Traktir” reads “Ritkart”; that would just suit some baron’s family: Baroness Ritkart. Farther on I drive through fields, by the graveyard, which makes absolutely no impression on me, though I shall soon lie in it; then I drive by forests and again by fields. There is nothing of interest. After two hours of driving, my Excellency is conducted into the lower storey of a summer villa and installed in a small, very cheerful little room with light blue hangings.
At night there is sleeplessness as before, but in the morning I do not put a good face upon it and listen to my wife, but lie in bed. I do not sleep, but lie in the drowsy, half-conscious condition in which you know you are not asleep, but dreaming. At midday I get up and from habit sit down at my table, but I do not work now; I amuse myself with French books in yellow covers, sent me by Katya. Of course, it would be more patriotic to read Russian authors, but I must confess I cherish no particular liking for them. With the exception of two or three of the older writers, all our literature of today strikes me as not being literature, but a special sort of home industry, which exists simply in order to be encouraged, though people do not readily make use of its products. The very best of these home products cannot be called remarkable and cannot be sincerely praised without qualification. I must say the same of all the literary novelties I have read during the last ten or fifteen years; not one of them is remarkable, and not one of them can be praised without a “but.” Cleverness, a good tone, but no talent; talent, a good tone, but no cleverness; or talent, cleverness, but not a good tone.
I don’t say the French books have talent, cleverness, and a good tone. They don’t satisfy me, either. But they are not so tedious as the Russian, and it is not unusual to find in them the chief element of artistic creation—the feeling of personal freedom which is lacking in the Russian authors. I don’t remember one new book in which the author does not try from the first page to entangle himself in all sorts of conditions and contracts with his conscience. One is afraid to speak of the naked body; another ties himself up hand and foot in psychological analysis; a third must have a “warm attitude to man”; a fourth purposely scrawls whole descriptions of nature that he may not be suspected of writing with a purpose.... One is bent upon being middle-class in his work, another must be a nobleman, and so on. There is intentionalness, circumspection, and self-will, but they have neither the independence nor the manliness to write as they like, and therefore there is no creativeness.
All this applies to what is called belles-lettres.
As for serious treatises in Russian on sociology, for instance, on art, and so on, I do not read them simply from timidity. In my childhood and early youth I had for some reason a terror of doorkeepers and attendants at the theatre, and that terror has remained with me to this day. I am afraid of them even now. It is said that we are only afraid of what we do not understand. And, indeed, it is very difficult to understand why doorkeepers and theatre attendants are so dignified, haughty, and majestically rude. I feel exactly the same terror when I read serious articles. Their extraordinary dignity, their bantering lordly tone, their familiar manner to foreign authors, their ability to split straws with dignity—all that is beyond my understanding; it is intimidating and utterly unlike the quiet, gentlemanly tone to which I am accustomed when I read the works of our medical and scientific writers. It oppresses me to read not only the articles written by serious Russians, but even works translated or edited by them. The pretentious, edifying tone of the preface; the redundancy of remarks made by the translator, which prevent me from concentrating my attention; the question marks and “sic” in parenthesis scattered all over the book or article by the liberal translator, are to my mind an outrage on the author and on my independence as a reader.
Once I was summoned as an expert to a circuit court; in an interval one of my fellow-experts drew my attention to the rudeness of the public prosecutor to the defendants, among whom there were two ladies of good education. I believe I did not exaggerate at all when I told him that the prosecutor’s manner was no ruder than that of the authors of serious articles to one another. Their manners are, indeed, so rude that I cannot speak of them without distaste. They treat one another and the writers they criticize either with superfluous respect, at the sacrifice of their own dignity, or, on the contrary, with far more ruthlessness than I have shown in my notes and my thoughts in regard to my future son-in-law Gnekker. Accusations of irrationality, of evil intentions, and, indeed, of every sort of crime, form an habitual ornament of serious articles. And that, as young medical men are fond of saying in their monographs, is the ultima ratio! Such ways must infallibly have an effect on the morals of the younger generation of writers, and so I am not at all surprised that in the new works with which our literature has been enriched during the last ten or fifteen years the heroes drink too much vodka and the heroines are not over-chaste.
I read French books, and I look out of the window which is open; I can see the spikes of my garden-fence, two or three scraggy trees, and beyond the fence the road, the fields, and beyond them a broad stretch of pine-wood. Often I admire a boy and girl, both flaxen-headed and ragged, who clamber on the fence and laugh at my baldness. In their shining little eyes I read, “Go up, go up, thou baldhead!” They are almost the only people who care nothing for my celebrity or my rank.
Visitors do not come to me every day now. I will only mention the visits of Nikolay and Pyotr Ignatyevitch. Nikolay usually comes to me on holidays, with some pretext of business, though really to see me. He arrives very much exhilarated, a thing which never occurs to him in the winter.
“What have you to tell me?” I ask, going out to him in the hall.
“Your Excellency!” he says, pressing his hand to his heart and looking at me with the ecstasy of a lover—“your Excellency! God be my witness! Strike me dead on the spot! Gaudeamus egitur juventus!
And he greedily kisses me on the shoulder, on the sleeve, and on the buttons.
“Is everything going well?” I ask him.
“Your Excellency! So help me God!...”
He persists in grovelling before me for no sort of reason, and soon bores me, so I send him away to the kitchen, where they give him dinner.
Pyotr Ignatyevitch comes to see me on holidays, too, with the special object of seeing me and sharing his thoughts with me. He usually sits down near my table, modest, neat, and reasonable, and does not venture to cross his legs or put his elbows on the table. All the time, in a soft, even, little voice, in rounded bookish phrases, he tells me various, to his mind, very interesting and piquant items of news which he has read in the magazines and journals. They are all alike and may be reduced to this type: “A Frenchman has made a discovery; some one else, a German, has denounced him, proving that the discovery was made in 1870 by some American; while a third person, also a German, trumps them both by proving they both had made fools of themselves, mistaking bubbles of air for dark pigment under the microscope.” Even when he wants to amuse me, Pyotr Ignatyevitch tells me things in the same lengthy, circumstantial manner as though he were defending a thesis, enumerating in detail the literary sources from which he is deriving his narrative, doing his utmost to be accurate as to the date and number of the journals and the name of every one concerned, invariably mentioning it in full—Jean Jacques Petit, never simply Petit. Sometimes he stays to dinner with us, and then during the whole of dinner-time he goes on telling me the same sort of piquant anecdotes, reducing every one at table to a state of dejected boredom. If Gnekker and Liza begin talking before him of fugues and counterpoint, Brahms and Bach, he drops his eyes modestly, and is overcome with embarrassment; he is ashamed that such trivial subjects should be discussed before such serious people as him and me.
In my present state of mind five minutes of him is enough to sicken me as though I had been seeing and hearing him for an eternity. I hate the poor fellow. His soft, smooth voice and bookish language exhaust me, and his stories stupefy me.... He cherishes the best of feelings for me, and talks to me simply in order to give me pleasure, and I repay him by looking at him as though I wanted to hypnotize him, and think, “Go, go, go!...” But he is not amenable to thought-suggestion, and sits on and on and on....
While he is with me I can never shake off the thought, “It’s possible when I die he will be appointed to succeed me,” and my poor lecture-hall presents itself to me as an oasis in which the spring is died up; and I am ungracious, silent, and surly with Pyotr Ignatyevitch, as though he were to blame for such thoughts, and not I myself. When he begins, as usual, praising up the German savants, instead of making fun of him good-humouredly, as I used to do, I mutter sullenly:
“Asses, your Germans!...”
That is like the late Professor Nikita Krylov, who once, when he was bathing with Pirogov at Revel and vexed at the water’s being very cold, burst out with, “Scoundrels, these Germans!” I behave badly with Pyotr Ignatyevitch, and only when he is going away, and from the window I catch a glimpse of his grey hat behind the garden-fence, I want to call out and say, “Forgive me, my dear fellow!”
Dinner is even drearier than in the winter. Gnekker, whom now I hate and despise, dines with us almost every day. I used to endure his presence in silence, now I aim biting remarks at him which make my wife and daughter blush. Carried away by evil feeling, I often say things that are simply stupid, and I don’t know why I say them. So on one occasion it happened that I stared a long time at Gnekker, and, à propos of nothing, I fired off:

“An eagle may perchance swoop down below a cock,
But never will the fowl soar upwards to the clouds...”

And the most vexatious thing is that the fowl Gnekker shows himself much cleverer than the eagle professor. Knowing that my wife and daughter are on his side, he takes up the line of meeting my gibes with condescending silence, as though to say: “The old chap is in his dotage; what’s the use of talking to him?”
Or he makes fun of me good-naturedly. It is wonderful how petty a man may become! I am capable of dreaming all dinner-time of how Gnekker will turn out to be an adventurer, how my wife and Liza will come to see their mistake, and how I will taunt them—and such absurd thoughts at the time when I am standing with one foot in the grave!
There are now, too, misunderstandings of which in the old days I had no idea except from hearsay. Though I am ashamed of it, I will describe one that occurred the other day after dinner.
I was sitting in my room smoking a pipe; my wife came in as usual, sat down, and began saying what a good thing it would be for me to go to Harkov now while it is warm and I have free time, and there find out what sort of person our Gnekker is.
“Very good; I will go,” I assented.
My wife, pleased with me, got up and was going to the door, but turned back and said:
“By the way, I have another favour to ask of you. I know you will be angry, but it is my duty to warn you.... Forgive my saying it, Nikolay Stepanovitch, but all our neighbours and acquaintances have begun talking about your being so often at Katya’s. She is clever and well-educated; I don’t deny that her company may be agreeable; but at your age and with your social position it seems strange that you should find pleasure in her society.... Besides, she has such a reputation that...”
All the blood suddenly rushed to my brain, my eyes flashed fire, I leaped up and, clutching at my head and stamping my feet, shouted in a voice unlike my own:
“Let me alone! let me alone! let me alone!”
Probably my face was terrible, my voice was strange, for my wife suddenly turned pale and began shrieking aloud in a despairing voice that was utterly unlike her own. Liza, Gnekker, then Yegor, came running in at our shouts....
“Let me alone!” I cried; “let me alone! Go away!”
My legs turned numb as though they had ceased to exist; I felt myself falling into someone’s arms; for a little while I still heard weeping, then sank into a swoon which lasted two or three hours.
Now about Katya; she comes to see me every day towards evening, and of course neither the neighbours nor our acquaintances can avoid noticing it. She comes in for a minute and carries me off for a drive with her. She has her own horse and a new chaise bought this summer. Altogether she lives in an expensive style; she has taken a big detached villa with a large garden, and has taken all her town retinue with her—two maids, a coachman... I often ask her:
“Katya, what will you live on when you have spent your father’s money?”
“Then we shall see,” she answers.
“That money, my dear, deserves to be treated more seriously. It was earned by a good man, by honest labour.”
“You have told me that already. I know it.”
At first we drive through the open country, then through the pine-wood which is visible from my window. Nature seems to me as beautiful as it always has been, though some evil spirit whispers to me that these pines and fir trees, birds, and white clouds on the sky, will not notice my absence when in three or four months I am dead. Katya loves driving, and she is pleased that it is fine weather and that I am sitting beside her. She is in good spirits and does not say harsh things.
“You are a very good man, Nikolay Stepanovitch,” she says. “You are a rare specimen, and there isn’t an actor who would understand how to play you. Me or Mihail Fyodorovitch, for instance, any poor actor could do, but not you. And I envy you, I envy you horribly! Do you know what I stand for? What?”
She ponders for a minute, and then asks me:
“Nikolay Stepanovitch, I am a negative phenomenon! Yes?”
“Yes,” I answer.
“H’m! what am I to do?”
What answer was I to make her? It is easy to say “work,” or “give your possessions to the poor,” or “know yourself,” and because it is so easy to say that, I don’t know what to answer.
My colleagues when they teach therapeutics advise “the individual study of each separate case.” One has but to obey this advice to gain the conviction that the methods recommended in the textbooks as the best and as providing a safe basis for treatment turn out to be quite unsuitable in individual cases. It is just the same in moral ailments.
But I must make some answer, and I say:
“You have too much free time, my dear; you absolutely must take up some occupation. After all, why shouldn’t you be an actress again if it is your vocation?”
“I cannot!”
“Your tone and manner suggest that you are a victim. I don’t like that, my dear; it is your own fault. Remember, you began with falling out with people and methods, but you have done nothing to make either better. You did not struggle with evil, but were cast down by it, and you are not the victim of the struggle, but of your own impotence. Well, of course you were young and inexperienced then; now it may all be different. Yes, really, go on the stage. You will work, you will serve a sacred art.”
“Don’t pretend, Nikolay Stepanovitch,” Katya interrupts me. “Let us make a compact once for all; we will talk about actors, actresses, and authors, but we will let art alone. You are a splendid and rare person, but you don’t know enough about art sincerely to think it sacred. You have no instinct or feeling for art. You have been hard at work all your life, and have not had time to acquire that feeling. Altogether... I don’t like talk about art,” she goes on nervously. “I don’t like it! And, my goodness, how they have vulgarized it!”
“Who has vulgarized it?”
“They have vulgarized it by drunkenness, the newspapers by their familiar attitude, clever people by philosophy.”
“Philosophy has nothing to do with it.”
“Yes, it has. If any one philosophizes about it, it shows he does not understand it.”
To avoid bitterness I hasten to change the subject, and then sit a long time silent. Only when we are driving out of the wood and turning towards Katya’s villa I go back to my former question, and say:
“You have still not answered me, why you don’t want to go on the stage.”
“Nikolay Stepanovitch, this is cruel!” she cries, and suddenly flushes all over. “You want me to tell you the truth aloud? Very well, if... if you like it! I have no talent! No talent and... and a great deal of vanity! So there!”
After making this confession she turns her face away from me, and to hide the trembling of her hands tugs violently at the reins.
As we are driving towards her villa we see Mihail Fyodorovitch walking near the gate, impatiently awaiting us.
“That Mihail Fyodorovitch again!” says Katya with vexation. “Do rid me of him, please! I am sick and tired of him... bother him!”
Mihail Fyodorovitch ought to have gone abroad long ago, but he puts off going from week to week. Of late there have been certain changes in him. He looks, as it were, sunken, has taken to drinking until he is tipsy, a thing which never used to happen to him, and his black eyebrows are beginning to turn grey. When our chaise stops at the gate he does not conceal his joy and his impatience. He fussily helps me and Katya out, hurriedly asks questions, laughs, rubs his hands, and that gentle, imploring, pure expression, which I used to notice only in his eyes, is now suffused all over his face. He is glad and at the same time he is ashamed of his gladness, ashamed of his habit of spending every evening with Katya. And he thinks it necessary to explain his visit by some obvious absurdity such as: “I was driving by, and I thought I would just look in for a minute.”
We all three go indoors; first we drink tea, then the familiar packs of cards, the big piece of cheese, the fruit, and the bottle of Crimean champagne are put upon the table. The subjects of our conversation are not new; they are just the same as in the winter. We fall foul of the University, the students, and literature and the theatre; the air grows thick and stifling with evil speaking, and poisoned by the breath, not of two toads as in the winter, but of three. Besides the velvety baritone laugh and the giggle like the gasp of a concertina, the maid who waits upon us hears an unpleasant cracked “He, he!” like the chuckle of a general in a vaudeville.


There are terrible nights with thunder, lightning, rain, and wind, such as are called among the people “sparrow nights.” There has been one such night in my personal life.
I woke up after midnight and leaped suddenly out of bed. It seemed to me for some reason that I was just immediately going to die. Why did it seem so? I had no sensation in my body that suggested my immediate death, but my soul was oppressed with terror, as though I had suddenly seen a vast menacing glow of fire.
I rapidly struck a light, drank some water straight out of the decanter, then hurried to the open window. The weather outside was magnificent. There was a smell of hay and some other very sweet scent. I could see the spikes of the fence, the gaunt, drowsy trees by the window, the road, the dark streak of woodland, there was a serene, very bright moon in the sky and not a single cloud, perfect stillness, not one leaf stirring. I felt that everything was looking at me and waiting for me to die....
It was uncanny. I closed the window and ran to my bed. I felt for my pulse, and not finding it in my wrist, tried to find it in my temple, then in my chin, and again in my wrist, and everything I touched was cold and clammy with sweat. My breathing came more and more rapidly, my body was shivering, all my inside was in commotion; I had a sensation on my face and on my bald head as though they were covered with spiders’ webs.
What should I do? Call my family? No; it would be no use. I could not imagine what my wife and Liza would do when they came in to me.
I hid my head under the pillow, closed my eyes, and waited and waited.... My spine was cold; it seemed to be drawn inwards, and I felt as though death were coming upon me stealthily from behind.
“Kee-vee! kee-vee!” I heard a sudden shriek in the night’s stillness, and did not know where it was—in my breast or in the street—“Kee-vee! kee-vee!”
“My God, how terrible!” I would have drunk some more water, but by then it was fearful to open my eyes and I was afraid to raise my head. I was possessed by unaccountable animal terror, and I cannot understand why I was so frightened: was it that I wanted to live, or that some new unknown pain was in store for me?
Upstairs, overhead, some one moaned or laughed. I listened. Soon afterwards there was a sound of footsteps on the stairs. Some one came hurriedly down, then went up again. A minute later there was a sound of steps downstairs again; some one stopped near my door and listened.
“Who is there?” I cried.
The door opened. I boldly opened my eyes, and saw my wife. Her face was pale and her eyes were tear-stained.
“You are not asleep, Nikolay Stepanovitch?” she asked.
“What is it?”
“For God’s sake, go up and have a look at Liza; there is something the matter with her....”
“Very good, with pleasure,” I muttered, greatly relieved at not being alone. “Very good, this minute....”
I followed my wife, heard what she said to me, and was too agitated to understand a word. Patches of light from her candle danced about the stairs, our long shadows trembled. My feet caught in the skirts of my dressing-gown; I gasped for breath, and felt as though something were pursuing me and trying to catch me from behind.
“I shall die on the spot, here on the staircase,” I thought. “On the spot....” But we passed the staircase, the dark corridor with the Italian windows, and went into Liza’s room. She was sitting on the bed in her nightdress, with her bare feet hanging down, and she was moaning.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” she was muttering, screwing up her eyes at our candle. “I can’t bear it.”
“Liza, my child,” I said, “what is it?”
Seeing me, she began crying out, and flung herself on my neck.
“My kind papa!...” she sobbed—“my dear, good papa... my darling, my pet, I don’t know what is the matter with me.... I am miserable!”
She hugged me, kissed me, and babbled fond words I used to hear from her when she was a child.
“Calm yourself, my child. God be with you,” I said. “There is no need to cry. I am miserable, too.”
I tried to tuck her in; my wife gave her water, and we awkwardly stumbled by her bedside; my shoulder jostled against her shoulder, and meanwhile I was thinking how we used to give our children their bath together.
“Help her! help her!” my wife implored me. “Do something!”
What could I do? I could do nothing. There was some load on the girl’s heart; but I did not understand, I knew nothing about it, and could only mutter:
“It’s nothing, it’s nothing; it will pass. Sleep, sleep!”
To make things worse, there was a sudden sound of dogs howling, at first subdued and uncertain, then loud, two dogs howling together. I had never attached significance to such omens as the howling of dogs or the shrieking of owls, but on that occasion it sent a pang to my heart, and I hastened to explain the howl to myself.
“It’s nonsense,” I thought, “the influence of one organism on another. The intensely strained condition of my nerves has infected my wife, Liza, the dog—that is all.... Such infection explains presentiments, forebodings....”
When a little later I went back to my room to write a prescription for Liza, I no longer thought I should die at once, but only had such a weight, such a feeling of oppression in my soul that I felt actually sorry that I had not died on the spot. For a long time I stood motionless in the middle of the room, pondering what to prescribe for Liza. But the moans overhead ceased, and I decided to prescribe nothing, and yet I went on standing there....
There was a deathlike stillness, such a stillness, as some author has expressed it, “it rang in one’s ears.” Time passed slowly; the streaks of moonlight on the window-sill did not shift their position, but seemed as though frozen.... It was still some time before dawn.
But the gate in the fence creaked, some one stole in and, breaking a twig from one of those scraggy trees, cautiously tapped on the window with it.
“Nikolay Stepanovitch,” I heard a whisper. “Nikolay Stepanovitch.”
I opened the window, and fancied I was dreaming: under the window, huddled against the wall, stood a woman in a black dress, with the moonlight bright upon her, looking at me with great eyes. Her face was pale, stern, and weird-looking in the moonlight, like marble, her chin was quivering.
“It is I,” she said—“I... Katya.”
In the moonlight all women’s eyes look big and black, all people look taller and paler, and that was probably why I had not recognized her for the first minute.
“What is it?”
“Forgive me!” she said. “I suddenly felt unbearably miserable... I couldn’t stand it, so came here. There was a light in your window and... and I ventured to knock.... I beg your pardon. Ah! if you knew how miserable I am! What are you doing just now?”
“Nothing.... I can’t sleep.”
“I had a feeling that there was something wrong, but that is nonsense.”
Her brows were lifted, her eyes shone with tears, and her whole face was lighted up with the familiar look of trustfulness which I had not seen for so long.
“Nikolay Stepanovitch,” she said imploringly, stretching out both hands to me, “my precious friend, I beg you, I implore you.... If you don’t despise my affection and respect for you, consent to what I ask of you.”
“What is it?”
“Take my money from me!”
“Come! what an idea! What do I want with your money?”
“You’ll go away somewhere for your health.... You ought to go for your health. Will you take it? Yes? Nikolay Stepanovitch darling, yes?”
She looked greedily into my face and repeated: “Yes, you will take it?”
“No, my dear, I won’t take it,” I said. “Thank you.”
She turned her back upon me and bowed her head. Probably I refused her in a tone which made further conversation about money impossible.
“Go home to bed,” I said. “We will see each other tomorrow.”
“So you don’t consider me your friend?” she asked dejectedly.
“I don’t say that. But your money would be no use to me now.”
“I beg your pardon...” she said, dropping her voice a whole octave. “I understand you... to be indebted to a person like me... a retired actress.... But, good-bye....”
And she went away so quickly that I had not time even to say good-bye.


I am in Harkov.
As it would be useless to contend against my present mood and, indeed, beyond my power, I have made up my mind that the last days of my life shall at least be irreproachable externally. If I am unjust in regard to my wife and daughter, which I fully recognize, I will try and do as she wishes; since she wants me to go to Harkov, I go to Harkov. Besides, I have become of late so indifferent to everything that it is really all the same to me where I go, to Harkov, or to Paris, or to Berditchev.
I arrived here at midday, and have put up at the hotel not far from the cathedral. The train was jolting, there were draughts, and now I am sitting on my bed, holding my head and expecting tic douloureux. I ought to have gone today to see some professors of my acquaintance, but I have neither strength nor inclination.
The old corridor attendant comes in and asks whether I have brought my bed-linen. I detain him for five minutes, and put several questions to him about Gnekker, on whose account I have come here. The attendant turns out to be a native of Harkov; he knows the town like the fingers of his hand, but does not remember any household of the surname of Gnekker. I question him about the estate—the same answer.
The clock in the corridor strikes one, then two, then three.... These last months in which I am waiting for death seem much longer than the whole of my life. And I have never before been so ready to resign myself to the slowness of time as now. In the old days, when one sat in the station and waited for a train, or presided in an examination-room, a quarter of an hour would seem an eternity. Now I can sit all night on my bed without moving, and quite unconcernedly reflect that tomorrow will be followed by another night as long and colourless, and the day after tomorrow.
In the corridor it strikes five, six, seven.... It grows dark.
There is a dull pain in my cheek, the tic beginning. To occupy myself with thoughts, I go back to my old point of view, when I was not so indifferent, and ask myself why I, a distinguished man, a privy councillor, am sitting in this little hotel room, on this bed with the unfamiliar grey quilt. Why am I looking at that cheap tin washing-stand and listening to the whirr of the wretched clock in the corridor? Is all this in keeping with my fame and my lofty position? And I answer these questions with a jeer. I am amused by the naivete with which I used in my youth to exaggerate the value of renown and of the exceptional position which celebrities are supposed to enjoy. I am famous, my name is pronounced with reverence, my portrait has been both in the Niva and in the Illustrated News of the World; I have read my biography even in a German magazine. And what of all that? Here I am sitting utterly alone in a strange town, on a strange bed, rubbing my aching cheek with my hand.... Domestic worries, the hard-heartedness of creditors, the rudeness of the railway servants, the inconveniences of the passport system, the expensive and unwholesome food in the refreshment-rooms, the general rudeness and coarseness in social intercourse—all this, and a great deal more which would take too long to reckon up, affects me as much as any working man who is famous only in his alley. In what way, does my exceptional position find expression? Admitting that I am celebrated a thousand times over, that I am a hero of whom my country is proud. They publish bulletins of my illness in every paper, letters of sympathy come to me by post from my colleagues, my pupils, the general public; but all that does not prevent me from dying in a strange bed, in misery, in utter loneliness. Of course, no one is to blame for that; but I in my foolishness dislike my popularity. I feel as though it had cheated me.
At ten o’clock I fall asleep, and in spite of the tic I sleep soundly, and should have gone on sleeping if I had not been awakened. Soon after one came a sudden knock at the door.
“Who is there?”
“A telegram.”
“You might have waited till tomorrow,” I say angrily, taking the telegram from the attendant. “Now I shall not get to sleep again.”
“I am sorry. Your light was burning, so I thought you were not asleep.”
I tear open the telegram and look first at the signature. From my wife.
“What does she want?”
“Gnekker was secretly married to Liza yesterday. Return.”
I read the telegram, and my dismay does not last long. I am dismayed, not by what Liza and Gnekker have done, but by the indifference with which I hear of their marriage. They say philosophers and the truly wise are indifferent. It is false: indifference is the paralysis of the soul; it is premature death.
I go to bed again, and begin trying to think of something to occupy my mind. What am I to think about? I feel as though everything had been thought over already and there is nothing which could hold my attention now.
When daylight comes I sit up in bed with my arms round my knees, and to pass the time I try to know myself. “Know thyself” is excellent and useful advice; it is only a pity that the ancients never thought to indicate the means of following this precept.
When I have wanted to understand somebody or myself I have considered, not the actions, in which everything is relative, but the desires.
“Tell me what you want, and I will tell you what manner of man you are.”
And now I examine myself: what do I want?
I want our wives, our children, our friends, our pupils, to love in us, not our fame, not the brand and not the label, but to love us as ordinary men. Anything else? I should like to have had helpers and successors. Anything else? I should like to wake up in a hundred years’ time and to have just a peep out of one eye at what is happening in science. I should have liked to have lived another ten years... What further? Why, nothing further. I think and think, and can think of nothing more. And however much I might think, and however far my thoughts might travel, it is clear to me that there is nothing vital, nothing of great importance in my desires. In my passion for science, in my desire to live, in this sitting on a strange bed, and in this striving to know myself—in all the thoughts, feelings, and ideas I form about everything, there is no common bond to connect it all into one whole. Every feeling and every thought exists apart in me; and in all my criticisms of science, the theatre, literature, my pupils, and in all the pictures my imagination draws, even the most skilful analyst could not find what is called a general idea, or the god of a living man.
And if there is not that, then there is nothing.
In a state so poverty-stricken, a serious ailment, the fear of death, the influences of circumstance and men were enough to turn upside down and scatter in fragments all which I had once looked upon as my theory of life, and in which I had seen the meaning and joy of my existence. So there is nothing surprising in the fact that I have over-shadowed the last months of my life with thoughts and feelings only worthy of a slave and barbarian, and that now I am indifferent and take no heed of the dawn. When a man has not in him what is loftier and mightier than all external impressions a bad cold is really enough to upset his equilibrium and make him begin to see an owl in every bird, to hear a dog howling in every sound. And all his pessimism or optimism with his thoughts great and small have at such times significance as symptoms and nothing more.
I am vanquished. If it is so, it is useless to think, it is useless to talk. I will sit and wait in silence for what is to come.
In the morning the corridor attendant brings me tea and a copy of the local newspaper. Mechanically I read the advertisements on the first page, the leading article, the extracts from the newspapers and journals, the chronicle of events.... In the latter I find, among other things, the following paragraph: “Our distinguished savant, Professor Nikolay Stepanovitch So-and-so, arrived yesterday in Harkov, and is staying in the So-and-so Hotel.”
Apparently, illustrious names are created to live on their own account, apart from those that bear them. Now my name is promenading tranquilly about Harkov; in another three months, printed in gold letters on my monument, it will shine bright as the sun itself, while I shall be already under the moss.
A light tap at the door. Somebody wants me.
“Who is there? Come in.”
The door opens, and I step back surprised and hurriedly wrap my dressing-gown round me. Before me stands Katya.
“How do you do?” she says, breathless with running upstairs. “You didn’t expect me? I have come here, too.... I have come, too!”
She sits down and goes on, hesitating and not looking at me.
“Why don’t you speak to me? I have come, too... today.... I found out that you were in this hotel, and have come to you.”
“Very glad to see you,” I say, shrugging my shoulders, “but I am surprised. You seem to have dropped from the skies. What have you come for?”
“Oh... I’ve simply come.”
Silence. Suddenly she jumps up impulsively and comes to me.
“Nikolay Stepanovitch,” she says, turning pale and pressing her hands on her bosom—“Nikolay Stepanovitch, I cannot go on living like this! I cannot! For God’s sake tell me quickly, this minute, what I am to do! Tell me, what am I to do?”
“What can I tell you?” I ask in perplexity. “I can do nothing.”
“Tell me, I beseech you,” she goes on, breathing hard and trembling all over. “I swear that I cannot go on living like this. It’s too much for me!”
She sinks on a chair and begins sobbing. She flings her head back, wrings her hands, taps with her feet; her hat falls off and hangs bobbing on its elastic; her hair is ruffled.
“Help me! help me!” she implores me. “I cannot go on!”
She takes her handkerchief out of her travelling-bag, and with it pulls out several letters, which fall from her lap to the floor. I pick them up, and on one of them I recognize the handwriting of Mihail Fyodorovitch and accidentally read a bit of a word “passionat...”
“There is nothing I can tell you, Katya,” I say.
“Help me!” she sobs, clutching at my hand and kissing it. “You are my father, you know, my only friend! You are clever, educated; you have lived so long; you have been a teacher! Tell me, what am I to do?”
“Upon my word, Katya, I don’t know....”
I am utterly at a loss and confused, touched by her sobs, and hardly able to stand.
“Let us have lunch, Katya,” I say, with a forced smile. “Give over crying.”
And at once I add in a sinking voice:
“I shall soon be gone, Katya....”
“Only one word, only one word!” she weeps, stretching out her hands to me.
“What am I to do?”
“You are a queer girl, really...” I mutter. “I don’t understand it! So sensible, and all at once crying your eyes out....”
A silence follows. Katya straightens her hair, puts on her hat, then crumples up the letters and stuffs them in her bag—and all this deliberately, in silence. Her face, her bosom, and her gloves are wet with tears, but her expression now is cold and forbidding.... I look at her, and feel ashamed that I am happier than she. The absence of what my philosophic colleagues call a general idea I have detected in myself only just before death, in the decline of my days, while the soul of this poor girl has known and will know no refuge all her life, all her life!
“Let us have lunch, Katya,” I say.
“No, thank you,” she answers coldly. Another minute passes in silence. “I don’t like Harkov,” I say; “it’s so grey here—such a grey town.”
“Yes, perhaps.... It’s ugly. I am here not for long, passing through. I am going on today.”
“To the Crimea... that is, to the Caucasus.”
“Oh! For long?”
“I don’t know.”
Katya gets up, and, with a cold smile, holds out her hand without looking at me.
I want to ask her, “Then, you won’t be at my funeral?” but she does not look at me; her hand is cold and, as it were, strange. I escort her to the door in silence. She goes out, walks down the long corridor without looking back; she knows that I am looking after her, and most likely she will look back at the turn.
No, she did not look back. I’ve seen her black dress for the last time: her steps have died away. Farewell, my treasure!



It was getting dark; it would soon be night.
Gusev, a discharged soldier, sat up in his hammock and said in an undertone:
"I say, Pavel Ivanitch. A soldier at Sutchan told me: while they were sailing a big fish came into collision with their ship and stove a hole in it."
The nondescript individual whom he was addressing, and whom everyone in the ship’s hospital called Pavel Ivanitch, was silent, as though he had not heard.
And again a stillness followed. . . . The wind frolicked with the rigging, the screw throbbed, the waves lashed, the hammocks creaked, but the ear had long ago become accustomed to these sounds, and it seemed that everything around was asleep and silent. It was dreary. The three invalids—two soldiers and a sailor—who had been playing cards all the day were asleep and talking in their dreams.
It seemed as though the ship were beginning to rock. The hammock slowly rose and fell under Gusev, as though it were heaving a sigh, and this was repeated once, twice, three times. . . . Something crashed on to the floor with a clang: it must have been a jug falling down.
"The wind has broken loose from its chain . . ." said Gusev, listening.
This time Pavel Ivanitch cleared his throat and answered irritably:
"One minute a vessel’s running into a fish, the next, the wind’s breaking loose from its chain. . . . Is the wind a beast that it can break loose from its chain?"
"That’s how christened folk talk."
"They are as ignorant as you are then. . . . They say all sorts of things. One must keep a head on one’s shoulders and use one’s reason. You are a senseless creature."
Pavel Ivanitch was subject to sea-sickness. When the sea was rough he was usually ill-humoured, and the merest trifle would make him irritable. And in Gusev’s opinion there was absolutely nothing to be vexed about. What was there strange or wonderful, for instance, in the fish or in the wind’s breaking loose from its chain? Suppose the fish were as big as a mountain and its back were as hard as a sturgeon: and in the same way, supposing that away yonder at the end of the world there stood great stone walls and the fierce winds were chained up to the walls . . . if they had not broken loose, why did they tear about all over the sea like maniacs, and struggle to escape like dogs? If they were not chained up, what did become of them when it was calm?
Gusev pondered for a long time about fishes as big as a mountain and stout, rusty chains, then he began to feel dull and thought of his native place to which he was returning after five years’ service in the East. He pictured an immense pond covered with snow. . . . On one side of the pond the red-brick building of the potteries with a tall chimney and clouds of black smoke; on the other side—a village. . . . His brother Alexey comes out in a sledge from the fifth yard from the end; behind him sits his little son Vanka in big felt over-boots, and his little girl Akulka, also in big felt boots. Alexey has been drinking, Vanka is laughing, Akulka’s face he could not see, she had muffled herself up.
"You never know, he’ll get the children frozen . . ." thought Gusev. "Lord send them sense and judgment that they may honour their father and mother and not be wiser than their parents."
"They want re-soleing," a delirious sailor says in a bass voice. "Yes, yes!"
Gusev’s thoughts break off, and instead of a pond there suddenly appears apropos of nothing a huge bull’s head without eyes, and the horse and sledge are not driving along, but are whirling round and round in a cloud of smoke. But still he was glad he had seen his own folks. He held his breath from delight, shudders ran all over him, and his fingers twitched.
"The Lord let us meet again," he muttered feverishly, but he at once opened his eyes and sought in the darkness for water.
He drank and lay back, and again the sledge was moving, then again the bull’s head without eyes, smoke, clouds. . . . And so on till daybreak.


The first outline visible in the darkness was a blue circle—the little round window; then little by little Gusev could distinguish his neighbour in the next hammock, Pavel Ivanitch. The man slept sitting up, as he could not breathe lying down. His face was grey, his nose was long and sharp, his eyes looked huge from the terrible thinness of his face, his temples were sunken, his beard was skimpy, his hair was long. . . . Looking at him you could not make out of what class he was, whether he were a gentleman, a merchant, or a peasant. Judging from his expression and his long hair he might have been a hermit or a lay brother in a monastery—but if one listened to what he said it seemed that he could not be a monk. He was worn out by his cough and his illness and by the stifling heat, and breathed with difficulty, moving his parched lips. Noticing that Gusev was looking at him he turned his face towards him and said:
"I begin to guess. . . . Yes. . . . I understand it all perfectly now."
"What do you understand, Pavel Ivanitch?"
"I’ll tell you. . . . It has always seemed to me strange that terribly ill as you are you should be here in a steamer where it is so hot and stifling and we are always being tossed up and down, where, in fact, everything threatens you with death; now it is all clear to me. . . . Yes. . . . Your doctors put you on the steamer to get rid of you. They get sick of looking after poor brutes like you. . . . You don’t pay them anything, they have a bother with you, and you damage their records with your deaths—so, of course, you are brutes! It’s not difficult to get rid of you. . . . All that is necessary is, in the first place, to have no conscience or humanity, and, secondly, to deceive the steamer authorities. The first condition need hardly be considered, in that respect we are artists; and one can always succeed in the second with a little practice. In a crowd of four hundred healthy soldiers and sailors half a dozen sick ones are not conspicuous; well, they drove you all on to the steamer, mixed you with the healthy ones, hurriedly counted you over, and in the confusion nothing amiss was noticed, and when the steamer had started they saw that there were paralytics and consumptives in the last stage lying about on the deck. . . ."
Gusev did not understand Pavel Ivanitch; but supposing he was being blamed, he said in self-defence:
"I lay on the deck because I had not the strength to stand; when we were unloaded from the barge on to the ship I caught a fearful chill."
"It’s revolting," Pavel Ivanitch went on. "The worst of it is they know perfectly well that you can’t last out the long journey, and yet they put you here. Supposing you get as far as the Indian Ocean, what then? It’s horrible to think of it. . . . And that’s their gratitude for your faithful, irreproachable service!"
Pavel Ivanitch’s eyes looked angry; he frowned contemptuously and said, gasping:
"Those are the people who ought to be plucked in the newspapers till the feathers fly in all directions."
The two sick soldiers and the sailor were awake and already playing cards. The sailor was half reclining in his hammock, the soldiers were sitting near him on the floor in the most uncomfortable attitudes. One of the soldiers had his right arm in a sling, and the hand was swathed up in a regular bundle so that he held his cards under his right arm or in the crook of his elbow while he played with the left. The ship was rolling heavily. They could not stand up, nor drink tea, nor take their medicines.
"Were you an officer’s servant?" Pavel Ivanitch asked Gusev.
"Yes, an officer’s servant."
"My God, my God!" said Pavel Ivanitch, and he shook his head mournfully. "To tear a man out of his home, drag him twelve thousand miles away, then to drive him into consumption and . . . and what is it all for, one wonders? To turn him into a servant for some Captain Kopeikin or midshipman Dirka! How logical!"
"It’s not hard work, Pavel Ivanitch. You get up in the morning and clean the boots, get the samovar, sweep the rooms, and then you have nothing more to do. The lieutenant is all the day drawing plans, and if you like you can say your prayers, if you like you can read a book or go out into the street. God grant everyone such a life."
"Yes, very nice, the lieutenant draws plans all the day and you sit in the kitchen and pine for home. . . . Plans indeed! . . . It is not plans that matter, but a human life. Life is not given twice, it must be treated mercifully."
"Of course, Pavel Ivanitch, a bad man gets no mercy anywhere, neither at home nor in the army, but if you live as you ought and obey orders, who has any need to insult you? The officers are educated gentlemen, they understand. . . . In five years I was never once in prison, and I was never struck a blow, so help me God, but once."
"What for?"
"For fighting. I have a heavy hand, Pavel Ivanitch. Four Chinamen came into our yard; they were bringing firewood or something, I don’t remember. Well, I was bored and I knocked them about a bit, one’s nose began bleeding, damn the fellow. . . . The lieutenant saw it through the little window, he was angry and gave me a box on the ear."
"Foolish, pitiful man . . ." whispered Pavel Ivanitch. "You don’t understand anything."
He was utterly exhausted by the tossing of the ship and closed his eyes; his head alternately fell back and dropped forward on his breast. Several times he tried to lie down but nothing came of it; his difficulty in breathing prevented it.
"And what did you hit the four Chinamen for?" he asked a little while afterwards.
"Oh, nothing. They came into the yard and I hit them."
And a stillness followed. . . . The card-players had been playing for two hours with enthusiasm and loud abuse of one another, but the motion of the ship overcame them, too; they threw aside the cards and lay down. Again Gusev saw the big pond, the brick building, the village. . . . Again the sledge was coming along, again Vanka was laughing and Akulka, silly little thing, threw open her fur coat and stuck her feet out, as much as to say: "Look, good people, my snowboots are not like Vanka’s, they are new ones."
"Five years old, and she has no sense yet," Gusev muttered in delirium. "Instead of kicking your legs you had better come and get your soldier uncle a drink. I will give you something nice."
Then Andron with a flintlock gun on his shoulder was carrying a hare he had killed, and he was followed by the decrepit old Jew Isaitchik, who offers to barter the hare for a piece of soap; then the black calf in the shed, then Domna sewing at a shirt and crying about something, and then again the bull’s head without eyes, black smoke. . . .
Overhead someone gave a loud shout, several sailors ran by, they seemed to be dragging something bulky over the deck, something fell with a crash. Again they ran by. . . . Had something gone wrong? Gusev raised his head, listened, and saw that the two soldiers and the sailor were playing cards again; Pavel Ivanitch was sitting up moving his lips. It was stifling, one hadn’t strength to breathe, one was thirsty, the water was warm, disgusting. The ship heaved as much as ever.
Suddenly something strange happened to one of the soldiers playing cards. . . . He called hearts diamonds, got muddled in his score, and dropped his cards, then with a frightened, foolish smile looked round at all of them.
"I shan’t be a minute, mates, I’ll . . . he said, and lay down on the floor.
Everybody was amazed. They called to him, he did not answer.
"Stephan, maybe you are feeling bad, eh?" the soldier with his arm in a sling asked him. "Perhaps we had better bring the priest, eh?"
"Have a drink of water, Stepan . . ." said the sailor. "Here, lad, drink."
"Why are you knocking the jug against his teeth?" said Gusev angrily. "Don’t you see, turnip head?"
"What?" Gusev repeated, mimicking him. "There is no breath in him, he is dead! That’s what! What nonsensical people, Lord have mercy on us . . . !"


