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"Easter Eve" and other great Chekhov stories

Saturday 7 December 2019, by Anton Chekhov


1. OYSTERS (Устрицы) (1884) An eight-year-old boy accompanying his unemployed father who has decided to go out to beg for alms notices the strange word “OYSTERS” on a sign inside a restaurant. The story continues in ever-starker tones as the little fellow progressively discovers the meaning of the word and the thing itself. (1,500 words)

2. AN ACTOR’S END (Актерская гибель) (1886) The actor Shtchiptsov feels something snap in his chest and totters off to his hotel room to recuperate. All of the actors in his travelling company visit him in turn, each with their own remedy for his ills, but Shtchiptsov has only one thought – to return to his home town a thousand miles away, to die there. (2,500 words)

3. A NIGHTMARE (Кошмар) (1886) A notable comes back to his country residence where he is disappointed by the uncouth manners and appearance of the young priest whom he had summoned to arrange for the creation of a school in the village. Eventually however he discovers the incredible poverty in which the priest and others of his diocese, such as the local doctor, are living. (5,600 words)

4. EASTER EVE (Святою ночью) (1886) The narrator describes his moving experience of attending an early-morning celebration of Easter Eve in the countryside after crossing a river in flood in the middle of a very starry night, admiring the fireworks and listening to the boatman’s account of the sudden demise of the church deacon while composing Easter hymns. (4,300 words)

5. TINA (Тина) (1886) The young officer Sokolsky calls upon the rich young heiress of a vodka factory to collect a debt that he urgently needs in order to get married. She wonders why he needs five thousand rubles for that, and the officer explains that if officers get married before the age of twenty-eight they must leave the service and pay that sum in amends. The lady fetches the money and invites the lieutenant to dinner, but that is not the end of the story. (7,200 words)

6. THE KISS (Поцелуй) (1887) An artillery brigade arrives in a village on their way to camp and the officers are invited for tea by the elegant local landowner. All nineteen officers duly join in the outing and one officer is kissed in the neck in the dark by one of the ladies of the house, who seems to have mistaken him for another. He spends the rest of the day, and of the story, wondering who that delicious person might have been. (7,600 words)

7. THE PARTY (Именины) (1888) A young heiress in an interesting condition assumes her duties as hostess for a large group of people who have come to celebrate the name-day of her husband, a prominent and still youthful jurist with a particularly strong personality. As the day progresses through dinner, tea, and supper, her stress and dissatisfaction evolve into a crisis of epic moral and physical dimensions. (12,900 words)

8. A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (Припадок) (1889) A sedate law student is enticed one evening by two friends to come with them to the red-light district of Moscow. He is severely depressed by what he sees, but he returns to the district the next night to try to understand what he has seen and heard there. The following day his friends find him in such a nervous state that they take him to a psychiatrist’s for medical treatment. (8,900 words)

9. THE WIFE (жена) (1892) An engineer receives an anonymous letter about the famine that the peasants in the villages near to his estate are suffering from, and summons his best friend and his estranged wife to organise a relief committee. But he meets with unexpected resistance from his wife who accuses him of wanting to control everything, and as the story progresses he learns more about her, about what his friends and neighbours think of him, and about himself. (18,000 words)

10. TERROR (страх) (1892) The narrator recounts his last stay with an intimate friend, who had unburdened his heart to him about his terrible state of nerves in general and his terrible relationship with his wife in particular. That did not fall on deaf ears, as the narrator had been deeply attracted to the friend’s wife, and had only hesitated to pursue the matter out of respect for their friendship. (5,100 words)

11. AT HOME (В родном углу) (1897) Vera returns to her family home on the steppe in the Ukraine after the death of her parents. It is as beautiful as she remembers, her aunt and her elderly grandfather greet her kindly and there are many neighbours and visitors, but the way of life is very different from the elegant big-city life she had been brought up in, and existential ennui sets in. She finds a way out of her unhappiness and dissatisfaction, though. (4,900 words)

12. GOOSEBERRIES (Крыжовник) (1898) Two friends seek shelter from a rainstorm in the farm of Ivan, who tells them the story of his brother Nikolay, a modest civil servant in Moscow who had saved up all his life and then married an elderly heiress to be able at long last to achieve his life’s ambition of buying a country estate. When Ivan went to visit him he found him to be completely changed, and not for the better. (4,000 words)

13. A DOCTOR’S VISIT (Случай из практики) (1898) A Moscow doctor is summoned by the owner of a large factory in the region to come to the aid of her ailing daughter, and finds that the young woman, who lives alone with her mother and a governess, is healthy but neurasthenic. At night he is struck by the eerie atmosphere of the gigantic garment factory, and has an intense dialogue with the young woman about the inherent fruitlessness of her mercantile and oppressive role in society. (4,500 words)

14. BETROTHED (Невеста) (1903) Nadya is engaged to be married, but she realises that she no longer loves her fiancé, who is as idle and uninteresting as the other people in her life - her neurasthenic mother and her dominating grandmother. She finally flees from the mediocre life that was waiting for her there in her home town to study at the university in Saint Petersburg. (7,600 words)

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

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.


I NEED no great effort of memory to recall, in every detail, the rainy autumn evening when I stood with my father in one of the more frequented streets of Moscow, and felt that I was gradually being overcome by a strange illness. I had no pain at all, but my legs were giving way under me, the words stuck in my throat, my head slipped weakly on one side . . . It seemed as though, in a moment, I must fall down and lose consciousness.
If I had been taken into a hospital at that minute, the doctors would have had to write over my bed: “Fames”, a disease which is not in the manuals of medicine.
Beside me on the pavement stood my father in a shabby summer overcoat and a serge cap, from which a bit of white wadding was sticking out. On his feet he had big heavy goloshes. Afraid, vain man, that people would see that his feet were bare under his goloshes, he had drawn the tops of some old boots up round the calves of his legs.
This poor, foolish, queer creature, whom I loved the more warmly the more ragged and dirty his smart summer overcoat became, had come to Moscow, five months before, to look for a job as copying-clerk. For those five months he had been trudging about Moscow looking for work, and it was only on that day that he had brought himself to go into the street to beg for alms.
Before us was a big house of three storeys, adorned with a blue signboard with the word "Restaurant" on it. My head was drooping feebly backwards and on one side, and I could not help looking upwards at the lighted windows of the restaurant. Human figures were flitting about at the windows. I could see the right side of the orchestrion, two oleographs, hanging lamps . . . . Staring into one window, I saw a patch of white. The patch was motionless, and its rectangular outlines stood out sharply against the dark, brown background. I looked intently and made out of the patch a white placard on the wall. Something was written on it, but what it was, I could not see. . .
For half an hour I kept my eyes on the placard. Its white attracted my eyes, and, as it were, hypnotised my brain. I tried to read it, but my efforts were in vain.
At last the strange disease got the upper hand.
The rumble of the carriages began to seem like thunder, in the stench of the street I distinguished a thousand smells. The restaurant lights and the lamps dazzled my eyes like lightning. My five senses were overstrained and sensitive beyond the normal. I began to see what I had not seen before.
"Oysters . . ." I made out on the placard.
A strange word! I had lived in the world eight years and three months, but had never come across that word. What did it mean? Surely it was not the name of the restaurant-keeper? But signboards with names on them always hang outside, not on the walls indoors!
"Papa, what does ’oysters’ mean?" I asked in a husky voice, making an effort to turn my face towards my father.
My father did not hear. He was keeping a watch on the movements of the crowd, and following every passer-by with his eyes. . . . From his eyes I saw that he wanted to say something to the passers-by, but the fatal word hung like a heavy weight on his trembling lips and could not be flung off. He even took a step after one passer-by and touched him on the sleeve, but when he turned round, he said, "I beg your pardon," was overcome with confusion, and staggered back.
"Papa, what does ’oysters’ mean?" I repeated.
"It is an animal . . . that lives in the sea."
I instantly pictured to myself this unknown marine animal. . . . I thought it must be something midway between a fish and a crab. As it was from the sea they made of it, of course, a very nice hot fish soup with savoury pepper and laurel leaves, or broth with vinegar and fricassee of fish and cabbage, or crayfish sauce, or served it cold with horse-radish. . . . I vividly imagined it being brought from the market, quickly cleaned, quickly put in the pot, quickly, quickly, for everyone was hungry . . . awfully hungry! From the kitchen rose the smell of hot fish and crayfish soup.
I felt that this smell was tickling my palate and nostrils, that it was gradually taking possession of my whole body. . . . The restaurant, my father, the white placard, my sleeves were all smelling of it, smelling so strongly that I began to chew. I moved my jaws and swallowed as though I really had a piece of this marine animal in my mouth . . .
My legs gave way from the blissful sensation I was feeling, and I clutched at my father’s arm to keep myself from falling, and leant against his wet summer overcoat. My father was trembling and shivering. He was cold . . .
"Papa, are oysters a Lenten dish?" I asked.
"They are eaten alive . . ." said my father. "They are in shells like tortoises, but . . . in two halves."
The delicious smell instantly left off affecting me, and the illusion vanished. . . . Now I understood it all!
"How nasty," I whispered, "how nasty!"
So that’s what "oysters" meant! I imagined to myself a creature like a frog. A frog sitting in a shell, peeping out from it with big, glittering eyes, and moving its revolting jaws. I imagined this creature in a shell with claws, glittering eyes, and a slimy skin, being brought from the market. . . . The children would all hide while the cook, frowning with an air of disgust, would take the creature by its claw, put it on a plate, and carry it into the dining-room. The grown-ups would take it and eat it, eat it alive with its eyes, its teeth, its legs! While it squeaked and tried to bite their lips. . . .
I frowned, but . . . but why did my teeth move as though I were munching? The creature was loathsome, disgusting, terrible, but I ate it, ate it greedily, afraid of distinguishing its taste or smell. As soon as I had eaten one, I saw the glittering eyes of a second, a third . . . I ate them too. . . . At last I ate the table-napkin, the plate, my father’s goloshes, the white placard . . . I ate everything that caught my eye, because I felt that nothing but eating would take away my illness. The oysters had a terrible look in their eyes and were loathsome. I shuddered at the thought of them, but I wanted to eat! To eat!
"Oysters! Give me some oysters!" was the cry that broke from me and I stretched out my hand.
"Help us, gentlemen!" I heard at that moment my father say, in a hollow and shaking voice. "I am ashamed to ask but—my God!—I can bear no more!"
"Oysters!" I cried, pulling my father by the skirts of his coat.
"Do you mean to say you eat oysters? A little chap like you!" I heard laughter close to me.
Two gentlemen in top hats were standing before us, looking into my face and laughing.
"Do you really eat oysters, youngster? That’s interesting! How do you eat them?"
I remember that a strong hand dragged me into the lighted restaurant. A minute later there was a crowd round me, watching me with curiosity and amusement. I sat at a table and ate something slimy, salt with a flavour of dampness and mouldiness. I ate greedily without chewing, without looking and trying to discover what I was eating. I fancied that if I opened my eyes I should see glittering eyes, claws, and sharp teeth.
All at once I began biting something hard, there was a sound of a scrunching.
"Ha, ha! He is eating the shells," laughed the crowd. "Little silly, do you suppose you can eat that?"
After that I remember a terrible thirst. I was lying in my bed, and could not sleep for heartburn and the strange taste in my parched mouth. My father was walking up and down, gesticulating with his hands.
"I believe I have caught cold," he was muttering. "I’ve a feeling in my head as though someone were sitting on it. . . . Perhaps it is because I have not . . . er . . . eaten anything to-day. . . . I really am a queer, stupid creature. . . . I saw those gentlemen pay ten roubles for the oysters. Why didn’t I go up to them and ask them . . . to lend me something? They would have given something."
Towards morning, I fell asleep and dreamt of a frog sitting in a shell, moving its eyes. At midday I was awakened by thirst, and looked for my father: he was still walking up and down and gesticulating.


SHTCHIPTSOV, the “heavy father” and “good-hearted simpleton,” a tall and thick-set old man, not so much distinguished by his talents as an actor as by his exceptional physical strength, had a desperate quarrel with the manager during the performance, and just when the storm of words was at its height felt as though something had snapped in his chest. Zhukov, the manager, as a rule began at the end of every heated discussion to laugh hysterically and to fall into a swoon; on this occasion, however, Shtchiptsov did not remain for this climax, but hurried home. The high words and the sensation of something ruptured in his chest so agitated him as he left the theatre that he forgot to wash off his paint, and did nothing but take off his beard.
When he reached his hotel room, Shtchiptsov spent a long time pacing up and down, then sat down on the bed, propped his head on his fists, and sank into thought. He sat like that without stirring or uttering a sound till two o’clock the next afternoon, when Sigaev, the comic man, walked into his room.
“Why is it you did not come to the rehearsal, Booby Ivanitch?” the comic man began, panting and filling the room with fumes of vodka. “Where have you been?”
Shtchiptsov made no answer, but simply stared at the comic man with lustreless eyes, under which there were smudges of paint.
“You might at least have washed your phiz!” Sigaev went on. “You are a disgraceful sight! Have you been boozing, or . . . are you ill, or what? But why don’t you speak? I am asking you: are you ill?”
Shtchiptsov did not speak. In spite of the paint on his face, the comic man could not help noticing his striking pallor, the drops of sweat on his forehead, and the twitching of his lips. His hands and feet were trembling too, and the whole huge figure of the “good-natured simpleton” looked somehow crushed and flattened. The comic man took a rapid glance round the room, but saw neither bottle nor flask nor any other suspicious vessel.
“I say, Mishutka, you know you are ill!” he said in a flutter. “Strike me dead, you are ill! You don’t look yourself!”
Shtchiptsov remained silent and stared disconsolately at the floor.
“You must have caught cold,” said Sigaev, taking him by the hand. “Oh, dear, how hot your hands are! What’s the trouble?”
“I wa-ant to go home,” muttered Shtchiptsov.
“But you are at home now, aren’t you?”
“No. . . . To Vyazma. . . .”
“Oh, my, anywhere else! It would take you three years to get to your Vyazma. . . . What? do you want to go and see your daddy and mummy? I’ll be bound, they’ve kicked the bucket years ago, and you won’t find their graves. . . .”
“My ho-ome’s there.”
“Come, it’s no good giving way to the dismal dumps. These neurotic feelings are the limit, old man. You must get well, for you have to play Mitka in ‘The Terrible Tsar’ to-morrow. There is nobody else to do it. Drink something hot and take some castor-oil? Have you got the money for some castor-oil? Or, stay, I’ll run and buy some.”
The comic man fumbled in his pockets, found a fifteen-kopeck piece, and ran to the chemist’s. A quarter of an hour later he came back.
“Come, drink it,” he said, holding the bottle to the “heavy father’s” mouth. “Drink it straight out of the bottle. . . . All at a go! That’s the way. . . . Now nibble at a clove that your very soul mayn’t stink of the filthy stuff.”
The comic man sat a little longer with his sick friend, then kissed him tenderly, and went away. Towards evening the jeune premier, Brama-Glinsky, ran in to see Shtchiptsov. The gifted actor was wearing a pair of prunella boots, had a glove on his left hand, was smoking a cigar, and even smelt of heliotrope, yet nevertheless he strongly suggested a traveller cast away in some land in which there were neither baths nor laundresses nor tailors. . . .
“I hear you are ill?” he said to Shtchiptsov, twirling round on his heel. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you, really? . . .”
Shtchiptsov did not speak nor stir.
“Why don’t you speak? Do you feel giddy? Oh well, don’t talk, I won’t pester you . . . don’t talk. . . .”
Brama-Glinsky (that was his stage name, in his passport he was called Guskov) walked away to the window, put his hands in his pockets, and fell to gazing into the street. Before his eyes stretched an immense waste, bounded by a grey fence beside which ran a perfect forest of last year’s burdocks. Beyond the waste ground was a dark, deserted factory, with windows boarded up. A belated jackdaw was flying round the chimney. This dreary, lifeless scene was beginning to be veiled in the dusk of evening.
“I must go home!” the jeune premier heard.
“Where is home?”
“To Vyazma . . . to my home. . . .”
“It is a thousand miles to Vyazma . . . my boy,” sighed Brama-Glinsky, drumming on the window-pane. “And what do you want to go to Vyazma for?”
“I want to die there.”
“What next! Now he’s dying! He has fallen ill for the first time in his life, and already he fancies that his last hour is come. . . . No, my boy, no cholera will carry off a buffalo like you. You’ll live to be a hundred. . . . Where’s the pain?”
“There’s no pain, but I . . . feel . . .”
“You don’t feel anything, it all comes from being too healthy. Your surplus energy upsets you. You ought to get jolly tight—drink, you know, till your whole inside is topsy-turvy. Getting drunk is wonderfully restoring. . . . Do you remember how screwed you were at Rostov on the Don? Good Lord, the very thought of it is alarming! Sashka and I together could only just carry in the barrel, and you emptied it alone, and even sent for rum afterwards. . . . You got so drunk you were catching devils in a sack and pulled a lamp-post up by the roots. Do you remember? Then you went off to beat the Greeks. . . .”
Under the influence of these agreeable reminiscences Shtchiptsov’s face brightened a little and his eyes began to shine.
“And do you remember how I beat Savoikin the manager?” he muttered, raising his head. “But there! I’ve beaten thirty-three managers in my time, and I can’t remember how many smaller fry. And what managers they were! Men who would not permit the very winds to touch them! I’ve beaten two celebrated authors and one painter!”
“What are you crying for?”
“At Kherson I killed a horse with my fists. And at Taganrog some roughs fell upon me at night, fifteen of them. I took off their caps and they followed me, begging: ‘Uncle, give us back our caps.’ That’s how I used to go on.”
“What are you crying for, then, you silly?”
“But now it’s all over . . . I feel it. If only I could go to Vyazma!”
A pause followed. After a silence Shtchiptsov suddenly jumped up and seized his cap. He looked distraught.
“Good-bye! I am going to Vyazma!” he articulated, staggering.
“And the money for the journey?”
“H’m! . . . I shall go on foot!”
“You are crazy. . . .”
The two men looked at each other, probably because the same thought—of the boundless plains, the unending forests and swamps—struck both of them at once.
“Well, I see you have gone off your head,” the jeune premier commented. “I’ll tell you what, old man. . . . First thing, go to bed, then drink some brandy and tea to put you into a sweat. And some castor-oil, of course. Stay, where am I to get some brandy?”
Brama-Glinsky thought a minute, then made up his mind to go to a shopkeeper called Madame Tsitrinnikov to try and get it from her on tick: who knows? perhaps the woman would feel for them and let them have it. The jeune premier went off, and half an hour later returned with a bottle of brandy and some castor-oil. Shtchiptsov was sitting motionless, as before, on the bed, gazing dumbly at the floor. He drank the castor-oil offered him by his friend like an automaton, with no consciousness of what he was doing. Like an automaton he sat afterwards at the table, and drank tea and brandy; mechanically he emptied the whole bottle and let the jeune premier put him to bed. The latter covered him up with a quilt and an overcoat, advised him to get into a perspiration, and went away.
The night came on; Shtchiptsov had drunk a great deal of brandy, but he did not sleep. He lay motionless under the quilt and stared at the dark ceiling; then, seeing the moon looking in at the window, he turned his eyes from the ceiling towards the companion of the earth, and lay so with open eyes till the morning. At nine o’clock in the morning Zhukov, the manager, ran in.
“What has put it into your head to be ill, my angel?” he cackled, wrinkling up his nose. “Aie, aie! A man with your physique has no business to be ill! For shame, for shame! Do you know, I was quite frightened. ‘Can our conversation have had such an effect on him?’ I wondered. My dear soul, I hope it’s not through me you’ve fallen ill! You know you gave me as good . . . er . . . And, besides, comrades can never get on without words. You called me all sorts of names . . . and have gone at me with your fists too, and yet I am fond of you! Upon my soul, I am. I respect you and am fond of you! Explain, my angel, why I am so fond of you. You are neither kith nor kin nor wife, but as soon as I heard you had fallen ill it cut me to the heart.”
Zhukov spent a long time declaring his affection, then fell to kissing the invalid, and finally was so overcome by his feelings that he began laughing hysterically, and was even meaning to fall into a swoon, but, probably remembering that he was not at home nor at the theatre, put off the swoon to a more convenient opportunity and went away.
Soon after him Adabashev, the tragic actor, a dingy, short-sighted individual who talked through his nose, made his appearance. . . . For a long while he looked at Shtchiptsov, for a long while he pondered, and at last he made a discovery.
“Do you know what, Mifa?” he said, pronouncing through his nose “f” instead of “sh,” and assuming a mysterious expression. “Do you know what? You ought to have a dose of castor-oil!”
Shtchiptsov was silent. He remained silent, too, a little later as the tragic actor poured the loathsome oil into his mouth. Two hours later Yevlampy, or, as the actors for some reason called him, Rigoletto, the hairdresser of the company, came into the room. He too, like the tragic man, stared at Shtchiptsov for a long time, then sighed like a steam-engine, and slowly and deliberately began untying a parcel he had brought with him. In it there were twenty cups and several little flasks.
“You should have sent for me and I would have cupped you long ago,” he said, tenderly baring Shtchiptsov’s chest. “It is easy to neglect illness.”
Thereupon Rigoletto stroked the broad chest of the “heavy father” and covered it all over with suction cups.
“Yes . . .” he said, as after this operation he packed up his paraphernalia, crimson with Shtchiptsov’s blood. “You should have sent for me, and I would have come. . . . You needn’t trouble about payment. . . . I do it from sympathy. Where are you to get the money if that idol won’t pay you? Now, please take these drops. They are nice drops! And now you must have a dose of this castor-oil. It’s the real thing. That’s right! I hope it will do you good. Well, now, good-bye. . . .”
Rigoletto took his parcel and withdrew, pleased that he had been of assistance to a fellow-creature.
The next morning Sigaev, the comic man, going in to see Shtchiptsov, found him in a terrible condition. He was lying under his coat, breathing in gasps, while his eyes strayed over the ceiling. In his hands he was crushing convulsively the crumpled quilt.
“To Vyazma!” he whispered, when he saw the comic man. “To Vyazma.”
“Come, I don’t like that, old man!” said the comic man, flinging up his hands. “You see . . . you see . . . you see, old man, that’s not the thing! Excuse me, but . . . it’s positively stupid. . . .”
“To go to Vyazma! My God, to Vyazma!”
“I . . . I did not expect it of you,” the comic man muttered, utterly distracted. “What the deuce do you want to collapse like this for? Aie . . . aie . . . aie! . . . that’s not the thing. A giant as tall as a watch-tower, and crying. Is it the thing for actors to cry?”
“No wife nor children,” muttered Shtchiptsov. “I ought not to have gone for an actor, but have stayed at Vyazma. My life has been wasted, Semyon! Oh, to be in Vyazma!”
“Aie . . . aie . . . aie! . . . that’s not the thing! You see, it’s stupid . . . contemptible indeed!”
Recovering his composure and setting his feelings in order, Sigaev began comforting Shtchiptsov, telling him untruly that his comrades had decided to send him to the Crimea at their expense, and so on, but the sick man did not listen and kept muttering about Vyazma . . . . At last, with a wave of his hand, the comic man began talking about Vyazma himself to comfort the invalid.
“It’s a fine town,” he said soothingly, “a capital town, old man! It’s famous for its cakes. The cakes are classical, but—between ourselves—h’m!—they are a bit groggy. For a whole week after eating them I was . . . h’m! . . . But what is fine there is the merchants! They are something like merchants. When they treat you they do treat you!”
The comic man talked while Shtchiptsov listened in silence and nodded his head approvingly.
Towards evening he died.


Kunin, a young man of thirty, who was a permanent member of the Rural Board, on returning from Petersburg to his district, Borisovo, immediately sent a mounted messenger to Sinkino, for the priest there, Father Yakov Smirnov.
Five hours later Father Yakov appeared.
“Very glad to make your acquaintance,” said Kunin, meeting him in the entry. “I’ve been living and serving here for a year; it seems as though we ought to have been acquainted before. You are very welcome! But . . . how young you are!” Kunin added in surprise. “What is your age?”
“Twenty-eight, . . .” said Father Yakov, faintly pressing Kunin’s outstretched hand, and for some reason turning crimson.
Kunin led his visitor into his study and began looking at him more attentively.
“What an uncouth womanish face!” he thought.
There certainly was a good deal that was womanish in Father Yakov’s face: the turned-up nose, the bright red cheeks, and the large grey-blue eyes with scanty, scarcely perceptible eyebrows. His long reddish hair, smooth and dry, hung down in straight tails on to his shoulders. The hair on his upper lip was only just beginning to form into a real masculine moustache, while his little beard belonged to that class of good-for-nothing beards which among divinity students are for some reason called “ticklers.” It was scanty and extremely transparent; it could not have been stroked or combed, it could only have been pinched. . . . All these scanty decorations were put on unevenly in tufts, as though Father Yakov, thinking to dress up as a priest and beginning to gum on the beard, had been interrupted halfway through. He had on a cassock, the colour of weak coffee with chicory in it, with big patches on both elbows.
“A queer type,” thought Kunin, looking at his muddy skirts. “Comes to the house for the first time and can’t dress decently.
“Sit down, Father,” he began more carelessly than cordially, as he moved an easy-chair to the table. “Sit down, I beg you.”
Father Yakov coughed into his fist, sank awkwardly on to the edge of the chair, and laid his open hands on his knees. With his short figure, his narrow chest, his red and perspiring face, he made from the first moment a most unpleasant impression on Kunin. The latter could never have imagined that there were such undignified and pitiful-looking priests in Russia; and in Father Yakov’s attitude, in the way he held his hands on his knees and sat on the very edge of his chair, he saw a lack of dignity and even a shade of servility.
“I have invited you on business, Father. . . .” Kunin began, sinking back in his low chair. “It has fallen to my lot to perform the agreeable duty of helping you in one of your useful undertakings. . . . On coming back from Petersburg, I found on my table a letter from the Marshal of Nobility. Yegor Dmitrevitch suggests that I should take under my supervision the church parish school which is being opened in Sinkino. I shall be very glad to, Father, with all my heart. . . . More than that, I accept the proposition with enthusiasm.”
Kunin got up and walked about the study.
“Of course, both Yegor Dmitrevitch and probably you, too, are aware that I have not great funds at my disposal. My estate is mortgaged, and I live exclusively on my salary as the permanent member. So that you cannot reckon on very much assistance, but I will do all that is in my power. . . . And when are you thinking of opening the school Father?”
“When we have the money, . . .” answered Father Yakov.
“You have some funds at your disposal already?”
“Scarcely any. . . . The peasants settled at their meeting that they would pay, every man of them, thirty kopecks a year; but that’s only a promise, you know! And for the first beginning we should need at least two hundred roubles. . . .”
“M’yes. . . . Unhappily, I have not that sum now,” said Kunin with a sigh. “I spent all I had on my tour and got into debt, too. Let us try and think of some plan together.”
Kunin began planning aloud. He explained his views and watched Father Yakov’s face, seeking signs of agreement or approval in it. But the face was apathetic and immobile, and expressed nothing but constrained shyness and uneasiness. Looking at it, one might have supposed that Kunin was talking of matters so abstruse that Father Yakov did not understand and only listened from good manners, and was at the same time afraid of being detected in his failure to understand.
“The fellow is not one of the brightest, that’s evident . . .” thought Kunin. “He’s rather shy and much too stupid.”
Father Yakov revived somewhat and even smiled only when the footman came into the study bringing in two glasses of tea on a tray and a cake-basket full of biscuits. He took his glass and began drinking at once.
“Shouldn’t we write at once to the bishop?” Kunin went on, meditating aloud. “To be precise, you know, it is not we, not the Zemstvo, but the higher ecclesiastical authorities, who have raised the question of the church parish schools. They ought really to apportion the funds. I remember I read that a sum of money had been set aside for the purpose. Do you know nothing about it?”
Father Yakov was so absorbed in drinking tea that he did not answer this question at once. He lifted his grey-blue eyes to Kunin, thought a moment, and as though recalling his question, he shook his head in the negative. An expression of pleasure and of the most ordinary prosaic appetite overspread his face from ear to ear. He drank and smacked his lips over every gulp. When he had drunk it to the very last drop, he put his glass on the table, then took his glass back again, looked at the bottom of it, then put it back again. The expression of pleasure faded from his face. . . . Then Kunin saw his visitor take a biscuit from the cake-basket, nibble a little bit off it, then turn it over in his hand and hurriedly stick it in his pocket.
“Well, that’s not at all clerical!” thought Kunin, shrugging his shoulders contemptuously. “What is it, priestly greed or childishness?”
After giving his visitor another glass of tea and seeing him to the entry, Kunin lay down on the sofa and abandoned himself to the unpleasant feeling induced in him by the visit of Father Yakov.
“What a strange wild creature!” he thought. “Dirty, untidy, coarse, stupid, and probably he drinks. . . . My God, and that’s a priest, a spiritual father! That’s a teacher of the people! I can fancy the irony there must be in the deacon’s face when before every mass he booms out: ‘Thy blessing, Reverend Father!’ A fine reverend Father! A reverend Father without a grain of dignity or breeding, hiding biscuits in his pocket like a schoolboy. . . . Fie! Good Lord, where were the bishop’s eyes when he ordained a man like that? What can he think of the people if he gives them a teacher like that? One wants people here who . . .”
And Kunin thought what Russian priests ought to be like.
“If I were a priest, for instance. . . . An educated priest fond of his work might do a great deal. . . . I should have had the school opened long ago. And the sermons? If the priest is sincere and is inspired by love for his work, what wonderful rousing sermons he might give!”
Kunin shut his eyes and began mentally composing a sermon. A little later he sat down to the table and rapidly began writing.
“I’ll give it to that red-haired fellow, let him read it in church, . . .” he thought.
The following Sunday Kunin drove over to Sinkino in the morning to settle the question of the school, and while he was there to make acquaintance with the church of which he was a parishioner. In spite of the awful state of the roads, it was a glorious morning. The sun was shining brightly and cleaving with its rays the layers of white snow still lingering here and there. The snow as it took leave of the earth glittered with such diamonds that it hurt the eyes to look, while the young winter corn was hastily thrusting up its green beside it. The rooks floated with dignity over the fields. A rook would fly, drop to earth, and give several hops before standing firmly on its feet. . . .
The wooden church up to which Kunin drove was old and grey; the columns of the porch had once been painted white, but the colour had now completely peeled off, and they looked like two ungainly shafts. The ikon over the door looked like a dark smudged blur. But its poverty touched and softened Kunin. Modestly dropping his eyes, he went into the church and stood by the door. The service had only just begun. An old sacristan, bent into a bow, was reading the “Hours” in a hollow indistinct tenor. Father Yakov, who conducted the service without a deacon, was walking about the church, burning incense. Had it not been for the softened mood in which Kunin found himself on entering the poverty-stricken church, he certainly would have smiled at the sight of Father Yakov. The short priest was wearing a crumpled and extremely long robe of some shabby yellow material; the hem of the robe trailed on the ground.
The church was not full. Looking at the parishioners, Kunin was struck at the first glance by one strange circumstance: he saw nothing but old people and children. . . . Where were the men of working age? Where was the youth and manhood? But after he had stood there a little and looked more attentively at the aged-looking faces, Kunin saw that he had mistaken young people for old. He did not, however, attach any significance to this little optical illusion.
The church was as cold and grey inside as outside. There was not one spot on the ikons nor on the dark brown walls which was not begrimed and defaced by time. There were many windows, but the general effect of colour was grey, and so it was twilight in the church.
“Anyone pure in soul can pray here very well,” thought Kunin. “Just as in St. Peter’s in Rome one is impressed by grandeur, here one is touched by the lowliness and simplicity.”
But his devout mood vanished like smoke as soon as Father Yakov went up to the altar and began mass. Being still young and having come straight from the seminary bench to the priesthood, Father Yakov had not yet formed a set manner of celebrating the service. As he read he seemed to be vacillating between a high tenor and a thin bass; he bowed clumsily, walked quickly, and opened and shut the gates abruptly. . . . The old sacristan, evidently deaf and ailing, did not hear the prayers very distinctly, and this very often led to slight misunderstandings. Before Father Yakov had time to finish what he had to say, the sacristan began chanting his response, or else long after Father Yakov had finished the old man would be straining his ears, listening in the direction of the altar and saying nothing till his skirt was pulled. The old man had a sickly hollow voice and an asthmatic quavering lisp. . . . The complete lack of dignity and decorum was emphasized by a very small boy who seconded the sacristan and whose head was hardly visible over the railing of the choir. The boy sang in a shrill falsetto and seemed to be trying to avoid singing in tune. Kunin stayed a little while, listened and went out for a smoke. He was disappointed, and looked at the grey church almost with dislike.
“They complain of the decline of religious feeling among the people . . .” he sighed. “I should rather think so! They’d better foist a few more priests like this one on them!”
Kunin went back into the church three times, and each time he felt a great temptation to get out into the open air again. Waiting till the end of the mass, he went to Father Yakov’s. The priest’s house did not differ outwardly from the peasants’ huts, but the thatch lay more smoothly on the roof and there were little white curtains in the windows. Father Yakov led Kunin into a light little room with a clay floor and walls covered with cheap paper; in spite of some painful efforts towards luxury in the way of photographs in frames and a clock with a pair of scissors hanging on the weight the furnishing of the room impressed him by its scantiness. Looking at the furniture, one might have supposed that Father Yakov had gone from house to house and collected it in bits; in one place they had given him a round three-legged table, in another a stool, in a third a chair with a back bent violently backwards; in a fourth a chair with an upright back, but the seat smashed in; while in a fifth they had been liberal and given him a semblance of a sofa with a flat back and a lattice-work seat. This semblance had been painted dark red and smelt strongly of paint. Kunin meant at first to sit down on one of the chairs, but on second thoughts he sat down on the stool.
“This is the first time you have been to our church?” asked Father Yakov, hanging his hat on a huge misshapen nail.
“Yes it is. I tell you what, Father, before we begin on business, will you give me some tea? My soul is parched.”
Father Yakov blinked, gasped, and went behind the partition wall. There was a sound of whispering.
“With his wife, I suppose,” thought Kunin; “it would be interesting to see what the red-headed fellow’s wife is like.”
A little later Father Yakov came back, red and perspiring and with an effort to smile, sat down on the edge of the sofa.
“They will heat the samovar directly,” he said, without looking at his visitor.
“My goodness, they have not heated the samovar yet!” Kunin thought with horror. “A nice time we shall have to wait.”
“I have brought you,” he said, “the rough draft of the letter I have written to the bishop. I’ll read it after tea; perhaps you may find something to add. . . .”
“Very well.”
A silence followed. Father Yakov threw furtive glances at the partition wall, smoothed his hair, and blew his nose.
“It’s wonderful weather, . . .” he said.
“Yes. I read an interesting thing yesterday. . . . the Volsky Zemstvo have decided to give their schools to the clergy, that’s typical.”
Kunin got up, and pacing up and down the clay floor, began to give expression to his reflections.
“That would be all right,” he said, “if only the clergy were equal to their high calling and recognized their tasks. I am so unfortunate as to know priests whose standard of culture and whose moral qualities make them hardly fit to be army secretaries, much less priests. You will agree that a bad teacher does far less harm than a bad priest.”
Kunin glanced at Father Yakov; he was sitting bent up, thinking intently about something and apparently not listening to his visitor.
“Yasha, come here!” a woman’s voice called from behind the partition. Father Yakov started and went out. Again a whispering began.
Kunin felt a pang of longing for tea.
“No; it’s no use my waiting for tea here,” he thought, looking at his watch. “Besides I fancy I am not altogether a welcome visitor. My host has not deigned to say one word to me; he simply sits and blinks.”
Kunin took up his hat, waited for Father Yakov to return, and said good-bye to him.
“I have simply wasted the morning,” he thought wrathfully on the way home. “The blockhead! The dummy! He cares no more about the school than I about last year’s snow. . . . No, I shall never get anything done with him! We are bound to fail! If the Marshal knew what the priest here was like, he wouldn’t be in such a hurry to talk about a school. We ought first to try and get a decent priest, and then think about the school.”
By now Kunin almost hated Father Yakov. The man, his pitiful, grotesque figure in the long crumpled robe, his womanish face, his manner of officiating, his way of life and his formal restrained respectfulness, wounded the tiny relic of religious feeling which was stored away in a warm corner of Kunin’s heart together with his nurse’s other fairy tales. The coldness and lack of attention with which Father Yakov had met Kunin’s warm and sincere interest in what was the priest’s own work was hard for the former’s vanity to endure. . . .
On the evening of the same day Kunin spent a long time walking about his rooms and thinking. Then he sat down to the table resolutely and wrote a letter to the bishop. After asking for money and a blessing for the school, he set forth genuinely, like a son, his opinion of the priest at Sinkino.
“He is young,” he wrote, “insufficiently educated, leads, I fancy, an intemperate life, and altogether fails to satisfy the ideals which the Russian people have in the course of centuries formed of what a pastor should be.”
After writing this letter Kunin heaved a deep sigh, and went to bed with the consciousness that he had done a good deed.
On Monday morning, while he was still in bed, he was informed that Father Yakov had arrived. He did not want to get up, and instructed the servant to say he was not at home. On Tuesday he went away to a sitting of the Board, and when he returned on Saturday he was told by the servants that Father Yakov had called every day in his absence.
“He liked my biscuits, it seems,” he thought.
Towards evening on Sunday Father Yakov arrived. This time not only his skirts, but even his hat, was bespattered with mud. Just as on his first visit, he was hot and perspiring, and sat down on the edge of his chair as he had done then. Kunin determined not to talk about the school—not to cast pearls.
“I have brought you a list of books for the school, Pavel Mihailovitch, . . .” Father Yakov began.
“Thank you.”
But everything showed that Father Yakov had come for something else besides the list. Has whole figure was expressive of extreme embarrassment, and at the same time there was a look of determination upon his face, as on the face of a man suddenly inspired by an idea. He struggled to say something important, absolutely necessary, and strove to overcome his timidity.
“Why is he dumb?” Kunin thought wrathfully. “He’s settled himself comfortably! I haven’t time to be bothered with him.”
To smoothe over the awkwardness of his silence and to conceal the struggle going on within him, the priest began to smile constrainedly, and this slow smile, wrung out on his red perspiring face, and out of keeping with the fixed look in his grey-blue eyes, made Kunin turn away. He felt moved to repulsion.
“Excuse me, Father, I have to go out,” he said.
Father Yakov started like a man asleep who has been struck a blow, and, still smiling, began in his confusion wrapping round him the skirts of his cassock. In spite of his repulsion for the man, Kunin felt suddenly sorry for him, and he wanted to soften his cruelty.
“Please come another time, Father,” he said, “and before we part I want to ask you a favour. I was somehow inspired to write two sermons the other day. . . . I will give them to you to look at. If they are suitable, use them.”
“Very good,” said Father Yakov, laying his open hand on Kunin’s sermons which were lying on the table. “I will take them.”
After standing a little, hesitating and still wrapping his cassock round him, he suddenly gave up the effort to smile and lifted his head resolutely.
“Pavel Mihailovitch,” he said, evidently trying to speak loudly and distinctly.
“What can I do for you?”
“I have heard that you . . . er . . . have dismissed your secretary, and . . . and are looking for a new one. . . .”
“Yes, I am. . . . Why, have you someone to recommend?”
“I. . . er . . . you see . . . I . . . Could you not give the post to me?”
“Why, are you giving up the Church?” said Kunin in amazement.
“No, no,” Father Yakov brought out quickly, for some reason turning pale and trembling all over. “God forbid! If you feel doubtful, then never mind, never mind. You see, I could do the work between whiles, . . so as to increase my income. . . . Never mind, don’t disturb yourself!”
“H’m! . . . your income. . . . But you know, I only pay my secretary twenty roubles a month.”
“Good heavens! I would take ten,” whispered Father Yakov, looking about him. “Ten would be enough! You . . . you are astonished, and everyone is astonished. The greedy priest, the grasping priest, what does he do with his money? I feel myself I am greedy, . . . and I blame myself, I condemn myself. . . . I am ashamed to look people in the face. . . . I tell you on my conscience, Pavel Mihailovitch. . . . I call the God of truth to witness. . . .”
Father Yakov took breath and went on:
“On the way here I prepared a regular confession to make you, but . . . I’ve forgotten it all; I cannot find a word now. I get a hundred and fifty roubles a year from my parish, and everyone wonders what I do with the money. . . . But I’ll explain it all truly. . . . I pay forty roubles a year to the clerical school for my brother Pyotr. He has everything found there, except that I have to provide pens and paper.”
“Oh, I believe you; I believe you! But what’s the object of all this?” said Kunin, with a wave of the hand, feeling terribly oppressed by this outburst of confidence on the part of his visitor, and not knowing how to get away from the tearful gleam in his eyes.
“Then I have not yet paid up all that I owe to the consistory for my place here. They charged me two hundred roubles for the living, and I was to pay ten roubles a month. . . . You can judge what is left! And, besides, I must allow Father Avraamy at least three roubles a month.”
“What Father Avraamy?”
“Father Avraamy who was priest at Sinkino before I came. He was deprived of the living on account of . . . his failing, but you know, he is still living at Sinkino! He has nowhere to go. There is no one to keep him. Though he is old, he must have a corner, and food and clothing—I can’t let him go begging on the roads in his position! It would be on my conscience if anything happened! It would be my fault! He is. . . in debt all round; but, you see, I am to blame for not paying for him.”
Father Yakov started up from his seat and, looking frantically at the floor, strode up and down the room.
“My God, my God!” he muttered, raising his hands and dropping them again. “Lord, save us and have mercy upon us! Why did you take such a calling on yourself if you have so little faith and no strength? There is no end to my despair! Save me, Queen of Heaven!”
“Calm yourself, Father,” said Kunin.
“I am worn out with hunger, Pavel Mihailovitch,” Father Yakov went on. “Generously forgive me, but I am at the end of my strength . . . . I know if I were to beg and to bow down, everyone would help, but . . . I cannot! I am ashamed. How can I beg of the peasants? You are on the Board here, so you know. . . . How can one beg of a beggar? And to beg of richer people, of landowners, I cannot! I have pride! I am ashamed!”
Father Yakov waved his hand, and nervously scratched his head with both hands.
“I am ashamed! My God, I am ashamed! I am proud and can’t bear people to see my poverty! When you visited me, Pavel Mihailovitch, I had no tea in the house! There wasn’t a pinch of it, and you know it was pride prevented me from telling you! I am ashamed of my clothes, of these patches here. . . . I am ashamed of my vestments, of being hungry. . . . And is it seemly for a priest to be proud?”
Father Yakov stood still in the middle of the study, and, as though he did not notice Kunin’s presence, began reasoning with himself.
“Well, supposing I endure hunger and disgrace—but, my God, I have a wife! I took her from a good home! She is not used to hard work; she is soft; she is used to tea and white bread and sheets on her bed. . . . At home she used to play the piano. . . . She is young, not twenty yet. . . . She would like, to be sure, to be smart, to have fun, go out to see people. . . . And she is worse off with me than any cook; she is ashamed to show herself in the street. My God, my God! Her only treat is when I bring an apple or some biscuit from a visit. . . .”
Father Yakov scratched his head again with both hands.
“And it makes us feel not love but pity for each other. . . . I cannot look at her without compassion! And the things that happen in this life, O Lord! Such things that people would not believe them if they saw them in the newspaper. . . . And when will there be an end to it all!”
“Hush, Father!” Kunin almost shouted, frightened at his tone. “Why take such a gloomy view of life?”
“Generously forgive me, Pavel Mihailovitch . . .” muttered Father Yakov as though he were drunk, “Forgive me, all this . . . doesn’t matter, and don’t take any notice of it. . . . Only I do blame myself, and always shall blame myself . . . always.”
Father Yakov looked about him and began whispering:
“One morning early I was going from Sinkino to Lutchkovo; I saw a woman standing on the river bank, doing something. . . . I went up close and could not believe my eyes. . . . It was horrible! The wife of the doctor, Ivan Sergeitch, was sitting there washing her linen. . . . A doctor’s wife, brought up at a select boarding-school! She had got up you see, early and gone half a mile from the village that people should not see her. . . . She couldn’t get over her pride! When she saw that I was near her and noticed her poverty, she turned red all over. . . . I was flustered—I was frightened, and ran up to help her, but she hid her linen from me; she was afraid I should see her ragged chemises. . . .”
“All this is positively incredible,” said Kunin, sitting down and looking almost with horror at Father Yakov’s pale face.
“Incredible it is! It’s a thing that has never been! Pavel Mihailovitch, that a doctor’s wife should be rinsing the linen in the river! Such a thing does not happen in any country! As her pastor and spiritual father, I ought not to allow it, but what can I do? What? Why, I am always trying to get treated by her husband for nothing myself! It is true that, as you say, it is all incredible! One can hardly believe one’s eyes. During Mass, you know, when I look out from the altar and see my congregation, Avraamy starving, and my wife, and think of the doctor’s wife—how blue her hands were from the cold water—would you believe it, I forget myself and stand senseless like a fool, until the sacristan calls to me. . . . It’s awful!”
Father Yakov began walking about again.
“Lord Jesus!” he said, waving his hands, “holy Saints! I can’t officiate properly. . . . Here you talk to me about the school, and I sit like a dummy and don’t understand a word, and think of nothing but food. . . . Even before the altar. . . . But . . . what am I doing?” Father Yakov pulled himself up suddenly. “You want to go out. Forgive me, I meant nothing. . . . Excuse . . .”
Kunin shook hands with Father Yakov without speaking, saw him into the hall, and going back into his study, stood at the window. He saw Father Yakov go out of the house, pull his wide-brimmed rusty-looking hat over his eyes, and slowly, bowing his head, as though ashamed of his outburst, walk along the road.
“I don’t see his horse,” thought Kunin.
Kunin did not dare to think that the priest had come on foot every day to see him; it was five or six miles to Sinkino, and the mud on the road was impassable. Further on he saw the coachman Andrey and the boy Paramon, jumping over the puddles and splashing Father Yakov with mud, run up to him for his blessing. Father Yakov took off his hat and slowly blessed Andrey, then blessed the boy and stroked his head.
Kunin passed his hand over his eyes, and it seemed to him that his hand was moist. He walked away from the window and with dim eyes looked round the room in which he still seemed to hear the timid droning voice. He glanced at the table. Luckily, Father Yakov, in his haste, had forgotten to take the sermons. Kunin rushed up to them, tore them into pieces, and with loathing thrust them under the table.
“And I did not know!” he moaned, sinking on to the sofa. “After being here over a year as member of the Rural Board, Honorary Justice of the Peace, member of the School Committee! Blind puppet, egregious idiot! I must make haste and help them, I must make haste!”
He turned from side to side uneasily, pressed his temples and racked his brains.
“On the twentieth I shall get my salary, two hundred roubles. . . . On some good pretext I will give him some, and some to the doctor’s wife. . . . I will ask them to perform a special service here, and will get up an illness for the doctor. . . . In that way I shan’t wound their pride. And I’ll help Father Avraamy too. . . .”
He reckoned his money on his fingers, and was afraid to own to himself that those two hundred roubles would hardly be enough for him to pay his steward, his servants, the peasant who brought the meat. . . . He could not help remembering the recent past when he was senselessly squandering his father’s fortune, when as a puppy of twenty he had given expensive fans to prostitutes, had paid ten roubles a day to Kuzma, his cab-driver, and in his vanity had made presents to actresses. Oh, how useful those wasted rouble, three-rouble, ten-rouble notes would have been now!
“Father Avraamy lives on three roubles a month!” thought Kunin. “For a rouble the priest’s wife could get herself a chemise, and the doctor’s wife could hire a washerwoman. But I’ll help them, anyway! I must help them.”
Here Kunin suddenly recalled the private information he had sent to the bishop, and he writhed as from a sudden draught of cold air. This remembrance filled him with overwhelming shame before his inner self and before the unseen truth.
So had begun and had ended a sincere effort to be of public service on the part of a well-intentioned but unreflecting and over-comfortable person.