The ship was not rocking and Pavel Ivanitch was more cheerful. He was no longer ill-humoured. His face had a boastful, defiant, mocking expression. He looked as though he wanted to say: "Yes, in a minute I will tell you something that will make you split your sides with laughing." The little round window was open and a soft breeze was blowing on Pavel Ivanitch. There was a sound of voices, of the plash of oars in the water. . . . Just under the little window someone began droning in a high, unpleasant voice: no doubt it was a Chinaman singing.
"Here we are in the harbour," said Pavel Ivanitch, smiling ironically. "Only another month and we shall be in Russia. Well, worthy gentlemen and warriors! I shall arrive at Odessa and from there go straight to Harkov. In Harkov I have a friend, a literary man. I shall go to him and say, ’Come, old man, put aside your horrid subjects, ladies’ amours and the beauties of nature, and show up human depravity.’"
For a minute he pondered, then said:
"Gusev, do you know how I took them in?"
"Took in whom, Pavel Ivanitch?"
"Why, these fellows. . . . You know that on this steamer there is only a first-class and a third-class, and they only allow peasants—that is the riff-raff—to go in the third. If you have got on a reefer jacket and have the faintest resemblance to a gentleman or a bourgeois you must go first-class, if you please. You must fork out five hundred roubles if you die for it. Why, I ask, have you made such a rule? Do you want to raise the prestige of educated Russians thereby? Not a bit of it. We don’t let you go third-class simply because a decent person can’t go third-class; it is very horrible and disgusting. Yes, indeed. I am very grateful for such solicitude for decent people’s welfare. But in any case, whether it is nasty there or nice, five hundred roubles I haven’t got. I haven’t pilfered government money. I haven’t exploited the natives, I haven’t trafficked in contraband, I have no one to death, so judge whether I have the right to travel first-class and even less to reckon myself of the educated class? But you won’t catch them with logic. . . . One has to resort to deception. I put on a workman’s coat and high boots, I assumed a drunken, servile mug and went to the agents: ’Give us a little ticket, your honour,’ said I. . . ."
"Why, what class do you belong to?" asked a sailor.
"Clerical. My father was an honest priest, he always told the great ones of the world the truth to their faces; and he had a great deal to put up with in consequence."
Pavel Ivanitch was exhausted with talking and gasped for breath, but still went on:
"Yes, I always tell people the truth to their faces. I am not afraid of anyone or anything. There is a vast difference between me and all of you in that respect. You are in darkness, you are blind, crushed; you see nothing and what you do see you don’t understand. . . . You are told the wind breaks loose from its chain, that you are beasts, Petchenyegs, and you believe it; they punch you in the neck, you kiss their hands; some animal in a sable-lined coat robs you and then tips you fifteen kopecks and you: ’Let me kiss your hand, sir.’ You are pariahs, pitiful people. . . . I am a different sort. My eyes are open, I see it all as clearly as a hawk or an eagle when it floats over the earth, and I understand it all. I am a living protest. I see irresponsible tyranny—I protest. I see cant and hypocrisy—I protest. I see swine triumphant—I protest. And I cannot be suppressed, no Spanish Inquisition can make me hold my tongue. No. . . . Cut out my tongue and I would protest in dumb show; shut me up in a cellar—I will shout from it to be heard half a mile away, or I will starve myself to death that they may have another weight on their black consciences. Kill me and I will haunt them with my ghost. All my acquaintances say to me: ’You are a most insufferable person, Pavel Ivanitch.’ I am proud of such a reputation. I have served three years in the far East, and I shall be remembered there for a hundred years: I had rows with everyone. My friends write to me from Russia, ’Don’t come back,’ but here I am going back to spite them . . . yes. . . . That is life as I understand it. That is what one can call life."
Gusev was looking at the little window and was not listening. A boat was swaying on the transparent, soft, turquoise water all bathed in hot, dazzling sunshine. In it there were naked Chinamen holding up cages with canaries and calling out:
"It sings, it sings!"
Another boat knocked against the first; the steam cutter darted by. And then there came another boat with a fat Chinaman sitting in it, eating rice with little sticks.
Languidly the water heaved, languidly the white seagulls floated over it.
"I should like to give that fat fellow one in the neck," thought Gusev, gazing at the stout Chinaman, with a yawn.
He dozed off, and it seemed to him that all nature was dozing, too. Time flew swiftly by; imperceptibly the day passed, imperceptibly the darkness came on. . . . The steamer was no longer standing still, but moving on further.


Two days passed, Pavel Ivanitch lay down instead of sitting up; his eyes were closed, his nose seemed to have grown sharper.
"Pavel Ivanitch," Gusev called to him. "Hey, Pavel Ivanitch."
Pavel Ivanitch opened his eyes and moved his lips.
"Are you feeling bad?"
"No . . . it’s nothing . . answered Pavel Ivanitch, gasping. "Nothing; on the contrary . . . I am rather better. . . . You see I can lie down. . . . I am a little easier. . . ."
"Well, thank God for that, Pavel Ivanitch."
"When I compare myself with you I am sorry for you . . . poor fellow. My lungs are all right, it is only a stomach cough. . . . I can stand hell, let alone the Red Sea. Besides I take a critical attitude to my illness and to the medicines they give me for it. While you . . . you are in darkness. . . . It’s hard for you, very, very hard!"
The ship was not rolling, it was calm, but as hot and stifling as a bath-house; it was not only hard to speak but even hard to listen. Gusev hugged his knees, laid his head on them and thought of his home. Good heavens, what a relief it was to think of snow and cold in that stifling heat! You drive in a sledge, all at once the horses take fright at something and bolt. . . . Regardless of the road, the ditches, the ravines, they dash like mad things, right through the village, over the pond by the pottery works, out across the open fields. "Hold on," the pottery hands and the peasants shout, meeting them. "Hold on." But why? Let the keen, cold wind beat in one’s face and bite one’s hands; let the lumps of snow, kicked up by the horses’ hoofs, fall on one’s cap, on one’s back, down one’s collar, on one’s chest; let the runners ring on the snow, and the traces and the sledge be smashed, deuce take them one and all! And how delightful when the sledge upsets and you go flying full tilt into a drift, face downwards in the snow, and then you get up white all over with icicles on your moustaches; no cap, no gloves, your belt undone. . . . People laugh, the dogs bark. . . .
Pavel Ivanitch half opened one eye, looked at Gusev with it, and asked softly:
"Gusev, did your commanding officer steal?"
"Who can tell, Pavel Ivanitch! Wc can’t say, it didn’t reach us."
And after that a long time passed in silence. Gusev brooded, muttered something in delirium, and kept drinking water; it was hard for him to talk and hard to listen, and he was afraid of being talked to. An hour passed, a second, a third; evening came on, then night, but he did not notice it. He still sat dreaming of the frost.
There was a sound as though someone came into the hospital, and voices were audible, but a few minutes passed and all was still again.
"The Kingdom of Heaven and eternal peace," said the soldier with his arm in a sling. "He was an uncomfortable man."
"What?" asked Gusev. "Who?"
"He is dead, they have just carried him up."
"Oh, well," muttered Gusev, yawning, "the Kingdom of Heaven be his."
"What do you think?" the soldier with his arm in a sling asked Gusev. "Will he be in the Kingdom of Heaven or not?"
"Who is it you are talking about?"
"Pavel Ivanitch."
"He will be . . . he suffered so long. And there is another thing, he belonged to the clergy, and the priests always have a lot of relations. Their prayers will save him."
The soldier with the sling sat down on a hammock near Gusev and said in an undertone:
"And you, Gusev, are not long for this world. You will never get to Russia."
"Did the doctor or his assistant say so?" asked Gusev.
"It isn’t that they said so, but one can see it. . . . One can see directly when a man’s going to die. You don’t eat, you don’t drink; it’s dreadful to see how thin you’ve got. It’s consumption, in fact. I say it, not to upset you, but because maybe you would like to have the sacrament and extreme unction. And if you have any money you had better give it to the senior officer."
"I haven’t written home . . Gusev sighed. "I shall die and they won’t know."
"They’ll hear of it," the sick sailor brought out in a bass voice. "When you die they will put it down in the Gazette, at Odessa they will send in a report to the commanding officer there and he will send it to the parish or somewhere. . . ."
Gusev began to be uneasy after such a conversation and to feel a vague yearning. He drank water—it was not that; he dragged himself to the window and breathed the hot, moist air—it was not that; he tried to think of home, of the frost—it was not that. . . . At last it seemed to him one minute longer in the ward and he would certainly expire.
"It’s stifling, mates . . ." he said. "I’ll go on deck. Help me up, for Christ’s sake."
"All right," assented the soldier with the sling. "I’ll carry you, you can’t walk, hold on to my neck."
Gusev put his arm round the soldier’s neck, the latter put his unhurt arm round him and carried him up. On the deck sailors and time-expired soldiers were lying asleep side by side; there were so many of them it was difficult to pass.
"Stand down," the soldier with the sling said softly. "Follow me quietly, hold on to my shirt. . . ."
It was dark. There was no light on deck, nor on the masts, nor anywhere on the sea around. At the furthest end of the ship the man on watch was standing perfectly still like a statue, and it looked as though he were asleep. It seemed as though the steamer were abandoned to itself and were going at its own will.
"Now they will throw Pavel Ivanitch into the sea," said the soldier with the sling. "In a sack and then into the water."
"Yes, that’s the rule."
"But it’s better to lie at home in the earth. Anyway, your mother comes to the grave and weeps."
"Of course."
There was a smell of hay and of dung. There were oxen standing with drooping heads by the ship’s rail. One, two, three; eight of them! And there was a little horse. Gusev put out his hand to stroke it, but it shook its head, showed its teeth, and tried to bite his sleeve.
"Damned brute . . ." said Gusev angrily.
The two of them, he and the soldier, threaded their way to the head of the ship, then stood at the rail and looked up and down. Overhead deep sky, bright stars, peace and stillness, exactly as at home in the village, below darkness and disorder. The tall waves were resounding, no one could tell why. Whichever wave you looked at each one was trying to rise higher than all the rest and to chase and crush the next one; after it a third as fierce and hideous flew noisily, with a glint of light on its white crest.
The sea has no sense and no pity. If the steamer had been smaller and not made of thick iron, the waves would have crushed it to pieces without the slightest compunction, and would have devoured all the people in it with no distinction of saints or sinners. The steamer had the same cruel and meaningless expression. This monster with its huge beak was dashing onwards, cutting millions of waves in its path; it had no fear of the darkness nor the wind, nor of space, nor of solitude, caring for nothing, and if the ocean had its people, this monster would have crushed them, too, without distinction of saints or sinners.
"Where are we now?" asked Gusev.
"I don’t know. We must be in the ocean."
"There is no sight of land. . . ."
"No indeed! They say we shan’t see it for seven days."
The two soldiers watched the white foam with the phosphorus light on it and were silent, thinking. Gusev was the first to break the silence.
"There is nothing to be afraid of," he said, "only one is full of dread as though one were sitting in a dark forest; but if, for instance, they let a boat down on to the water this minute and an officer ordered me to go a hundred miles over the sea to catch fish, I’d go. Or, let’s say, if a Christian were to fall into the water this minute, I’d go in after him. A German or a Chinaman I wouldn’t save, but I’d go in after a Christian."
"And are you afraid to die?"
"Yes. I am sorry for the folks at home. My brother at home, you know, isn’t steady; he drinks, he beats his wife for nothing, he does not honour his parents. Everything will go to ruin without me, and father and my old mother will be begging their bread, I shouldn’t wonder. But my legs won’t bear me, brother, and it’s hot here. Let’s go to sleep."


Gusev went back to the ward - and got into his hammock. He was again tormented by a vague craving, and he could not make out what he wanted. There was an oppression on his chest, a throbbing in his head, his mouth was so dry that it was difficult for him to move his tongue. He dozed, and murmured in his sleep, and, worn out with nightmares, his cough, and the stifling heat, towards morning he fell into a sound sleep. He dreamed that they were just taking the bread out of the oven in the barracks and he climbed into the stove and had a steam bath in it, lashing himself with a bunch of birch twigs. He slept for two days, and at midday on the third two sailors came down and carried him out.
He was sewn up in sailcloth and to make him heavier they put with him two iron weights. Sewn up in the sailcloth he looked like a carrot or a radish: broad at the head and narrow at the feet. . . . Before sunset they brought him up to the deck and put him on a plank; one end of the plank lay on the side of the ship, the other on a box, placed on a stool. Round him stood the soldiers and the officers with their caps off.
"Blessed be the Name of the Lord . . ." the priest began. "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be."
"Amen," chanted three sailors.
The soldiers and the officers crossed themselves and looked away at the waves. It was strange that a man should be sewn up in sailcloth and should soon be flying into the sea. Was it possible that such a thing might happen to anyone?
The priest strewed earth upon Gusev and bowed down. They sang "Eternal Memory."
The man on watch duty tilted up the end of the plank, Gusev slid off and flew head foremost, turned a somersault in the air and splashed into the sea. He was covered with foam and for a moment looked as though he were wrapped in lace, but the minute passed and he disappeared in the waves.
He went rapidly towards the bottom. Did he reach it? It was said to be three miles to the bottom. After sinking sixty or seventy feet, he began moving more and more slowly, swaying rhythmically, as though he were hesitating and, carried along by the current, moved more rapidly sideways than downwards.
Then he was met by a shoal of the fish called harbour pilots. Seeing the dark body the fish stopped as though petrified, and suddenly turned round and disappeared. In less than a minute they flew back swift as an arrow to Gusev, and began zig-zagging round him in the water.
After that another dark body appeared. It was a shark. It swam under Gusev with dignity and no show of interest, as though it did not notice him, and sank down upon its back, then it turned belly upwards, basking in the warm, transparent water and languidly opened its jaws with two rows of teeth. The harbour pilots are delighted, they stop to see what will come next. After playing a little with the body the shark nonchalantly puts its jaws under it, cautiously touches it with its teeth, and the sailcloth is rent its full length from head to foot; one of the weights falls out and frightens the harbour pilots, and striking the shark on the ribs goes rapidly to the bottom.
Overhead at this time the clouds are massed together on the side where the sun is setting; one cloud like a triumphal arch, another like a lion, a third like a pair of scissors. . . . From behind the clouds a broad, green shaft of light pierces through and stretches to the middle of the sky; a little later another, violet-coloured, lies beside it; next that, one of gold, then one rose-coloured. . . . The sky turns a soft lilac. Looking at this gorgeous, enchanted sky, at first the ocean scowls, but soon it, too, takes tender, joyous, passionate colours for which it is hard to find a name in human speech.


THE town was a little one, worse than a village, and it was inhabited by scarcely any but old people who died with an infrequency that was really annoying. In the hospital and in the prison fortress very few coffins were needed. In fact business was bad. If Yakov Ivanov had been an undertaker in the chief town of the province he would certainly have had a house of his own, and people would have addressed him as Yakov Matveyitch; here in this wretched little town people called him simply Yakov; his nickname in the street was for some reason Bronze, and he lived in a poor way like a humble peasant, in a little old hut in which there was only one room, and in this room he and Marfa, the stove, a double bed, the coffins, his bench, and all their belongings were crowded together.
Yakov made good, solid coffins. For peasants and working people he made them to fit himself, and this was never unsuccessful, for there were none taller and stronger than he, even in the prison, though he was seventy. For gentry and for women he made them to measure, and used an iron foot-rule for the purpose. He was very unwilling to take orders for children’s coffins, and made them straight off without measurements, contemptuously, and when he was paid for the work he always said:
"I must confess I don’t like trumpery jobs."
Apart from his trade, playing the fiddle brought him in a small income.
The Jews’ orchestra conducted by Moisey Ilyitch Shahkes, the tinsmith, who took more than half their receipts for himself, played as a rule at weddings in the town. As Yakov played very well on the fiddle, especially Russian songs, Shahkes sometimes invited him to join the orchestra at a fee of half a rouble a day, in addition to tips from the visitors. When Bronze sat in the orchestra first of all his face became crimson and perspiring; it was hot, there was a suffocating smell of garlic, the fiddle squeaked, the double bass wheezed close to his right ear, while the flute wailed at his left, played by a gaunt, red-haired Jew who had a perfect network of red and blue veins all over his face, and who bore the name of the famous millionaire Rothschild. And this accursed Jew contrived to play even the liveliest things plaintively. For no apparent reason Yakov little by little became possessed by hatred and contempt for the Jews, and especially for Rothschild; he began to pick quarrels with him, rail at him in unseemly language and once even tried to strike him, and Rothschild was offended and said, looking at him ferociously:
"If it were not that I respect you for your talent, I would have sent you flying out of the window."
Then he began to weep. And because of this Yakov was not often asked to play in the orchestra; he was only sent for in case of extreme necessity in the absence of one of the Jews.
Yakov was never in a good temper, as he was continually having to put up with terrible losses. For instance, it was a sin to work on Sundays or Saints’ days, and Monday was an unlucky day, so that in the course of the year there were some two hundred days on which, whether he liked it or not, he had to sit with his hands folded. And only think, what a loss that meant. If anyone in the town had a wedding without music, or if Shahkes did not send for Yakov, that was a loss, too. The superintendent of the prison was ill for two years and was wasting away, and Yakov was impatiently waiting for him to die, but the superintendent went away to the chief town of the province to be doctored, and there took and died. There’s a loss for you, ten roubles at least, as there would have been an expensive coffin to make, lined with brocade. The thought of his losses haunted Yakov, especially at night; he laid his fiddle on the bed beside him, and when all sorts of nonsensical ideas came into his mind he touched a string; the fiddle gave out a sound in the darkness, and he felt better.
On the sixth of May of the previous year Marfa had suddenly been taken ill. The old woman’s breathing was laboured, she drank a great deal of water, and she staggered as she walked, yet she lighted the stove in the morning and even went herself to get water. Towards evening she lay down. Yakov played his fiddle all day; when it was quite dark he took the book in which he used every day to put down his losses, and, feeling dull, he began adding up the total for the year. It came to more than a thousand roubles. This so agitated him that he flung the reckoning beads down, and trampled them under his feet. Then he picked up the reckoning beads, and again spent a long time clicking with them and heaving deep, strained sighs. His face was crimson and wet with perspiration. He thought that if he had put that lost thousand roubles in the bank, the interest for a year would have been at least forty roubles, so that forty roubles was a loss too. In fact, wherever one turned there were losses and nothing else.
"Yakov!" Marfa called unexpectedly. "I am dying."
He looked round at his wife. Her face was rosy with fever, unusually bright and joyful-looking. Bronze, accustomed to seeing her face always pale, timid, and unhappy-looking, was bewildered. It looked as if she really were dying and were glad that she was going away for ever from that hut, from the coffins, and from Yakov. . . . And she gazed at the ceiling and moved her lips, and her expression was one of happiness, as though she saw death as her deliverer and were whispering with him.
It was daybreak; from the windows one could see the flush of dawn. Looking at the old woman, Yakov for some reason reflected that he had not once in his life been affectionate to her, had had no feeling for her, had never once thought to buy her a kerchief, or to bring her home some dainty from a wedding, but had done nothing but shout at her, scold her for his losses, shake his fists at her; it is true he had never actually beaten her, but he had frightened her, and at such times she had always been numb with terror. Why, he had forbidden her to drink tea because they spent too much without that, and she drank only hot water. And he understood why she had such a strange, joyful face now, and he was overcome with dread.
As soon as it was morning he borrowed a horse from a neighbour and took Marfa to the hospital. There were not many patients there, and so he had not long to wait, only three hours. To his great satisfaction the patients were not being received by the doctor, who was himself ill, but by the assistant, Maxim Nikolaitch, an old man of whom everyone in the town used to say that, though he drank and was quarrelsome, he knew more than the doctor.
"I wish you good-day," said Yakov, leading his old woman into the consulting room. "You must excuse us, Maxim Nikolaitch, we are always troubling you with our trumpery affairs. Here you see my better half is ailing, the partner of my life, as they say, excuse the expression. . . ."
Knitting his grizzled brows and stroking his whiskers the assistant began to examine the old woman, and she sat on a stool, a wasted, bent figure with a sharp nose and open mouth, looking like a bird that wants to drink.
"H———m . . . Ah! . . ." the assistant said slowly, and he heaved a sigh. "Influenza and possibly fever. There’s typhus in the town now. Well, the old woman has lived her life, thank God. . . . How old is she?"
"She’ll be seventy in another year, Maxim Nikolaitch."
"Well, the old woman has lived her life, it’s time to say good-bye."
"You are quite right in what you say, of course, Maxim Nikolaitch," said Yakov, smiling from politeness, "and we thank you feelingly for your kindness, but allow me to say every insect wants to live."
"To be sure," said the assistant, in a tone which suggested that it depended upon him whether the woman lived or died. "Well, then, my good fellow, put a cold compress on her head, and give her these powders twice a day, and so good-bye. Bonjour."
From the expression of his face Yakov saw that it was a bad case, and that no sort of powders would be any help; it was clear to him that Marfa would die very soon, if not to-day, to-morrow. He nudged the assistant’s elbow, winked at him, and said in a low voice:
"If you would just cup her, Maxim Nikolaitch."
"I have no time, I have no time, my good fellow. Take your old woman and go in God’s name. Goodbye."
"Be so gracious," Yakov besought him. "You know yourself that if, let us say, it were her stomach or her inside that were bad, then powders or drops, but you see she had got a chill! In a chill the first thing is to let blood, Maxim Nikolaitch."
But the assistant had already sent for the next patient, and a peasant woman came into the consulting room with a boy.
"Go along! go along," he said to Yakov, frowning. "It’s no use to—"
"In that case put on leeches, anyway! Make us pray for you for ever."
The assistant flew into a rage and shouted:
"You speak to me again! You blockhead. . . ."
Yakov flew into a rage too, and he turned crimson all over, but he did not utter a word. He took Marfa on his arm and led her out of the room. Only when they were sitting in the cart he looked morosely and ironically at the hospital, and said:
"A nice set of artists they have settled here! No fear, but he would have cupped a rich man, but even a leech he grudges to the poor. The Herods!"
When they got home and went into the hut, Marfa stood for ten minutes holding on to the stove. It seemed to her that if she were to lie down Yakov would talk to her about his losses, and scold her for lying down and not wanting to work. Yakov looked at her drearily and thought that to-morrow was St. John the Divine’s, and next day St. Nikolay the Wonder-worker’s, and the day after that was Sunday, and then Monday, an unlucky day. For four days he would not be able to work, and most likely Marfa would die on one of those days; so he would have to make the coffin to-day. He picked up his iron rule, went up to the old woman and took her measure. Then she lay down, and he crossed himself and began making the coffin.
When the coffin was finished Bronze put on his spectacles and wrote in his book: "Marfa Ivanov’s coffin, two roubles, forty kopecks."
And he heaved a sigh. The old woman lay all the time silent with her eyes closed. But in the evening, when it got dark, she suddenly called the old man.
"Do you remember, Yakov," she asked, looking at him joyfully. "Do you remember fifty years ago God gave us a little baby with flaxen hair? We used always to be sitting by the river then, singing songs . . . under the willows," and laughing bitterly, she added: "The baby girl died."
Yakov racked his memory, but could not remember the baby or the willows.
"It’s your fancy," he said.
The priest arrived; he administered the sacrament and extreme unction. Then Marfa began muttering something unintelligible, and towards morning she died. Old women, neighbours, washed her, dressed her, and laid her in the coffin. To avoid paying the sacristan, Yakov read the psalms over the body himself, and they got nothing out of him for the grave, as the grave-digger was a crony of his. Four peasants carried the coffin to the graveyard, not for money, but from respect. The coffin was followed by old women, beggars, and a couple of crazy saints, and the people who met it crossed themselves piously. . . . And Yakov was very much pleased that it was so creditable, so decorous, and so cheap, and no offence to anyone. As he took his last leave of Marfa he touched the coffin and thought: "A good piece of work!"
But as he was going back from the cemetery he was overcome by acute depression. He didn’t feel quite well: his breathing was laboured and feverish, his legs felt weak, and he had a craving for drink. And thoughts of all sorts forced themselves on his mind. He remembered again that all his life he had never felt for Marfa, had never been affectionate to her. The fifty-two years they had lived in the same hut had dragged on a long, long time, but it had somehow happened that in all that time he had never once thought of her, had paid no attention to her, as though she had been a cat or a dog. And yet, every day, she had lighted the stove, had cooked and baked, had gone for the water, had chopped the wood, had slept with him in the same bed, and when he came home drunk from the weddings always reverently hung his fiddle on the wall and put him to bed, and all this in silence, with a timid, anxious expression.
Rothschild, smiling and bowing, came to meet Yakov.
"I was looking for you, uncle," he said. "Moisey Ilyitch sends you his greetings and bids you come to him at once."
Yakov felt in no mood for this. He wanted to cry.
"Leave me alone," he said, and walked on.
"How can you," Rothschild said, fluttered, running on in front. "Moisey Ilyitch will be offended! He bade you come at once!"
Yakov was revolted at the Jew’s gasping for breath and blinking, and having so many red freckles on his face. And it was disgusting to look at his green coat with black patches on it, and all his fragile, refined figure.
"Why are you pestering me, garlic?" shouted Yakov. "Don’t persist!"
The Jew got angry and shouted too:
"Not so noisy, please, or I’ll send you flying over the fence!"
"Get out of my sight!" roared Yakov, and rushed at him with his fists. "One can’t live for you scabby Jews!"
Rothschild, half dead with terror, crouched down and waved his hands over his head, as though to ward off a blow; then he leapt up and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him: as he ran he gave little skips and kept clasping his hands, and Yakov could see how his long thin spine wriggled. Some boys, delighted at the incident, ran after him shouting "Jew! Jew!" Some dogs joined in the chase barking. Someone burst into a roar of laughter, then gave a whistle; the dogs barked with even more noise and unanimity. Then a dog must have bitten Rothschild, as a desperate, sickly scream was heard.
Yakov went for a walk on the grazing ground, then wandered on at random in the outskirts of the town, while the street boys shouted:
"Here’s Bronze! Here’s Bronze!"
He came to the river, where the curlews floated in the air uttering shrill cries and the ducks quacked. The sun was blazing hot, and there was a glitter from the water, so that it hurt the eyes to look at it. Yakov walked by a path along the bank and saw a plump, rosy-cheeked lady come out of the bathing-shed, and thought about her: "Ugh! you otter!"
Not far from the bathing-shed boys were catching crayfish with bits of meat; seeing him, they began shouting spitefully, "Bronze! Bronze!" And then he saw an old spreading willow-tree with a big hollow in it, and a crow’s nest on it. . . . And suddenly there rose up vividly in Yakov’s memory a baby with flaxen hair, and the willow-tree Marfa had spoken of. Why, that is it, the same willow-tree—green, still, and sorrowful. . . . How old it has grown, poor thing!
He sat down under it and began to recall the past. On the other bank, where now there was the water meadow, in those days there stood a big birchwood, and yonder on the bare hillside that could be seen on the horizon an old, old pine forest used to be a bluish patch in the distance. Big boats used to sail on the river. But now it was all smooth and unruffled, and on the other bank there stood now only one birch-tree, youthful and slender like a young lady, and there was nothing on the river but ducks and geese, and it didn’t look as though there had ever been boats on it. It seemed as though even the geese were fewer than of old. Yakov shut his eyes, and in his imagination huge flocks of white geese soared, meeting one another.
He wondered how it had happened that for the last forty or fifty years of his life he had never once been to the river, or if he had been by it he had not paid attention to it. Why, it was a decent sized river, not a trumpery one; he might have gone in for fishing and sold the fish to merchants, officials, and the bar-keeper at the station, and then have put money in the bank; he might have sailed in a boat from one house to another, playing the fiddle, and people of all classes would have paid to hear him; he might have tried getting big boats afloat again—that would be better than making coffins; he might have bred geese, killed them and sent them in the winter to Moscow. Why, the feathers alone would very likely mount up to ten roubles in the year. But he had wasted his time, he had done nothing of this. What losses! Ah! What losses! And if he had gone in for all those things at once—catching fish and playing the fiddle, and running boats and killing geese—what a fortune he would have made! But nothing of this had happened, even in his dreams; life had passed uselessly without any pleasure, had been wasted for nothing, not even a pinch of snuff; there was nothing left in front, and if one looked back—there was nothing there but losses, and such terrible ones, it made one cold all over. And why was it a man could not live so as to avoid these losses and misfortunes? One wondered why they had cut down the birch copse and the pine forest. Why was he walking with no reason on the grazing ground? Why do people always do what isn’t needful? Why had Yakov all his life scolded, bellowed, shaken his fists, ill-treated his wife, and, one might ask, what necessity was there for him to frighten and insult the Jew that day? Why did people in general hinder each other from living? What losses were due to it! what terrible losses! If it were not for hatred and malice people would get immense benefit from one another.
In the evening and the night he had visions of the baby, of the willow, of fish, of slaughtered geese, and Marfa looking in profile like a bird that wants to drink, and the pale, pitiful face of Rothschild, and faces moved down from all sides and muttered of losses. He tossed from side to side, and got out of bed five times to play the fiddle.
In the morning he got up with an effort and went to the hospital. The same Maxim Nikolaitch told him to put a cold compress on his head, and gave him some powders, and from his tone and expression of face Yakov realized that it was a bad case and that no powders would be any use. As he went home afterwards, he reflected that death would be nothing but a benefit; he would not have to eat or drink, or pay taxes or offend people, and, as a man lies in his grave not for one year but for hundreds and thousands, if one reckoned it up the gain would be enormous. A man’s life meant loss: death meant gain. This reflection was, of course, a just one, but yet it was bitter and mortifying; why was the order of the world so strange, that life, which is given to man only once, passes away without benefit?
He was not sorry to die, but at home, as soon as he saw his fiddle, it sent a pang to his heart and he felt sorry. He could not take the fiddle with him to the grave, and now it would be left forlorn, and the same thing would happen to it as to the birch copse and the pine forest. Everything in this world was wasted and would be wasted! Yakov went out of the hut and sat in the doorway, pressing the fiddle to his bosom. Thinking of his wasted, profitless life, he began to play, he did not know what, but it was plaintive and touching, and tears trickled down his cheeks. And the harder he thought, the more mournfully the fiddle wailed.
The latch clicked once and again, and Rothschild appeared at the gate. He walked across half the yard boldly, but seeing Yakov he stopped short, and seemed to shrink together, and probably from terror, began making signs with his hands as though he wanted to show on his fingers what o’clock it was.
"Come along, it’s all right," said Yakov in a friendly tone, and he beckoned him to come up. "Come along!"
Looking at him mistrustfully and apprehensively, Rothschild began to advance, and stopped seven feet off.
"Be so good as not to beat me," he said, ducking. "Moisey Ilyitch has sent me again. ’Don’t be afraid,’ he said; ’go to Yakov again and tell him,’ he said, ’we can’t get on without him.’ There is a wedding on Wednesday. . . . Ye—-es! Mr. Shapovalov is marrying his daughter to a good man. . . . And it will be a grand wedding, oo-oo!" added the Jew, screwing up one eye.
"I can’t come," said Yakov, breathing hard. "I’m ill, brother."
And he began playing again, and the tears gushed from his eyes on to the fiddle. Rothschild listened attentively, standing sideways to him and folding his arms on his chest. The scared and perplexed expression on his face, little by little, changed to a look of woe and suffering; he rolled his eyes as though he were experiencing an agonizing ecstasy, and articulated, "Vachhh!" and tears slowly ran down his cheeks and trickled on his greenish coat.
And Yakov lay in bed all the rest of the day grieving. In the evening, when the priest confessing him asked, Did he remember any special sin he had committed? straining his failing memory he thought again of Marfa’s unhappy face, and the despairing shriek of the Jew when the dog bit him, and said, hardly audibly, "Give the fiddle to Rothschild."
"Very well," answered the priest.
And now everyone in the town asks where Rothschild got such a fine fiddle. Did he buy it or steal it? Or perhaps it had come to him as a pledge. He gave up the flute long ago, and now plays nothing but the fiddle. As plaintive sounds flow now from his bow, as came once from his flute, but when he tries to repeat what Yakov played, sitting in the doorway, the effect is something so sad and sorrowful that his audience weep, and he himself rolls his eyes and articulates "Vachhh! . . ." And this new air was so much liked in the town that the merchants and officials used to be continually sending for Rothschild and making him play it over and over again a dozen times.



IT was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney’s pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.
And afterwards he met her in the public gardens and in the square several times a day. She was walking alone, always wearing the same béret, and always with the same white dog; no one knew who she was, and every one called her simply "the lady with the dog."
"If she is here alone without a husband or friends, it wouldn’t be amiss to make her acquaintance," Gurov reflected.
He was under forty, but he had a daughter already twelve years old, and two sons at school. He had been married young, when he was a student in his second year, and by now his wife seemed half as old again as he. She was a tall, erect woman with dark eyebrows, staid and dignified, and, as she said of herself, intellectual. She read a great deal, used phonetic spelling, called her husband, not Dmitri, but Dimitri, and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inelegant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago — had been unfaithful to her often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them "the lower race."
It seemed to him that he had been so schooled by bitter experience that he might call them what he liked, and yet he could not get on for two days together without "the lower race." In the society of men he was bored and not himself, with them he was cold and uncommunicative; but when he was in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave; and he was at ease with them even when he was silent. In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature, there was something attractive and elusive which allured women and disposed them in his favour; he knew that, and some force seemed to draw him, too, to them.
Experience often repeated, truly bitter experience, had taught him long ago that with decent people, especially Moscow people — always slow to move and irresolute — every intimacy, which at first so agreeably diversifies life and appears a light and charming adventure, inevitably grows into a regular problem of extreme intricacy, and in the long run the situation becomes unbearable. But at every fresh meeting with an interesting woman this experience seemed to slip out of his memory, and he was eager for life, and everything seemed simple and amusing.
One evening he was dining in the gardens, and the lady in the béret came up slowly to take the next table. Her expression, her gait, her dress, and the way she did her hair told him that she was a lady, that she was married, that she was in Yalta for the first time and alone, and that she was dull there. . . . The stories told of the immorality in such places as Yalta are to a great extent untrue; he despised them, and knew that such stories were for the most part made up by persons who would themselves have been glad to sin if they had been able; but when the lady sat down at the next table three paces from him, he remembered these tales of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains, and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a romance with an unknown woman, whose name he did not know, suddenly took possession of him.
He beckoned coaxingly to the Pomeranian, and when the dog came up to him he shook his finger at it. The Pomeranian growled: Gurov shook his finger at it again.
The lady looked at him and at once dropped her eyes.
"He doesn’t bite," she said, and blushed.
"May I give him a bone?" he asked; and when she nodded he asked courteously, "Have you been long in Yalta?"
"Five days."
"And I have already dragged out a fortnight here."
There was a brief silence.
"Time goes fast, and yet it is so dull here!" she said, not looking at him.
"That’s only the fashion to say it is dull here. A provincial will live in Belyov or Zhidra and not be dull, and when he comes here it’s ’Oh, the dulness! Oh, the dust!’ One would think he came from Grenada."
She laughed. Then both continued eating in silence, like strangers, but after dinner they walked side by side; and there sprang up between them the light jesting conversation of people who are free and satisfied, to whom it does not matter where they go or what they talk about. They walked and talked of the strange light on the sea: the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it. They talked of how sultry it was after a hot day. Gurov told her that he came from Moscow, that he had taken his degree in Arts, but had a post in a bank; that he had trained as an opera-singer, but had given it up, that he owned two houses in Moscow. . . . And from her he learnt that she had grown up in Petersburg, but had lived in S---- since her marriage two years before, that she was staying another month in Yalta, and that her husband, who needed a holiday too, might perhaps come and fetch her. She was not sure whether her husband had a post in a Crown Department or under the Provincial Council — and was amused by her own ignorance. And Gurov learnt, too, that she was called Anna Sergeyevna.
Afterwards he thought about her in his room at the hotel — thought she would certainly meet him next day; it would be sure to happen. As he got into bed he thought how lately she had been a girl at school, doing lessons like his own daughter; he recalled the diffidence, the angularity, that was still manifest in her laugh and her manner of talking with a stranger. This must have been the first time in her life she had been alone in surroundings in which she was followed, looked at, and spoken to merely from a secret motive which she could hardly fail to guess. He recalled her slender, delicate neck, her lovely grey eyes.
"There’s something pathetic about her, anyway," he thought, and fell asleep.


A week had passed since they had made acquaintance. It was a holiday. It was sultry indoors, while in the street the wind whirled the dust round and round, and blew people’s hats off. It was a thirsty day, and Gurov often went into the pavilion, and pressed Anna Sergeyevna to have syrup and water or an ice. One did not know what to do with oneself.
In the evening when the wind had dropped a little, they went out on the groyne to see the steamer come in. There were a great many people walking about the harbour; they had gathered to welcome some one, bringing bouquets. And two peculiarities of a well-dressed Yalta crowd were very conspicuous: the elderly ladies were dressed like young ones, and there were great numbers of generals.
Owing to the roughness of the sea, the steamer arrived late, after the sun had set, and it was a long time turning about before it reached the groyne. Anna Sergeyevna looked through her lorgnette at the steamer and the passengers as though looking for acquaintances, and when she turned to Gurov her eyes were shining. She talked a great deal and asked disconnected questions, forgetting next moment what she had asked; then she dropped her lorgnette in the crush.
The festive crowd began to disperse; it was too dark to see people’s faces. The wind had completely dropped, but Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna still stood as though waiting to see some one else come from the steamer. Anna Sergeyevna was silent now, and sniffed the flowers without looking at Gurov.
"The weather is better this evening," he said. "Where shall we go now? Shall we drive somewhere?"
She made no answer.
Then he looked at her intently, and all at once put his arm round her and kissed her on the lips, and breathed in the moisture and the fragrance of the flowers; and he immediately looked round him, anxiously wondering whether any one had seen them.
"Let us go to your hotel," he said softly. And both walked quickly.
The room was close and smelt of the scent she had bought at the Japanese shop. Gurov looked at her and thought: "What different people one meets in the world!" From the past he preserved memories of careless, good-natured women, who loved cheerfully and were grateful to him for the happiness he gave them, however brief it might be; and of women like his wife who loved without any genuine feeling, with superfluous phrases, affectedly, hysterically, with an expression that suggested that it was not love nor passion, but something more significant; and of two or three others, very beautiful, cold women, on whose faces he had caught a glimpse of a rapacious expression — an obstinate desire to snatch from life more than it could give, and these were capricious, unreflecting, domineering, unintelligent women not in their first youth, and when Gurov grew cold to them their beauty excited his hatred, and the lace on their linen seemed to him like scales.
But in this case there was still the diffidence, the angularity of inexperienced youth, an awkward feeling; and there was a sense of consternation as though some one had suddenly knocked at the door. The attitude of Anna Sergeyevna — "the lady with the dog" — to what had happened was somehow peculiar, very grave, as though it were her fall — so it seemed, and it was strange and inappropriate. Her face dropped and faded, and on both sides of it her long hair hung down mournfully; she mused in a dejected attitude like "the woman who was a sinner" in an old-fashioned picture.
"It’s wrong," she said. "You will be the first to despise me now."
There was a water-melon on the table. Gurov cut himself a slice and began eating it without haste. There followed at least half an hour of silence.
Anna Sergeyevna was touching; there was about her the purity of a good, simple woman who had seen little of life. The solitary candle burning on the table threw a faint light on her face, yet it was clear that she was very unhappy.
"How could I despise you?" asked Gurov. "You don’t know what you are saying."
"God forgive me," she said, and her eyes filled with tears. "It’s awful."
"You seem to feel you need to be forgiven."
"Forgiven? No. I am a bad, low woman; I despise myself and don’t attempt to justify myself. It’s not my husband but myself I have deceived. And not only just now; I have been deceiving myself for a long time. My husband may be a good, honest man, but he is a flunkey! I don’t know what he does there, what his work is, but I know he is a flunkey! I was twenty when I was married to him. I have been tormented by curiosity; I wanted something better. ’There must be a different sort of life,’ I said to myself. I wanted to live! To live, to live! . . . I was fired by curiosity . . . you don’t understand it, but, I swear to God, I could not control myself; something happened to me: I could not be restrained. I told my husband I was ill, and came here. . . . And here I have been walking about as though I were dazed, like a mad creature; . . . and now I have become a vulgar, contemptible woman whom any one may despise."
Gurov felt bored already, listening to her. He was irritated by the naïve tone, by this remorse, so unexpected and inopportune; but for the tears in her eyes, he might have thought she was jesting or playing a part.
"I don’t understand," he said softly. "What is it you want?"
She hid her face on his breast and pressed close to him.
"Believe me, believe me, I beseech you . . ." she said. "I love a pure, honest life, and sin is loathsome to me. I don’t know what I am doing. Simple people say: ’The Evil One has beguiled me.’ And I may say of myself now that the Evil One has beguiled me."
"Hush, hush! . . ." he muttered.
He looked at her fixed, scared eyes, kissed her, talked softly and affectionately, and by degrees she was comforted, and her gaiety returned; they both began laughing.
Afterwards when they went out there was not a soul on the sea-front. The town with its cypresses had quite a deathlike air, but the sea still broke noisily on the shore; a single barge was rocking on the waves, and a lantern was blinking sleepily on it.
They found a cab and drove to Oreanda.
"I found out your surname in the hall just now: it was written on the board — Von Diderits," said Gurov. "Is your husband a German?"
"No; I believe his grandfather was a German, but he is an Orthodox Russian himself."
At Oreanda they sat on a seat not far from the church, looked down at the sea, and were silent. Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountain-tops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, grasshoppers chirruped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now, and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings — the sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky — Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.
A man walked up to them — probably a keeper — looked at them and walked away. And this detail seemed mysterious and beautiful, too. They saw a steamer come from Theodosia, with its lights out in the glow of dawn.
"There is dew on the grass," said Anna Sergeyevna, after a silence.
"Yes. It’s time to go home."
They went back to the town.
Then they met every day at twelve o’clock on the sea-front, lunched and dined together, went for walks, admired the sea. She complained that she slept badly, that her heart throbbed violently; asked the same questions, troubled now by jealousy and now by the fear that he did not respect her sufficiently. And often in the square or gardens, when there was no one near them, he suddenly drew her to him and kissed her passionately. Complete idleness, these kisses in broad daylight while he looked round in dread of some one’s seeing them, the heat, the smell of the sea, and the continual passing to and fro before him of idle, well-dressed, well-fed people, made a new man of him; he told Anna Sergeyevna how beautiful she was, how fascinating. He was impatiently passionate, he would not move a step away from her, while she was often pensive and continually urged him to confess that he did not respect her, did not love her in the least, and thought of her as nothing but a common woman. Rather late almost every evening they drove somewhere out of town, to Oreanda or to the waterfall; and the expedition was always a success, the scenery invariably impressed them as grand and beautiful.
They were expecting her husband to come, but a letter came from him, saying that there was something wrong with his eyes, and he entreated his wife to come home as quickly as possible. Anna Sergeyevna made haste to go.
"It’s a good thing I am going away," she said to Gurov. "It’s the finger of destiny!"
She went by coach and he went with her. They were driving the whole day. When she had got into a compartment of the express, and when the second bell had rung, she said:
"Let me look at you once more . . . look at you once again. That’s right."
She did not shed tears, but was so sad that she seemed ill, and her face was quivering.
"I shall remember you . . . think of you," she said. "God be with you; be happy. Don’t remember evil against me. We are parting forever — it must be so, for we ought never to have met. Well, God be with you."
The train moved off rapidly, its lights soon vanished from sight, and a minute later there was no sound of it, as though everything had conspired together to end as quickly as possible that sweet delirium, that madness. Left alone on the platform, and gazing into the dark distance, Gurov listened to the chirrup of the grasshoppers and the hum of the telegraph wires, feeling as though he had only just waked up. And he thought, musing, that there had been another episode or adventure in his life, and it, too, was at an end, and nothing was left of it but a memory. . . . He was moved, sad, and conscious of a slight remorse. This young woman whom he would never meet again had not been happy with him; he was genuinely warm and affectionate with her, but yet in his manner, his tone, and his caresses there had been a shade of light irony, the coarse condescension of a happy man who was, besides, almost twice her age. All the time she had called him kind, exceptional, lofty; obviously he had seemed to her different from what he really was, so he had unintentionally deceived her. . . .
Here at the station was already a scent of autumn; it was a cold evening.
"It’s time for me to go north," thought Gurov as he left the platform. "High time!"


At home in Moscow everything was in its winter routine; the stoves were heated, and in the morning it was still dark when the children were having breakfast and getting ready for school, and the nurse would light the lamp for a short time. The frosts had begun already. When the first snow has fallen, on the first day of sledge-driving it is pleasant to see the white earth, the white roofs, to draw soft, delicious breath, and the season brings back the days of one’s youth. The old limes and birches, white with hoar-frost, have a good-natured expression; they are nearer to one’s heart than cypresses and palms, and near them one doesn’t want to be thinking of the sea and the mountains.
Gurov was Moscow born; he arrived in Moscow on a fine frosty day, and when he put on his fur coat and warm gloves, and walked along Petrovka, and when on Saturday evening he heard the ringing of the bells, his recent trip and the places he had seen lost all charm for him. Little by little he became absorbed in Moscow life, greedily read three newspapers a day, and declared he did not read the Moscow papers on principle! He already felt a longing to go to restaurants, clubs, dinner-parties, anniversary celebrations, and he felt flattered at entertaining distinguished lawyers and artists, and at playing cards with a professor at the doctors’ club. He could already eat a whole plateful of salt fish and cabbage.
In another month, he fancied, the image of Anna Sergeyevna would be shrouded in a mist in his memory, and only from time to time would visit him in his dreams with a touching smile as others did. But more than a month passed, real winter had come, and everything was still clear in his memory as though he had parted with Anna Sergeyevna only the day before. And his memories glowed more and more vividly. When in the evening stillness he heard from his study the voices of his children, preparing their lessons, or when he listened to a song or the organ at the restaurant, or the storm howled in the chimney, suddenly everything would rise up in his memory: what had happened on the groyne, and the early morning with the mist on the mountains, and the steamer coming from Theodosia, and the kisses. He would pace a long time about his room, remembering it all and smiling; then his memories passed into dreams, and in his fancy the past was mingled with what was to come. Anna Sergeyevna did not visit him in dreams, but followed him about everywhere like a shadow and haunted him. When he shut his eyes he saw her as though she were living before him, and she seemed to him lovelier, younger, tenderer than she was; and he imagined himself finer than he had been in Yalta. In the evenings she peeped out at him from the bookcase, from the fireplace, from the corner — he heard her breathing, the caressing rustle of her dress. In the street he watched the women, looking for some one like her.
He was tormented by an intense desire to confide his memories to some one. But in his home it was impossible to talk of his love, and he had no one outside; he could not talk to his tenants nor to any one at the bank. And what had he to talk of? Had he been in love, then? Had there been anything beautiful, poetical, or edifying or simply interesting in his relations with Anna Sergeyevna? And there was nothing for him but to talk vaguely of love, of woman, and no one guessed what it meant; only his wife twitched her black eyebrows, and said:
"The part of a lady-killer does not suit you at all, Dimitri."
One evening, coming out of the doctors’ club with an official with whom he had been playing cards, he could not resist saying:
"If only you knew what a fascinating woman I made the acquaintance of in Yalta!"
The official got into his sledge and was driving away, but turned suddenly and shouted:
"Dmitri Dmitritch!"
"You were right this evening: the sturgeon was a bit too strong!"
These words, so ordinary, for some reason moved Gurov to indignation, and struck him as degrading and unclean. What savage manners, what people! What senseless nights, what uninteresting, uneventful days! The rage for card-playing, the gluttony, the drunkenness, the continual talk always about the same thing. Useless pursuits and conversations always about the same things absorb the better part of one’s time, the better part of one’s strength, and in the end there is left a life grovelling and curtailed, worthless and trivial, and there is no escaping or getting away from it — just as though one were in a madhouse or a prison.
Gurov did not sleep all night, and was filled with indignation. And he had a headache all next day. And the next night he slept badly; he sat up in bed, thinking, or paced up and down his room. He was sick of his children, sick of the bank; he had no desire to go anywhere or to talk of anything.
In the holidays in December he prepared for a journey, and told his wife he was going to Petersburg to do something in the interests of a young friend — and he set off for S----. What for? He did not very well know himself. He wanted to see Anna Sergeyevna and to talk with her — to arrange a meeting, if possible.
He reached S---- in the morning, and took the best room at the hotel, in which the floor was covered with grey army cloth, and on the table was an inkstand, grey with dust and adorned with a figure on horseback, with its hat in its hand and its head broken off. The hotel porter gave him the necessary information; Von Diderits lived in a house of his own in Old Gontcharny Street — it was not far from the hotel: he was rich and lived in good style, and had his own horses; every one in the town knew him. The porter pronounced the name "Dridirits."
Gurov went without haste to Old Gontcharny Street and found the house. Just opposite the house stretched a long grey fence adorned with nails.
"One would run away from a fence like that," thought Gurov, looking from the fence to the windows of the house and back again.
He considered: to-day was a holiday, and the husband would probably be at home. And in any case it would be tactless to go into the house and upset her. If he were to send her a note it might fall into her husband’s hands, and then it might ruin everything. The best thing was to trust to chance. And he kept walking up and down the street by the fence, waiting for the chance. He saw a beggar go in at the gate and dogs fly at him; then an hour later he heard a piano, and the sounds were faint and indistinct. Probably it was Anna Sergeyevna playing. The front door suddenly opened, and an old woman came out, followed by the familiar white Pomeranian. Gurov was on the point of calling to the dog, but his heart began beating violently, and in his excitement he could not remember the dog’s name.
He walked up and down, and loathed the grey fence more and more, and by now he thought irritably that Anna Sergeyevna had forgotten him, and was perhaps already amusing herself with some one else, and that that was very natural in a young woman who had nothing to look at from morning till night but that confounded fence. He went back to his hotel room and sat for a long while on the sofa, not knowing what to do, then he had dinner and a long nap.
"How stupid and worrying it is!" he thought when he woke and looked at the dark windows: it was already evening. "Here I’ve had a good sleep for some reason. What shall I do in the night?"
He sat on the bed, which was covered by a cheap grey blanket, such as one sees in hospitals, and he taunted himself in his vexation:
"So much for the lady with the dog . . . so much for the adventure. . . . You’re in a nice fix. . . ."
That morning at the station a poster in large letters had caught his eye. "The Geisha" was to be performed for the first time. He thought of this and went to the theatre.
"It’s quite possible she may go to the first performance," he thought.
The theatre was full. As in all provincial theatres, there was a fog above the chandelier, the gallery was noisy and restless; in the front row the local dandies were standing up before the beginning of the performance, with their hands behind them; in the Governor’s box the Governor’s daughter, wearing a boa, was sitting in the front seat, while the Governor himself lurked modestly behind the curtain with only his hands visible; the orchestra was a long time tuning up; the stage curtain swayed. All the time the audience were coming in and taking their seats Gurov looked at them eagerly.
Anna Sergeyevna, too, came in. She sat down in the third row, and when Gurov looked at her his heart contracted, and he understood clearly that for him there was in the whole world no creature so near, so precious, and so important to him; she, this little woman, in no way remarkable, lost in a provincial crowd, with a vulgar lorgnette in her hand, filled his whole life now, was his sorrow and his joy, the one happiness that he now desired for himself, and to the sounds of the inferior orchestra, of the wretched provincial violins, he thought how lovely she was. He thought and dreamed.
A young man with small side-whiskers, tall and stooping, came in with Anna Sergeyevna and sat down beside her; he bent his head at every step and seemed to be continually bowing. Most likely this was the husband whom at Yalta, in a rush of bitter feeling, she had called a flunkey. And there really was in his long figure, his side-whiskers, and the small bald patch on his head, something of the flunkey’s obsequiousness; his smile was sugary, and in his buttonhole there was some badge of distinction like the number on a waiter.
During the first interval the husband went away to smoke; she remained alone in her stall. Gurov, who was sitting in the stalls, too, went up to her and said in a trembling voice, with a forced smile:
She glanced at him and turned pale, then glanced again with horror, unable to believe her eyes, and tightly gripped the fan and the lorgnette in her hands, evidently struggling with herself not to faint. Both were silent. She was sitting, he was standing, frightened by her confusion and not venturing to sit down beside her. The violins and the flute began tuning up. He felt suddenly frightened; it seemed as though all the people in the boxes were looking at them. She got up and went quickly to the door; he followed her, and both walked senselessly along passages, and up and down stairs, and figures in legal, scholastic, and civil service uniforms, all wearing badges, flitted before their eyes. They caught glimpses of ladies, of fur coats hanging on pegs; the draughts blew on them, bringing a smell of stale tobacco. And Gurov, whose heart was beating violently, thought:
"Oh, heavens! Why are these people here and this orchestra! . . ."
And at that instant he recalled how when he had seen Anna Sergeyevna off at the station he had thought that everything was over and they would never meet again. But how far they were still from the end!
On the narrow, gloomy staircase over which was written "To the Amphitheatre," she stopped.
"How you have frightened me!" she said, breathing hard, still pale and overwhelmed. "Oh, how you have frightened me! I am half dead. Why have you come? Why?"
"But do understand, Anna, do understand . . ." he said hastily in a low voice. "I entreat you to understand. . . ."
She looked at him with dread, with entreaty, with love; she looked at him intently, to keep his features more distinctly in her memory.
"I am so unhappy," she went on, not heeding him. "I have thought of nothing but you all the time; I live only in the thought of you. And I wanted to forget, to forget you; but why, oh, why, have you come?"
On the landing above them two schoolboys were smoking and looking down, but that was nothing to Gurov; he drew Anna Sergeyevna to him, and began kissing her face, her cheeks, and her hands.
"What are you doing, what are you doing!" she cried in horror, pushing him away. "We are mad. Go away to-day; go away at once. . . . I beseech you by all that is sacred, I implore you. . . . There are people coming this way!"
Some one was coming up the stairs.
"You must go away," Anna Sergeyevna went on in a whisper. "Do you hear, Dmitri Dmitritch? I will come and see you in Moscow. I have never been happy; I am miserable now, and I never, never shall be happy, never! Don’t make me suffer still more! I swear I’ll come to Moscow. But now let us part. My precious, good, dear one, we must part!"
She pressed his hand and began rapidly going downstairs, looking round at him, and from her eyes he could see that she really was unhappy. Gurov stood for a little while, listened, then, when all sound had died away, he found his coat and left the theatre.


And Anna Sergeyevna began coming to see him in Moscow. Once in two or three months she left S----, telling her husband that she was going to consult a doctor about an internal complaint — and her husband believed her, and did not believe her. In Moscow she stayed at the Slaviansky Bazaar hotel, and at once sent a man in a red cap to Gurov. Gurov went to see her, and no one in Moscow knew of it.
Once he was going to see her in this way on a winter morning (the messenger had come the evening before when he was out). With him walked his daughter, whom he wanted to take to school: it was on the way. Snow was falling in big wet flakes.
"It’s three degrees above freezing-point, and yet it is snowing," said Gurov to his daughter. "The thaw is only on the surface of the earth; there is quite a different temperature at a greater height in the atmosphere."
"And why are there no thunderstorms in the winter, father?"
He explained that, too. He talked, thinking all the while that he was going to see her, and no living soul knew of it, and probably never would know. He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth — such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his "lower race," his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities — all that was open. And he judged of others by himself, not believing in what he saw, and always believing that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilised man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.
After leaving his daughter at school, Gurov went on to the Slaviansky Bazaar. He took off his fur coat below, went upstairs, and softly knocked at the door. Anna Sergeyevna, wearing his favourite grey dress, exhausted by the journey and the suspense, had been expecting him since the evening before. She was pale; she looked at him, and did not smile, and he had hardly come in when she fell on his breast. Their kiss was slow and prolonged, as though they had not met for two years.
"Well, how are you getting on there?" he asked. "What news?"
"Wait; I’ll tell you directly. . . . I can’t talk."
She could not speak; she was crying. She turned away from him, and pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
"Let her have her cry out. I’ll sit down and wait," he thought, and he sat down in an arm-chair.
Then he rang and asked for tea to be brought him, and while he drank his tea she remained standing at the window with her back to him. She was crying from emotion, from the miserable consciousness that their life was so hard for them; they could only meet in secret, hiding themselves from people, like thieves! Was not their life shattered?
"Come, do stop!" he said.
It was evident to him that this love of theirs would not soon be over, that he could not see the end of it. Anna Sergeyevna grew more and more attached to him. She adored him, and it was unthinkable to say to her that it was bound to have an end some day; besides, she would not have believed it!
He went up to her and took her by the shoulders to say something affectionate and cheering, and at that moment he saw himself in the looking-glass.
His hair was already beginning to turn grey. And it seemed strange to him that he had grown so much older, so much plainer during the last few years. The shoulders on which his hands rested were warm and quivering. He felt compassion for this life, still so warm and lovely, but probably already not far from beginning to fade and wither like his own. Why did she love him so much? He always seemed to women different from what he was, and they loved in him not himself, but the man created by their imagination, whom they had been eagerly seeking all their lives; and afterwards, when they noticed their mistake, they loved him all the same. And not one of them had been happy with him. Time passed, he had made their acquaintance, got on with them, parted, but he had never once loved; it was anything you like, but not love.
And only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love — for the first time in his life.
Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.
In moments of depression in the past he had comforted himself with any arguments that came into his mind, but now he no longer cared for arguments; he felt profound compassion, he wanted to be sincere and tender. . . .
"Don’t cry, my darling," he said. "You’ve had your cry; that’s enough. . . . Let us talk now, let us think of some plan."
Then they spent a long while taking counsel together, talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long at a time. How could they be free from this intolerable bondage?
"How? How?" he asked, clutching his head. "How?"
And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.



THE evening service was being celebrated on the eve of Palm Sunday in the Old Petrovsky Convent. When they began distributing the palm it was close upon ten o’clock, the candles were burning dimly, the wicks wanted snuffing; it was all in a sort of mist. In the twilight of the church the crowd seemed heaving like the sea, and to Bishop Pyotr, who had been unwell for the last three days, it seemed that all the faces—old and young, men’s and women’s—were alike, that everyone who came up for the palm had the same expression in his eyes. In the mist he could not see the doors; the crowd kept moving and looked as though there were no end to it. The female choir was singing, a nun was reading the prayers for the day.
How stifling, how hot it was! How long the service went on! Bishop Pyotr was tired. His breathing was laboured and rapid, his throat was parched, his shoulders ached with weariness, his legs were trembling. And it disturbed him unpleasantly when a religious maniac uttered occasional shrieks in the gallery. And then all of a sudden, as though in a dream or delirium, it seemed to the bishop as though his own mother Marya Timofyevna, whom he had not seen for nine years, or some old woman just like his mother, came up to him out of the crowd, and, after taking a palm branch from him, walked away looking at him all the while good-humouredly with a kind, joyful smile until she was lost in the crowd. And for some reason tears flowed down his face. There was peace in his heart, everything was well, yet he kept gazing fixedly towards the left choir, where the prayers were being read, where in the dusk of evening you could not recognize anyone, and—wept. Tears glistened on his face and on his beard. Here someone close at hand was weeping, then someone else farther away, then others and still others, and little by little the church was filled with soft weeping. And a little later, within five minutes, the nuns’ choir was singing; no one was weeping and everything was as before.
Soon the service was over. When the bishop got into his carriage to drive home, the gay, melodious chime of the heavy, costly bells was filling the whole garden in the moonlight. The white walls, the white crosses on the tombs, the white birch-trees and black shadows, and the far-away moon in the sky exactly over the convent, seemed now living their own life, apart and incomprehensible, yet very near to man. It was the beginning of April, and after the warm spring day it turned cool; there was a faint touch of frost, and the breath of spring could be felt in the soft, chilly air. The road from the convent to the town was sandy, the horses had to go at a walking pace, and on both sides of the carriage in the brilliant, peaceful moonlight there were people trudging along home from church through the sand. And all was silent, sunk in thought; everything around seemed kindly, youthful, akin, everything—trees and sky and even the moon, and one longed to think that so it would be always.
At last the carriage drove into the town and rumbled along the principal street. The shops were already shut, but at Erakin’s, the millionaire shopkeeper’s, they were trying the new electric lights, which flickered brightly, and a crowd of people were gathered round. Then came wide, dark, deserted streets, one after another; then the highroad, the open country, the fragrance of pines. And suddenly there rose up before the bishop’s eyes a white turreted wall, and behind it a tall belfry in the full moonlight, and beside it five shining, golden cupolas: this was the Pankratievsky Monastery, in which Bishop Pyotr lived. And here, too, high above the monastery, was the silent, dreamy moon. The carriage drove in at the gate, crunching over the sand; here and there in the moonlight there were glimpses of dark monastic figures, and there was the sound of footsteps on the flag-stones. . . .
"You know, your holiness, your mamma arrived while you were away," the lay brother informed the bishop as he went into his cell.
"My mother? When did she come?"
"Before the evening service. She asked first where you were and then she went to the convent."
"Then it was her I saw in the church, just now! Oh, Lord!"
And the bishop laughed with joy.
"She bade me tell your holiness," the lay brother went on, "that she would come to-morrow. She had a little girl with her—her grandchild, I suppose. They are staying at Ovsyannikov’s inn."
"What time is it now?"
"A little after eleven."
"Oh, how vexing!"
The bishop sat for a little while in the parlour, hesitating, and as it were refusing to believe it was so late. His arms and legs were stiff, his head ached. He was hot and uncomfortable. After resting a little he went into his bedroom, and there, too, he sat a little, still thinking of his mother; he could hear the lay brother going away, and Father Sisoy coughing the other side of the wall. The monastery clock struck a quarter.
The bishop changed his clothes and began reading the prayers before sleep. He read attentively those old, long familiar prayers, and at the same time thought about his mother. She had nine children and about forty grandchildren. At one time, she had lived with her husband, the deacon, in a poor village; she had lived there a very long time from the age of seventeen to sixty. The bishop remembered her from early childhood, almost from the age of three, and—how he had loved her! Sweet, precious childhood, always fondly remembered! Why did it, that long-past time that could never return, why did it seem brighter, fuller, and more festive than it had really been? When in his childhood or youth he had been ill, how tender and sympathetic his mother had been! And now his prayers mingled with the memories, which gleamed more and more brightly like a flame, and the prayers did not hinder his thinking of his mother.
When he had finished his prayers he undressed and lay down, and at once, as soon as it was dark, there rose before his mind his dead father, his mother, his native village Lesopolye . . . the creak of wheels, the bleat of sheep, the church bells on bright summer mornings, the gypsies under the window—oh, how sweet to think of it! He remembered the priest of Lesopolye, Father Simeon—mild, gentle, kindly; he was a lean little man, while his son, a divinity student, was a huge fellow and talked in a roaring bass voice. The priest’s son had flown into a rage with the cook and abused her: "Ah, you Jehud’s ass!" and Father Simeon overhearing it, said not a word, and was only ashamed because he could not remember where such an ass was mentioned in the Bible. After him the priest at Lesopolye had been Father Demyan, who used to drink heavily, and at times drank till he saw green snakes, and was even nicknamed Demyan Snakeseer. The schoolmaster at Lesopolye was Matvey Nikolaitch, who had been a divinity student, a kind and intelligent man, but he, too, was a drunkard; he never beat the schoolchildren, but for some reason he always had hanging on his wall a bunch of birch-twigs, and below it an utterly meaningless inscription in Latin: "Betula kinderbalsamica secuta." He had a shaggy black dog whom he called Syntax.
And his holiness laughed. Six miles from Lesopolye was the village Obnino with a wonder-working ikon. In the summer they used to carry the ikon in procession about the neighbouring villages and ring the bells the whole day long; first in one village and then in another, and it used to seem to the bishop then that joy was quivering in the air, and he (in those days his name was Pavlusha) used to follow the ikon, bareheaded and barefoot, with naive faith, with a naive smile, infinitely happy. In Obnino, he remembered now, there were always a lot of people, and the priest there, Father Alexey, to save time during mass, used to make his deaf nephew Ilarion read the names of those for whose health or whose souls’ peace prayers were asked. Ilarion used to read them, now and then getting a five or ten kopeck piece for the service, and only when he was grey and bald, when life was nearly over, he suddenly saw written on one of the pieces of paper: "What a fool you are, Ilarion." Up to fifteen at least Pavlusha was undeveloped and idle at his lessons, so much so that they thought of taking him away from the clerical school and putting him into a shop; one day, going to the post at Obnino for letters, he had stared a long time at the post-office clerks and asked: "Allow me to ask, how do you get your salary, every month or every day?"
His holiness crossed himself and turned over on the other side, trying to stop thinking and go to sleep.
"My mother has come," he remembered and laughed.
The moon peeped in at the window, the floor was lighted up, and there were shadows on it. A cricket was chirping. Through the wall Father Sisoy was snoring in the next room, and his aged snore had a sound that suggested loneliness, forlornness, even vagrancy. Sisoy had once been housekeeper to the bishop of the diocese, and was called now "the former Father Housekeeper"; he was seventy years old, he lived in a monastery twelve miles from the town and stayed sometimes in the town, too. He had come to the Pankratievsky Monastery three days before, and the bishop had kept him that he might talk to him at his leisure about matters of business, about the arrangements here. . . .
At half-past one they began ringing for matins. Father Sisoy could be heard coughing, muttering something in a discontented voice, then he got up and walked barefoot about the rooms.
"Father Sisoy," the bishop called.
Sisoy went back to his room and a little later made his appearance in his boots, with a candle; he had on his cassock over his underclothes and on his head was an old faded skull-cap.
"I can’t sleep," said the bishop, sitting up. "I must be unwell. And what it is I don’t know. Fever!"
"You must have caught cold, your holiness. You must be rubbed with tallow." Sisoy stood a little and yawned. "O Lord, forgive me, a sinner."
"They had the electric lights on at Erakin’s today," he said; "I don’t like it!"
Father Sisoy was old, lean, bent, always dissatisfied with something, and his eyes were angry-looking and prominent as a crab’s.
"I don’t like it," he said, going away. "I don’t like it. Bother it!"


The next day, Palm Sunday, the bishop took the service in the cathedral in the town, then he visited the bishop of the diocese, then visited a very sick old lady, the widow of a general, and at last drove home. Between one and two o’clock he had welcome visitors dining with him—his mother and his niece Katya, a child of eight years old. All dinner-time the spring sunshine was streaming in at the windows, throwing bright light on the white tablecloth and on Katya’s red hair. Through the double windows they could hear the noise of the rooks and the notes of the starlings in the garden.
"It is nine years since we have met," said the old lady. "And when I looked at you in the monastery yesterday, good Lord! you’ve not changed a bit, except maybe you are thinner and your beard is a little longer. Holy Mother, Queen of Heaven! Yesterday at the evening service no one could help crying. I, too, as I looked at you, suddenly began crying, though I couldn’t say why. His Holy Will!"
And in spite of the affectionate tone in which she said this, he could see she was constrained as though she were uncertain whether to address him formally or familiarly, to laugh or not, and that she felt herself more a deacon’s widow than his mother. And Katya gazed without blinking at her uncle, his holiness, as though trying to discover what sort of a person he was. Her hair sprang up from under the comb and the velvet ribbon and stood out like a halo; she had a turned-up nose and sly eyes. The child had broken a glass before sitting down to dinner, and now her grandmother, as she talked, moved away from Katya first a wineglass and then a tumbler. The bishop listened to his mother and remembered how many, many years ago she used to take him and his brothers and sisters to relations whom she considered rich; in those days she was taken up with the care of her children, now with her grandchildren, and she had brought Katya. . . .
"Your sister, Varenka, has four children," she told him; "Katya, here, is the eldest. And your brother-in-law Father Ivan fell sick, God knows of what, and died three days before the Assumption; and my poor Varenka is left a beggar."
"And how is Nikanor getting on?" the bishop asked about his eldest brother.
"He is all right, thank God. Though he has nothing much, yet he can live. Only there is one thing: his son, my grandson Nikolasha, did not want to go into the Church; he has gone to the university to be a doctor. He thinks it is better; but who knows! His Holy Will!"
"Nikolasha cuts up dead people," said Katya, spilling water over her knees.
"Sit still, child," her grandmother observed calmly, and took the glass out of her hand. "Say a prayer, and go on eating."
"How long it is since we have seen each other!" said the bishop, and he tenderly stroked his mother’s hand and shoulder; "and I missed you abroad, mother, I missed you dreadfully."
"Thank you."
"I used to sit in the evenings at the open window, lonely and alone; often there was music playing, and all at once I used to be overcome with homesickness and felt as though I would give everything only to be at home and see you."
His mother smiled, beamed, but at once she made a grave face and said:
"Thank you."
His mood suddenly changed. He looked at his mother and could not understand how she had come by that respectfulness, that timid expression of face: what was it for? And he did not recognize her. He felt sad and vexed. And then his head ached just as it had the day before; his legs felt fearfully tired, and the fish seemed to him stale and tasteless; he felt thirsty all the time. . . .
After dinner two rich ladies, landowners, arrived and sat for an hour and a half in silence with rigid countenances; the archimandrite, a silent, rather deaf man, came to see him about business. Then they began ringing for vespers; the sun was setting behind the wood and the day was over. When he returned from church, he hurriedly said his prayers, got into bed, and wrapped himself up as warm as possible.
It was disagreeable to remember the fish he had eaten at dinner. The moonlight worried him, and then he heard talking. In an adjoining room, probably in the parlour, Father Sisoy was talking politics:
"There’s war among the Japanese now. They are fighting. The Japanese, my good soul, are the same as the Montenegrins; they are the same race. They were under the Turkish yoke together."
And then he heard the voice of Marya Timofyevna:
"So, having said our prayers and drunk tea, we went, you know, to Father Yegor at Novokatnoye, so. . ."
And she kept on saying, "having had tea" or "having drunk tea," and it seemed as though the only thing she had done in her life was to drink tea.
The bishop slowly, languidly, recalled the seminary, the academy. For three years he had been Greek teacher in the seminary: by that time he could not read without spectacles. Then he had become a monk; he had been made a school inspector. Then he had defended his thesis for his degree. When he was thirty-two he had been made rector of the seminary, and consecrated archimandrite: and then his life had been so easy, so pleasant; it seemed so long, so long, no end was in sight. Then he had begun to be ill, had grown very thin and almost blind, and by the advice of the doctors had to give up everything and go abroad.
"And what then?" asked Sisoy in the next room.
"Then we drank tea . . ." answered Marya Timofyevna.
"Good gracious, you’ve got a green beard," said Katya suddenly in surprise, and she laughed.
The bishop remembered that the grey-headed Father Sisoy’s beard really had a shade of green in it, and he laughed.
"God have mercy upon us, what we have to put up with with this girl!" said Sisoy, aloud, getting angry. "Spoilt child! Sit quiet!"
The bishop remembered the perfectly new white church in which he had conducted the services while living abroad, he remembered the sound of the warm sea. In his flat he had five lofty light rooms; in his study he had a new writing-table, lots of books. He had read a great deal and often written. And he remembered how he had pined for his native land, how a blind beggar woman had played the guitar under his window every day and sung of love, and how, as he listened, he had always for some reason thought of the past. But eight years had passed and he had been called back to Russia, and now he was a suffragan bishop, and all the past had retreated far away into the mist as though it were a dream. . . .
Father Sisoy came into the bedroom with a candle.
"I say!" he said, wondering, "are you asleep already, your holiness?"
"What is it?"
"Why, it’s still early, ten o’clock or less. I bought a candle to-day; I wanted to rub you with tallow."
"I am in a fever . . ." said the bishop, and he sat up. "I really ought to have something. My head is bad. . . ."
Sisoy took off the bishop’s shirt and began rubbing his chest and back with tallow.
"That’s the way . . . that’s the way . . ." he said. "Lord Jesus Christ . . . that’s the way. I walked to the town to-day; I was at what’s-his-name’s—the chief priest Sidonsky’s. . . . I had tea with him. I don’t like him. Lord Jesus Christ. . . . That’s the way. I don’t like him."


The bishop of the diocese, a very fat old man, was ill with rheumatism or gout, and had been in bed for over a month. Bishop Pyotr went to see him almost every day, and saw all who came to ask his help. And now that he was unwell he was struck by the emptiness, the triviality of everything which they asked and for which they wept; he was vexed at their ignorance, their timidity; and all this useless, petty business oppressed him by the mass of it, and it seemed to him that now he understood the diocesan bishop, who had once in his young days written on "The Doctrines of the Freedom of the Will," and now seemed to be all lost in trivialities, to have forgotten everything, and to have no thoughts of religion. The bishop must have lost touch with Russian life while he was abroad; he did not find it easy; the peasants seemed to him coarse, the women who sought his help dull and stupid, the seminarists and their teachers uncultivated and at times savage. And the documents coming in and going out were reckoned by tens of thousands; and what documents they were! The higher clergy in the whole diocese gave the priests, young and old, and even their wives and children, marks for their behaviour—a five, a four, and sometimes even a three; and about this he had to talk and to read and write serious reports. And there was positively not one minute to spare; his soul was troubled all day long, and the bishop was only at peace when he was in church.
He could not get used, either, to the awe which, through no wish of his own, he inspired in people in spite of his quiet, modest disposition. All the people in the province seemed to him little, scared, and guilty when he looked at them. Everyone was timid in his presence, even the old chief priests; everyone "flopped" at his feet, and not long previously an old lady, a village priest’s wife who had come to consult him, was so overcome by awe that she could not utter a single word, and went empty away. And he, who could never in his sermons bring himself to speak ill of people, never reproached anyone because he was so sorry for them, was moved to fury with the people who came to consult him, lost his temper and flung their petitions on the floor. The whole time he had been here, not one person had spoken to him genuinely, simply, as to a human being; even his old mother seemed now not the same! And why, he wondered, did she chatter away to Sisoy and laugh so much; while with him, her son, she was grave and usually silent and constrained, which did not suit her at all. The only person who behaved freely with him and said what he meant was old Sisoy, who had spent his whole life in the presence of bishops and had outlived eleven of them. And so the bishop was at ease with him, although, of course, he was a tedious and nonsensical man.
After the service on Tuesday, his holiness Pyotr was in the diocesan bishop’s house receiving petitions there; he got excited and angry, and then drove home. He was as unwell as before; he longed to be in bed, but he had hardly reached home when he was informed that a young merchant called Erakin, who subscribed liberally to charities, had come to see him about a very important matter. The bishop had to see him. Erakin stayed about an hour, talked very loud, almost shouted, and it was difficult to understand what he said.
"God grant it may," he said as he went away. "Most essential! According to circumstances, your holiness! I trust it may!"
After him came the Mother Superior from a distant convent. And when she had gone they began ringing for vespers. He had to go to church.
In the evening the monks sang harmoniously, with inspiration. A young priest with a black beard conducted the service; and the bishop, hearing of the Bridegroom who comes at midnight and of the Heavenly Mansion adorned for the festival, felt no repentance for his sins, no tribulation, but peace at heart and tranquillity. And he was carried back in thought to the distant past, to his childhood and youth, when, too, they used to sing of the Bridegroom and of the Heavenly Mansion; and now that past rose up before him—living, fair, and joyful as in all likelihood it never had been. And perhaps in the other world, in the life to come, we shall think of the distant past, of our life here, with the same feeling. Who knows? The bishop was sitting near the altar. It was dark; tears flowed down his face. He thought that here he had attained everything a man in his position could attain; he had faith and yet everything was not clear, something was lacking still. He did not want to die; and he still felt that he had missed what was most important, something of which he had dimly dreamed in the past; and he was troubled by the same hopes for the future as he had felt in childhood, at the academy and abroad.
"How well they sing to-day!" he thought, listening to the singing. "How nice it is!"