I was standing on the bank of the River Goltva, waiting for the ferry-boat from the other side. At ordinary times the Goltva is a humble stream of moderate size, silent and pensive, gently glimmering from behind thick reeds; but now a regular lake lay stretched out before me. The waters of spring, running riot, had overflowed both banks and flooded both sides of the river for a long distance, submerging vegetable gardens, hayfields and marshes, so that it was no unusual thing to meet poplars and bushes sticking out above the surface of the water and looking in the darkness like grim solitary crags.
The weather seemed to me magnificent. It was dark, yet I could see the trees, the water and the people. . . . The world was lighted by the stars, which were scattered thickly all over the sky. I don’t remember ever seeing so many stars. Literally one could not have put a finger in between them. There were some as big as a goose’s egg, others tiny as hempseed. . . . They had come out for the festival procession, every one of them, little and big, washed, renewed and joyful, and everyone of them was softly twinkling its beams. The sky was reflected in the water; the stars were bathing in its dark depths and trembling with the quivering eddies. The air was warm and still. . . . Here and there, far away on the further bank in the impenetrable darkness, several bright red lights were gleaming. . . .
A couple of paces from me I saw the dark silhouette of a peasant in a high hat, with a thick knotted stick in his hand.
"How long the ferry-boat is in coming!" I said.
"It is time it was here," the silhouette answered.
"You are waiting for the ferry-boat, too?"
"No I am not," yawned the peasant—"I am waiting for the illumination. I should have gone, but to tell you the truth, I haven’t the five kopecks for the ferry."
"I’ll give you the five kopecks."
"No; I humbly thank you. . . . With that five kopecks put up a candle for me over there in the monastery. . . . That will be more interesting, and I will stand here. What can it mean, no ferry-boat, as though it had sunk in the water!"
The peasant went up to the water’s edge, took the rope in his hands, and shouted; "Ieronim! Ieron—im!"
As though in answer to his shout, the slow peal of a great bell floated across from the further bank. The note was deep and low, as from the thickest string of a double bass; it seemed as though the darkness itself had hoarsely uttered it. At once there was the sound of a cannon shot. It rolled away in the darkness and ended somewhere in the far distance behind me. The peasant took off his hat and crossed himself.
’"Christ is risen," he said.
Before the vibrations of the first peal of the bell had time to die away in the air a second sounded, after it at once a third, and the darkness was filled with an unbroken quivering clamour. Near the red lights fresh lights flashed, and all began moving together and twinkling restlessly.
"Ieron—im!" we heard a hollow prolonged shout.
"They are shouting from the other bank," said the peasant, "so there is no ferry there either. Our Ieronim has gone to sleep."
The lights and the velvety chimes of the bell drew one towards them. . . . I was already beginning to lose patience and grow anxious, but behold at last, staring into the dark distance, I saw the outline of something very much like a gibbet. It was the long-expected ferry. It moved towards us with such deliberation that if it had not been that its lines grew gradually more definite, one might have supposed that it was standing still or moving to the other bank.
"Make haste! Ieronim!" shouted my peasant. "The gentleman’s tired of waiting!"
The ferry crawled to the bank, gave a lurch and stopped with a creak. A tall man in a monk’s cassock and a conical cap stood on it, holding the rope.
"Why have you been so long?" I asked jumping upon the ferry.
"Forgive me, for Christ’s sake," Ieronim answered gently. "Is there no one else?"
"No one. . . ."
Ieronim took hold of the rope in both hands, bent himself to the figure of a mark of interrogation, and gasped. The ferry-boat creaked and gave a lurch. The outline of the peasant in the high hat began slowly retreating from me—so the ferry was moving off. Ieronim soon drew himself up and began working with one hand only. We were silent, gazing towards the bank to which we were floating. There the illumination for which the peasant was waiting had begun. At the water’s edge barrels of tar were flaring like huge camp fires. Their reflections, crimson as the rising moon, crept to meet us in long broad streaks. The burning barrels lighted up their own smoke and the long shadows of men flitting about the fire; but further to one side and behind them from where the velvety chime floated there was still the same unbroken black gloom. All at once, cleaving the darkness, a rocket zigzagged in a golden ribbon up the sky; it described an arc and, as though broken to pieces against the sky, was scattered crackling into sparks. There was a roar from the bank like a far-away hurrah.
"How beautiful!" I said.
"Beautiful beyond words!" sighed Ieronim. "Such a night, sir! Another time one would pay no attention to the fireworks, but to-day one rejoices in every vanity. Where do you come from?"
I told him where I came from.
"To be sure . . . a joyful day to-day. . . ." Ieronim went on in a weak sighing tenor like the voice of a convalescent. "The sky is rejoicing and the earth and what is under the earth. All the creatures are keeping holiday. Only tell me kind sir, why, even in the time of great rejoicing, a man cannot forget his sorrows?"
I fancied that this unexpected question was to draw me into one of those endless religious conversations which bored and idle monks are so fond of. I was not disposed to talk much, and so I only asked:
"What sorrows have you, father?"
"As a rule only the same as all men, kind sir, but to-day a special sorrow has happened in the monastery: at mass, during the reading of the Bible, the monk and deacon Nikolay died."
"Well, it’s God’s will!" I said, falling into the monastic tone. "We must all die. To my mind, you ought to rejoice indeed. . . . They say if anyone dies at Easter he goes straight to the kingdom of heaven."
"That’s true."
We sank into silence. The figure of the peasant in the high hat melted into the lines of the bank. The tar barrels were flaring up more and more.
"The Holy Scripture points clearly to the vanity of sorrow and so does reflection," said Ieronim, breaking the silence, "but why does the heart grieve and refuse to listen to reason? Why does one want to weep bitterly?"
Ieronim shrugged his shoulders, turned to me and said quickly:
"If I died, or anyone else, it would not be worth notice perhaps; but, you see, Nikolay is dead! No one else but Nikolay! Indeed, it’s hard to believe that he is no more! I stand here on my ferry-boat and every minute I keep fancying that he will lift up his voice from the bank. He always used to come to the bank and call to me that I might not be afraid on the ferry. He used to get up from his bed at night on purpose for that. He was a kind soul. My God! how kindly and gracious! Many a mother is not so good to her child as Nikolay was to me! Lord, save his soul!"

Ieronim took hold of the rope, but turned to me again at once.
"And such a lofty intelligence, your honour," he said in a vibrating voice. "Such a sweet and harmonious tongue! Just as they will sing immediately at early matins: ’Oh lovely! oh sweet is Thy Voice!’ Besides all other human qualities, he had, too, an extraordinary gift!"
"What gift?" I asked.
The monk scrutinized me, and as though he had convinced himself that he could trust me with a secret, he laughed good-humouredly.
"He had a gift for writing hymns of praise," he said. "It was a marvel, sir; you couldn’t call it anything else! You would be amazed if I tell you about it. Our Father Archimandrite comes from Moscow, the Father Sub-Prior studied at the Kazan academy, we have wise monks and elders, but, would you believe it, no one could write them; while Nikolay, a simple monk, a deacon, had not studied anywhere, and had not even any outer appearance of it, but he wrote them! A marvel! A real marvel!" Ieronim clasped his hands and, completely forgetting the rope, went on eagerly:
"The Father Sub-Prior has great difficulty in composing sermons; when he wrote the history of the monastery he worried all the brotherhood and drove a dozen times to town, while Nikolay wrote canticles! Hymns of praise! That’s a very different thing from a sermon or a history!"
"Is it difficult to write them?" I asked.
"There’s great difficulty!" Ieronim wagged his head. "You can do nothing by wisdom and holiness if God has not given you the gift. The monks who don’t understand argue that you only need to know the life of the saint for whom you are writing the hymn, and to make it harmonize with the other hymns of praise. But that’s a mistake, sir. Of course, anyone who writes canticles must know the life of the saint to perfection, to the least trivial detail. To be sure, one must make them harmonize with the other canticles and know where to begin and what to write about. To give you an instance, the first response begins everywhere with ’the chosen’ or ’the elect.’ . . . The first line must always begin with the ’angel.’ In the canticle of praise to Jesus the Most Sweet, if you are interested in the subject, it begins like this: ’Of angels Creator and Lord of all powers!’ In the canticle to the Holy Mother of God: ’Of angels the foremost sent down from on high,’ to Nikolay, the Wonder-worker— ’An angel in semblance, though in substance a man,’ and so on. Everywhere you begin with the angel. Of course, it would be impossible without making them harmonize, but the lives of the saints and conformity with the others is not what matters; what matters is the beauty and sweetness of it. Everything must be harmonious, brief and complete. There must be in every line softness, graciousness and tenderness; not one word should be harsh or rough or unsuitable. It must be written so that the worshipper may rejoice at heart and weep, while his mind is stirred and he is thrown into a tremor. In the canticle to the Holy Mother are the words: ’Rejoice, O Thou too high for human thought to reach! Rejoice, O Thou too deep for angels’ eyes to fathom!’ In another place in the same canticle: ’Rejoice, O tree that bearest the fair fruit of light that is the food of the faithful! Rejoice, O tree of gracious spreading shade, under which there is shelter for multitudes!’"
Ieronim hid his face in his hands, as though frightened at something or overcome with shame, and shook his head.
"Tree that bearest the fair fruit of light . . . tree of gracious spreading shade. . . ." he muttered. "To think that a man should find words like those! Such a power is a gift from God! For brevity he packs many thoughts into one phrase, and how smooth and complete it all is! ’Light-radiating torch to all that be . . .’ comes in the canticle to Jesus the Most Sweet. ’Light-radiating!’ There is no such word in conversation or in books, but you see he invented it, he found it in his mind! Apart from the smoothness and grandeur of language, sir, every line must be beautified in every way, there must be flowers and lightning and wind and sun and all the objects of the visible world. And every exclamation ought to be put so as to be smooth and easy for the ear. ’Rejoice, thou flower of heavenly growth!’ comes in the hymn to Nikolay the Wonder-worker. It’s not simply ’heavenly flower,’ but ’flower of heavenly growth.’ It’s smoother so and sweet to the ear. That was just as Nikolay wrote it! Exactly like that! I can’t tell you how he used to write!"
"Well, in that case it is a pity he is dead," I said; "but let us get on, father, or we shall be late."
Ieronim started and ran to the rope; they were beginning to peal all the bells. Probably the procession was already going on near the monastery, for all the dark space behind the tar barrels was now dotted with moving lights.
"Did Nikolay print his hymns?" I asked Ieronim.
"How could he print them?" he sighed. "And indeed, it would be strange to print them. What would be the object? No one in the monastery takes any interest in them. They don’t like them. They knew Nikolay wrote them, but they let it pass unnoticed. No one esteems new writings nowadays, sir!"
"Were they prejudiced against him?"
"Yes, indeed. If Nikolay had been an elder perhaps the brethren would have been interested, but he wasn’t forty, you know. There were some who laughed and even thought his writing a sin."
"What did he write them for?"
"Chiefly for his own comfort. Of all the brotherhood, I was the only one who read his hymns. I used to go to him in secret, that no one else might know of it, and he was glad that I took an interest in them. He would embrace me, stroke my head, speak to me in caressing words as to a little child. He would shut his cell, make me sit down beside him, and begin to read. . . ."
Ieronim left the rope and came up to me.
"We were dear friends in a way," he whispered, looking at me with shining eyes. "Where he went I would go. If I were not there he would miss me. And he cared more for me than for anyone, and all because I used to weep over his hymns. It makes me sad to remember. Now I feel just like an orphan or a widow. You know, in our monastery they are all good people, kind and pious, but . . . there is no one with softness and refinement, they are just like peasants. They all speak loudly, and tramp heavily when they walk; they are noisy, they clear their throats, but Nikolay always talked softly, caressingly, and if he noticed that anyone was asleep or praying he would slip by like a fly or a gnat. His face was tender, compassionate. . . ."
Ieronim heaved a deep sigh and took hold of the rope again. We were by now approaching the bank. We floated straight out of the darkness and stillness of the river into an enchanted realm, full of stifling smoke, crackling lights and uproar. By now one could distinctly see people moving near the tar barrels. The flickering of the lights gave a strange, almost fantastic, expression to their figures and red faces. From time to time one caught among the heads and faces a glimpse of a horse’s head motionless as though cast in copper.
"They’ll begin singing the Easter hymn directly, . . ." said Ieronim, "and Nikolay is gone; there is no one to appreciate it. . . . There was nothing written dearer to him than that hymn. He used to take in every word! You’ll be there, sir, so notice what is sung; it takes your breath away!"
"Won’t you be in church, then?"
"I can’t; . . . I have to work the ferry. . . ."
"But won’t they relieve you?"
"I don’t know. . . . I ought to have been relieved at eight; but, as you see, they don’t come! . . . And I must own I should have liked to be in the church. . . ."
"Are you a monk?"
"Yes . . . that is, I am a lay-brother."
The ferry ran into the bank and stopped. I thrust a five-kopeck piece into Ieronim’s hand for taking me across and jumped on land. Immediately a cart with a boy and a sleeping woman in it drove creaking onto the ferry. Ieronim, with a faint glow from the lights on his figure, pressed on the rope, bent down to it, and started the ferry back. . . .
I took a few steps through mud, but a little farther walked on a soft freshly trodden path. This path led to the dark monastery gates, that looked like a cavern through a cloud of smoke, through a disorderly crowd of people, unharnessed horses, carts and chaises. All this crowd was rattling, snorting, laughing, and the crimson light and wavering shadows from the smoke flickered over it all . . . . A perfect chaos! And in this hubbub the people yet found room to load a little cannon and to sell cakes. There was no less commotion on the other side of the wall in the monastery precincts, but there was more regard for decorum and order. Here there was a smell of juniper and incense. They talked loudly, but there was no sound of laughter or snorting. Near the tombstones and crosses people pressed close to one another with Easter cakes and bundles in their arms. Apparently many had come from a long distance for their cakes to be blessed and now were exhausted. Young lay brothers, making a metallic sound with their boots, ran busily along the iron slabs that paved the way from the monastery gates to the church door. They were busy and shouting on the belfry, too.
"What a restless night!" I thought. "How nice!"
One was tempted to see the same unrest and sleeplessness in all nature, from the night darkness to the iron slabs, the crosses on the tombs and the trees under which the people were moving to and fro. But nowhere was the excitement and restlessness so marked as in the church. An unceasing struggle was going on in the entrance between the inflowing stream and the outflowing stream. Some were going in, others going out and soon coming back again to stand still for a little and begin moving again. People were scurrying from place to place, lounging about as though they were looking for something. The stream flowed from the entrance all round the church, disturbing even the front rows, where persons of weight and dignity were standing. There could be no thought of concentrated prayer. There were no prayers at all, but a sort of continuous, childishly irresponsible joy, seeking a pretext to break out and vent itself in some movement, even in senseless jostling and shoving.
The same unaccustomed movement is striking in the Easter service itself. The altar gates are flung wide open, thick clouds of incense float in the air near the candelabra; wherever one looks there are lights, the gleam and splutter of candles. . . . There is no reading; restless and lighthearted singing goes on to the end without ceasing. After each hymn the clergy change their vestments and come out to burn the incense, which is repeated every ten minutes.
I had no sooner taken a place, when a wave rushed from in front and forced me back. A tall thick-set deacon walked before me with a long red candle; the grey-headed archimandrite in his golden mitre hurried after him with the censer. When they had vanished from sight the crowd squeezed me back to my former position. But ten minutes had not passed before a new wave burst on me, and again the deacon appeared. This time he was followed by the Father Sub-Prior, the man who, as Ieronim had told me, was writing the history of the monastery.
As I mingled with the crowd and caught the infection of the universal joyful excitement, I felt unbearably sore on Ieronim’s account. Why did they not send someone to relieve him? Why could not someone of less feeling and less susceptibility go on the ferry? ’Lift up thine eyes, O Sion, and look around,’ they sang in the choir, ’for thy children have come to thee as to a beacon of divine light from north and south, and from east and from the sea. . . .’
I looked at the faces; they all had a lively expression of triumph, but not one was listening to what was being sung and taking it in, and not one was ’holding his breath.’ Why was not Ieronim released? I could fancy Ieronim standing meekly somewhere by the wall, bending forward and hungrily drinking in the beauty of the holy phrase. All this that glided by the ears of the people standing by me he would have eagerly drunk in with his delicately sensitive soul, and would have been spell-bound to ecstasy, to holding his breath, and there would not have been a man happier than he in all the church. Now he was plying to and fro over the dark river and grieving for his dead friend and brother.
The wave surged back. A stout smiling monk, playing with his rosary and looking round behind him, squeezed sideways by me, making way for a lady in a hat and velvet cloak. A monastery servant hurried after the lady, holding a chair over our heads.
I came out of the church. I wanted to have a look at the dead Nikolay, the unknown canticle writer. I walked about the monastery wall, where there was a row of cells, peeped into several windows, and, seeing nothing, came back again. I do not regret now that I did not see Nikolay; God knows, perhaps if I had seen him I should have lost the picture my imagination paints for me now. I imagine the lovable poetical figure solitary and not understood, who went out at nights to call to Ieronim over the water, and filled his hymns with flowers, stars and sunbeams, as a pale timid man with soft mild melancholy features. His eyes must have shone, not only with intelligence, but with kindly tenderness and that hardly restrained childlike enthusiasm which I could hear in Ieronim’s voice when he quoted to me passages from the hymns.
When we came out of church after mass it was no longer night. The morning was beginning. The stars had gone out and the sky was a morose greyish blue. The iron slabs, the tombstones and the buds on the trees were covered with dew There was a sharp freshness in the air. Outside the precincts I did not find the same animated scene as I had beheld in the night. Horses and men looked exhausted, drowsy, scarcely moved, while nothing was left of the tar barrels but heaps of black ash. When anyone is exhausted and sleepy he fancies that nature, too, is in the same condition. It seemed to me that the trees and the young grass were asleep. It seemed as though even the bells were not pealing so loudly and gaily as at night. The restlessness was over, and of the excitement nothing was left but a pleasant weariness, a longing for sleep and warmth.
Now I could see both banks of the river; a faint mist hovered over it in shifting masses. There was a harsh cold breath from the water. When I jumped on to the ferry, a chaise and some two dozen men and women were standing on it already. The rope, wet and as I fancied drowsy, stretched far away across the broad river and in places disappeared in the white mist.
"Christ is risen! Is there no one else?" asked a soft voice.
I recognized the voice of Ieronim. There was no darkness now to hinder me from seeing the monk. He was a tall narrow-shouldered man of five-and-thirty, with large rounded features, with half-closed listless-looking eyes and an unkempt wedge-shaped beard. He had an extraordinarily sad and exhausted look.
"They have not relieved you yet?" I asked in surprise.
"Me?" he answered, turning to me his chilled and dewy face with a smile. "There is no one to take my place now till morning. They’ll all be going to the Father Archimandrite’s to break the fast directly."
With the help of a little peasant in a hat of reddish fur that looked like the little wooden tubs in which honey is sold, he threw his weight on the rope; they gasped simultaneously, and the ferry started.
We floated across, disturbing on the way the lazily rising mist. Everyone was silent. Ieronim worked mechanically with one hand. He slowly passed his mild lustreless eyes over us; then his glance rested on the rosy face of a young merchant’s wife with black eyebrows, who was standing on the ferry beside me silently shrinking from the mist that wrapped her about. He did not take his eyes off her face all the way.
There was little that was masculine in that prolonged gaze. It seemed to me that Ieronim was looking in the woman’s face for the soft and tender features of his dead friend.



GRACEFULLY swaying in the saddle, a young man wearing the snow-white tunic of an officer rode into the great yard of the vodka distillery belonging to the heirs of M. E. Rothstein. The sun smiled carelessly on the lieutenant’s little stars, on the white trunks of the birch-trees, on the heaps of broken glass scattered here and there in the yard. The radiant, vigorous beauty of a summer day lay over everything, and nothing hindered the snappy young green leaves from dancing gaily and winking at the clear blue sky. Even the dirty and soot-begrimed appearance of the bricksheds and the stifling fumes of the distillery did not spoil the general good impression. The lieutenant sprang gaily out of the saddle, handed over his horse to a man who ran up, and stroking with his finger his delicate black moustaches, went in at the front door. On the top step of the old but light and softly carpeted staircase he was met by a maidservant with a haughty, not very youthful face. The lieutenant gave her his card without speaking.

As she went through the rooms with the card, the maid could see on it the name "Alexandr Grigoryevitch Sokolsky." A minute later she came back and told the lieutenant that her mistress could not see him, as she was not feeling quite well. Sokolsky looked at the ceiling and thrust out his lower lip.

"How vexatious!" he said. "Listen, my dear," he said eagerly. "Go and tell Susanna Moiseyevna, that it is very necessary for me to speak to her — very. I will only keep her one minute. Ask her to excuse me."

The maid shrugged one shoulder and went off languidly to her mistress.

"Very well!" she sighed, returning after a brief interval. "Please walk in!"

The lieutenant went with her through five or six large, luxuriously furnished rooms and a corridor, and finally found himself in a large and lofty square room, in which from the first step he was impressed by the abundance of flowers and plants and the sweet, almost revoltingly heavy fragrance of jasmine. Flowers were trained to trellis-work along the walls, screening the windows, hung from the ceiling, and were wreathed over the corners, so that the room was more like a greenhouse than a place to live in. Tits, canaries, and goldfinches chirruped among the green leaves and fluttered against the window-panes.

"Forgive me for receiving you here," the lieutenant heard in a mellow feminine voice with a burr on the letter r which was not without charm. "Yesterday I had a sick headache, and I’m trying to keep still to prevent its coming on again. What do you want?"

Exactly opposite the entrance, he saw sitting in a big low chair, such as old men use, a woman in an expensive Chinese dressing-gown, with her head wrapped up, leaning back on a pillow. Nothing could be seen behind the woollen shawl in which she was muffled but a pale, long, pointed, somewhat aquiline nose, and one large dark eye. Her ample dressing-gown concealed her figure, but judging from her beautiful hand, from her voice, her nose, and her eye, she might be twenty-six or twenty-eight.

"Forgive me for being so persistent . . ." began the lieutenant, clinking his spurs. "Allow me to introduce myself: Sokolsky! I come with a message from my cousin, your neighbour, Alexey Ivanovitch Kryukov, who . . ."

"I know!" interposed Susanna Moiseyevna. "I know Kryukov. Sit down; I don’t like anything big standing before me."

"My cousin charges me to ask you a favour," the lieutenant went on, clinking his spurs once more and sitting down. "The fact is, your late father made a purchase of oats from my cousin last winter, and a small sum was left owing. The payment only becomes due next week, but my cousin begs you most particularly to pay him — if possible, to-day."

As the lieutenant talked, he stole side-glances about him.

"Surely I’m not in her bedroom?" he thought.

In one corner of the room, where the foliage was thickest and tallest, under a pink awning like a funeral canopy, stood a bed not yet made, with the bedclothes still in disorder. Close by on two arm-chairs lay heaps of crumpled feminine garments. Petticoats and sleeves with rumpled lace and flounces were trailing on the carpet, on which here and there lay bits of white tape, cigarette-ends, and the papers of caramels. . . . Under the bed the toes, pointed and square, of slippers of all kinds peeped out in a long row. And it seemed to the lieutenant that the scent of the jasmine came not from the flowers, but from the bed and the slippers.

"And what is the sum owing?" asked Susanna Moiseyevna.

"Two thousand three hundred."

"Oho!" said the Jewess, showing another large black eye. "And you call that — a small sum! However, it’s just the same paying it to-day or paying it in a week, but I’ve had so many payments to make in the last two months since my father’s death. . . . Such a lot of stupid business, it makes my head go round! A nice idea! I want to go abroad, and they keep forcing me to attend to these silly things. Vodka, oats . . ." she muttered, half closing her eyes, "oats, bills, percentages, or, as my head-clerk says, ’percentage.’ . . . It’s awful. Yesterday I simply turned the excise officer out. He pesters me with his Tralles. I said to him: ’Go to the devil with your Tralles! I can’t see any one!’ He kissed my hand and went away. I tell you what: can’t your cousin wait two or three months?"

"A cruel question!" laughed the lieutenant. "My cousin can wait a year, but it’s I who cannot wait! You see, it’s on my own account I’m acting, I ought to tell you. At all costs I must have money, and by ill-luck my cousin hasn’t a rouble to spare. I’m forced to ride about and collect debts. I’ve just been to see a peasant, our tenant; here I’m now calling on you; from here I shall go on to somewhere else, and keep on like that until I get together five thousand roubles. I need money awfully!"

"Nonsense! What does a young man want with money? Whims, mischief. Why, have you been going in for dissipation? Or losing at cards? Or are you getting married?"

"You’ve guessed!" laughed the lieutenant, and rising slightly from his seat, he clinked his spurs. "I really am going to be married."

Susanna Moiseyevna looked intently at her visitor, made a wry face, and sighed.

"I can’t make out what possesses people to get married!" she said, looking about her for her pocket-handkerchief. "Life is so short, one has so little freedom, and they must put chains on themselves!"

"Every one has his own way of looking at things. . . ."

"Yes, yes, of course; every one has his own way of looking at things. . . . But, I say, are you really going to marry some one poor? Are you passionately in love? And why must you have five thousand? Why won’t four do, or three?"

"What a tongue she has!" thought the lieutenant, and answered: "The difficulty is that an officer is not allowed by law to marry till he is twenty-eight; if you choose to marry, you have to leave the Service or else pay a deposit of five thousand."

"Ah, now I understand. Listen. You said just now that every one has his own way of looking at things. . . . Perhaps your fiancée is some one special and remarkable, but . . . but I am utterly unable to understand how any decent man can live with a woman. I can’t for the life of me understand it. I have lived, thank the Lord, twenty-seven years, and I have never yet seen an endurable woman. They’re all affected minxes, immoral, liars. . . . The only ones I can put up with are cooks and housemaids, but so-called ladies I won’t let come within shooting distance of me. But, thank God, they hate me and don’t force themselves on me! If one of them wants money she sends her husband, but nothing will induce her to come herself, not from pride — no, but from cowardice; she’s afraid of my making a scene. Oh, I understand their hatred very well! Rather! I openly display what they do their very utmost to conceal from God and man. How can they help hating me? No doubt you’ve heard bushels of scandal about me already. . . ."

"I only arrived here so lately . . ."

"Tut, tut, tut! . . . I see from your eyes! But your brother’s wife, surely she primed you for this expedition? Think of letting a young man come to see such an awful woman without warning him — how could she? Ha, ha! . . . But tell me, how is your brother? He’s a fine fellow, such a handsome man! . . . I’ve seen him several times at mass. Why do you look at me like that? I very often go to church! We all have the same God. To an educated person externals matter less than the idea. . . . That’s so, isn’t it?"

"Yes, of course . . ." smiled the lieutenant.

"Yes, the idea. . . . But you are not a bit like your brother. You are handsome, too, but your brother is a great deal better-looking. There’s wonderfully little likeness!"

"That’s quite natural; he’s not my brother, but my cousin."

"Ah, to be sure! So you must have the money to-day? Why to-day?"

"My furlough is over in a few days."

"Well, what’s to be done with you!" sighed Susanna Moiseyevna. "So be it. I’ll give you the money, though I know you’ll abuse me for it afterwards. You’ll quarrel with your wife after you are married, and say: ’If that mangy Jewess hadn’t given me the money, I should perhaps have been as free as a bird to-day!" Is your fiancée pretty?"

"Oh yes. . . ."

"H’m! . . . Anyway, better something, if it’s only beauty, than nothing. Though however beautiful a woman is, it can never make up to her husband for her silliness."

"That’s original!" laughed the lieutenant. "You are a woman yourself, and such a woman-hater!"

"A woman . . ." smiled Susanna. "It’s not my fault that God has cast me into this mould, is it? I’m no more to blame for it than you are for having moustaches. The violin is not responsible for the choice of its case. I am very fond of myself, but when any one reminds me that I am a woman, I begin to hate myself. Well, you can go away, and I’ll dress. Wait for me in the drawing-room."

The lieutenant went out, and the first thing he did was to draw a deep breath, to get rid of the heavy scent of jasmine, which had begun to irritate his throat and to make him feel giddy.

"What a strange woman!" he thought, looking about him. "She talks fluently, but . . . far too much, and too freely. She must be neurotic."

The drawing-room, in which he was standing now, was richly furnished, and had pretensions to luxury and style. There were dark bronze dishes with patterns in relief, views of Nice and the Rhine on the tables, old-fashioned sconces, Japanese statuettes, but all this striving after luxury and style only emphasised the lack of taste which was glaringly apparent in the gilt cornices, the gaudy wall-paper, the bright velvet table-cloths, the common oleographs in heavy frames. The bad taste of the general effect was the more complete from the lack of finish and the overcrowding of the room, which gave one a feeling that something was lacking, and that a great deal should have been thrown away. It was evident that the furniture had not been bought all at once, but had been picked up at auctions and other favourable opportunities.

Heaven knows what taste the lieutenant could boast of, but even he noticed one characteristic peculiarity about the whole place, which no luxury or style could efface — a complete absence of all trace of womanly, careful hands, which, as we all know, give a warmth, poetry, and snugness to the furnishing of a room. There was a chilliness about it such as one finds in waiting-rooms at stations, in clubs, and foyers at the theatres.

There was scarcely anything in the room definitely Jewish, except, perhaps, a big picture of the meeting of Jacob and Esau. The lieutenant looked round about him, and, shrugging his shoulders, thought of his strange, new acquaintance, of her free-and-easy manners, and her way of talking. But then the door opened, and in the doorway appeared the lady herself, in a long black dress, so slim and tightly laced that her figure looked as though it had been turned in a lathe. Now the lieutenant saw not only the nose and eyes, but also a thin white face, a head black and as curly as lamb’s-wool. She did not attract him, though she did not strike him as ugly. He had a prejudice against un-Russian faces in general, and he considered, too, that the lady’s white face, the whiteness of which for some reason suggested the cloying scent of jasmine, did not go well with her little black curls and thick eyebrows; that her nose and ears were astoundingly white, as though they belonged to a corpse, or had been moulded out of transparent wax. When she smiled she showed pale gums as well as her teeth, and he did not like that either.

"Anaemic debility . . ." he thought; "she’s probably as nervous as a turkey."

"Here I am! Come along!" she said, going on rapidly ahead of him and pulling off the yellow leaves from the plants as she passed.

"I’ll give you the money directly, and if you like I’ll give you some lunch. Two thousand three hundred roubles! After such a good stroke of business you’ll have an appetite for your lunch. Do you like my rooms? The ladies about here declare that my rooms always smell of garlic. With that culinary gibe their stock of wit is exhausted. I hasten to assure you that I’ve no garlic even in the cellar. And one day when a doctor came to see me who smelt of garlic, I asked him to take his hat and go and spread his fragrance elsewhere. There is no smell of garlic here, but the place does smell of drugs. My father lay paralyzed for a year and a half, and the whole house smelt of medicine. A year and a half! I was sorry to lose him, but I’m glad he’s dead: he suffered so!"

She led the officer through two rooms similar to the drawing-room, through a large reception hall, and came to a stop in her study, where there was a lady’s writing-table covered with little knick-knacks. On the carpet near it several books lay strewn about, opened and folded back. Through a small door leading from the study he saw a table laid for lunch.

Still chatting, Susanna took out of her pocket a bunch of little keys and unlocked an ingeniously made cupboard with a curved, sloping lid. When the lid was raised the cupboard emitted a plaintive note which made the lieutenant think of an eolian harp. Susanna picked out another key and clicked another lock.

"I have underground passages here and secret doors," she said, taking out a small morocco portfolio. "It’s a funny cupboard, isn’t it? And in this portfolio I have a quarter of my fortune. Look how podgy it is! You won’t strangle me, will you?"

Susanna raised her eyes to the lieutenant and laughed good-naturedly. The lieutenant laughed too.

"She’s rather jolly," he thought, watching the keys flashing between her fingers.

"Here it is," she said, picking out the key of the portfolio. "Now, Mr. Creditor, trot out the IOU. What a silly thing money is really! How paltry it is, and yet how women love it! I am a Jewess, you know, to the marrow of my bones. I am passionately fond of Shmuls and Yankels, but how I loathe that passion for gain in our Semitic blood. They hoard and they don’t know what they are hoarding for. One ought to live and enjoy oneself, but they’re afraid of spending an extra farthing. In that way I am more like an hussar than a Shmul. I don’t like money to be kept long in one place. And altogether I fancy I’m not much like a Jewess. Does my accent give me away much, eh?"

"What shall I say?" mumbled the lieutenant. "You speak good Russian, but you do roll your r’s."

Susanna laughed and put the little key in the lock of the portfolio. The lieutenant took out of his pocket a little roll of IOUs and laid them with a notebook on the table.

"Nothing betrays a Jew as much as his accent," Susanna went on, looking gaily at the lieutenant. "However much he twists himself into a Russian or a Frenchman, ask him to say ’feather’ and he will say ’fedder’ . . . but I pronounce it correctly: ’Feather! feather! feather!’ "

Both laughed.

"By Jove, she’s very jolly!" thought Sokolsky.

Susanna put the portfolio on a chair, took a step towards the lieutenant, and bringing her face close to his, went on gaily:

"Next to the Jews I love no people so much as the Russian and the French. I did not do much at school and I know no history, but it seems to me that the fate of the world lies in the hands of those two nations. I lived a long time abroad. . . . I spent six months in Madrid. . . . I’ve gazed my fill at the public, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that there are no decent peoples except the Russian and the French. Take the languages, for instance. . . . The German language is like the neighing of horses; as for the English . . . you can’t imagine anything stupider. Fight — feet — foot! Italian is only pleasant when they speak it slowly. If you listen to Italians gabbling, you get the effect of the Jewish jargon. And the Poles? Mercy on us! There’s no language so disgusting! ’Nie pieprz, Pietrze, pieprzem wieprza bo mozeoz przepieprzy wieprza pieprzem.’ That means: ’Don’t pepper a sucking pig with pepper, Pyotr, or perhaps you’ll over-pepper the sucking pig with pepper.’ Ha, ha, ha!"

Susanna Moiseyevna rolled her eyes and broke into such a pleasant, infectious laugh that the lieutenant, looking at her, went off into a loud and merry peal of laughter. She took the visitor by the button, and went on:

"You don’t like Jews, of course . . . they’ve many faults, like all nations. I don’t dispute that. But are the Jews to blame for it? No, it’s not the Jews who are to blame, but the Jewish women! They are narrow-minded, greedy; there’s no sort of poetry about them, they’re dull. . . . You have never lived with a Jewess, so you don’t know how charming it is!" Susanna Moiseyevna pronounced the last words with deliberate emphasis and with no eagerness or laughter. She paused as though frightened at her own openness, and her face was suddenly distorted in a strange, unaccountable way. Her eyes stared at the lieutenant without blinking, her lips parted and showed clenched teeth. Her whole face, her throat, and even her bosom, seemed quivering with a spiteful, catlike expression. Still keeping her eyes fixed on her visitor, she rapidly bent to one side, and swiftly, like a cat, snatched something from the table. All this was the work of a few seconds. Watching her movements, the lieutenant saw five fingers crumple up his IOUs and caught a glimpse of the white rustling paper as it disappeared in her clenched fist. Such an extraordinary transition from good-natured laughter to crime so appalled him that he turned pale and stepped back. . . .

And she, still keeping her frightened, searching eyes upon him, felt along her hip with her clenched fist for her pocket. Her fist struggled convulsively for the pocket, like a fish in the net, and could not find the opening. In another moment the IOUs would have vanished in the recesses of her feminine garments, but at that point the lieutenant uttered a faint cry, and, moved more by instinct than reflection, seized the Jewess by her arm above the clenched fist. Showing her teeth more than ever, she struggled with all her might and pulled her hand away. Then Sokolsky put his right arm firmly round her waist, and the other round her chest and a struggle followed. Afraid of outraging her sex or hurting her, he tried only to prevent her moving, and to get hold of the fist with the IOUs; but she wriggled like an eel in his arms with her supple, flexible body, struck him in the chest with her elbows, and scratched him, so that he could not help touching her all over, and was forced to hurt her and disregard her modesty.

"How unusual this is! How strange!" he thought, utterly amazed, hardly able to believe his senses, and feeling rather sick from the scent of jasmine.

In silence, breathing heavily, stumbling against the furniture, they moved about the room. Susanna was carried away by the struggle. She flushed, closed her eyes, and forgetting herself, once even pressed her face against the face of the lieutenant, so that there was a sweetish taste left on his lips. At last he caught hold of her clenched hand. . . . Forcing it open, and not finding the papers in it, he let go the Jewess. With flushed faces and dishevelled hair, they looked at one another, breathing hard. The spiteful, catlike expression on the Jewess’s face was gradually replaced by a good-natured smile. She burst out laughing, and turning on one foot, went towards the room where lunch was ready. The lieutenant moved slowly after her. She sat down to the table, and, still flushed and breathing hard, tossed off half a glass of port.

"Listen" — the lieutenant broke the silence — "I hope you are joking?"

"Not a bit of it," she answered, thrusting a piece of bread into her mouth.

"H’m! . . . How do you wish me to take all this?"

"As you choose. Sit down and have lunch!"

"But . . . it’s dishonest!"

"Perhaps. But don’t trouble to give me a sermon; I have my own way of looking at things."

"Won’t you give them back?"

"Of course not! If you were a poor unfortunate man, with nothing to eat, then it would be a different matter. But — he wants to get married!"

"It’s not my money, you know; it’s my cousin’s!"

"And what does your cousin want with money? To get fashionable clothes for his wife? But I really don’t care whether your belle-sœur has dresses or not."

The lieutenant had ceased to remember that he was in a strange house with an unknown lady, and did not trouble himself with decorum. He strode up and down the room, scowled and nervously fingered his waistcoat. The fact that the Jewess had lowered herself in his eyes by her dishonest action, made him feel bolder and more free-and-easy.

"The devil knows what to make of it!" he muttered. "Listen. I shan’t go away from here until I get the IOUs!"

"Ah, so much the better," laughed Susanna. "If you stay here for good, it will make it livelier for me."

Excited by the struggle, the lieutenant looked at Susanna’s laughing, insolent face, at her munching mouth, at her heaving bosom, and grew bolder and more audacious. Instead of thinking about the IOU he began for some reason recalling with a sort of relish his cousin’s stories of the Jewess’s romantic adventures, of her free way of life, and these reminiscences only provoked him to greater audacity. Impulsively he sat down beside the Jewess and thinking no more of the IOUs began to eat. . . .

"Will you have vodka or wine?" Susanna asked with a laugh. "So you will stay till you get the IOUs? Poor fellow! How many days and nights you will have to spend with me, waiting for those IOUs! Won’t your fiancée have something to say about it?"


Five hours had passed. The lieutenant’s cousin, Alexey Ivanovitch Kryukov was walking about the rooms of his country-house in his dressing-gown and slippers, and looking impatiently out of window. He was a tall, sturdy man, with a large black beard and a manly face; and as the Jewess had truly said, he was handsome, though he had reached the age when men are apt to grow too stout, puffy, and bald. By mind and temperament he was one of those natures in which the Russian intellectual classes are so rich: warm-hearted, good-natured, well-bred, having some knowledge of the arts and sciences, some faith, and the most chivalrous notions about honour, but indolent and lacking in depth. He was fond of good eating and drinking, was an ideal whist-player, was a connoisseur in women and horses, but in other things he was apathetic and sluggish as a seal, and to rouse him from his lethargy something extraordinary and quite revolting was needed, and then he would forget everything in the world and display intense activity; he would fume and talk of a duel, write a petition of seven pages to a Minister, gallop at breakneck speed about the district, call some one publicly "a scoundrel," would go to law, and so on.

"How is it our Sasha’s not back yet?" he kept asking his wife, glancing out of window. "Why, it’s dinner-time!"

After waiting for the lieutenant till six o’clock, they sat down to dinner. When supper-time came, however, Alexey Ivanovitch was listening to every footstep, to every sound of the door, and kept shrugging his shoulders.

"Strange!" he said. "The rascally dandy must have stayed on at the tenant’s."

As he went to bed after supper, Kryukov made up his mind that the lieutenant was being entertained at the tenant’s, where after a festive evening he was staying the night.

Alexandr Grigoryevitch only returned next morning. He looked extremely crumpled and confused.

"I want to speak to you alone . . ." he said mysteriously to his cousin.

They went into the study. The lieutenant shut the door, and he paced for a long time up and down before he began to speak.

"Something’s happened, my dear fellow," he began, "that I don’t know how to tell you about. You wouldn’t believe it . . ."

And blushing, faltering, not looking at his cousin, he told what had happened with the IOUs. Kryukov, standing with his feet wide apart and his head bent, listened and frowned.

"Are you joking?" he asked.

"How the devil could I be joking? It’s no joking matter!"

"I don’t understand!" muttered Kryukov, turning crimson and flinging up his hands. "It’s positively . . . immoral on your part. Before your very eyes a hussy is up to the devil knows what, a serious crime, plays a nasty trick, and you go and kiss her!"

"But I can’t understand myself how it happened!" whispered the lieutenant, blinking guiltily. "Upon my honour, I don’t understand it! It’s the first time in my life I’ve come across such a monster! It’s not her beauty that does for you, not her mind, but that . . . you understand . . . insolence, cynicism. . . ."

"Insolence, cynicism . . . it’s unclean! If you’ve such a longing for insolence and cynicism, you might have picked a sow out of the mire and have devoured her alive. It would have been cheaper, anyway! Instead of two thousand three hundred!"

"You do express yourself elegantly!" said the lieutenant, frowning. "I’ll pay you back the two thousand three hundred!"

"I know you’ll pay it back, but it’s not a question of money! Damn the money! What revolts me is your being such a limp rag . . . such filthy feebleness! And engaged! With a fiancée!"

"Don’t speak of it . . ." said the lieutenant, blushing. "I loathe myself as it is. I should like to sink into the earth. It’s sickening and vexatious that I shall have to bother my aunt for that five thousand. . . ."

Kryukov continued for some time longer expressing his indignation and grumbling, then, as he grew calmer, he sat down on the sofa and began to jeer at his cousin.

"You young officers!" he said with contemptuous irony. "Nice bridegrooms."

Suddenly he leapt up as though he had been stung, stamped his foot, and ran about the study.

"No, I’m not going to leave it like that!" he said, shaking his fist. "I will have those IOUs, I will! I’ll give it her! One doesn’t beat women, but I’ll break every bone in her body. . . . I’ll pound her to a jelly! I’m not a lieutenant! You won’t touch me with insolence or cynicism! No-o-o, damn her! Mishka!" he shouted, "run and tell them to get the racing droshky out for me!"

Kryukov dressed rapidly, and, without heeding the agitated lieutenant, got into the droshky, and with a wave of his hand resolutely raced off to Susanna Moiseyevna. For a long time the lieutenant gazed out of window at the clouds of dust that rolled after his cousin’s droshky, stretched, yawned, and went to his own room. A quarter of an hour later he was sound asleep.

At six o’clock he was waked up and summoned to dinner.

"How nice this is of Alexey!" his cousin’s wife greeted him in the dining-room. "He keeps us waiting for dinner."

"Do you mean to say he’s not come back yet?" yawned the lieutenant. "H’m! . . . he’s probably gone round to see the tenant."

But Alexey Ivanovitch was not back by supper either. His wife and Sokolsky decided that he was playing cards at the tenant’s and would most likely stay the night there. What had happened was not what they had supposed, however.