On Thursday he celebrated mass in the cathedral; it was the Washing of Feet. When the service was over and the people were going home, it was sunny, warm; the water gurgled in the gutters, and the unceasing trilling of the larks, tender, telling of peace, rose from the fields outside the town. The trees were already awakening and smiling a welcome, while above them the infinite, fathomless blue sky stretched into the distance, God knows whither.
On reaching home his holiness drank some tea, then changed his clothes, lay down on his bed, and told the lay brother to close the shutters on the windows. The bedroom was darkened. But what weariness, what pain in his legs and his back, a chill heavy pain, what a noise in his ears! He had not slept for a long time—for a very long time, as it seemed to him now, and some trifling detail which haunted his brain as soon as his eyes were closed prevented him from sleeping. As on the day before, sounds reached him from the adjoining rooms through the walls, voices, the jingle of glasses and teaspoons. . . . Marya Timofyevna was gaily telling Father Sisoy some story with quaint turns of speech, while the latter answered in a grumpy, ill-humoured voice: "Bother them! Not likely! What next!" And the bishop again felt vexed and then hurt that with other people his old mother behaved in a simple, ordinary way, while with him, her son, she was shy, spoke little, and did not say what she meant, and even, as he fancied, had during all those three days kept trying in his presence to find an excuse for standing up, because she was embarrassed at sitting before him. And his father? He, too, probably, if he had been living, would not have been able to utter a word in the bishop’s presence. . . .
Something fell down on the floor in the adjoining room and was broken; Katya must have dropped a cup or a saucer, for Father Sisoy suddenly spat and said angrily: "What a regular nuisance the child is! Lord forgive my transgressions! One can’t provide enough for her."
Then all was quiet, the only sounds came from outside. And when the bishop opened his eyes he saw Katya in his room, standing motionless, staring at him. Her red hair, as usual, stood up from under the comb like a halo.
"Is that you, Katya?" he asked. "Who is it downstairs who keeps opening and shutting a door?"
"I don’t hear it," answered Katya; and she listened.
"There, someone has just passed by."
"But that was a noise in your stomach, uncle."
He laughed and stroked her on the head.
"So you say Cousin Nikolasha cuts up dead people?" he asked after a pause.
"Yes, he is studying."
"And is he kind?"
"Oh, yes, he’s kind. But he drinks vodka awfully."
"And what was it your father died of?"
"Papa was weak and very, very thin, and all at once his throat was bad. I was ill then, too, and brother Fedya; we all had bad throats. Papa died, uncle, and we got well."
Her chin began quivering, and tears gleamed in her eyes and trickled down her cheeks.
"Your holiness," she said in a shrill voice, by now weeping bitterly, "uncle, mother and all of us are left very wretched. . . . Give us a little money . . . do be kind . . . uncle darling. . . ."
He, too, was moved to tears, and for a long time was too much touched to speak. Then he stroked her on the head, patted her on the shoulder and said:
"Very good, very good, my child. When the holy Easter comes, we will talk it over. . . . I will help you. . . . I will help you. . . ."
His mother came in quietly, timidly, and prayed before the ikon. Noticing that he was not sleeping, she said:
"Won’t you have a drop of soup?"
"No, thank you," he answered, "I am not hungry."
"You seem to be unwell, now I look at you. I should think so; you may well be ill! The whole day on your legs, the whole day. . . . And, my goodness, it makes one’s heart ache even to look at you! Well, Easter is not far off; you will rest then, please God. Then we will have a talk, too, but now I’m not going to disturb you with my chatter. Come along, Katya; let his holiness sleep a little."
And he remembered how once very long ago, when he was a boy, she had spoken exactly like that, in the same jestingly respectful tone, with a Church dignitary. . . . Only from her extraordinarily kind eyes and the timid, anxious glance she stole at him as she went out of the room could one have guessed that this was his mother. He shut his eyes and seemed to sleep, but twice heard the clock strike and Father Sisoy coughing the other side of the wall. And once more his mother came in and looked timidly at him for a minute. Someone drove up to the steps, as he could hear, in a coach or in a chaise. Suddenly a knock, the door slammed, the lay brother came into the bedroom.
"Your holiness," he called.
"The horses are here; it’s time for the evening service."
"What o’clock is it?"
"A quarter past seven."
He dressed and drove to the cathedral. During all the "Twelve Gospels" he had to stand in the middle of the church without moving, and the first gospel, the longest and the most beautiful, he read himself. A mood of confidence and courage came over him. That first gospel, "Now is the Son of Man glorified," he knew by heart; and as he read he raised his eyes from time to time, and saw on both sides a perfect sea of lights and heard the splutter of candles, but, as in past years, he could not see the people, and it seemed as though these were all the same people as had been round him in those days, in his childhood and his youth; that they would always be the same every year and till such time as God only knew.
His father had been a deacon, his grandfather a priest, his great-grandfather a deacon, and his whole family, perhaps from the days when Christianity had been accepted in Russia, had belonged to the priesthood; and his love for the Church services, for the priesthood, for the peal of the bells, was deep in him, ineradicable, innate. In church, particularly when he took part in the service, he felt vigorous, of good cheer, happy. So it was now. Only when the eighth gospel had been read, he felt that his voice had grown weak, even his cough was inaudible. His head had begun to ache intensely, and he was troubled by a fear that he might fall down. And his legs were indeed quite numb, so that by degrees he ceased to feel them and could not understand how or on what he was standing, and why he did not fall. . . .
It was a quarter to twelve when the service was over. When he reached home, the bishop undressed and went to bed at once without even saying his prayers. He could not speak and felt that he could not have stood up. When he had covered his head with the quilt he felt a sudden longing to be abroad, an insufferable longing! He felt that he would give his life not to see those pitiful cheap shutters, those low ceilings, not to smell that heavy monastery smell. If only there were one person to whom he could have talked, have opened his heart!
For a long while he heard footsteps in the next room and could not tell whose they were. At last the door opened, and Sisoy came in with a candle and a tea-cup in his hand.
"You are in bed already, your holiness?" he asked. "Here I have come to rub you with spirit and vinegar. A thorough rubbing does a great deal of good. Lord Jesus Christ! . . . That’s the way . . . that’s the way. . . . I’ve just been in our monastery. . . . I don’t like it. I’m going away from here to-morrow, your holiness; I don’t want to stay longer. Lord Jesus Christ. . . . That’s the way. . . ."
Sisoy could never stay long in the same place, and he felt as though he had been a whole year in the Pankratievsky Monastery. Above all, listening to him it was difficult to understand where his home was, whether he cared for anyone or anything, whether he believed in God. . . . He did not know himself why he was a monk, and, indeed, he did not think about it, and the time when he had become a monk had long passed out of his memory; it seemed as though he had been born a monk.
"I’m going away to-morrow; God be with them all."
"I should like to talk to you. . . . I can’t find the time," said the bishop softly with an effort. "I don’t know anything or anybody here. . . ."
"I’ll stay till Sunday if you like; so be it, but I don’t want to stay longer. I am sick of them!"
"I ought not to be a bishop," said the bishop softly. "I ought to have been a village priest, a deacon . . . or simply a monk. . . . All this oppresses me . . . oppresses me."
"What? Lord Jesus Christ. . . . That’s the way. Come, sleep well, your holiness! . . . What’s the good of talking? It’s no use. Good-night!"
The bishop did not sleep all night. And at eight o’clock in the morning he began to have hemorrhage from the bowels. The lay brother was alarmed, and ran first to the archimandrite, then for the monastery doctor, Ivan Andreyitch, who lived in the town. The doctor, a stout old man with a long grey beard, made a prolonged examination of the bishop, and kept shaking his head and frowning, then said:
"Do you know, your holiness, you have got typhoid?"
After an hour or so of hemorrhage the bishop looked much thinner, paler, and wasted; his face looked wrinkled, his eyes looked bigger, and he seemed older, shorter, and it seemed to him that he was thinner, weaker, more insignificant than any one, that everything that had been had retreated far, far away and would never go on again or be repeated.
"How good," he thought, "how good!"
His old mother came. Seeing his wrinkled face and his big eyes, she was frightened, she fell on her knees by the bed and began kissing his face, his shoulders, his hands. And to her, too, it seemed that he was thinner, weaker, and more insignificant than anyone, and now she forgot that he was a bishop, and kissed him as though he were a child very near and very dear to her.
"Pavlusha, darling," she said; "my own, my darling son! . . . Why are you like this? Pavlusha, answer me!"
Katya, pale and severe, stood beside her, unable to understand what was the matter with her uncle, why there was such a look of suffering on her grandmother’s face, why she was saying such sad and touching things. By now he could not utter a word, he could understand nothing, and he imagined he was a simple ordinary man, that he was walking quickly, cheerfully through the fields, tapping with his stick, while above him was the open sky bathed in sunshine, and that he was free now as a bird and could go where he liked!
"Pavlusha, my darling son, answer me," the old woman was saying. "What is it? My own!"
"Don’t disturb his holiness," Sisoy said angrily, walking about the room. "Let him sleep . . . what’s the use . . . it’s no good. . . ."
Three doctors arrived, consulted together, and went away again. The day was long, incredibly long, then the night came on and passed slowly, slowly, and towards morning on Saturday the lay brother went in to the old mother who was lying on the sofa in the parlour, and asked her to go into the bedroom: the bishop had just breathed his last.
Next day was Easter Sunday. There were forty-two churches and six monasteries in the town; the sonorous, joyful clang of the bells hung over the town from morning till night unceasingly, setting the spring air aquiver; the birds were singing, the sun was shining brightly. The big market square was noisy, swings were going, barrel organs were playing, accordions were squeaking, drunken voices were shouting. After midday people began driving up and down the principal street.
In short, all was merriment, everything was satisfactory, just as it had been the year before, and as it will be in all likelihood next year.
A month later a new suffragan bishop was appointed, and no one thought anything more of Bishop Pyotr, and afterwards he was completely forgotten. And only the dead man’s old mother, who is living to-day with her son-in-law the deacon in a remote little district town, when she goes out at night to bring her cow in and meets other women at the pasture, begins talking of her children and her grandchildren, and says that she had a son a bishop, and this she says timidly, afraid that she may not be believed. . . .
And, indeed, there are some who do not believe her.


2. НА ПУТИ (1887)
3. ВРАГИ (1887)
4. ВЕРОЧКА (1887)
6. СТЕПЬ (1888)
7. КНЯГИНЯ (1889)
9. ГУСЕВ (1890)
11. ДАМА С СОБАЧКОЙ (1899)
12. АРХИЕРЕЙ (1902)


Был солнечный августовский полдень, когда я с одним русским захудалым князьком подъехал к громадному, так называемому Шабельскому бору, где мы намеревались поискать рябчиков. Мой князек, в виду роли, которую он играет в этом рассказе, заслуживал бы подробного описания. Это высокий, стройный брюнет, еще не старый, но уже достаточно помятый жизнью, с длинными полицеймейстерскими усами, с черными глазами навыкате и с замашками отставного военного. Человек он недалекий, восточного пошиба, но честный и прямой, не бреттер, не фат и не кутила — достоинства, дающие в глазах публики диплом на бесцветность и мизерность. Публике он не нравился (в уезде иначе не называли его, как «сиятельным балбесом»), мне же лично князек был до крайности симпатичен своими несчастьями и неудачами, из которых без перерыва состояла вся его жизнь. Прежде всего, он был беден. В карты он не играл, не кутил, делом не занимался, никуда не совал своего носа и вечно молчал, но сумел каким-то образом растранжирить 30—40 тысяч, оставшиеся ему после отца. Один бог знает, куда девались эти деньги; мне известно только, что много, за отсутствием досмотра, было расхищено управляющими, приказчиками и даже лакеями, много пошло на займы, подачки и поручительства. В уезде редкий помещик не состоял ему должным. Всем просящим он давал и не столько из доброты или доверия к людям, сколько из напускного джентльменства: возьми, мол, и чувствуй мою комильфотность! Я познакомился с ним, когда уж он сам залез в долги, узнал вкус во вторых закладных и запутался до невозможности выпутаться. Бывали дни, когда он не обедал и ходил с пустым портсигаром, но всегда его видели чистеньким, одетым по моде, и всегда от него шел густой запах иланг-иланга.
Вторым несчастьем князя было его круглое одиночество. Женат он не был, родных и друзей не имел. Молчаливый, скрытный характер и комильфотность, которая тем резче выступала на первый план, чем сильнее хотелось скрыть бедность, мешали ему сближаться с людьми. Для романов он был тяжел, вял и холоден, а потому редко сходился с женщинами...
Подъехав к лесу, я и этот князек вылезли из брички и пошли по узкой лесной тропинке, прятавшейся в тени громадных листьев папоротника. Но не прошли мы и ста шагов, как из-за молодого, аршинного ельника, точно из земли выросши, поднялась высокая, жидкая фигура с длинным овальным лицом, в потертом пиджаке, в соломенной шляпе и в лакированных ботфортах. В одной руке незнакомца была корзинка с грибами, другою он игриво теребил дешевенькую цепочку на жилетке. Увидав нас, он сконфузился, поправил жилетку, вежливо кашлянул и приятно улыбнулся, точно рад был видеть таких хороших людей, как мы. Потом, совершенно неожиданно для нас, он, шаркая по траве длинными ногами, изгибаясь всем телом и не переставая приятно улыбаться, подошел к нам, приподнял шляпу и произнес слащавым голосом, в котором слышалась интонация воющей собаки:
— Э-э-э... господа, как мне ни тяжело, но я должен предупредить вас, что в этом лесу охота воспрещается. Извините, что, не будучи знаком, осмеливаюсь беспокоить вас, но... позвольте представиться: я — Гронтовский, главный конторщик при экономии госпожи Кандуриной!
— Очень приятно, но почему же нельзя охотиться?
— Такова воля владетельницы этого леса!
Я и князь переглянулись. Минута прошла в молчании. Князь стоял и задумчиво глядел себе под ноги на большой мухомор, сбитый палкой. Гронтовский продолжал приятно улыбаться. Всё лицо его моргало, медоточило, и казалось, даже цепочка на жилетке улыбалась и старалась поразить нас своею деликатностью. В воздухе на манер тихого ангела пролетел конфуз; всем троим было неловко.
— Пустое! — сказал я. — Не дальше как на прошлой неделе я тут охотился!
— Очень может быть! — захихикал сквозь зубы Гронтовский. — Фактически здесь все охотятся, не глядя на запрещение, но раз я с вами встретился, моя обязанность... священный долг предупредить вас. Я человек зависимый. Если бы лес был мой, то, честное слово Гронтовского, я не противился бы вашему приятному удовольствию. Но кто виноват, что Гронтовский зависим?
Долговязый субъект вздохнул и пожал плечами. Я начал спорить, кипятиться и доказывать, но чем громче и убедительнее я говорил, тем медовее и приторнее становилось лицо Гронтовского. Очевидно, сознание некоторой власти над нами доставляло ему величайшее наслаждение. Он наслаждался своим снисходительным тоном, любезностью, манерами и с особенным чувством произносил свою звучную фамилию, которую он, вероятно, очень любил. Стоя перед нами, он чувствовал себя больше чем в своей тарелке. Только судя по косым, конфузливым взглядам, которые он изредка бросал на свою корзинку, одно лишь портило его настроение — это грибы, бабья, мужицкая проза, оскорблявшая его величие.
— Не ворочаться же нам назад! — сказал я. — Мы пятнадцать верст проехали!
— Что делать! — вздохнул Гронтовский. — Если бы вы изволили проехать не пятнадцать, а сто тысяч верст, если бы даже король приехал сюда из Америки или из другой какой-нибудь далекой страны, то и тогда бы я счел за долг... священную, так сказать, обязанность...
— Этот лес принадлежит Надежде Львовне? — спросил князь.
— Да-с, Надежде Львовне...
— Она теперь дома?
— Да-с... Вот что, вы съездите к ней — полверсты отсюда, не больше — если она даст вам записочку, то я... понятно! Ха-ха... хи-хи-с!..
— Пожалуй, — согласился я. — Съездить к ней гораздо ближе, чем ворочаться... Съездите к ней, Сергей Иваныч, — обратился я к князю. — Вы с ней знакомы.
Князь, глядевший всё время на сбитый мухомор, поднял на меня глаза, подумал и сказал:
— Я когда-то был с ней знаком, но... мне не совсем ловко к ней идти. И к тому же я плохо одет... Съездите вы, вы с ней незнакомы... Вам удобнее.
Я согласился. Мы сели в шарабан и, провожаемые улыбками Гронтовского, покатили по краю леса к барской усадьбе. С Надеждой Львовной Кандуриной, урожденной Шабельской, знаком я не был, никогда раньше вблизи не видал ее и знал ее только понаслышке. Я знал, что она была невылазно богата, как никто в губернии... После смерти отца, помещика Шабельского, у которого она была единственной дочерью, осталось ей несколько имений, конский завод и много денег. Слышал я, что она, несмотря на свои 25—26 лет, некрасива, бесцветна, ничтожна, как все, и выделяется из ряда обыкновенных уездных барынь только своим громадным состоянием.
Мне всегда казалось, что богатство ощущается и что у богачей должно быть свое особенное чувство, неизвестное беднякам. Часто, проезжая мимо большого фруктового сада Надежды Львовны, из которого высился громадный, тяжелый дом с всегда занавешенными окнами, я думал: «Что чувствует она в данную минуту? Есть ли там за сторами счастье?» и т. д. Раз я видел издалека, как она ехала откуда-то на хорошеньком легком кабриолете и правила красивой белой лошадью и — грешный человек — я не только позавидовал ей, но даже нашел, что в ее посадке, в ее движениях есть что-то особенное, чего нет у людей небогатых, подобно тому, как люди, по натуре раболепные, в обыкновенной наружности людей познатнее себя умудряются с первого взгляда находить породу. Внутренняя жизнь Надежды Львовны была известна мне только по сплетням. В уезде говорили, что лет пять-шесть тому назад, еще до своего замужества, при жизни отца, она была страстно влюблена в князя Сергея Ивановича, который ехал теперь рядом со мной в шарабане. Князь любил ездить к старику и, бывало, целые дни проводил у него в бильярдной, где неутомимо, до боли в руках и ногах, играл в пирамидку, за полгода же до смерти старика он вдруг перестал бывать у Шабельских. Такую резкую перемену в отношениях уездная сплетня, не имея положительных данных, объясняет всячески. Одни рассказывают, что князь, заметив будто бы чувство некрасивой Наденьки и не будучи в состоянии отвечать взаимностью, почел долгом порядочного человека прекратить свои посещения; другие утверждают, что старик Шабельский, узнав, отчего чахнет его дочь, предложил небогатому князю жениться на ней, князь же, вообразив по своей недалекости, что его хотят купить вместе с титулом, возмутился, наговорил глупостей и рассорился. Что в этом вздоре правда и что неправда — трудно сказать, а что доля правды есть, видно из того, что князь всегда избегал разговоров о Надежде Львовне.
Мне известно, что вскоре после смерти отца Надежда Львовна вышла замуж за некоего Кандурина, заезжего кандидата прав, человека небогатого, но ловкого. Вышла она не по любви, а тронутая любовью кандидата прав, который, как говорят, прекрасно разыгрывал влюбленного. В описываемое мною время муж ее, Кандурин, жил для чего-то в Каире и писал оттуда своему приятелю, уездному предводителю, «путевые записки», а она, окруженная тунеядицами-приживалками, томилась за спущенными сторами и коротала свои скучные дни мелкой филантропией.
На пути к усадьбе князь разговорился.
— Уж три дня, как я не был у себя дома, — сказал он полушёпотом, косясь на возницу. — Кажется, вот и велик вырос, не баба и без предрассудков, а не перевариваю судебных приставов. Когда я вижу у себя в доме судебного пристава, то бледнею, дрожу и даже судороги в икрах делаются. Знаете, Рогожин протестовал мой вексель!
Князь вообще не любил жаловаться на плохие обстоятельства; где касалось бедности, там он был скрытен, до крайности самолюбив и щепетилен, а потому это его заявление меня удивило. Он долго глядел на желтую сечу, согреваемую солнцем, проводил глазами длинную вереницу журавлей, плывших в лазуревом поднебесье, и повернулся лицом ко мне.
— А к шестому сентября нужно готовить деньги в банк... проценты за именье! — сказал он вслух, уже не стесняясь присутствием кучера. — А где их взять? Вообще, батенька, круто приходится! Ух как круто!
Князь оглядел курки своего ружья, для чего-то подул на них и стал искать глазами потерянных из виду журавлей.
— Сергей Иваныч, — спросил я после минутного молчания, — если, представьте, продадут вашу Шатиловку, то что вы будете делать?
— Я? Не знаю! Шатиловке не уцелеть, это как дважды два, но не могу и представить себе такой беды. Я не могу представить себя без готового куска хлеба. Что я буду делать? Образования у меня почти никакого, работать я еще не пробовал, служить — начинать поздно... Да и где служить? Где бы я мог сгодиться? Допустим, не велика хитрость служить, хоть у нас бы, например, в земстве, но у меня... чёрт его знает, малодушие какое-то, ни на грош смелости. Поступлю я на службу и всё мне будет казаться, что я не в свои сани сел. Я не идеалист, не утопист, не принципист какой-нибудь особенный, а просто, должно быть, глуп и из-за угла мешком прибит. Психопат и трус. Вообще не похож на людей. Все люди, как люди, один только я изображаю из себя что-то такое... этакое... Встретил я в среду Нарягина. Вы его знаете, пьян, неряшлив... долгов не платит, глуповат (князь поморщился и мотнул головой)... личность ужасная! Качается и говорит мне: «Я в мировые баллотируюсь!» Его, конечно, не выберут, но ведь он верит, что годится в мировые, считает это дело по плечу себе. И смелость есть и самоуверенность. Также заезжаю я к нашему судебному следователю. Человек получает 250 в месяц, но дела почти никакого, только и знает, что целые дни в одном нижнем белье шагает из угла в угол, но спросите его, он уверен, что дело делает, честно исполняет долг. Я бы не мог так! Мне бы совестно было в глаза казначею глядеть.
В это время мимо нас на рыжей лошадке с шиком проскакал Гронтовский. В левой руке его на локте болталась корзинка, в которой прыгали белые грибы. Поравнявшись с нами, он оскалил зубы и сделал ручкой, как давнишним знакомым.
— Болван! — процедил князь сквозь зубы, глядя ему вслед. — Удивительно, как противно иногда бывает видеть довольные физиономии. Глупое, животное чувство и, должно быть, с голодухи... На чем я остановился? Ах, да, о службе... Жалованье получать мне было бы стыдно, а в сущности говоря, это глупо. Если взглянуть пошире, серьезно, то ведь и теперь я ем не свое. Не так ли? Но тут почему-то не стыдно... Привычка тут, что ли... или неуменье вдумываться в свое настоящее положение... А положение это, вероятно, ужасно!
Я посмотрел: не рисуется ли князь? Но лицо его было кротко и глаза с грустью следили за движениями убегавшей рыжей лошадки, точно вместе с нею убегало его счастье.
По-видимому, он находился в том состоянии раздражения и грусти, когда женщины тихо и беспричинно плачут, а у мужчин является потребность жаловаться на жизнь, на себя, на бога...
У ворот усадьбы, когда я вылезал из шарабана, князь говорил:
— Раз один человек, желая уязвить меня, сказал, что у меня шулерская физиономия. Я и сам заметил, что шулера чаще всего брюнеты. Мне кажется, послушайте, что если бы я в самом деле родился шулером, то до смерти бы остался порядочным человеком, так как у меня не хватило бы смелости делать зло. Скажу вам откровенно, я имел в жизни случай разбогатеть. Солги я раз в жизни, солги только перед самим собой и одной... и одним человеком, который, я знаю, простил бы мне мою ложь, я положил бы к себе в карман чистоганом миллион. Но не смог! Духу не хватило!
От ворот к дому нужно было идти рощей по длинной, ровной, как линейка, дороге, усаженной по обе стороны густой стриженой сиренью. Дом представлял из себя нечто тяжелое, безвкусное, похожее фасадом на театр. Он неуклюже высился из массы зелени и резал глаза, как большой булыжник, брошенный на бархатную траву. У парадного входа встретил меня тучный старик-лакей в зеленом фраке и больших серебряных очках; без всякого доклада, а только брезгливо оглядев мою запыленную фигуру, он проводил меня в покои. Когда я шел вверх по мягкой лестнице, то почему-то сильно пахло каучуком, наверху же в передней меня охватила атмосфера, присущая только архивам, барским хоромам и старинным купеческим домам: кажется, что пахнет чем-то давно прошедшим, что когда-то жило и умерло, оставив в комнатах свою душу. От передней до гостиной я прошел комнаты три-четыре. Помнятся мне ярко-желтые, блестящие полы, люстры, окутанные в марлю, узкие полосатые ковры, которые тянулись не прямо от двери до двери, как обыкновенно, а вдоль стен, так что мне, не рискнувшему касаться своими грубыми болотными сапогами яркого пола, в каждой комнате приходилось описывать четырехугольник. В гостиной, где оставил меня лакей, стояла окутанная сумерками старинная дедовская мебель в белых чехлах. Глядела она сурово, по-стариковски, и, словно из уважения к ее покою, не слышно было ни одного звука.
Даже часы молчали... Княжна Тараканова, казалось, уснула в золотой раме, а вода и крысы замерли по воле волшебства. Дневной свет, боясь нарушить общий покой, едва пробивался сквозь спущенные сторы и бледными, дремлющими полосами ложился на мягкие ковры.
Прошло три минуты, и в гостиную бесшумно вошла большая старуха в черном и с повязанной щекой. Она поклонилась мне и подняла сторы. Тотчас же, охваченные ярким светом, ожили на картине крысы и вода, проснулась Тараканова, зажмурились мрачные старики-кресла.
— Оне сию минуту-с... — вздохнула старуха, тоже жмурясь.
Еще несколько минут ожидания, и я увидел Надежду Львовну. Что прежде всего мне бросилось в глаза, так это то, что она, действительно, была некрасива: мала ростом, тоща, сутуловата. Волосы ее, густые, каштановые, были роскошны, лицо, чистое и интеллигентное, дышало молодостью, глаза глядели умно и ясно, но вся прелесть головы пропадала благодаря большим, жирным губам и слишком острому лицевому углу.
Я назвал себя и сообщил о цели своего прихода.
— Право, не знаю, как мне быть! — сказала она в раздумье, опуская глаза и улыбаясь. — Не хотелось бы отказывать и в то же время...
— Пожалуйста! — попросил я.
Надежда Львовна поглядела на меня и засмеялась. Я тоже засмеялся. Ее забавляло, вероятно, то, чем наслаждался Гронтовский, т. е. право разрешать и запрещать; мне же мой визит стал вдруг казаться курьезным и странным.
— Не хотелось бы мне нарушать давно заведенный порядок, — сказала Кандурина. — Уже шесть лет, как на нашей земле запрещена охота. Нет! — решительно мотнула она головой. — Извините, я должна отказать вам. Если разрешить вам, то придется разрешать и другим. Я не люблю несправедливости. Или всем, или никому.
— Жаль! — вздохнул я. — Грустно тем более, что мы проехали пятнадцать верст. Я не один здесь, — прибавил я. — Со мной князь Сергей Иваныч.
Имя князя произнес я без всякой задней мысли, не побуждаемый никакими особенными соображениями и целями, а сболтнул его не рассуждая, по простоте. Услыхав знакомое имя, Кандурина вздрогнула и остановила на мне долгий взгляд. Я заметил, как у нее побледнел нос.
— Это всё равно... — сказала она, опуская глаза.
Разговаривая с нею, я стоял у окна, выходившего в рощу. Мне видна была вся роща с аллеями, с прудами и дорогою, по которой я только что шел. В конце дороги за воротами чернел задок нашего шарабана. Около ворот, спиною к дому и расставив ноги, стоял князь и беседовал с долговязым Гронтовским.
Кандурина всё время находилась у другого окна. Она изредка поглядывала на рощу, а когда я произнес имя князя, она уже не отворачивалась от окна.
— Извините меня, — сказала она, щуря глаза на дорогу и на ворота, — но было бы несправедливо разрешить охоту только вам... И к тому же, что за удовольствие убивать птиц? За что? Разве они вам мешают?
Жизнь одинокая, замуравленная в четырех стенах, с ее комнатными сумерками и тяжелым запахом гниющей мебели, располагает к сентиментальности. Мысль, оброненная Кандуриной, была почтенна, но я не удержался, чтобы не сказать:
— Если так рассуждать, то следует ходить босиком. Сапоги шьются из кожи убитых животных.
— Нужно отличать необходимость от прихоти, — глухо ответила Кандурина.
Она уже узнала князя и не отрывала глаз от его фигуры. Трудно описать восторг и страдание, какими светилось ее некрасивое лицо! Ее глаза улыбались и блестели, губы дрожали и смеялись, а лицо тянулось ближе к стеклам. Держась обеими руками за цветочный горшок, немного приподняв одну ногу и притаив дыхание, она напоминала собаку, которая делает стойку и с страстным нетерпением ожидает «пиль!»
Я поглядел на нее, на князя, не сумевшего солгать раз в жизни, и мне стало досадно, горько на правду и ложь, играющих такую стихийную роль в личном счастье людей.
Князь вдруг встрепенулся, прицелился и выстрелил. Ястреб, летевший над ним, взмахнул крыльями и стрелой понесся далеко в сторону.
— Высоко взял! — сказал я. — Итак, Надежда Львовна, — вздохнул я, отходя от окна, — вы не разрешаете...
Кандурина молчала.
— Честь имею кланяться, — сказал я, — и прошу извинить за беспокойство...
Кандурина хотела было повернуться ко мне лицом и уже сделала четверть оборота, но тотчас же спрятала лицо за драпировку, как будто почувствовала на глазах слезы, которые хотела скрыть...
— Прощайте... Извините... — тихо сказала она.
Я поклонился ее спине и, уже не разбирая ковров, зашагал по ярко-желтым полам. Мне приятно было уходить из этого маленького царства позолоченной скуки и скорби, и я спешил, точно желая встрепенуться от тяжелого, фантастического сна с его сумерками, Таракановой, люстрами...
У выхода догнала меня горничная и вручила мне записку. «Подателям сего охота дозволяется. Н. К.» — прочел я...


Ночевала тучка золотая
На груди утеса великана...