Kryukov returned next morning, and without greeting any one, without a word, dashed into his study.

"Well?" whispered the lieutenant, gazing at him round-eyed.

Kryukov waved his hand and gave a snort.

"Why, what’s the matter? What are you laughing at?"

Kryukov flopped on the sofa, thrust his head in the pillow, and shook with suppressed laughter. A minute later he got up, and looking at the surprised lieutenant, with his eyes full of tears from laughing, said:

"Close the door. Well . . . she is a fe-e-male, I beg to inform you!"

"Did you get the IOUs?"

Kryukov waved his hand and went off into a peal of laughter again.

"Well! she is a female!" he went on. "Merci for the acquaintance, my boy! She’s a devil in petticoats. I arrived; I walked in like such an avenging Jove, you know, that I felt almost afraid of myself. . . . I frowned, I scowled, even clenched my fists to be more awe-inspiring. . . . ’Jokes don’t pay with me, madam!’ said I, and more in that style. And I threatened her with the law and with the Governor. To begin with she burst into tears, said she’d been joking with you, and even took me to the cupboard to give me the money. Then she began arguing that the future of Europe lies in the hands of the French, and the Russians, swore at women. . . . Like you, I listened, fascinated, ass that I was. . . . She kept singing the praises of my beauty, patted me on the arm near the shoulder, to see how strong I was, and . . . and as you see, I’ve only just got away from her! Ha, ha! She’s enthusiastic about you!"

"You’re a nice fellow!" laughed the lieutenant. "A married man! highly respected. . . . Well, aren’t you ashamed? Disgusted? Joking apart though, old man, you’ve got your Queen Tamara in your own neighbourhood. . . ."

"In my own neighbourhood! Why, you wouldn’t find another such chameleon in the whole of Russia! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, though I know a good bit about women, too. I have known regular devils in my time, but I never met anything like this. It is, as you say, by insolence and cynicism she gets over you. What is so attractive in her is the diabolical suddenness, the quick transitions, the swift shifting hues. . . . Brrr! And the IOU — phew! Write it off for lost. We are both great sinners, we’ll go halves in our sin. I shall put down to you not two thousand three hundred, but half of it. Mind, tell my wife I was at the tenant’s."

Kryukov and the lieutenant buried their heads in the pillows, and broke into laughter; they raised their heads, glanced at one another, and again subsided into their pillows.

"Engaged! A lieutenant!" Kryukov jeered.

"Married!" retorted Sokolsky. "Highly respected! Father of a family!"

At dinner they talked in veiled allusions, winked at one another, and, to the surprise of the others, were continually gushing with laughter into their dinner-napkins. After dinner, still in the best of spirits, they dressed up as Turks, and, running after one another with guns, played at soldiers with the children. In the evening they had a long argument. The lieutenant maintained that it was mean and contemptible to accept a dowry with your wife, even when there was passionate love on both sides. Kryukov thumped the table with his fists and declared that this was absurd, and that a husband who did not like his wife to have property of her own was an egoist and a despot. Both shouted, boiled over, did not understand each other, drank a good deal, and in the end, picking up the skirts of their dressing-gowns, went to their bedrooms. They soon fell asleep and slept soundly.

Life went on as before, even, sluggish and free from sorrow. The shadows lay on the earth, thunder pealed from the clouds, from time to time the wind moaned plaintively, as though to prove that nature, too, could lament, but nothing troubled the habitual tranquillity of these people. Of Susanna Moiseyevna and the IOUs they said nothing. Both of them felt, somehow, ashamed to speak of the incident aloud. Yet they remembered it and thought of it with pleasure, as of a curious farce, which life had unexpectedly and casually played upon them, and which it would be pleasant to recall in old age.

On the sixth or seventh day after his visit to the Jewess, Kryukov was sitting in his study in the morning writing a congratulatory letter to his aunt. Alexandr Grigoryevitch was walking to and fro near the table in silence. The lieutenant had slept badly that night; he woke up depressed, and now he felt bored. He paced up and down, thinking of the end of his furlough, of his fiancée, who was expecting him, of how people could live all their lives in the country without feeling bored. Standing at the window, for a long time he stared at the trees, smoked three cigarettes one after another, and suddenly turned to his cousin.

"I have a favour to ask you, Alyosha," he said. "Let me have a saddle-horse for the day. . . ."

Kryukov looked searchingly at him and continued his writing with a frown.

"You will, then?" asked the lieutenant.

Kryukov looked at him again, then deliberately drew out a drawer in the table, and taking out a thick roll of notes, gave it to his cousin.

"Here’s five thousand . . ." he said. "Though it’s not my money, yet, God bless you, it’s all the same. I advise you to send for post-horses at once and go away. Yes, really!"

The lieutenant in his turn looked searchingly at Kryukov and laughed.

"You’ve guessed right, Alyosha," he said, reddening. "It was to her I meant to ride. Yesterday evening when the washerwoman gave me that damned tunic, the one I was wearing then, and it smelt of jasmine, why . . . I felt I must go!"

"You must go away."

"Yes, certainly. And my furlough’s just over. I really will go to-day! Yes, by Jove! However long one stays, one has to go in the end. . . . I’m going!"

The post-horses were brought after dinner the same day; the lieutenant said good-bye to the Kryukovs and set off, followed by their good wishes.

Another week passed. It was a dull but hot and heavy day. From early morning Kryukov walked aimlessly about the house, looking out of window, or turning over the leaves of albums, though he was sick of the sight of them already. When he came across his wife or children, he began grumbling crossly. It seemed to him, for some reason that day, that his children’s manners were revolting, that his wife did not know how to look after the servants, that their expenditure was quite disproportionate to their income. All this meant that "the master" was out of humour.

After dinner, Kryukov, feeling dissatisfied with the soup and the roast meat he had eaten, ordered out his racing droshky. He drove slowly out of the courtyard, drove at a walking pace for a quarter of a mile, and stopped.

"Shall I . . . drive to her . . . that devil?" he thought, looking at the leaden sky.

And Kryukov positively laughed, as though it were the first time that day he had asked himself that question. At once the load of boredom was lifted from his heart, and there rose a gleam of pleasure in his lazy eyes. He lashed the horse. . . .

All the way his imagination was picturing how surprised the Jewess would be to see him, how he would laugh and chat, and come home feeling refreshed. . . .

"Once a month one needs something to brighten one up . . . something out of the common round," he thought, "something that would give the stagnant organism a good shaking up, a reaction . . . whether it’s a drinking bout, or . . . Susanna. One can’t get on without it."

It was getting dark when he drove into the yard of the vodka distillery. From the open windows of the owner’s house came sounds of laughter and singing:

" ’Brighter than lightning, more burning than flame. . . .’ "

sang a powerful, mellow, bass voice.

"Aha! she has visitors," thought Kryukov.

And he was annoyed that she had visitors.

"Shall I go back?" he thought with his hand on the bell, but he rang all the same, and went up the familiar staircase. From the entry he glanced into the reception hall. There were about five men there — all landowners and officials of his acquaintance; one, a tall, thin gentleman, was sitting at the piano, singing, and striking the keys with his long, thin fingers. The others were listening and grinning with enjoyment. Kryukov looked himself up and down in the looking-glass, and was about to go into the hall, when Susanna Moiseyevna herself darted into the entry, in high spirits and wearing the same black dress. . . . Seeing Kryukov, she was petrified for an instant, then she uttered a little scream and beamed with delight.

"Is it you?" she said, clutching his hand. "What a surprise!"

"Here she is!" smiled Kryukov, putting his arm round her waist. "Well! Does the destiny of Europe still lie in the hands of the French and the Russians?"

"I’m so glad," laughed the Jewess, cautiously removing his arm. "Come, go into the hall; they’re all friends there. . . . I’ll go and tell them to bring you some tea. Your name’s Alexey, isn’t it? Well, go in, I’ll come directly. . . ."

She blew him a kiss and ran out of the entry, leaving behind her the same sickly smell of jasmine. Kryukov raised his head and walked into the hall. He was on terms of friendly intimacy with all the men in the room, but scarcely nodded to them; they, too, scarcely responded, as though the places in which they met were not quite decent, and as though they were in tacit agreement with one another that it was more suitable for them not to recognise one another.

From the hall Kryukov walked into the drawing-room, and from it into a second drawing-room. On the way he met three or four other guests, also men whom he knew, though they barely recognised him. Their faces were flushed with drink and merriment. Alexey Ivanovitch glanced furtively at them and marvelled that these men, respectable heads of families, who had known sorrow and privation, could demean themselves to such pitiful, cheap gaiety! He shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and walked on.

"There are places," he reflected, "where a sober man feels sick, and a drunken man rejoices. I remember I never could go to the operetta or the gipsies when I was sober: wine makes a man more good-natured and reconciles him with vice. . . ."

Suddenly he stood still, petrified, and caught hold of the door-post with both hands. At the writing-table in Susanna’s study was sitting Lieutenant Alexandr Grigoryevitch. He was discussing something in an undertone with a fat, flabby-looking Jew, and seeing his cousin, flushed crimson and looked down at an album.

The sense of decency was stirred in Kryukov and the blood rushed to his head. Overwhelmed with amazement, shame, and anger, he walked up to the table without a word. Sokolsky’s head sank lower than ever. His face worked with an expression of agonising shame.

"Ah, it’s you, Alyosha!" he articulated, making a desperate effort to raise his eyes and to smile. "I called here to say good-bye, and, as you see. . . . But to-morrow I am certainly going."

"What can I say to him? What?" thought Alexey Ivanovitch. "How can I judge him since I’m here myself?"

And clearing his throat without uttering a word, he went out slowly.

" ’Call her not heavenly, and leave her on earth. . . .’ "

The bass was singing in the hall. A little while after, Kryukov’s racing droshky was bumping along the dusty road.


AT eight o’clock on the evening of the twentieth of May all the six batteries of the N—— Reserve Artillery Brigade halted for the night in the village of Myestetchki on their way to camp. When the general commotion was at its height, while some officers were busily occupied around the guns, while others, gathered together in the square near the church enclosure, were listening to the quartermasters, a man in civilian dress, riding a strange horse, came into sight round the church. The little dun-coloured horse with a good neck and a short tail came, moving not straight forward, but as it were sideways, with a sort of dance step, as though it were being lashed about the legs. When he reached the officers the man on the horse took off his hat and said:
“His Excellency Lieutenant-General von Rabbek invites the gentlemen to drink tea with him this minute. . . .”
The horse turned, danced, and retired sideways; the messenger raised his hat once more, and in an instant disappeared with his strange horse behind the church.
“What the devil does it mean?” grumbled some of the officers, dispersing to their quarters. “One is sleepy, and here this Von Rabbek with his tea! We know what tea means.”
The officers of all the six batteries remembered vividly an incident of the previous year, when during manoeuvres they, together with the officers of a Cossack regiment, were in the same way invited to tea by a count who had an estate in the neighbourhood and was a retired army officer: the hospitable and genial count made much of them, fed them, and gave them drink, refused to let them go to their quarters in the village and made them stay the night. All that, of course, was very nice—nothing better could be desired, but the worst of it was, the old army officer was so carried away by the pleasure of the young men’s company that till sunrise he was telling the officers anecdotes of his glorious past, taking them over the house, showing them expensive pictures, old engravings, rare guns, reading them autograph letters from great people, while the weary and exhausted officers looked and listened, longing for their beds and yawning in their sleeves; when at last their host let them go, it was too late for sleep.
Might not this Von Rabbek be just such another? Whether he were or not, there was no help for it. The officers changed their uniforms, brushed themselves, and went all together in search of the gentleman’s house. In the square by the church they were told they could get to His Excellency’s by the lower path—going down behind the church to the river, going along the bank to the garden, and there an avenue would taken them to the house; or by the upper way— straight from the church by the road which, half a mile from the village, led right up to His Excellency’s granaries. The officers decided to go by the upper way.
“What Von Rabbek is it?” they wondered on the way. “Surely not the one who was in command of the N—— cavalry division at Plevna?”
“No, that was not Von Rabbek, but simply Rabbe and no ‘von.’”
“What lovely weather!”
At the first of the granaries the road divided in two: one branch went straight on and vanished in the evening darkness, the other led to the owner’s house on the right. The officers turned to the right and began to speak more softly. . . . On both sides of the road stretched stone granaries with red roofs, heavy and sullen-looking, very much like barracks of a district town. Ahead of them gleamed the windows of the manor-house.
“A good omen, gentlemen,” said one of the officers. “Our setter is the foremost of all; no doubt he scents game ahead of us! . . .”
Lieutenant Lobytko, who was walking in front, a tall and stalwart fellow, though entirely without moustache (he was over five-and-twenty, yet for some reason there was no sign of hair on his round, well-fed face), renowned in the brigade for his peculiar faculty for divining the presence of women at a distance, turned round and said:
“Yes, there must be women here; I feel that by instinct.”
On the threshold the officers were met by Von Rabbek himself, a comely-looking man of sixty in civilian dress. Shaking hands with his guests, he said that he was very glad and happy to see them, but begged them earnestly for God’s sake to excuse him for not asking them to stay the night; two sisters with their children, some brothers, and some neighbours, had come on a visit to him, so that he had not one spare room left.
The General shook hands with every one, made his apologies, and smiled, but it was evident by his face that he was by no means so delighted as their last year’s count, and that he had invited the officers simply because, in his opinion, it was a social obligation to do so. And the officers themselves, as they walked up the softly carpeted stairs, as they listened to him, felt that they had been invited to this house simply because it would have been awkward not to invite them; and at the sight of the footmen, who hastened to light the lamps in the entrance below and in the anteroom above, they began to feel as though they had brought uneasiness and discomfort into the house with them. In a house in which two sisters and their children, brothers, and neighbours were gathered together, probably on account of some family festivity, or event, how could the presence of nineteen unknown officers possibly be welcome?
At the entrance to the drawing-room the officers were met by a tall, graceful old lady with black eyebrows and a long face, very much like the Empress Eugénie. Smiling graciously and majestically, she said she was glad and happy to see her guests, and apologized that her husband and she were on this occasion unable to invite Messieurs les officiers to stay the night. From her beautiful majestic smile, which instantly vanished from her face every time she turned away from her guests, it was evident that she had seen numbers of officers in her day, that she was in no humour for them now, and if she invited them to her house and apologized for not doing more, it was only because her breeding and position in society required it of her.
When the officers went into the big dining-room, there were about a dozen people, men and ladies, young and old, sitting at tea at the end of a long table. A group of men was dimly visible behind their chairs, wrapped in a haze of cigar smoke; and in the midst of them stood a lanky young man with red whiskers, talking loudly, with a lisp, in English. Through a door beyond the group could be seen a light room with pale blue furniture.
“Gentlemen, there are so many of you that it is impossible to introduce you all!” said the General in a loud voice, trying to sound very cheerful. “Make each other’s acquaintance, gentlemen, without any ceremony!”
The officers—some with very serious and even stern faces, others with forced smiles, and all feeling extremely awkward—somehow made their bows and sat down to tea.
The most ill at ease of them all was Ryabovitch—a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx’s. While some of his comrades assumed a serious expression, while others wore forced smiles, his face, his lynx-like whiskers, and spectacles seemed to say: “I am the shyest, most modest, and most undistinguished officer in the whole brigade!” At first, on going into the room and sitting down to the table, he could not fix his attention on any one face or object. The faces, the dresses, the cut-glass decanters of brandy, the steam from the glasses, the moulded cornices—all blended in one general impression that inspired in Ryabovitch alarm and a desire to hide his head. Like a lecturer making his first appearance before the public, he saw everything that was before his eyes, but apparently only had a dim understanding of it (among physiologists this condition, when the subject sees but does not understand, is called psychical blindness). After a little while, growing accustomed to his surroundings, Ryabovitch saw clearly and began to observe. As a shy man, unused to society, what struck him first was that in which he had always been deficient—namely, the extraordinary boldness of his new acquaintances. Von Rabbek, his wife, two elderly ladies, a young lady in a lilac dress, and the young man with the red whiskers, who was, it appeared, a younger son of Von Rabbek, very cleverly, as though they had rehearsed it beforehand, took seats between the officers, and at once got up a heated discussion in which the visitors could not help taking part. The lilac young lady hotly asserted that the artillery had a much better time than the cavalry and the infantry, while Von Rabbek and the elderly ladies maintained the opposite. A brisk interchange of talk followed. Ryabovitch watched the lilac young lady who argued so hotly about what was unfamiliar and utterly uninteresting to her, and watched artificial smiles come and go on her face.
Von Rabbek and his family skilfully drew the officers into the discussion, and meanwhile kept a sharp lookout over their glasses and mouths, to see whether all of them were drinking, whether all had enough sugar, why some one was not eating cakes or not drinking brandy. And the longer Ryabovitch watched and listened, the more he was attracted by this insincere but splendidly disciplined family.
After tea the officers went into the drawing-room. Lieutenant Lobytko’s instinct had not deceived him. There were a great number of girls and young married ladies. The “setter” lieutenant was soon standing by a very young, fair girl in a black dress, and, bending down to her jauntily, as though leaning on an unseen sword, smiled and shrugged his shoulders coquettishly. He probably talked very interesting nonsense, for the fair girl looked at his well-fed face condescendingly and asked indifferently, “Really?” And from that uninterested “Really?” the setter, had he been intelligent, might have concluded that she would never call him to heel.
The piano struck up; the melancholy strains of a valse floated out of the wide open windows, and every one, for some reason, remembered that it was spring, a May evening. Every one was conscious of the fragrance of roses, of lilac, and of the young leaves of the poplar. Ryabovitch, in whom the brandy he had drunk made itself felt, under the influence of the music stole a glance towards the window, smiled, and began watching the movements of the women, and it seemed to him that the smell of roses, of poplars, and lilac came not from the garden, but from the ladies’ faces and dresses.
Von Rabbek’s son invited a scraggy-looking young lady to dance, and waltzed round the room twice with her. Lobytko, gliding over the parquet floor, flew up to the lilac young lady and whirled her away. Dancing began. . . . Ryabovitch stood near the door among those who were not dancing and looked on. He had never once danced in his whole life, and he had never once in his life put his arm round the waist of a respectable woman. He was highly delighted that a man should in the sight of all take a girl he did not know round the waist and offer her his shoulder to put her hand on, but he could not imagine himself in the position of such a man. There were times when he envied the boldness and swagger of his companions and was inwardly wretched; the consciousness that he was timid, that he was round-shouldered and uninteresting, that he had a long waist and lynx-like whiskers, had deeply mortified him, but with years he had grown used to this feeling, and now, looking at his comrades dancing or loudly talking, he no longer envied them, but only felt touched and mournful.
When the quadrille began, young Von Rabbek came up to those who were not dancing and invited two officers to have a game at billiards. The officers accepted and went with him out of the drawing-room. Ryabovitch, having nothing to do and wishing to take part in the general movement, slouched after them. From the big drawing-room they went into the little drawing-room, then into a narrow corridor with a glass roof, and thence into a room in which on their entrance three sleepy-looking footmen jumped up quickly from the sofa. At last, after passing through a long succession of rooms, young Von Rabbek and the officers came into a small room where there was a billiard-table. They began to play.
Ryabovitch, who had never played any game but cards, stood near the billiard-table and looked indifferently at the players, while they in unbuttoned coats, with cues in their hands, stepped about, made puns, and kept shouting out unintelligible words.
The players took no notice of him, and only now and then one of them, shoving him with his elbow or accidentally touching him with the end of his cue, would turn round and say “Pardon!” Before the first game was over he was weary of it, and began to feel he was not wanted and in the way. . . . He felt disposed to return to the drawing-room, and he went out.
On his way back he met with a little adventure. When he had gone half-way he noticed he had taken a wrong turning. He distinctly remembered that he ought to meet three sleepy footmen on his way, but he had passed five or six rooms, and those sleepy figures seemed to have vanished into the earth. Noticing his mistake, he walked back a little way and turned to the right; he found himself in a little dark room which he had not seen on his way to the billiard-room. After standing there a little while, he resolutely opened the first door that met his eyes and walked into an absolutely dark room. Straight in front could be seen the crack in the doorway through which there was a gleam of vivid light; from the other side of the door came the muffled sound of a melancholy mazurka. Here, too, as in the drawing-room, the windows were wide open and there was a smell of poplars, lilac and roses. . . .
Ryabovitch stood still in hesitation. . . . At that moment, to his surprise, he heard hurried footsteps and the rustling of a dress, a breathless feminine voice whispered “At last!” And two soft, fragrant, unmistakably feminine arms were clasped about his neck; a warm cheek was pressed to his cheek, and simultaneously there was the sound of a kiss. But at once the bestower of the kiss uttered a faint shriek and skipped back from him, as it seemed to Ryabovitch, with aversion. He, too, almost shrieked and rushed towards the gleam of light at the door. . . .
When he went back into the drawing-room his heart was beating and his hands were trembling so noticeably that he made haste to hide them behind his back. At first he was tormented by shame and dread that the whole drawing-room knew that he had just been kissed and embraced by a woman. He shrank into himself and looked uneasily about him, but as he became convinced that people were dancing and talking as calmly as ever, he gave himself up entirely to the new sensation which he had never experienced before in his life. Something strange was happening to him. . . . His neck, round which soft, fragrant arms had so lately been clasped, seemed to him to be anointed with oil; on his left cheek near his moustache where the unknown had kissed him there was a faint chilly tingling sensation as from peppermint drops, and the more he rubbed the place the more distinct was the chilly sensation; all over, from head to foot, he was full of a strange new feeling which grew stronger and stronger . . . . He wanted to dance, to talk, to run into the garden, to laugh aloud. . . . He quite forgot that he was round-shouldered and uninteresting, that he had lynx-like whiskers and an “undistinguished appearance” (that was how his appearance had been described by some ladies whose conversation he had accidentally overheard). When Von Rabbek’s wife happened to pass by him, he gave her such a broad and friendly smile that she stood still and looked at him inquiringly.
“I like your house immensely!” he said, setting his spectacles straight.
The General’s wife smiled and said that the house had belonged to her father; then she asked whether his parents were living, whether he had long been in the army, why he was so thin, and so on. . . . After receiving answers to her questions, she went on, and after his conversation with her his smiles were more friendly than ever, and he thought he was surrounded by splendid people. . . .
At supper Ryabovitch ate mechanically everything offered him, drank, and without listening to anything, tried to understand what had just happened to him. . . . The adventure was of a mysterious and romantic character, but it was not difficult to explain it. No doubt some girl or young married lady had arranged a tryst with some one in the dark room; had waited a long time, and being nervous and excited had taken Ryabovitch for her hero; this was the more probable as Ryabovitch had stood still hesitating in the dark room, so that he, too, had seemed like a person expecting something. . . . This was how Ryabovitch explained to himself the kiss he had received.
“And who is she?” he wondered, looking round at the women’s faces. “She must be young, for elderly ladies don’t give rendezvous. That she was a lady, one could tell by the rustle of her dress, her perfume, her voice. . . .”
His eyes rested on the lilac young lady, and he thought her very attractive; she had beautiful shoulders and arms, a clever face, and a delightful voice. Ryabovitch, looking at her, hoped that she and no one else was his unknown. . . . But she laughed somehow artificially and wrinkled up her long nose, which seemed to him to make her look old. Then he turned his eyes upon the fair girl in a black dress. She was younger, simpler, and more genuine, had a charming brow, and drank very daintily out of her wineglass. Ryabovitch now hoped that it was she. But soon he began to think her face flat, and fixed his eyes upon the one next her.
“It’s difficult to guess,” he thought, musing. “If one takes the shoulders and arms of the lilac one only, adds the brow of the fair one and the eyes of the one on the left of Lobytko, then . . .”
He made a combination of these things in his mind and so formed the image of the girl who had kissed him, the image that he wanted her to have, but could not find at the table. . . .
After supper, replete and exhilarated, the officers began to take leave and say thank you. Von Rabbek and his wife began again apologizing that they could not ask them to stay the night.
“Very, very glad to have met you, gentlemen,” said Von Rabbek, and this time sincerely (probably because people are far more sincere and good-humoured at speeding their parting guests than on meeting them). “Delighted. I hope you will come on your way back! Don’t stand on ceremony! Where are you going? Do you want to go by the upper way? No, go across the garden; it’s nearer here by the lower way.”
The officers went out into the garden. After the bright light and the noise the garden seemed very dark and quiet. They walked in silence all the way to the gate. They were a little drunk, pleased, and in good spirits, but the darkness and silence made them thoughtful for a minute. Probably the same idea occurred to each one of them as to Ryabovitch: would there ever come a time for them when, like Von Rabbek, they would have a large house, a family, a garden— when they, too, would be able to welcome people, even though insincerely, feed them, make them drunk and contented?
Going out of the garden gate, they all began talking at once and laughing loudly about nothing. They were walking now along the little path that led down to the river, and then ran along the water’s edge, winding round the bushes on the bank, the pools, and the willows that overhung the water. The bank and the path were scarcely visible, and the other bank was entirely plunged in darkness. Stars were reflected here and there on the dark water; they quivered and were broken up on the surface—and from that alone it could be seen that the river was flowing rapidly. It was still. Drowsy curlews cried plaintively on the further bank, and in one of the bushes on the nearest side a nightingale was trilling loudly, taking no notice of the crowd of officers. The officers stood round the bush, touched it, but the nightingale went on singing.
“What a fellow!” they exclaimed approvingly. “We stand beside him and he takes not a bit of notice! What a rascal!”
At the end of the way the path went uphill, and, skirting the church enclosure, turned into the road. Here the officers, tired with walking uphill, sat down and lighted their cigarettes. On the other side of the river a murky red fire came into sight, and having nothing better to do, they spent a long time in discussing whether it was a camp fire or a light in a window, or something else. . . . Ryabovitch, too, looked at the light, and he fancied that the light looked and winked at him, as though it knew about the kiss.
On reaching his quarters, Ryabovitch undressed as quickly as possible and got into bed. Lobytko and Lieutenant Merzlyakov—a peaceable, silent fellow, who was considered in his own circle a highly educated officer, and was always, whenever it was possible, reading the “Vyestnik Evropi,” which he carried about with him everywhere— were quartered in the same hut with Ryabovitch. Lobytko undressed, walked up and down the room for a long while with the air of a man who has not been satisfied, and sent his orderly for beer. Merzlyakov got into bed, put a candle by his pillow and plunged into reading the “Vyestnik Evropi.”
“Who was she?” Ryabovitch wondered, looking at the smoky ceiling.
His neck still felt as though he had been anointed with oil, and there was still the chilly sensation near his mouth as though from peppermint drops. The shoulders and arms of the young lady in lilac, the brow and the truthful eyes of the fair girl in black, waists, dresses, and brooches, floated through his imagination. He tried to fix his attention on these images, but they danced about, broke up and flickered. When these images vanished altogether from the broad dark background which every man sees when he closes his eyes, he began to hear hurried footsteps, the rustle of skirts, the sound of a kiss and—an intense groundless joy took possession of him . . . . Abandoning himself to this joy, he heard the orderly return and announce that there was no beer. Lobytko was terribly indignant, and began pacing up and down again.
“Well, isn’t he an idiot?” he kept saying, stopping first before Ryabovitch and then before Merzlyakov. “What a fool and a dummy a man must be not to get hold of any beer! Eh? Isn’t he a scoundrel?”
“Of course you can’t get beer here,” said Merzlyakov, not removing his eyes from the “Vyestnik Evropi.”
“Oh! Is that your opinion?” Lobytko persisted. “Lord have mercy upon us, if you dropped me on the moon I’d find you beer and women directly! I’ll go and find some at once. . . . You may call me an impostor if I don’t!”
He spent a long time in dressing and pulling on his high boots, then finished smoking his cigarette in silence and went out.
“Rabbek, Grabbek, Labbek,” he muttered, stopping in the outer room. “I don’t care to go alone, damn it all! Ryabovitch, wouldn’t you like to go for a walk? Eh?”
Receiving no answer, he returned, slowly undressed and got into bed. Merzlyakov sighed, put the “Vyestnik Evropi” away, and put out the light.
“H’m! . . .” muttered Lobytko, lighting a cigarette in the dark.
Ryabovitch pulled the bed-clothes over his head, curled himself up in bed, and tried to gather together the floating images in his mind and to combine them into one whole. But nothing came of it. He soon fell asleep, and his last thought was that some one had caressed him and made him happy—that something extraordinary, foolish, but joyful and delightful, had come into his life. The thought did not leave him even in his sleep.
When he woke up the sensations of oil on his neck and the chill of peppermint about his lips had gone, but joy flooded his heart just as the day before. He looked enthusiastically at the window-frames, gilded by the light of the rising sun, and listened to the movement of the passers-by in the street. People were talking loudly close to the window. Lebedetsky, the commander of Ryabovitch’s battery, who had only just overtaken the brigade, was talking to his sergeant at the top of his voice, being always accustomed to shout.
“What else?” shouted the commander.
“When they were shoeing yesterday, your high nobility, they drove a nail into Pigeon’s hoof. The vet. put on clay and vinegar; they are leading him apart now. And also, your honour, Artemyev got drunk yesterday, and the lieutenant ordered him to be put in the limber of a spare gun-carriage.”
The sergeant reported that Karpov had forgotten the new cords for the trumpets and the rings for the tents, and that their honours, the officers, had spent the previous evening visiting General Von Rabbek. In the middle of this conversation the red-bearded face of Lebedetsky appeared in the window. He screwed up his short-sighted eyes, looking at the sleepy faces of the officers, and said good-morning to them.
“Is everything all right?” he asked.
“One of the horses has a sore neck from the new collar,” answered Lobytko, yawning.
The commander sighed, thought a moment, and said in a loud voice:
“I am thinking of going to see Alexandra Yevgrafovna. I must call on her. Well, good-bye. I shall catch you up in the evening.”
A quarter of an hour later the brigade set off on its way. When it was moving along the road by the granaries, Ryabovitch looked at the house on the right. The blinds were down in all the windows. Evidently the household was still asleep. The one who had kissed Ryabovitch the day before was asleep, too. He tried to imagine her asleep. The wide-open windows of the bedroom, the green branches peeping in, the morning freshness, the scent of the poplars, lilac, and roses, the bed, a chair, and on it the skirts that had rustled the day before, the little slippers, the little watch on the table —all this he pictured to himself clearly and distinctly, but the features of the face, the sweet sleepy smile, just what was characteristic and important, slipped through his imagination like quicksilver through the fingers. When he had ridden on half a mile, he looked back: the yellow church, the house, and the river, were all bathed in light; the river with its bright green banks, with the blue sky reflected in it and glints of silver in the sunshine here and there, was very beautiful. Ryabovitch gazed for the last time at Myestetchki, and he felt as sad as though he were parting with something very near and dear to him.
And before him on the road lay nothing but long familiar, uninteresting pictures. . . . To right and to left, fields of young rye and buckwheat with rooks hopping about in them. If one looked ahead, one saw dust and the backs of men’s heads; if one looked back, one saw the same dust and faces. . . . Foremost of all marched four men with sabres—this was the vanguard. Next, behind, the crowd of singers, and behind them the trumpeters on horseback. The vanguard and the chorus of singers, like torch-bearers in a funeral procession, often forgot to keep the regulation distance and pushed a long way ahead. . . . Ryabovitch was with the first cannon of the fifth battery. He could see all the four batteries moving in front of him. For any one not a military man this long tedious procession of a moving brigade seems an intricate and unintelligible muddle; one cannot understand why there are so many people round one cannon, and why it is drawn by so many horses in such a strange network of harness, as though it really were so terrible and heavy. To Ryabovitch it was all perfectly comprehensible and therefore uninteresting. He had known for ever so long why at the head of each battery there rode a stalwart bombardier, and why he was called a bombardier; immediately behind this bombardier could be seen the horsemen of the first and then of the middle units. Ryabovitch knew that the horses on which they rode, those on the left, were called one name, while those on the right were called another—it was extremely uninteresting. Behind the horsemen came two shaft-horses. On one of them sat a rider with the dust of yesterday on his back and a clumsy and funny-looking piece of wood on his leg. Ryabovitch knew the object of this piece of wood, and did not think it funny. All the riders waved their whips mechanically and shouted from time to time. The cannon itself was ugly. On the fore part lay sacks of oats covered with canvas, and the cannon itself was hung all over with kettles, soldiers’ knapsacks, bags, and looked like some small harmless animal surrounded for some unknown reason by men and horses. To the leeward of it marched six men, the gunners, swinging their arms. After the cannon there came again more bombardiers, riders, shaft-horses, and behind them another cannon, as ugly and unimpressive as the first. After the second followed a third, a fourth; near the fourth an officer, and so on. There were six batteries in all in the brigade, and four cannons in each battery. The procession covered half a mile; it ended in a string of wagons near which an extremely attractive creature—the ass, Magar, brought by a battery commander from Turkey—paced pensively with his long-eared head drooping.
Ryabovitch looked indifferently before and behind, at the backs of heads and at faces; at any other time he would have been half asleep, but now he was entirely absorbed in his new agreeable thoughts. At first when the brigade was setting off on the march he tried to persuade himself that the incident of the kiss could only be interesting as a mysterious little adventure, that it was in reality trivial, and to think of it seriously, to say the least of it, was stupid; but now he bade farewell to logic and gave himself up to dreams. . . . At one moment he imagined himself in Von Rabbek’s drawing-room beside a girl who was like the young lady in lilac and the fair girl in black; then he would close his eyes and see himself with another, entirely unknown girl, whose features were very vague. In his imagination he talked, caressed her, leaned on her shoulder, pictured war, separation, then meeting again, supper with his wife, children. . . .
“Brakes on!” the word of command rang out every time they went downhill.
He, too, shouted “Brakes on!” and was afraid this shout would disturb his reverie and bring him back to reality. . . .
As they passed by some landowner’s estate Ryabovitch looked over the fence into the garden. A long avenue, straight as a ruler, strewn with yellow sand and bordered with young birch-trees, met his eyes. . . . With the eagerness of a man given up to dreaming, he pictured to himself little feminine feet tripping along yellow sand, and quite unexpectedly had a clear vision in his imagination of the girl who had kissed him and whom he had succeeded in picturing to himself the evening before at supper. This image remained in his brain and did not desert him again.
At midday there was a shout in the rear near the string of wagons:
“Easy! Eyes to the left! Officers!”
The general of the brigade drove by in a carriage with a pair of white horses. He stopped near the second battery, and shouted something which no one understood. Several officers, among them Ryabovitch, galloped up to them.
“Well?” asked the general, blinking his red eyes. “Are there any sick?”
Receiving an answer, the general, a little skinny man, chewed, thought for a moment and said, addressing one of the officers:
“One of your drivers of the third cannon has taken off his leg-guard and hung it on the fore part of the cannon, the rascal. Reprimand him.”
He raised his eyes to Ryabovitch and went on:
“It seems to me your front strap is too long.”
Making a few other tedious remarks, the general looked at Lobytko and grinned.
“You look very melancholy today, Lieutenant Lobytko,” he said. “Are you pining for Madame Lopuhov? Eh? Gentlemen, he is pining for Madame Lopuhov.”
The lady in question was a very stout and tall person who had long passed her fortieth year. The general, who had a predilection for solid ladies, whatever their ages, suspected a similar taste in his officers. The officers smiled respectfully. The general, delighted at having said something very amusing and biting, laughed loudly, touched his coachman’s back, and saluted. The carriage rolled on. . . .
“All I am dreaming about now which seems to me so impossible and unearthly is really quite an ordinary thing,” thought Ryabovitch, looking at the clouds of dust racing after the general’s carriage. “It’s all very ordinary, and every one goes through it. . . . That general, for instance, has once been in love; now he is married and has children. Captain Vahter, too, is married and beloved, though the nape of his neck is very red and ugly and he has no waist. . . . Salrnanov is coarse and very Tatar, but he has had a love affair that has ended in marriage. . . . I am the same as every one else, and I, too, shall have the same experience as every one else, sooner or later. . . .”
And the thought that he was an ordinary person, and that his life was ordinary, delighted him and gave him courage. He pictured her and his happiness as he pleased, and put no rein on his imagination.
When the brigade reached their halting-place in the evening, and the officers were resting in their tents, Ryabovitch, Merzlyakov, and Lobytko were sitting round a box having supper. Merzlyakov ate without haste, and, as he munched deliberately, read the “Vyestnik Evropi,” which he held on his knees. Lobytko talked incessantly and kept filling up his glass with beer, and Ryabovitch, whose head was confused from dreaming all day long, drank and said nothing. After three glasses he got a little drunk, felt weak, and had an irresistible desire to impart his new sensations to his comrades.
“A strange thing happened to me at those Von Rabbeks’,” he began, trying to put an indifferent and ironical tone into his voice. “You know I went into the billiard-room. . . .”
He began describing very minutely the incident of the kiss, and a moment later relapsed into silence. . . . In the course of that moment he had told everything, and it surprised him dreadfully to find how short a time it took him to tell it. He had imagined that he could have been telling the story of the kiss till next morning. Listening to him, Lobytko, who was a great liar and consequently believed no one, looked at him sceptically and laughed. Merzlyakov twitched his eyebrows and, without removing his eyes from the “Vyestnik Evropi,” said:
“That’s an odd thing! How strange! . . . throws herself on a man’s neck, without addressing him by name. .. . She must be some sort of hysterical neurotic.”
“Yes, she must,” Ryabovitch agreed.
“A similar thing once happened to me,” said Lobytko, assuming a scared expression. “I was going last year to Kovno. . . . I took a second-class ticket. The train was crammed, and it was impossible to sleep. I gave the guard half a rouble; he took my luggage and led me to another compartment. . . . I lay down and covered myself with a rug. . . . It was dark, you understand. Suddenly I felt some one touch me on the shoulder and breathe in my face. I made a movement with my hand and felt somebody’s elbow. . . . I opened my eyes and only imagine—a woman. Black eyes, lips red as a prime salmon, nostrils breathing passionately—a bosom like a buffer. . . .”
“Excuse me,” Merzlyakov interrupted calmly, “I understand about the bosom, but how could you see the lips if it was dark?”
Lobytko began trying to put himself right and laughing at Merzlyakov’s unimaginativeness. It made Ryabovitch wince. He walked away from the box, got into bed, and vowed never to confide again.
Camp life began. . . . The days flowed by, one very much like another. All those days Ryabovitch felt, thought, and behaved as though he were in love. Every morning when his orderly handed him water to wash with, and he sluiced his head with cold water, he thought there was something warm and delightful in his life.
In the evenings when his comrades began talking of love and women, he would listen, and draw up closer; and he wore the expression of a soldier when he hears the description of a battle in which he has taken part. And on the evenings when the officers, out on the spree with the setter—Lobytko—at their head, made Don Juan excursions to the “suburb,” and Ryabovitch took part in such excursions, he always was sad, felt profoundly guilty, and inwardly begged her forgiveness. . . . In hours of leisure or on sleepless nights, when he felt moved to recall his childhood, his father and mother— everything near and dear, in fact, he invariably thought of Myestetchki, the strange horse, Von Rabbek, his wife who was like the Empress Eugénie, the dark room, the crack of light at the door. . . .
On the thirty-first of August he went back from the camp, not with the whole brigade, but with only two batteries of it. He was dreaming and excited all the way, as though he were going back to his native place. He had an intense longing to see again the strange horse, the church, the insincere family of the Von Rabbeks, the dark room. The “inner voice,” which so often deceives lovers, whispered to him for some reason that he would be sure to see her . . . and he was tortured by the questions, How he should meet her? What he would talk to her about? Whether she had forgotten the kiss? If the worst came to the worst, he thought, even if he did not meet her, it would be a pleasure to him merely to go through the dark room and recall the past. . . .
Towards evening there appeared on the horizon the familiar church and white granaries. Ryabovitch’s heart beat. . . . He did not hear the officer who was riding beside him and saying something to him, he forgot everything, and looked eagerly at the river shining in the distance, at the roof of the house, at the dovecote round which the pigeons were circling in the light of the setting sun.
When they reached the church and were listening to the billeting orders, he expected every second that a man on horseback would come round the church enclosure and invite the officers to tea, but . . . the billeting orders were read, the officers were in haste to go on to the village, and the man on horseback did not appear.
“Von Rabbek will hear at once from the peasants that we have come and will send for us,” thought Ryabovitch, as he went into the hut, unable to understand why a comrade was lighting a candle and why the orderlies were hurriedly setting samovars. . . .
A painful uneasiness took possession of him. He lay down, then got up and looked out of the window to see whether the messenger were coming. But there was no sign of him.
He lay down again, but half an hour later he got up, and, unable to restrain his uneasiness, went into the street and strode towards the church. It was dark and deserted in the square near the church . . . . Three soldiers were standing silent in a row where the road began to go downhill. Seeing Ryabovitch, they roused themselves and saluted. He returned the salute and began to go down the familiar path.
On the further side of the river the whole sky was flooded with crimson: the moon was rising; two peasant women, talking loudly, were picking cabbage in the kitchen garden; behind the kitchen garden there were some dark huts. . . . And everything on the near side of the river was just as it had been in May: the path, the bushes, the willows overhanging the water . . . but there was no sound of the brave nightingale, and no scent of poplar and fresh grass.
Reaching the garden, Ryabovitch looked in at the gate. The garden was dark and still. . . . He could see nothing but the white stems of the nearest birch-trees and a little bit of the avenue; all the rest melted together into a dark blur. Ryabovitch looked and listened eagerly, but after waiting for a quarter of an hour without hearing a sound or catching a glimpse of a light, he trudged back. . . .
He went down to the river. The General’s bath-house and the bath-sheets on the rail of the little bridge showed white before him. . . . He went on to the bridge, stood a little, and, quite unnecessarily, touched the sheets. They felt rough and cold. He looked down at the water. . . . The river ran rapidly and with a faintly audible gurgle round the piles of the bath-house. The red moon was reflected near the left bank; little ripples ran over the reflection, stretching it out, breaking it into bits, and seemed trying to carry it away.
“How stupid, how stupid!” thought Ryabovitch, looking at the running water. “How unintelligent it all is!”
Now that he expected nothing, the incident of the kiss, his impatience, his vague hopes and disappointment, presented themselves in a clear light. It no longer seemed to him strange that he had not seen the General’s messenger, and that he would never see the girl who had accidentally kissed him instead of some one else; on the contrary, it would have been strange if he had seen her. . . .
The water was running, he knew not where or why, just as it did in May. In May it had flowed into the great river, from the great river into the sea; then it had risen in vapour, turned into rain, and perhaps the very same water was running now before Ryabovitch’s eyes again. . . . What for? Why?
And the whole world, the whole of life, seemed to Ryabovitch an unintelligible, aimless jest. . . . And turning his eyes from the water and looking at the sky, he remembered again how fate in the person of an unknown woman had by chance caressed him, he remembered his summer dreams and fancies, and his life struck him as extraordinarily meagre, poverty-stricken, and colourless. . . .
When he went back to his hut he did not find one of his comrades. The orderly informed him that they had all gone to “General von Rabbek’s, who had sent a messenger on horseback to invite them. . . .”
For an instant there was a flash of joy in Ryabovitch’s heart, but he quenched it at once, got into bed, and in his wrath with his fate, as though to spite it, did not go to the General’s.