В комнате, которую сам содержатель трактира, казак Семен Чистоплюй, называет «проезжающей», то есть назначенной исключительно для проезжих, за большим некрашеным столом сидел высокий широкоплечий мужчина лет сорока. Облокотившись о стол и подперев голову кулаком, он спал. Огарок сальной свечи, воткнутый в баночку из-под помады, освещал его русую бороду, толстый широкий нос, загорелые щеки, густые черные брови, нависшие над закрытыми глазами... И нос, и щеки, и брови, все черты, каждая в отдельности, были грубы и тяжелы, как мебель и печка в «проезжающей», но в общем они давали нечто гармоническое и даже красивое. Такова уж, как говорится, планида русского лица: чем крупнее и резче его черты, тем кажется оно мягче и добродушнее. Одет был мужчина в господский пиджак, поношенный, но обшитый новой широкой тесьмой, в плюшевую жилетку и широкие черные панталоны, засунутые в большие сапоги.На одной из скамей, непрерывно тянувшихся вдоль стены, на меху лисьей шубы спала девочка лет восьми, в коричневом платьице и в длинных черных чулках. Лицо ее было бледно, волосы белокуры, плечи узки, всё тело худо и жидко, но нос выдавался такой же толстой и некрасивой шишкой, как и у мужчины. Она спала крепко и не чувствовала, как полукруглая гребенка, свалившаяся с головы, резала ей щеку.«Проезжающая» имела праздничный вид. В воздухе пахло свежевымытыми полами, на веревке, которая тянулась диагонально через всю комнату, не висели, как всегда, тряпки и в углу, над столом, кладя красное пятно на образ Георгия Победоносца, теплилась лампадка. Соблюдая самую строгую и осторожную постепенность в переходе от божественного к светскому, от образа, по обе стороны угла, тянулся ряд лубочных картин. При тусклом свете огарка и красной лампадки картины представляли из себя одну сплошную полосу, покрытую черными кляксами; когда же изразцовая печка, желая петь в один голос с погодой, с воем вдыхала в себя воздух, а поленья, точно очнувшись, вспыхивали ярким пламенем и сердито ворчали, тогда на бревенчатых стенах начинали прыгать румяные пятна, и можно было видеть, как над головой спавшего мужчины вырастали то старец Серафим, то шах Наср-Эддин, то жирный коричневый младенец, таращивший глаза и шептавшей что-то на ухо девице с необыкновенно тупым и равнодушным лицом...На дворе шумела непогода. Что-то бешеное, злобное, но глубоко несчастное с яростью зверя металось вокруг трактира и старалось ворваться вовнутрь. Хлопая дверями, стуча в окна и по крыше, царапая стены, оно то грозило, то умоляло, а то утихало ненадолго и потом с радостным, предательским воем врывалось в печную трубу, но тут поленья вспыхивали и огонь, как цепной пес, со злобой несся навстречу врагу, начиналась борьба, а после нее рыдания, визг, сердитый рев. Во всем этом слышались и злобствующая тоска, и неудовлетворенная ненависть, и оскорбленное бессилие того, кто когда-то привык к победам...Очарованная этой дикой, нечеловеческой музыкой, «проезжающая», казалось, оцепенела навеки. Но вот скрипнула дверь, и в комнату вошел трактирный мальчик в новой коленкоровой рубахе. Прихрамывая на одну ногу и моргая сонными глазами, он снял пальцами со свечи, подложил в печку поленьев и вышел. Тотчас же в церкви, которая в Рогачах находится в трехстах шагах от трактира, стали бить полночь. Ветер играл со звоном, как со снеговыми хлопьями; гоняясь за колокольными звуками, он кружил их на громадном пространстве, так что одни удары прерывались или растягивались в длинный, волнистый звук, другие вовсе исчезали в общем гуле. Один удар так явственно прогудел в комнате, как будто звонили под самыми окнами. Девочка, спавшая на лисьем меху, вздрогнула и приподняла голову. Минуту она глядела бессмысленно на темное окно, на Наср-Эддина, по которому в это время скользил багряный свет от печки, потом перевела взгляд на спавшего мужчину.— Папа! — сказала она.Но мужчина не двигался. Девочка сердито сдвинула брови, легла и поджала ноги. За дверью в трактире кто-то громко и протяжно зевнул. Вскоре вслед за этим послышался визг дверного блока и неясные голоса. Кто-то вошел и, стряхивая с себя снег, глухо затопал валяными сапогами.— Чиво? — лениво спросил женский голос.— Барышня Иловайская приехала... — отвечал бас.Опять завизжал дверной блок. Послышался шум ворвавшегося ветра. Кто-то, вероятно, хромой мальчик, подбежал к двери, которая вела в «проезжающую», почтительно кашлянул и тронул щеколду.— Сюда, матушка-барышня, пожалуйте, — сказал певучий женский голос, — тут у нас чисто, красавица...Дверь распахнулась, и на пороге показался бородатый мужик, в кучерском кафтане и с большим чемоданом на плече, весь, с головы до ног, облепленный снегом. Вслед за ним вошла невысокая, почти вдвое ниже кучера, женская фигура без лица и без рук, окутанная, обмотанная, похожая на узел и тоже покрытая снегом. От кучера и узла на девочку пахнуло сыростью, как из погреба, и огонь свечки заколебался.— Какие глупости! — сказал сердито узел. — Отлично можно ехать! Осталось ехать только двенадцать верст, всё больше лесом, и не заблудились бы...— Заблудиться-то не заблудились бы, да кони не идут, барышня! — отвечал кучер. — И господи твоя воля, словно я нарочно!— Бог знает куда привез... Но тише... Тут, кажется, спят. Ступай отсюда...Кучер поставил на пол чемодан, причем с его плеч посыпались пласты снега, издал носом всхлипывающий звук и вышел. Затем девочка видела, как из середины узла вылезли две маленьких ручки, потянулись вверх и стали сердито распутывать путаницу из шалей, платков и шарфов. Сначала на пол упала большая шаль, потом башлык, за ним белый вязаный платок. Освободив голову, приезжая сняла салоп и сразу сузилась наполовину. Теперь уж она была в длинном сером пальто с большими пуговицами и с оттопыренными карманами. Из одного кармана вытащила она бумажный сверток с чем-то, из другого вязку больших, тяжелых ключей, которую положила так неосторожно, что спавший мужчина вздрогнул и открыл глаза. Некоторое время он тупо глядел по сторонам, как бы не понимая, где он, потом встряхнул головой, пошел в угол и сел... Приезжая сняла пальто, отчего опять сузилась наполовину, стащила с себя плисовые сапоги и тоже села.Теперь уж она не походила на узел. Это была маленькая, худенькая брюнетка, лет 20, тонкая, как змейка, с продолговатым белым лицом и с вьющимися волосами. Нос у нее был длинный, острый, подбородок тоже длинный и острый, ресницы длинные, углы рта острые и, благодаря этой всеобщей остроте, выражение лица казалось колючим. Затянутая в черное платье, с массой кружев на шее и рукавах, с острыми локтями и длинными розовыми пальчиками, она напоминала портреты средневековых английских дам. Серьезное, сосредоточенное выражение лица еще более увеличивало это сходство...Брюнетка оглядела комнату, покосилась на мужчину и девочку и, пожав плечами, пересела к окну. Темные окна дрожали от сырого западного ветра. Крупные хлопья снега, сверкая белизной, ложились на стекла, но тотчас же исчезали, уносимые ветром. Дикая музыка становилась всё сильнее...После долгого молчания девочка вдруг заворочалась и сказала, сердито отчеканивая каждое слово:— Господи! Господи! Какая я несчастная! Несчастней всех!Мужчина поднялся и виноватой походкой, которая совсем не шла к его громадному росту и большой бороде, засеменил к девочке.— Ты не спишь, дружочек? — спросил он извиняющимся голосом. — Чего ты хочешь?— Ничего не хочу! У меня плечо болит! Ты, папа, нехороший человек, и бог тебя накажет! Вот увидишь, что накажет!— Голубчик мой, я знаю, что у тебя болит плечо, но что же я могу сделать, дружочек? — сказал мужчина тоном, каким подвыпившие мужья извиняются перед своими строгими супругами. — Это, Саша, у тебя от дороги болит плечо. Завтра мы приедем к месту, отдохнем, оно и пройдет...— Завтра, завтра... Ты каждый день говоришь мне завтра. Мы еще двадцать дней будем ехать!— Но, дружочек, честное слово отца, мы приедем завтра. Я никогда не лгу, а если нас задержала вьюга, то я не виноват.— Я не могу больше терпеть! Не могу, не могу!Саша резко дрыгнула ногой и огласила комнату неприятным визгливым плачем. Отец ее махнул рукой и растерянно поглядел на брюнетку. Та пожала плечами и нерешительно подошла к Саше.— Послушай, милая, — сказала она, — зачем же плакать? Правда, нехорошо, если болит плечо, но что же делать?— Видите ли, сударыня, — быстро заговорил мужчина, как бы оправдываясь, — мы не спали две ночи и ехали в отвратительном экипаже. Ну, конечно, естественно, что она больна и тоскует... А тут еще, знаете ли, нам пьяный извозчик попался, чемодан у нас украли... метель всё время, но к чему, сударыня, плакать? Впрочем, этот сон в сидячем положении утомил меня, и я точно пьяный. Ей-богу, Саша, тут и без тебя тошно, а ты еще плачешь!Мужчина покрутил головой, махнул рукой и сел.— Конечно, не следует плакать, — сказала брюнетка. — Это только грудные дети плачут. Если ты больна, милая, то надо раздеться и спать... Давай-ка разденемся!Когда девочка была раздета и успокоена, опять наступило молчание. Брюнетка сидела у окна и с недоумением оглядывала трактирную комнату, образ, печку... По-видимому, ей казались странными и комната, и девочка с ее толстым носом, в короткой мальчишеской сорочке, и девочкин отец. Этот странный человек сидел в углу, растерянно, как пьяный, поглядывал по сторонам и мял ладонью свое лицо. Он молчал, моргал глазами, и, глядя на его виноватую фигуру, трудно было предположить, чтоб он скоро начал говорить. Но первый начал говорить он. Погладив себе колени, кашлянув, он усмехнулся и сказал:— Комедия, ей-богу... Смотрю и глазам своим не верю: ну, за каким лешим судьба загнала нас в этот поганый трактир? Что она хотела этим выразить? Жизнь выделывает иногда такие salto mortale 1, что только гляди и в недоумении глазами хлопай. Вы, сударыня, далеко изволите ехать?— Нет, недалеко, — ответила брюнетка. — Я еду из нашего имения, отсюда верст двадцать, в наш же хутор, к отцу и брату. Я сама Иловайская, ну и хутор также называется Иловайским, двенадцать верст отсюда. Какая неприятная погода!— Чего хуже!Вошел хромой мальчик и вставил в помадную банку новый огарок.— Ты бы, хлопче, самоварчик нам поставил! — обратился к нему мужчина.— Кто ж теперь чай пьет? — усмехнулся хромой. — Грех до обедни пить.— Ничего, хлопче, не ты будешь гореть в аду, а мы...За чаем новые знакомые разговорились. Иловайская узнала, что ее собеседника зовут Григорием Петровичем Лихаревым, что он родной брат тому самому Лихареву, который в одном из соседних уездов служит предводителем, и сам был когда-то помещиком, но «своевременно прогорел». Лихарев же узнал, что Иловайскую зовут Марьей Михайловной, что именье у ее отца громадное, но что хозяйничать приходится только ей одной, так как отец и брат смотрят на жизнь сквозь пальцы, беспечны и слишком любят борзых.— Отец и брат на хуторе одни-одинёшеньки, — говорила Иловайская, шевеля пальцами (в разговоре у нее была манера шевелить перед своим колючим лицом пальцами и, после каждой фразы, облизывать острым язычком губы), — они, мужчины, народ беспечный, и сами для себя пальцем не пошевельнут. Воображаю, кто даст им разговеться! Матери у нас нет, а прислуга у нас такая, что без меня и скатерти путем не постелют. Можете теперь представить их положение! Они останутся без разговенья, а я всю ночь должна здесь сидеть. Как всё это странно!Иловайская пожала плечами, отхлебнула из чашки и сказала:— Есть праздники, которые имеют свой запах. На Пасху, Троицу и на Рождество в воздухе пахнет чем-то особенным. Даже неверующие любят эти праздники. Мой брат, например, толкует, что бога нет, а на Пасху первый бежит к заутрене.Лихарев поднял глаза на Иловайскую и засмеялся.— Толкуют, что бога нет, — продолжала Иловайская, тоже засмеявшись, — но почему же, скажите мне, все знаменитые писатели, ученые, вообще умные люди, под конец жизни веруют?— Кто, сударыня, в молодости не умел верить, тот не уверует и в старости, будь он хоть распереписатель.Судя по кашлю, у Лихарева был бас, но, вероятно, из боязни говорить громко или из излишней застенчивости, он говорил тенором. Помолчав немного, он вздохнул и сказал:— Я так понимаю, что вера есть способность духа. Она всё равно что талант: с нею надо родиться. Насколько я могу судить по себе, по тем людям, которых видал на своем веку, по всему тому, что творилось вокруг, эта способность присуща русским людям в высочайшей степени. Русская жизнь представляет из себя непрерывный ряд верований и увлечений, а неверия или отрицания она еще, ежели желаете знать, и не нюхала. Если русский человек не верит в бога, то это значит, что он верует во что-нибудь другое.Лихарев принял от Иловайской чашку с чаем, отхлебнул сразу половину и продолжал:— Я вам про себя скажу. В мою душу природа вложила необыкновенную способность верить. Полжизни я состоял, не к ночи будь сказано, в штате атеистов и нигилистов, но не было в моей жизни ни одного часа, когда бы я не веровал. Все таланты обнаруживаются обыкновенно в раннем детстве, так и моя способность давала уже себя знать, когда я еще под столом пешком ходил. Моя мать любила, чтобы дети много ели, и когда, бывало, кормила меня, то говорила: «Ешь! Главное в жизни суп!» Я верил, ел этот суп по десяти раз в день, ел как акула, до отвращения и обморока. Рассказывала нянька сказки, и я верил в домовых, в леших, во всякую чертовщину. Бывало, краду у отца сулему, посыпаю ею пряники и ношу их на чердак, чтоб, видите ли, домовые поели и передохли. А когда научился читать и понимать читанное, то пошла писать губерния! Я и в Америку бегал, и в разбойники уходил, и в монастырь просился, и мальчишек нанимал, чтоб они меня мучили за Христа. И заметьте, вера у меня была всегда деятельная, не мертвая. Ежели я в Америку убегал, то не один, а совращал с собой еще кого-нибудь, такого же дурака, как я, и рад был, когда мерз за заставой и когда меня пороли; ежели в разбойники уходил, то возвращался непременно с разбитой рожей. Беспокойнейшее детство, я вам доложу! А когда меня отдали в гимназию и осыпали там всякими истинами вроде того, что земля ходит вокруг солнца, или что белый цвет не белый, а состоит из семи цветов, закружилась моя головушка! Всё у меня полетело кувырком: и Навин, остановивший солнце, и мать, во имя пророка Илии отрицавшая громоотводы, и отец, равнодушный к истинам, которые я узнал. Мое прозрение вдохновило меня. Как шальной, ходил я по дому, по конюшням, проповедовал свои истины, приходил в ужас от невежества, пылал ненавистью ко всем, кто в белом цвете видел только белое... Впрочем, всё это пустяки и мальчишество. Серьезные же, так сказать, мужественные увлечения начались у меня с университета. Вы, сударыня, изволили где-нибудь окончить курс?— В Новочеркасске, в Донском институте.— А на курсах не были? Стало быть, вы не знаете, что такое науки. Все науки, сколько их есть на свете, имеют один и тот же паспорт, без которого они считают себя немыслимыми: стремление к истине! Каждая из них, даже какая-нибудь фармакогнозия, имеет своею целью не пользу, не удобства в жизни, а истину. Замечательно! Когда вы принимаетесь изучать какую-нибудь науку, то вас прежде всего поражает ее начало. Я вам скажу, нет ничего увлекательнее и грандиознее, ничто так не ошеломляет и не захватывает человеческого духа, как начало какой-нибудь науки. С первых же пяти-шести лекций вас уже окрыляют самые яркие надежды, вы уже кажетесь себе хозяином истины. И я отдался наукам беззаветно, страстно, как любимой женщине. Я был их рабом и, кроме них, не хотел знать никакого другого солнца. День и ночь, не разгибая спины, я зубрил, разорялся на книги, плакал, когда на моих глазах люди эксплоатировали науку ради личных целей. Но я не долго увлекался. Штука в том, что у каждой науки есть начало, но вовсе нет конца, всё равно, как у периодической дроби. Зоология открыла 35 000 видов насекомых, химия насчитывает 60 простых тел. Если со временем к этим цифрам прибавится справа по десяти нолей, зоология и химия так же будут далеки от своего конца, как и теперь, а вся современная научная работа заключается именно в приращении цифр. Сей фокус я уразумел, когда открыл 35 001-й вид и не почувствовал удовлетворения. Ну-с, разочарования я не успел пережить, так как скоро мною овладела новая вера. Я ударился в нигилизм с его прокламациями, черными переделами и всякими штуками. Ходил я в народ, служил на фабриках, в смазчиках, бурлаках. Потом, когда, шатаясь по Руси, я понюхал русскую жизнь, я обратился в горячего поклонника этой жизни. Я любил русский народ до страдания, любил и веровал в его бога, в язык, творчество... И так далее, и так далее... В свое время был я славянофилом, надоедал Аксакову письмами, и украйнофилом, и археологом, и собирателем образцов народного творчества... увлекался я идеями, людьми, событиями, местами... увлекался без перерыва! Пять лет тому назад я служил отрицанию собственности; последней моей верой было непротивление злу.Саша прерывисто вздохнула и задвигалась. Лихарев поднялся и подошел к ней.— Дружочек мой, не хочешь ли чаю? — спросил он нежно.— Пей сам! — грубо ответила девочка.Лихарев сконфузился и виноватой походкой вернулся к столу.— Значит, вам весело жилось, — сказала Иловайская. — Есть о чем вспомнить.— Ну да, всё это весело, когда сидишь за чаем с доброй собеседницей и болтаешь, но вы спросите, во что мне обошлась эта веселость? Что стоило мне разнообразие моей жизни? Ведь я, сударыня, веровал не как немецкий доктор философии, не цирлих-манирлих, не в пустыне я жил, а каждая моя вера гнула меня в дугу, рвала на части мое тело. Судите вы сами. Был я богат, как братья, но теперь я нищий. В чаду увлечений я ухлопал и свое состояние и женино — массу чужих денег. Мне теперь 42 года, старость на носу, а я бесприютен, как собака, которая отстала ночью от обоза. Во всю жизнь мою я не знал, что такое покой. Душа моя беспрерывно томилась, страдала даже надеждами... Я изнывал от тяжкого беспорядочного труда, терпел лишения, раз пять сидел в тюрьме, таскался по Архангельским и Тобольским губерниям... вспоминать больно! Я жил, но в чаду не чувствовал самого процесса жизни. Верите ли, я не помню ни одной весны, не замечал, как любила меня жена, как рождались мои дети. Что еще сказать вам? Для всех, кто любил меня, я был несчастьем... Моя мать вот уже 15 лет носит по мне траур, а мои гордые братья, которым приходилось из-за меня болеть душой, краснеть, гнуть свои спины, сорить деньгами, под конец возненавидели меня, как отраву.Лихарев поднялся и опять сел.— Если б я был только несчастлив, то я возблагодарил бы бога, — продолжал он, не глядя на Иловайскую. — Мое личное несчастье уходит на задний план, когда я вспоминаю, как часто в своих увлечениях я был нелеп, далек от правды, несправедлив, жесток, опасен! Как часто я всей душой ненавидел и презирал тех, кого следовало бы любить, и — наоборот. Изменял я тысячу раз. Сегодня я верую, падаю ниц, а завтра уж я трусом бегу от сегодняшних моих богов и друзей и молча глотаю подлеца, которого пускают мне вслед. Бог один видел, как часто от стыда за свои увлечения я плакал и грыз подушку. Ни разу в жизни я умышленно не солгал и не сделал зла, но нечиста моя совесть! Сударыня, я не могу даже похвастать, что на моей совести нет ничьей жизни, так как на моих же глазах умерла моя жена, которую я изнурил своею бесшабашностью. Да, моя жена! Послушайте, у нас в общежитии преобладают теперь два отношения к женщинам. Одни измеряют женские черепа, чтоб доказать, что женщина ниже мужчины, ищут ее недостатков, чтоб глумиться над ней, оригинальничать в ее же глазах и оправдать свою животность. Другие же из всех сил стараются поднять женщину до себя, т. е. заставить ее зазубрить 35 000 видов, говорить и писать те же глупости, какие они сами говорят и пишут...Лицо Лихарева потемнело.— А я вам скажу, что женщина всегда была и будет рабой мужчины, — заговорил он басом, стукнув кулаком по столу. — Она нежный, мягкий воск, из которого мужчина всегда лепил всё, что ему угодно. Господи боже мой, из-за грошового мужского увлечения она стригла себе волосы, бросала семью, умирала на чужбине... Между идеями, для которых она жертвовала собой, нет ни одной женской... Беззаветная, преданная раба! Черепов я не измерял, а говорю это по тяжкому, горькому опыту. Самые гордые самостоятельные женщины, если мне удавалось сообщать им свое вдохновение, шли за мной, не рассуждая, не спрашивая и делая всё, что я хотел; из монашенки я сделал нигилистку, которая, как потом я слышал, стреляла в жандарма; жена моя не оставляла меня в моих скитаниях ни на минуту и, как флюгер, меняла свою веру параллельно тому, как я менял свои увлечения.Лихарев вскочил и заходил по комнате.— Благородное, возвышенное рабство! — сказал он, всплескивая руками. — В нем-то именно и заключается высокий смысл женской жизни! Из страшного сумбура, накопившегося в моей голове за всё время моего общения с женщинами, в моей памяти, как в фильтре, уцелели не идеи, не умные слова, не философия, а эта необыкновенная покорность судьбе, это необычайное милосердие, всепрощение...Лихарев сжал кулаки, уставился в одну точку и с каким-то страстным напряжением, точно обсасывая каждое слово, процедил сквозь сжатые зубы:— Эта... эта великодушная выносливость, верность до могилы, поэзия сердца... Смысл жизни именно в этом безропотном мученичестве, в слезах, которые размягчают камень, в безграничной, всепрощающей любви, которая вносит в хаос жизни свет и теплоту...Иловайская медленно поднялась, сделала шаг к Лихареву и впилась глазами в его лицо. По слезам, которые блестели на его ресницах, по дрожавшему, страстному голосу, по румянцу щек для нее ясно было, что женщины были не случайною и не простою темою разговора. Они были предметом его нового увлечения или, как сам он говорил, новой веры! Первый раз в жизни Иловайская видела перед собой человека увлеченного, горячо верующего. Жестикулируя, сверкая глазами, он казался ей безумным, исступленным, но в огне его глаз, в речи, в движениях всего большого тела чувствовалось столько красоты, что она, сама того не замечая, стояла перед ним, как вкопанная, и восторженно глядела ему в лицо.— А возьмите вы мою мать! — говорил он, протягивая к ней руки и делая умоляющее лицо. — Я отравил ее существование, обесславил, по ее понятиям, род Лихаревых, причинил ей столько зла, сколько может причинить злейший враг, и — что же? Братья выдают ей гроши на просфоры и молебны, а она, насилуя свое религиозное чувство, копит эти деньги и тайком шлет их своему беспутному Григорию! Одна эта мелочь воспитает и облагородит душу гораздо сильнее, чем все теории, умные слова, 35 000 видов! Я вам могу тысячу примеров привести. Да вот хоть бы вас взять! На дворе вьюга, ночь, а вы едете к брату и отцу, чтобы в праздник согреть их лаской, хотя они, быть может, не думают, забыли о вас. А погодите, полюбите человека, так вы за ним на северный полюс пойдете. Ведь пойдете?— Да, если... полюблю.— Вот видите! — обрадовался Лихарев и даже ногою притопнул. — Ей-богу, так я рад, что с вами познакомился! Такая добрая моя судьба, всё я с великолепными людьми встречаюсь. Что ни день, то такое знакомство, что за человека просто бы душу отдал. На этом свете хороших людей гораздо больше, чем злых. Вот подите же, так мы с вами откровенно и по душам поговорили, как будто сто лет знакомы. Иной раз, доложу я вам, лет десять крепишься, молчишь, от друзей и жены скрытничаешь, а встретишь в вагоне кадета и всю ему душу выболтаешь. Вас я имею честь видеть только первый раз, а покаялся вам, как никогда не каялся. Отчего это?Потирая руки и весело улыбаясь, Лихарев прошелся по комнате и опять заговорил о женщинах. Между тем зазвонили к заутрене.— Господи! — заплакала Саша. — Он своими разговорами не дает мне спать!— Ах, да! — спохватился Лихарев. — Виноват, дружочек. Спи, спи... Кроме нее, у меня еще двое мальчиков есть, — зашептал он. — Те, сударыня, у дяди живут, а эта не может и дня продышать без отца. Страдает, ропщет, а липнет ко мне, как муха к меду. Я, сударыня, заболтался, а оно бы и вам не мешало отдохнуть. Не угодно ли, я сделаю вам постель?Не дожидаясь позволения, он встряхнул мокрый салоп и растянул его по скамье, мехом вверх, подобрал разбросанные платки и шали, положил у изголовья свернутое в трубку пальто, и всё это молча, с выражением подобострастного благоговения на лице, как будто возился не с женскими тряпками, а с осколками освященных сосудов. Во всей его фигуре было что-то виноватое, конфузливое, точно в присутствии слабого существа он стыдился своего роста и силы...Когда Иловайская легла, он потушил свечку и сел на табурет около печки.— Так-то, сударыня, — шептал он, закуривая толстую папиросу и пуская дым в печку. — Природа вложила в русского человека необыкновенную способность веровать, испытующий ум и дар мыслительства, но всё это разбивается в прах о беспечность, лень и мечтательное легкомыслие... Да-с...Иловайская удивленно вглядывалась в потемки и видела только красное пятно на образе и мелькание печного света на лице Лихарева. Потемки, колокольный звон, рев метели, хромой мальчик, ропщущая Саша, несчастный Лихарев и его речи — всё это мешалось, вырастало в одно громадное впечатление, и мир божий казался ей фантастичным, полным чудес и чарующих сил. Всё только что слышанное звучало в ее ушах, и жизнь человеческая представлялась ей прекрасной, поэтической сказкой, в которой нет конца.Громадное впечатление росло и росло, заволокло собой сознание и обратилось в сладкий сон. Иловайская спала, но видела лампадку и толстый нос, по которому прыгал красный свет.Слышала она плач.— Дорогой папа, — нежно умолял детский голос, — вернемся к дяде! Там елка! Там Степа и Коля!— Дружочек мой, что же я могу сделать? — убеждал тихий мужской бас. — Пойми меня! Ну, пойми!И к детскому плачу присоединился мужской. Этот голос человеческого горя среди воя непогоды коснулся слуха девушки такой сладкой, человеческой музыкой, что она не вынесла наслаждения и тоже заплакала. Слышала она потом, как большая черная тень тихо подходила к ней, поднимала с полу упавшую шаль и кутала ее ноги.Разбудил Иловайскую странный рев. Она вскочила и удивленно поглядела вокруг себя. В окна, наполовину занесенные снегом, глядела синева рассвета. В комнате стояли серые сумерки, сквозь которые ясно вырисовывались и печка, и спавшая девочка, и Наср-Эддин. Печь и лампадка уже потухли. В раскрытую настежь дверь видна была большая трактирная ком-пата с прилавком и столами. Какой-то человек, с тупым, цыганским лицом, с удивленными глазами, стоял посреди комнаты на луже растаявшего снега и держал на палке большую красную звезду. Его окружала толпа мальчишек, неподвижных, как статуи, и облепленных снегом. Свет звезды, проходя сквозь красную бумагу, румянил их мокрые лица. Толпа беспорядочно ревела, и из ее рева Иловайская поняла только один куплет:

Гей, ты, хлопчик маненький,
Бери ножик тоненький,
Убьем, убьем жида,
Прискорбного сына...

Около прилавка стоял Лихарев, глядел с умилением на певцов и притопывал в такт ногой. Увидев Иловайскую, он улыбнулся во всё лицо и подошел к ней. Она тоже улыбнулась.— С праздником! — сказал он. — Я видел, вы хорошо спали.Иловайская глядела на него, молчала и продолжала улыбаться.После ночных разговоров он уж казался ей не высоким, не широкоплечим, а маленьким, подобно тому, как нам кажется маленьким самый большой пароход, про который говорят, что он проплыл океан.— Ну, мне пора ехать, — сказала она. — Надо одеваться. Скажите, куда же вы теперь направляетесь?— Я-с? На станцию Клипушки, оттуда в Сергиево, а из Сергиева 40 верст на лошадях в угольные шахты одного дурня, некоего генерала Шашковского. Там мне братья место управляющего нашли... Буду уголь копать.— Позвольте, я эти шахты знаю. Ведь Шашковский мой дядя. Но... зачем вы туда едете? — спросила Иловайская, удивленно оглядывая Лихарева.— В управляющие. Шахтами управлять.— Не понимаю! — пожала плечами Иловайская. — Вы едете в шахты. Но ведь там голая степь, безлюдье, скука такая, что вы дня не проживете! Уголь отвратительный, никто его не покупает, а мой дядя маньяк, деспот, банкрот... Вы и жалованья не будете получать!— Всё равно, — сказал равнодушно Лихарев. — И за шахты спасибо.Иловайская пожала плечами и в волнении заходила по комнате.— Не понимаю, не понимаю! — говорила она, шевеля перед своим лицом пальцами. — Это невозможно и... и неразумно! Вы поймите, что это... это хуже ссылки, это могила для живого человека! Ах, господи, — горячо сказала она, подходя к Лихареву и шевеля пальцами перед его улыбающимся лицом; верхняя губа ее дрожала и колючее лицо побледнело. — Ну, представьте вы голую степь, одиночество. Там не с кем слова сказать, а вы... увлечены женщинами! Шахты и женщины!Иловайская вдруг устыдилась своей горячности и, отвернувшись от Лихарева, отошла к окну.— Нет, нет, вам туда нельзя ехать! — сказала она, быстро водя пальцем по стеклу.Не только душой, но даже спиной ощущала она, что позади нее стоит бесконечно несчастный, пропащий, заброшенный человек, а он, точно не сознавая своего несчастья, точно не он плакал ночью, глядел на нее и добродушно улыбался. Уж лучше бы он продолжал плакать! Несколько раз в волнении прошлась она по комнате, потом остановилась в углу и задумалась. Лихарев что-то говорил, но она его не слышала. Повернувшись к нему спиной, она вытащила из портмоне четвертную бумажку, долго мяла ее в руках и, оглянувшись на Лихарева, покраснела и сунула бумажку к себе в карман.За дверью послышался голос кучера. Иловайская молча, со строгим, сосредоточенным лицом, стала одеваться. Лихарев кутал ее и весело болтал, но каждое его слово ложилось на ее душу тяжестью. Невесело слушать, когда балагурят несчастные или умирающие.Когда было кончено превращение живого человека в бесформенный узел, Иловайская оглядела в последний раз «проезжающую», постояла молча и медленно вышла. Лихарев пошел проводить ее....А на дворе всё еще, бог знает чего ради, злилась зима. Целые облака мягкого крупного снега беспокойно кружились над землей и не находили себе места. Лошади, сани, деревья, бык, привязанный к столбу, — всё было бело и казалось мягким, пушистым.— Ну, дай бог вам, — бормотал Лихарев, усаживая Иловайскую в сани. — Не поминайте лихом...Иловайская молчала. Когда сани тронулись и стали объезжать большой сугроб, она оглянулась на Лихарева с таким выражением, как будто что-то хотела сказать ему. Тот подбежал к ней, но она не сказала ему ни слова, а только взглянула на него сквозь длинные ресницы, на которых висли снежинки...Сумела ли в самом деле его чуткая душа прочитать этот взгляд или, быть может, его обмануло воображение, но ему вдруг стало казаться, что еще бы два-три хороших, сильных штриха, и эта девушка простила бы ему его неудачи, старость, бездолье и пошла бы за ним, не спрашивая, не рассуждая. Долго стоял он, как вкопанный, и глядел на след, оставленный полозьями. Снежинки жадно садились на его волоса, бороду, плечи... Скоро след от полозьев исчез, и сам он, покрытый снегом, стал походить на белый утес, но глаза его всё еще искали чего-то в облаках снега.


В десятом часу темного сентябрьского вечера у земского доктора Кирилова скончался от дифтерита его единственный сын, шестилетний Андрей. Когда докторша опустилась на колени перед кроваткой умершего ребенка и ею овладел первый приступ отчаяния, в передней резко прозвучал звонок.По случаю дифтерита вся прислуга еще с утра была выслана из дому. Кирилов, как был, без сюртука, в расстегнутой жилетке, не вытирая мокрого лица и рук, обожженных карболкой, пошел сам отворять дверь. В передней было темно, и в человеке, который вошел, можно было различить только средний рост, белое кашне и большое, чрезвычайно бледное лицо, такое бледное, что, казалось, от появления этого лица в передней стало светлее...— Доктор у себя? — быстро спросил вошедший.— Я дома, — ответил Кирилов. — Что вам угодно?— А, это вы? Очень рад! — обрадовался вошедший и стал искать в потемках руку доктора, нашел ее и крепко стиснул в своих руках. — Очень... очень рад! Мы с вами знакомы!.. Я — Абогин... имел удовольствие видеть вас летом у Гнучева. Очень рад, что застал... Бога ради, не откажите поехать сейчас со мной... У меня опасно заболела жена... И экипаж со мной...По голосу и движениям вошедшего заметно было, что он находился в сильно возбужденном состоянии. Точно испуганный пожаром или бешеной собакой, он едва сдерживал свое частое дыхание и говорил быстро, дрожащим голосом, и что-то неподдельно искреннее, детски-малодушное звучало в его речи. Как все испуганные и ошеломленные, он говорил короткими, отрывистыми фразами и произносил много лишних, совсем не идущих к делу слов.— Я боялся не застать вас, — продолжал он. — Пока ехал к вам, исстрадался душой... Одевайтесь и едемте, ради бога... Произошло это таким образом. Приезжает ко мне Папчинский, Александр Семенович, которого вы знаете... Поговорили мы... потом сели чай пить; вдруг жена вскрикивает, хватает себя за сердце и падает на спинку стула. Мы отнесли ее на кровать и... я уж и нашатырным спиртом тер ей виски, и водой брызгал... лежит, как мертвая... Боюсь, что это аневризма... Поедемте... У нее и отец умер от аневризмы...Кирилов слушал и молчал, как будто не понимал русской речи.Когда Абогин еще раз упомянул про Папчинского и про отца своей жены и еще раз начал искать в потемках руку, доктор встряхнул головой и сказал, апатично растягивая каждое слово:— Извините, я не могу ехать... Минут пять назад у меня... умер сын...— Неужели? — прошептал Абогин, делая шаг назад. — Боже мой, в какой недобрый час я попал! Удивительно несчастный день... удивительно! Какое совпадение... и как нарочно!Абогин взялся за ручку двери и в раздумье поник головой. Он, видимо, колебался и не знал, что делать: уходить или продолжать просить доктора.— Послушайте, — горячо сказал он, хватая Кирилова за рукав, — я отлично понимаю ваше положение! Видит бог, мне стыдно, что я в такие минуты пытаюсь овладеть вашим вниманием, но что же мне делать? Судите сами, к кому я поеду? Ведь, кроме вас, здесь нет другого врача. Поедемте ради бога! Не за себя я прошу... Не я болен!Наступило молчание. Кирилов повернулся спиной к Абогину, постоял и медленно вышел из передней в залу. Судя по его неверной, машинальной походке, по тому вниманию, с каким он в зале поправил на негоревшей лампе мохнатый абажур и заглянул в толстую книгу, лежавшую на столе, в эти минуты у него не было ни намерений, ни желаний, ни о чем он не думал и, вероятно, уже не помнил, что у него в передней стоит чужой человек. Сумерки и тишина залы, по-видимому, усилили его ошалелость. Идя из залы к себе в кабинет, он поднимал правую ногу выше, чем следует, искал руками дверных косяков, и в это время во всей его фигуре чувствовалось какое-то недоумение, точно он попал в чужую квартиру или же первый раз в жизни напился пьян и теперь с недоумением отдавался своему новому ощущению. По одной стене кабинета, через шкапы с книгами, тянулась широкая полоса света; вместе с тяжелым, спертым запахом карболки и эфира этот свет шел из слегка отворенной двери, ведущей из кабинета в спальню... Доктор опустился в кресло перед столом; минуту он сонливо глядел на свои освещенные книги, потом поднялся и пошел в спальню.Здесь, в спальне, царил мертвый покой. Всё до последней мелочи красноречиво говорило о недавно пережитой буре, об утомлении, и всё отдыхало. Свечка, стоявшая на табурете в тесной толпе стклянок, коробок и баночек, и большая лампа на комоде ярко освещали всю комнату. На кровати, у самого окна, лежал мальчик с открытыми глазами и удивленным выражением лица. Он не двигался, пооткрытые глаза его, казалось, с каждым мгновением всё более темнели и уходили вовнутрь черепа. Положив руки на его туловище и спрятав лицо в складки постели, перед кроватью стояла на коленях мать. Подобно мальчику, она не шевелилась, но сколько живого движения чувствовалось в изгибах ее тела и в руках! Припадала она к кровати всем своим существом, с силой и жадностью, как будто боялась нарушить покойную и удобную позу, которую наконец нашла для своего утомленного тела. Одеяла, тряпки, тазы, лужи на полу, разбросанные повсюду кисточки и ложки, белая бутыль с известковой водой, самый воздух, удушливый и тяжелый, — всё замерло и казалось погруженным в покой.Доктор остановился около жены, засунул руки в карманы брюк и, склонив голову набок, устремил взгляд на сына. Лицо его выражало равнодушие, только по росинкам, блестевшим на его бороде, и заметно было, что он недавно плакал.Тот отталкивающий ужас, о котором думают, когда говорят о смерти, отсутствовал в спальне. Во всеобщем столбняке, в позе матери, в равнодушии докторского лица лежало что-то притягивающее, трогающее сердце, именно та тонкая, едва уловимая красота человеческого горя, которую не скоро еще научатся понимать и описывать и которую умеет передавать, кажется, одна только музыка. Красота чувствовалась и в угрюмой тишине; Кирилов и его жена молчали, не плакали, как будто, кроме тяжести потери, сознавали также и весь лиризм своего положения: как когда-то, в свое время, прошла их молодость, так теперь, вместе с этим мальчиком, уходило навсегда в вечность и их право иметь детей! Доктору 44 года, он уже сед и выглядит стариком; его поблекшей и больной жене 35 лет. Андрей был не только единственным, но и последним.В противоположность своей жене доктор принадлежал к числу натур, которые во время душевной боли чувствуют потребность в движении. Постояв около жены минут пять, он, высоко поднимая правую ногу, из спальни прошел в маленькую комнату, наполовину занятую большим, широким диваном; отсюда прошел в кухню. Поблуждав около печки и кухаркиной постели, он нагнулся и сквозь маленькую дверцу вышел в переднюю.Тут он опять увидел белое кашне и бледное лицо.— Наконец-то! — вздохнул Абогин, берясь за ручку двери. — Едемте, пожалуйста!Доктор вздрогнул, поглядел на него и вспомнил...— Послушайте, ведь я уже сказал вам, что мне нельзя ехать! — сказал он, оживляясь. — Как странно!— Доктор, я не истукан, отлично понимаю ваше положение... сочувствую вам! — сказал умоляющим голосом Абогин, прикладывая к своему кашне руку. — Но ведь я не за себя прошу... Умирает моя жена! Если бы вы слышали этот крик, видели ее лицо, то поняли бы мою настойчивость! Боже мой, а уж я думал, что вы пошли одеваться! Доктор, время дорого! Едемте, прошу вас!— Ехать я не могу! — сказал с расстановкой Кирилов и шагнул в залу.Абогин пошел за ним и схватил его за рукав.— У вас горе, я понимаю, но ведь приглашаю я вас не зубы лечить, не в эксперты, а спасать жизнь человеческую! — продолжал он умолять, как нищий. — Эта жизнь выше всякого личного горя! Ну, я прошу мужества, подвига! Во имя человеколюбия!— Человеколюбие — палка о двух концах! — раздраженно сказал Кирилов. — Во имя того же человеколюбия я прошу вас не увозить меня. И как странно, ей-богу! Я едва на ногах стою, а вы человеколюбием пугаете! Никуда я сейчас не годен... не поеду ни за что, да и на кого я жену оставлю? Нет, нет...Кирилов замахал кистями рук и попятился назад.— И... и не просите! — продолжал он испуганно. — Извините меня... По XIII тому законов я обязан ехать, и вы имеете право тащить меня за шиворот... Извольте, тащите, но... я не годен... Даже говорить не в состоянии... Извините...— Напрасно, доктор, вы говорите со мной таким тоном! — сказал Абогин, опять беря доктора за рукав. — Бог с ним, с XIII томом! Насиловать вашей воли я не имею никакого права. Хотите — поезжайте, не хотите — бог с вами, но я не к волей вашей обращаюсь, а к чувству. Умирает молодая женщина! Сейчас, вы говорите, у вас умер сын, кому же, как не вам, понять мой ужас?Голос Абогина дрожал от волнения; в этой дрожи и в тоне было гораздо больше убедительности, чем в словах. Абогин был искренен, но замечательно, какие бы фразы он ни говорил, все они выходили у него ходульными, бездушными, неуместно цветистыми и как будто даже оскорбляли и воздух докторской квартиры и умирающую где-то женщину. Он и сам это чувствовал, а потому, боясь быть непонятым, изо всех сил старался придать своему голосу мягкость и нежность, чтобы взять если не словами, то хотя бы искренностью тона. Вообще фраза, как бы она ни была красива и глубока, действует только на равнодушных, но не всегда может удовлетворить тех, кто счастлив или несчастлив; потому-то высшим выражением счастья или несчастья является чаще всего безмолвие; влюбленные понимают друг друга лучше, когда молчат, а горячая, страстная речь, сказанная на могиле, трогает только посторонних, вдове же и детям умершего кажется она холодной и ничтожной.Кирилов стоял и молчал. Когда Абогин сказал еще несколько фраз о высоком призвании врача, о самопожертвовании и проч., доктор спросил угрюмо:— Далеко ехать?— Что-то около 13—14 верст. У меня отличные лошади, доктор! Даю вам честное слово, что доставлю вас туда и обратно в один час. Только один час!Последние слова подействовали на доктора сильнее, чем ссылки на человеколюбие или призвание врача. Он подумал и сказал со вздохом:— Хорошо, едемте!Он быстро, уже верною походкой пошел к своему кабинету и немного погодя вернулся в длинном сюртуке. Мелко семеня возле него и шаркая ногами, обрадованный Абогин помог ему надеть пальто и вместе с ним вышел из дома.На дворе было темно, но светлее, чем в передней. В темноте уже ясно вырисовывалась высокая сутуловатая фигура доктора с длинной, узкой бородой и с орлиным носом. У Абогина, кроме бледного лица, теперь видна была его большая голова и маленькая, студенческая шапочка, едва прикрывавшая темя. Кашне белело только спереди, позади же оно пряталось за длинными волосами.— Верьте, я сумею оценить ваше великодушие, — бормотал Абогин, подсаживая доктора в коляску. — Мы живо домчимся. Ты же, Лука, голубчик, поезжай как можно скорее! Пожалуйста!Кучер ехал быстро. Сначала тянулся ряд невзрачных построек, стоявших вдоль больничного двора; всюду было темно, только в глубине двора из чьего-то окна, сквозь палисадник, пробивался яркий свет, да три окна верхнего этажа больничного корпуса казались бледнее воздуха. Затем коляска въехала в густые потемки; тут пахло грибной сыростью и слышался шёпот деревьев; вороны, разбуженные шумом колес, закопошились в листве и подняли тревожный жалобный крик, как будто знали, что у доктора умер сын, а у Абогина больна жена. Но вот замелькали отдельные деревья, кустарник; сверкнул угрюмо пруд, на котором спали большие черные тени, — и коляска покатила по гладкой равнине. Крик ворон слышался уже глухо, далеко сзади и скоро совсем умолк.Почти всю дорогу Кирилов и Абогин молчали. Только раз Абогин глубоко вздохнул и пробормотал:— Мучительное состояние! Никогда так не любишь близких, как в то время, когда рискуешь потерять их.И когда коляска тихо переезжала реку, Кирилов вдруг встрепенулся, точно его испугал плеск воды, и задвигался.— Послушайте, отпустите меня, — сказал он тоскливо. — Я к вам потом приеду. Мне бы только фельдшера к жене послать. Ведь она одна!Абогин молчал. Коляска, покачиваясь и стуча о камни, проехала песочный берег и покатила далее. Кирилов заметался в тоске и поглядел вокруг себя. Позади, сквозь скудный свет звезд, видна была дорога и исчезавшие в потемках прибрежные ивы. Направо лежала равнина, такая же ровная и безграничная, как небо; далеко на ней там и сям, вероятно, на торфяных болотах, горели тусклые огоньки. Налево, параллельно дороге, тянулся холм, кудрявый от мелкого кустарника, а над холмом неподвижно стоял большой полумесяц, красный, слегка подернутый туманом и окруженный мелкими облачками, которые, казалось, оглядывали его со всех сторон и стерегли, чтобы он не ушел.Во всей природе чувствовалось что-то безнадежное, больное; земля, как падшая женщина, которая одна сидит в темной комнате и старается не думать о прошлом, томилась воспоминаниями о весне и лете и апатично ожидала неизбежной зимы. Куда ни взглянешь, всюду природа представлялась темной, безгранично глубокой и холодной ямой, откуда не выбраться ни Кирилову, ни Абогину, ни красному полумесяцу...Чем ближе к цели была коляска, тем нетерпеливее становился Абогин. Он двигался, вскакивал, вглядывался через плечо кучера вперед. А когда, наконец, коляска остановилась у крыльца, красиво задрапированного полосатой холстиной, и когда он поглядел на освещенные окна второго этажа, слышно было, как дрожало его дыхание.— Если что случится, то... я не переживу, — сказал он, входя с доктором в переднюю и в волнении потирая руки. — Но не слышно суматохи, значит, пока еще благополучно, — прибавил он, вслушиваясь в тишину.В передней не слышно было ни голосов, ни шагов, и весь дом казался спавшим, несмотря на яркое освещение. Теперь уж доктор и Абогин, бывшие до сего времени в потемках, могли разглядеть друг друга. Доктор был высок, сутуловат, одет неряшливо и лицо имел некрасивое. Что-то неприятно резкое, неласковое и суровое выражали его толстые, как у негра, губы, орлиный нос и вялый, равнодушный взгляд. Его нечесаная голова, впалые виски, преждевременные седины на длинной, узкой бороде, сквозь которую просвечивал подбородок, бледно-серый цвет кожи и небрежные, угловатые манеры — всё это своею черствостью наводило на мысль о пережитой нужде, бездолье, об утомлении жизнью и людьми. Глядя на всю его сухую фигуру, не верилось, чтобы у этого человека была жена, чтобы он мог плакать о ребенке. Абогин же изображал из себя нечто другое. Это был плотный; солидный блондин, с большой головой и крупными, но мягкими чертами лица, одетый изящно, по самой последней моде. В его осанке, в плотно застегнутом сюртуке, в гриве и в лице чувствовалось что-то благородное, львиное; ходил он, держа прямо голову и выпятив вперед грудь, говорил приятным баритоном, и в манерах, с какими он снимал свое кашне или поправлял волосы на голове, сквозило тонкое, почти женское изящество. Даже бледность и детский страх, с каким он, раздеваясь, поглядывал вверх на лестницу, не портили его осанки и не умаляли сытости, здоровья и апломба, какими дышала вся его фигура.— Никого нет и ничего не слышно, — сказал он, идя по лестнице. — Суматохи нет. Дай-то бог!Он провел доктора через переднюю в большую залу, где темнел черный рояль и висела люстра в белом чехле; отсюда оба они прошли в маленькую, очень уютную и красивую гостиную, полную приятного розового полумрака.— Ну, посидите тут, доктор, — сказал Абогин, — а я... сейчас. Я пойду погляжу и предупрежу.Кирилов остался один. Роскошь гостиной, приятный полумрак и само его присутствие в чужом, незнакомом доме, имевшее характер приключения, по-видимому, не трогали его. Он сидел в кресле и разглядывал свои обожженные карболкой руки. Только мельком увидел он ярко-красный абажур, футляр от виолончели, да, покосившись в ту сторону, где тикали часы, он заметил чучело волка, такого же солидного и сытого, как сам Абогин.Было тихо... Где-то далеко в соседних комнатах кто-то громко произнес «а»!, прозвенела стеклянная дверь, вероятно, шкапа, и опять всё стихло. Подождав минут пять, Кирилов перестал оглядывать свои руки и поднял глаза на ту дверь, за которой скрылся Абогин.У порога этой двери стоял Абогин, но не тот, который вышел. Выражение сытости и тонкого изящества исчезло на нем, лицо его, и руки, и поза были исковерканы отвратительным выражением не то ужаса, не то мучительной физической боли. Его нос, губы, усы, все черты двигались и, казалось, старались оторваться от лица, глаза же как будто смеялись от боли...Абогин тяжело и широко шагнул на середину гостиной, согнулся, простонал и потряс кулаками.— Обманула! — крикнул он, сильно напирая на слог ну. — Обманула! Ушла! Заболела и услала меня за доктором для того только, чтобы бежать с этим шутом Папчинским! Боже мой!Абогин тяжело шагнул к доктору, протянул к его лицу свои белые мягкие кулаки и, потрясая ими, продолжал вопить:— Ушла!! Обманула! Ну, к чему же эта ложь?! Боже мой! Боже мой! К чему этот грязный, шулерский фокус, эта дьявольская, змеиная игра? Что я ей сделал? Ушла!Слезы брызнули у него из глаз. Он перевернулся на одной ноге и зашагал по гостиной. Теперь в своем коротком сюртуке, в модных узких брюках, в которых ноги казались не по корпусу тонкими, со своей большой головой и гривой он чрезвычайно походил на льва. На равнодушном лице доктора засветилось любопытство. Он поднялся и оглядел Абогина.— Позвольте, где же больная? — спросил он.— Больная! Больная! — крикнул Абогин, смеясь, плача и всё еще потрясая кулаками. — Это не больная, а проклятая! Низость! Подлость, гаже чего не придумал бы, кажется, сам сатана! Услала затем, чтобы бежать, бежать с шутом, тупым клоуном, альфонсом! О боже, лучше бы она умерла! Я не вынесу! Не вынесу я!Доктор выпрямился. Его глаза замигали, налились слезами, узкая борода задвигалась направо и налево вместе с челюстью.— Позвольте, как же это? — спросил он, с любопытством оглядываясь. — У меня умер ребенок, жена в тоске, одна на весь дом... сам я едва стою на ногах, три ночи не спал... и что же? Меня заставляют играть в какой-то пошлой комедии, играть роль бутафорской вещи! Не... не понимаю!Абогин разжал один кулак, швырнул на пол скомканную записку и наступил на нее, как на насекомое, которое хочется раздавить.— И я не видел... не понимал! — говорил он сквозь сжатые зубы, потрясая около своего лица одним кулаком и с таким выражением, как будто ему наступили на мозоль. — Я не замечал, что он ездит каждый день, не заметил, что он сегодня приехал в карете! Зачем в карете? И я не видел! Колпак!— Не... не понимаю! — бормотал доктор. — Ведь это что же такое! Ведь это глумление над личностью, издевательство над человеческими страданиями! Это что-то невозможное... первый раз в жизни вижу!С тупым удивлением человека, который только что стал понимать, что его тяжело оскорбили, доктор пожал плечами, развел руками и, не зная, что говорить, что делать, в изнеможении опустился в кресло.— Ну, разлюбила, полюбила другого — бог с тобой, но к чему же обман, к чему этот подлый, изменнический фортель? — говорил плачущим голосом Абогин. — К чему? И за что? Что я тебе сделал? Послушайте, доктор, — горячо сказал он, подходя к Кирилову. — Вы были невольным свидетелем моего несчастья, и я не стану скрывать от вас правды. Клянусь вам, что я любил эту женщину, любил набожно, как раб! Для нее я пожертвовал всем: поссорился с родней, бросил службу и музыку, прощал ей то, чего не сумел бы простить матери или сестре... Ни разу я не поглядел на нее косо... не подавал никакого повода! За что же эта ложь? Я не требую любви, но зачем этот гнусный обман? Не любишь, так скажи прямо, честно, тем более, что знаешь мои взгляды на этот счет...Со слезами на глазах, дрожа всем телом, Абогин искренно изливал перед доктором свою душу. Он говорил горячо, прижимая обе руки к сердцу, разоблачал свои семейные тайны без малейшего колебания и как будто даже рад был, что наконец эти тайны вырвались наружу из его груди. Поговори он таким образом час, другой, вылей свою душу, и, несомненно, ему стало бы легче. Кто знает, выслушай его доктор, посочувствуй ему дружески, быть может, он, как это часто случается, примирился бы со своим горем без протеста, не делая ненужных глупостей... Но случилось иначе. Пока Абогин говорил, оскорбленный доктор заметно менялся. Равнодушие и удивление на его лице мало-помалу уступили место выражению горькой обиды, негодования и гнева. Черты лица его стали еще резче, черствее и неприятнее. Когда Абогин поднес к его глазам карточку молодой женщины с красивым, но сухим и невыразительным, как у монашенки, лицом и спросил, можно ли, глядя на это лицо, допустить, что оно способно выражать ложь, доктор вдруг вскочил, сверкнул глазами и сказал, грубо отчеканивая каждое слово:— Зачем вы всё это говорите мне? Не желаю я слушать! Не желаю! — крикнул он и стукнул кулаком по столу. — Не нужны мне ваши пошлые тайны, чёрт бы их взял! Не смеете вы говорить мне эти пошлости! Или вы думаете, что я еще недостаточно оскорблен? Что я лакей, которого до конца можно оскорблять? Да?Абогин попятился от Кирилова и изумленно уставился на него.— Зачем вы меня сюда привезли? — продолжал доктор, тряся бородой. — Если вы с жиру женитесь, с жиру беситесь и разыгрываете мелодрамы, то при чем тут я? Что у меня общего с вашими романами? Оставьте меня в покое! Упражняйтесь в благородном кулачестве, рисуйтесь гуманными идеями, играйте (доктор покосился на футляр с виолончелью) — играйте на контрабасах и тромбонах, жирейте, как каплуны, но не смейте глумиться над личностью! Не умеете уважать ее, так хоть избавьте ее от вашего внимания!— Позвольте, что это всё значит? — спросил Абогин, краснея.— А то значит, что низко и подло играть так людьми! Я врач, вы считаете врачей и вообще рабочих, от которых не пахнет духами и проституцией, своими лакеями и моветонами 1, ну и считайте, но никто не дал вам права делать из человека, который страдает, бутафорскую вещь!— Как вы смеете говорить мне это? — спросил тихо Абогин, и его лицо опять запрыгало и на этот раз уже ясно от гнева.— Нет, как вы, зная, что у меня горе, смели привезти меня сюда выслушивать пошлости? — крикнул доктор и опять стукнул кулаком по столу. — Кто вам дал право так издеваться над чужим горем?— Вы с ума сошли! — крикнул Абогин. — Не великодушно! Я сам глубоко несчастлив и... и...— Несчастлив, — презрительно ухмыльнулся доктор. — Не трогайте этого слова, оно вас не касается. Шалопаи, которые не находят денег под вексель, тоже называют себя несчастными. Каплун, которого давит лишний жир, тоже несчастлив. Ничтожные люди!— Милостивый государь, вы забываетесь! — взвизгнул Абогин. — За такие слова... бьют! Понимаете?Абогин торопливо полез к боковой карман, вытащил оттуда бумажник и, достав две бумажки, швырнул их на стол.— Вот вам за ваш визит! — сказал он, шевеля ноздрями. — Вам заплачено!— Не смеете вы предлагать мне деньги! — крикнул доктор и смахнул со стола на пол бумажки. — За оскорбление деньгами не платят!Абогин и доктор стояли лицом к лицу и в гневе продол/кали наносить друг другу незаслуженные оскорбления. Кажется, никогда в жизни, даже в бреду, они не сказали столько несправедливого, жестокого и нелепого. В обоих сильно сказался эгоизм несчастных. Несчастные эгоистичны, злы, несправедливы, жестоки и менее, чем глупцы, способны понимать друг друга. Не соединяет, а разъединяет людей несчастье, и даже там, где, казалось бы, люди должны быть связаны однородностью горя, проделывается гораздо больше несправедливостей и жестокостей, чем в среде сравнительно довольной.— Извольте отправить меня домой! — крикнул доктор, задыхаясь.Абогин резко позвонил. Когда на его зов никто не явился, он еще раз позвонил и сердито швырнул колокольчик на пол; тот глухо ударился о ковер и издал жалобный, точно предсмертный стон. Явился лакей.— Где вы попрятались, чёрт бы вас взял?! — набросился на него хозяин, сжимая кулаки. — Где ты был сейчас? Пошел, скажи, чтобы этому господину подали коляску, а для меня вели заложить карету! Постой! — крикнул он, когда лакей повернулся уходить. — Завтра чтоб ни одного предателя не оставалось в доме! Все вон! Нанимаю новых! Гадины!В ожидании экипажей Абогин и доктор молчали. К первому уже вернулись и выражение сытости и тонкое изящество. Он шагал по гостиной, изящно встряхивал головой и, очевидно, что-то замышлял. Гнев его еще не остыл, но он старался показывать вид, что не замечает своего врага... Доктор же стоял, держался одной рукой о край стола и глядел на Абогина с тем глубоким, несколько циничным и некрасивым презрением, с каким умеют глядеть только горе и бездолье, когда видят перед собой сытость и изящество.Когда немного погодя доктор сел в коляску и поехал, глаза его всё еще продолжали глядеть презрительно. Было темно, гораздо темнее, чем час тому назад. Красный полумесяц уже ушел за холм, и сторожившие его тучи темными пятнами лежали около звезд. Карета с красными огнями застучала по дороге и перегнала доктора. Это ехал Абогин протестовать, делать глупости...Всю дорогу доктор думал не о жене, не об Андрее, а об Абогине и людях, живших в доме, который он только что оставил. Мысли его были несправедливы и нечеловечно жестоки. Осудил он и Абогина, и его жену, и Папчинского, и всех, живущих в розовом полумраке и пахнущих духами, и всю дорогу ненавидел их ж презирал до боли в сердце. И в уме его сложилось крепкое убеждение об этих людях.Пройдет время, пройдет и горе Кирилова, но это убеждение, несправедливое, недостойное человеческого сердца, не пройдет и останется в уме доктора до самой могилы.