AFTER the festive dinner with its eight courses and its endless conversation, Olga Mihalovna, whose husband’s name-day was being celebrated, went out into the garden. The duty of smiling and talking incessantly, the clatter of the crockery, the stupidity of the servants, the long intervals between the courses, and the stays she had put on to conceal her condition from the visitors, wearied her to exhaustion. She longed to get away from the house, to sit in the shade and rest her heart with thoughts of the baby which was to be born to her in another two months. She was used to these thoughts coming to her as she turned to the left out of the big avenue into the narrow path. Here in the thick shade of the plums and cherry-trees the dry branches used to scratch her neck and shoulders; a spider’s web would settle on her face, and there would rise up in her mind the image of a little creature of undetermined sex and undefined features, and it began to seem as though it were not the spider’s web that tickled her face and neck caressingly, but that little creature. When, at the end of the path, a thin wicker hurdle came into sight, and behind it podgy beehives with tiled roofs; when in the motionless, stagnant air there came a smell of hay and honey, and a soft buzzing of bees was audible, then the little creature would take complete possession of Olga Mihalovna. She used to sit down on a bench near the shanty woven of branches, and fall to thinking.
This time, too, she went on as far as the seat, sat down, and began thinking; but instead of the little creature there rose up in her imagination the figures of the grown-up people whom she had just left. She felt dreadfully uneasy that she, the hostess, had deserted her guests, and she remembered how her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch, and her uncle, Nikolay Nikolaitch, had argued at dinner about trial by jury, about the press, and about the higher education of women. Her husband, as usual, argued in order to show off his Conservative ideas before his visitors—and still more in order to disagree with her uncle, whom he disliked. Her uncle contradicted him and wrangled over every word he uttered, so as to show the company that he, Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch, still retained his youthful freshness of spirit and free-thinking in spite of his fifty-nine years. And towards the end of dinner even Olga Mihalovna herself could not resist taking part and unskilfully attempting to defend university education for women—not that that education stood in need of her defence, but simply because she wanted to annoy her husband, who to her mind was unfair. The guests were wearied by this discussion, but they all thought it necessary to take part in it, and talked a great deal, although none of them took any interest in trial by jury or the higher education of women. . . .
Olga Mihalovna was sitting on the nearest side of the hurdle near the shanty. The sun was hidden behind the clouds. The trees and the air were overcast as before rain, but in spite of that it was hot and stifling. The hay cut under the trees on the previous day was lying ungathered, looking melancholy, with here and there a patch of colour from the faded flowers, and from it came a heavy, sickly scent. It was still. The other side of the hurdle there was a monotonous hum of bees. . . .
Suddenly she heard footsteps and voices; some one was coming along the path towards the beehouse.
“How stifling it is!” said a feminine voice. “What do you think— is it going to rain, or not?”
“It is going to rain, my charmer, but not before night,” a very familiar male voice answered languidly. “There will be a good rain.”
Olga Mihalovna calculated that if she made haste to hide in the shanty they would pass by without seeing her, and she would not have to talk and to force herself to smile. She picked up her skirts, bent down and crept into the shanty. At once she felt upon her face, her neck, her arms, the hot air as heavy as steam. If it had not been for the stuffiness and the close smell of rye bread, fennel, and brushwood, which prevented her from breathing freely, it would have been delightful to hide from her visitors here under the thatched roof in the dusk, and to think about the little creature. It was cosy and quiet.
“What a pretty spot!” said a feminine voice. “Let us sit here, Pyotr Dmitritch.”
Olga Mihalovna began peeping through a crack between two branches. She saw her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch, and Lubotchka Sheller, a girl of seventeen who had not long left boarding-school. Pyotr Dmitritch, with his hat on the back of his head, languid and indolent from having drunk so much at dinner, slouched by the hurdle and raked the hay into a heap with his foot; Lubotchka, pink with the heat and pretty as ever, stood with her hands behind her, watching the lazy movements of his big handsome person.
Olga Mihalovna knew that her husband was attractive to women, and did not like to see him with them. There was nothing out of the way in Pyotr Dmitritch’s lazily raking together the hay in order to sit down on it with Lubotchka and chatter to her of trivialities; there was nothing out of the way, either, in pretty Lubotchka’s looking at him with her soft eyes; but yet Olga Mihalovna felt vexed with her husband and frightened and pleased that she could listen to them.
“Sit down, enchantress,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, sinking down on the hay and stretching. “That’s right. Come, tell me something.”
“What next! If I begin telling you anything you will go to sleep.”
“Me go to sleep? Allah forbid! Can I go to sleep while eyes like yours are watching me?”
In her husband’s words, and in the fact that he was lolling with his hat on the back of his head in the presence of a lady, there was nothing out of the way either. He was spoilt by women, knew that they found him attractive, and had adopted with them a special tone which every one said suited him. With Lubotchka he behaved as with all women. But, all the same, Olga Mihalovna was jealous.
“Tell me, please,” said Lubotchka, after a brief silence—“is it true that you are to be tried for something?”
“I? Yes, I am . . . numbered among the transgressors, my charmer.”
“But what for?”
“For nothing, but just . . . it’s chiefly a question of politics,” yawned Pyotr Dmitritch—“the antagonisms of Left and Right. I, an obscurantist and reactionary, ventured in an official paper to make use of an expression offensive in the eyes of such immaculate Gladstones as Vladimir Pavlovitch Vladimirov and our local justice of the peace—Kuzma Grigoritch Vostryakov.”
Pytor Dmitritch yawned again and went on:
“And it is the way with us that you may express disapproval of the sun or the moon, or anything you like, but God preserve you from touching the Liberals! Heaven forbid! A Liberal is like the poisonous dry fungus which covers you with a cloud of dust if you accidentally touch it with your finger.”
“What happened to you?”
“Nothing particular. The whole flare-up started from the merest trifle. A teacher, a detestable person of clerical associations, hands to Vostryakov a petition against a tavern-keeper, charging him with insulting language and behaviour in a public place. Everything showed that both the teacher and the tavern-keeper were drunk as cobblers, and that they behaved equally badly. If there had been insulting behaviour, the insult had anyway been mutual. Vostryakov ought to have fined them both for a breach of the peace and have turned them out of the court—that is all. But that’s not our way of doing things. With us what stands first is not the person—not the fact itself, but the trade-mark and label. However great a rascal a teacher may be, he is always in the right because he is a teacher; a tavern-keeper is always in the wrong because he is a tavern-keeper and a money-grubber. Vostryakov placed the tavern-keeper under arrest. The man appealed to the Circuit Court; the Circuit Court triumphantly upheld Vostryakov’s decision. Well, I stuck to my own opinion. . . . Got a little hot. . . . That was all.”
Pyotr Dmitritch spoke calmly with careless irony. In reality the trial that was hanging over him worried him extremely. Olga Mihalovna remembered how on his return from the unfortunate session he had tried to conceal from his household how troubled he was, and how dissatisfied with himself. As an intelligent man he could not help feeling that he had gone too far in expressing his disagreement; and how much lying had been needful to conceal that feeling from himself and from others! How many unnecessary conversations there had been! How much grumbling and insincere laughter at what was not laughable! When he learned that he was to be brought up before the Court, he seemed at once harassed and depressed; he began to sleep badly, stood oftener than ever at the windows, drumming on the panes with his fingers. And he was ashamed to let his wife see that he was worried, and it vexed her.
“They say you have been in the province of Poltava?” Lubotchka questioned him.
“Yes,” answered Pyotr Dmitritch. “I came back the day before yesterday.”
“I expect it is very nice there.”
“Yes, it is very nice, very nice indeed; in fact, I arrived just in time for the haymaking, I must tell you, and in the Ukraine the haymaking is the most poetical moment of the year. Here we have a big house, a big garden, a lot of servants, and a lot going on, so that you don’t see the haymaking; here it all passes unnoticed. There, at the farm, I have a meadow of forty-five acres as flat as my hand. You can see the men mowing from any window you stand at. They are mowing in the meadow, they are mowing in the garden. There are no visitors, no fuss nor hurry either, so that you can’t help seeing, feeling, hearing nothing but the haymaking. There is a smell of hay indoors and outdoors. There’s the sound of the scythes from sunrise to sunset. Altogether Little Russia is a charming country. Would you believe it, when I was drinking water from the rustic wells and filthy vodka in some Jew’s tavern, when on quiet evenings the strains of the Little Russian fiddle and the tambourines reached me, I was tempted by a fascinating idea—to settle down on my place and live there as long as I chose, far away from Circuit Courts, intellectual conversations, philosophizing women, long dinners. . . .”
Pyotr Dmitritch was not lying. He was unhappy and really longed to rest. And he had visited his Poltava property simply to avoid seeing his study, his servants, his acquaintances, and everything that could remind him of his wounded vanity and his mistakes.
Lubotchka suddenly jumped up and waved her hands about in horror.
“Oh! A bee, a bee!” she shrieked. “It will sting!”
“Nonsense; it won’t sting,” said Pyotr Dmitritch. “What a coward you are!”
“No, no, no,” cried Lubotchka; and looking round at the bees, she walked rapidly back.
Pyotr Dmitritch walked away after her, looking at her with a softened and melancholy face. He was probably thinking, as he looked at her, of his farm, of solitude, and—who knows?—perhaps he was even thinking how snug and cosy life would be at the farm if his wife had been this girl—young, pure, fresh, not corrupted by higher education, not with child. . . .
When the sound of their footsteps had died away, Olga Mihalovna came out of the shanty and turned towards the house. She wanted to cry. She was by now acutely jealous. She could understand that her husband was worried, dissatisfied with himself and ashamed, and when people are ashamed they hold aloof, above all from those nearest to them, and are unreserved with strangers; she could understand, also, that she had nothing to fear from Lubotchka or from those women who were now drinking coffee indoors. But everything in general was terrible, incomprehensible, and it already seemed to Olga Mihalovna that Pyotr Dmitritch only half belonged to her.
“He has no right to do it!” she muttered, trying to formulate her jealousy and her vexation with her husband. “He has no right at all. I will tell him so plainly!”
She made up her mind to find her husband at once and tell him all about it: it was disgusting, absolutely disgusting, that he was attractive to other women and sought their admiration as though it were some heavenly manna; it was unjust and dishonourable that he should give to others what belonged by right to his wife, that he should hide his soul and his conscience from his wife to reveal them to the first pretty face he came across. What harm had his wife done him? How was she to blame? Long ago she had been sickened by his lying: he was for ever posing, flirting, saying what he did not think, and trying to seem different from what he was and what he ought to be. Why this falsity? Was it seemly in a decent man? If he lied he was demeaning himself and those to whom he lied, and slighting what he lied about. Could he not understand that if he swaggered and posed at the judicial table, or held forth at dinner on the prerogatives of Government, that he, simply to provoke her uncle, was showing thereby that he had not a ha’p’orth of respect for the Court, or himself, or any of the people who were listening and looking at him?
Coming out into the big avenue, Olga Mihalovna assumed an expression of face as though she had just gone away to look after some domestic matter. In the verandah the gentlemen were drinking liqueur and eating strawberries: one of them, the Examining Magistrate—a stout elderly man, blagueur and wit—must have been telling some rather free anecdote, for, seeing their hostess, he suddenly clapped his hands over his fat lips, rolled his eyes, and sat down. Olga Mihalovna did not like the local officials. She did not care for their clumsy, ceremonious wives, their scandal-mongering, their frequent visits, their flattery of her husband, whom they all hated. Now, when they were drinking, were replete with food and showed no signs of going away, she felt their presence an agonizing weariness; but not to appear impolite, she smiled cordially to the Magistrate, and shook her finger at him. She walked across the dining-room and drawing-room smiling, and looking as though she had gone to give some order and make some arrangement. “God grant no one stops me,” she thought, but she forced herself to stop in the drawing-room to listen from politeness to a young man who was sitting at the piano playing: after standing for a minute, she cried, “Bravo, bravo, M. Georges!” and clapping her hands twice, she went on.
She found her husband in his study. He was sitting at the table, thinking of something. His face looked stern, thoughtful, and guilty. This was not the same Pyotr Dmitritch who had been arguing at dinner and whom his guests knew, but a different man—wearied, feeling guilty and dissatisfied with himself, whom nobody knew but his wife. He must have come to the study to get cigarettes. Before him lay an open cigarette-case full of cigarettes, and one of his hands was in the table drawer; he had paused and sunk into thought as he was taking the cigarettes.
Olga Mihalovna felt sorry for him. It was as clear as day that this man was harassed, could find no rest, and was perhaps struggling with himself. Olga Mihalovna went up to the table in silence: wanting to show that she had forgotten the argument at dinner and was not cross, she shut the cigarette-case and put it in her husband’s coat pocket.
“What should I say to him?” she wondered; “I shall say that lying is like a forest—the further one goes into it the more difficult it is to get out of it. I will say to him, ‘You have been carried away by the false part you are playing; you have insulted people who were attached to you and have done you no harm. Go and apologize to them, laugh at yourself, and you will feel better. And if you want peace and solitude, let us go away together.’”
Meeting his wife’s gaze, Pyotr Dmitritch’s face immediately assumed the expression it had worn at dinner and in the garden—indifferent and slightly ironical. He yawned and got up.
“It’s past five,” he said, looking at his watch. “If our visitors are merciful and leave us at eleven, even then we have another six hours of it. It’s a cheerful prospect, there’s no denying!”
And whistling something, he walked slowly out of the study with his usual dignified gait. She could hear him with dignified firmness cross the dining-room, then the drawing-room, laugh with dignified assurance, and say to the young man who was playing, “Bravo! bravo!” Soon his footsteps died away: he must have gone out into the garden. And now not jealousy, not vexation, but real hatred of his footsteps, his insincere laugh and voice, took possession of Olga Mihalovna. She went to the window and looked out into the garden. Pyotr Dmitritch was already walking along the avenue. Putting one hand in his pocket and snapping the fingers of the other, he walked with confident swinging steps, throwing his head back a little, and looking as though he were very well satisfied with himself, with his dinner, with his digestion, and with nature. . . .
Two little schoolboys, the children of Madame Tchizhevsky, who had only just arrived, made their appearance in the avenue, accompanied by their tutor, a student wearing a white tunic and very narrow trousers. When they reached Pyotr Dmitritch, the boys and the student stopped, and probably congratulated him on his name-day. With a graceful swing of his shoulders, he patted the children on their cheeks, and carelessly offered the student his hand without looking at him. The student must have praised the weather and compared it with the climate of Petersburg, for Pyotr Dmitritch said in a loud voice, in a tone as though he were not speaking to a guest, but to an usher of the court or a witness:
“What! It’s cold in Petersburg? And here, my good sir, we have a salubrious atmosphere and the fruits of the earth in abundance. Eh? What?”
And thrusting one hand in his pocket and snapping the fingers of the other, he walked on. Till he had disappeared behind the nut bushes, Olga Mihalovna watched the back of his head in perplexity. How had this man of thirty-four come by the dignified deportment of a general? How had he come by that impressive, elegant manner? Where had he got that vibration of authority in his voice? Where had he got these “what’s,” “to be sure’s,” and “my good sir’s”?
Olga Mihalovna remembered how in the first months of her marriage she had felt dreary at home alone and had driven into the town to the Circuit Court, at which Pyotr Dmitritch had sometimes presided in place of her godfather, Count Alexey Petrovitch. In the presidential chair, wearing his uniform and a chain on his breast, he was completely changed. Stately gestures, a voice of thunder, “what,” “to be sure,” careless tones. . . . Everything, all that was ordinary and human, all that was individual and personal to himself that Olga Mihalovna was accustomed to seeing in him at home, vanished in grandeur, and in the presidential chair there sat not Pyotr Dmitritch, but another man whom every one called Mr. President. This consciousness of power prevented him from sitting still in his place, and he seized every opportunity to ring his bell, to glance sternly at the public, to shout. . . . Where had he got his short-sight and his deafness when he suddenly began to see and hear with difficulty, and, frowning majestically, insisted on people speaking louder and coming closer to the table? From the height of his grandeur he could hardly distinguish faces or sounds, so that it seemed that if Olga Mihalovna herself had gone up to him he would have shouted even to her, “Your name?” Peasant witnesses he addressed familiarly, he shouted at the public so that his voice could be heard even in the street, and behaved incredibly with the lawyers. If a lawyer had to speak to him, Pyotr Dmitritch, turning a little away from him, looked with half-closed eyes at the ceiling, meaning to signify thereby that the lawyer was utterly superfluous and that he was neither recognizing him nor listening to him; if a badly-dressed lawyer spoke, Pyotr Dmitritch pricked up his ears and looked the man up and down with a sarcastic, annihilating stare as though to say: “Queer sort of lawyers nowadays!”
“What do you mean by that?” he would interrupt.
If a would-be eloquent lawyer mispronounced a foreign word, saying, for instance, “factitious” instead of “fictitious,” Pyotr Dmitritch brightened up at once and asked, “What? How? Factitious? What does that mean?” and then observed impressively: “Don’t make use of words you do not understand.” And the lawyer, finishing his speech, would walk away from the table, red and perspiring, while Pyotr Dmitritch; with a self-satisfied smile, would lean back in his chair triumphant. In his manner with the lawyers he imitated Count Alexey Petrovitch a little, but when the latter said, for instance, “Counsel for the defence, you keep quiet for a little!” it sounded paternally good-natured and natural, while the same words in Pyotr Dmitritch’s mouth were rude and artificial.


There were sounds of applause. The young man had finished playing. Olga Mihalovna remembered her guests and hurried into the drawing-room.
“I have so enjoyed your playing,” she said, going up to the piano. “I have so enjoyed it. You have a wonderful talent! But don’t you think our piano’s out of tune?”
At that moment the two schoolboys walked into the room, accompanied by the student.
“My goodness! Mitya and Kolya,” Olga Mihalovna drawled joyfully, going to meet them: “How big they have grown! One would not know you! But where is your mamma?”
“I congratulate you on the name-day,” the student began in a free-and-easy tone, “and I wish you all happiness. Ekaterina Andreyevna sends her congratulations and begs you to excuse her. She is not very well.”
“How unkind of her! I have been expecting her all day. Is it long since you left Petersburg?” Olga Mihalovna asked the student. “What kind of weather have you there now?” And without waiting for an answer, she looked cordially at the schoolboys and repeated:
“How tall they have grown! It is not long since they used to come with their nurse, and they are at school already! The old grow older while the young grow up. . . . Have you had dinner?”
“Oh, please don’t trouble!” said the student.
“Why, you have not had dinner?”
“For goodness’ sake, don’t trouble!”
“But I suppose you are hungry?” Olga Mihalovna said it in a harsh, rude voice, with impatience and vexation—it escaped her unawares, but at once she coughed, smiled, and flushed crimson. “How tall they have grown!” she said softly.
“Please don’t trouble!” the student said once more.
The student begged her not to trouble; the boys said nothing; obviously all three of them were hungry. Olga Mihalovna took them into the dining-room and told Vassily to lay the table.
“How unkind of your mamma!” she said as she made them sit down. “She has quite forgotten me. Unkind, unkind, unkind . . . you must tell her so. What are you studying?” she asked the student.
“Well, I have a weakness for doctors, only fancy. I am very sorry my husband is not a doctor. What courage any one must have to perform an operation or dissect a corpse, for instance! Horrible! Aren’t you frightened? I believe I should die of terror! Of course, you drink vodka?”
“Please don’t trouble.”
“After your journey you must have something to drink. Though I am a woman, even I drink sometimes. And Mitya and Kolya will drink Malaga. It’s not a strong wine; you need not be afraid of it. What fine fellows they are, really! They’ll be thinking of getting married next.”
Olga Mihalovna talked without ceasing; she knew by experience that when she had guests to entertain it was far easier and more comfortable to talk than to listen. When you talk there is no need to strain your attention to think of answers to questions, and to change your expression of face. But unawares she asked the student a serious question; the student began a lengthy speech and she was forced to listen. The student knew that she had once been at the University, and so tried to seem a serious person as he talked to her.
“What subject are you studying?” she asked, forgetting that she had already put that question to him.
Olga Mihalovna now remembered that she had been away from the ladies for a long while.
“Yes? Then I suppose you are going to be a doctor?” she said, getting up. “That’s splendid. I am sorry I did not go in for medicine myself. So you will finish your dinner here, gentlemen, and then come into the garden. I will introduce you to the young ladies.”
She went out and glanced at her watch: it was five minutes to six. And she wondered that the time had gone so slowly, and thought with horror that there were six more hours before midnight, when the party would break up. How could she get through those six hours? What phrases could she utter? How should she behave to her husband?
There was not a soul in the drawing-room or on the verandah. All the guests were sauntering about the garden.
“I shall have to suggest a walk in the birchwood before tea, or else a row in the boats,” thought Olga Mihalovna, hurrying to the croquet ground, from which came the sounds of voices and laughter.
“And sit the old people down to vint. . . .” She met Grigory the footman coming from the croquet ground with empty bottles.
“Where are the ladies?” she asked.
“Among the raspberry-bushes. The master’s there, too.”
“Oh, good heavens!” some one on the croquet lawn shouted with exasperation. “I have told you a thousand times over! To know the Bulgarians you must see them! You can’t judge from the papers!”
Either because of the outburst or for some other reason, Olga Mihalovna was suddenly aware of a terrible weakness all over, especially in her legs and in her shoulders. She felt she could not bear to speak, to listen, or to move.
“Grigory,” she said faintly and with an effort, “when you have to serve tea or anything, please don’t appeal to me, don’t ask me anything, don’t speak of anything. . . . Do it all yourself, and . . . and don’t make a noise with your feet, I entreat you. . . . I can’t, because . . .”
Without finishing, she walked on towards the croquet lawn, but on the way she thought of the ladies, and turned towards the raspberry-bushes. The sky, the air, and the trees looked gloomy again and threatened rain; it was hot and stifling. An immense flock of crows, foreseeing a storm, flew cawing over the garden. The paths were more overgrown, darker, and narrower as they got nearer the kitchen garden. In one of them, buried in a thick tangle of wild pear, crab-apple, sorrel, young oaks, and hopbine, clouds of tiny black flies swarmed round Olga Mihalovna. She covered her face with her hands and began forcing herself to think of the little creature . . . . There floated through her imagination the figures of Grigory, Mitya, Kolya, the faces of the peasants who had come in the morning to present their congratulations.
She heard footsteps, and she opened her eyes. Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch was coming rapidly towards her.
“It’s you, dear? I am very glad . . .” he began, breathless. “A couple of words. . . .” He mopped with his handkerchief his red shaven chin, then suddenly stepped back a pace, flung up his hands and opened his eyes wide. “My dear girl, how long is this going on?” he said rapidly, spluttering. “I ask you: is there no limit to it? I say nothing of the demoralizing effect of his martinet views on all around him, of the way he insults all that is sacred and best in me and in every honest thinking man—I will say nothing about that, but he might at least behave decently! Why, he shouts, he bellows, gives himself airs, poses as a sort of Bonaparte, does not let one say a word. . . . I don’t know what the devil’s the matter with him! These lordly gestures, this condescending tone; and laughing like a general! Who is he, allow me to ask you? I ask you, who is he? The husband of his wife, with a few paltry acres and the rank of a titular who has had the luck to marry an heiress! An upstart and a Junker, like so many others! A type out of Shtchedrin! Upon my word, it’s either that he’s suffering from megalomania, or that old rat in his dotage, Count Alexey Petrovitch, is right when he says that children and young people are a long time growing up nowadays, and go on playing they are cabmen and generals till they are forty!”
“That’s true, that’s true,” Olga Mihalovna assented. “Let me pass.”
“Now just consider: what is it leading to?” her uncle went on, barring her way. “How will this playing at being a general and a Conservative end? Already he has got into trouble! Yes, to stand his trial! I am very glad of it! That’s what his noise and shouting has brought him to—to stand in the prisoner’s dock. And it’s not as though it were the Circuit Court or something: it’s the Central Court! Nothing worse could be imagined, I think! And then he has quarrelled with every one! He is celebrating his name-day, and look, Vostryakov’s not here, nor Yahontov, nor Vladimirov, nor Shevud, nor the Count. . . . There is no one, I imagine, more Conservative than Count Alexey Petrovitch, yet even he has not come. And he never will come again. He won’t come, you will see!”
“My God! but what has it to do with me?” asked Olga Mihalovna.
“What has it to do with you? Why, you are his wife! You are clever, you have had a university education, and it was in your power to make him an honest worker!”
“At the lectures I went to they did not teach us how to influence tiresome people. It seems as though I should have to apologize to all of you for having been at the University,” said Olga Mihalovna sharply. “Listen, uncle. If people played the same scales over and over again the whole day long in your hearing, you wouldn’t be able to sit still and listen, but would run away. I hear the same thing over again for days together all the year round. You must have pity on me at last.”
Her uncle pulled a very long face, then looked at her searchingly and twisted his lips into a mocking smile.
“So that’s how it is,” he piped in a voice like an old woman’s. “I beg your pardon!” he said, and made a ceremonious bow. “If you have fallen under his influence yourself, and have abandoned your convictions, you should have said so before. I beg your pardon!”
“Yes, I have abandoned my convictions,” she cried. “There; make the most of it!”
“I beg your pardon!”
Her uncle for the last time made her a ceremonious bow, a little on one side, and, shrinking into himself, made a scrape with his foot and walked back.
“Idiot!” thought Olga Mihalovna. “I hope he will go home.”
She found the ladies and the young people among the raspberries in the kitchen garden. Some were eating raspberries; others, tired of eating raspberries, were strolling about the strawberry beds or foraging among the sugar-peas. A little on one side of the raspberry bed, near a branching appletree propped up by posts which had been pulled out of an old fence, Pyotr Dmitritch was mowing the grass. His hair was falling over his forehead, his cravat was untied. His watch-chain was hanging loose. Every step and every swing of the scythe showed skill and the possession of immense physical strength. Near him were standing Lubotchka and the daughters of a neighbour, Colonel Bukryeev—two anaemic and unhealthily stout fair girls, Natalya and Valentina, or, as they were always called, Nata and Vata, both wearing white frocks and strikingly like each other. Pyotr Dmitritch was teaching them to mow.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “You have only to know how to hold the scythe and not to get too hot over it—that is, not to use more force than is necessary! Like this. . . . Wouldn’t you like to try?” he said, offering the scythe to Lubotchka. “Come!”
Lubotchka took the scythe clumsily, blushed crimson, and laughed.
“Don’t be afraid, Lubov Alexandrovna!” cried Olga Mihalovna, loud enough for all the ladies to hear that she was with them. “Don’t be afraid! You must learn! If you marry a Tolstoyan he will make you mow.”
Lubotchka raised the scythe, but began laughing again, and, helpless with laughter, let go of it at once. She was ashamed and pleased at being talked to as though grown up. Nata, with a cold, serious face, with no trace of smiling or shyness, took the scythe, swung it and caught it in the grass; Vata, also without a smile, as cold and serious as her sister, took the scythe, and silently thrust it into the earth. Having done this, the two sisters linked arms and walked in silence to the raspberries.
Pyotr Dmitritch laughed and played about like a boy, and this childish, frolicsome mood in which he became exceedingly good-natured suited him far better than any other. Olga Mihalovna loved him when he was like that. But his boyishness did not usually last long. It did not this time; after playing with the scythe, he for some reason thought it necessary to take a serious tone about it.
“When I am mowing, I feel, do you know, healthier and more normal,” he said. “If I were forced to confine myself to an intellectual life I believe I should go out of my mind. I feel that I was not born to be a man of culture! I ought to mow, plough, sow, drive out the horses.”
And Pyotr Dmitritch began a conversation with the ladies about the advantages of physical labour, about culture, and then about the pernicious effects of money, of property. Listening to her husband, Olga Mihalovna, for some reason, thought of her dowry.
“And the time will come, I suppose,” she thought, “when he will not forgive me for being richer than he. He is proud and vain. Maybe he will hate me because he owes so much to me.”
She stopped near Colonel Bukryeev, who was eating raspberries and also taking part in the conversation.
“Come,” he said, making room for Olga Mihalovna and Pyotr Dmitritch. “The ripest are here. . . . And so, according to Proudhon,” he went on, raising his voice, “property is robbery. But I must confess I don’t believe in Proudhon, and don’t consider him a philosopher. The French are not authorities, to my thinking—God bless them!”
“Well, as for Proudhons and Buckles and the rest of them, I am weak in that department,” said Pyotr Dmitritch. “For philosophy you must apply to my wife. She has been at University lectures and knows all your Schopenhauers and Proudhons by heart. . . .”
Olga Mihalovna felt bored again. She walked again along a little path by apple and pear trees, and looked again as though she was on some very important errand. She reached the gardener’s cottage. In the doorway the gardener’s wife, Varvara, was sitting together with her four little children with big shaven heads. Varvara, too, was with child and expecting to be confined on Elijah’s Day. After greeting her, Olga Mihalovna looked at her and the children in silence and asked:
“Well, how do you feel?”
“Oh, all right. . . .”
A silence followed. The two women seemed to understand each other without words.
“It’s dreadful having one’s first baby,” said Olga Mihalovna after a moment’s thought. “I keep feeling as though I shall not get through it, as though I shall die.”
“I fancied that, too, but here I am alive. One has all sorts of fancies.”
Varvara, who was just going to have her fifth, looked down a little on her mistress from the height of her experience and spoke in a rather didactic tone, and Olga Mihalovna could not help feeling her authority; she would have liked to have talked of her fears, of the child, of her sensations, but she was afraid it might strike Varvara as naïve and trivial. And she waited in silence for Varvara to say something herself.
“Olya, we are going indoors,” Pyotr Dmitritch called from the raspberries.
Olga Mihalovna liked being silent, waiting and watching Varvara. She would have been ready to stay like that till night without speaking or having any duty to perform. But she had to go. She had hardly left the cottage when Lubotchka, Nata, and Vata came running to meet her. The sisters stopped short abruptly a couple of yards away; Lubotchka ran right up to her and flung herself on her neck.
“You dear, darling, precious,” she said, kissing her face and her neck. “Let us go and have tea on the island!”
“On the island, on the island!” said the precisely similar Nata and Vata, both at once, without a smile.
“But it’s going to rain, my dears.”
“It’s not, it’s not,” cried Lubotchka with a woebegone face. “They’ve all agreed to go. Dear! darling!”
“They are all getting ready to have tea on the island,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, coming up. “See to arranging things. . . . We will all go in the boats, and the samovars and all the rest of it must be sent in the carriage with the servants.”
He walked beside his wife and gave her his arm. Olga Mihalovna had a desire to say something disagreeable to her husband, something biting, even about her dowry perhaps—the crueller the better, she felt. She thought a little, and said:
“Why is it Count Alexey Petrovitch hasn’t come? What a pity!”
“I am very glad he hasn’t come,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, lying. “I’m sick to death of that old lunatic.”
“But yet before dinner you were expecting him so eagerly!”


Half an hour later all the guests were crowding on the bank near the pile to which the boats were fastened. They were all talking and laughing, and were in such excitement and commotion that they could hardly get into the boats. Three boats were crammed with passengers, while two stood empty. The keys for unfastening these two boats had been somehow mislaid, and messengers were continually running from the river to the house to look for them. Some said Grigory had the keys, others that the bailiff had them, while others suggested sending for a blacksmith and breaking the padlocks. And all talked at once, interrupting and shouting one another down. Pyotr Dmitritch paced impatiently to and fro on the bank, shouting:
“What the devil’s the meaning of it! The keys ought always to be lying in the hall window! Who has dared to take them away? The bailiff can get a boat of his own if he wants one!”
At last the keys were found. Then it appeared that two oars were missing. Again there was a great hullabaloo. Pyotr Dmitritch, who was weary of pacing about the bank, jumped into a long, narrow boat hollowed out of the trunk of a poplar, and, lurching from side to side and almost falling into the water, pushed off from the bank. The other boats followed him one after another, amid loud laughter and the shrieks of the young ladies.
The white cloudy sky, the trees on the riverside, the boats with the people in them, and the oars, were reflected in the water as in a mirror; under the boats, far away below in the bottomless depths, was a second sky with the birds flying across it. The bank on which the house and gardens stood was high, steep, and covered with trees; on the other, which was sloping, stretched broad green water-meadows with sheets of water glistening in them. The boats had floated a hundred yards when, behind the mournfully drooping willows on the sloping banks, huts and a herd of cows came into sight; they began to hear songs, drunken shouts, and the strains of a concertina.
Here and there on the river fishing-boats were scattered about, setting their nets for the night. In one of these boats was the festive party, playing on home-made violins and violoncellos.
Olga Mihalovna was sitting at the rudder; she was smiling affably and talking a great deal to entertain her visitors, while she glanced stealthily at her husband. He was ahead of them all, standing up punting with one oar. The light sharp-nosed canoe, which all the guests called the “death-trap”—while Pyotr Dmitritch, for some reason, called it Penderaklia—flew along quickly; it had a brisk, crafty expression, as though it hated its heavy occupant and was looking out for a favourable moment to glide away from under his feet. Olga Mihalovna kept looking at her husband, and she loathed his good looks which attracted every one, the back of his head, his attitude, his familiar manner with women; she hated all the women sitting in the boat with her, was jealous, and at the same time was trembling every minute in terror that the frail craft would upset and cause an accident.
“Take care, Pyotr!” she cried, while her heart fluttered with terror. “Sit down! We believe in your courage without all that!”
She was worried, too, by the people who were in the boat with her. They were all ordinary good sort of people like thousands of others, but now each one of them struck her as exceptional and evil. In each one of them she saw nothing but falsity. “That young man,” she thought, “rowing, in gold-rimmed spectacles, with chestnut hair and a nice-looking beard: he is a mamma’s darling, rich, and well-fed, and always fortunate, and every one considers him an honourable, free-thinking, advanced man. It’s not a year since he left the University and came to live in the district, but he already talks of himself as ‘we active members of the Zemstvo.’ But in another year he will be bored like so many others and go off to Petersburg, and to justify running away, will tell every one that the Zemstvos are good-for-nothing, and that he has been deceived in them. While from the other boat his young wife keeps her eyes fixed on him, and believes that he is ‘an active member of the Zemstvo,’ just as in a year she will believe that the Zemstvo is good-for-nothing. And that stout, carefully shaven gentleman in the straw hat with the broad ribbon, with an expensive cigar in his mouth: he is fond of saying, ‘It is time to put away dreams and set to work!’ He has Yorkshire pigs, Butler’s hives, rape-seed, pine-apples, a dairy, a cheese factory, Italian bookkeeping by double entry; but every summer he sells his timber and mortgages part of his land to spend the autumn with his mistress in the Crimea. And there’s Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch, who has quarrelled with Pyotr Dmitritch, and yet for some reason does not go home.”
Olga Mihalovna looked at the other boats, and there, too, she saw only uninteresting, queer creatures, affected or stupid people. She thought of all the people she knew in the district, and could not remember one person of whom one could say or think anything good. They all seemed to her mediocre, insipid, unintelligent, narrow, false, heartless; they all said what they did not think, and did what they did not want to. Dreariness and despair were stifling her; she longed to leave off smiling, to leap up and cry out, “I am sick of you,” and then jump out and swim to the bank.
“I say, let’s take Pyotr Dmitritch in tow!” some one shouted.
“In tow, in tow!” the others chimed in. “Olga Mihalovna, take your husband in tow.”
To take him in tow, Olga Mihalovna, who was steering, had to seize the right moment and to catch bold of his boat by the chain at the beak. When she bent over to the chain Pyotr Dmitritch frowned and looked at her in alarm.
“I hope you won’t catch cold,” he said.
“If you are uneasy about me and the child, why do you torment me?” thought Olga Mihalovna.
Pyotr Dmitritch acknowledged himself vanquished, and, not caring to be towed, jumped from the Penderaklia into the boat which was overful already, and jumped so carelessly that the boat lurched violently, and every one cried out in terror.
“He did that to please the ladies,” thought Olga Mihalovna; “he knows it’s charming.” Her hands and feet began trembling, as she supposed, from boredom, vexation from the strain of smiling and the discomfort she felt all over her body. And to conceal this trembling from her guests, she tried to talk more loudly, to laugh, to move.
“If I suddenly begin to cry,” she thought, “I shall say I have toothache. . . .”
But at last the boats reached the “Island of Good Hope,” as they called the peninsula formed by a bend in the river at an acute angle, covered with a copse of old birch-trees, oaks, willows, and poplars. The tables were already laid under the trees; the samovars were smoking, and Vassily and Grigory, in their swallow-tails and white knitted gloves, were already busy with the tea-things. On the other bank, opposite the “Island of Good Hope,” there stood the carriages which had come with the provisions. The baskets and parcels of provisions were carried across to the island in a little boat like the Penderaklia. The footmen, the coachmen, and even the peasant who was sitting in the boat, had the solemn expression befitting a name-day such as one only sees in children and servants.
While Olga Mihalovna was making the tea and pouring out the first glasses, the visitors were busy with the liqueurs and sweet things. Then there was the general commotion usual at picnics over drinking tea, very wearisome and exhausting for the hostess. Grigory and Vassily had hardly had time to take the glasses round before hands were being stretched out to Olga Mihalovna with empty glasses. One asked for no sugar, another wanted it stronger, another weak, a fourth declined another glass. And all this Olga Mihalovna had to remember, and then to call, “Ivan Petrovitch, is it without sugar for you?” or, “Gentlemen, which of you wanted it weak?” But the guest who had asked for weak tea, or no sugar, had by now forgotten it, and, absorbed in agreeable conversation, took the first glass that came. Depressed-looking figures wandered like shadows at a little distance from the table, pretending to look for mushrooms in the grass, or reading the labels on the boxes—these were those for whom there were not glasses enough. “Have you had tea?” Olga Mihalovna kept asking, and the guest so addressed begged her not to trouble, and said, “I will wait,” though it would have suited her better for the visitors not to wait but to make haste.
Some, absorbed in conversation, drank their tea slowly, keeping their glasses for half an hour; others, especially some who had drunk a good deal at dinner, would not leave the table, and kept on drinking glass after glass, so that Olga Mihalovna scarcely had time to fill them. One jocular young man sipped his tea through a lump of sugar, and kept saying, “Sinful man that I am, I love to indulge myself with the Chinese herb.” He kept asking with a heavy sigh: “Another tiny dish of tea more, if you please.” He drank a great deal, nibbled his sugar, and thought it all very amusing and original, and imagined that he was doing a clever imitation of a Russian merchant. None of them understood that these trifles were agonizing to their hostess, and, indeed, it was hard to understand it, as Olga Mihalovna went on all the time smiling affably and talking nonsense.
But she felt ill. . . . She was irritated by the crowd of people, the laughter, the questions, the jocular young man, the footmen harassed and run off their legs, the children who hung round the table; she was irritated at Vata’s being like Nata, at Kolya’s being like Mitya, so that one could not tell which of them had had tea and which of them had not. She felt that her smile of forced affability was passing into an expression of anger, and she felt every minute as though she would burst into tears.
“Rain, my friends,” cried some one.
Every one looked at the sky.
“Yes, it really is rain . . .” Pyotr Dmitritch assented, and wiped his cheek.
Only a few drops were falling from the sky—the real rain had not begun yet; but the company abandoned their tea and made haste to get off. At first they all wanted to drive home in the carriages, but changed their minds and made for the boats. On the pretext that she had to hasten home to give directions about the supper, Olga Mihalovna asked to be excused for leaving the others, and went home in the carriage.
When she got into the carriage, she first of all let her face rest from smiling. With an angry face she drove through the village, and with an angry face acknowledged the bows of the peasants she met. When she got home, she went to the bedroom by the back way and lay down on her husband’s bed.
“Merciful God!” she whispered. “What is all this hard labour for? Why do all these people hustle each other here and pretend that they are enjoying themselves? Why do I smile and lie? I don’t understand it.”
She heard steps and voices. The visitors had come back.
“Let them come,” thought Olga Mihalovna; “I shall lie a little longer.”
But a maid-servant came and said:
“Marya Grigoryevna is going, madam.”
Olga Mihalovna jumped up, tidied her hair and hurried out of the room.
“Marya Grigoryevna, what is the meaning of this?” she began in an injured voice, going to meet Marya Grigoryevna. “Why are you in such a hurry?”
“I can’t help it, darling! I’ve stayed too long as it is; my children are expecting me home.”
“It’s too bad of you! Why didn’t you bring your children with you?”
“If you will let me, dear, I will bring them on some ordinary day, but to-day . . .”
“Oh, please do,” Olga Mihalovna interrupted; “I shall be delighted! Your children are so sweet! Kiss them all for me. . . . But, really, I am offended with you! I don’t understand why you are in such a hurry!”
“I really must, I really must. . . . Good-bye, dear. Take care of yourself. In your condition, you know . . .”
And the ladies kissed each other. After seeing the departing guest to her carriage, Olga Mihalovna went in to the ladies in the drawing-room. There the lamps were already lighted and the gentlemen were sitting down to cards.