Иван Алексеевич Огнев помнит, как в тот августовский вечер он со звоном отворил стеклянную дверь и вышел на террасу. На нем была тогда легкая крылатка и широкополая соломенная шляпа, та самая, которая вместе с ботфортами валяется теперь в пыли под кроватью. В одной руке он держал большую вязку книг и тетрадей, в другой — толстую, суковатую палку.За дверью, освещая ему путь лампой, стоял хозяин дома, Кузнецов, лысый старик с длинной седой бородой и в белом, как снег, пикейном пиджаке. Старик благодушно улыбался и кивал головой.— Прощайте, старче! — крикнул ему Огнев.Кузнецов поставил лампу на столик и вышел на террасу. Две длинные, узкие тени шагнули через ступени к цветочным клумбам, закачались и уперлись головами в стволы лип.— Прощайте, и еще раз спасибо, голубчик! — сказал Иван Алексеич. — Спасибо вам за ваше радушие, за ваши ласки, за вашу любовь... Никогда, во веки веков не забуду вашего гостеприимства. И вы хороший, и дочка ваша хорошая, и все у вас тут добрые, веселые, радушные... Такая великолепная публика, что и сказать не умею!От избытка чувств и под влиянием только что выпитой наливки, Огнев говорил певучим семинарским голосом и был так растроган, что выражал свои чувства не столько словами, сколько морганьем глаз и подергиваньем плеч. Кузнецов, тоже подвыпивший и растроганный, потянулся к молодому человеку и поцеловался с ним.— Привык я к вам, как легавый! — продолжал Огнев. — Почти каждый день к вам шлялся, раз десять ночевал, а наливки выпил столько, что теперь вспоминать страшно. А главное, за что спасибо, Гавриил Петрович, так это за ваше содействие и помощь. Без вас я со своей статистикой до октября бы тут возился. Так и напишу в предисловии: считаю долгом выразить мою благодарность председателю N-ской уездной земской управы Кузнецову за его любезное содействие. У статистики бле-естящая будущность! Вере Гавриловне нижайший поклон, а докторам, обоим следователям и вашему секретарю передайте, что никогда не забуду их помощи! А теперь, старче, обымем друг друга и сотворим последнее лобзание.Раскисший Огнев еще раз поцеловался со стариком и стал спускаться вниз. На последней ступени он оглянулся и спросил:— Увидимся еще когда-нибудь?— Бог знает! — ответил старик. — Вероятно, никогда!— Да, правда! В Питер вас и калачом не заманишь, а я едва ли еще попаду когда-нибудь в этот уезд. Ну, прощайте!— Вы бы книги тут оставили! — крикнул ему вслед Кузнецов. — Что вам за охота тащить такую тяжесть? Я вам завтра их с человеком прислал бы.Но Огнев уже не слушал и быстро удалялся от дома. На душе его, подогретой вином, было и весело, и тепло, и грустно... Он шел и думал о том, как часто приходится в жизни встречаться с хорошими людьми и как жаль, что от этих встреч не остается ничего больше, кроме воспоминаний. Бывает так, что на горизонте мелькнут журавли, слабый ветер донесет их жалобно-восторженный крик, а через минуту, с какою жадностью ни вглядывайся в синюю даль, не увидишь ни точки, не услышишь ни звука — так точно люди с их лицами и речами мелькают в жизни и утопают в нашем прошлом, не оставляя ничего больше, кроме ничтожных следов памяти. Живя с самой весны в N-ском уезде и бывая почти каждый день у радушных Кузнецовых, Иван Алексеич привык, как к родным, к старику, к его дочери, к прислуге, изучил до тонкостей весь дом, уютную террасу, изгибы аллей, силуэты деревьев над кухней и баней; но выйдет он сейчас за калитку, и всё это обратится в воспоминание и утеряет для него навсегда свое реальное значение, а пройдет год-два, и все эти милые образы потускнеют в сознании наравне с вымыслами и плодами фантазии.«В жизни ничего нет дороже людей! — думал растроганный Огнев, шагая по аллее к калитке. — Ничего!»В саду было тихо и тепло. Пахло резедой, табаком и гелиотропом, которые еще не успели отцвести на клумбах. Промежутки между кустами и стволами деревьев были полны тумана, негустого, нежного, пропитанного насквозь лунным светом, и, что надолго осталось в памяти Огнева, клочья тумана, похожие на привидения, тихо, но заметно для глаза, ходили друг за дружкой поперек аллей. Луна стояла высоко над садом, а ниже ее куда-то на восток неслись прозрачные туманные пятна. Весь мир, казалось, состоял только из черных силуэтов и бродивших белых теней, а Огнев, наблюдавший туман в лунный августовский вечер чуть ли не первый раз в жизни, думал, что он видит не природу, а декорацию, где неумелые пиротехники, желая осветить сад белым бенгальским огнем, засели под кусты и вместе со светом напустили в воздух и белого дыма.Когда Огнев подходил к садовой калитке, от невысокого палисадника отделилась темная тень и пошла к нему навстречу.— Вера Гавриловна! — обрадовался он. — Вы тут? А я искал-искал, хотел проститься... Прощайте, я ухожу!— Так рано? Ведь еще одиннадцать часов.— Нет, пора! Идти пять верст, да еще укладываться нужно. Завтра рано вставать...Перед Огневым стояла дочь Кузнецова, Вера, девушка 21 года, по обыкновению грустная, небрежно одетая и интересная. Девушки, которые много мечтают и по целым дням читают лежа и лениво всё, что попадается им под руки, которые скучают и грустят, одеваются вообще небрежно. Тем из них, которых природа одарила вкусом и инстинктом красоты, эта легкая небрежность в одежде придает особую прелесть. По крайней мере, Огнев, вспоминая впоследствии о хорошенькой Верочке, не мог себе представить ее без просторной кофточки, которая мялась у талии в глубокие складки и все-таки не касалась стана, без локона, выбившегося на лоб из высокой прически, без того красного вязаного платка с мохнатыми шариками по краям, который вечерами, как флаг в тихую погоду, уныло виснул на плече Верочки, а днем валялся скомканный в передней около мужских шапок или же в столовой на сундуке, где бесцеремонно спала на нем старая кошка. От этого платка и от складок кофточки так и веяло свободною ленью, домоседством, благодушием. Быть может, оттого, что Вера нравилась Огневу, он в каждой пуговке и оборочке умел читать что-то теплое, уютное, наивное, что-то такое хорошее и поэтичное, чего именно не хватает у женщин неискренних, лишенных чувства красоты и холодных.Верочка была хорошо сложена, имела правильный профиль и красивые вьющиеся волосы. Огневу, который на своем веку мало видел женщин, она казалась красавицей.— Уезжаю! — говорил он, прощаясь с нею около калитки. — Не поминайте лихом! Спасибо за всё!Тем же певучим семинарским голосом, каким он беседовал со стариком, так же моргая и подергивая плечами, стал он благодарить Веру за гостеприимство, ласки и радушие.— О вас писал я матери в каждом письме, — говорил он. — Если бы все такие были, как вы да ваш батька, то не житье было бы на свете, а масленая. У вас вся публика великолепная! Народ всё простой, сердечный, искренний.— Вы теперь куда едете? — спросила Вера.— Теперь еду к матери в Орел, побуду у нее недельки две, а там — в Питер на работу.— А потом?— Потом? Всю зиму проработаю, а весной опять куда-нибудь в уезд материалы собирать. Ну, будьте счастливы, живите сто лет... не поминайте лихом. Больше не увидимся.Огнев нагнулся и поцеловал Верочкину руку. Затем в молчаливом волнении он поправил на себе крылатку, взял поудобнее вязку книг, помолчал и сказал:— Туману-то сколько навалило!— Да. Вы у нас ничего не забыли?— Что же? Кажется, ничего...Несколько секунд Огнев постоял молча, потом неуклюже повернулся к калитке и вышел из сада.— Постойте, я вас до нашего леса провожу, — сказала Вера, выходя за ним.Они пошли по дороге. Теперь уж деревья не заслоняли простора и можно было видеть небо и даль. Точно прикрытая вуалью, вся природа пряталась за прозрачную матовую дымку, сквозь которую весело смотрела ее красота; туман, что погуще и побелее, неравномерно ложился около копен и кустов или клочьями бродил через дорогу, жался к земле и как будто старался не заслонять собой простора. Сквозь дымку видна была вся дорога до леса с темными канавами по бокам и с мелкими кустами, которые росли в канавах и мешали бродить туманным клочьям. В полуверсте от калитки темнела полоса кузнецовского леса.«Зачем она со мной пошла? Ведь ее придется провожать назад!» — подумал Огнев, но, поглядев на профиль Веры, он ласково улыбнулся и сказал:— Не хочется уезжать в такую хорошую погоду! Вечер настоящий романический, с луной, с тишиной и со всеми онерами. Знаете что, Вера Гавриловна? Живу я на свете 29 лет, но у меня в жизни ни разу романа не было. Во всю жизнь ни одной романической истории, так что с рандеву 1, с аллеями вздохов и поцелуями я знаком только понаслышке. Ненормально! В городе, когда сидишь у себя в номере, не замечаешь этого пробела, но тут, на свежем воздухе, он сильно чувствуется... Как-то обидно делается!— Отчего же вы так?— Не знаю. Вероятно, всю жизнь некогда было, а может быть, просто встречаться не приходилось с такими женщинами, которые... Вообще у меня мало знакомых, и я нигде не бываю.Шагов триста молодые люди прошли молча. Огнев поглядывал на открытую голову и платок Верочки, и в душе его один за другим воскресали весенние и летние дни; то было время, когда вдали от своего серого петербургского номера, наслаждаясь ласками хороших людей, природой и любимым трудом, не успевал он замечать, как утренние зори сменялись вечерними и как один за другим, пророча конец лета, переставали петь сначала соловей, потом перепел, а немного позже коростель... Время летело незаметно, значит, жилось хорошо и легко... Стал он припоминать вслух о том, с какою неохотою он, небогатый, непривычный к движениям и людям, в конце апреля ехал сюда в N-ский уезд, где ожидал встретить скуку, одиночество и равнодушие к статистике, которая, по его мнению, среди наук занимает теперь самое видное место. Приехав апрельским утром в уездный городишко N., он остановился на постоялом дворе старовера Рябухина, где за двугривенный в сутки ему дали светлую и чистую комнату с условием, что курить он будет на улице. Отдохнув и справившись, кто в уезде состоит председателем земской управы, он немедля пошел пешком к Гавриилу Петровичу. Пришлось идти четыре версты роскошными лугами и молодыми рощами. Под облаками, заливая воздух серебряными звуками, дрожали жаворонки, а над зеленеющими пашнями, солидно и чинно взмахивая крыльями, носились грачи.— Господи, — удивлялся тогда Огнев, — неужели тут всегда дышат таким воздухом, или это так пахнет только сегодня, ради моего приезда?Ожидая сухого делового приема, к Кузнецовым вошел он несмело, глядя исподлобья и застенчиво теребя свою бородку. Старик сначала морщил лоб и не понимал, зачем это молодому человеку и его статистике могла понадобиться земская управа, но когда тот пространно объяснил ему, что такое статистический материал и где он собирается, Гавриил Петрович оживился, заулыбался и с ребяческим любопытством стал заглядывать в его тетрадки... Вечером того же дня Иван Алексеич уже сидел у Кузнецовых за ужином, быстро хмелел от крепкой наливки и, глядя на покойные лица и ленивые движения своих новых знакомых, чувствовал во всем своем теле сладкую, дремотную лень, когда хочется спать, потягиваться, улыбаться. А новые знакомые благодушно оглядывали его и спрашивали, живы ли у него отец и мать, сколько он зарабатывает в месяц, часто ли бывает в театрах...Припомнил Огнев свои разъезды по волостям, пикники, рыбные ловли, поездку всем обществом в девичий монастырь к игуменье Марфе, которая каждому из гостей подарила по бисерному кошельку, припомнил горячие, нескончаемые, чисто русские споры, когда спорщики, брызжа и стуча кулаками по столу, не понимают и перебивают друг друга, сами того не замечая, противоречат себе в каждой фразе, то и дело меняют тему и, поспорив часа два-три, смеются:— Чёрт знает, из-за чего мы спор подняли! Начали о здравии, а кончили за упокой!— А помните, как я, вы и доктор ездили верхом в Шестово? — говорил Иван Алексеич Вере, подходя с нею к лесу. — Тогда еще нам юродивый встретился. Я дал ему пятак, а он три раза перекрестился и бросил мой пятак в рожь. Господи, столько я увожу с собой впечатлений, что если бы можно было собрать их в компактную массу, то получился бы хороший слиток золота! Не понимаю, зачем это умные и чувствующие люди теснятся в столицах и не идут сюда? Разве на Невском и в больших сырых домах больше простора и правды, чем здесь? Право, мне мои меблированные комнаты, сверху донизу начиненные художниками, учеными и журналистами, всегда казались предрассудком.В двадцати шагах от леса через дорогу лежал небольшой узкий мостик со столбиками по углам, который всегда во время вечерних прогулок служил Кузнецовым и их гостям маленькой станцией. Отсюда желающие могли дразнить лесное эхо и видно было, как дорога исчезала в черной просеке.— Ну, вот и мостик! — сказал Огнев. — Тут вам поворачивать назад...Вера остановилась и перевела дух.— Давайте посидим, — сказала она, садясь на один из столбиков. — Перед отъездом, когда прощаются, обыкновенно все садятся.Огнев примостился возле нее на своей вязке книг и продолжал говорить. Она тяжело дышала от ходьбы и глядела не на Ивана Алексеича, а куда-то в сторону, так что ему не видно было ее лица.— И вдруг лет через десять мы встретимся, — говорил он. — Какие мы тогда будем? Вы будете уже почтенною матерью семейства, а я автором какого-нибудь почтенного, никому не нужного статистического сборника, толстого, как сорок тысяч сборников. Встретимся и вспомянем старину... Теперь мы чувствуем настоящее, оно нас наполняет и волнует, а тогда, при встрече, мы уж не будем помнить ни числа, ни месяца, ни даже года, когда виделись в последний раз на этом мостике. Вы, пожалуй, изменитесь... Послушайте, вы изменитесь?Вера вздрогнула и повернулась к нему лицом.— Что? — спросила она.— Я вас спрашивал сейчас...— Простите, я не слышала, что вы говорили.Тут только Огнев заметил в Вере перемену. Она была бледна, задыхалась, и дрожь ее дыхания сообщалась и рукам, и губам, и голове, и из прически выбивался на лоб не один локон, как всегда, а два... Видимо она избегала глядеть прямо в глаза и, стараясь замаскировать волнение, то поправляла воротничок, который как будто резал ей шею, то перетаскивала свой красный платок с одного плеча на другое...— Вам, кажется, холодно, — сказал Огнев. — Сидеть в тумане не совсем-то здорово. Давайте-ка я провожу вас нах гауз 2.Вера молчала.— Что с вами? — улыбнулся Иван Алексеич. — Вы молчите и не отвечаете на вопросы. Нездоровы вы или сердитесь? А?Вера крепко прижала ладонь к щеке, обращенной в сторону Огнева, и тотчас же резко отдернула ее.— Ужасное положение... — прошептала она с выражением сильной боли на лице. — Ужасное!— Чем же оно ужасное? — спросил Огнев, пожимая плечами и не скрывая своего удивления. — В чем дело?Всё еще тяжело дыша и вздрагивая плечами, Вера повернулась к нему спиной, полминуты глядела на небо и сказала:— Мне нужно поговорить с вами, Иван Алексеич...— Я слушаю.— Вам, может быть, покажется странным... вы удивитесь, но мне всё равно...Огнев еще раз пожал плечами и приготовился слушать.— Вот что... — начала Верочка, наклоняя голову и теребя пальцами шарик платка. — Видите ли, я вам вот что... хотела сказать... Вам покажется странным и... глупым, а я... я больше не могу.Речь Веры перешла в неясное бормотанье и вдруг оборвалась плачем. Девушка закрыла лицо платком, еще ниже нагнулась и горько заплакала. Иван Алексеич смущенно крякнул и, изумляясь, не зная, что говорить и делать, безнадежно поглядел вокруг себя. От непривычки к плачу и слезам у него у самого зачесались глаза.— Ну, вот еще! — забормотал он растерянно. — Вера Гавриловна, ну к чему это, спрашивается? Голубушка, вы... вы больны? Или вас кто обидел? Вы скажите, быть может, я того... сумею помочь...Когда он, пытаясь утешить ее, позволил себе осторожно отнять от ее лица руки, она улыбнулась ему сквозь слезы и проговорила:— Я... я люблю вас!Эти слова, простые и обыкновенные, были сказаны простым человеческим языком, но Огнев в сильном смущении отвернулся от Веры, поднялся и вслед за смущением почувствовал испуг.Грусть, теплота и сентиментальное настроение, навеянные на него прощанием и наливкой, вдруг исчезли, уступив место резкому, неприятному чувству неловкости. Точно перевернулась в нем душа, он косился на Веру, и теперь она, после того как, объяснившись ему в любви, сбросила с себя неприступность, которая так красит женщину, казалась ему как будто ниже ростом, проще, темнее.«Что же это такое? — ужаснулся он про себя. — Но ведь я же ее... люблю или нет? Вот задача-то!»А она, когда самое главное и тяжелое наконец было сказано, дышала уже легко и свободно. Она тоже поднялась и, глядя прямо в лицо Ивана Алексеича, стала говорить быстро, неудержимо, горячо.Как человек, внезапно испуганный, не может потом вспомнить порядка, с каким чередовались звуки ошеломившей его катастрофы, так и Огнев не помнят слов и фраз Веры. Ему памятны только содержание ее речи, она сама и то ощущение, которое производила в нем ее речь. Он помнит как будто придушенный, несколько сиплый от волнения голос и необыкновенную музыку и страстность в интонации. Плача, смеясь, сверкая слезинками на ресницах, она говорила ему, что с первых же дней знакомства он поразил ее своею оригинальностью, умом, добрыми, умными глазами, своими задачами и целями жизни, что она полюбила его страстно, безумно и глубоко; что когда, бывало, летом она входила из сада в дом и видела в передней его крылатку или слышала издали его голос, то сердце ее обливалось холодком, предчувствием счастья; его даже пустые шутки заставляли ее хохотать, в каждой цифре его тетрадок она видела что-то необыкновенно разумное и грандиозное, его суковатая палка представлялась ей прекрасней деревьев.И лес, и туманные клочья, и черные канавы по бокам дороги, казалось, притихли, слушая ее, а в душе Огнева происходило что-то нехорошее и странное... Объясняясь в любви, Вера была пленительно хороша, говорила красиво и страстно, но он испытывал не наслаждение, не жизненную радость, как бы хотел, а только чувство сострадания к Вере, боль и сожаление, что из-за него страдает хороший человек. Бог его знает, заговорил ли в нем книжный разум, или сказалась неодолимая привычка к объективности, которая так часто мешает людям жить, но только восторги и страдание Веры казались ему приторными, несерьезными, и в то же время чувство возмущалось в нем и шептало, что всё, что он видит и слышит теперь, с точки зрения природы и личного счастья, серьезнее всяких статистик, книг, истин... И он злился и винил себя, хотя и не понимал, в чем именно заключается вина его.В довершение неловкости он решительно не знал, что ему говорить, а говорить было необходимо. Сказать прямо «я вас не люблю» ему было не под силу, а сказать «да» он не мог, потому что, как ни рылся, не находил в своей душе даже искорки...Он молчал, а она между тем говорила, что для нее нет выше счастья, как видеть его, идти за ним, хоть сейчас, куда он хочет, быть его женой и помощницей, что если он уйдет от нее, то она умрет с тоски...— Я не могу здесь оставаться! — сказала она, ломая руки. — Мне опостылели и дом, и этот лес, и воздух. Я не выношу постоянного покоя и бесцельной жизни, не выношу наших бесцветных и бледных людей, которые все похожи один на другого, как капли воды! Все они сердечны и добродушны, потому что сыты, не страдают, не борются... А я хочу именно в большие, сырые дома, где страдают, ожесточены трудом и нуждой...И это казалось Огневу приторным и несерьезным. Когда Вера кончила, он всё еще не знал, что говорить, но молчать нельзя было, и он забормотал:— Я, Вера Гавриловна, очень благодарен вам, хотя чувствую, что ничем не заслужил такого... с вашей стороны... чувства. Во-вторых, как честный человек, я должен сказать, что... счастье основано на равновесии, то есть когда обе стороны... одинаково любят...Но тотчас же Огнев устыдился своего бормотания и замолчал. Он чувствовал, что в это время лицо у него было глупо, виновато, плоско, что оно было напряжено и натянуто... Вера, должно быть, сумела прочесть на его лице правду, потому что стала вдруг серьезной, побледнела и поникла головой.— Вы извините меня, — пробормотал Огнев, не вынося молчания. — Я вас настолько уважаю, что... мне больно!Вера резко повернулась и быстро пошла назад к усадьбе. Огнев последовал за ней.— Нет, не надо! — сказала Вера, махнув ему кистью руки. — Не идите, я сама дойду...— Нет, все-таки... нельзя не проводить...Что ни говорил Огнев, всё до последнего слова казалось ему отвратительным и плоским. Чувство вины росло в нем с каждым шагом. Он злился, сжимал кулаки и проклинал свою холодность и неумение держать себя с женщинами. Стараясь возбудить себя, он глядел на красивый стан Верочки, на ее косу и следы, которые оставляли на пыльной дороге ее маленькие ножки, припоминал ее слова и слезы, но всё это только умиляло, но не раздражало его души.«Ах, да нельзя же насильно полюбить! — убеждал он себя и в то же время думал: — Когда же я полюблю не насильно? Ведь мне уже под 30! Лучше Веры я никогда не встречал женщин и никогда не встречу... О, собачья старость! Старость в 30 лет!»Вера шла впереди него всё быстрее и быстрее, не оглядываясь и поникнув головой. Ему казалось, что с горя она осунулась, сузилась в плечах...«Воображаю, что творится теперь у нее на душе! — думал он, глядя ей в спину. — Небось, и стыдно, и больно до того, что умирать хочется! Господи, столько во всем этом жизни, поэзии, смысла, что камень бы тронулся, а я... я глуп и нелеп!»У калитки Вера мельком взглянула на него и, согнувшись, кутаясь в платок, быстро пошла по аллее.Иван Алексеич остался один. Возвращаясь назад к лесу, он шел медленно, то и дело останавливался и оглядывался на калитку с таким выражением во всей своей фигуре, как будто не верил себе. Он искал глазами по дороге следов Верочкиных ног и не верил, что девушка, которая так нравилась ему, только что объяснилась ему в любви и что он так неуклюже и топорно «отказал» ей! Первый раз в жизни ему приходилось убедиться на опыте, как мало зависит человек от своей доброй воли, и испытать на себе самом положение порядочного и сердечного человека, против воли причиняющего своему ближнему жестокие, незаслуженные страдания.У него болела совесть, а когда скрылась Вера, ему стало казаться, что он потерял что-то очень дорогое, близкое, чего уже не найти ему. Он чувствовал, что с Верой ускользнула от него часть его молодости и что минуты, которые он так бесплодно пережил, уже более не повторятся.Дойдя до мостика, он остановился и задумался. Ему хотелось найти причину своей странной холодности. Что она лежала не вне, а в нем самом, для него было ясно. Искренно сознался он перед собой, что это не рассудочная холодность, которою так часто хвастают умные люди, не холодность себялюбивого глупца, а просто бессилие души, неспособность воспринимать глубоко красоту, ранняя старость, приобретенная путем воспитания, беспорядочной борьбы из-за куска хлеба, номерной бессемейной жизни.С мостика он медленно, словно нехотя, пошел в лес. Здесь, где на черных, густых потемках там и сям обозначались резкими пятнами проблески лунного света, где он ничего не ощущал, кроме своих мыслей, ему страстно захотелось вернуть потерянное.И помнит Иван Алексеич, что он опять вернулся. Подзадоривая себя воспоминаниями, рисуя насильно в своем воображении Веру, он быстро шагал к саду. По дороге и в саду тумана уже не было, и ясная луна глядела с неба, как умытая, только лишь восток туманился и хмурился... Помнит Огнев свои осторожные шаги, темные окна, густой запах гелиотропа и резеды. Знакомый Каро, дружелюбно помахивая хвостом, подошел к нему и понюхал его руку... Это было единственное живое существо, видевшее, как он раза два прошелся вокруг дома, постоял у темного окна Веры и, махнув рукой, с глубоким вздохом пошел из сада.Через час уже он был в городке и, утомленный, разбитый, прислонившись туловищем и горячим лицом к воротам постоялого двора, стучал скобкой. Где-то в городке спросонок лаяла собака, и точно в ответ на его стук около церкви зазвонили в чугунную доску...— Шляешься по ночам... — ворчал хозяин-старовер в длинной, словно женской сорочке, отворяя ему ворота. — Чем шляться-то, лучше бы богу молился.Войдя к себе в комнату, Иван Алексеич опустился на постель и долго-долго глядел на огонь, потом встряхнул головой и стал укладываться…



Я возвращался со всенощной. Часы на святогорской колокольне, в виде предисловия, проиграли свою тихую, мелодичную музыку и вслед за этим пробили двенадцать. Большой монастырский двор, расположенный на берегу Донца у подножия Святой Горы и огороженный, как стеною, высокими гостиными корпусами, теперь, в ночное время, когда его освещали только тусклые фонари, огоньки в окнах да звезды, представлял из себя живую кашу, полную движения, звуков и оригинальнейшего беспорядка. Весь он, от края до края, куда только хватало зрение, был густо запружен всякого рода телегами, кибитками, фургонами, арбами, колымагами, около которых толпились темные и белые лошади, рогатые волы, суетились люди, сновали во все стороны черные, длиннополые послушники; по возам, по головам людей и лошадей двигались тени и полосы света, бросаемые из окон, — и всё это в густых сумерках принимало самые причудливые, капризные формы: то поднятые оглобли вытягивались до неба, то на морде лошади показывались огненные глаза, то у послушника вырастали черные крылья... Слышались говор, фырканье и жеванье лошадей, детский писк, скрип. В ворота входили новые толпы и въезжали запоздавшие телеги.
Сосны, которые громоздились на отвесной горе одна над другой и склонялись к крыше гостиного корпуса, глядели во двор, как в глубокую яму, и удивленно прислушивались; в их темной чаще, не умолкая, кричали кукушки и соловьи... Глядя на сумятицу, прислушиваясь к шуму, казалось, что в этой живой каше никто никого не понимает, все чего-то ищут и не находят и что этой массе телег, кибиток и людей едва ли удастся когда-нибудь разъехаться.
К дням Иоанна Богослова и Николая Чудотворца в Святые Горы стеклось более десяти тысяч. Были битком набиты не только гостиные корпуса, но даже пекарня, швальня, столярная, каретная... Те, которые явились к ночи, в ожидании, пока им укажут место для ночлега, как осенние мухи, жались у стен, у колодцев или же в узких коридорчиках гостиницы. Послушники, молодые и старые, находились в непрерывном движении, без отдыха и без надежды на смену. Днем и позднею ночью они одинаково производили впечатление людей, куда-то спешащих и чем-то встревоженных, лица их, несмотря на крайнее изнеможение, одинаково были бодры и приветливы, голос ласков, движения быстры... Каждому приехавшему и пришедшему они должны были найти и указать место для ночлега, дать ему поесть и напиться; кто был глух, бестолков или щедр на вопросы, тому нужно было долго и мучительно объяснять, почему нет пустых номеров, в какие часы бывает служба, где продаются просфоры и т. д. Нужно было бегать, носить, неумолкаемо говорить, но мало того, нужно еще быть любезным, тактичным, стараться, чтобы мариупольские греки, живущие комфортабельнее, чем хохлы, помещались не иначе как с греками, чтобы какая-нибудь бахмутская или лисичанская мещанка, одетая «благородно», не попала в одно помещение с мужиками и не обиделась. То и дело слышались возгласы: «Батюшка, благословите кваску! Благословите сенца!» Или же: «Батюшка, можно мне после исповеди воды напиться?» И послушник должен был выдавать квас, сена или же отвечать: «Обратитесь, матушка, к духовнику. Мы не имеем власти разрешать». Следовал новый вопрос: «А где духовник?» И нужно было объяснять, где келия духовника... При такой хлопотливой деятельности хватало еще времени ходить в церковь на службу, служить на дворянской половине и пространно отвечать на массу праздных и непраздных вопросов, какими любят сыпать интеллигентные богомольцы. Приглядываясь к ним в течение суток, трудно было понять, когда сидят и когда спят эти черные движущиеся фигуры.
Когда я, возвращаясь со всенощной, подошел к корпусу, в котором мне было отведено помещение, на пороге стоял монах-гостинник, а возле него толпилось на ступенях несколько мужчин и женщин в городском платье.
— Господин, — остановил меня гостинник, — будьте
добры, позвольте вот этому молодому человеку переночевать в вашем номере! Сделайте милость! Народу много, а мест нет — просто беда!
И он указал на невысокую фигуру в легком пальто и в соломенной шляпе. Я согласился, и мой случайный сожитель отправился за мной. Отпирая у своей двери висячий замочек, я всякий раз, хочешь не хочешь, должен был смотреть на картину, висевшую у самого косяка на уровне моего лица. Эта картина с заглавием «Размышление о смерти» изображала коленопреклоненного монаха, который глядел в гроб и на лежавший в нем скелет; за спиной монаха стоял другой скелет, покрупнее и с косою.
— Кости такие не бывают, — сказал мой сожитель, указывая на то место скелета, где должен быть таз. — Вообще, знаете ли, духовная пища, которую подают народу, не первого сорта, — добавил он и испустил носом протяжный, очень печальный вздох, который должен был показать мне, что я имею дело с человеком, знающим толк в духовной пище.
Пока я искал спички и зажигал свечу, он еще раз вздохнул и сказал:
— В Харькове я несколько раз бывал в анатомическом театре и видел кости. Был даже в мертвецкой. Я не стесняю вас?
Мой номер был мал и тесен, без стола и стульев, весь занятый комодом у окна, печью и двумя деревянными диванчиками, стоявшими у стен друг против друга и отделенными узким проходом. На диванчиках лежали тощие, порыжевшие матрасики и мои вещи. Диванов было два, — значит, номер предназначался для двоих, на что я и указал сожителю.
— Впрочем, скоро зазвонят к обедне, — сказал он, — и мне недолго придется стеснять вас.
Всё еще думая, что он меня стесняет, и чувствуя неловкость, он виноватою походкою пробрался к своему диванчику, виновато вздохнул и сел. Когда сальная свечка, кивая своим ленивым и тусклым огнем, достаточно разгорелась и осветила нас обоих, я мог уже разглядеть его. Это был молодой человек лет двадцати двух, круглолицый, миловидный, с темными детскими глазами, одетый по-городски во всё серенькое и дешевое и, как можно было судить по цвету лица и по узким плечам, не знавший физического труда. Типа он казался самого неопределенного. Его нельзя было принять ни за студента, ни за торгового человека, ни тем паче за рабочего, а глядя на миловидное лицо и детские, ласковые глаза, не хотелось думать, что это один из тех праздношатаев-пройдох, которыми во всех общежительных пустынях, где кормят и дают ночлег, хоть пруд пруди и которые выдают себя за семинаристов, исключенных за правду, или за бывших певчих, потерявших голос... Было в его лице что-то характерное, типичное, очень знакомое, но что именно — я никак не мог ни понять, ни вспомнить.
Он долго молчал и о чем-то думал. Вероятно, после того, как я не оценил его замечания насчет костей и мертвецкой, ему казалось, что я сердит и не рад его присутствию. Вытащив из кармана колбасу, он повертел ее перед глазами и сказал нерешительно:
— Извините, я вас побеспокою... У вас нет ножика?
Я дал ему нож.
— Колбаса отвратительная, — поморщился он, отрезывая себе кусочек. — В здешней лавочке продают дрянь, но дерут ужасно... Я бы вам одолжил кусочек, но вы едва ли согласитесь кушать. Хотите?
В его «одолжил» и «кушать» слышалось тоже что-то типичное, имевшее очень много общего с характерным в лице, но что именно, я всё еще не мог никак понять. Чтобы внушить к себе доверие и показать, что я вовсе не сержусь, я взял предложенный им кусочек. Колбаса действительно была ужасная; чтобы сладить с ней, нужно было иметь зубы хорошей цепной собаки. Работая челюстями, мы разговорились. Начали с того, что пожаловались друг другу на продолжительность службы.
— Здешний устав приближается к афонскому, — сказал я, — но на Афоне обыкновенная всенощная продолжается 10 часов, а под большие праздники — 14. Вот там бы вам помолиться!
— Да! — сказал мой сожитель и покрутил головой. — Я здесь три недели живу. И знаете ли, каждый день служба, каждый день служба... В будни в 12 часов звонят к заутрени, в 5 часов к ранней обедне, в 9 — к поздней. Спать совсем невозможно. Днем же акафисты, правила, вечерни... А когда я говел, так просто падал от утомления. — Он вздохнул и продолжал: — А не ходить в церковь
неловко... Дают монахи номер, кормят, и как-то, знаете ли, совестно не ходить. Оно ничего, день, два, пожалуй, можно постоять, но три недели тяжело! Очень тяжело! Вы надолго сюда?
— Завтра вечером уезжаю.
— А я еще две недели проживу.
— Но здесь, кажется, не принято так долго жить? — сказал я.
— Да, это верно, кто здесь долго живет и объедает монахов, того просят уехать. Судите сами, если позволить пролетариям жить здесь сколько им угодно, то не останется ни одного свободного номера, и они весь монастырь съедят. Это верно. Но для меня монахи делают исключение и, надеюсь, еще не скоро меня отсюда прогонят. Я, знаете ли, новообращенный.
— То есть?
— Я еврей, выкрест... Недавно принял православие.
Теперь я уже понял то, чего раньше никак не мог понять на его лице: и толстые губы, и манеру во время разговора приподнимать правый угол рта и правую бровь, и тот особенный масленистный блеск глаз, который присущ одним только семитам, понял я и «одолжил», и «кушать»... Из дальнейшего разговора я узнал, что его зовут Александром Иванычем, а раньше звали Исааком, что он уроженец Могилевской губернии и в Святые Горы попал из Новочеркасска, где принимал православие.
Одолев колбасу, Александр Иваныч встал и, приподняв правую бровь, помолился на образ. Бровь так и осталась приподнятой, когда он затем опять сел на диванчик и стал рассказывать мне вкратце свою длинную биографию.
— С самого раннего детства я питал любовь к учению, — начал он таким тоном, как будто говорил не о себе, а о каком-то умершем великом человеке. — Мои родители — бедные евреи, занимаются грошовой торговлей, живут, знаете ли, по-нищенски, грязно. Вообще весь народ там бедный и суеверный, учения не любят, потому что образование, понятно, отдаляет человека от религии... Фанатики страшные... Мои родители ни за что не хотели учить меня, а хотели, чтобы я тоже занимался торговлей и не знал ничего, кроме талмуда... Но всю жизнь биться из-за куска хлеба, болтаясь в грязи, жевать этот талмуд, согласитесь, не всякий может. Бывало, в корчму к папаше заезжали офицеры и помещики, которые рассказывали много такого, чего я тогда и во сне не видел, ну, конечно, было соблазнительно и разбирала зависть. Я плакал и просил, чтобы меня отдали в школу, а меня выучили читать по-еврейски и больше ничего. Раз я нашел русскую газету, принес ее домой, чтобы из нее сделать змей, так меня побили за это, хотя я и не умел читать по-русски. Конечно, без фанатизма нельзя, потому что каждый народ инстинктивно бережет свою народность, но я тогда этого не знал и очень возмущался...
Сказав умную фразу, бывший Исаак от удовольствия поднял правую бровь еще выше и поглядел на меня как-то боком, как петух на зерно, и с таким видом, точно хотел сказать: «Теперь наконец вы убедились, что я умный человек?» Поговорив еще о фанатизме и о своем непреодолимом стремлении к просвещению, он продолжал:
— Что было делать! Я взял и бежал в Смоленск. А там у меня был двоюродный брат, который лудил посуду и делал жестянки. Понятно, я нанялся к нему в подмастерья, так как жить мне было нечем, ходил я босиком и оборванный... Думал так, что днем буду работать, а ночью и по субботам учиться. Я так и делал, но узнала полиция, что я без паспорта, и отправила меня по этапу назад к отцу...
Александр Иваныч пожал одним плечом и вздохнул.
— Что будешь делать! — продолжал он, и чем ярче воскресало в нем прошлое, тем сильнее чувствовался в его речи еврейский акцент. — Родители наказали меня и отдали дедушке, старому еврею-фанатику, на исправление. Но я ночью ушел в Шклов. А когда в Шклове ловил меня мой дядя, я пошел в Могилев; там пробыл два дня и с товарищем пошел в Стародуб.
Далее рассказчик перебрал в своих воспоминаниях Гомель, Киев, Белую Церковь, Умань, Балту, Бендеры и, наконец, добрался до Одессы.
— В Одессе я целую неделю ходил без дела и голодный, пока меня не приняли евреи, которые ходят по городу и покупают старое платье. Я уж умел тогда читать и писать, знал арифметику до дробей и хотел поступить куда-нибудь учиться, но не было средств. Что делать! Полгода ходил я по Одессе и покупал старое платье, но евреи, мошенники, не дали мне жалованья, я обиделся и ушел. Потом на пароходе я уехал в Перекоп.
— Зачем?
— Так. Один грек обещал мне дать там место. Одним словом, до 16 лет ходил я так, без определенного дела и без почвы, пока не попал в Полтаву. Тут один студент-еврей узнал, что я желаю учиться, и дал мне письмо к харьковским студентам. Конечно, я пошел в Харьков. Студенты посоветовались и начали готовить меня в техническое училище. И знаете, я вам скажу, студенты мне попались такие, что я не забуду их до самой смерти. Не говорю уж про то, что они дали мне квартиру и кусок хлеба, они поставили меня на настоящую дорогу, заставили меня мыслить, указали цель жизни. Между ними были умные, замечательные люди, которые уж и теперь известны. Например, вы слыхали про Грумахера?
— Нет, не слыхал.
— Не слыхали... Писал очень умные статьи в харьковских газетах и готовился в профессора. Ну, я много читал, участвовал в студенческих кружках, где не услышишь пошлостей. Приготовлялся я полгода, но так как для технического училища нужно знать весь гимназический курс математики, то Грумахер посоветовал мне готовиться в ветеринарный институт, куда принимают из шестого класса гимназии. Конечно, я стал готовиться. Я не желал быть ветеринаром, но мне говорили, что кончивших курс в институте принимают без экзамена на третий курс медицинского факультета. Я выучил всего Кюнера, уж читал аливрувер1 Корнелия Непота и по греческому языку прошел почти всего Курциуса, но, знаете ли, то да се... студенты разъехались, неопределенность положения, а тут еще я услыхал, что приехала моя мамаша и ищет меня по всему Харькову. Тогда я взял и уехал. Что будешь делать! Но, к счастью, я узнал, что здесь на Донецкой дороге есть горное училище. Отчего не поступить? Ведь вы знаете, горное училище дает права штегера — должность великолепная, а я знаю шахты, где штегера получают полторы тысячи в год. Отлично... Я поступил...
Александр Иваныч с выражением благоговейного страха на лице перечислил дюжины две замысловатых наук, преподаваемых в горном училище, и описал самое училище, устройство шахт, положение рабочих... Затем он рассказал страшную историю, похожую на вымысел, но которой я не мог не поверить, потому что уж слишком искренен был тон рассказчика и слишком откровенно выражение ужаса на его семитическом лице.
— А во время практических занятий, какой однажды был со мной случай! — рассказывал он, подняв обе брови. — Был я на одних шахтах тут, в Донецком округе. А вы ведь видели, как люди спускаются в самый рудник. Помните, когда гонят лошадь и приводят в движение ворот, то по блоку одна бадья спускается в рудник, а другая поднимается, когда же начнут поднимать первую, тогда опускается вторая — всё равно, как в колодце с двумя ушатами. Ну, сел я однажды в бадью, начинаю спускаться вниз, и можете себе представить, вдруг слышу — тррр! Цепь разорвалась, и я полетел к чёрту вместе с бадьей и обрывком цепи... Упал с трехсаженной вышины прямо грудью и животом, а бадья, как более тяжелая вещь, упала раньше меня, и я ударился вот этим плечом об ее ребро. Лежу, знаете, огорошенный, думаю, что убился насмерть, и вдруг вижу — новая беда: другая бадья, что поднималась вверх, потеряла противовес и с грохотом опускается вниз прямо на меня... Что будете делать? Видя такой факт, я прижался к стене, съежился, жду, что вот-вот сейчас эта бадья со всего размаха трахнет меня по голове, вспоминаю папашу и мамашу, и Могилев, и Грумахера... молюсь богу, но, к счастью... Даже вспомнить страшно.
Александр Иваныч насильно улыбнулся и вытер ладонью лоб.
— Но, к счастью, она упала возле и только слегка зацепила этот бок... Содрала, знаете, с этого бока сюртук, сорочку и кожу... Сила страшная. Потом я был без чувств. Меня вытащили и отправили в больницу. Лечился я четыре месяца, и доктора сказали, что у меня будет чахотка. Я теперь всегда кашляю, грудь болит и страшное психологическое расстройство... Когда я остаюсь один в комнате, мне бывает очень страшно. Конечно, при таком здоровье уже нельзя быть штегером. Пришлось бросить горное училище...
— А теперь чем вы занимаетесь? — спросил я.
— Я держал экзамен на сельского учителя. Теперь ведь я православный и имею право быть учителем. В Новочеркасске, где я крестился, во мне приняли большое участие и обещали место в церковно-приходской школе. Через две недели поеду туда и опять буду просить.
Александр Иваныч снял пальто и остался в одной сорочке с вышитым русским воротом и с шерстяным поясом.
— Спать пора, — сказал он, кладя в изголовье свое пальто и зевая. — Я, знаете ли, до последнего времени совсем не знал бога. Я был атеист. Когда лежал в больнице, я вспомнил о религии и начал думать на эту тему. По моему мнению, для мыслящего человека возможна только одна религия, а именно христианская. Если не веришь в Христа, то уж больше не во что верить... Не правда ли? Иудаизм отжил свой век и держится еще только благодаря особенностям еврейского племени. Когда цивилизация коснется евреев, то из иудаизма не останется и следа. Вы заметьте, все молодые евреи уже атеисты. Новый завет есть естественное продолжение Ветхого. Не правда ли?
Я стал выведывать у него причины, побудившие его на такой серьезный и смелый шаг, как перемена религии, но он твердил мне только одно, что «Новый завет есть естественное продолжение Ветхого» — фразу, очевидно, чужую и заученную и которая совсем не разъясняла вопроса. Как я ни бился и ни хитрил, причины остались для меня темными. Если можно было верить, что он, как утверждал, принял православие по убеждению, то в чем состояло и на чем зиждилось это убеждение — из его слов понять было невозможно; предположить же, что он переменил веру ради выгоды, было тоже нельзя: дешевая, поношенная одежонка, проживание на монастырских хлебах и неопределенное будущее мало походили на выгоды. Оставалось только помириться на мысли, что переменить религию побудил моего сожителя тот же самый беспокойный дух, который бросал его, как щепку, из города в город и который он, по общепринятому шаблону, называл стремлением к просвещению.
Перед тем как ложиться спать, я вышел в коридор, чтобы напиться воды. Когда я вернулся, мой сожитель стоял среди номера и испуганно глядел на меня. Лицо его было бледно-серо, я на лбу блестел пот.
— У меня ужасно нервы расстроены, — пробормотал он, болезненно улыбаясь, — ужасно! Сильное психологическое расстройство. Впрочем, всё это пустяки.
И он опять стал толковать о том, что Новый завет есть естественное продолжение Ветхого, что иудаизм отжил свой век. Подбирая фразы, он как будто старался собрать все силы своего убеждения и заглушить ими беспокойство души, доказать себе, что, переменив религию отцов, он не сделал ничего страшного и особенного, а поступил, как человек мыслящий и свободный от предрассудков, и что поэтому он смело может оставаться в комнате один на один со своею совестью. Он убеждал себя и глазами просил у меня помощи...
Между тем на сальной свечке нагорел большой, неуклюжий фитиль. Уже светало. В хмурое, посиневшее окошко видны были уже ясно оба берега Донца и дубовая роща за рекой. Нужно было спать.
— Завтра здесь будет очень интересно, — сказал мой сожитель, когда я потушил свечку и лег. — После ранней обедни крестный ход поедет на лодках из монастыря в скит.
Подняв правую бровь и склонив голову на бок, он помолился образу и, не раздеваясь, лег на свой диванчик.
— Да, — сказал он, повернувшись на другой бок.
— Что — да? — спросил я.
— Когда я в Новочеркасске принял православие, моя мамаша искала меня в Ростове. Она чувствовала, что я хочу переменить веру. — Он вздохнул и продолжал: — Уже шесть лет как я не был там, в Могилевской губернии. Сестра, должно быть, уже замуж вышла.
Помолчав немного и видя, что я еще не уснул, он стал тихо говорить о том, что скоро, слава богу, ему дадут место, и он наконец будет иметь свой угол, определенное положение, определенную пищу на каждый день... Я же, засыпая, думал, что этот человек никогда не будет иметь ни своего угла, ни определенного положения, ни определенной пищи. Об учительском месте он мечтал вслух, как об обетованной земле; подобно большинству людей, он питал предубеждение к скитальчеству и считал его чем-то необыкновенным, чуждым и случайным, как болезнь, и искал спасения в обыкновенной будничной жизни. В тоне его голоса слышались сознание своей ненормальности и сожаление. Он как будто оправдывался и извинялся.
Не далее как на аршин от меня лежал скиталец; за стенами в номерах и во дворе, около телег, среди богомольцев не одна сотня таких же скитальцев ожидала утра, а еще дальше, если суметь представить себе всю русскую землю, какое множество таких же перекати-поле, ища где лучше, шагало теперь по большим и проселочным дорогам или, в ожидании рассвета, дремало в постоялых дворах, корчмах, гостиницах, на траве под небом... Засыпая, я воображал себе, как бы удивились и, быть может, даже обрадовались все эти люди, если бы нашлись разум и язык, которые сумели бы доказать им, что их жизнь так же мало нуждается в оправдании, как и всякая другая.
Во сне я слышал, как за дверями жалобно, точно заливаясь горючими слезами, прозвонил колокольчик и послушник прокричал несколько раз:
— Господи Иисусе Христе сыне божий, помилуй нас! Пожалуйте к обедне!
Когда я проснулся, моего сожителя уже не было в номере. Было солнечно, и за окном шумел народ. Выйдя, я узнал, что обедня уже кончилась, и крестный ход давно уже отправился в скит. Народ толпами бродил по берегу и, чувствуя себя праздным, не знал, чем занять себя; есть и пить было нельзя, так как в скиту еще не кончилась поздняя обедня; монастырские лавки, где богомольцы так любят толкаться и прицениваться, были еще заперты. Многие, несмотря на утомление, от скуки брели в скит. Тропинка от монастыря до скита, куда я отправился, змеей вилась по высокому крутому берегу то вверх, то вниз, огибая дубы и сосны. Внизу блестел Донец и отражал в себе солнце, вверху белел меловой скалистый берег и ярко зеленела на нем молодая зелень дубов и сосен, которые, нависая друг над другом, как-то ухитряются расти почти на отвесной скале и не падать. По тропинке гуськом тянулись богомольцы. Всего больше было хохлов из соседних уездов, но было много и дальних, пришедших пешком из Курской и Орловской губерний; в пестрой веренице попадались и мариупольские греки-хуторяне, сильные, степенные и ласковые люди, далеко не похожие на тех своих хилых и вырождающихся единоплеменников, которые наполняют наши южные приморские города; были тут и донцы с красными лампасами, и тавричане, выселенцы из Таврической губернии. Было здесь много богомольцев и неопределенного типа, вроде моего Александра Иваныча: что они за люди и откуда, нельзя было понять ни по лицам, ни по одежде, ни по речам.
Тропинка оканчивалась у маленького плота, от которого, прорезывая гору, шло влево к скиту неширокое шоссе. У плота стояли две большие, тяжелые лодки, угрюмого вида, вроде тех новозеландских пирог, которые можно видеть в книгах Жюля Верна. Одна лодка, с коврами на скамьях, предназначалась для духовенства и певчих, другая, без ковров — для публики. Когда крестный ход плыл обратно в монастырь, я находился в числе избранных, сумевших протискаться во вторую. Избранных набралось так много, что лодка еле двигалась, и всю дорогу приходилось стоять, не шевелиться и спасать свою шляпу от ломки. Путь казался прекрасным. Оба берега — один высокий, крутой, белый с нависшими соснами и дубами, с народом, спешившим обратно по тропинке, и другой — отлогий, с зелеными лугами и дубовой рощей, — залитые светом, имели такой счастливый и восторженный вид, как будто только им одним было обязано майское утро своею прелестью. Отражение солнца в быстро текущем Донце дрожало, расползалось во все стороны, и его длинные лучи играли на ризах духовенства, на хоругвях, в брызгах, бросаемых веслами. Пение пасхального канона, колокольный звон, удары весел по воде, крик птиц — всё это мешалось в воздухе в нечто гармоническое и нежное. Лодка с духовенством и хоругвями плыла впереди. На ее корме неподвижно, как статуя, стоял черный послушник.
Когда крестный ход приближался к монастырю, я заметил среди избранных Александра Иваныча. Он стоял впереди всех и, раскрыв рот от удовольствия, подняв вверх правую бровь, глядел на процессию. Лицо его сияло; вероятно, в эти минуты, когда кругом было столько народу и так светло, он был доволен и собой, и новой верой, и своею совестью.
Когда немного погодя мы сидели в номере и пили чай, он всё еще сиял довольством; лицо его говорило, что он доволен и чаем, и мной, вполне ценит мою интеллигентность, но что и сам не ударит лицом в грязь, если речь зайдет о чем-нибудь этаком...
— Скажите, какую бы мне почитать психологию? — начал он умный разговор, сильно морща нос.
— А для чего вам?
— Без знания психологии нельзя быть учителем. Прежде чем учить мальчика, я должен узнать его душу.
Я сказал ему, что одной психологии мало для того, чтобы узнать душу мальчика, и к тому же психология для такого педагога, который еще не усвоил себе технических приемов обучения грамоте и арифметике, является такою же роскошью, как высшая математика. Он охотно согласился со мной и стал описывать, как тяжела и ответственна должность учителя, как трудно искоренить в мальчике наклонность к злу и суеверию, заставить его мыслить самостоятельно и честно, внушить ему истинную религию, идею личности, свободы и проч. В ответ на это я сказал ему что-то. Он опять согласился. Вообще он очень охотно соглашался. Очевидно, всё «умное» непрочно сидело в его голове.
До самого моего отъезда мы вместе слонялись около монастыря и коротали длинный жаркий день. Он не отставал от меня ни на шаг; привязался ли он ко мне, или же боялся одиночества, бог его знает! Помню, мы сидели вместе под кустами желтой акации в одном из садиков, разбросанных по горе.
— Через две недели я уйду отсюда, — сказал он. — Пора!
— Вы пешком?
— Отсюда до Славянска пешком, потом по железной дороге до Никитовки. От Никитовки начинается ветвь Донецкой дороги. По этой ветви я до Хацепетовки дойду пешком, а там дальше провезет меня знакомый кондуктор.
Я вспомнил голую, пустынную степь между Никитовкой и Хацепетовкой и вообразил себе шагающего по ней Александра Иваныча с его сомнениями, тоской по родине и страхом одиночества... Он прочел на моем лице скуку и вздохнул.
«А сестра, должно быть, уже замуж вышла!» — подумал он вслух, и тотчас же, желая отвязаться от грустных мыслей, указал на верхушку скалы и сказал:
— С этой горы Изюм видно.
Во время прогулки по горе с ним случилось маленькое несчастье: вероятно, спотыкнувшись, он порвал свои сарпинковые брюки и сбил с башмака подошву.
— Тс... — поморщился он, снимая башмак и показывая босую ногу без чулка. — Неприятно... Это, знаете ли, такое осложнение, которое... Да!
Вертя перед глазами башмак и как бы не веря, что подошва погибла навеки, он долго морщился, вздыхал и причмокивал. У меня в чемодане были полуштиблеты старые, но модные, с острыми носами и тесемками; я брал их с собою на всякий случай и носил только в сырую погоду. Вернувшись в номер, я придумал фразу подипломатичнее и предложил ему эти полуштиблеты. Он принял и сказал важно:
— Я бы поблагодарил вас, но знаю, что вы благодарность считаете предрассудком.
Острые носы и тесемки полуштиблетов растрогали его, как ребенка, и даже изменили его планы.
— Теперь я пойду в Новочеркасск не через две недели, а через неделю, — размышлял он вслух. — В таких башмаках не совестно будет явиться к крестному папаше. Я, собственно, не уезжал отсюда потому, что у меня приличной одежи нет...
Когда ямщик выносил мой чемодан, вошел послушник с хорошим насмешливым лицом, чтобы подмести в номере. Александр Иваныч как-то заторопился, сконфузился и робко спросил у него:
— Мне здесь оставаться или в другое место идти?
Он не решался занять своею особою целый номер и, по-видимому, уже стыдился того, что жил на монастырских хлебах. Ему очень не хотелось расставаться со мной; чтобы по возможности отдалить одиночество, он попросил позволения проводить меня.
Дорога из монастыря, прорытая к меловой горе и стоившая немалых трудов, шла вверх, в объезд горы почти спирально, по корням, под нависшими суровыми соснами... Сначала скрылся с глаз Донец, за ним монастырский двор с тысячами людей, потом зеленые крыши... Оттого, что я поднимался, всё казалось мне исчезавшим в яме. Соборный крест, раскаленный от лучей заводящего солнца, ярко сверкнул в пропасти и исчез. Остались одни только сосны, дубы и белая дорога. Но вот коляска въехала на ровное поле, и всё это осталось внизу и позади; Александр Иваныч спрыгнул и, грустно улыбнувшись, взглянув на меня в последний раз своими детскими глазами, стал спускаться вниз и исчез для меня навсегда...
Святогорские впечатления стали уже воспоминаниями, и я видел новое: ровное поле, беловато-бурую даль, рощицу у дороги, а за нею ветряную мельницу, которая стояла не шевелясь и, казалось, скучала оттого, что по случаю праздника ей не позволяют махать крыльями.


(История одной поездки)


Из N., уездного города Z-ой губернии, ранним июльским утром выехала и с громом покатила по почтовому тракту безрессорная, ошарпанная бричка, одна из тех допотопных бричек, на которых ездят теперь на Руси только купеческие приказчики, гуртовщики и небогатые священники. Она тарахтела и взвизгивала при малейшем движении; ей угрюмо вторило ведро, привязанное к ее задку, — и по одним этим звукам да по жалким кожаным тряпочкам, болтавшимся на ее облезлом теле, можно было судить о ее ветхости и готовности идти в слом.В бричке сидело двое N-ских обывателей: N-ский купец Иван Иваныч Кузьмичов, бритый, в очках и в соломенной шляпе, больше похожий на чиновника, чем на купца, и другой — отец Христофор Сирийский, настоятель N-ской Николаевской церкви, маленький длинноволосый старичок в сером парусиновом кафтане, в широкополом цилиндре и в шитом, цветном поясе. Первый о чем-то сосредоточенно думал и встряхивал головою, чтобы прогнать дремоту; на лице его привычная деловая сухость боролась с благодушием человека, только что простившегося с родней и хорошо выпившего; второй же влажными глазками удивленно глядел на мир божий и улыбался так широко, что, казалось, улыбка захватывала даже поля цилиндра; лицо его было красно и имело озябший вид. Оба они, как Кузьмичов, так и о. Христофор, ехали теперь продавать шерсть. Прощаясь с домочадцами, они только что сытно закусили пышками со сметаной и, несмотря на раннее утро, выпили... Настроение духа у обоих было прекрасное.Кроме только что описанных двух и кучера Дениски, неутомимо стегавшего по паре шустрых гнедых лошадок, в бричке находился еще один пассажир — мальчик лет девяти, с темным от загара и мокрым от слез лицом. Это был Егорушка, племянник Кузьмичова. С разрешения дяди и с благословения о. Христофора, он ехал куда-то поступать в гимназию. Его мамаша, Ольга Ивановна, вдова коллежского секретаря и родная сестра Кузьмичова, любившая образованных людей и благородное общество, умолила своего брата, ехавшего продавать шерсть, взять с собою Егорушку и отдать его в гимназию; и теперь мальчик, не понимая, куда и зачем он едет, сидел на облучке рядом с Дениской, держался за его локоть, чтоб не свалиться, и подпрыгивал, как чайник на конфорке. От быстрой езды его красная рубаха пузырем вздувалась на спине и новая ямщицкая шляпа с павлиньим пером то и дело сползала на затылок. Он чувствовал себя в высшей степени несчастным человеком и хотел плакать.Когда бричка проезжала мимо острога, Егорушка взглянул на часовых, тихо ходивших около высокой белой стены, на маленькие решетчатые окна, на крест, блестевший на крыше, и вспомнил, как неделю тому назад, в день Казанской божией матери, он ходил с мамашей в острожную церковь на престольный праздник; а еще ранее, на Пасху, он приходил в острог с кухаркой Людмилой и с Дениской и приносил сюда куличи, яйца, пироги и жареную говядину; арестанты благодарили и крестились, а один из них подарил Егорушке оловянные запонки собственного изделия.Мальчик всматривался в знакомые места, а ненавистная бричка бежала мимо и оставляла всё позади. За острогом промелькнули черные, закопченные кузницы, за ними уютное, зеленое кладбище, обнесенное оградой из булыжника; из-за ограды весело выглядывали белые кресты и памятники, которые прячутся в зелени вишневых деревьев и издали кажутся белыми пятнами. Егорушка вспомнил, что, когда цветет вишня, эти белые пятна мешаются с вишневыми цветами в белое море; а когда она спеет, белые памятники и кресты бывают усыпаны багряными, как кровь, точками. За оградой под вишнями день и ночь спали Егорушкин отец и бабушка Зинаида Даниловна. Когда бабушка умерла, ее положили в длинный, узкий гроб и прикрыли двумя пятаками ее глаза, которые не хотели закрываться. До своей смерти она была жива и носила с базара мягкие бублики, посыпанные маком, теперь же она спит, спит...А за кладбищем дымились кирпичные заводы. Густой, черный дым большими клубами шел из-под длинных камышовых крыш, приплюснутых к земле, и лениво поднимался вверх. Небо над заводами и кладбищем было смугло, и большие тени от клубов дыма ползли по полю и через дорогу. В дыму около крыш двигались люди и лошади, покрытые красной пылью...За заводами кончался город и начиналось поле. Егорушка в последний раз оглянулся на город, припал лицом к локтю Дениски и горько заплакал...— Ну, не отревелся еще, рёва! — сказал Кузьмичов. — Опять, баловник, слюни распустил! Не хочешь ехать, так оставайся. Никто силой не тянет!— Ничего, ничего, брат Егор, ничего... — забормотал скороговоркой о. Христофор. — Ничего, брат... Призывай бога... Не за худом едешь, а за добром. Ученье, как говорится, свет, а неученье — тьма... Истинно так.— Хочешь вернуться? — спросил Кузьмичов.— Хо... хочу... — ответил Егорушка, всхлипывая.— И вернулся бы. Всё равно попусту едешь, за семь верст киселя хлебать.— Ничего, ничего, брат... — продолжал о. Христофор. — Бога призывай... Ломоносов так же вот с рыбарями ехал, однако из него вышел человек на всю Европу. Умственность, воспринимаемая с верой, дает плоды, богу угодные. Как сказано в молитве? Создателю во славу, родителям же нашим на утешение, церкви и отечеству на пользу... Так-то.— Польза разная бывает... — сказал Кузьмичов, закуривая дешевую сигару. — Иной двадцать лет обучается, а никакого толку.— Это бывает.— Кому наука в пользу, а у кого только ум путается. Сестра — женщина непонимающая, норовит всё по-благородному и хочет, чтоб из Егорки ученый вышел, а того не понимает, что я и при своих занятиях мог бы Егорку на век осчастливить. Я это к тому вам объясняю, что ежели все пойдут в ученые да в благородные, тогда некому будет торговать и хлеб сеять. Все с голоду поумирают.— А ежели все будут торговать и хлеб сеять, тогда некому будет учения постигать.И думая, что оба они сказали нечто убедительное и веское, Кузьмичов и о. Христофор сделали серьезные лица и одновременно кашлянули. Дениска, прислушивавшийся к их разговору и ничего не понявший, встряхнул головой и, приподнявшись, стегнул по обеим гнедым. Наступило молчание.Между тем перед глазами ехавших расстилалась уже широкая, бесконечная равнина, перехваченная цепью холмов. Теснясь и выглядывая друг из-за друга, эти холмы сливаются в возвышенность, которая тянется вправо от дороги до самого горизонта и исчезает в лиловой дали; едешь-едешь и никак не разберешь, где она начинается и где кончается... Солнце уже выглянуло сзади из-за города и тихо, без хлопот принялось за свою работу. Сначала, далеко впереди, где небо сходится с землею, около курганчиков и ветряной мельницы, которая издали похожа на маленького человечка, размахивающего руками, поползла по земле широкая ярко-желтая полоса; через минуту такая же полоса засветилась несколько ближе, поползла вправо и охватила холмы; что-то теплое коснулось Егорушкиной спины, полоса света, подкравшись сзади, шмыгнула через бричку и лошадей, понеслась навстречу другим полосам, и вдруг вся широкая степь сбросила с себя утреннюю полутень, улыбнулась и засверкала росой.Сжатая рожь, бурьян, молочай, дикая конопля — всё, побуревшее от зноя, рыжее и полумертвое, теперь омытое росою и обласканное солнцем, оживало, чтоб вновь зацвести. Над дорогой с веселым криком носились старички, в траве перекликались суслики, где-то далеко влево плакали чибисы. Стадо куропаток, испуганное бричкой, вспорхнуло и со своим мягким «тррр» полетело к холмам. Кузнечики, сверчки, скрипачи и медведки затянули в траве свою скрипучую, монотонную музыку.Но прошло немного времени, роса испарилась, воздух застыл, и обманутая степь приняла свой унылый июльский вид. Трава поникла, жизнь замерла. Загорелые холмы, буро-зеленые, вдали лиловые, со своими покойными, как тень, тонами, равнина с туманной далью и опрокинутое над ними небо, которое в степи, где нет лесов и высоких гор, кажется страшно глубоким и прозрачным, представлялись теперь бесконечными, оцепеневшими от тоски...Как душно и уныло! Бричка бежит, а Егорушка видит всё одно и то же — небо, равнину, холмы... Музыка в траве приутихла. Старички улетели, куропаток не видно. Над поблекшей травой, от нечего делать, носятся грачи; все они похожи друг на друга и делают степь еще более однообразной.Летит коршун над самой землей, плавно взмахивая крыльями, и вдруг останавливается в воздухе, точно задумавшись о скуке жизни, потом встряхивает крыльями и стрелою несется над степью, и непонятно, зачем он летает и что ему нужно. А вдали машет крыльями мельница...Для разнообразия мелькнет в бурьяне белый череп или булыжник; вырастет на мгновение серая каменная баба или высохшая ветла с синей ракшей на верхней ветке, перебежит дорогу суслик, и — опять бегут мимо глаз бурьян, холмы, грачи...Но вот, слава богу, навстречу едет воз со снопами. На самом верху лежит девка. Сонная, изморенная зноем, поднимает она голову и глядит на встречных. Дениска зазевался на нее, гнедые протягивают морды к снопам, бричка, взвизгнув, целуется с возом, и колючие колосья, как веником, проезжают по цилиндру о. Христофора.— На людей едешь, пухлая! — кричит Дениска. — Ишь, рожу-то раскорячило, словно шмель укусил!Девка сонно улыбается и, пошевелив губами, опять ложится... А вот на холме показывается одинокий тополь; кто его посадил и зачем он здесь — бог его знает. От его стройной фигуры и зеленой одежды трудно оторвать глаза. Счастлив ли этот красавец? Летом зной, зимой стужа и метели, осенью страшные ночи, когда видишь только тьму и не слышишь ничего, кроме беспутного, сердито воющего ветра, а главное — всю жизнь один, один... За тополем ярко-желтым ковром, от верхушки холма до самой дороги, тянутся полосы пшеницы. На холме хлеб уже скошен и убран в копны, а внизу еще только косят... Шесть косарей стоят радом и взмахивают косами, а косы весело сверкают и в такт, все вместе издают звук: «Вжжи, вжжи!» По движениям баб, вяжущих снопы, по лицам косарей, по блеску кос видно, что зной жжет и душит. Черная собака с высунутым языком бежит от косарей навстречу к бричке, вероятно с намерением залаять, но останавливается на полдороге и равнодушно глядит на Дениску, грозящего ей кнутом: жарко лаять! Одна баба поднимается и, взявшись обеими руками за измученную спину, провожает глазами кумачовую рубаху Егорушки. Красный ли цвет ей понравился, или вспомнила она про своих детей, только долго стоит она неподвижно к смотрит вслед...Но вот промелькнула и пшеница. Опять тянется выжженная равнина, загорелые холмы, знойное небо, опять носится над землею коршун. Вдали по-прежнему машет крыльями мельница и всё еще она похожа на маленького человечка, размахивающего руками. Надоело глядеть на нее и кажется, что до нее никогда не доедешь, что она бежит от брички.О. Христофор и Кузьмичов молчали. Дениска стегал по гнедым и покрикивал, а Егорушка уже не плакал, а равнодушно глядел по сторонам. Зной и степная скука утомили его. Ему казалось, что он давно уже едет и подпрыгивает, что солнце давно уже печет ему в спину. Не проехали еще и десяти верст, а он уже думал: «Пора бы отдохнуть!» С лица дяди мало-помалу сошло благодушие и осталась одна только деловая сухость, а бритому, тощему лицу, в особенности когда оно в очках, когда нос и виски покрыты пылью, эта сухость придает неумолимое, инквизиторское выражение. Отец же Христофор не переставал удивленно глядеть на мир божий и улыбаться. Молча, он думал о чем-то хорошем и веселом, и добрая, благодушная улыбка застыла на его лице. Казалось, что и хорошая, веселая мысль застыла в его мозгу от жары...— А что, Дениска, догоним нынче обозы? — спросил Кузьмичов.Дениска поглядел на небо, приподнялся, стегнул по лошадям и потом уже ответил:— К ночи, бог даст, догоним...Послышался собачий лай. Штук шесть громадных степных овчарок вдруг, выскочив точно из засады, с свирепым воющим лаем бросились навстречу бричке. Все они, необыкновенно злые, с мохнатыми паучьими мордами и с красными от злобы глазами, окружили бричку и, ревниво толкая друг друга, подняли хриплый рев. Они ненавидели страстно и, кажется, готовы были изорвать в клочья и лошадей, и бричку, и людей... Дениска, любивший дразнить и стегать, обрадовался случаю и, придав своему лицу злорадное выражение, перегнулся и хлестнул кнутом по овчарке. Псы пуще захрипели, лошади понесли; и Егорушка, еле державшийся на передке, глядя на глаза и зубы собак, понимал, что, свались он, его моментально разнесут в клочья, но страха не чувствовал, а глядел так же злорадно, как Дениска, и жалел, что у него в руках нет кнута.Бричка поравнялась с отарой овец.— Стой! — закричал Кузьмичов. — Держи! Тпрр...Дениска подался всем туловищем назад и осадил гнедых. Бричка остановилась.— Поди сюда! — крикнул Кузьмичов чебану. — Уйми собак, будь они прокляты!Старик-чебан, оборванный и босой, в теплой шапке, с грязным мешком у бедра и с крючком на длинной палке — совсем ветхозаветная фигура — унял собак и, снявши шапку, подошел к бричке. Точно такая же ветхозаветная фигура стояла, не шевелясь, на другом краю отары и равнодушно глядела на проезжих.— Чья это отара? — спросил Кузьмичов.— Варламовская! — громко ответил старик.— Варламовская! — повторил чебан, стоявший на другом краю отары.— Что, проезжал тут вчерась Варламов или нет?— Никак нет... Приказчик ихний проезжали, это точно...— Трогай!Бричка покатила дальше, и чебаны со своими злыми собаками остались позади. Егорушка нехотя глядел вперед на лиловую даль, и ему уже начинало казаться, что мельница, машущая крыльями, приближается. Она становилась всё больше и больше, совсем выросла, и уж можно было отчетливо разглядеть ее два крыла. Одно крыло было старое, заплатанное, другое только недавно сделано из нового дерева и лоснилось на солнце.Бричка ехала прямо, а мельница почему-то стала уходить влево. Ехали, ехали, а она всё уходила влево и не исчезала из глаз.— Славный ветряк поставил сыну Болтва! — заметил Дениска.— А что-то хутора его не видать.— Он туда, за балочкой.Скоро показался и хутор Болтвы, а ветряк всё еще не уходил назад, не отставал, глядел на Егорушку своим лоснящимся крылом и махал. Какой колдун!