The party broke up after supper about a quarter past twelve. Seeing her visitors off, Olga Mihalovna stood at the door and said:
“You really ought to take a shawl! It’s turning a little chilly. Please God, you don’t catch cold!”
“Don’t trouble, Olga Mihalovna,” the ladies answered as they got into the carriage. “Well, good-bye. Mind now, we are expecting you; don’t play us false!”
“Wo-o-o!” the coachman checked the horses.
“Ready, Denis! Good-bye, Olga Mihalovna!”
“Kiss the children for me!”
The carriage started and immediately disappeared into the darkness. In the red circle of light cast by the lamp in the road, a fresh pair or trio of impatient horses, and the silhouette of a coachman with his hands held out stiffly before him, would come into view. Again there began kisses, reproaches, and entreaties to come again or to take a shawl. Pyotr Dmitritch kept running out and helping the ladies into their carriages.
“You go now by Efremovshtchina,” he directed the coachman; “it’s nearer through Mankino, but the road is worse that way. You might have an upset. . . . Good-bye, my charmer. Mille compliments to your artist!”
“Good-bye, Olga Mihalovna, darling! Go indoors, or you will catch cold! It’s damp!”
“Wo-o-o! you rascal!”
“What horses have you got here?” Pyotr Dmitritch asked.
“They were bought from Haidorov, in Lent,” answered the coachman.
“Capital horses. . . .”
And Pyotr Dmitritch patted the trace horse on the haunch.
“Well, you can start! God give you good luck!”
The last visitor was gone at last; the red circle on the road quivered, moved aside, contracted and went out, as Vassily carried away the lamp from the entrance. On previous occasions when they had seen off their visitors, Pyotr Dmitritch and Olga Mihalovna had begun dancing about the drawing-room, facing each other, clapping their hands and singing: “They’ve gone! They’ve gone!” But now Olga Mihalovna was not equal to that. She went to her bedroom, undressed, and got into bed.
She fancied she would fall asleep at once and sleep soundly. Her legs and her shoulders ached painfully, her head was heavy from the strain of talking, and she was conscious, as before, of discomfort all over her body. Covering her head over, she lay still for three or four minutes, then peeped out from under the bed-clothes at the lamp before the ikon, listened to the silence, and smiled.
“It’s nice, it’s nice,” she whispered, curling up her legs, which felt as if they had grown longer from so much walking. “Sleep, sleep . . . .”
Her legs would not get into a comfortable position; she felt uneasy all over, and she turned on the other side. A big fly blew buzzing about the bedroom and thumped against the ceiling. She could hear, too, Grigory and Vassily stepping cautiously about the drawing-room, putting the chairs back in their places; it seemed to Olga Mihalovna that she could not go to sleep, nor be comfortable till those sounds were hushed. And again she turned over on the other side impatiently.
She heard her husband’s voice in the drawing-room. Some one must be staying the night, as Pyotr Dmitritch was addressing some one and speaking loudly:
“I don’t say that Count Alexey Petrovitch is an impostor. But he can’t help seeming to be one, because all of you gentlemen attempt to see in him something different from what he really is. His craziness is looked upon as originality, his familiar manners as good-nature, and his complete absence of opinions as Conservatism. Even granted that he is a Conservative of the stamp of ‘84, what after all is Conservatism?”
Pyotr Dmitritch, angry with Count Alexey Petrovitch, his visitors, and himself, was relieving his heart. He abused both the Count and his visitors, and in his vexation with himself was ready to speak out and to hold forth upon anything. After seeing his guest to his room, he walked up and down the drawing-room, walked through the dining-room, down the corridor, then into his study, then again went into the drawing-room, and came into the bedroom. Olga Mihalovna was lying on her back, with the bed-clothes only to her waist (by now she felt hot), and with an angry face, watched the fly that was thumping against the ceiling.
“Is some one staying the night?” she asked.
Pyotr Dmitritch undressed and got into his bed.
Without speaking, he lighted a cigarette, and he, too, fell to watching the fly. There was an uneasy and forbidding look in his eyes. Olga Mihalovna looked at his handsome profile for five minutes in silence. It seemed to her for some reason that if her husband were suddenly to turn facing her, and to say, “Olga, I am unhappy,” she would cry or laugh, and she would be at ease. She fancied that her legs were aching and her body was uncomfortable all over because of the strain on her feelings.
“Pyotr, what are you thinking of?” she said.
“Oh, nothing . . .” her husband answered.
“You have taken to having secrets from me of late: that’s not right.”
“Why is it not right?” answered Pyotr Dmitritch drily and not at once. “We all have our personal life, every one of us, and we are bound to have our secrets.”
“Personal life, our secrets . . . that’s all words! Understand you are wounding me!” said Olga Mihalovna, sitting up in bed. “If you have a load on your heart, why do you hide it from me? And why do you find it more suitable to open your heart to women who are nothing to you, instead of to your wife? I overheard your outpourings to Lubotchka by the bee-house to-day.”
“Well, I congratulate you. I am glad you did overhear it.”
This meant “Leave me alone and let me think.” Olga Mihalovna was indignant. Vexation, hatred, and wrath, which had been accumulating within her during the whole day, suddenly boiled over; she wanted at once to speak out, to hurt her husband without putting it off till to-morrow, to wound him, to punish him. . . . Making an effort to control herself and not to scream, she said:
“Let me tell you, then, that it’s all loathsome, loathsome, loathsome! I’ve been hating you all day; you see what you’ve done.”
Pyotr Dmitritch, too, got up and sat on the bed.
“It’s loathsome, loathsome, loathsome,” Olga Mihalovna went on, beginning to tremble all over. “There’s no need to congratulate me; you had better congratulate yourself! It’s a shame, a disgrace. You have wrapped yourself in lies till you are ashamed to be alone in the room with your wife! You are a deceitful man! I see through you and understand every step you take!”
“Olya, I wish you would please warn me when you are out of humour. Then I will sleep in the study.”
Saying this, Pyotr Dmitritch picked up his pillow and walked out of the bedroom. Olga Mihalovna had not foreseen this. For some minutes she remained silent with her mouth open, trembling all over and looking at the door by which her husband had gone out, and trying to understand what it meant. Was this one of the devices to which deceitful people have recourse when they are in the wrong, or was it a deliberate insult aimed at her pride? How was she to take it? Olga Mihalovna remembered her cousin, a lively young officer, who often used to tell her, laughing, that when “his spouse nagged at him” at night, he usually picked up his pillow and went whistling to spend the night in his study, leaving his wife in a foolish and ridiculous position. This officer was married to a rich, capricious, and foolish woman whom he did not respect but simply put up with.
Olga Mihalovna jumped out of bed. To her mind there was only one thing left for her to do now; to dress with all possible haste and to leave the house forever. The house was her own, but so much the worse for Pyotr Dmitritch. Without pausing to consider whether this was necessary or not, she went quickly to the study to inform her husband of her intention (“Feminine logic!” flashed through her mind), and to say something wounding and sarcastic at parting. . . .
Pyotr Dmitritch was lying on the sofa and pretending to read a newspaper. There was a candle burning on a chair near him. His face could not be seen behind the newspaper.
“Be so kind as to tell me what this means? I am asking you.”
“Be so kind . . .” Pyotr Dmitritch mimicked her, not showing his face. “It’s sickening, Olga! Upon my honour, I am exhausted and not up to it. . . . Let us do our quarrelling to-morrow.”
“No, I understand you perfectly!” Olga Mihalovna went on. “You hate me! Yes, yes! You hate me because I am richer than you! You will never forgive me for that, and will always be lying to me!” (“Feminine logic!” flashed through her mind again.) “You are laughing at me now. . . . I am convinced, in fact, that you only married me in order to have property qualifications and those wretched horses. . . . Oh, I am miserable!”
Pyotr Dmitritch dropped the newspaper and got up. The unexpected insult overwhelmed him. With a childishly helpless smile he looked desperately at his wife, and holding out his hands to her as though to ward off blows, he said imploringly:
And expecting her to say something else awful, he leaned back in his chair, and his huge figure seemed as helplessly childish as his smile.
“Olya, how could you say it?” he whispered.
Olga Mihalovna came to herself. She was suddenly aware of her passionate love for this man, remembered that he was her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch, without whom she could not live for a day, and who loved her passionately, too. She burst into loud sobs that sounded strange and unlike her, and ran back to her bedroom.
She fell on the bed, and short hysterical sobs, choking her and making her arms and legs twitch, filled the bedroom. Remembering there was a visitor sleeping three or four rooms away, she buried her head under the pillow to stifle her sobs, but the pillow rolled on to the floor, and she almost fell on the floor herself when she stooped to pick it up. She pulled the quilt up to her face, but her hands would not obey her, but tore convulsively at everything she clutched.
She thought that everything was lost, that the falsehood she had told to wound her husband had shattered her life into fragments. Her husband would not forgive her. The insult she had hurled at him was not one that could be effaced by any caresses, by any vows. . . . How could she convince her husband that she did not believe what she had said?
“It’s all over, it’s all over!” she cried, not noticing that the pillow had slipped on to the floor again. “For God’s sake, for God’s sake!”
Probably roused by her cries, the guest and the servants were now awake; next day all the neighbourhood would know that she had been in hysterics and would blame Pyotr Dmitritch. She made an effort to restrain herself, but her sobs grew louder and louder every minute.
“For God’s sake,” she cried in a voice not like her own, and not knowing why she cried it. “For God’s sake!”
She felt as though the bed were heaving under her and her feet were entangled in the bed-clothes. Pyotr Dmitritch, in his dressing-gown, with a candle in his hand, came into the bedroom.
“Olya, hush!” he said.
She raised herself, and kneeling up in bed, screwing up her eyes at the light, articulated through her sobs:
“Understand . . . understand! . . . .”
She wanted to tell him that she was tired to death by the party, by his falsity, by her own falsity, that it had all worked together, but she could only articulate:
“Understand . . . understand!”
“Come, drink!” he said, handing her some water.
She took the glass obediently and began drinking, but the water splashed over and was spilt on her arms, her throat and knees.
“I must look horribly unseemly,” she thought.
Pyotr Dmitritch put her back in bed without a word, and covered her with the quilt, then he took the candle and went out.
“For God’s sake!” Olga Mihalovna cried again. “Pyotr, understand, understand!”
Suddenly something gripped her in the lower part of her body and back with such violence that her wailing was cut short, and she bit the pillow from the pain. But the pain let her go again at once, and she began sobbing again.
The maid came in, and arranging the quilt over her, asked in alarm:
“Mistress, darling, what is the matter?”
“Go out of the room,” said Pyotr Dmitritch sternly, going up to the bed.
“Understand . . . understand! . . .” Olga Mihalovna began.
“Olya, I entreat you, calm yourself,” he said. “I did not mean to hurt you. I would not have gone out of the room if I had known it would have hurt you so much; I simply felt depressed. I tell you, on my honour . . .”
“Understand! . . . You were lying, I was lying. . . .”
“I understand. . . . Come, come, that’s enough! I understand,” said Pyotr Dmitritch tenderly, sitting down on her bed. “You said that in anger; I quite understand. I swear to God I love you beyond anything on earth, and when I married you I never once thought of your being rich. I loved you immensely, and that’s all . . . I assure you. I have never been in want of money or felt the value of it, and so I cannot feel the difference between your fortune and mine. It always seemed to me we were equally well off. And that I have been deceitful in little things, that . . . of course, is true. My life has hitherto been arranged in such a frivolous way that it has somehow been impossible to get on without paltry lying. It weighs on me, too, now. . . . Let us leave off talking about it, for goodness’ sake!”
Olga Mihalovna again felt in acute pain, and clutched her husband by the sleeve.
“I am in pain, in pain, in pain . . .” she said rapidly. “Oh, what pain!”
“Damnation take those visitors!” muttered Pyotr Dmitritch, getting up. “You ought not to have gone to the island to-day!” he cried. “What an idiot I was not to prevent you! Oh, my God!”
He scratched his head in vexation, and, with a wave of his hand, walked out of the room.
Then he came into the room several times, sat down on the bed beside her, and talked a great deal, sometimes tenderly, sometimes angrily, but she hardly heard him. Her sobs were continually interrupted by fearful attacks of pain, and each time the pain was more acute and prolonged. At first she held her breath and bit the pillow during the pain, but then she began screaming on an unseemly piercing note. Once seeing her husband near her, she remembered that she had insulted him, and without pausing to think whether it were really Pyotr Dmitritch or whether she were in delirium, clutched his hand in both hers and began kissing it.
“You were lying, I was lying . . .” she began justifying herself. “Understand, understand. . . . They have exhausted me, driven me out of all patience.”
“Olya, we are not alone,” said Pyotr Dmitritch.
Olga Mihalovna raised her head and saw Varvara, who was kneeling by the chest of drawers and pulling out the bottom drawer. The top drawers were already open. Then Varvara got up, red from the strained position, and with a cold, solemn face began trying to unlock a box.
“Marya, I can’t unlock it!” she said in a whisper. “You unlock it, won’t you?”
Marya, the maid, was digging a candle end out of the candlestick with a pair of scissors, so as to put in a new candle; she went up to Varvara and helped her to unlock the box.
“There should be nothing locked . . .” whispered Varvara. “Unlock this basket, too, my good girl. Master,” she said, “you should send to Father Mihail to unlock the holy gates! You must!”
“Do what you like,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, breathing hard, “only, for God’s sake, make haste and fetch the doctor or the midwife! Has Vassily gone? Send some one else. Send your husband!”
“It’s the birth,” Olga Mihalovna thought. “Varvara,” she moaned, “but he won’t be born alive!”
“It’s all right, it’s all right, mistress,” whispered Varvara. “Please God, he will be alive! he will be alive!”
When Olga Mihalovna came to herself again after a pain she was no longer sobbing nor tossing from side to side, but moaning. She could not refrain from moaning even in the intervals between the pains. The candles were still burning, but the morning light was coming through the blinds. It was probably about five o’clock in the morning. At the round table there was sitting some unknown woman with a very discreet air, wearing a white apron. From her whole appearance it was evident she had been sitting there a long time. Olga Mihalovna guessed that she was the midwife.
“Will it soon be over?” she asked, and in her voice she heard a peculiar and unfamiliar note which had never been there before. “I must be dying in childbirth,” she thought.
Pyotr Dmitritch came cautiously into the bedroom, dressed for the day, and stood at the window with his back to his wife. He lifted the blind and looked out of window.
“What rain!” he said.
“What time is it?” asked Olga Mihalovna, in order to hear the unfamiliar note in her voice again.
“A quarter to six,” answered the midwife.
“And what if I really am dying?” thought Olga Mihalovna, looking at her husband’s head and the window-panes on which the rain was beating. “How will he live without me? With whom will he have tea and dinner, talk in the evenings, sleep?”
And he seemed to her like a forlorn child; she felt sorry for him and wanted to say something nice, caressing and consolatory. She remembered how in the spring he had meant to buy himself some harriers, and she, thinking it a cruel and dangerous sport, had prevented him from doing it.
“Pyotr, buy yourself harriers,” she moaned.
He dropped the blind and went up to the bed, and would have said something; but at that moment the pain came back, and Olga Mihalovna uttered an unseemly, piercing scream.
The pain and the constant screaming and moaning stupefied her. She heard, saw, and sometimes spoke, but hardly understood anything, and was only conscious that she was in pain or was just going to be in pain. It seemed to her that the nameday party had been long, long ago—not yesterday, but a year ago perhaps; and that her new life of agony had lasted longer than her childhood, her school-days, her time at the University, and her marriage, and would go on for a long, long time, endlessly. She saw them bring tea to the midwife, and summon her at midday to lunch and afterwards to dinner; she saw Pyotr Dmitritch grow used to coming in, standing for long intervals by the window, and going out again; saw strange men, the maid, Varvara, come in as though they were at home. . . . Varvara said nothing but, “He will, he will,” and was angry when any one closed the drawers and the chest. Olga Mihalovna saw the light change in the room and in the windows: at one time it was twilight, then thick like fog, then bright daylight as it had been at dinner-time the day before, then again twilight . . . and each of these changes lasted as long as her childhood, her school-days, her life at the University. . . .
In the evening two doctors—one bony, bald, with a big red beard; the other with a swarthy Jewish face and cheap spectacles—performed some sort of operation on Olga Mihalovna. To these unknown men touching her body she felt utterly indifferent. By now she had no feeling of shame, no will, and any one might do what he would with her. If any one had rushed at her with a knife, or had insulted Pyotr Dmitritch, or had robbed her of her right to the little creature, she would not have said a word.
They gave her chloroform during the operation. When she came to again, the pain was still there and insufferable. It was night. And Olga Mihalovna remembered that there had been just such a night with the stillness, the lamp, with the midwife sitting motionless by the bed, with the drawers of the chest pulled out, with Pyotr Dmitritch standing by the window, but some time very, very long ago. . . .


“Iam not dead . . .” thought Olga Mihalovna when she began to understand her surroundings again, and when the pain was over.
A bright summer day looked in at the widely open windows; in the garden below the windows, the sparrows and the magpies never ceased chattering for one instant.
The drawers were shut now, her husband’s bed had been made. There was no sign of the midwife or of the maid, or of Varvara in the room, only Pyotr Dmitritch was standing, as before, motionless by the window looking into the garden. There was no sound of a child’s crying, no one was congratulating her or rejoicing, it was evident that the little creature had not been born alive.
Olga Mihalovna called to her husband.
Pyotr Dmitritch looked round. It seemed as though a long time must have passed since the last guest had departed and Olga Mihalovna had insulted her husband, for Pyotr Dmitritch was perceptibly thinner and hollow-eyed.
“What is it?” he asked, coming up to the bed.
He looked away, moved his lips and smiled with childlike helplessness.
“Is it all over?” asked Olga Mihalovna.
Pyotr Dmitritch tried to make some answer, but his lips quivered and his mouth worked like a toothless old man’s, like Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch’s.
“Olya,” he said, wringing his hands; big tears suddenly dropping from his eyes. “Olya, I don’t care about your property qualification, nor the Circuit Courts . . .” (he gave a sob) “nor particular views, nor those visitors, nor your fortune. . . . I don’t care about anything! Why didn’t we take care of our child? Oh, it’s no good talking!”
With a despairing gesture he went out of the bedroom.
But nothing mattered to Olga Mihalovna now, there was a mistiness in her brain from the chloroform, an emptiness in her soul. . . . The dull indifference to life which had overcome her when the two doctors were performing the operation still had possession of her.



A MEDICAL student called Mayer, and a pupil of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture called Rybnikov, went one evening to see their friend Vassilyev, a law student, and suggested that he should go with them to S. Street. For a long time Vassilyev would not consent to go, but in the end he put on his greatcoat and went with them.

He knew nothing of fallen women except by hearsay and from books, and he had never in his life been in the houses in which they live. He knew that there are immoral women who, under the pressure of fatal circumstances — environment, bad education, poverty, and so on — are forced to sell their honor for money. They know nothing of pure love, have no children, have no civil rights; their mothers and sisters weep over them as though they were dead, science treats of them as an evil, men address them with contemptuous familiarity. But in spite of all that, they do not lose the semblance and image of God. They all acknowledge their sin and hope for salvation. Of the means that lead to salvation they can avail themselves to the fullest extent. Society, it is true, will not forgive people their past, but in the sight of God St. Mary of Egypt is no lower than the other saints. When it had happened to Vassilyev in the street to recognize a fallen woman as such, by her dress or her manners, or to see a picture of one in a comic paper, he always remembered a story he had once read: a young man, pure and self-sacrificing, loves a fallen woman and urges her to become his wife; she, considering herself unworthy of such happiness, takes poison.

Vassilyev lived in one of the side streets turning out of Tverskoy Boulevard. When he came out of the house with his two friends it was about eleven o’clock. The first snow had not long fallen, and all nature was under the spell of the fresh snow. There was the smell of snow in the air, the snow crunched softly under the feet; the earth, the roofs, the trees, the seats on the boulevard, everything was soft, white, young, and this made the houses look quite different from the day before; the street lamps burned more brightly, the air was more transparent, the carriages rumbled with a deeper note, and with the fresh, light, frosty air a feeling stirred in the soul akin to the white, youthful, feathery snow. "Against my will an unknown force," hummed the medical student in his agreeable tenor, "has led me to these mournful shores."

"Behold the mill . . ." the artist seconded him, "in ruins now. . . ."

"Behold the mill . . . in ruins now," the medical student repeated, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head mournfully.

He paused, rubbed his forehead, trying to remember the words, and then sang aloud, so well that passers-by looked round:

"Here in old days when I was free,
Love, free, unfettered, greeted me."

The three of them went into a restaurant and, without taking off their greatcoats, drank a couple of glasses of vodka each. Before drinking the second glass, Vassilyev noticed a bit of cork in his vodka, raised the glass to his eyes, and gazed into it for a long time, screwing up his shortsighted eyes. The medical student did not understand his expression, and said:

"Come, why look at it? No philosophizing, please. Vodka is given us to be drunk, sturgeon to be eaten, women to be visited, snow to be walked upon. For one evening anyway live like a human being!"

"But I haven’t said anything . . ." said Vassilyev, laughing. "Am I refusing to?"

There was a warmth inside him from the vodka. He looked with softened feelings at his friends, admired them and envied them. In these strong, healthy, cheerful people how wonderfully balanced everything is, how finished and smooth is everything in their minds and souls! They sing, and have a passion for the theatre, and draw, and talk a great deal, and drink, and they don’t have headaches the day after; they are both poetical and debauched, both soft and hard; they can work, too, and be indignant, and laugh without reason, and talk nonsense; they are warm, honest, self-sacrificing, and as men are in no way inferior to himself, Vassilyev, who watched over every step he took and every word he uttered, who was fastidious and cautious, and ready to raise every trifle to the level of a problem. And he longed for one evening to live as his friends did, to open out, to let himself loose from his own control. If vodka had to be drunk, he would drink it, though his head would be splitting next morning. If he were taken to the women he would go. He would laugh, play the fool, gaily respond to the passing advances of strangers in the street. . . .

He went out of the restaurant laughing. He liked his friends — one in a crushed broad-brimmed hat, with an affectation of artistic untidiness; the other in a sealskin cap, a man not poor, though he affected to belong to the Bohemia of learning. He liked the snow, the pale street lamps, the sharp black tracks left in the first snow by the feet of the passers-by. He liked the air, and especially that limpid, tender, naive, as it were virginal tone, which can be seen in nature only twice in the year — when everything is covered with snow, and in spring on bright days and moonlight evenings when the ice breaks on the river.

"Against my will an unknown force,
Has led me to these mournful shores,"

he hummed in an undertone.

And the tune for some reason haunted him and his friends all the way, and all three of them hummed it mechanically, not in time with one another.

Vassilyev’s imagination was picturing how, in another ten minutes, he and his friends would knock at a door; how by little dark passages and dark rooms they would steal in to the women; how, taking advantage of the darkness, he would strike a match, would light up and see the face of a martyr and a guilty smile. The unknown, fair or dark, would certainly have her hair down and be wearing a white dressing-jacket; she would be panic-stricken by the light, would be fearfully confused, and would say: "For God’s sake, what are you doing! Put it out!" It would all be dreadful, but interesting and new.


The friends turned out of Trubnoy Square into Gratchevka, and soon reached the side street which Vassilyev only knew by reputation. Seeing two rows of houses with brightly lighted windows and wide-open doors, and hearing gay strains of pianos and violins, sounds which floated out from every door and mingled in a strange chaos, as though an unseen orchestra were tuning up in the darkness above the roofs, Vassilyev was surprised and said:

"What a lot of houses!"

"That’s nothing," said the medical student. "In London there are ten times as many. There are about a hundred thousand such women there."

The cabmen were sitting on their boxes as calmly and indifferently as in any other side street; the same passers-by were walking along the pavement as in other streets. No one was hurrying, no one was hiding his face in his coat-collar, no one shook his head reproachfully. . . . And in this indifference to the noisy chaos of pianos and violins, to the bright windows and wide-open doors, there was a feeling of something very open, insolent, reckless, and devil-may-care. Probably it was as gay and noisy at the slave-markets in their day, and people’s faces and movements showed the same indifference.

"Let us begin from the beginning," said the artist.

The friends went into a narrow passage lighted by a lamp with a reflector. When they opened the door a man in a black coat, with an unshaven face like a flunkey’s, and sleepy-looking eyes, got up lazily from a yellow sofa in the hall. The place smelt like a laundry with an odor of vinegar in addition. A door from the hall led into a brightly lighted room. The medical student and the artist stopped at this door and, craning their necks, peeped into the room.

"Buona sera, signori, rigolleto — hugenotti — traviata!" began the artist, with a theatrical bow.

"Havanna — tarakano — pistoleto!" said the medical student, pressing his cap to his breast and bowing low.

Vassilyev was standing behind them. He would have liked to make a theatrical bow and say something silly, too, but he only smiled, felt an awkwardness that was like shame, and waited impatiently for what would happen next.

A little fair girl of seventeen or eighteen, with short hair, in a short light-blue frock with a bunch of white ribbon on her bosom, appeared in the doorway.

"Why do you stand at the door?" she said. "Take off your coats and come into the drawing-room."

The medical student and the artist, still talking Italian, went into the drawing-room. Vassilyev followed them irresolutely.

"Gentlemen, take off your coats!" the flunkey said sternly; "you can’t go in like that."

In the drawing-room there was, besides the girl, another woman, very stout and tall, with a foreign face and bare arms. She was sitting near the piano, laying out a game of patience on her lap. She took no notice whatever of the visitors.

"Where are the other young ladies?" asked the medical student.

"They are having their tea," said the fair girl. "Stepan," she called, "go and tell the young ladies some students have come!"

A little later a third young lady came into the room. She was wearing a bright red dress with blue stripes. Her face was painted thickly and unskillfully, her brow was hidden under her hair, and there was an unblinking, frightened stare in her eyes. As she came in, she began at once singing some song in a coarse, powerful contralto. After her a fourth appeared, and after her a fifth. . . .

In all this Vassilyev saw nothing new or interesting. It seemed to him that that room, the piano, the looking-glass in its cheap gilt frame, the bunch of white ribbon, the dress with the blue stripes, and the blank indifferent faces, he had seen before and more than once. Of the darkness, the silence, the secrecy, the guilty smile, of all that he had expected to meet here and had dreaded, he saw no trace.

Everything was ordinary, prosaic, and uninteresting. Only one thing faintly stirred his curiosity — the terrible, as it were intentionally designed, bad taste which was visible in the cornices, in the absurd pictures, in the dresses, in the bunch of ribbons. There was something characteristic and peculiar in this bad taste.

"How poor and stupid it all is!" thought Vassilyev. "What is there in all this trumpery I see now that can tempt a normal man and excite him to commit the horrible sin of buying a human being for a rouble? I understand any sin for the sake of splendor, beauty, grace, passion, taste; but what is there here? What is there here worth sinning for? But . . . one mustn’t think!"

"Beardy, treat me to some porter!" said the fair girl, addressing him.

Vassilyev was at once overcome with confusion.

"With pleasure," he said, bowing politely. "Only excuse me, madam, I . . . I won’t drink with you. I don’t drink.

Five minutes later the friends went off into another house.

"Why did you ask for porter?" said the medical student angrily. "What a millionaire! You have thrown away six roubles for no reason whatever — simply waste!"

"If she wants it, why not let her have the pleasure?" said Vassilyev, justifying himself.

"You did not give pleasure to her, but to the ’Madam.’ They are told to ask the visitors to stand them treat because it is a profit to the keeper."

"Behold the mill . . ." hummed the artist, "in ruins now. . . ."

Going into the next house, the friends stopped in the hall and did not go into the drawing-room. Here, as in the first house, a figure in a black coat, with a sleepy face like a flunkey’s, got up from a sofa in the hall. Looking at this flunkey, at his face and his shabby black coat, Vassilyev thought: "What must an ordinary simple Russian have gone through before fate flung him down as a flunkey here? Where had he been before and what had he done? What was awaiting him? Was he married? Where was his mother, and did she know that he was a servant here?" And Vassilyev could not help particularly noticing the flunkey in each house. In one of the houses — he thought it was the fourth — there was a little spare, frail-looking flunkey with a watch-chain on his waistcoat. He was reading a newspaper, and took no notice of them when they went in. Looking at his face Vassilyev, for some reason, thought that a man with such a face might steal, might murder, might bear false witness. But the face was really interesting: a big forehead, gray eyes, a little flattened nose, thin compressed lips, and a blankly stupid and at the same time insolent expression like that of a young harrier overtaking a hare. Vassilyev thought it would be nice to touch this man’s hair, to see whether it was soft or coarse. It must be coarse like a dog’s.


Having drunk two glasses of porter, the artist became suddenly tipsy and grew unnaturally lively.

"Let’s go to another!" he said peremptorily, waving his hands. "I will take you to the best one."

When he had brought his friends to the house which in his opinion was the best, he declared his firm intention of dancing a quadrille. The medical student grumbled something about their having to pay the musicians a rouble, but agreed to be his vis-à-vis. They began dancing.

It was just as nasty in the best house as in the worst. Here there were just the same looking-glasses and pictures, the same styles of coiffure and dress. Looking round at the furnishing of the rooms and the costumes, Vassilyev realized that this was not lack of taste, but something that might be called the taste, and even the style, of S. Street, which could not be found elsewhere—something intentional in its ugliness, not accidental, but elaborated in the course of years. After he had been in eight houses he was no longer surprised at the color of the dresses, at the long trains, the gaudy ribbons, the sailor dresses, and the thick purplish rouge on the cheeks; he saw that it all had to be like this, that if a single one of the women had been dressed like a human being, or if there had been one decent engraving on the wall, the general tone of the whole street would have suffered.

"How unskillfully they sell themselves!" he thought. "How can they fail to understand that vice is only alluring when it is beautiful and hidden, when it wears the mask of virtue? Modest black dresses, pale faces, mournful smiles, and darkness would be far more effective than this clumsy tawdriness. Stupid things! If they don’t understand it of themselves, their visitors might surely have taught them. . . ."

A young lady in a Polish dress edged with white fur came up to him and sat down beside him.

"You nice dark man, why aren’t you dancing?" she asked. "Why are you so dull?"

"Because it is dull."

"Treat me to some Lafitte. Then it won’t be dull."

Vassilyev made no answer. He was silent for a little, and then asked:

"What time do you get to sleep?"

"At six o’clock."

"And what time do you get up?"

"Sometimes at two and sometimes at three."

"And what do you do when you get up?"

"We have coffee, and at six o’clock we have dinner."

"And what do you have for dinner?"

"Usually soup, beefsteak, and dessert. Our madam keeps the girls well. But why do you ask all this?"

"Oh, just to talk. . . ."

Vassilyev longed to talk to the young lady about many things. He felt an intense desire to find out where she came from, whether her parents were living, and whether they knew that she was here; how she had come into this house; whether she were cheerful and satisfied, or sad and oppressed by gloomy thoughts; whether she hoped some day to get out of her present position. . . . But he could not think how to begin or in what shape to put his questions so as not to seem impertinent. He thought for a long time, and asked:

"How old are you?"

"Eighty," the young lady jested, looking with a laugh at the antics of the artist as he danced.

All at once she burst out laughing at something, and uttered a long cynical sentence loud enough to be heard by everyone. Vassilyev was aghast, and not knowing how to look, gave a constrained smile. He was the only one who smiled; all the others, his friends, the musicians, the women, did not even glance towards his neighbor, but seemed not to have heard her.

"Stand me some Lafitte," his neighbor said again.

Vassilyev felt a repulsion for her white fur and for her voice, and walked away from her. It seemed to him hot and stifling, and his heart began throbbing slowly but violently, like a hammer — one! two! three!

"Let us go away!" he said, pulling the artist by his sleeve.

"Wait a little; let me finish."

While the artist and the medical student were finishing the quadrille, to avoid looking at the women, Vassilyev scrutinized the musicians. A respectable-looking old man in spectacles, rather like Marshal Bazaine, was playing the piano; a young man with a fair beard, dressed in the latest fashion, was playing the violin. The young man had a face that did not look stupid nor exhausted, but intelligent, youthful, and fresh. He was dressed fancifully and with taste; he played with feeling. It was a mystery how he and the respectable-looking old man had come here. How was it they were not ashamed to sit here? What were they thinking about when they looked at the women?

If the violin and the piano had been played by men in rags, looking hungry, gloomy, drunken, with dissipated or stupid faces, then one could have understood their presence, perhaps. As it was, Vassilyev could not understand it at all. He recalled the story of the fallen woman he had once read, and he thought now that that human figure with the guilty smile had nothing in common with what he was seeing now. It seemed to him that he was seeing not fallen women, but some different world quite apart, alien to him and incomprehensible; if he had seen this world before on the stage, or read of it in a book, he would not have believed in it. . . .

The woman with the white fur burst out laughing again and uttered a loathsome sentence in a loud voice. A feeling of disgust took possession of him. He flushed crimson and went out of the room.

"Wait a minute, we are coming too!" the artist shouted to him.


"While we were dancing," said the medical student, as they all three went out into the street, "I had a conversation with my partner. We talked about her first romance. He, the hero, was an accountant at Smolensk with a wife and five children. She was seventeen, and she lived with her papa and mamma, who sold soap and candles."

"How did he win her heart?" asked Vassilyev.

"By spending fifty roubles on underclothes for her. What next!"

"So he knew how to get his partner’s story out of her," thought Vassilyev about the medical student. "But I don’t know how to."

"I say, I am going home!" he said.

"What for?"

"Because I don’t know how to behave here. Besides, I am bored, disgusted. What is there amusing in it? If they were human beings — but they are savages and animals. I am going; do as you like."

"Come, Grisha, Grigory, darling. . ." said the artist in a tearful voice, hugging Vassilyev, "come along! Let’s go to one more together and damnation take them! . . . Please do, Grisha!"

They persuaded Vassilyev and led him up a staircase. In the carpet and the gilt banisters, in the porter who opened the door, and in the panels that decorated the hall, the same S. Street style was apparent, but carried to a greater perfection, more imposing.

"I really will go home!" said Vassilyev as he was taking off his coat.

"Come, come, dear boy," said the artist, and he kissed him on the neck. "Don’t be tiresome. . . . Gri-gri, be a good comrade! We came together, we will go back together. What a beast you are, really!"

"I can wait for you in the street. I think it’s loathsome, really!"

"Come, come, Grisha. . . . If it is loathsome, you can observe it! Do you understand? You can observe!"

"One must take an objective view of things," said the medical student gravely.

Vassilyev went into the drawing-room and sat down. There were a number of visitors in the room besides him and his friends: two infantry officers, a bald, gray-haired gentleman in spectacles, two beardless youths from the institute of land-surveying, and a very tipsy man who looked like an actor. All the young ladies were taken up with these visitors and paid no attention to Vassilyev.

Only one of them, dressed à la Aïda, glanced sideways at him, smiled, and said, yawning: "A dark one has come. . . ."

Vassilyev’s heart was throbbing and his face burned. He felt ashamed before these visitors of his presence here, and he felt disgusted and miserable. He was tormented by the thought that he, a decent and loving man (such as he had hitherto considered himself), hated these women and felt nothing but repulsion towards them. He felt pity neither for the women nor the musicians nor the flunkeys.

"It is because I am not trying to understand them," he thought. "They are all more like animals than human beings, but of course they are human beings all the same, they have souls. One must understand them and then judge. . . ."

"Grisha, don’t go, wait for us," the artist shouted to him and disappeared.

The medical student disappeared soon after.

"Yes, one must make an effort to understand, one mustn’t be like this. . ." Vassilyev went on thinking.

And he began gazing at each of the women with strained attention, looking for a guilty smile. But either he did not know how to read their faces, or not one of these women felt herself to be guilty; he read on every face nothing but a blank expression of everyday vulgar boredom and complacency. Stupid faces, stupid smiles, harsh, stupid voices, insolent movements, and nothing else. Apparently each of them had in the past a romance with an accountant based on underclothes for fifty roubles, and looked for no other charm in the present but coffee, a dinner of three courses, wines, quadrilles, sleeping till two in the afternoon. . . .

Finding no guilty smile, Vassilyev began to look whether there was not one intelligent face. And his attention was caught by one pale, rather sleepy, exhausted-looking face. . . . It was a dark woman, not very young, wearing a dress covered with spangles; she was sitting in an easy-chair, looking at the floor lost in thought. Vassilyev walked from one corner of the room to the other, and, as though casually, sat down beside her.

"I must begin with something trivial," he thought, "and pass to what is serious. . . ."

"What a pretty dress you have," and with his finger he touched the gold fringe of her fichu.

"Oh, is it? . . ." said the dark woman listlessly.

"What province do you come from?"

"I? From a distance. . . . From Tchernigov."

"A fine province. It’s nice there."

"Any place seems nice when one is not in it."

"It’s a pity I cannot describe nature," thought Vassilyev. "I might touch her by a description of nature in Tchernigov. No doubt she loves the place if she has been born there."

"Are you dull here?" he asked.

"Of course I am dull."

"Why don’t you go away from here if you are dull?"

"Where should I go to? Go begging or what?"

"Begging would be easier than living here."

How do you know that? Have you begged?"

"Yes, when I hadn’t the money to study. Even if I hadn’t anyone could understand that. A beggar is anyway a free man, and you are a slave."

The dark woman stretched, and watched with sleepy eyes the footman who was bringing a trayful of glasses and seltzer water.

"Stand me a glass of porter," she said, and yawned again.

"Porter," thought Vassilyev. "And what if your brother or mother walked in at this moment? What would you say? And what would they say? There would be porter then, I imagine. . . ."

All at once there was the sound of weeping. From the adjoining room, from which the footman had brought the seltzer water, a fair man with a red face and angry eyes ran in quickly. He was followed by the tall, stout "madam," who was shouting in a shrill voice:

"Nobody has given you leave to slap girls on the cheeks! We have visitors better than you, and they don’t fight! Impostor!"

A hubbub arose. Vassilyev was frightened and turned pale. In the next room there was the sound of bitter, genuine weeping, as though of someone insulted. And he realized that there were real people living here who, like people everywhere else, felt insulted, suffered, wept, and cried for help. The feeling of oppressive hate and disgust gave way to an acute feeling of pity and anger against the aggressor. He rushed into the room where there was weeping. Across rows of bottles on a marble-top table he distinguished a suffering face, wet with tears, stretched out his hands towards that face, took a step towards the table, but at once drew back in horror. The weeping girl was drunk.

As he made his way though the noisy crowd gathered about the fair man, his heart sank and he felt frightened like a child; and it seemed to him that in this alien, incomprehensible world people wanted to pursue him, to beat him, to pelt him with filthy words. . . . He tore down his coat from the hatstand and ran headlong downstairs.


Leaning against the fence, he stood near the house waiting for his friends to come out. The sounds of the pianos and violins, gay, reckless, insolent, and mournful, mingled in the air in a sort of chaos, and this tangle of sounds seemed again like an unseen orchestra tuning up on the roofs. If one looked upwards into the darkness, the black background was all spangled with white, moving spots: it was snow falling. As the snowflakes came into the light they floated round lazily in the air like down, and still more lazily fell to the ground. The snowflakes whirled thickly round Vassilyev and hung upon his beard, his eyelashes, his eyebrows. . . . The cabmen, the horses, and the passers-by were white.

"And how can the snow fall in this street!" thought Vassilyev. "Damnation take these houses!"

His legs seemed to be giving way from fatigue, simply from having run down the stairs; he gasped for breath as though he had been climbing uphill, his heart beat so loudly that he could hear it. He was consumed by a desire to get out of the street as quickly as possible and to go home, but even stronger was his desire to wait for his companions and vent upon them his oppressive feeling.

There was much he did not understand in these houses, the souls of ruined women were a mystery to him as before; but it was clear to him that the thing was far worse than could have been believed. If that sinful woman who had poisoned herself was called fallen, it was difficult to find a fitting name for all these who were dancing now to this tangle of sound and uttering long, loathsome sentences. They were not on the road to ruin, but ruined.

"There is vice," he thought, "but neither consciousness of sin nor hope of salvation. They are sold and bought, steeped in wine and abominations, while they, like sheep, are stupid, indifferent, and don’t understand. My God! My God!"

It was clear to him, too, that everything that is called human dignity, personal rights, the Divine image and semblance, were defiled to their very foundations — "to the very marrow," as drunkards say — and that not only the street and the stupid women were responsible for it.

A group of students, white with snow, passed him laughing and talking gaily; one, a tall thin fellow, stopped, glanced into Vassilyev’s face, and said in a drunken voice:

"One of us! A bit on, old man? Aha-ha! Never mind, have a good time! Don’t be down-hearted, old chap!"

He took Vassilyev by the shoulder and pressed his cold wet mustache against his cheek, then he slipped, staggered, and, waving both hands, cried:

"Hold on! Don’t upset!"

And laughing, he ran to overtake his companions.

Through the noise came the sound of the artist’s voice:

"Don’t you dare to hit the women! I won’t let you, damnation take you! You scoundrels!"

The medical student appeared in the doorway. He looked from side to side, and seeing Vassilyev, said in an agitated voice:

"You here! I tell you it’s really impossible to go anywhere with Yegor! What a fellow he is! I don’t understand him! He has got up a scene! Do you hear? Yegor!" he shouted at the door. Yegor!"

"I won’t allow you to hit women!" the artist’s piercing voice sounded from above. Something heavy and lumbering rolled down the stairs. It was the artist falling headlong. Evidently he had been pushed downstairs.

He picked himself up from the ground, shook his hat, and, with an angry and indignant face, brandished his fist towards the top of the stairs and shouted:

"Scoundrels! Torturers! Bloodsuckers! I won’t allow you to hit them! To hit a weak, drunken woman! Oh, you brutes! . . ."

"Yegor! . . . Come, Yegor! . . ." the medical student began imploring him. "I give you my word of honor I’ll never come with you again. On my word of honor I won’t!"

Little by little the artist was pacified and the friends went homewards.

"Against my will an unknown force," hummed the medical student, "has led me to these mournful shores."

"Behold the mill," the artist chimed in a little later, "in ruins now. What a lot of snow, Holy Mother! Grisha, why did you go? You are a funk, a regular old woman."

Vassilyev walked behind his companions, looked at their backs, and thought:

"One of two things: either we only fancy prostitution is an evil, and we exaggerate it; or, if prostitution really is as great an evil as is generally assumed, these dear friends of mine are as much slaveowners, violators, and murderers, as the inhabitants of Syria and Cairo, that are described in the ’Neva.’ Now they are singing, laughing, talking sense, but haven’t they just been exploiting hunger, ignorance, and stupidity? They have — I have been a witness of it. What is the use of their humanity, their medicine, their painting? The science, art, and lofty sentiments of these soul-destroyers remind me of the piece of bacon in the story. Two brigands murdered a beggar in a forest; they began sharing his clothes between them, and found in his wallet a piece of bacon. ’Well found,’ said one of them, ’let us have a bit.’ ’What do you mean? How can you?’ cried the other in horror. ’Have you forgotten that to-day is Wednesday?’ And they would not eat it. After murdering a man, they came out of the forest in the firm conviction that they were keeping the fast. In the same way these men, after buying women, go their way imagining that they are artists and men of science. . . ."

"Listen!" he said sharply and angrily. "Why do you come here? Is it possible — is it possible you don’t understand how horrible it is? Your medical books tell you that every one of these women dies prematurely of consumption or something; art tells you that morally they are dead even earlier. Every one of them dies because she has in her time to entertain five hundred men on an average, let us say. Each one of them is killed by five hundred men. You are among those five hundred! If each of you in the course of your lives visits this place or others like it two hundred and fifty times, it follows that one woman is killed for every two of you! Can’t you understand that? Isn’t it horrible to murder, two of you, three of you, five of you, a foolish, hungry woman! Ah! isn’t it awful, my God!"

"I knew it would end like that," the artist said frowning. "We ought not to have gone with this fool and ass! You imagine you have grand notions in your head now, ideas, don’t you? No, it’s the devil knows what, but not ideas. You are looking at me now with hatred and repulsion, but I tell you it’s better you should set up twenty more houses like those than look like that. There’s more vice in your expression than in the whole street! Come along, Volodya, let him go to the devil! He’s a fool and an ass, and that’s all. . . ."

"We human beings do murder each other," said the medical student. "It’s immoral, of course, but philosophizing doesn’t help it. Good-by!"

At Trubnoy Square the friends said good-by and parted. When he was left alone, Vassilyev strode rapidly along the boulevard. He felt frightened of the darkness, of the snow which was falling in heavy flakes on the ground, and seemed as though it would cover up the whole world; he felt frightened of the street lamps shining with pale light through the clouds of snow. His soul was possessed by an unaccountable, faint-hearted terror. Passers-by came towards him from time to time, but he timidly moved to one side; it seemed to him that women, none but women, were coming from all sides and staring at him. . . .

"It’s beginning," he thought, "I am going to have a breakdown."


At home he lay on his bed and said, shuddering all over: "They are alive! Alive! My God, those women are alive!"

He encouraged his imagination in all sorts of ways to picture himself the brother of a fallen woman, or her father; then a fallen woman herself, with her painted cheeks; and it all moved him to horror.

It seemed to him that he must settle the question at once at all costs, and that this question was not one that did not concern him, but was his own personal problem. He made an immense effort, repressed his despair, and, sitting on the bed, holding his head in his hands, began thinking how one could save all the women he had seen that day. The method for attacking problems of all kinds was, as he was an educated man, well known to him. And, however excited he was, he strictly adhered to that method. He recalled the history of the problem and its literature, and for a quarter of an hour he paced from one end of the room to the other trying to remember all the methods practiced at the present time for saving women. He had very many good friends and acquaintances who lived in lodgings in Petersburg. . . . Among them were a good many honest and self-sacrificing men. Some of them had attempted to save women. . . .

"All these not very numerous attempts," thought Vassilyev, "can be divided into three groups. Some, after buying the woman out of the brothel, took a room for her, bought her a sewing-machine, and she became a semptress. And whether he wanted to or not, after having bought her out he made her his mistress; then when he had taken his degree, he went away and handed her into the keeping of some other decent man as though she were a thing. And the fallen woman remained a fallen woman. Others, after buying her out, took a lodging apart for her, bought the inevitable sewing-machine, and tried teaching her to read, preaching at her and giving her books. The woman lived and sewed as long as it was interesting and a novelty to her, then getting bored, began receiving men on the sly, or ran away and went back where she could sleep till three o’clock, drink coffee, and have good dinners. The third class, the most ardent and self-sacrificing, had taken a bold, resolute step. They had married them. And when the insolent and spoilt, or stupid and crushed animal became a wife, the head of a household, and afterwards a mother, it turned her whole existence and attitude to life upside down, so that it was hard to recognize the fallen woman afterwards in the wife and the mother. Yes, marriage was the best and perhaps the only means."

"But it is impossible!" Vassilyev said aloud, and he sank upon his bed. "I, to begin with, could not marry one! To do that one must be a saint and be unable to feel hatred or repulsion. But supposing that I, the medical student, and the artist mastered ourselves and did marry them — suppose they were all married. What would be the result? The result would be that while here in Moscow they were being married, some Smolensk accountant would be debauching another lot, and that lot would be streaming here to fill the vacant places, together with others from Saratov, Nizhni-Novgorod, Warsaw. . . . And what is one to do with the hundred thousand in London? What’s one to do with those in Hamburg?"

The lamp in which the oil had burnt down began to smoke. Vassilyev did not notice it. He began pacing to and fro again, still thinking. Now he put the question differently: what must be done that fallen women should not be needed? For that, it was essential that the men who buy them and do them to death should feel all the immorality of their share in enslaving them and should be horrified. One must save the men.

"One won’t do anything by art and science, that is clear . . ." thought Vassilyev. "The only way out of it is missionary work."

And he began to dream how he would the next evening stand at the corner of the street and say to every passer-by: "Where are you going and what for? Have some fear of God!"

He would turn to the apathetic cabmen and say to them: "Why are you staying here? Why aren’t you revolted? Why aren’t you indignant? I suppose you believe in God and know that it is a sin, that people go to hell for it? Why don’t you speak? It is true that they are strangers to you, but you know even they have fathers, brothers like yourselves. . . ."

One of Vassilyev’s friends had once said of him that he was a talented man. There are all sorts of talents — talent for writing, talent for the stage, talent for art; but he had a peculiar talent — a talent for humanity. He possessed an extraordinarily fine delicate scent for pain in general. As a good actor reflects in himself the movements and voice of others, so Vassilyev could reflect in his soul the sufferings of others. When he saw tears, he wept; beside a sick man, he felt sick himself and moaned; if he saw an act of violence, he felt as though he himself were the victim of it, he was frightened as a child, and in his fright ran to help. The pain of others worked on his nerves, excited him, roused him to a state of frenzy, and so on.

Whether this friend were right I don’t know, but what Vassilyev experienced when he thought this question was settled was something like inspiration. He cried and laughed, spoke aloud the words that he should say next day, felt a fervent love for those who would listen to him and would stand beside him at the corner of the street to preach; he sat down to write letters, made vows to himself. . . .

All this was like inspiration also from the fact that it did not last long. Vassilyev was soon tired. The cases in London, in Hamburg, in Warsaw, weighed upon him by their mass as a mountain weighs upon the earth; he felt dispirited, bewildered, in the face of this mass; he remembered that he had not a gift for words, that he was cowardly and timid, that indifferent people would not be willing to listen and understand him, a law student in his third year, a timid and insignificant person; that genuine missionary work included not only teaching but deeds. . . .

When it was daylight and carriages were already beginning to rumble in the street, Vassilyev was lying motionless on the sofa, staring into space. He was no longer thinking of the women, nor of the men, nor of missionary work. His whole attention was turned upon the spiritual agony which was torturing him. It was a dull, vague, undefined anguish akin to misery, to an extreme form of terror and to despair. He could point to the place where the pain was, in his breast under his heart; but he could not compare it with anything. In the past he had had acute toothache, he had had pleurisy and neuralgia, but all that was insignificant compared with this spiritual anguish. In the presence of that pain life seemed loathsome. The dissertation, the excellent work he had written already, the people he loved, the salvation of fallen women — everything that only the day before he had cared about or been indifferent to, now when he thought of them irritated him in the same way as the noise of the carriages, the scurrying footsteps of the waiters in the passage, the daylight. . . . If at that moment someone had performed a great deed of mercy or had committed a revolting outrage, he would have felt the same repulsion for both actions. Of all the thoughts that strayed through his mind only two did not irritate him: one was that at every moment he had the power to kill himself, the other that this agony would not last more than three days. This last he knew by experience.

After lying for a while he got up and, wringing his hands, walked about the room, not as usual from corner to corner, but round the room beside the walls. As he passed he glanced at himself in the looking-glass. His face looked pale and sunken, his temples looked hollow, his eyes were bigger, darker, more staring, as though they belonged to someone else, and they had an expression of insufferable mental agony.

At midday the artist knocked at the door.

"Grigory, are you at home?" he asked.

Getting no answer, he stood for a minute, pondered, and answered himself in Little Russian: "Nay. The confounded fellow has gone to the University."

And he went away. Vassilyev lay down on the bed and, thrusting his head under the pillow, began crying with agony, and the more freely his tears flowed the more terrible his mental anguish became. As it began to get dark, he thought of the agonizing night awaiting him, and was overcome by a horrible despair. He dressed quickly, ran out of his room, and, leaving his door wide open, for no object or reason, went out into the street. Without asking himself where he should go, he walked quickly along Sadovoy Street.

Snow was falling as heavily as the day before; it was thawing. Thrusting his hands into his sleeves, shuddering and frightened at the noises, at the trambells, and at the passers-by, Vassilyev walked along Sadovoy Street as far as Suharev Tower; then to the Red Gate; from there he turned off to Basmannya Street. He went into a tavern and drank off a big glass of vodka, but that did not make him feel better. When he reached Razgulya he turned to the right, and strode along side streets in which he had never been before in his life. He reached the old bridge by which the Yauza runs gurgling, and from which one can see long rows of lights in the windows of the Red Barracks. To distract his spiritual anguish by some new sensation or some other pain, Vassilyev, not knowing what to do, crying and shuddering, undid his greatcoat and jacket and exposed his bare chest to the wet snow and the wind. But that did not lessen his suffering either. Then he bent down over the rail of the bridge and looked down into the black, yeasty Yauza, and he longed to plunge down head foremost; not from loathing for life, not for the sake of suicide, but in order to bruise himself at least, and by one pain to ease the other. But the black water, the darkness, the deserted banks covered with snow were terrifying. He shivered and walked on. He walked up and down by the Red Barracks, then turned back and went down to a copse, from the copse back to the bridge again

"No, home, home!" he thought. "At home I believe it’s better. . . ."

And he went back. When he reached home he pulled off his wet coat and cap, began pacing round the room, and went on pacing round and round without stopping till morning.


When next morning the artist and the medical student went in to him, he was moving about the room with his shirt torn, biting his hands and moaning with pain.