Около полудня бричка свернула с дороги вправо, проехала немного шагом и остановилась. Егорушка услышал тихое, очень ласковое журчанье и почувствовал, что к его лицу прохладным бархатом прикоснулся какой-то другой воздух. Из холма, склеенного природой из громадных, уродливых камней, сквозь трубочку из болиголова, вставленную каким-то неведомым благодетелем, тонкой струйкой бежала вода. Она падала на землю и, прозрачная, веселая, сверкающая на солнце и тихо ворча, точно воображая себя сильным и бурным потоком, быстро бежала куда-то влево. Недалеко от холма маленькая речка расползалась в лужицу; горячие лучи и раскаленная почва, жадно выпивая ее, отнимали у нее силу; но немножко далее она, вероятно, сливалась с другой такою же речонкой, потому что шагах в ста от холма по ее течению зеленела густая, пышная осока, из которой, когда подъезжала бричка, с криком вылетело три бекаса.Путники расположились у ручья отдыхать и кормить лошадей. Кузьмичов, о. Христофор и Егорушка сели в жидкой тени, бросаемой бричкою и распряженными лошадьми, на разостланном войлоке и стали закусывать. Хорошая, веселая мысль, застывшая от жары в мозгу о. Христофора, после того, как он напился воды и съел одно печеное яйцо, запросилась наружу. Он ласково взглянул на Егорушку, пожевал и начал:— Я сам, брат, учился. С самого раннего возраста бог вложил в меня смысл и понятие, так что я не в пример прочим, будучи еще таким, как ты, утешал родителей и наставников своим разумением. Пятнадцати лет мне еще не было, а я уж говорил и стихи сочинял по-латынски всё равно как по-русски. Помню, был я жезлоносцем у преосвященного Христофора. Раз после обедни, как теперь помню, в день тезоименитства благочестивейшего государя Александра Павловича Благословенного, он разоблачался в алтаре, поглядел на меня ласково и спрашивает: «Puer bone, quam appellaris?» 1 А я отвечаю: «Christophorus sum» 2. А он: «Ergo connominati sumus», то есть, мы, значит, тезки... Потом спрашивает по-латынски: «Чей ты?» Я и отвечаю тоже по-латынски, что я сын диакона Сирийского в селе Лебединском. Видя такую мою скороспешность и ясность ответов, преосвященный благословил меня и сказал: «Напиши отцу, что я его не оставлю, а тебя буду иметь в виду». Протоиереи и священники, которые в алтаре были, слушая латинский диспут, тоже немало удивлялись, и каждый в похвалу мне изъявил свое удовольствие. Еще у меня усов не было, а я уж, брат, читал и по-латынски, и по-гречески, и по-французски, знал философию, математику, гражданскую историю и все науки. Память мне бог дал на удивление. Бывало, которое прочту раза два, наизусть помню. Наставники и благодетели мои удивлялись и так предполагали, что из меня выйдет ученейший муж, светильник церкви. Я и сам думал в Киев ехать, науки продолжать, да родители не благословили. «Ты, говорил отец, весь век учиться будешь, когда же мы тебя дождемся?» Слыша такие слова, я бросил науки и поступил на место. Оно, конечно, ученый из меня не вышел, да зато я родителей не ослушался, старость их успокоил, похоронил с честью. Послушание паче поста и молитвы!— Должно быть, вы уж все науки забыли! — заметил Кузьмичов.— Как не забыть? Слава богу, уж восьмой десяток пошел! Из философии и риторики кое-что еще помню, а языки и математику совсем забыл.О. Христофор зажмурил глаза, подумал и сказал вполголоса:— Что такое существо? Существо есть вещь самобытна, не требуя иного ко своему исполнению.Он покрутил головой и засмеялся от умиления.— Духовная пища! — сказал он. — Истинно, материя питает плоть, а духовная пища душу!— Науки науками, — вздохнул Кузьмичов, — а вот как не догоним Варламова, так и будет нам наука.— Человек — не иголка, найдем. Он теперь в этих местах кружится.Над осокой пролетели знакомые три бекаса, и в их писке слышались тревога и досада, что их согнали с ручья. Лошади степенно жевали и пофыркивали; Дениска ходил около них и, стараясь показать, что он совершенно равнодушен к огурцам, пирогам и яйцам, которые ели хозяева, весь погрузился в избиение слепней и мух, облеплявших лошадиные животы и спины. Он аппетитно, издавая горлом какой-то особенный, ехидно-победный звук, хлопал по своим жертвам, а в случае неудачи досадливо крякал и провожал глазами всякого счастливца, избежавшего смерти.— Дениска, где ты там! Поди ешь! — сказал Кузьмичов, глубоко вздыхая и тем давая знать, что он уже наелся.Дениска несмело подошел к войлоку и выбрал себе пять крупных и желтых огурцов, так называемых «желтяков» (выбрать помельче и посвежее он посовестился), взял два печеных яйца, черных и с трещинами, потом нерешительно, точно боясь, чтобы его не ударили по протянутой руке, коснулся пальцем пирожка.— Бери, бери! — поторопил его Кузьмичов.Дениска решительно взял пирог и, отойдя далеко в сторону, сел на земле, спиной к бричке. Тотчас же послышалось такое громкое жеванье, что даже лошади обернулись и подозрительно поглядели на Дениску. Закусивши, Кузьмичов достал из брички мешок с чем-то и сказал Егорушке:— Я буду спать, а ты поглядывай, чтобы у меня из-под головы этого мешка не вытащили.О. Христофор снял рясу, пояс и кафтан, и Егорушка, взглянув на него, замер от удивления. Он никак не предполагал, что священники носят брюки, а на о. Христофоре были настоящие парусинковые брюки, засунутые в высокие сапоги, и кургузая пестрядинная курточка. Глядя на него, Егорушка нашел, что в этом неподобающем его сану костюме он, со своими длинными волосами и бородой, очень похож на Робинзона Крузе. Разоблачившись, о. Христофор и Кузьмичов легли в тень под бричкой, лицом друг к другу, и закрыли глаза. Дениска, кончив жевать, растянулся на припеке животом вверх и тоже закрыл глаза.— Поглядывай, чтоб кто коней не увел! — сказал он Егорушке и тотчас же заснул.Наступила тишина. Слышно было только, как фыркали и жевали лошади да похрапывали спящие; где-то не близко плакал один чибис и изредка раздавался писк трех бекасов, прилетавших поглядеть, не уехали ли непрошеные гости; мягко картавя, журчал ручеек, но все эти звуки не нарушали тишины, не будили застывшего воздуха, а, напротив, вгоняли природу в дремоту.Егорушка, задыхаясь от зноя, который особенно чувствовался теперь после еды, побежал к осоке и отсюда оглядел местность. Увидел он то же самое, что видел и до полудня: равнину, холмы, небо, лиловую даль; только холмы стояли поближе, да не было мельницы, которая осталась далеко назади. Из-за скалистого холма, где тек ручей, возвышался другой, поглаже и пошире; на нем лепился небольшой поселок из пяти-шести дворов. Около изб не было видно ни людей, ни деревьев, ни теней, точно поселок задохнулся в горячем воздухе и высох. От нечего делать Егорушка поймал в траве скрипача, поднес его в кулаке к уху и долго слушал, как тот играл на своей скрипке. Когда надоела музыка, он погнался за толпой желтых бабочек, прилетавших к осоке на водопой, и сам не заметил, как очутился опять возле брички. Дядя и о. Христофор крепко спали; сон их должен был продолжаться часа два-три, пока не отдохнут лошади... Как же убить это длинное время и куда деваться от зноя! Задача мудреная... Машинально Егорушка подставил рот под струйку, бежавшую из трубочки; во рту его стало холодно и запахло болиголовом; пил он сначала с охотой, потом через силу и до тех пор, пока острый холод изо рта не побежал по всему телу и пока вода не полилась по сорочке. Затем он подошел к бричке и стал глядеть на спящих. Лицо дяди по-прежнему выражало деловую сухость. Фанатик своего дела, Кузьмичов всегда, даже во сне и за молитвой в церкви, когда пели «Иже херувимы», думал о своих делах, ни на минуту не мог забыть о них, и теперь, вероятно, ему снились тюки с шерстью, подводы, цены, Варламов... Отец же Христофор, человек мягкий, легкомысленный и смешливый, во всю свою жизнь не знал ни одного такого дела, которое, как удав, могло бы сковать его душу. Во всех многочисленных делах, за которые он брался на своем веку, его прельщало не столько само дело, сколько суета и общение с людьми, присущие всякому предприятию. Так, в настоящей поездке его интересовали не столько шерсть, Варламов и цены, сколько длинный путь, дорожные разговоры, спанье под бричкой, еда не вовремя... И теперь, судя по его лицу, ему снились, должно быть, преосвященный Христофор, латинский диспут, его попадья, пышки со сметаной и всё такое, что не могло сниться Кузьмичову.В то время, как Егорушка смотрел на сонные лица, неожиданно послышалось тихое пение. Где-то не близко пела женщина, а где именно и в какой стороне, трудно было понять. Песня тихая, тягучая и заунывная, похожая на плач и едва уловимая слухом, слышалась то справа, то слева, то сверху, то из-под земли, точно над степью носился невидимый дух и пел. Егорушка оглядывался и не понимал, откуда эта странная песня; потом же, когда он прислушался, ему стало казаться, что это пела трава; в своей песне она, полумертвая, уже погибшая, без слов, но жалобно и искренно убеждала кого-то, что она ни в чем не виновата, что солнце выжгло ее понапрасну; она уверяла, что ей страстно хочется жить, что она еще молода и была бы красивой, если бы не зной и не засуха; вины не было, но она все-таки просила у кого-то прощения и клялась, что ей невыносимо больно, грустно и жалко себя...Егорушка послушал немного и ему стало казаться, что от заунывной, тягучей песни воздух сделался душнее, жарче и неподвижнее... Чтобы заглушить песню, он, напевая и стараясь стучать ногами, побежал к осоке. Отсюда он поглядел во все стороны и нашел того, кто пел. Около крайней избы поселка стояла баба в короткой исподнице, длинноногая и голенастая, как цапля, и что-то просеивала; из-под ее решета вниз по бугру лениво шла белая пыль. Теперь было очевидно, что пела она. На сажень от нее неподвижно стоял маленький мальчик в одной сорочке и без шапки. Точно очарованный песнею, он не шевелился и глядел куда-то вниз, вероятно, на кумачовую рубаху Егорушки.Песня стихла. Егорушка поплелся к бричке и опять, от нечего делать, занялся струйкой воды.И опять послышалась тягучая песня. Пела всё та же голенастая баба за бугром в поселке. К Егорушке вдруг вернулась его скука. Он оставил трубочку и поднял глаза вверх. То, что увидел он, было так неожиданно, что он немножко испугался. Над его головой на одном из больших неуклюжих камней стоял маленький мальчик в одной рубахе, пухлый, с большим, оттопыренным животом и на тоненьких ножках, тот самый, который раньше стоял около бабы. С тупым удивлением и не без страха, точно видя перед собой выходцев с того света, он, не мигая и разинув рот, оглядывал кумачовую рубаху Егорушки и бричку. Красный цвет рубахи манил и ласкал его, а бричка и спавшие под ней люди возбуждали его любопытство; быть может, он и сам не заметил, как приятный красный цвет и любопытство притянули его из поселка вниз, и, вероятно, теперь удивлялся своей смелости. Егорушка долго оглядывал его, а он Егорушку. Оба молчали и чувствовали некоторую неловкость. После долгого молчания Егорушка спросил:— Тебя как звать?Щеки незнакомца еще больше распухли; он прижался спиной к камню, выпучил глаза, пошевелил губами и ответил сиплым басом:— Тит.Больше мальчики не сказали друг другу ни слова. Помолчав еще немного и не отрывая глаз от Егорушки, таинственный Тит задрал вверх одну ногу, нащупал пяткой точку опоры и взобрался на камень; отсюда он, пятясь назад и глядя в упор на Егорушку, точно боясь, чтобы тот не ударил его сзади, поднялся на следующий камень и так поднимался до тех пор, пока совсем не исчез за верхушкой бугра.Проводив его глазами, Егорушка обнял колени руками и склонил голову... Горячие лучи жгли ему затылок, шею и спину. Заунывная песня то замирала, то опять проносилась в стоячем, душном воздухе, ручей монотонно журчал, лошади жевали, а время тянулось бесконечно, точно и оно застыло и остановилось. Казалось, что с утра прошло уже сто лет... Не хотел ли бог, чтобы Егорушка, бричка и лошади замерли в этом воздухе и, как холмы, окаменели бы и остались навеки на одном месте?Егорушка поднял голову и посоловевшими глазами поглядел вперед себя; лиловая даль, бывшая до сих пор неподвижною, закачалась и вместе с небом понеслась куда-то еще дальше... Она потянула за собою бурую траву, осоку, и Егорушка понесся с необычайною быстротою за убегавшею далью. Какая-то сила бесшумно влекла его куда-то, а за ним вдогонку неслись зной и томительная песня. Егорушка склонил голову и закрыл глаза...Первый проснулся Дениска. Его что-то укусило, потому что он вскочил, быстро почесал плечо и проговорил:— Анафема идолова, нет на тебя погибели!Затем он подошел к ручью, напился и долго умывался. Его фырканье и плеск воды вывели Егорушку из забытья. Мальчик поглядел на его мокрое лицо, покрытое каплями и крупными веснушками, которые делали лицо похожим на мрамор, и спросил:— Скоро поедем?Дениска поглядел, как высоко стоит солнце, и ответил:— Должно, скоро.Он вытерся подолом рубахи и, сделав очень серьезное лицо, запрыгал на одной ноге.— А ну-ка, кто скорей доскачет до осоки! — сказал он.Егорушка был изнеможен зноем и полусном, но все-таки поскакал за ним. Дениске было уже около 20-ти лет, служил он в кучерах и собирался жениться, но не перестал еще быть маленьким. Он очень любил пускать змеи, гонять голубей, играть в бабки, бегать вдогонки и всегда вмешивался в детские игры и ссоры. Нужно было только хозяевам уйти или уснуть, чтобы он занялся чем-нибудь вроде прыганья на одной ножке или подбрасыванья камешков. Всякому взрослому, при виде того искреннего увлечения, с каким он резвился в обществе малолетков, трудно было удержаться, чтобы не проговорить: «Этакая дубина!» Дети же во вторжении большого кучера в их область не видели ничего странного: пусть играет, лишь бы не дрался! Точно так маленькие собаки не видят ничего странного, когда в их компанию затесывается какой-нибудь большой, искренний пес и начинает играть с ними.Дениска перегнал Егорушку и, по-видимому, остался этим очень доволен. Он подмигнул глазом и, чтобы показать, что он может проскакать на одной ножке какое угодно пространство, предложил Егорушке, не хочет ли тот проскакать с ним по дороге и оттуда, не отдыхая, назад к бричке? Егорушка отклонил это предложение, потому что очень запыхался и ослабел.Вдруг Дениска сделал очень серьезное лицо, какого он не делал, даже когда Кузьмичов распекал его или замахивался на него палкой; прислушиваясь, он тихо опустился на одно колено, и на лице его показалось выражение строгости и страха, какое бывает у людей, слышащих ересь. Он нацелился на одну точку глазами, медленно поднял вверх кисть руки, сложенную лодочкой, и вдруг упал животом на землю и хлопнул лодочкой по траве.— Есть! — прохрипел он торжествующе и, вставши, поднес к глазам Егорушки большого кузнечика.Думая, что это приятно кузнечику, Егорушка и Дениска погладили его пальцами по широкой зеленой спине и потрогали его усики. Потом Дениска поймал жирную муху, насосавшуюся крови, и предложил ее кузнечику. Тот очень равнодушно, точно давно уже был знаком с Дениской, задвигал своими большими, похожими на забрало челюстями и отъел мухе живот. Его выпустили, он сверкнул розовой подкладкой своих крыльев и, опустившись в траву, тотчас же затрещал свою песню. Выпустили и муху; она расправила крылья и без живота полетела к лошадям.Из-под брички послышался глубокий вздох. Это проснулся Кузьмичов. Он быстро поднял голову, беспокойно поглядел вдаль, и по этому взгляду, безучастно скользнувшему мимо Егорушки и Дениски, видно было, что, проснувшись, он думал о шерсти и Варламове. Отец Христофор, вставайте, пора! — заговорил он встревоженно. — Будет спать, и так уж дело проспали! Дениска, запрягай!О. Христофор проснулся с такою же улыбкою, с какою уснул. Лицо его от сна помялось, поморщилось и, казалось, стало вдвое меньше. Умывшись и одевшись, он не спеша вытащил из кармана маленький засаленный псалтирь и, став лицом к востоку, начал шёпотом читать и креститься.— Отец Христофор! — сказал укоризненно Кузьмичов. — Пора ехать, уж лошади готовы, а вы ей-богу...— Сейчас, сейчас... — забормотал о. Христофор. — Кафизмы почитать надо... Не читал еще нынче.— Можно и после с кафизмами.— Иван Иваныч, на каждый день у меня положение... Нельзя.— Бог не взыскал бы.Целую четверть часа о. Христофор стоял неподвижно лицом к востоку и шевелил губами, а Кузьмичов почти с ненавистью глядел на него и нетерпеливо пожимал плечами. Особенно его сердило, когда о. Христофор после каждой «славы» втягивал в себя воздух, быстро крестился и намеренно громко, чтоб другие крестились, говорил трижды:— Аллилуя, аллилуя, аллилуя, слава тебе, боже!Наконец он улыбнулся, поглядел вверх на небо и, кладя псалтирь в карман, сказал:— Fini! 3Через минуту бричка тронулась в путь. Точно она ехала назад, а не дальше, путники видели то же самое, что и до полудня. Холмы всё еще тонули в лиловой дали, и не было видно их конца; мелькал бурьян, булыжник, проносились сжатые полосы, и всё те же грачи да коршун, солидно взмахивающий крыльями, летали над степью. Воздух всё больше застывал от зноя и тишины, покорная природа цепенела в молчании... Ни ветра, ни бодрого, свежего звука, ни облачка.Но вот, наконец, когда солнце стало спускаться к западу, степь, холмы и воздух не выдержали гнета и, истощивши терпение, измучившись, попытались сбросить с себя иго. Из-за холмов неожиданно показалось пепельно-седое кудрявое облако. Оно переглянулось со степью — я, мол, готово — и нахмурилось. Вдруг в стоячем воздухе что-то порвалось, сильно рванул ветер и с шумом, со свистом закружился по степи. Тотчас же трава и прошлогодний бурьян подняли ропот, на дороге спирально закружилась пыль, побежала по степи и, увлекая за собой солому, стрекоз и перья, черным вертящимся столбом поднялась к небу и затуманила солнце. По степи, вдоль и поперек, спотыкаясь и прыгая, побежали перекати-поле, а одно из них попало в вихрь, завертелось, как птица, полетело к небу и, обратившись там в черную точку, исчезло из виду. За ним понеслось другое, потом третье, и Егорушка видел, как два перекати-поле столкнулись в голубой вышине и вцепились друг в друга, как на поединке.У самой дороги вспорхнул стрепет. Мелькая крыльями и хвостом, он, залитый солнцем, походил на рыболовную блесну или на прудового мотылька, у которого, когда он мелькает над водой, крылья сливаются с усиками и кажется, что усики растут у него и спереди, и сзади, и с боков... Дрожа в воздухе, как насекомое, играя своей пестротой, стрепет поднялся высоко вверх по прямой линии, потом, вероятно испуганный облаком пыли, понесся в сторону и долго еще было видно его мелькание...А вот, встревоженный вихрем и не понимая, в чем дело, из травы вылетел коростель. Он летел за ветром, а не против, как все птицы; от этого его перья взъерошились, весь он раздулся до величины курицы и имел очень сердитый, внушительный вид. Одни только грачи, состарившиеся в степи и привыкшие к степным переполохам, покойно носились над травой или же равнодушно, ни на что не обращая внимания, долбили своими толстыми клювами черствую землю.За холмами глухо прогремел гром; подуло свежестью. Дениска весело свистнул и стегнул по лошадям. О. Христофор и Кузьмичов, придерживая свои шляпы, устремили глаза на холмы... Хорошо, если бы брызнул дождь!Еще бы, кажется, небольшое усилие, одна потуга, и степь взяла бы верх. Но невидимая гнетущая сила мало-помалу сковала ветер и воздух, уложила пыль, и опять, как будто ничего не было, наступила тишина. Облако спряталось, загорелые холмы нахмурились, воздух покорно застыл и одни только встревоженные чибисы где-то плакали и жаловались на судьбу...Затем скоро наступил вечер.


В вечерних сумерках показался большой одноэтажный дом с ржавой железной крышей и с темными окнами. Этот дом назывался постоялым двором, хотя возле него никакого двора не было и стоял он посреди степи, ничем не огороженный. Несколько в стороне от него темнел жалкий вишневый садик с плетнем, да под окнами, склонив свои тяжелые головы, стояли спавшие подсолнечники. В садике трещала маленькая мельничка, поставленная для того, чтобы пугать стуком зайцев. Больше же около дома не было видно и слышно ничего, кроме степи.Едва бричка остановилась около крылечка с навесом, как в доме послышались радостные голоса — один мужской, другой женский, — завизжала дверь на блоке, и около брички в одно мгновение выросла высокая тощая фигура, размахивавшая руками и фалдами. Это был хозяин постоялого двора Мойсей Мойсеич, немолодой человек с очень бледным лицом и с черной, как тушь, красивой бородой. Одет он был в поношенный черный сюртук, который болтался на его узких плечах, как на вешалке, и взмахивал фалдами, точно крыльями, всякий раз, как Мойсей Мойсеич от радости или в ужасе всплескивал руками. Кроме сюртука, на хозяине были еще широкие белые панталоны навыпуск и бархатная жилетка с рыжими цветами, похожими на гигантских клопов.Мойсей Мойсеич, узнав приехавших, сначала замер от наплыва чувств, потом всплеснул руками и простонал. Сюртук его взмахнул фалдами, спина согнулась в дугу, и бледное лицо покривилось такой улыбкой, как будто видеть бричку для него было не только приятно, но и мучительно сладко.— Ах, боже мой, боже мой! — заговорил он тонким певучим голосом, задыхаясь, суетясь и своими телодвижениями мешая пассажирам вылезти из брички. — И такой сегодня для меня счастливый день! Ах, да что я таперичка должен делать! Иван Иваныч! Отец Христофор! Какой же хорошенький паничок сидит на козлах, накажи меня бог! Ах, боже ж мой, да что же я стою на одном месте и не зову гостей в горницу? Пожалуйте, покорнейше прошу... милости просим! Давайте мне все ваши вещи... Ах, боже мой!Мойсей Мойсеич, шаря в бричке и помогая приезжим вылезать, вдруг обернулся назад и закричал таким диким, придушенным голосом, как будто тонул и звал на помощь:— Соломон! Соломон!— Соломон! Соломон! — повторил в доме женский голос.Дверь на блоке завизжала, и на пороге показался невысокий молодой еврей, рыжий, с большим птичьим носом и с плешью среди жестких кудрявых волос; одет он был в короткий, очень поношенный пиджак, с закругленными фалдами и с короткими рукавами, и в короткие триковые брючки, отчего сам казался коротким и кургузым, как ощипанная птица. Это был Соломон, брат Мойсея Мойсеича. Он молча, не здороваясь, а только как-то странно улыбаясь, подошел к бричке.— Иван Иваныч и отец Христофор приехали! — сказал ему Мойсей Мойсеич таким тоном, как будто боялся, что тот ему не поверит. — Ай, вай, удивительное дело, такие хорошие люди взяли да приехали! Ну, бери, Соломон, вещи! Пожалуйте, дорогие гости!Немного погодя Кузьмичов, о. Христофор и Егорушка сидели уже в большой, мрачной и пустой комнате за старым дубовым столом. Этот стол был почти одинок, так как в большой комнате, кроме него, широкого дивана с дырявой клеенкой да трех стульев, не было никакой другой мебели. Да и стулья не всякий решился бы назвать стульями. Это было какое-то жалкое подобие мебели с отжившей свой век клеенкой и с неестественно сильно загнутыми назад спинками, придававшими стульям большое сходство с детскими санями. Трудно было понять, какое удобство имел в виду неведомый столяр, загибая так немилосердно спинки, и хотелось думать, что тут виноват не столяр, а какой-нибудь проезжий силач, который, желая похвастать своей силой, согнул стульям спины, потом взялся поправлять и еще больше согнул. Комната казалась мрачной. Стены были серы, потолок и карнизы закопчены, на полу тянулись щели и зияли дыры непонятного происхождения (думалось, что их пробил каблуком всё тот же силач), и казалось, если бы в комнате повесили десяток ламп, то она не перестала бы быть темной. Ни на стенах, ни на окнах не было ничего похожего на украшения. Впрочем, на одной стене в серой деревянной раме висели какие-то правила с двуглавым орлом, а на другой, в такой же раме, какая-то гравюра с надписью: «Равнодушие человеков». К чему человеки были равнодушны — понять было невозможно, так как гравюра сильно потускнела от времени и была щедро засижена мухами. Пахло в комнате чем-то затхлым и кислым.Введя гостей в комнату, Мойсей Мойсеич продолжал изгибаться, всплескивать руками, пожиматься и радостно восклицать — всё это считал он нужным проделывать для того, чтобы казаться необыкновенно вежливым и любезным.— Когда проехали тут наши подводы? — спросил его Кузьмичов.— Одна партия проехала нынче утречком, а другая, Иван Иваныч, отдыхала тут в обед и перед вечером уехала.— А... Проезжал тут Варламов или нет?— Нет, Иван Иваныч. Вчера утречком проезжал его приказчик Григорий Егорыч и говорил, что он, надо быть, таперичка на хуторе у молокана.— Отлично. Значит, мы сейчас догоним обозы, а потом и к молокану.— Да бог с вами, Иван Иваныч! — ужаснулся Мойсей Мойсеич, всплескивая руками. — Куда вы на ночь поедете? Вы поужинайте на здоровьечко и переночуйте, а завтра, бог даст, утречком поедете и догоните кого надо!— Некогда, некогда... Извините, Мойсей Мойсеич, в другой раз как-нибудь, а теперь не время. Посидим четверть часика и поедем, а переночевать и у молокана можно.— Четверть часика! — взвизгнул Мойсей Мойсеич. — Да побойтесь вы бога, Иван Иваныч! Вы меня заставите, чтоб я ваши шапке спрятал и запер на замок дверь! Вы хоть закусите и чаю покушайте!— Некогда нам с чаями да с сахара́ми, — сказал Кузьмичов.Мойсей Мойсеич склонил голову набок, согнул колени и выставил вперед ладони, точно обороняясь от ударов, и с мучительно-сладкой улыбкой стал умолять:— Иван Иваныч! Отец Христофор! Будьте же такие добрые, покушайте у меня чайку! Неужели я уж такой нехороший человек, что у меня нельзя даже чай пить? Иван Иваныч!— Что ж, чайку можно попить, — сочувственно вздохнул отец Христофор. — Это не задержит.— Ну, ладно! — согласился Кузьмичов.Мойсей Мойсеич встрепенулся, радостно ахнул и, пожимаясь так, как будто он только что выскочил из холодной воды в тепло, побежал к двери и закричал диким придушенным голосом, каким раньше звал Соломона:— Роза! Роза! Давай самовар!Через минуту отворилась дверь и в комнату с большим подносом в руках вошел Соломон. Ставя на стол поднос, он насмешливо глядел куда-то в сторону и по-прежнему странно улыбался. Теперь при свете лампочки можно было разглядеть его улыбку; она была очень сложной и выражала много чувств, но преобладающим в ней было одно — явное презрение. Он как будто думал о чем-то смешном и глупом, кого-то терпеть не мог и презирал, чему-то радовался и ждал подходящей минуты, чтобы уязвить насмешкой и покатиться со смеху. Его длинный нос, жирные губы и хитрые выпученные глаза, казалось, были напряжены от желания расхохотаться. Взглянув на его лицо, Кузьмичов насмешливо улыбнулся и спросил:— Соломон, отчего же ты этим летом не приезжал к нам в N. на ярмарку жидов представлять?Года два назад, что отлично помнил и Егорушка, Соломон в N. на ярмарке, в одном из балаганов, рассказывал сцены из еврейского быта и пользовался большим успехом. Напоминание об этом не произвело на Соломона никакого впечатления. Ничего не ответив, он вышел и немного погодя вернулся с самоваром.Сделав около стола свое дело, он пошел в сторону и, скрестив на груди руки, выставив вперед одну ногу, уставился своими насмешливыми глазами на о. Христофора. В его позе было что-то вызывающее, надменное и презрительное и в то же время и высшей степени жалкое и комическое, потому что чем внушительнее становилась его поза, тем ярче выступали на первый план его короткие брючки, куцый пиджак, карикатурный нос и вся его птичья, ощипанная фигурка.Мойсей Мойсеич принес из другой комнаты табурет и сел на некотором расстоянии от стола.— Приятного аппетиту! Чай да сахар! — начал он занимать гостей. — Кушайте на здоровьечко. Такие редкие гости, такие редкие, а отца Христофора я уж пять годов не видал. И никто не хочет мне сказать, чей это такой паничок хороший? — спросил он, нежно поглядывая на Егорушку.— Это сынок сестры Ольги Ивановны, — ответил Кузьмичов.— А куда же он едет?— Учиться. В гимназию его везем.Мойсей Мойсеич из вежливости изобразил на лице своем удивление и значительно покрутил головой.— О, это хорошо! — сказал он, грозя самовару пальцем. — Это хорошо! Из гимназии выйдешь такой господин, что все мы будем шапке снимать. Ты будешь умный, богатый, с амбицией, а маменька будет радоваться. О, это хорошо!Он помолчал немного, погладил себе колени и заговорил в почтительно-шутливом тоне:— Уж вы меня извините, отец Христофор, а я собираюсь написать бумагу архиерею, что вы у купцов хлеб отбиваете. Возьму гербовую бумагу и напишу, что у отца Христофора, значит, своих грошей мало, что он занялся коммерцией и стал шерсть продавать.— Да, вздумал вот на старости лет... — сказал о. Христофор и засмеялся. — Записался, брат, из попов в купцы. Теперь бы дома сидеть да богу молиться, а я скачу, аки фараон на колеснице... Суета!— Зато грошей будет много!— Ну да! Дулю мне под нос, а не гроши. Товар-то ведь не мой, а зятя Михайлы!— Отчего же он сам не поехал?— А оттого... Матернее молоко на губах еще не обсохло. Купить-то купил шерсть, а чтоб продать — ума нет, молод еще. Все деньги свои потратил, хотел нажиться и пыль пустить, а сунулся туда-сюда, ему и своей цены никто не дает. Этак помыкался парень с год, потом приходит ко мне и — «Папаша, продайте шерсть, сделайте милость! Ничего я в этих делах не понимаю!» То-то вот и есть. Как что, так сейчас и папаша, а прежде и без папаши можно было. Когда покупал, не спрашивался, а теперь, как приспичило, так и папаша. А что папаша? Коли б не Иван Иваныч, так и папаша ничего б не сделал. Хлопоты с ними!— Да, хлопотно с детьми, я вам скажу! — вздохнул Мойсей Мойсеич. — У меня у самого шесть человек. Одного учи, другого лечи, третьего на руках носи, а когда вырастут, так еще больше хлопот. Не только таперичка, даже в священном писании так было. Когда у Иакова были маленькие дети, он плакал, а когда они выросли, еще хуже стал плакать!— М-да... — согласился о. Христофор, задумчиво глядя на стакан. — Мне-то, собственно, нечего бога гневить, я достиг предела своей жизни, как дай бог всякому... Дочек за хороших людей определил, сынов в люди вывел и теперь свободен, свое дело сделал, хоть на все четыре стороны иди. Живу со своей попадьей потихоньку, кушаю, пью да сплю, на внучат радуюсь да богу молюсь, а больше мне ничего и не надо. Как сыр в масле катаюсь и знать никого не хочу. Отродясь у меня никакого горя не было и теперь ежели б, скажем, царь спросил: «Что тебе надобно? Чего хочешь?» Да ничего мне не надобно! Всё у меня есть и всё слава богу. Счастливей меня во всем городе человека нет. Только вот грехов много, да ведь и то сказать, один бог без греха. Ведь верно?— Стало быть, верно.— Ну, конечно, зубов нет, спину от старости ломит, то да се... одышка и всякое там... Болею, плоть немощна, ну да ведь, сам посуди, пожил! Восьмой десяток! Не век же вековать, надо и честь знать.О. Христофор вдруг что-то вспомнил, прыснул в стакан и закашлялся от смеха. Мойсей Мойсеич из приличия тоже засмеялся и закашлялся.— Потеха! — сказал о. Христофор и махнул рукой. — Приезжает ко мне в гости старший сын мой Гаврила. Он по медицинской части и служит в Черниговской губернии в земских докторах... Хорошо-с... Я ему и говорю: «Вот, говорю, одышка, то да се... Ты доктор, лечи отца!» Он сейчас меня раздел, постукал, послушал, разные там штуки... живот помял, потом и говорит: «Вам, папаша, надо, говорит, лечиться сжатым воздухом».О. Христофор захохотал судорожно, до слез и поднялся.— А я ему и говорю: «Бог с ним, с этим сжатым воздухом!» — выговорил он сквозь смех и махнул обеими руками. — Бог с ним, с этим сжатым воздухом!Мойсей Мойсеич тоже поднялся и, взявшись за живот, залился тонким смехом, похожим на лай болонки.— Бог с ним, с этим сжатым воздухом! — повторил о. Христофор, хохоча.Мойсей Мойсеич взял двумя нотами выше и закатился таким судорожным смехом, что едва устоял на ногах.— О, боже мой... — стонал он среди смеха. — Дайте вздохнуть... Так насмешили, что... ох!.. — смерть моя.Он смеялся и говорил, а сам между тем пугливо и подозрительно посматривал на Соломона. Тот стоял в прежней позе и улыбался. Судя по его глазам и улыбке, он презирал и ненавидел серьезно, но это так не шло к его ощипанной фигурке, что, казалось Егорушке, вызывающую позу и едкое, презрительное выражение придал он себе нарочно, чтобы разыграть шута и насмешить дорогих гостей.Выпив молча стаканов шесть, Кузьмичов расчистил перед собой на столе место, взял мешок, тот самый, который, когда он спал под бричкой, лежал у него под головой, развязал на нем веревочку и потряс им. Из мешка посыпались на стол пачки кредитных бумажек.— Пока время есть, давайте, отец Христофор, посчитаем, — сказал Кузьмичов.Увидев деньги, Мойсей Мойсеич сконфузился, встал и, как деликатный человек, не желающий знать чужих секретов, на цыпочках и балансируя руками, вышел из комнаты. Соломон остался на своем месте.— В рублевых пачках по скольку? — начал о. Христофор.— По пятьдесят... В трехрублевых по девяносто... Четвертные и сторублевые по тысячам сложены. Вы отсчитайте семь тысяч восемьсот для Варламова, а я буду считать для Гусевича. Да глядите, не просчитайте...Егорушка отродясь не видал такой кучи денег, какая лежала теперь на столе. Денег, вероятно, было очень много, так как пачка в семь тысяч восемьсот, которую о. Христофор отложил для Варламова, в сравнении со всей кучей казалась очень маленькой. В другое время такая масса денег, быть может, поразила бы Егорушку и вызвала его на размышления о том, сколько на эту кучу можно купить бубликов, бабок, маковников; теперь же он глядел на нее безучастно и чувствовал только противный запах гнилых яблок и керосина, шедший от кучи. Он был измучен тряской ездой на бричке, утомился и хотел спать. Его голову тянуло вниз, глаза слипались и мысли путались, как нитки. Если б можно было, он с наслаждением склонил бы голову на стол, закрыл бы глаза, чтоб не видеть лампы и пальцев, двигавшихся над кучей, и позволил бы своим вялым, сонным мыслям еще больше запутаться. Когда он силился не дремать, ламповый огонь, чашки и пальцы двоились, самовар качался, а запах гнилых яблок казался еще острее и противнее.— Ах, деньги, деньги! — вздыхал о. Христофор, улыбаясь. — Горе с вами! Теперь мой Михайло, небось, спит и видит, что я ему такую кучу привезу.— Ваш Михайло Тимофеич человек непонимающий, — говорил вполголоса Кузьмичов, — не за свое дело берется, а вы понимаете и можете рассудить. Отдали бы вы мне, как я говорил, вашу шерсть и ехали бы себе назад, а я б вам, так и быть уж, дал бы по полтиннику поверх своей цены, да и то только из уважения...— Нет, Иван Иванович, — вздыхал о. Христофор. — Благодарим вас за внимание... Конечно, ежели б моя воля, я б и разговаривать не стал, а то ведь, сами знаете, товар не мой...Вошел на цыпочках Мойсей Мойсеич. Стараясь из деликатности не глядеть на кучу денег, он подкрался к Егорушке и дернул его сзади за рубаху.— А пойдем-ка, паничок, — сказал он вполголоса, — какого я тебе медведика покажу! Такой страшный, сердитый! У-у!Сонный Егорушка встал и лениво поплелся за Мойсеем Мойсеичем смотреть медведя. Он вошел в небольшую комнатку, где, прежде чем он увидел что-нибудь, у него захватило дыхание от запаха чего-то кислого и затхлого, который здесь был гораздо гуще, чем в большой комнате, и, вероятно, отсюда распространялся по всему дому. Одна половина комнатки была занята большою постелью, покрытой сальным стеганым одеялом, а другая комодом и горами всевозможного тряпья, начиная с жестко накрахмаленных юбок и кончая детскими штанишками и помочами. На комоде горела сальная свечка.Вместо обещанного медведя Егорушка увидел большую, очень толстую еврейку с распущенными волосами и в красном фланелевом платье с черными крапинками; она тяжело поворачивалась в узком проходе между постелью и комодом и издавала протяжные, стонущие вздохи, точно у нее болели зубы. Увидев Егорушку, она сделала плачущее лицо, протяжно вздохнула и, прежде чем он успел оглядеться, поднесла к его рту ломоть хлеба, вымазанный медом.— Кушай, детка, кушай! — сказала она. — Ты здесь без маменьке, и тебя некому покормить. Кушай.Егорушка стал есть, хотя после леденцов и маковников, которые он каждый день ел у себя дома, не находил ничего хорошего в меду, наполовину смешанном с воском и с пчелиными крыльями. Он ел, а Мойсей Мойсеич и еврейка глядели и вздыхали.— Ты куда едешь, детка? — спросила еврейка.— Учиться, — ответил Егорушка.— А сколько вас у маменьке?— Я один. Больше нету никого.— А-ох! — вздохнула еврейка и подняла вверх глаза. — Бедная маменьке, бедная маменьке! Как же она будет скучать и плакать! Через год мы тоже повезем в ученье своего Наума! Ох!— Ах, Наум, Наум! — вздохнул Мойсей Мойсеич, и на его бледном лице нервно задрожала кожа. — А он такой больной.Сальное одеяло зашевелилось, и из-под него показалась кудрявая детская голова на очень тонкой шее; два черных глаза блеснули и с любопытством уставились на Егорушку. Мойсей Мойсеич и еврейка, не переставая вздыхать, подошли к комоду и стали говорить о чем-то по-еврейски. Мойсей Мойсеич говорил вполголоса, низким баском, и в общем его еврейская речь походила на непрерывное «гал-гал-гал-гал...», а жена отвечала ему тонким индюшечьим голоском, и у нее выходило что-то вроде «ту-ту-ту-ту...». Пока они совещались, из-под сального одеяла выглянула другая кудрявая головка на тонкой шее, за ней третья, потом четвертая... Если бы Егорушка обладал богатой фантазией, то мог бы подумать, что под одеялом лежала стоглавая гидра.— Гал-гал-гал-гал... — говорил Мойсей Мойсеич.— Ту-ту-ту-ту... — отвечала ему еврейка.Совещание кончилось тем, что еврейка с глубоким вздохом полезла в комод, развернула там какую-то зеленую тряпку и достала большой ржаной пряник, в виде сердца.— Возьми, детка, — сказала она, подавая Егорушке пряник. — У тебя теперь нету маменьке, некому тебе гостинца дать.Егорушка сунул в карман пряник и попятился к двери, так как был уже не в силах дышать затхлым и кислым воздухом, в котором жили хозяева. Вернувшись в большую комнату, он поудобней примостился на диване и уж не мешал себе думать.Кузьмичов только что кончил считать деньги и клал их обратно в мешок. Обращался он с ними не особенно почтительно и валил их в грязный мешок без всякой церемонии с таким равнодушием, как будто это были не деньги, а бумажный хлам.О. Христофор беседовал с Соломоном.— Ну, что, Соломон премудрый? — спрашивал он, зевая и крестя рот. — Как дела?— Это вы про какие дела говорите? — спросил Соломон и поглядел так ехидно, как будто ему намекали на какое-нибудь преступление.— Вообще... Что поделываешь?— Что я поделываю? — переспросил Соломон и пожал плечами. — То же, что и все... Вы видите: я лакей. Я лакей у брата, брат лакей у проезжающих, проезжающие лакеи у Варламова, а если бы я имел десять миллионов, то Варламов был бы у меня лакеем.— То есть почему же это он был бы у тебя лакеем?— Почему? А потому, что нет такого барина или миллионера, который из-за лишней копейки не стал бы лизать рук у жида пархатого. Я теперь жид пархатый и нищий, все на меня смотрят, как на собаке, а если б у меня были деньги, то Варламов передо мной ломал бы такого дурака, как Мойсей перед вами.О. Христофор и Кузьмичов переглянулись. Ни тот, ни другой не поняли Соломона. Кузьмичов строго и сухо поглядел на него и спросил:— Как же ты, дурак этакой, равняешь себя с Варламовым?— Я еще не настолько дурак, чтобы равнять себя с Варламовым, — ответил Соломон, насмешливо оглядывая своих собеседников. — Варламов хоть и русский, но в душе он жид пархатый; вся жизнь у него в деньгах и в наживе, а я свои деньги спалил в печке. Мне не нужны ни деньги, ни земля, ни овцы, и не нужно, чтоб меня боялись и снимали шапки, когда я еду. Значит, я умней вашего Варламова и больше похож на человека!Немного погодя Егорушка сквозь полусон слышал, как Соломон голосом глухим и сиплым от душившей его ненависти, картавя и спеша, заговорил об евреях; сначала говорил он правильно, по-русски, потом же впал в тон рассказчиков из еврейского быта и стал говорить, как когда-то в балагане, с утрированным еврейским акцентом.— Постой... — перебил его о. Христофор. — Если тебе твоя вера не нравится, так ты ее перемени, а смеяться грех; тот последний человек, кто над своей верой глумится.— Вы ничего не понимаете! — грубо оборвал его Соломон. — Я вам говорю одно, а вы другое...— Вот и видно сейчас, что ты глупый человек, — вздохнул о. Христофор. — Я тебя наставляю, как умею, а ты сердишься. Я тебе по-стариковски, потихоньку, а ты, как индюк: бла-бла-бла! Чудак, право...Вошел Мойсей Мойсеич. Он встревоженно поглядел на Соломона и на своих гостей, и опять на его лице нервно задрожала кожа. Егорушка встряхнул головой и поглядел вокруг себя; мельком он увидел лицо Соломона и как раз в тот момент, когда оно было обращено к нему в три четверти и когда тень от его длинного носа пересекала всю левую щеку; презрительная улыбка, смешанная с этою тенью, блестящие, насмешливые глаза, надменное выражение и вся его ощипанная фигурка, двоясь и мелькая в глазах Егорушки, делали его теперь похожим не на шута, а на что-то такое, что иногда снится, — вероятно, на нечистого духа.— Какой-то он у вас бесноватый, Мойсей Мойсеич, бог с ним! — сказал с улыбкой о. Христофор. — Вы бы его пристроили куда-нибудь, или женили, что ли... На человека не похож...Кузьмичов сердито нахмурился. Мойсей Мойсеич опять встревоженно и пытливо поглядел на брата и на гостей.— Сол