"For God’s sake!" he sobbed when he saw his friends, "take me where you please, do what you can; but for God’s sake, save me quickly! I shall kill myself!"

The artist turned pale and was helpless. The medical student, too, almost shed tears, but considering that doctors ought to be cool and composed in every emergency said coldly:

"It’s a nervous breakdown. But it’s nothing. Let us go at once to the doctor."

"Wherever you like, only for God’s sake, make haste"

"Don’t excite yourself. You must try and control yourself."

The artist and the medical student with trembling hands put Vassilyev’s coat and hat on and led him out into the street.

"Mihail Sergeyitch has been wanting to make your acquaintance for a long time," the medical student said on the way. "He is a very nice man and thoroughly good at his work. He took his degree in 1882, and he has an immense practice already. He treats students as though he were one himself."

"Make haste, make haste! . . ." Vassilyev urged.

Mihail Sergeyitch, a stout, fair-haired doctor, received the friends with politeness and frigid dignity, and smiled only on one side of his face.

"Rybnikov and Mayer have spoken to me of your illness already," he said. "Very glad to be of service to you. Well? Sit down, I beg. . . ."

He made Vassilyev sit down in a big armchair near the table, and moved a box of cigarettes towards him.

"Now then!" he began, stroking his knees. "Let us get to work. . . . How old are you?"

He asked questions and the medical student answered them. He asked whether Vassilyev’s father had suffered from certain special diseases, whether he drank to excess, whether he were remarkable for cruelty or any peculiarities. He made similar inquiries about his grandfather, mother, sisters, and brothers. On learning that his mother had a beautiful voice and sometimes acted on the stage, he grew more animated at once, and asked:

"Excuse me, but don’t you remember, perhaps, your mother had a passion for the stage?"

Twenty minutes passed. Vassilyev was annoyed by the way the doctor kept stroking his knees and talking of the same thing.

"So far as I understand your questions, doctor," he said, "you want to know whether my illness is hereditary or not. It is not."

The doctor proceeded to ask Vassilyev whether he had had any secret vices as a boy, or had received injuries to his head; whether he had had any aberrations, any peculiarities, or exceptional propensities. Half the questions usually asked by doctors of their patients can be left unanswered without the slightest ill effect on the health, but Mihail Sergeyitch, the medical student, and the artist all looked as though if Vassilyev failed to answer one question all would be lost. As he received answers, the doctor for some reason noted them down on a slip of paper. On learning that Vassilyev had taken his degree in natural science, and was now studying law, the doctor pondered.

"He wrote a first-rate piece of original work last year, . . ." said the medical student.

"I beg your pardon, but don’t interrupt me; you prevent me from concentrating," said the doctor, and he smiled on one side of his face. "Though, of course, that does enter into the diagnosis. Intense intellectual work, nervous exhaustion. . . . Yes, yes. . . . And do you drink vodka?" he said, addressing Vassilyev.

"Very rarely."

Another twenty minutes passed. The medical student began telling the doctor in a low voice his opinion as to the immediate cause of the attack, and described how the day before yesterday the artist, Vassilyev, and he had visited S. Street.

The indifferent, reserved, and frigid tone in which his friends and the doctor spoke of the women and that miserable street struck Vassilyev as strange in the extreme. . . .

"Doctor, tell me one thing only," he said, controlling himself so as not to speak rudely. "Is prostitution an evil or not?"

"My dear fellow, who disputes it?" said the doctor, with an expression that suggested that he had settled all such questions for himself long ago. "Who disputes it?"

"You are a mental doctor, aren’t you?" Vassilyev asked curtly.

"Yes, a mental doctor."

"Perhaps all of you are right!" said Vassilyev, getting up and beginning to walk from one end of the room to the other. "Perhaps! But it all seems marvelous to me! That I should have taken my degree in two faculties you look upon as a great achievement; because I have written a work which in three years will be thrown aside and forgotten, I am praised up to the skies; but because I cannot speak of fallen women as unconcernedly as of these chairs, I am being examined by a doctor, I am called mad, I am pitied!"

Vassilyev for some reason felt all at once unutterably sorry for himself, and his companions, and all the people he had seen two days before, and for the doctor; he burst into tears and sank into a chair.

His friends looked inquiringly at the doctor. The latter, with the air of completely comprehending the tears and the despair, of feeling himself a specialist in that line, went up to Vassilyev and, without a word, gave him some medicine to drink; and then, when he was calmer, undressed him and began to investigate the degree of sensibility of the skin, the reflex action of the knees, and so on.

And Vassilyev felt easier. When he came out from the doctor’s he was beginning to feel ashamed; the rattle of the carriages no longer irritated him, and the load at his heart grew lighter and lighter as though it were melting away. He had two prescriptions in his hand: one was for bromide, one was for morphia. . . . He had taken all these remedies before.

In the street he stood still and, saying good-by to his friends, dragged himself languidly to the University.



I RECEIVED the following letter:

“Not far from you—that is to say, in the village of Pestrovo—very distressing incidents are taking place, concerning which I feel it my duty to write to you. All the peasants of that village sold their cottages and all their belongings, and set off for the province of Tomsk, but did not succeed in getting there, and have come back. Here, of course, they have nothing now; everything belongs to other people. They have settled three or four families in a hut, so that there are no less than fifteen persons of both sexes in each hut, not counting the young children; and the long and the short of it is, there is nothing to eat. There is famine and there is a terrible pestilence of hunger, or spotted, typhus; literally every one is stricken. The doctor’s assistant says one goes into a cottage and what does one see? Every one is sick, every one delirious, some laughing, others frantic; the huts are filthy; there is no one to fetch them water, no one to give them a drink, and nothing to eat but frozen potatoes. What can Sobol (our Zemstvo doctor) and his lady assistant do when more than medicine the peasants need bread which they have not? The District Zemstvo refuses to assist them, on the ground that their names have been taken off the register of this district, and that they are now reckoned as inhabitants of Tomsk; and, besides, the Zemstvo has no money.
“Laying these facts before you, and knowing your humanity, I beg you not to refuse immediate help.
“Your well-wisher.”

Obviously the letter was written by the doctor with the animal name* or his lady assistant. Zemstvo doctors and their assistants go on for years growing more and more convinced every day that they can do nothing, and yet continue to receive their salaries from people who are living upon frozen potatoes, and consider they have a right to judge whether I am humane or not.
* Sobol in Russian means “sable-marten.”—TRANSLATOR’S NOTE.

Worried by the anonymous letter and by the fact that peasants came every morning to the servants’ kitchen and went down on their knees there, and that twenty sacks of rye had been stolen at night out of the barn, the wall having first been broken in, and by the general depression which was fostered by conversations, newspapers, and horrible weather—worried by all this, I worked listlessly and ineffectively. I was writing “A History of Railways”; I had to read a great number of Russian and foreign books, pamphlets, and articles in the magazines, to make calculations, to refer to logarithms, to think and to write; then again to read, calculate, and think; but as soon as I took up a book or began to think, my thoughts were in a muddle, my eyes began blinking, I would get up from the table with a sigh and begin walking about the big rooms of my deserted country-house. When I was tired of walking about I would stand still at my study window, and, looking across the wide courtyard, over the pond and the bare young birch-trees and the great fields covered with recently fallen, thawing snow, I saw on a low hill on the horizon a group of mud-coloured huts from which a black muddy road ran down in an irregular streak through the white field. That was Pestrovo, concerning which my anonymous correspondent had written to me. If it had not been for the crows who, foreseeing rain or snowy weather, floated cawing over the pond and the fields, and the tapping in the carpenter’s shed, this bit of the world about which such a fuss was being made would have seemed like the Dead Sea; it was all so still, motionless, lifeless, and dreary!
My uneasiness hindered me from working and concentrating myself; I did not know what it was, and chose to believe it was disappointment. I had actually given up my post in the Department of Ways and Communications, and had come here into the country expressly to live in peace and to devote myself to writing on social questions. It had long been my cherished dream. And now I had to say good-bye both to peace and to literature, to give up everything and think only of the peasants. And that was inevitable, because I was convinced that there was absolutely nobody in the district except me to help the starving. The people surrounding me were uneducated, unintellectual, callous, for the most part dishonest, or if they were honest, they were unreasonable and unpractical like my wife, for instance. It was impossible to rely on such people, it was impossible to leave the peasants to their fate, so that the only thing left to do was to submit to necessity and see to setting the peasants to rights myself.
I began by making up my mind to give five thousand roubles to the assistance of the starving peasants. And that did not decrease, but only aggravated my uneasiness. As I stood by the window or walked about the rooms I was tormented by the question which had not occurred to me before: how this money was to be spent. To have bread bought and to go from hut to hut distributing it was more than one man could do, to say nothing of the risk that in your haste you might give twice as much to one who was well-fed or to one who was making money out of his fellows as to the hungry. I had no faith in the local officials. All these district captains and tax inspectors were young men, and I distrusted them as I do all young people of today, who are materialistic and without ideals. The District Zemstvo, the Peasant Courts, and all the local institutions, inspired in me not the slightest desire to appeal to them for assistance. I knew that all these institutions who were busily engaged in picking out plums from the Zemstvo and the Government pie had their mouths always wide open for a bite at any other pie that might turn up.
The idea occurred to me to invite the neighbouring landowners and suggest to them to organize in my house something like a committee or a centre to which all subscriptions could be forwarded, and from which assistance and instructions could be distributed throughout the district; such an organization, which would render possible frequent consultations and free control on a big scale, would completely meet my views. But I imagined the lunches, the dinners, the suppers and the noise, the waste of time, the verbosity and the bad taste which that mixed provincial company would inevitably bring into my house, and I made haste to reject my idea.
As for the members of my own household, the last thing I could look for was help or support from them. Of my father’s household, of the household of my childhood, once a big and noisy family, no one remained but the governess Mademoiselle Marie, or, as she was now called, Marya Gerasimovna, an absolutely insignificant person. She was a precise little old lady of seventy, who wore a light grey dress and a cap with white ribbons, and looked like a china doll. She always sat in the drawing-room reading.
Whenever I passed by her, she would say, knowing the reason for my brooding:
“What can you expect, Pasha? I told you how it would be before. You can judge from our servants.”
My wife, Natalya Gavrilovna, lived on the lower storey, all the rooms of which she occupied. She slept, had her meals, and received her visitors downstairs in her own rooms, and took not the slightest interest in how I dined, or slept, or whom I saw. Our relations with one another were simple and not strained, but cold, empty, and dreary as relations are between people who have been so long estranged, that even living under the same roof gives no semblance of nearness. There was no trace now of the passionate and tormenting love—at one time sweet, at another bitter as wormwood—which I had once felt for Natalya Gavrilovna. There was nothing left, either, of the outbursts of the past—the loud altercations, upbraidings, complaints, and gusts of hatred which had usually ended in my wife’s going abroad or to her own people, and in my sending money in small but frequent instalments that I might sting her pride oftener. (My proud and sensitive wife and her family live at my expense, and much as she would have liked to do so, my wife could not refuse my money: that afforded me satisfaction and was one comfort in my sorrow.) Now when we chanced to meet in the corridor downstairs or in the yard, I bowed, she smiled graciously. We spoke of the weather, said that it seemed time to put in the double windows, and that some one with bells on their harness had driven over the dam. And at such times I read in her face: “I am faithful to you and am not disgracing your good name which you think so much about; you are sensible and do not worry me; we are quits.”
I assured myself that my love had died long ago, that I was too much absorbed in my work to think seriously of my relations with my wife. But, alas! that was only what I imagined. When my wife talked aloud downstairs I listened intently to her voice, though I could not distinguish one word. When she played the piano downstairs I stood up and listened. When her carriage or her saddlehorse was brought to the door, I went to the window and waited to see her out of the house; then I watched her get into her carriage or mount her horse and ride out of the yard. I felt that there was something wrong with me, and was afraid the expression of my eyes or my face might betray me. I looked after my wife and then watched for her to come back that I might see again from the window her face, her shoulders, her fur coat, her hat. I felt dreary, sad, infinitely regretful, and felt inclined in her absence to walk through her rooms, and longed that the problem that my wife and I had not been able to solve because our characters were incompatible, should solve itself in the natural way as soon as possible—that is, that this beautiful woman of twenty-seven might make haste and grow old, and that my head might be grey and bald.
One day at lunch my bailiff informed me that the Pestrovo peasants had begun to pull the thatch off the roofs to feed their cattle. Marya Gerasimovna looked at me in alarm and perplexity.
“What can I do?” I said to her. “One cannot fight single-handed, and I have never experienced such loneliness as I do now. I would give a great deal to find one man in the whole province on whom I could rely.”
“Invite Ivan Ivanitch,” said Marya Gerasimovna.
“To be sure!” I thought, delighted. “That is an idea! C’est raison,” I hummed, going to my study to write to Ivan Ivanitch. “C’est raison, c’est raison.”


Of all the mass of acquaintances who, in this house twenty-five to thirty-five years ago, had eaten, drunk, masqueraded, fallen in love, married, bored us with accounts of their splendid packs of hounds and horses, the only one still living was Ivan Ivanitch Bragin. At one time he had been very active, talkative, noisy, and given to falling in love, and had been famous for his extreme views and for the peculiar charm of his face, which fascinated men as well as women; now he was an old man, had grown corpulent, and was living out his days with neither views nor charm. He came the day after getting my letter, in the evening just as the samovar was brought into the dining-room and little Marya Gerasimovna had begun slicing the lemon.
“I am very glad to see you, my dear fellow,” I said gaily, meeting him. “Why, you are stouter than ever....”
“It isn’t getting stout; it’s swelling,” he answered. “The bees must have stung me.”
With the familiarity of a man laughing at his own fatness, he put his arms round my waist and laid on my breast his big soft head, with the hair combed down on the forehead like a Little Russian’s, and went off into a thin, aged laugh.
“And you go on getting younger,” he said through his laugh. “I wonder what dye you use for your hair and beard; you might let me have some of it.” Sniffing and gasping, he embraced me and kissed me on the cheek. “You might give me some of it,” he repeated. “Why, you are not forty, are you?”
“Alas, I am forty-six!” I said, laughing.
Ivan Ivanitch smelt of tallow candles and cooking, and that suited him. His big, puffy, slow-moving body was swathed in a long frock-coat like a coachman’s full coat, with a high waist, and with hooks and eyes instead of buttons, and it would have been strange if he had smelt of eau-de-Cologne, for instance. In his long, unshaven, bluish double chin, which looked like a thistle, his goggle eyes, his shortness of breath, and in the whole of his clumsy, slovenly figure, in his voice, his laugh, and his words, it was difficult to recognize the graceful, interesting talker who used in old days to make the husbands of the district jealous on account of their wives.
“I am in great need of your assistance, my friend,” I said, when we were sitting in the dining-room, drinking tea. “I want to organize relief for the starving peasants, and I don’t know how to set about it. So perhaps you will be so kind as to advise me.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Ivan Ivanitch, sighing. “To be sure, to be sure, to be sure....”
“I would not have worried you, my dear fellow, but really there is no one here but you I can appeal to. You know what people are like about here.”
“To be sure, to be sure, to be sure.... Yes.”
I thought that as we were going to have a serious, business consultation in which any one might take part, regardless of their position or personal relations, why should I not invite Natalya Gavrilovna.
“Tres faciunt collegium,” I said gaily. “What if we were to ask Natalya Gavrilovna? What do you think? Fenya,” I said, turning to the maid, “ask Natalya Gavrilovna to come upstairs to us, if possible at once. Tell her it’s a very important matter.”
A little later Natalya Gavrilovna came in. I got up to meet her and said:
“Excuse us for troubling you, Natalie. We are discussing a very important matter, and we had the happy thought that we might take advantage of your good advice, which you will not refuse to give us. Please sit down.”
Ivan Ivanitch kissed her hand while she kissed his forehead; then, when we all sat down to the table, he, looking at her tearfully and blissfully, craned forward to her and kissed her hand again. She was dressed in black, her hair was carefully arranged, and she smelt of fresh scent. She had evidently dressed to go out or was expecting somebody. Coming into the dining-room, she held out her hand to me with simple friendliness, and smiled to me as graciously as she did to Ivan Ivanitch—that pleased me; but as she talked she moved her fingers, often and abruptly leaned back in her chair and talked rapidly, and this jerkiness in her words and movements irritated me and reminded me of her native town—Odessa, where the society, men and women alike, had wearied me by its bad taste.
“I want to do something for the famine-stricken peasants,” I began, and after a brief pause I went on: “Money, of course, is a great thing, but to confine oneself to subscribing money, and with that to be satisfied, would be evading the worst of the trouble. Help must take the form of money, but the most important thing is a proper and sound organization. Let us think it over, my friends, and do something.”
Natalya Gavrilovna looked at me inquiringly and shrugged her shoulders as though to say, “What do I know about it?”
“Yes, yes, famine...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch. “Certainly... yes.”
“It’s a serious position,” I said, “and assistance is needed as soon as possible. I imagine the first point among the principles which we must work out ought to be promptitude. We must act on the military principles of judgment, promptitude, and energy.”
“Yes, promptitude...” repeated Ivan Ivanitch in a drowsy and listless voice, as though he were dropping asleep. “Only one can’t do anything. The crops have failed, and so what’s the use of all your judgment and energy?... It’s the elements.... You can’t go against God and fate.”
“Yes, but that’s what man has a head for, to contend against the elements.”
“Eh? Yes... that’s so, to be sure.... Yes.”
Ivan Ivanitch sneezed into his handkerchief, brightened up, and as though he had just woken up, looked round at my wife and me.
“My crops have failed, too.” He laughed a thin little laugh and gave a sly wink as though this were really funny. “No money, no corn, and a yard full of labourers like Count Sheremetyev’s. I want to kick them out, but I haven’t the heart to.”
Natalya Gavrilovna laughed, and began questioning him about his private affairs. Her presence gave me a pleasure such as I had not felt for a long time, and I was afraid to look at her for fear my eyes would betray my secret feeling. Our relations were such that that feeling might seem surprising and ridiculous.
She laughed and talked with Ivan Ivanitch without being in the least disturbed that she was in my room and that I was not laughing.
“And so, my friends, what are we to do?” I asked after waiting for a pause. “I suppose before we do anything else we had better immediately open a subscription-list. We will write to our friends in the capitals and in Odessa, Natalie, and ask them to subscribe. When we have got together a little sum we will begin buying corn and fodder for the cattle; and you, Ivan Ivanitch, will you be so kind as to undertake distributing the relief? Entirely relying on your characteristic tact and efficiency, we will only venture to express a desire that before you give any relief you make acquaintance with the details of the case on the spot, and also, which is very important, you should be careful that corn should be distributed only to those who are in genuine need, and not to the drunken, the idle, or the dishonest.”
“Yes, yes, yes...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch. “To be sure, to be sure.”
“Well, one won’t get much done with that slobbering wreck,” I thought, and I felt irritated.
“I am sick of these famine-stricken peasants, bother them! It’s nothing but grievances with them!” Ivan Ivanitch went on, sucking the rind of the lemon. “The hungry have a grievance against those who have enough, and those who have enough have a grievance against the hungry. Yes... hunger stupefies and maddens a man and makes him savage; hunger is not a potato. When a man is starving he uses bad language, and steals, and may do worse.... One must realize that.”
Ivan Ivanitch choked over his tea, coughed, and shook all over with a squeaky, smothered laughter.
“‘There was a battle at Pol... Poltava,’” he brought out, gesticulating with both hands in protest against the laughter and coughing which prevented him from speaking. “‘There was a battle at Poltava!’ When three years after the Emancipation we had famine in two districts here, Fyodor Fyodoritch came and invited me to go to him. ‘Come along, come along,’ he persisted, and nothing else would satisfy him. ‘Very well, let us go,’ I said. And, so we set off. It was in the evening; there was snow falling. Towards night we were getting near his place, and suddenly from the wood came ‘bang!’ and another time ‘bang!’ ‘Oh, damn it all!’... I jumped out of the sledge, and I saw in the darkness a man running up to me, knee-deep in the snow. I put my arm round his shoulder, like this, and knocked the gun out of his hand. Then another one turned up; I fetched him a knock on the back of his head so that he grunted and flopped with his nose in the snow. I was a sturdy chap then, my fist was heavy; I disposed of two of them, and when I turned round Fyodor was sitting astride of a third. We did not let our three fine fellows go; we tied their hands behind their backs so that they might not do us or themselves any harm, and took the fools into the kitchen. We were angry with them and at the same time ashamed to look at them; they were peasants we knew, and were good fellows; we were sorry for them. They were quite stupid with terror. One was crying and begging our pardon, the second looked like a wild beast and kept swearing, the third knelt down and began to pray. I said to Fedya: ‘Don’t bear them a grudge; let them go, the rascals!’ He fed them, gave them a bushel of flour each, and let them go: ‘Get along with you,’ he said. So that’s what he did.... The Kingdom of Heaven be his and everlasting peace! He understood and did not bear them a grudge; but there were some who did, and how many people they ruined! Yes... Why, over the affair at the Klotchkovs’ tavern eleven men were sent to the disciplinary battalion. Yes.... And now, look, it’s the same thing. Anisyin, the investigating magistrate, stayed the night with me last Thursday, and he told me about some landowner.... Yes.... They took the wall of his barn to pieces at night and carried off twenty sacks of rye. When the gentleman heard that such a crime had been committed, he sent a telegram to the Governor and another to the police captain, another to the investigating magistrate!... Of course, every one is afraid of a man who is fond of litigation. The authorities were in a flutter and there was a general hubbub. Two villages were searched.”
“Excuse me, Ivan Ivanitch,” I said. “Twenty sacks of rye were stolen from me, and it was I who telegraphed to the Governor. I telegraphed to Petersburg, too. But it was by no means out of love for litigation, as you are pleased to express it, and not because I bore them a grudge. I look at every subject from the point of view of principle. From the point of view of the law, theft is the same whether a man is hungry or not.”
“Yes, yes...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch in confusion. “Of course... To be sure, yes.”
Natalya Gavrilovna blushed.
“There are people...” she said and stopped; she made an effort to seem indifferent, but she could not keep it up, and looked into my eyes with the hatred that I know so well. “There are people,” she said, “for whom famine and human suffering exist simply that they may vent their hateful and despicable temperaments upon them.”
I was confused and shrugged my shoulders.
“I meant to say generally,” she went on, “that there are people who are quite indifferent and completely devoid of all feeling of sympathy, yet who do not pass human suffering by, but insist on meddling for fear people should be able to do without them. Nothing is sacred for their vanity.”
“There are people,” I said softly, “who have an angelic character, but who express their glorious ideas in such a form that it is difficult to distinguish the angel from an Odessa market-woman.”
I must confess it was not happily expressed.
My wife looked at me as though it cost her a great effort to hold her tongue. Her sudden outburst, and then her inappropriate eloquence on the subject of my desire to help the famine-stricken peasants, were, to say the least, out of place; when I had invited her to come upstairs I had expected quite a different attitude to me and my intentions. I cannot say definitely what I had expected, but I had been agreeably agitated by the expectation. Now I saw that to go on speaking about the famine would be difficult and perhaps stupid.
“Yes...” Ivan Ivanitch muttered inappropriately. “Burov, the merchant, must have four hundred thousand at least. I said to him: ‘Hand over one or two thousand to the famine. You can’t take it with you when you die, anyway.’ He was offended. But we all have to die, you know. Death is not a potato.”
A silence followed again.
“So there’s nothing left for me but to reconcile myself to loneliness,” I sighed. “One cannot fight single-handed. Well, I will try single-handed. Let us hope that my campaign against the famine will be more successful than my campaign against indifference.”
“I am expected downstairs,” said Natalya Gavrilovna.
She got up from the table and turned to Ivan Ivanitch.
“So you will look in upon me downstairs for a minute? I won’t say good-bye to you.”
And she went away.
Ivan Ivanitch was now drinking his seventh glass of tea, choking, smacking his lips, and sucking sometimes his moustache, sometimes the lemon. He was muttering something drowsily and listlessly, and I did not listen but waited for him to go. At last, with an expression that suggested that he had only come to me to take a cup of tea, he got up and began to take leave. As I saw him out I said:
“And so you have given me no advice.”
“Eh? I am a feeble, stupid old man,” he answered. “What use would my advice be? You shouldn’t worry yourself.... I really don’t know why you worry yourself. Don’t disturb yourself, my dear fellow! Upon my word, there’s no need,” he whispered genuinely and affectionately, soothing me as though I were a child. “Upon my word, there’s no need.”
“No need? Why, the peasants are pulling the thatch off their huts, and they say there is typhus somewhere already.”
“Well, what of it? If there are good crops next year, they’ll thatch them again, and if we die of typhus others will live after us. Anyway, we have to die—if not now, later. Don’t worry yourself, my dear.”
“I can’t help worrying myself,” I said irritably.
We were standing in the dimly lighted vestibule. Ivan Ivanitch suddenly took me by the elbow, and, preparing to say something evidently very important, looked at me in silence for a couple of minutes.
“Pavel Andreitch!” he said softly, and suddenly in his puffy, set face and dark eyes there was a gleam of the expression for which he had once been famous and which was truly charming. “Pavel Andreitch, I speak to you as a friend: try to be different! One is ill at ease with you, my dear fellow, one really is!”
He looked intently into my face; the charming expression faded away, his eyes grew dim again, and he sniffed and muttered feebly:
“Yes, yes.... Excuse an old man.... It’s all nonsense... yes.”
As he slowly descended the staircase, spreading out his hands to balance himself and showing me his huge, bulky back and red neck, he gave me the unpleasant impression of a sort of crab.
“You ought to go away, your Excellency,” he muttered. “To Petersburg or abroad.... Why should you live here and waste your golden days? You are young, wealthy, and healthy.... Yes.... Ah, if I were younger I would whisk away like a hare, and snap my fingers at everything.”


My wife’s outburst reminded me of our married life together. In old days after every such outburst we felt irresistibly drawn to each other; we would meet and let off all the dynamite that had accumulated in our souls. And now after Ivan Ivanitch had gone away I had a strong impulse to go to my wife. I wanted to go downstairs and tell her that her behaviour at tea had been an insult to me, that she was cruel, petty, and that her plebeian mind had never risen to a comprehension of what I was saying and of what I was doing. I walked about the rooms a long time thinking of what I would say to her and trying to guess what she would say to me.
That evening, after Ivan Ivanitch went away, I felt in a peculiarly irritating form the uneasiness which had worried me of late. I could not sit down or sit still, but kept walking about in the rooms that were lighted up and keeping near to the one in which Marya Gerasimovna was sitting. I had a feeling very much like that which I had on the North Sea during a storm when every one thought that our ship, which had no freight nor ballast, would overturn. And that evening I understood that my uneasiness was not disappointment, as I had supposed, but a different feeling, though what exactly I could not say, and that irritated me more than ever.
“I will go to her,” I decided. “I can think of a pretext. I shall say that I want to see Ivan Ivanitch; that will be all.”
I went downstairs and walked without haste over the carpeted floor through the vestibule and the hall. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting on the sofa in the drawing-room; he was drinking tea again and muttering something. My wife was standing opposite to him and holding on to the back of a chair. There was a gentle, sweet, and docile expression on her face, such as one sees on the faces of people listening to crazy saints or holy men when a peculiar hidden significance is imagined in their vague words and mutterings. There was something morbid, something of a nun’s exaltation, in my wife’s expression and attitude; and her low-pitched, half-dark rooms with their old-fashioned furniture, with her birds asleep in their cages, and with a smell of geranium, reminded me of the rooms of some abbess or pious old lady.
I went into the drawing-room. My wife showed neither surprise nor confusion, and looked at me calmly and serenely, as though she had known I should come.
“I beg your pardon,” I said softly. “I am so glad you have not gone yet, Ivan Ivanitch. I forgot to ask you, do you know the Christian name of the president of our Zemstvo?”
“Andrey Stanislavovitch. Yes....”
Merci,” I said, took out my notebook, and wrote it down.
There followed a silence during which my wife and Ivan Ivanitch were probably waiting for me to go; my wife did not believe that I wanted to know the president’s name—I saw that from her eyes.
“Well, I must be going, my beauty,” muttered Ivan Ivanitch, after I had walked once or twice across the drawing-room and sat down by the fireplace.
“No,” said Natalya Gavrilovna quickly, touching his hand. “Stay another quarter of an hour.... Please do!”
Evidently she did not wish to be left alone with me without a witness.
“Oh, well, I’ll wait a quarter of an hour, too,” I thought.
“Why, it’s snowing!” I said, getting up and looking out of window. “A good fall of snow! Ivan Ivanitch”—I went on walking about the room—“I do regret not being a sportsman. I can imagine what a pleasure it must be coursing hares or hunting wolves in snow like this!”
My wife, standing still, watched my movements, looking out of the corner of her eyes without turning her head. She looked as though she thought I had a sharp knife or a revolver in my pocket.
“Ivan Ivanitch, do take me out hunting some day,” I went on softly. “I shall be very, very grateful to you.”
At that moment a visitor came into the room. He was a tall, thick-set gentleman whom I did not know, with a bald head, a big fair beard, and little eyes. From his baggy, crumpled clothes and his manners I took him to be a parish clerk or a teacher, but my wife introduced him to me as Dr. Sobol.
“Very, very glad to make your acquaintance,” said the doctor in a loud tenor voice, shaking hands with me warmly, with a naive smile. “Very glad!”
He sat down at the table, took a glass of tea, and said in a loud voice:
“Do you happen to have a drop of rum or brandy? Have pity on me, Olya, and look in the cupboard; I am frozen,” he said, addressing the maid.
I sat down by the fire again, looked on, listened, and from time to time put in a word in the general conversation. My wife smiled graciously to the visitors and kept a sharp lookout on me, as though I were a wild beast. She was oppressed by my presence, and this aroused in me jealousy, annoyance, and an obstinate desire to wound her. “Wife, these snug rooms, the place by the fire,” I thought, “are mine, have been mine for years, but some crazy Ivan Ivanitch or Sobol has for some reason more right to them than I. Now I see my wife, not out of window, but close at hand, in ordinary home surroundings that I feel the want of now I am growing older, and, in spite of her hatred for me, I miss her as years ago in my childhood I used to miss my mother and my nurse. And I feel that now, on the verge of old age, my love for her is purer and loftier than it was in the past; and that is why I want to go up to her, to stamp hard on her toe with my heel, to hurt her and smile as I do it.”
“Monsieur Marten,” I said, addressing the doctor, “how many hospitals have we in the district?”
“Sobol,” my wife corrected.
“Two,” answered Sobol.
“And how many deaths are there every year in each hospital?”
“Pavel Andreitch, I want to speak to you,” said my wife.
She apologized to the visitors and went to the next room. I got up and followed her.
“You will go upstairs to your own rooms this minute,” she said.
“You are ill-bred,” I said to her.
“You will go upstairs to your own rooms this very minute,” she repeated sharply, and she looked into my face with hatred.
She was standing so near that if I had stooped a little my beard would have touched her face.
“What is the matter?” I asked. “What harm have I done all at once?”
Her chin quivered, she hastily wiped her eyes, and, with a cursory glance at the looking-glass, whispered:
“The old story is beginning all over again. Of course you won’t go away. Well, do as you like. I’ll go away myself, and you stay.”
We returned to the drawing-room, she with a resolute face, while I shrugged my shoulders and tried to smile. There were some more visitors—an elderly lady and a young man in spectacles. Without greeting the new arrivals or taking leave of the others, I went off to my own rooms.
After what had happened at tea and then again downstairs, it became clear to me that our “family happiness,” which we had begun to forget about in the course of the last two years, was through some absurd and trivial reason beginning all over again, and that neither I nor my wife could now stop ourselves; and that next day or the day after, the outburst of hatred would, as I knew by experience of past years, be followed by something revolting which would upset the whole order of our lives. “So it seems that during these two years we have grown no wiser, colder, or calmer,” I thought as I began walking about the rooms. “So there will again be tears, outcries, curses, packing up, going abroad, then the continual sickly fear that she will disgrace me with some coxcomb out there, Italian or Russian, refusing a passport, letters, utter loneliness, missing her, and in five years old age, grey hairs.” I walked about, imagining what was really impossible—her, grown handsomer, stouter, embracing a man I did not know. By now convinced that that would certainly happen, “‘Why,” I asked myself, “Why, in one of our long past quarrels, had not I given her a divorce, or why had she not at that time left me altogether? I should not have had this yearning for her now, this hatred, this anxiety; and I should have lived out my life quietly, working and not worrying about anything.”
A carriage with two lamps drove into the yard, then a big sledge with three horses. My wife was evidently having a party.
Till midnight everything was quiet downstairs and I heard nothing, but at midnight there was a sound of moving chairs and a clatter of crockery. So there was supper. Then the chairs moved again, and through the floor I heard a noise; they seemed to be shouting hurrah. Marya Gerasimovna was already asleep and I was quite alone in the whole upper storey; the portraits of my forefathers, cruel, insignificant people, looked at me from the walls of the drawing-room, and the reflection of my lamp in the window winked unpleasantly. And with a feeling of jealousy and envy for what was going on downstairs, I listened and thought: “I am master here; if I like, I can in a moment turn out all that fine crew.” But I knew that all that was nonsense, that I could not turn out any one, and the word “master” had no meaning. One may think oneself master, married, rich, a kammer-junker, as much as one likes, and at the same time not know what it means.
After supper some one downstairs began singing in a tenor voice.
“Why, nothing special has happened,” I tried to persuade myself. “Why am I so upset? I won’t go downstairs tomorrow, that’s all; and that will be the end of our quarrel.”
At a quarter past one I went to bed.
“Have the visitors downstairs gone?” I asked Alexey as he was undressing me.
“Yes, sir, they’ve gone.”
“And why were they shouting hurrah?”
“Alexey Dmitritch Mahonov subscribed for the famine fund a thousand bushels of flour and a thousand roubles. And the old lady—I don’t know her name—promised to set up a soup kitchen on her estate to feed a hundred and fifty people. Thank God... Natalya Gavrilovna has been pleased to arrange that all the gentry should assemble every Friday.”
“To assemble here, downstairs?”
“Yes, sir. Before supper they read a list: since August up to today Natalya Gavrilovna has collected eight thousand roubles, besides corn. Thank God.... What I think is that if our mistress does take trouble for the salvation of her soul, she will soon collect a lot. There are plenty of rich people here.”
Dismissing Alexey, I put out the light and drew the bedclothes over my head.
“After all, why am I so troubled?” I thought. “What force draws me to the starving peasants like a butterfly to a flame? I don’t know them, I don’t understand them; I have never seen them and I don’t like them. Why this uneasiness?”
I suddenly crossed myself under the quilt.
“But what a woman she is!” I said to myself, thinking of my wife. “There’s a regular committee held in the house without my knowing. Why this secrecy? Why this conspiracy? What have I done to them? Ivan Ivanitch is right—I must go away.”
Next morning I woke up firmly resolved to go away. The events of the previous day—the conversation at tea, my wife, Sobol, the supper, my apprehensions—worried me, and I felt glad to think of getting away from the surroundings which reminded me of all that. While I was drinking my coffee the bailiff gave me a long report on various matters. The most agreeable item he saved for the last.
“The thieves who stole our rye have been found,” he announced with a smile. “The magistrate arrested three peasants at Pestrovo yesterday.”
“Go away!” I shouted at him; and a propos of nothing, I picked up the cake-basket and flung it on the floor.


After lunch I rubbed my hands, and thought I must go to my wife and tell her that I was going away. Why? Who cared? Nobody cares, I answered, but why shouldn’t I tell her, especially as it would give her nothing but pleasure? Besides, to go away after our yesterday’s quarrel without saying a word would not be quite tactful: she might think that I was frightened of her, and perhaps the thought that she has driven me out of my house may weigh upon her. It would be just as well, too, to tell her that I subscribe five thousand, and to give her some advice about the organization, and to warn her that her inexperience in such a complicated and responsible matter might lead to most lamentable results. In short, I wanted to see my wife, and while I thought of various pretexts for going to her, I had a firm conviction in my heart that I should do so.
It was still light when I went in to her, and the lamps had not yet been lighted. She was sitting in her study, which led from the drawing-room to her bedroom, and, bending low over the table, was writing something quickly. Seeing me, she started, got up from the table, and remained standing in an attitude such as to screen her papers from me.
“I beg your pardon, I have only come for a minute,” I said, and, I don’t know why, I was overcome with embarrassment. “I have learnt by chance that you are organizing relief for the famine, Natalie.”
“Yes, I am. But that’s my business,” she answered.
“Yes, it is your business,” I said softly. “I am glad of it, for it just fits in with my intentions. I beg your permission to take part in it.”
“Forgive me, I cannot let you do it,” she said in response, and looked away.
“Why not, Natalie?” I said quietly. “Why not? I, too, am well fed and I, too, want to help the hungry.”
“I don’t know what it has to do with you,” she said with a contemptuous smile, shrugging her shoulders. “Nobody asks you.”
“Nobody asks you, either, and yet you have got up a regular committee in my house,” I said.
“I am asked, but you can have my word for it no one will ever ask you. Go and help where you are not known.”
“For God’s sake, don’t talk to me in that tone.” I tried to be mild, and besought myself most earnestly not to lose my temper. For the first few minutes I felt glad to be with my wife. I felt an atmosphere of youth, of home, of feminine softness, of the most refined elegance—exactly what was lacking on my floor and in my life altogether. My wife was wearing a pink flannel dressing-gown; it made her look much younger, and gave a softness to her rapid and sometimes abrupt movements. Her beautiful dark hair, the mere sight of which at one time stirred me to passion, had from sitting so long with her head bent come loose from the comb and was untidy, but, to my eyes, that only made it look more rich and luxuriant. All this, though is banal to the point of vulgarity. Before me stood an ordinary woman, perhaps neither beautiful nor elegant, but this was my wife with whom I had once lived, and with whom I should have been living to this day if it had not been for her unfortunate character; she was the one human being on the terrestrial globe whom I loved. At this moment, just before going away, when I knew that I should no longer see her even through the window, she seemed to me fascinating even as she was, cold and forbidding, answering me with a proud and contemptuous mockery. I was proud of her, and confessed to myself that to go away from her was terrible and impossible.
“Pavel Andreitch,” she said after a brief silence, “for two years we have not interfered with each other but have lived quietly. Why do you suddenly feel it necessary to go back to the past? Yesterday you came to insult and humiliate me,” she went on, raising her voice, and her face flushed and her eyes flamed with hatred; “but restrain yourself; do not do it, Pavel Andreitch! Tomorrow I will send in a petition and they will give me a passport, and I will go away; I will go! I will go! I’ll go into a convent, into a widows’ home, into an almshouse....”
“Into a lunatic asylum!” I cried, not able to restrain myself.
“Well, even into a lunatic asylum! That would be better, that would be better,” she cried, with flashing eyes. “When I was in Pestrovo today I envied the sick and starving peasant women because they are not living with a man like you. They are free and honest, while, thanks to you, I am a parasite, I am perishing in idleness, I eat your bread, I spend your money, and I repay you with my liberty and a fidelity which is of no use to any one. Because you won’t give me a passport, I must respect your good name, though it doesn’t exist.”
I had to keep silent. Clenching my teeth, I walked quickly into the drawing-room, but turned back at once and said:
“I beg you earnestly that there should be no more assemblies, plots, and meetings of conspirators in my house! I only admit to my house those with whom I am acquainted, and let all your crew find another place to do it if they want to take up philanthropy. I can’t allow people at midnight in my house to be shouting hurrah at successfully exploiting an hysterical woman like you!”
My wife, pale and wringing her hands, took a rapid stride across the room, uttering a prolonged moan as though she had toothache. With a wave of my hand, I went into the drawing-room. I was choking with rage, and at the same time I was trembling with terror that I might not restrain myself, and that I might say or do something which I might regret all my life. And I clenched my hands tight, hoping to hold myself in.
After drinking some water and recovering my calm a little, I went back to my wife. She was standing in the same attitude as before, as though barring my approach to the table with the papers. Tears were slowly trickling down her pale, cold face. I paused then and said to her bitterly but without anger:
“How you misunderstand me! How unjust you are to me! I swear upon my honour I came to you with the best of motives, with nothing but the desire to do good!”
“Pavel Andreitch!” she said, clasping her hands on her bosom, and her face took on the agonized, imploring expression with which frightened, weeping children beg not to be punished, “I know perfectly well that you will refuse me, but still I beg you. Force yourself to do one kind action in your life. I entreat you, go away from here! That’s the only thing you can do for the starving peasants. Go away, and I will forgive you everything, everything!”
“There is no need for you to insult me, Natalie,” I sighed, feeling a sudden rush of humility. “I had already made up my mind to go away, but I won’t go until I have done something for the peasants. It’s my duty!”
“Ach!” she said softly with an impatient frown. “You can make an excellent bridge or railway, but you can do nothing for the starving peasants. Do understand!”
“Indeed? Yesterday you reproached me with indifference and with being devoid of the feeling of compassion. How well you know me!” I laughed. “You believe in God—well, God is my witness that I am worried day and night....”
“I see that you are worried, but the famine and compassion have nothing to do with it. You are worried because the starving peasants can get on without you, and because the Zemstvo, and in fact every one who is helping them, does not need your guidance.”
I was silent, trying to suppress my irritation. Then I said:
“I came to speak to you on business. Sit down. Please sit down.”
She did not sit down.
“I beg you to sit down,” I repeated, and I motioned her to a chair.
She sat down. I sat down, too, thought a little, and said:
“I beg you to consider earnestly what I am saying. Listen.... Moved by love for your fellow-creatures, you have undertaken the organization of famine relief. I have nothing against that, of course; I am completely in sympathy with you, and am prepared to co-operate with you in every way, whatever our relations may be. But, with all my respect for your mind and your heart... and your heart,” I repeated, “I cannot allow such a difficult, complex, and responsible matter as the organization of relief to be left in your hands entirely. You are a woman, you are inexperienced, you know nothing of life, you are too confiding and expansive. You have surrounded yourself with assistants whom you know nothing about. I am not exaggerating if I say that under these conditions your work will inevitably lead to two deplorable consequences. To begin with, our district will be left unrelieved; and, secondly, you will have to pay for your mistakes and those of your assistants, not only with your purse, but with your reputation. The money deficit and other losses I could, no doubt, make good, but who could restore you your good name? When through lack of proper supervision and oversight there is a rumour that you, and consequently I, have made two hundred thousand over the famine fund, will your assistants come to your aid?”
She said nothing.
“Not from vanity, as you say,” I went on, “but simply that the starving peasants may not be left unrelieved and your reputation may not be injured, I feel it my moral duty to take part in your work.”
“Speak more briefly,” said my wife.
“You will be so kind,” I went on, “as to show me what has been subscribed so far and what you have spent. Then inform me daily of every fresh subscription in money or kind, and of every fresh outlay. You will also give me, Natalie, the list of your helpers. Perhaps they are quite decent people; I don’t doubt it; but, still, it is absolutely necessary to make inquiries.”
She was silent. I got up, and walked up and down the room.
“Let us set to work, then,” I said, and I sat down to her table.
“Are you in earnest?” she asked, looking at me in alarm and bewilderment.
“Natalie, do be reasonable!” I said appealingly, seeing from her face that she meant to protest. “I beg you, trust my experience and my sense of honour.”
“I don’t understand what you want.”
“Show me how much you have collected and how much you have spent.”
“I have no secrets. Any one may see. Look.”
On the table lay five or six school exercise books, several sheets of notepaper covered with writing, a map of the district, and a number of pieces of paper of different sizes. It was getting dusk. I lighted a candle.
“Excuse me, I don’t see anything yet,” I said, turning over the leaves of the exercise books. “Where is the account of the receipt of money subscriptions?”
“That can be seen from the subscription lists.”
“Yes, but you must have an account,” I said, smiling at her naivete. “Where are the letters accompanying the subscriptions in money or in kind? Pardon, a little practical advice, Natalie: it’s absolutely necessary to keep those letters. You ought to number each letter and make a special note of it in a special record. You ought to do the same with your own letters. But I will do all that myself.”
“Do so, do so...” she said.
I was very much pleased with myself. Attracted by this living interesting work, by the little table, the naive exercise books and the charm of doing this work in my wife’s society, I was afraid that my wife would suddenly hinder me and upset everything by some sudden whim, and so I was in haste and made an effort to attach no consequence to the fact that her lips were quivering, and that she was looking about her with a helpless and frightened air like a wild creature in a trap.
“I tell you what, Natalie,” I said without looking at her; “let me take all these papers and exercise books upstairs to my study. There I will look through them and tell you what I think about it tomorrow. Have you any more papers?” I asked, arranging the exercise books and sheets of papers in piles.
“Take them, take them all!” said my wife, helping me to arrange them, and big tears ran down her cheeks. “Take it all! That’s all that was left me in life.... Take the last.”
“Ach! Natalie, Natalie!” I sighed reproachfully.
She opened the drawer in the table and began flinging the papers out of it on the table at random, poking me in the chest with her elbow and brushing my face with her hair; as she did so, copper coins kept dropping upon my knees and on the floor.
“Take everything!” she said in a husky voice.
When she had thrown out the papers she walked away from me, and putting both hands to her head, she flung herself on the couch. I picked up the money, put it back in the drawer, and locked it up that the servants might not be led into dishonesty; then I gathered up all the papers and went off with them. As I passed my wife I stopped and, looking at her back and shaking shoulders, I said:
“What a baby you are, Natalie! Fie, fie! Listen, Natalie: when you realize how serious and responsible a business it is you will be the first to thank me. I assure you you will.”
In my own room I set to work without haste. The exercise books were not bound, the pages were not numbered. The entries were put in all sorts of handwritings; evidently any one who liked had a hand in managing the books. In the record of the subscriptions in kind there was no note of their money value. But, excuse me, I thought, the rye which is now worth one rouble fifteen kopecks may be worth two roubles fifteen kopecks in two months’ time! Was that the way to do things? Then, “Given to A. M. Sobol 32 roubles.” When was it given? For what purpose was it given? Where was the receipt? There was nothing to show, and no making anything of it. In case of legal proceedings, these papers would only obscure the case.
“How naive she is!” I thought with surprise. “What a child!”
I felt both vexed and amused.


My wife had already collected eight thousand; with my five it would be thirteen thousand. For a start that was very good. The business which had so worried and interested me was at last in my hands; I was doing what the others would not and could not do; I was doing my duty, organizing the relief fund in a practical and business-like way.
Everything seemed to be going in accordance with my desires and intentions; but why did my feeling of uneasiness persist? I spent four hours over my wife’s papers, making out their meaning and correcting her mistakes, but instead of feeling soothed, I felt as though some one were standing behind me and rubbing my back with a rough hand. What was it I wanted? The organization of the relief fund had come into trustworthy hands, the hungry would be fed—what more was wanted?
The four hours of this light work for some reason exhausted me, so that I could not sit bending over the table nor write. From below I heard from time to time a smothered moan; it was my wife sobbing. Alexey, invariably meek, sleepy, and sanctimonious, kept coming up to the table to see to the candles, and looked at me somewhat strangely.
“Yes, I must go away,” I decided at last, feeling utterly exhausted. “As far as possible from these agreeable impressions! I will set off tomorrow.”
I gathered together the papers and exercise books, and went down to my wife. As, feeling quite worn out and shattered, I held the papers and the exercise books to my breast with both hands, and passing through my bedroom saw my trunks, the sound of weeping reached me through the floor.
“Are you a kammer-junker?” a voice whispered in my ear. “That’s a very pleasant thing. But yet you are a reptile.”
“It’s all nonsense, nonsense, nonsense,” I muttered as I went downstairs. “Nonsense... and it’s nonsense, too, that I am actuated by vanity or a love of display.... What rubbish! Am I going to get a decoration for working for the peasants or be made the director of a department? Nonsense, nonsense! And who is there to show off to here in the country?”
I was tired, frightfully tired, and something kept whispering in my ear: “Very pleasant. But, still, you are a reptile.” For some reason I remembered a line out of an old poem I knew as a child: “How pleasant it is to be good!”
My wife was lying on the couch in the same attitude, on her face and with her hands clutching her head. She was crying. A maid was standing beside her with a perplexed and frightened face. I sent the maid away, laid the papers on the table, thought a moment and said:
“Here are all your papers, Natalie. It’s all in order, it’s all capital, and I am very much pleased. I am going away tomorrow.”
She went on crying. I went into the drawing-room and sat there in the dark. My wife’s sobs, her sighs, accused me of something, and to justify myself I remembered the whole of our quarrel, starting from my unhappy idea of inviting my wife to our consultation and ending with the exercise books and these tears. It was an ordinary attack of our conjugal hatred, senseless and unseemly, such as had been frequent during our married life, but what had the starving peasants to do with it? How could it have happened that they had become a bone of contention between us? It was just as though pursuing one another we had accidentally run up to the altar and had carried on a quarrel there.
“Natalie,” I said softly from the drawing-room, “hush, hush!”
To cut short her weeping and make an end of this agonizing state of affairs, I ought to have gone up to my wife and comforted her, caressed her, or apologized; but how could I do it so that she would believe me? How could I persuade the wild duck, living in captivity and hating me, that it was dear to me, and that I felt for its sufferings? I had never known my wife, so I had never known how to talk to her or what to talk about. Her appearance I knew very well and appreciated it as it deserved, but her spiritual, moral world, her mind, her outlook on life, her frequent changes of mood, her eyes full of hatred, her disdain, the scope and variety of her reading which sometimes struck me, or, for instance, the nun-like expression I had seen on her face the day before—all that was unknown and incomprehensible to me. When in my collisions with her I tried to define what sort of a person she was, my psychology went no farther than deciding that she was giddy, impractical, ill-tempered, guided by feminine logic; and it seemed to me that that was quite sufficient. But now that she was crying I had a passionate desire to know more.
The weeping ceased. I went up to my wife. She sat up on the couch, and, with her head propped in both hands, looked fixedly and dreamily at the fire.
“I am going away tomorrow morning,” I said.
She said nothing. I walked across the room, sighed, and said:
“Natalie, when you begged me to go away, you said: ‘I will forgive you everything, everything’.... So you think I have wronged you. I beg you calmly and in brief terms to formulate the wrong I’ve done you.”
“I am worn out. Afterwards, some time...” said my wife.
“How am I to blame?” I went on. “What have I done? Tell me: you are young and beautiful, you want to live, and I am nearly twice your age and hated by you, but is that my fault? I didn’t marry you by force. But if you want to live in freedom, go; I’ll give you your liberty. You can go and love whom you please.... I will give you a divorce.”
“That’s not what I want,” she said. “You know I used to love you and always thought of myself as older than you. That’s all nonsense.... You are not to blame for being older or for my being younger, or that I might be able to love some one else if I were free; but because you are a difficult person, an egoist, and hate every one.”
“Perhaps so. I don’t know,” I said.
“Please go away. You want to go on at me till the morning, but I warn you I am quite worn out and cannot answer you. You promised me to go to town. I am very grateful; I ask nothing more.”
My wife wanted me to go away, but it was not easy for me to do that. I was dispirited and I dreaded the big, cheerless, chill rooms that I was so weary of. Sometimes when I had an ache or a pain as a child, I used to huddle up to my mother or my nurse, and when I hid my face in the warm folds of their dress, it seemed to me as though I were hiding from the pain. And in the same way it seemed to me now that I could only hide from my uneasiness in this little room beside my wife. I sat down and screened away the light from my eyes with my hand.... There was a stillness.
“How are you to blame?” my wife said after a long silence, looking at me with red eyes that gleamed with tears. “You are very well educated and very well bred, very honest, just, and high-principled, but in you the effect of all that is that wherever you go you bring suffocation, oppression, something insulting and humiliating to the utmost degree. You have a straightforward way of looking at things, and so you hate the whole world. You hate those who have faith, because faith is an expression of ignorance and lack of culture, and at the same time you hate those who have no faith for having no faith and no ideals; you hate old people for being conservative and behind the times, and young people for free-thinking. The interests of the peasantry and of Russia are dear to you, and so you hate the peasants because you suspect every one of them of being a thief and a robber. You hate every one. You are just, and always take your stand on your legal rights, and so you are always at law with the peasants and your neighbours. You have had twenty bushels of rye stolen, and your love of order has made you complain of the peasants to the Governor and all the local authorities, and to send a complaint of the local authorities to Petersburg. Legal justice!” said my wife, and she laughed. “On the ground of your legal rights and in the interests of morality, you refuse to give me a passport. Law and morality is such that a self-respecting healthy young woman has to spend her life in idleness, in depression, and in continual apprehension, and to receive in return board and lodging from a man she does not love. You have a thorough knowledge of the law, you are very honest and just, you respect marriage and family life, and the effect of all that is that all your life you have not done one kind action, that every one hates you, that you are on bad terms with every one, and the seven years that you have been married you’ve only lived seven months with your wife. You’ve had no wife and I’ve had no husband. To live with a man like you is impossible; there is no way of doing it. In the early years I was frightened with you, and now I am ashamed.... That’s how my best years have been wasted. When I fought with you I ruined my temper, grew shrewish, coarse, timid, mistrustful.... Oh, but what’s the use of talking! As though you wanted to understand! Go upstairs, and God be with you!”
My wife lay down on the couch and sank into thought.
“And how splendid, how enviable life might have been!” she said softly, looking reflectively into the fire. “What a life it might have been! There’s no bringing it back now.”
Any one who has lived in the country in winter and knows those long dreary, still evenings when even the dogs are too bored to bark and even the clocks seem weary of ticking, and any one who on such evenings has been troubled by awakening conscience and has moved restlessly about, trying now to smother his conscience, now to interpret it, will understand the distraction and the pleasure my wife’s voice gave me as it sounded in the snug little room, telling me I was a bad man. I did not understand what was wanted of me by my conscience, and my wife, translating it in her feminine way, made clear to me in the meaning of my agitation. As often before in the moments of intense uneasiness, I guessed that the whole secret lay, not in the starving peasants, but in my not being the sort of a man I ought to be.
My wife got up with an effort and came up to me.
“Pavel Andreitch,” she said, smiling mournfully, “forgive me, I don’t believe you: you are not going away, but I will ask you one more favour. Call this”—she pointed to her papers—“self-deception, feminine logic, a mistake, as you like; but do not hinder me. It’s all that is left me in life.” She turned away and paused. “Before this I had nothing. I have wasted my youth in fighting with you. Now I have caught at this and am living; I am happy.... It seems to me that I have found in this a means of justifying my existence.”
“Natalie, you are a good woman, a woman of ideas,” I said, looking at my wife enthusiastically, “and everything you say and do is intelligent and fine.”
I walked about the room to conceal my emotion.
“Natalie,” I went on a minute later, “before I go away, I beg of you as a special favour, help me to do something for the starving peasants!”
“What can I do?” said my wife, shrugging her shoulders. “Here’s the subscription list.”
She rummaged among the papers and found the subscription list.
“Subscribe some money,” she said, and from her tone I could see that she did not attach great importance to her subscription list; “that is the only way in which you can take part in the work.”
I took the list and wrote: “Anonymous, 5,000.”
In this “anonymous” there was something wrong, false, conceited, but I only realized that when I noticed that my wife flushed very red and hurriedly thrust the list into the heap of papers. We both felt ashamed; I felt that I must at all costs efface this clumsiness at once, or else I should feel ashamed afterwards, in the train and at Petersburg. But how efface it? What was I to say?
“I fully approve of what you are doing, Natalie,” I said genuinely, “and I wish you every success. But allow me at parting to give you one piece of advice, Natalie; be on your guard with Sobol, and with your assistants generally, and don’t trust them blindly. I don’t say they are not honest, but they are not gentlefolks; they are people with no ideas, no ideals, no faith, with no aim in life, no definite principles, and the whole object of their life is comprised in the rouble. Rouble, rouble, rouble!” I sighed. “They are fond of getting money easily, for nothing, and in that respect the better educated they are the more they are to be dreaded.”
My wife went to the couch and lay down.
“Ideas,” she brought out, listlessly and reluctantly, “ideas, ideals, objects of life, principles....you always used to use those words when you wanted to insult or humiliate some one, or say something unpleasant. Yes, that’s your way: if with your views and such an attitude to people you are allowed to take part in anything, you would destroy it from the first day. It’s time you understand that.”
She sighed and paused.
“It’s coarseness of character, Pavel Andreitch,” she said. “You are well-bred and educated, but what a... Scythian you are in reality! That’s because you lead a cramped life full of hatred, see no one, and read nothing but your engineering books. And, you know, there are good people, good books! Yes... but I am exhausted and it wearies me to talk. I ought to be in bed.”
“So I am going away, Natalie,” I said.
“Yes... yes.... Merci....”
I stood still for a little while, then went upstairs. An hour later—it was half-past one—I went downstairs again with a candle in my hand to speak to my wife. I didn’t know what I was going to say to her, but I felt that I must say some thing very important and necessary. She was not in her study, the door leading to her bedroom was closed.
“Natalie, are you asleep?” I asked softly.
There was no answer.
I stood near the door, sighed, and went into the drawing-room. There I sat down on the sofa, put out the candle, and remained sitting in the dark till the dawn.


I went to the station at ten o’clock in the morning. There was no frost, but snow was falling in big wet flakes and an unpleasant damp wind was blowing.
We passed a pond and then a birch copse, and then began going uphill along the road which I could see from my window. I turned round to take a last look at my house, but I could see nothing for the snow. Soon afterwards dark huts came into sight ahead of us as in a fog. It was Pestrovo.
“If I ever go out of my mind, Pestrovo will be the cause of it,” I thought. “It persecutes me.”
We came out into the village street. All the roofs were intact, not one of them had been pulled to pieces; so my bailiff had told a lie. A boy was pulling along a little girl and a baby in a sledge. Another boy of three, with his head wrapped up like a peasant woman’s and with huge mufflers on his hands, was trying to catch the flying snowflakes on his tongue, and laughing. Then a wagon loaded with fagots came toward us and a peasant walking beside it, and there was no telling whether his beard was white or whether it was covered with snow. He recognized my coachman, smiled at him and said something, and mechanically took off his hat to me. The dogs ran out of the yards and looked inquisitively at my horses. Everything was quiet, ordinary, as usual. The emigrants had returned, there was no bread; in the huts “some were laughing, some were delirious”; but it all looked so ordinary that one could not believe it really was so. There were no distracted faces, no voices whining for help, no weeping, nor abuse, but all around was stillness, order, life, children, sledges, dogs with dishevelled tails. Neither the children nor the peasant we met were troubled; why was I so troubled?
Looking at the smiling peasant, at the boy with the huge mufflers, at the huts, remembering my wife, I realized there was no calamity that could daunt this people; I felt as though there were already a breath of victory in the air. I felt proud and felt ready to cry out that I was with them too; but the horses were carrying us away from the village into the open country, the snow was whirling, the wind was howling, and I was left alone with my thoughts. Of the million people working for the peasantry, life itself had cast me out as a useless, incompetent, bad man. I was a hindrance, a part of the people’s calamity; I was vanquished, cast out, and I was hurrying to the station to go away and hide myself in Petersburg in a hotel in Bolshaya Morskaya.
An hour later we reached the station. The coachman and a porter with a disc on his breast carried my trunks into the ladies’ room. My coachman Nikanor, wearing high felt boots and the skirt of his coat tucked up through his belt, all wet with the snow and glad I was going away, gave me a friendly smile and said:
“A fortunate journey, your Excellency. God give you luck.”
Every one, by the way, calls me “your Excellency,” though I am only a collegiate councillor and a kammer-junker. The porter told me the train had not yet left the next station; I had to wait. I went outside, and with my head heavy from my sleepless night, and so exhausted I could hardly move my legs, I walked aimlessly towards the pump. There was not a soul anywhere near.
“Why am I going?” I kept asking myself. “What is there awaiting me there? The acquaintances from whom I have come away, loneliness, restaurant dinners, noise, the electric light, which makes my eyes ache. Where am I going, and what am I going for? What am I going for?”
And it seemed somehow strange to go away without speaking to my wife. I felt that I was leaving her in uncertainty. Going away, I ought to have told that she was right, that I really was a bad man.
When I turned away from the pump, I saw in the doorway the station-master, of whom I had twice made complaints to his superiors, turning up the collar of his coat, shrinking from the wind and the snow. He came up to me, and putting two fingers to the peak of his cap, told me with an expression of helpless confusion, strained respectfulness, and hatred on his face, that the train was twenty minutes late, and asked me would I not like to wait in the warm?
“Thank you,” I answered, “but I am probably not going. Send word to my coachman to wait; I have not made up my mind.”
I walked to and fro on the platform and thought, should I go away or not? When the train came in I decided not to go. At home I had to expect my wife’s amazement and perhaps her mockery, the dismal upper storey and my uneasiness; but, still, at my age that was easier and as it were more homelike than travelling for two days and nights with strangers to Petersburg, where I should be conscious every minute that my life was of no use to any one or to anything, and that it was approaching its end. No, better at home whatever awaited me there.... I went out of the station. It was awkward by daylight to return home, where every one was so glad at my going. I might spend the rest of the day till evening at some neighbour’s, but with whom? With some of them I was on strained relations, others I did not know at all. I considered and thought of Ivan Ivanitch.
“We are going to Bragino!” I said to the coachman, getting into the sledge.
“It’s a long way,” sighed Nikanor; “it will be twenty miles, or maybe twenty-five.”
“Oh, please, my dear fellow,” I said in a tone as though Nikanor had the right to refuse. “Please let us go!”
Nikanor shook his head doubtfully and said slowly that we really ought to have put in the shafts, not Circassian, but Peasant or Siskin; and uncertainly, as though expecting I should change my mind, took the reins in his gloves, stood up, thought a moment, and then raised his whip.
“A whole series of inconsistent actions...” I thought, screening my face from the snow. “I must have gone out of my mind. Well, I don’t care....”
In one place, on a very high and steep slope, Nikanor carefully held the horses in to the middle of the descent, but in the middle the horses suddenly bolted and dashed downhill at a fearful rate; he raised his elbows and shouted in a wild, frantic voice such as I had never heard from him before:
“Hey! Let’s give the general a drive! If you come to grief he’ll buy new ones, my darlings! Hey! look out! We’ll run you down!”
Only now, when the extraordinary pace we were going at took my breath away, I noticed that he was very drunk. He must have been drinking at the station. At the bottom of the descent there was the crash of ice; a piece of dirty frozen snow thrown up from the road hit me a painful blow in the face.
The runaway horses ran up the hill as rapidly as they had downhill, and before I had time to shout to Nikanor my sledge was flying along on the level in an old pine forest, and the tall pines were stretching out their shaggy white paws to me from all directions.
“I have gone out of my mind, and the coachman’s drunk,” I thought. “Good!”
I found Ivan Ivanitch at home. He laughed till he coughed, laid his head on my breast, and said what he always did say on meeting me:
“You grow younger and younger. I don’t know what dye you use for your hair and your beard; you might give me some of it.”
“I’ve come to return your call, Ivan Ivanitch,” I said untruthfully. “Don’t be hard on me; I’m a townsman, conventional; I do keep count of calls.”
“I am delighted, my dear fellow. I am an old man; I like respect.... Yes.”
From his voice and his blissfully smiling face, I could see that he was greatly flattered by my visit. Two peasant women helped me off with my coat in the entry, and a peasant in a red shirt hung it on a hook, and when Ivan Ivanitch and I went into his little study, two barefooted little girls were sitting on the floor looking at a picture-book; when they saw us they jumped up and ran away, and a tall, thin old woman in spectacles came in at once, bowed gravely to me, and picking up a pillow from the sofa and a picture-book from the floor, went away. From the adjoining rooms we heard incessant whispering and the patter of bare feet.
“I am expecting the doctor to dinner,” said Ivan Ivanitch. “He promised to come from the relief centre. Yes. He dines with me every Wednesday, God bless him.” He craned towards me and kissed me on the neck. “You have come, my dear fellow, so you are not vexed,” he whispered, sniffing. “Don’t be vexed, my dear creature. Yes. Perhaps it is annoying, but don’t be cross. My only prayer to God before I die is to live in peace and harmony with all in the true way. Yes.”
“Forgive me, Ivan Ivanitch, I will put my feet on a chair,” I said, feeling that I was so exhausted I could not be myself; I sat further back on the sofa and put up my feet on an arm-chair. My face was burning from the snow and the wind, and I felt as though my whole body were basking in the warmth and growing weaker from it.
“It’s very nice here,” I went on—“warm, soft, snug... and goose-feather pens,” I laughed, looking at the writing-table; “sand instead of blotting-paper.”
“Eh? Yes... yes.... The writing-table and the mahogany cupboard here were made for my father by a self-taught cabinet-maker—Glyeb Butyga, a serf of General Zhukov’s. Yes... a great artist in his own way.”
Listlessly and in the tone of a man dropping asleep, he began telling me about cabinet-maker Butyga. I listened. Then Ivan Ivanitch went into the next room to show me a polisander wood chest of drawers remarkable for its beauty and cheapness. He tapped the chest with his fingers, then called my attention to a stove of patterned tiles, such as one never sees now. He tapped the stove, too, with his fingers. There was an atmosphere of good-natured simplicity and well-fed abundance about the chest of drawers, the tiled stove, the low chairs, the pictures embroidered in wool and silk on canvas in solid, ugly frames. When one remembers that all those objects were standing in the same places and precisely in the same order when I was a little child, and used to come here to name-day parties with my mother, it is simply unbelievable that they could ever cease to exist.
I thought what a fearful difference between Butyga and me! Butyga who made things, above all, solidly and substantially, and seeing in that his chief object, gave to length of life peculiar significance, had no thought of death, and probably hardly believed in its possibility; I, when I built my bridges of iron and stone which would last a thousand years, could not keep from me the thought, “It’s not for long....it’s no use.” If in time Butyga’s cupboard and my bridge should come under the notice of some sensible historian of art, he would say: “These were two men remarkable in their own way: Butyga loved his fellow-creatures and would not admit the thought that they might die and be annihilated, and so when he made his furniture he had the immortal man in his mind. The engineer Asorin did not love life or his fellow-creatures; even in the happy moments of creation, thoughts of death, of finiteness and dissolution, were not alien to him, and we see how insignificant and finite, how timid and poor, are these lines of his....”
“I only heat these rooms,” muttered Ivan Ivanitch, showing me his rooms. “Ever since my wife died and my son was killed in the war, I have kept the best rooms shut up. Yes... see...”
He opened a door, and I saw a big room with four columns, an old piano, and a heap of peas on the floor; it smelt cold and damp.
“The garden seats are in the next room...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch. “There’s no one to dance the mazurka now.... I’ve shut them up.”
We heard a noise. It was Dr. Sobol arriving. While he was rubbing his cold hands and stroking his wet beard, I had time to notice in the first place that he had a very dull life, and so was pleased to see Ivan Ivanitch and me; and, secondly, that he was a naive and simple-hearted man. He looked at me as though I were very glad to see him and very much interested in him.
“I have not slept for two nights,” he said, looking at me naively and stroking his beard. “One night with a confinement, and the next I stayed at a peasant’s with the bugs biting me all night. I am as sleepy as Satan, do you know.”
With an expression on his face as though it could not afford me anything but pleasure, he took me by the arm and led me to the dining-room. His naive eyes, his crumpled coat, his cheap tie and the smell of iodoform made an unpleasant impression upon me; I felt as though I were in vulgar company. When we sat down to table he filled my glass with vodka, and, smiling helplessly, I drank it; he put a piece of ham on my plate and I ate it submissively.
Repetitia est mater studiorum,” said Sobol, hastening to drink off another wineglassful. “Would you believe it, the joy of seeing good people has driven away my sleepiness? I have turned into a peasant, a savage in the wilds; I’ve grown coarse, but I am still an educated man, and I tell you in good earnest, it’s tedious without company.”
They served first for a cold course white sucking-pig with horse-radish cream, then a rich and very hot cabbage soup with pork on it, with boiled buckwheat, from which rose a column of steam. The doctor went on talking, and I was soon convinced that he was a weak, unfortunate man, disorderly in external life. Three glasses of vodka made him drunk; he grew unnaturally lively, ate a great deal, kept clearing his throat and smacking his lips, and already addressed me in Italian, “Eccellenza.” Looking naively at me as though he were convinced that I was very glad to see and hear him, he informed me that he had long been separated from his wife and gave her three-quarters of his salary; that she lived in the town with his children, a boy and a girl, whom he adored; that he loved another woman, a widow, well educated, with an estate in the country, but was rarely able to see her, as he was busy with his work from morning till night and had not a free moment.
“The whole day long, first at the hospital, then on my rounds,” he told us; “and I assure you, Eccellenza, I have not time to read a book, let alone going to see the woman I love. I’ve read nothing for ten years! For ten years, Eccellenza. As for the financial side of the question, ask Ivan Ivanitch: I have often no money to buy tobacco.”
“On the other hand, you have the moral satisfaction of your work,” I said.
“What?” he asked, and he winked. “No,” he said, “better let us drink.”
I listened to the doctor, and, after my invariable habit, tried to take his measure by my usual classification—materialist, idealist, filthy lucre, gregarious instincts, and so on; but no classification fitted him even approximately; and strange to say, while I simply listened and looked at him, he seemed perfectly clear to me as a person, but as soon as I began trying to classify him he became an exceptionally complex, intricate, and incomprehensible character in spite of all his candour and simplicity. “Is that man,” I asked myself, “capable of wasting other people’s money, abusing their confidence, being disposed to sponge on them?” And now this question, which had once seemed to me grave and important, struck me as crude, petty, and coarse.
Pie was served; then, I remember, with long intervals between, during which we drank home-made liquors, they gave us a stew of pigeons, some dish of giblets, roast sucking-pig, partridges, cauliflower, curd dumplings, curd cheese and milk, jelly, and finally pancakes and jam. At first I ate with great relish, especially the cabbage soup and the buckwheat, but afterwards I munched and swallowed mechanically, smiling helplessly and unconscious of the taste of anything. My face was burning from the hot cabbage soup and the heat of the room. Ivan Ivanitch and Sobol, too, were crimson.
“To the health of your wife,” said Sobol. “She likes me. Tell her her doctor sends her his respects.”
“She’s fortunate, upon my word,” sighed Ivan Ivanitch. “Though she takes no trouble, does not fuss or worry herself, she has become the most important person in the whole district. Almost the whole business is in her hands, and they all gather round her, the doctor, the District Captains, and the ladies. With people of the right sort that happens of itself. Yes.... The apple-tree need take no thought for the apple to grow on it; it will grow of itself.”
“It’s only people who don’t care who take no thought,” said I.
“Eh? Yes...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch, not catching what I said, “that’s true.... One must not worry oneself. Just so, just so.... Only do your duty towards God and your neighbour, and then never mind what happens.”
“Eccellenza,” said Sobol solemnly, “just look at nature about us: if you poke your nose or your ear out of your fur collar it will be frost-bitten; stay in the fields for one hour, you’ll be buried in the snow; while the village is just the same as in the days of Rurik, the same Petchenyegs and Polovtsi. It’s nothing but being burnt down, starving, and struggling against nature in every way. What was I saying? Yes! If one thinks about it, you know, looks into it and analyses all this hotchpotch, if you will allow me to call it so, it’s not life but more like a fire in a theatre! Any one who falls down or screams with terror, or rushes about, is the worst enemy of good order; one must stand up and look sharp, and not stir a hair! There’s no time for whimpering and busying oneself with trifles. When you have to deal with elemental forces you must put out force against them, be firm and as unyielding as a stone. Isn’t that right, grandfather?” He turned to Ivan Ivanitch and laughed. “I am no better than a woman myself; I am a limp rag, a flabby creature, so I hate flabbiness. I can’t endure petty feelings! One mopes, another is frightened, a third will come straight in here and say: ‘Fie on you! Here you’ve guzzled a dozen courses and you talk about the starving!’ That’s petty and stupid! A fourth will reproach you, Eccellenza, for being rich. Excuse me, Eccellenza,” he went on in a loud voice, laying his hand on his heart, “but your having set our magistrate the task of hunting day and night for your thieves—excuse me, that’s also petty on your part. I am a little drunk, so that’s why I say this now, but you know, it is petty!”
“Who’s asking him to worry himself? I don’t understand!” I said, getting up.
I suddenly felt unbearably ashamed and mortified, and I walked round the table.
“Who asks him to worry himself? I didn’t ask him to.... Damn him!”
“They have arrested three men and let them go again. They turned out not to be the right ones, and now they are looking for a fresh lot,” said Sobol, laughing. “It’s too bad!”
“I did not ask him to worry himself,” said I, almost crying with excitement. “What’s it all for? What’s it all for? Well, supposing I was wrong, supposing I have done wrong, why do they try to put me more in the wrong?”
“Come, come, come, come!” said Sobol, trying to soothe me. “Come! I have had a drop, that is why I said it. My tongue is my enemy. Come,” he sighed, “we have eaten and drunk wine, and now for a nap.”
He got up from the table, kissed Ivan Ivanitch on the head, and staggering from repletion, went out of the dining-room. Ivan Ivanitch and I smoked in silence.
“I don’t sleep after dinner, my dear,” said Ivan Ivanitch, “but you have a rest in the lounge-room.”
I agreed. In the half-dark and warmly heated room they called the lounge-room, there stood against the walls long, wide sofas, solid and heavy, the work of Butyga the cabinet maker; on them lay high, soft, white beds, probably made by the old woman in spectacles. On one of them Sobol, without his coat and boots, already lay asleep with his face to the back of the sofa; another bed was awaiting me. I took off my coat and boots, and, overcome by fatigue, by the spirit of Butyga which hovered over the quiet lounge-room, and by the light, caressing snore of Sobol, I lay down submissively.
And at once I began dreaming of my wife, of her room, of the station-master with his face full of hatred, the heaps of snow, a fire in the theatre. I dreamed of the peasants who had stolen twenty sacks of rye out of my barn.
“Anyway, it’s a good thing the magistrate let them go,” I said.
I woke up at the sound of my own voice, looked for a moment in perplexity at Sobol’s broad back, at the buckles of his waistcoat, at his thick heels, then lay down again and fell asleep.
When I woke up the second time it was quite dark. Sobol was asleep. There was peace in my heart, and I longed to make haste home. I dressed and went out of the lounge-room. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting in a big arm-chair in his study, absolutely motionless, staring at a fixed point, and it was evident that he had been in the same state of petrifaction all the while I had been asleep.
“Good!” I said, yawning. “I feel as though I had woken up after breaking the fast at Easter. I shall often come and see you now. Tell me, did my wife ever dine here?”
“So-ome-ti-mes... sometimes,”’ muttered Ivan Ivanitch, making an effort to stir. “She dined here last Saturday. Yes.... She likes me.”
After a silence I said:
“Do you remember, Ivan Ivanitch, you told me I had a disagreeable character and that it was difficult to get on with me? But what am I to do to make my character different?”
“I don’t know, my dear boy.... I’m a feeble old man, I can’t advise you.... Yes.... But I said that to you at the time because I am fond of you and fond of your wife, and I was fond of your father.... Yes. I shall soon die, and what need have I to conceal things from you or to tell you lies? So I tell you: I am very fond of you, but I don’t respect you. No, I don’t respect you.”
He turned towards me and said in a breathless whisper:
“It’s impossible to respect you, my dear fellow. You look like a real man. You have the figure and deportment of the French President Carnot—I saw a portrait of him the other day in an illustrated paper... yes.... You use lofty language, and you are clever, and you are high up in the service beyond all reach, but haven’t real soul, my dear boy... there’s no strength in it.”
“A Scythian, in fact,” I laughed. “But what about my wife? Tell me something about my wife; you know her better.”
I wanted to talk about my wife, but Sobol came in and prevented me.
“I’ve had a sleep and a wash,” he said, looking at me naively. “I’ll have a cup of tea with some rum in it and go home.”


It was by now past seven. Besides Ivan Ivanitch, women servants, the old dame in spectacles, the little girls and the peasant, all accompanied us from the hall out on to the steps, wishing us good-bye and all sorts of blessings, while near the horses in the darkness there were standing and moving about men with lanterns, telling our coachmen how and which way to drive, and wishing us a lucky journey. The horses, the men, and the sledges were white.
“Where do all these people come from?” I asked as my three horses and the doctor’s two moved at a walking pace out of the yard.
“They are all his serfs,” said Sobol. “The new order has not reached him yet. Some of the old servants are living out their lives with him, and then there are orphans of all sorts who have nowhere to go; there are some, too, who insist on living there, there’s no turning them out. A queer old man!”
Again the flying horses, the strange voice of drunken Nikanor, the wind and the persistent snow, which got into one’s eyes, one’s mouth, and every fold of one’s fur coat....
“Well, I am running a rig,” I thought, while my bells chimed in with the doctor’s, the wind whistled, the coachmen shouted; and while this frantic uproar was going on, I recalled all the details of that strange wild day, unique in my life, and it seemed to me that I really had gone out of my mind or become a different man. It was as though the man I had been till that day were already a stranger to me.
The doctor drove behind and kept talking loudly with his coachman. From time to time he overtook me, drove side by side, and always, with the same naive confidence that it was very pleasant to me, offered me a cigarette or asked for the matches. Or, overtaking me, he would lean right out of his sledge, and waving about the sleeves of his fur coat, which were at least twice as long as his arms, shout:
“Go it, Vaska! Beat the thousand roublers! Hey, my kittens!”
And to the accompaniment of loud, malicious laughter from Sobol and his Vaska the doctor’s kittens raced ahead. My Nikanor took it as an affront, and held in his three horses, but when the doctor’s bells had passed out of hearing, he raised his elbows, shouted, and our horses flew like mad in pursuit. We drove into a village, there were glimpses of lights, the silhouettes of huts. Some one shouted:
“Ah, the devils!” We seemed to have galloped a mile and a half, and still it was the village street and there seemed no end to it. When we caught up the doctor and drove more quietly, he asked for matches and said:
“Now try and feed that street! And, you know, there are five streets like that, sir. Stay, stay,” he shouted. “Turn in at the tavern! We must get warm and let the horses rest.”
They stopped at the tavern.
“I have more than one village like that in my district,” said the doctor, opening a heavy door with a squeaky block, and ushering me in front of him. “If you look in broad daylight you can’t see to the end of the street, and there are side-streets, too, and one can do nothing but scratch one’s head. It’s hard to do anything.”
We went into the best room where there was a strong smell of table-cloths, and at our entrance a sleepy peasant in a waistcoat and a shirt worn outside his trousers jumped up from a bench. Sobol asked for some beer and I asked for tea.
“It’s hard to do anything,” said Sobol. “Your wife has faith; I respect her and have the greatest reverence for her, but I have no great faith myself. As long as our relations to the people continue to have the character of ordinary philanthropy, as shown in orphan asylums and almshouses, so long we shall only be shuffling, shamming, and deceiving ourselves, and nothing more. Our relations ought to be businesslike, founded on calculation, knowledge, and justice. My Vaska has been working for me all his life; his crops have failed, he is sick and starving. If I give him fifteen kopecks a day, by so doing I try to restore him to his former condition as a workman; that is, I am first and foremost looking after my own interests, and yet for some reason I call that fifteen kopecks relief, charity, good works. Now let us put it like this. On the most modest computation, reckoning seven kopecks a soul and five souls a family, one needs three hundred and fifty roubles a day to feed a thousand families. That sum is fixed by our practical duty to a thousand families. Meanwhile we give not three hundred and fifty a day, but only ten, and say that that is relief, charity, that that makes your wife and all of us exceptionally good people and hurrah for our humaneness. That is it, my dear soul! Ah! if we would talk less of being humane and calculated more, reasoned, and took a conscientious attitude to our duties! How many such humane, sensitive people there are among us who tear about in all good faith with subscription lists, but don’t pay their tailors or their cooks. There is no logic in our life; that’s what it is! No logic!”
We were silent for a while. I was making a mental calculation and said:
“I will feed a thousand families for two hundred days. Come and see me tomorrow to talk it over.”
I was pleased that this was said quite simply, and was glad that Sobol answered me still more simply:
We paid for what we had and went out of the tavern.
“I like going on like this,” said Sobol, getting into the sledge. “Eccellenza, oblige me with a match. I’ve forgotten mine in the tavern.”
A quarter of an hour later his horses fell behind, and the sound of his bells was lost in the roar of the snow-storm. Reaching home, I walked about my rooms, trying to think things over and to define my position clearly to myself; I had not one word, one phrase, ready for my wife. My brain was not working.
But without thinking of anything, I went downstairs to my wife. She was in her room, in the same pink dressing-gown, and standing in the same attitude as though screening her papers from me. On her face was an expression of perplexity and irony, and it was evident that having heard of my arrival, she had prepared herself not to cry, not to entreat me, not to defend herself, as she had done the day before, but to laugh at me, to answer me contemptuously, and to act with decision. Her face was saying: “If that’s how it is, good-bye.”
“Natalie, I’ve not gone away,” I said, “but it’s not deception. I have gone out of my mind; I’ve grown old, I’m ill, I’ve become a different man—think as you like.... I’ve shaken off my old self with horror, with horror; I despise him and am ashamed of him, and the new man who has been in me since yesterday will not let me go away. Do not drive me away, Natalie!”
She looked intently into my face and believed me, and there was a gleam of uneasiness in her eyes. Enchanted by her presence, warmed by the warmth of her room, I muttered as in delirium, holding out my hands to her:
“I tell you, I have no one near to me but you. I have never for one minute ceased to miss you, and only obstinate vanity prevented me from owning it. The past, when we lived as husband and wife, cannot be brought back, and there’s no need; but make me your servant, take all my property, and give it away to any one you like. I am at peace, Natalie, I am content.... I am at peace.”
My wife, looking intently and with curiosity into my face, suddenly uttered a faint cry, burst into tears, and ran into the next room. I went upstairs to my own storey.
An hour later I was sitting at my table, writing my “History of Railways,” and the starving peasants did not now hinder me from doing so. Now I feel no uneasiness. Neither the scenes of disorder which I saw when I went the round of the huts at Pestrovo with my wife and Sobol the other day, nor malignant rumours, nor the mistakes of the people around me, nor old age close upon me—nothing disturbs me. Just as the flying bullets do not hinder soldiers from talking of their own affairs, eating and cleaning their boots, so the starving peasants do not hinder me from sleeping quietly and looking after my personal affairs. In my house and far around it there is in full swing the work which Dr. Sobol calls “an orgy of philanthropy.” My wife often comes up to me and looks about my rooms uneasily, as though looking for what more she can give to the starving peasants “to justify her existence,” and I see that, thanks to her, there will soon be nothing of our property left and we shall be poor; but that does not trouble me, and I smile at her gaily. What will happen in the future I don’t know.


My Friend’s Story

DMITRI PETROVITCH SILIN had taken his degree and entered the government service in Petersburg, but at thirty he gave up his post and went in for agriculture. His farming was fairly successful, and yet it always seemed to me that he was not in his proper place, and that he would do well to go back to Petersburg. When sunburnt, grey with dust, exhausted with toil, he met me near the gates or at the entrance, and then at supper struggled with sleepiness and his wife took him off to bed as though he were a baby; or when, overcoming his sleepiness, he began in his soft, cordial, almost imploring voice, to talk about his really excellent ideas, I saw him not as a farmer nor an agriculturist, but only as a worried and exhausted man, and it was clear to me that he did not really care for farming, but that all he wanted was for the day to be over and “Thank God for it.”
I liked to be with him, and I used to stay on his farm for two or three days at a time. I liked his house, and his park, and his big fruit garden, and the river—and his philosophy, which was clear, though rather spiritless and rhetorical. I suppose I was fond of him on his own account, though I can’t say that for certain, as I have not up to now succeeded in analysing my feelings at that time. He was an intelligent, kind-hearted, genuine man, and not a bore, but I remember that when he confided to me his most treasured secrets and spoke of our relation to each other as friendship, it disturbed me unpleasantly, and I was conscious of awkwardness. In his affection for me there was something inappropriate, tiresome, and I should have greatly preferred commonplace friendly relations.
The fact is that I was extremely attracted by his wife, Marya Sergeyevna. I was not in love with her, but I was attracted by her face, her eyes, her voice, her walk. I missed her when I did not see her for a long time, and my imagination pictured no one at that time so eagerly as that young, beautiful, elegant woman. I had no definite designs in regard to her, and did not dream of anything of the sort, yet for some reason, whenever we were left alone, I remembered that her husband looked upon me as his friend, and I felt awkward. When she played my favourite pieces on the piano or told me something interesting, I listened with pleasure, and yet at the same time for some reason the reflection that she loved her husband, that he was my friend, and that she herself looked upon me as his friend, obtruded themselves upon me, my spirits flagged, and I became listless, awkward, and dull. She noticed this change and would usually say:
“You are dull without your friend. We must send out to the fields for him.”
And when Dmitri Petrovitch came in, she would say:
“Well, here is your friend now. Rejoice.”
So passed a year and a half.
It somehow happened one July Sunday that Dmitri Petrovitch and I, having nothing to do, drove to the big village of Klushino to buy things for supper. While we were going from one shop to another the sun set and the evening came on—the evening which I shall probably never forget in my life. After buying cheese that smelt like soap, and petrified sausages that smelt of tar, we went to the tavern to ask whether they had any beer. Our coachman went off to the blacksmith to get our horses shod, and we told him we would wait for him near the church. We walked, talked, laughed over our purchases, while a man who was known in the district by a very strange nickname, “Forty Martyrs,” followed us all the while in silence with a mysterious air like a detective. This Forty Martyrs was no other than Gavril Syeverov, or more simply Gavryushka, who had been for a short time in my service as a footman and had been dismissed by me for drunkenness. He had been in Dmitri Petrovitch’s service, too, and by him had been dismissed for the same vice. He was an inveterate drunkard, and indeed his whole life was as drunk and disorderly as himself. His father had been a priest and his mother of noble rank, so by birth he belonged to the privileged class; but however carefully I scrutinized his exhausted, respectful, and always perspiring face, his red beard now turning grey, his pitifully torn reefer jacket and his red shirt, I could not discover in him the faintest trace of anything we associate with privilege. He spoke of himself as a man of education, and used to say that he had been in a clerical school, but had not finished his studies there, as he had been expelled for smoking; then he had sung in the bishop’s choir and lived for two years in a monastery, from which he was also expelled, but this time not for smoking but for “his weakness.” He had walked all over two provinces, had presented petitions to the Consistory, and to various government offices, and had been four times on his trial. At last, being stranded in our district, he had served as a footman, as a forester, as a kennelman, as a sexton, had married a cook who was a widow and rather a loose character, and had so hopelessly sunk into a menial position, and had grown so used to filth and dirt, that he even spoke of his privileged origin with a certain scepticism, as of some myth. At the time I am describing, he was hanging about without a job, calling himself a carrier and a huntsman, and his wife had disappeared and made no sign.
From the tavern we went to the church and sat in the porch, waiting for the coachman. Forty Martyrs stood a little way off and put his hand before his mouth in order to cough in it respectfully if need be. By now it was dark; there was a strong smell of evening dampness, and the moon was on the point of rising. There were only two clouds in the clear starry sky exactly over our heads: one big one and one smaller; alone in the sky they were racing after one another like mother and child, in the direction where the sunset was glowing.
“What a glorious day!” said Dmitri Petrovitch.
“In the extreme . . .” Forty Martyrs assented, and he coughed respectfully into his hand. “How was it, Dmitri Petrovitch, you thought to visit these parts?” he asked in an ingratiating voice, evidently anxious to get up a conversation.
Dmitri Petrovitch made no answer. Forty Martyrs heaved a deep sigh and said softly, not looking at us:
“I suffer solely through a cause to which I must answer to Almighty God. No doubt about it, I am a hopeless and incompetent man; but believe me, on my conscience, I am without a crust of bread and worse off than a dog. . . . Forgive me, Dmitri Petrovitch.”
Silin was not listening, but sat musing with his head propped on his fists. The church stood at the end of the street on the high river-bank, and through the trellis gate of the enclosure we could see the river, the water-meadows on the near side of it, and the crimson glare of a camp fire about which black figures of men and horses were moving. And beyond the fire, further away, there were other lights, where there was a little village. They were singing there. On the river, and here and there on the meadows, a mist was rising. High narrow coils of mist, thick and white as milk, were trailing over the river, hiding the reflection of the stars and hovering over the willows. Every minute they changed their form, and it seemed as though some were embracing, others were bowing, others lifting up their arms to heaven with wide sleeves like priests, as though they were praying. . . . Probably they reminded Dmitri Petrovitch of ghosts and of the dead, for he turned facing me and asked with a mournful smile:
“Tell me, my dear fellow, why is it that when we want to tell some terrible, mysterious, and fantastic story, we draw our material, not from life, but invariably from the world of ghosts and of the shadows beyond the grave.”
“We are frightened of what we don’t understand.”
“And do you understand life? Tell me: do you understand life better than the world beyond the grave?”
Dmitri Petrovitch was sitting quite close to me, so that I felt his breath upon my cheek. In the evening twilight his pale, lean face seemed paler than ever and his dark beard was black as soot. His eyes were sad, truthful, and a little frightened, as though he were about to tell me something horrible. He looked into my eyes and went on in his habitual imploring voice:
“Our life and the life beyond the grave are equally incomprehensible and horrible. If any one is afraid of ghosts he ought to be afraid, too, of me, and of those lights and of the sky, seeing that, if you come to reflect, all that is no less fantastic and beyond our grasp than apparitions from the other world. Prince Hamlet did not kill himself because he was afraid of the visions that might haunt his dreams after death. I like that famous soliloquy of his, but, to be candid, it never touched my soul. I will confess to you as a friend that in moments of depression I have sometimes pictured to myself the hour of my death. My fancy invented thousands of the gloomiest visions, and I have succeeded in working myself up to an agonizing exaltation, to a state of nightmare, and I assure you that that did not seem to me more terrible than reality. What I mean is, apparitions are terrible, but life is terrible, too. I don’t understand life and I am afraid of it, my dear boy; I don’t know. Perhaps I am a morbid person, unhinged. It seems to a sound, healthy man that he understands everything he sees and hears, but that ‘seeming’ is lost to me, and from day to day I am poisoning myself with terror. There is a disease, the fear of open spaces, but my disease is the fear of life. When I lie on the grass and watch a little beetle which was born yesterday and understands nothing, it seems to me that its life consists of nothing else but fear, and in it I see myself.”
“What is it exactly you are frightened of?” I asked.
“I am afraid of everything. I am not by nature a profound thinker, and I take little interest in such questions as the life beyond the grave, the destiny of humanity, and, in fact, I am rarely carried away to the heights. What chiefly frightens me is the common routine of life from which none of us can escape. I am incapable of distinguishing what is true and what is false in my actions, and they worry me. I recognize that education and the conditions of life have imprisoned me in a narrow circle of falsity, that my whole life is nothing else than a daily effort to deceive myself and other people, and to avoid noticing it; and I am frightened at the thought that to the day of my death I shall not escape from this falsity. To-day I do something and to-morrow I do not understand why I did it. I entered the service in Petersburg and took fright; I came here to work on the land, and here, too, I am frightened. . . . I see that we know very little and so make mistakes every day. We are unjust, we slander one another and spoil each other’s lives, we waste all our powers on trash which we do not need and which hinders us from living; and that frightens me, because I don’t understand why and for whom it is necessary. I don’t understand men, my dear fellow, and I am afraid of them. It frightens me to look at the peasants, and I don’t know for what higher objects they are suffering and what they are living for. If life is an enjoyment, then they are unnecessary, superfluous people; if the object and meaning of life is to be found in poverty and unending, hopeless ignorance, I can’t understand for whom and what this torture is necessary. I understand no one and nothing. Kindly try to understand this specimen, for instance,” said Dmitri Petrovitch, pointing to Forty Martyrs. “Think of him!”
Noticing that we were looking at him, Forty Martyrs coughed deferentially into his fist and said:
“I was always a faithful servant with good masters, but the great trouble has been spirituous liquor. If a poor fellow like me were shown consideration and given a place, I would kiss the ikon. My word’s my bond.”
The sexton walked by, looked at us in amazement, and began pulling the rope. The bell, abruptly breaking upon the stillness of the evening, struck ten with a slow and prolonged note.
“It’s ten o’clock, though,” said Dmitri Petrovitch. “It’s time we were going. Yes, my dear fellow,” he sighed, “if only you knew how afraid I am of my ordinary everyday thoughts, in which one would have thought there should be nothing dreadful. To prevent myself thinking I distract my mind with work and try to tire myself out that I may sleep sound at night. Children, a wife—all that seems ordinary with other people; but how that weighs upon me, my dear fellow!”
He rubbed his face with his hands, cleared his throat, and laughed.
“If I could only tell you how I have played the fool in my life!” he said. “They all tell me that I have a sweet wife, charming children, and that I am a good husband and father. They think I am very happy and envy me. But since it has come to that, I will tell you in secret: my happy family life is only a grievous misunderstanding, and I am afraid of it.” His pale face was distorted by a wry smile. He put his arm round my waist and went on in an undertone:
“You are my true friend; I believe in you and have a deep respect for you. Heaven gave us friendship that we may open our hearts and escape from the secrets that weigh upon us. Let me take advantage of your friendly feeling for me and tell you the whole truth. My home life, which seems to you so enchanting, is my chief misery and my chief terror. I got married in a strange and stupid way. I must tell you that I was madly in love with Masha before I married her, and was courting her for two years. I asked her to marry me five times, and she refused me because she did not care for me in the least. The sixth, when burning with passion I crawled on my knees before her and implored her to take a beggar and marry me, she consented. . . . What she said to me was: ‘I don’t love you, but I will be true to you. . . .’ I accepted that condition with rapture. At the time I understood what that meant, but I swear to God I don’t understand it now. ‘I don’t love you, but I will be true to you.’ What does that mean? It’s a fog, a darkness. I love her now as intensely as I did the day we were married, while she, I believe, is as indifferent as ever, and I believe she is glad when I go away from home. I don’t know for certain whether she cares for me or not —I don’t know, I don’t know; but, as you see, we live under the same roof, call each other ‘thou,’ sleep together, have children, our property is in common. . . . What does it mean, what does it mean? What is the object of it? And do you understand it at all, my dear fellow? It’s cruel torture! Because I don’t understand our relations, I hate, sometimes her, sometimes myself, sometimes both at once. Everything is in a tangle in my brain; I torment myself and grow stupid. And as though to spite me, she grows more beautiful every day, she is getting more wonderful. . . I fancy her hair is marvellous, and her smile is like no other woman’s. I love her, and I know that my love is hopeless. Hopeless love for a woman by whom one has two children! Is that intelligible? And isn’t it terrible? Isn’t it more terrible than ghosts?”
He was in the mood to have talked on a good deal longer, but luckily we heard the coachman’s voice. Our horses had arrived. We got into the carriage, and Forty Martyrs, taking off his cap, helped us both into the carriage with an expression that suggested that he had long been waiting for an opportunity to come in contact with our precious persons.
“Dmitri Petrovitch, let me come to you,” he said, blinking furiously and tilting his head on one side. “Show divine mercy! I am dying of hunger!”
“Very well,” said Silin. “Come, you shall stay three days, and then we shall see.”
“Certainly, sir,” said Forty Martyrs, overjoyed. “I’ll come today, sir.”
It was a five miles’ drive home. Dmitri Petrovitch, glad that he had at last opened his heart to his friend, kept his arm round my waist all the way; and speaking now, not with bitterness and not with apprehension, but quite cheerfully, told me that if everything had been satisfactory in his home life, he should have returned to Petersburg and taken up scientific work there. The movement which had driven so many gifted young men into the country was, he said, a deplorable movement. We had plenty of rye and wheat in Russia, but absolutely no cultured people. The strong and gifted among the young ought to take up science, art, and politics; to act otherwise meant being wasteful. He generalized with pleasure and expressed regret that he would be parting from me early next morning, as he had to go to a sale of timber.
And I felt awkward and depressed, and it seemed to me that I was deceiving the man. And at the same time it was pleasant to me. I gazed at the immense crimson moon which was rising, and pictured the tall, graceful, fair woman, with her pale face, always well-dressed and fragrant with some special scent, rather like musk, and for some reason it pleased me to think she did not love her husband.
On reaching home, we sat down to supper. Marya Sergeyevna, laughing, regaled us with our purchases, and I thought that she certainly had wonderful hair and that her smile was unlike any other woman’s. I watched her, and I wanted to detect in every look and movement that she did not love her husband, and I fancied that I did see it.
Dmitri Petrovitch was soon struggling with sleep. After supper he sat with us for ten minutes and said:
“Do as you please, my friends, but I have to be up at three o’clock tomorrow morning. Excuse my leaving you.”
He kissed his wife tenderly, pressed my hand with warmth and gratitude, and made me promise that I would certainly come the following week. That he might not oversleep next morning, he went to spend the night in the lodge.
Marya Sergeyevna always sat up late, in the Petersburg fashion, and for some reason on this occasion I was glad of it.
“And now,” I began when we were left alone, “and now you’ll be kind and play me something.”
I felt no desire for music, but I did not know how to begin the conversation. She sat down to the piano and played, I don’t remember what. I sat down beside her and looked at her plump white hands and tried to read something on her cold, indifferent face. Then she smiled at something and looked at me.
“You are dull without your friend,” she said.
I laughed.
“It would be enough for friendship to be here once a month, but I turn up oftener than once a week.”
Saying this, I got up and walked from one end of the room to the other. She too got up and walked away to the fireplace.
“What do you mean to say by that?” she said, raising her large, clear eyes and looking at me.
I made no answer.
“What you say is not true,” she went on, after a moment’s thought. “You only come here on account of Dmitri Petrovitch. Well, I am very glad. One does not often see such friendships nowadays.”
“Aha!” I thought, and, not knowing what to say, I asked: “Would you care for a turn in the garden?”
I went out upon the verandah. Nervous shudders were running over my head and I felt chilly with excitement. I was convinced now that our conversation would be utterly trivial, and that there was nothing particular we should be able to say to one another, but that, that night, what I did not dare to dream of was bound to happen—that it was bound to be that night or never.
“What lovely weather!” I said aloud.
“It makes absolutely no difference to me,” she answered.
I went into the drawing-room. Marya Sergeyevna was standing, as before, near the fireplace, with her hands behind her back, looking away and thinking of something.
“Why does it make no difference to you?” I asked.
“Because I am bored. You are only bored without your friend, but I am always bored. However . . . that is of no interest to you.”
I sat down to the piano and struck a few chords, waiting to hear what she would say.
“Please don’t stand on ceremony,” she said, looking angrily at me, and she seemed as though on the point of crying with vexation. “If you are sleepy, go to bed. Because you are Dmitri Petrovitch’s friend, you are not in duty bound to be bored with his wife’s company. I don’t want a sacrifice. Please go.”
I did not, of course, go to bed. She went out on the verandah while I remained in the drawing-room and spent five minutes turning over the music. Then I went out, too. We stood close together in the shadow of the curtains, and below us were the steps bathed in moonlight. The black shadows of the trees stretched across the flower beds and the yellow sand of the paths.
“I shall have to go away tomorrow, too,” I said.
“Of course, if my husband’s not at home you can’t stay here,” she said sarcastically. “I can imagine how miserable you would be if you were in love with me! Wait a bit: one day I shall throw myself on your neck. . . . I shall see with what horror you will run away from me. That would be interesting.”
Her words and her pale face were angry, but her eyes were full of tender passionate love. I already looked upon this lovely creature as my property, and then for the first time I noticed that she had golden eyebrows, exquisite eyebrows. I had never seen such eyebrows before. The thought that I might at once press her to my heart, caress her, touch her wonderful hair, seemed to me such a miracle that I laughed and shut my eyes.
“It’s bed-time now. . . . A peaceful night,” she said.
“I don’t want a peaceful night,” I said, laughing, following her into the drawing-room. “I shall curse this night if it is a peaceful one.”
Pressing her hand, and escorting her to the door, I saw by her face that she understood me, and was glad that I understood her, too.
I went to my room. Near the books on the table lay Dmitri Petrovitch’s cap, and that reminded me of his affection for me. I took my stick and went out into the garden. The mist had risen here, too, and the same tall, narrow, ghostly shapes which I had seen earlier on the river were trailing round the trees and bushes and wrapping about them. What a pity I could not talk to them!
In the extraordinarily transparent air, each leaf, each drop of dew stood out distinctly; it was all smiling at me in the stillness half asleep, and as I passed the green seats I recalled the words in some play of Shakespeare’s: “How sweetly falls the moonlight on yon seat!”
There was a mound in the garden; I went up it and sat down. I was tormented by a delicious feeling. I knew for certain that in a moment I should hold in my arms, should press to my heart her magnificent body, should kiss her golden eyebrows; and I wanted to disbelieve it, to tantalize myself, and was sorry that she had cost me so little trouble and had yielded so soon.
But suddenly I heard heavy footsteps. A man of medium height appeared in the avenue, and I recognized him at once as Forty Martyrs. He sat down on the bench and heaved a deep sigh, then crossed himself three times and lay down. A minute later he got up and lay on the other side. The gnats and the dampness of the night prevented his sleeping.
“Oh, life!” he said. “Wretched, bitter life!”
Looking at his bent, wasted body and hearing his heavy, noisy sighs, I thought of an unhappy, bitter life of which the confession had been made to me that day, and I felt uneasy and frightened at my blissful mood. I came down the knoll and went to the house.
“Life, as he thinks, is terrible,” I thought, “so don’t stand on ceremony with it, bend it to your will, and until it crushes you, snatch all you can wring from it.”
Marya Sergeyevna was standing on the verandah. I put my arms round her without a word, and began greedily kissing her eyebrows, her temples, her neck. . . .
In my room she told me she had loved me for a long time, more than a year. She vowed eternal love, cried and begged me to take her away with me. I repeatedly took her to the window to look at her face in the moonlight, and she seemed to me a lovely dream, and I made haste to hold her tight to convince myself of the truth of it. It was long since I had known such raptures. . . . Yet somewhere far away at the bottom of my heart I felt an awkwardness, and I was ill at ease. In her love for me there was something incongruous and burdensome, just as in Dmitri Petrovitch’s friendship. It was a great, serious passion with tears and vows, and I wanted nothing serious in it—no tears, no vows, no talk of the future. Let that moonlight night flash through our lives like a meteor and—basta!
At three o’clock she went out of my room, and, while I was standing in the doorway, looking after her, at the end of the corridor Dmitri Petrovitch suddenly made his appearance; she started and stood aside to let him pass, and her whole figure was expressive of repulsion. He gave a strange smile, coughed, and came into my room.
“I forgot my cap here yesterday,” he said without looking at me.
He found it and, holding it in both hands, put it on his head; then he looked at my confused face, at my slippers, and said in a strange, husky voice unlike his own:
“I suppose it must be my fate that I should understand nothing. . . . If you understand anything, I congratulate you. It’s all darkness before my eyes.”
And he went out, clearing his throat. Afterwards from the window I saw him by the stable, harnessing the horses with his own hands. His hands were trembling, he was in nervous haste and kept looking round at the house; probably he was feeling terror. Then he got into the gig, and, with a strange expression as though afraid of being pursued, lashed the horses.
Shortly afterwards I set off, too. The sun was already rising, and the mist of the previous day clung timidly to the bushes and the hillocks. On the box of the carriage was sitting Forty Martyrs; he had already succeeded in getting drunk and was muttering tipsy nonsense.
“I am a free man,” he shouted to the horses. “Ah, my honeys, I am a nobleman in my own right, if you care to know!”
The terror of Dmitri Petrovitch, the thought of whom I could not get out of my head, infected me. I thought of what had happened and could make nothing of it. I looked at the rooks, and it seemed so strange and terrible that they were flying.
“Why have I done this?” I kept asking myself in bewilderment and despair. “Why has it turned out like this and not differently? To whom and for what was it necessary that she should love me in earnest, and that he should come into my room to fetch his cap? What had a cap to do with it?”
I set off for Petersburg that day, and I have not seen Dmitri Petrovitch nor his wife since. I am told that they are still living together.



THE Don railway. A quiet, cheerless station, white and solitary in the steppe, with its walls baking in the sun, without a speck of shade, and, it seems, without a human being. The train goes on after leaving one here; the sound of it is scarcely audible and dies away at last. Outside the station it is a desert, and there are no horses but one’s own. One gets into the carriage—which is so pleasant after the train—and is borne along the road through the steppe, and by degrees there are unfolded before one views such as one does not see near Moscow—immense, endless, fascinating in their monotony. The steppe, the steppe, and nothing more; in the distance an ancient barrow or a windmill; ox-waggons laden with coal trail by. . . . Solitary birds fly low over the plain, and a drowsy feeling comes with the monotonous beat of their wings. It is hot. Another hour or so passes, and still the steppe, the steppe, and still in the distance the barrow. The driver tells you something, some long unnecessary tale, pointing into the distance with his whip. And tranquillity takes possession of the soul; one is loth to think of the past. . . .
A carriage with three horses had been sent to fetch Vera Ivanovna Kardin. The driver put in her luggage and set the harness to rights.
"Everything just as it always has been," said Vera, looking about her. "I was a little girl when I was here last, ten years ago. I remember old Boris came to fetch me then. Is he still living, I wonder?"
The driver made no reply, but, like a Little Russian, looked at her angrily and clambered on to the box.
It was a twenty-mile drive from the station, and Vera, too, abandoned herself to the charm of the steppe, forgot the past, and thought only of the wide expanse, of the freedom. Healthy, clever, beautiful, and young—she was only three-and-twenty—she had hitherto lacked nothing in her life but just this space and freedom.
The steppe, the steppe. . . . The horses trotted, the sun rose higher and higher; and it seemed to Vera that never in her childhood had the steppe been so rich, so luxuriant in June; the wild flowers were green, yellow, lilac, white, and a fragrance rose from them and from the warmed earth; and there were strange blue birds along the roadside. . . . Vera had long got out of the habit of praying, but now, struggling with drowsiness, she murmured:
"Lord, grant that I may be happy here."
And there was peace and sweetness in her soul, and she felt as though she would have been glad to drive like that all her life, looking at the steppe.
Suddenly there was a deep ravine overgrown with oak saplings and alder-trees; there was a moist feeling in the air—there must have been a spring at the bottom. On the near side, on the very edge of the ravine, a covey of partridges rose noisily. Vera remembered that in old days they used to go for evening walks to this ravine; so it must be near home! And now she could actually see the poplars, the barn, black smoke rising on one side—they were burning old straw. And there was Auntie Dasha coming to meet her and waving her handkerchief; grandfather was on the terrace. Oh dear, how happy she was!
"My darling, my darling!" cried her aunt, shrieking as though she were in hysterics. "Our real mistress has come! You must understand you are our mistress, you are our queen! Here everything is yours! My darling, my beauty, I am not your aunt, but your willing slave!"
Vera had no relations but her aunt and her grandfather; her mother had long been dead; her father, an engineer, had died three months before at Kazan, on his way from Siberia. Her grandfather had a big grey beard. He was stout, red-faced, and asthmatic, and walked leaning on a cane and sticking his stomach out. Her aunt, a lady of forty-two, drawn in tightly at the waist and fashionably dressed with sleeves high on the shoulder, evidently tried to look young and was still anxious to be charming; she walked with tiny steps with a wriggle of her spine.
"Will you love us?" she said, embracing Vera, "You are not proud?"
At her grandfather’s wish there was a thanksgiving service, then they spent a long while over dinner—and Vera’s new life began. She was given the best room. All the rugs in the house had been put in it, and a great many flowers; and when at night she lay down in her snug, wide, very soft bed and covered herself with a silk quilt that smelt of old clothes long stored away, she laughed with pleasure. Auntie Dasha came in for a minute to wish her good-night.
"Here you are home again, thank God," she said, sitting down on the bed. "As you see, we get along very well and have everything we want. There’s only one thing: your grandfather is in a poor way! A terribly poor way! He is short of breath and he has begun to lose his memory. And you remember how strong, how vigorous, he used to be! There was no doing anything with him. . . . In old days, if the servants didn’t please him or anything else went wrong, he would jump up at once and shout: ’Twenty-five strokes! The birch!’ But now he has grown milder and you never hear him. And besides, times are changed, my precious; one mayn’t beat them nowadays. Of course, they oughtn’t to be beaten, but they need looking after."
"And are they beaten now, auntie?" asked Vera.
"The steward beats them sometimes, but I never do, bless their hearts! And your grandfather sometimes lifts his stick from old habit, but he never beats them."
Auntie Dasha yawned and crossed herself over her mouth and her right ear.
"It’s not dull here?" Vera inquired.
"What shall I say? There are no landowners living here now, but there have been works built near, darling, and there are lots of engineers, doctors, and mine managers. Of course, we have theatricals and concerts, but we play cards more than anything. They come to us, too. Dr. Neshtchapov from the works comes to see us—such a handsome, interesting man! He fell in love with your photograph. I made up my mind: he is Verotchka’s destiny, I thought. He’s young, handsome, he has means—a good match, in fact. And of course you’re a match for any one. You’re of good family. The place is mortgaged, it’s true, but it’s in good order and not neglected; there is my share in it, but it will all come to you; I am your willing slave. And my brother, your father, left you fifteen thousand roubles. . . . But I see you can’t keep your eyes open. Sleep, my child."
Next day Vera spent a long time walking round the house. The garden, which was old and unattractive, lying inconveniently upon the slope, had no paths, and was utterly neglected; probably the care of it was regarded as an unnecessary item in the management. There were numbers of grass-snakes. Hoopoes flew about under the trees calling "Oo-too-toot!" as though they were trying to remind her of something. At the bottom of the hill there was a river overgrown with tall reeds, and half a mile beyond the river was the village. From the garden Vera went out into the fields; looking into the distance, thinking of her new life in her own home, she kept trying to grasp what was in store for her. The space, the lovely peace of the steppe, told her that happiness was near at hand, and perhaps was here already; thousands of people, in fact, would have said: "What happiness to be young, healthy, well-educated, to be living on one’s own estate!" And at the same time the endless plain, all alike, without one living soul, frightened her, and at moments it was clear to her that its peaceful green vastness would swallow up her life and reduce it to nothingness. She was very young, elegant, fond of life; she had finished her studies at an aristocratic boarding-school, had learnt three languages, had read a great deal, had travelled with her father—and could all this have been meant to lead to nothing but settling down in a remote country-house in the steppe, and wandering day after day from the garden into the fields and from the fields into the garden to while away the time, and then sitting at home listening to her grandfather’s breathing? But what could she do? Where could she go? She could find no answer, and as she was returning home she doubted whether she would be happy here, and thought that driving from the station was far more interesting than living here.
Dr. Neshtchapov drove over from the works. He was a doctor, but three years previously he had taken a share in the works, and had become one of the partners; and now he no longer looked upon medicine as his chief vocation, though he still practised. In appearance he was a pale, dark man in a white waistcoat, with a good figure; but to guess what there was in his heart and his brain was difficult. He kissed Auntie Dasha’s hand on greeting her, and was continually leaping up to set a chair or give his seat to some one. He was very silent and grave all the while, and, when he did speak, it was for some reason impossible to hear and understand his first sentence, though he spoke correctly and not in a low voice.
"You play the piano?" he asked Vera, and immediately leapt up, as she had dropped her handkerchief.
He stayed from midday to midnight without speaking, and Vera found him very unattractive. She thought that a white waistcoat in the country was bad form, and his elaborate politeness, his manners, and his pale, serious face with dark eyebrows, were mawkish; and it seemed to her that he was perpetually silent, probably because he was stupid. When he had gone her aunt said enthusiastically:
"Well? Isn’t he charming?"


Auntie Dasha looked after the estate. Tightly laced, with jingling bracelets on her wrists, she went into the kitchen, the granary, the cattle-yard, tripping along with tiny steps, wriggling her spine; and whenever she talked to the steward or to the peasants, she used, for some reason, to put on a pince-nez. Vera’s grandfather always sat in the same place, playing patience or dozing. He ate a very great deal at dinner and supper; they gave him the dinner cooked to-day and what was left from yesterday, and cold pie left from Sunday, and salt meat from the servants’ dinner, and he ate it all greedily. And every dinner left on Vera such an impression, that when she saw afterwards a flock of sheep driven by, or flour being brought from the mill, she thought, "Grandfather will eat that." For the most part he was silent, absorbed in eating or in patience; but it sometimes happened at dinner that at the sight of Vera he would be touched and say tenderly:
"My only grandchild! Verotchka!"
And tears would glisten in his eyes. Or his face would turn suddenly crimson, his neck would swell, he would look with fury at the servants, and ask, tapping with his stick:
"Why haven’t you brought the horse-radish?"
In winter he led a perfectly inactive existence; in summer he sometimes drove out into the fields to look at the oats and the hay; and when he came back he would flourish his stick and declare that everything was neglected now that he was not there to look after it.
"Your grandfather is out of humour," Auntie Dasha would whisper. "But it’s nothing now to what it used to be in the old days: ’Twenty-five strokes! The birch!’"
Her aunt complained that every one had grown lazy, that no one did anything, and that the estate yielded no profit. Indeed, there was no systematic farming; they ploughed and sowed a little simply from habit, and in reality did nothing and lived in idleness. Meanwhile there was a running to and fro, reckoning and worrying all day long; the bustle in the house began at five o’clock in the morning; there were continual sounds of "Bring it," "Fetch it," "Make haste," and by the evening the servants were utterly exhausted. Auntie Dasha changed her cooks and her housemaids every week; sometimes she discharged them for immorality; sometimes they went of their own accord, complaining that they were worked to death. None of the village people would come to the house as servants; Auntie Dasha had to hire them from a distance. There was only one girl from the village living in the house, Alyona, and she stayed because her whole family—old people and children—were living upon her wages. This Alyona, a pale, rather stupid little thing, spent the whole day turning out the rooms, waiting at table, heating the stoves, sewing, washing; but it always seemed as though she were only pottering about, treading heavily with her boots, and were nothing but a hindrance in the house. In her terror that she might be dismissed and sent home, she often dropped and broke the crockery, and they stopped the value of it out of her wages, and then her mother and grandmother would come and bow down at Auntie Dasha’s feet.
Once a week or sometimes oftener visitors would arrive. Her aunt would come to Vera and say:
"You should sit a little with the visitors, or else they’ll think that you are stuck up."
Vera would go in to the visitors and play vint with them for hours together, or play the piano for the visitors to dance; her aunt, in high spirits and breathless from dancing, would come up and whisper to her:
"Be nice to Marya Nikiforovna."
On the sixth of December, St. Nikolay’s Day, a large party of about thirty arrived all at once; they played vint until late at night, and many of them stayed the night. In the morning they sat down to cards again, then they had dinner, and when Vera went to her room after dinner to rest from conversation and tobacco smoke, there were visitors there too, and she almost wept in despair. And when they began to get ready to go in the evening, she was so pleased they were going at last, that she said:
"Do stay a little longer."
She felt exhausted by the visitors and constrained by their presence; yet every day, as soon as it began to grow dark, something drew her out of the house, and she went out to pay visits either at the works or at some neighbours’, and then there were cards, dancing, forfeits, suppers. . . .The young people in the works or in the mines sometimes sang Little Russian songs, and sang them very well. It made one sad to hear them sing. Or they all gathered together in one room and talked in the dusk of the mines, of the treasures that had once been buried in the steppes, of Saur’s Grave. . . . Later on, as they talked, a shout of "Help!" sometimes reached them. It was a drunken man going home, or some one was being robbed by the pit near by. Or the wind howled in the chimneys, the shutters banged; then, soon afterwards, they would hear the uneasy church bell, as the snow-storm began.
At all the evening parties, picnics, and dinners, Auntie Dasha was invariably the most interesting woman and the doctor the most interesting man. There was very little reading either at the works or at the country-houses; they played only marches and polkas; and the young people always argued hotly about things they did not understand, and the effect was crude. The discussions were loud and heated, but, strange to say, Vera had nowhere else met people so indifferent and careless as these. They seemed to have no fatherland, no religion, no public interests. When they talked of literature or debated some abstract question, it could be seen from Dr. Neshtchapov’s face that the question had no interest for him whatever, and that for long, long years he had read nothing and cared to read nothing. Serious and expressionless, like a badly painted portrait, for ever in his white waistcoat, he was silent and incomprehensible as before; but the ladies, young and old, thought him interesting and were enthusiastic over his manners. They envied Vera, who appeared to attract him very much. And Vera always came away from the visits with a feeling of vexation, vowing inwardly to remain at home; but the day passed, the evening came, and she hurried off to the works again, and it was like that almost all the winter.
She ordered books and magazines, and used to read them in her room. And she read at night, lying in bed. When the clock in the corridor struck two or three, and her temples were beginning to ache from reading, she sat up in bed and thought, "What am I to do? Where am I to go?" Accursed, importunate question, to which there were a number of ready-made answers, and in reality no answer at all.
Oh, how noble, how holy, how picturesque it must be to serve the people, to alleviate their sufferings, to enlighten them! But she, Vera, did not know the people. And how could she go to them? They were strange and uninteresting to her; she could not endure the stuffy smell of the huts, the pot-house oaths, the unwashed children, the women’s talk of illnesses. To walk over the snow-drifts, to feel cold, then to sit in a stifling hut, to teach children she disliked—no, she would rather die! And to teach the peasants’ children while Auntie Dasha made money out of the pot-houses and fined the peasants—it was too great a farce! What a lot of talk there was of schools, of village libraries, of universal education; but if all these engineers, these mine-owners and ladies of her acquaintance, had not been hypocrites, and really had believed that enlightenment was necessary, they would not have paid the schoolmasters fifteen roubles a month as they did now, and would not have let them go hungry. And the schools and the talk about ignorance—it was all only to stifle the voice of conscience because they were ashamed to own fifteen or thirty thousand acres and to be indifferent to the peasants’ lot. Here the ladies said about Dr. Neshtchapov that he was a kind man and had built a school at the works. Yes, he had built a school out of the old bricks at the works for some eight hundred roubles, and they sang the prayer for "long life" to him when the building was opened, but there was no chance of his giving up his shares, and it certainly never entered his head that the peasants were human beings like himself, and that they, too, needed university teaching, and not merely lessons in these wretched schools.
And Vera felt full of anger against herself and every one else. She took up a book again and tried to read it, but soon afterwards sat down and thought again. To become a doctor? But to do that one must pass an examination in Latin; besides, she had an invincible repugnance to corpses and disease. It would be nice to become a mechanic, a judge, a commander of a steamer, a scientist; to do something into which she could put all her powers, physical and spiritual, and to be tired out and sleep soundly at night; to give up her life to something that would make her an interesting person, able to attract interesting people, to love, to have a real family of her own. . . . But what was she to do? How was she to begin?
One Sunday in Lent her aunt came into her room early in the morning to fetch her umbrella. Vera was sitting up in bed clasping her head in her hands, thinking.
"You ought to go to church, darling," said her aunt, "or people will think you are not a believer."
Vera made no answer.
"I see you are dull, poor child," said Auntie Dasha, sinking on her knees by the bedside; she adored Vera. "Tell me the truth, are you bored?"
"My beauty, my queen, I am your willing slave, I wish you nothing but good and happiness. . . . Tell me, why don’t you want to marry Nestchapov? What more do you want, my child? You must forgive me, darling; you can’t pick and choose like this, we are not princes . . . . Time is passing, you are not seventeen. . . . And I don’t understand it! He loves you, idolises you!"
"Oh, mercy!" said Vera with vexation. "How can I tell? He sits dumb and never says a word."
"He’s shy, darling. . . . He’s afraid you’ll refuse him!"
And when her aunt had gone away, Vera remained standing in the middle of her room uncertain whether to dress or to go back to bed. The bed was hateful; if one looked out of the window there were the bare trees, the grey snow, the hateful jackdaws, the pigs that her grandfather would eat. . . .
"Yes, after all, perhaps I’d better get married!" she thought.


For two days Auntie Dasha went about with a tear-stained and heavily powdered face, and at dinner she kept sighing and looking towards the ikon. And it was impossible to make out what was the matter with her. But at last she made up her mind, went in to Vera, and said in a casual way:
"The fact is, child, we have to pay interest on the bank loan, and the tenant hasn’t paid his rent. Will you let me pay it out of the fifteen thousand your papa left you?"
All day afterwards Auntie Dasha spent in making cherry jam in the garden. Alyona, with her cheeks flushed with the heat, ran to and from the garden to the house and back again to the cellar.
When Auntie Dasha was making jam with a very serious face as though she were performing a religious rite, and her short sleeves displayed her strong, little, despotic hands and arms, and when the servants ran about incessantly, bustling about the jam which they would never taste, there was always a feeling of martyrdom in the air. . . .
The garden smelt of hot cherries. The sun had set, the charcoal stove had been carried away, but the pleasant, sweetish smell still lingered in the air. Vera sat on a bench in the garden and watched a new labourer, a young soldier, not of the neighbourhood, who was, by her express orders, making new paths. He was cutting the turf with a spade and heaping it up on a barrow.
"Where were you serving?" Vera asked him.
"At Berdyansk."
"And where are you going now? Home?"
"No," answered the labourer. "I have no home."
"But where were you born and brought up?"
"In the province of Oryol. Till I went into the army I lived with my mother, in my step-father’s house; my mother was the head of the house, and people looked up to her, and while she lived I was cared for. But while I was in the army I got a letter telling me my mother was dead. . . . And now I don’t seem to care to go home. It’s not my own father, so it’s not like my own home."
"Then your father is dead?"
"I don’t know. I am illegitimate."
At that moment Auntie Dasha appeared at the window and said:
"Il ne faut pas parler aux gens . . . . Go into the kitchen, my good man. You can tell your story there," she said to the soldier.
And then came as yesterday and every day supper, reading, a sleepless night, and endless thinking about the same thing. At three o’clock the sun rose; Alyona was already busy in the corridor, and Vera was not asleep yet and was trying to read. She heard the creak of the barrow: it was the new labourer at work in the garden. . . . Vera sat at the open window with a book, dozed, and watched the soldier making the paths for her, and that interested her. The paths were as even and level as a leather strap, and it was pleasant to imagine what they would be like when they were strewn with yellow sand.
She could see her aunt come out of the house soon after five o’clock, in a pink wrapper and curl-papers. She stood on the steps for three minutes without speaking, and then said to the soldier:
"Take your passport and go in peace. I can’t have any one illegitimate in my house."
An oppressive, angry feeling sank like a stone on Vera’s heart. She was indignant with her aunt, she hated her; she was so sick of her aunt that her heart was full of misery and loathing. But what was she to do? To stop her mouth? To be rude to her? But what would be the use? Suppose she struggled with her, got rid of her, made her harmless, prevented her grandfather from flourishing his stick— what would be the use of it? It would be like killing one mouse or one snake in the boundless steppe. The vast expanse, the long winters, the monotony and dreariness of life, instil a sense of helplessness; the position seems hopeless, and one wants to do nothing—everything is useless.
Alyona came in, and bowing low to Vera, began carrying out the arm-chairs to beat the dust out of them.
"You have chosen a time to clean up," said Vera with annoyance. "Go away."
Alyona was overwhelmed, and in her terror could not understand what was wanted of her. She began hurriedly tidying up the dressing-table.
"Go out of the room, I tell you," Vera shouted, turning cold; she had never had such an oppressive feeling before. "Go away!"
Alyona uttered a sort of moan, like a bird, and dropped Vera’s gold watch on the carpet.
"Go away!" Vera shrieked in a voice not her own, leaping up and trembling all over. "Send her away; she worries me to death!" she went on, walking rapidly after Alyona down the passage, stamping her feet. "Go away! Birch her! Beat her!" Then suddenly she came to herself, and just as she was, unwashed, uncombed, in her dressing-gown and slippers, she rushed out of the house. She ran to the familiar ravine and hid herself there among the sloe-trees, so that she might see no one and be seen by no one. Lying there motionless on the grass, she did not weep, she was not horror-stricken, but gazing at the sky open-eyed, she reflected coldly and clearly that something had happened which she could never forget and for which she could never forgive herself all her life.
"No, I can’t go on like this," she thought. "It’s time to take myself in hand, or there’ll be no end to it. . . . I can’t go on like this. . . ."
At midday Dr. Neshtchapov drove by the ravine on his way to the house. She saw him and made up her mind that she would begin a new life, and that she would make herself begin it, and this decision calmed her. And following with her eyes the doctor’s well-built figure, she said, as though trying to soften the crudity of her decision:
"He’s a nice man. . . . We shall get through life somehow."
She returned home. While she was dressing, Auntie Dasha came into the room, and said:
"Alyona upset you, darling; I’ve sent her home to the village. Her mother’s given her a good beating and has come here, crying."
"Auntie," said Vera quickly, "I’m going to marry Dr. Neshtchapov. Only talk to him yourself . . . I can’t."
And again she went out into the fields. And wandering aimlessly about, she made up her mind that when she was married she would look after the house, doctor the peasants, teach in the school, that she would do all the things that other women of her circle did. And this perpetual dissatisfaction with herself and every one else, this series of crude mistakes which stand up like a mountain before one whenever one looks back upon one’s past, she would accept as her real life to which she was fated, and she would expect nothing better. . . . Of course there was nothing better! Beautiful nature, dreams, music, told one story, but reality another. Evidently truth and happiness existed somewhere outside real life. . . . One must give up one’s own life and merge oneself into this luxuriant steppe, boundless and indifferent as eternity, with its flowers, its ancient barrows, and its distant horizon, and then it would be well with one. . . .
A month later Vera was living at the works.


FROM early morning the sky had been overcast with clouds ; the day was still, cool, and wearisome, as usual on grey, dull days when the clouds hang low over the fields and it looks like rain, which never comes. Ivan Ivanich, the veterinary surgeon, and Bourkin, the schoolmaster, were tired of walking and the fields seemed endless to them. Far ahead they could just see the windmills of the village of Mirousky, to the right stretched away to disappear behind the village a line of hills, and they knew that it was the bank of the river ; meadows, green willows, farmhouses; and from one of the hills there could be seen a field as endless, telegraph posts, and the train, looking from a distance like a crawling caterpillar, and in clear weather even the town. In the calm weather when all Nature seemed gentle and melancholy, Ivan Ivanich and Bourkin were filled with love for the fields and thought how grand and beautiful the country was.
"Last time, when we stopped in Prokufyi’s shed," said Bourkin, "you were going to fell me a story."
"Yes. I wanted to tell you about my brother."
Ivan Ivanich took a deep breath and lighted his pipe before beginning his story, but just then the rain began to fall. And in about five minutes it came pelting down and showed no signs of stopping. Ivan Ivanich stopped and hesitated ; the dogs, wet through, stood with their tails between their legs and looked at them mournfully.
"We ought to take shelter," said Bourkin. "Let us go to Aliokhin. It is close by."
"Very well."
They took a short cut over a stubble-field and then bore to the right, until they came to the road. Soon there appeared poplars, a garden, the red roofs of granaries; the river began to glimmer and they came to a wide road with a mill and a white bathing-shed. It was Sophino, where Aliokhin lived.
The mill was working, drowning the sound of the rain, and the dam shook. Round the carts stood wet horses, hanging their heads, and men were walking about with their heads covered with sacks. It was wet, muddy, and unpleasant, and the river looked cold and sullen. Ivan Ivanich and Bourkin felt wet and uncomfortable through and through ; their feet were tired with walking in the mud, and they walked past the dam to the barn in silence as though they were angry with each other.
In one of the barns a winnowing-machine was working, sending out clouds of dust. On the threshold stood Aliokhin himself, a man of about forty, tall and stout, with long hair, more like a professor or a painter than a farmer. He was wearing a grimy white shirt and rope belt, and pants instead of trousers ; and his boots were covered with mud and straw. His nose and eyes were black with dust. He recognised Ivan Ivanich and was apparently very pleased.
"Please, gentlemen," he said, "go to the house. I’ll be with you in a minute."
The house was large and two-storied. Aliokhin lived down-stairs in two vaulted rooms with little windows designed for the farm-hands ; the farmhouse was plain, and the place smelled of rye bread and vodka, and leather. He rarely used the reception rooms, only when guests arrived. Ivan Ivanich and Bourkin were received by a chambermaid; such a pretty young woman that both of them stopped and exchanged glances.
"You cannot imagine how glad I am to see you, gentlemen," said Aliokhin, coming after them into the hall. "I never expected you. Pelagueya," he said to the maid, "give my friends a change of clothes. And I will change, too. But I must have a bath. I haven’t had one since the spring. Wouldn’t you like to come to the bathing-shed? And meanwhile our things will be got ready."
Pretty Pelagueya, dainty and sweet, brought towels and soap, and Aliokhin led his guests to the bathing-shed.
"Yes," he said, "it is a long time since I had a bath. My bathing-shed is all right, as you see. My father and I put it up, but somehow I have no time to bathe."
He sat down on the step and lathered his long hair and neck, and the water round him became brown.
"Yes. I see," said Ivan Ivanich heavily, looking at his head.
"It is a long time since I bathed," said Aliokhin shyly, as he soaped himself again, and the water round him became dark blue, like ink.
Ivan Ivanich came out of the shed, plunged into the water with a splash, and swam about in the rain, flapping his arms, and sending waves back, and on the waves tossed white lilies ; he swam out to the middle of the pool and dived, and in a minute came up again in another place and kept on swimming and diving, trying to reach the bottom. " Ah! how delicious!" he shouted in his glee. "How delicious!" He swam to the mill, spoke to the peasants, and came back, and in the middle of the pool he lay on his back to let the rain fall on his face. Bourkin and Aliokhin were already dressed and ready to go, but he kept on swimming and diving.
"Delicious," he said. " Too delicious !"
"You’ve had enough," shouted Bourkin.
They went to the house. And only when the lamp was lit in the large drawing-room up-stairs, and Bourkin and Ivan Ivanich, dressed in silk dressing-gowns and warm slippers, lounged in chairs, and Aliokhin himself, washed and brushed, in a new frock coat, paced up and down evidently delighting in the warmth and cleanliness and dry clothes and slippers, and pretty Pelagueya; noiselessly tripping over the carpet and smiling sweetly, brought in tea and jam on a tray, only then did Ivan Ivanich begin his story, and it was as though he was being listened to not only by Bourkin and Aliokhin, but also by the old and young ladies and the officer who looked down so staidly and tranquilly from the golden frames.
"We are two brothers," he began, "I, Ivan Ivanich, and Nicholai Ivanich, two years younger. I went in for study and became a veterinary surgeon, while Nicholai was at the Exchequer Court when he was nineteen. Our father, Tchimsha-Himalaysky, was a cantonist, but he died with an officer’s rank and left us his title of nobility and a small estate. After his death the estate went to pay his debts. However, we spent our childhood there in the country. We were just like peasant’s children, spent days and nights in the fields and the woods, minded the house, barked the lime-trees, fished, and so on. . . And you know once a man has fished, or watched the thrushes hovering in flocks over the village in the bright, cool, autumn days, he can never really be a townsman, and to the day of his death he will be drawn to the country. My brother pined away in the Exchequer. Years passed and he sat in the same place, wrote out the same documents, and thought of one thing, how to get back to the country. And little by little his distress became a definite disorder, a fixed idea—to buy a small farm somewhere by the bank of a river or a lake.
"He was a good fellow and I loved him, but I never sympathised with the desire to shut oneself up on one’s own farm. It is a common saying that a man needs only six feet of land. But surely a corpse wants that, not a man. And I hear that our intellectuals have a longing for the land and want to acquire farms. But it all comes down to the six feet of land. To leave town, and the struggle and the swim of life, and go and hide yourself in a farmhouse is not life it is egoism, laziness ; it is a kind of monasticism, but monasticism without action. A man needs, not six feet of land, not a farm, but the whole earth, all Nature, where in full liberty he can display all the properties and qualities of the free spirit.
"My brother Nicholai, sitting in his office, would dream of eating his own schi, with its savoury smell floating across the farmyard ; and of eating out in the open air, and of sleeping in the sun, and of sitting for hours together on a seat by the gate and gazing at the fields and the forest. Books on agriculture and the hints in almanacs were his joy, his favourite spiritual food ; and he liked reading newspapers, but only the advertisements of land to be sold, so many acres of arable and grass land, with a farmhouse, river, garden, mill, and mill-pond. And he would dream of garden-walls, flowers, fruits, nests, carp in the pond, don’t you know, and all the rest of it. These fantasies of his used to vary according to the advertisements he found, but somehow there was always a gooseberry bush in every one. Not a house, not a romantic spot could he imagine without its gooseberry-bush.
" ’Country life has its advantages,’ he used to say. ’You sit on the veranda drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and everything smells good . . and there are gooseberries.’
"He used to draw out a plan of his estate and always the same things were shewn on it : (a) Farmhouse, (b) cottage, (c) vegetable garden, (d) gooseberry-bush. He used to live meagrely and never had enough to eat and drink, dressed God knows how, exactly like a beggar, and always saved and put his money into the bank. He was terribly stingy. It used to hurt me to see him, and I used to give him money to go away for a holiday, but he would put that away, too. Once a man gets a fixed idea, there’s nothing to be done.
"Years passed; he was transferred to another province. He completed his fortieth year and was still reading advertisements in the papers and saving up his money. Then I heard he was married. Still with the same idea of buying a farmhouse with a gooseberry bush, he married an elderly, ugly widow, not out of any feeling for her, but because she had money. With her he still lived stingily, kept her half-starved, and put the money into the bank in his own name. She had been the wife of a postmaster and was used to good living, but with her second husband she did not even have enough black bread; she pined away in her new life, and in three years or so gave up her soul to God. And my brother never for a moment thought himself to blame for her death. Money, like vodka, can play queer tricks with a man. Once in our town a merchant lay dying. Before his death he asked for some honey, and he ate all his notes and scrip with the honey so that nobody should get it. Once I was examining a herd of cattle at a station and a horse-jobber fell under the engine, and his foot was cut off. We carried him into the waiting-room, with the blood pouring down—a terrible business—and all the while he kept on asking anxiously for his foot; he had twenty-five roubles in his boot and did not want to lose them."
"Keep to your story," said Bourkin.
"After the death of his wife," Ivan Ivanich continued, after a long pause, "my brother began to look out for an estate. Of course you may search for five years, and even then buy a pig in a poke. Through an agent my brother Nicholai raised a mortgage and bought three hundred acres with a farmhouse, a cottage, and a park, but there was no orchard, no gooseberry-bush, no duck-pond ; there was a river but the water in it was coffee-coloured because the estate lay between a brick-yard and a gelatine factory. But my brother Nicholai was not worried about that; he ordered twenty gooseberry-bushes and settled down to a country life.
"Last year I paid him a visit. I thought I’d go and see how things were with him. In his letters my brother called his estate Tchimbarshov Corner, or Himalayskoe. I arrived at Himalayskoe in the afternoon. It was hot. There were ditches, fences, hedges, rows of young fir-trees, trees everywhere, and there was no telling how to cross the yard or where to put your horse. I went to the house and was met by a red-haired dog, as fat as a pig. He tried to bark but felt too lazy. Out of the kitchen came the cook, barefooted, and also as fat as a pig, and said that the master was having his afternoon rest. I went in to my brother and found him sitting on his bed with his knees covered with a blanket ; he looked old, stout, flabby; his cheeks, nose, and lips were pendulous. I half expected him to grunt like a pig.
"We embraced and shed a tear of joy and also of sadness to think that we had once been young, but were now both going grey and nearing death. He dressed and took me to see his estate.
" ’Well? How are you getting on?’ I asked. " ’All right, thank God. I am doing very well.’ "He was no longer the poor, tired official, but a real landowner and a person of consequence. He had got used to the place and liked it, ate a great deal, took Russian baths, was growing fat, had already gone to law with the parish and the two factories, and was much offended if the peasants did not call him ’Your Lordship.’ And, like a good landowner, he looked after his soul and did good works pompously, never simply. What good works? He cured the peasants of all kinds of diseases with soda and castor-oil, and on his birthday he would have a thanksgiving service held in the middle of the village, and would treat the peasants to half a bucket of vodka, which he thought the right thing to do. Ah ! Those horrible buckets of vodka. One day a greasy landowner will drag the peasants before the Zemstvo Court for trespass, and the next, if it’s a holiday, he will give them a bucket of vodka, and they drink and shout Hooray ! and lick his boots in their drunkenness. A change to good eating and idleness always fills a Russian with the most preposterous self-conceit. Nicholai Ivanich who, when he was in the Exchequer, was terrified to have an opinion of his own, now imagined that what he said was law. ’Education is necessary for the masses, but they are not fit for it.’ ’ Corporal punishment is generally harmful, but in certain cases it is useful and indispensable.’
" ’I know the people and I know how to treat them,’ he would say. ’The people love me. I have only to raise my finger and they will do as I wish.’
" And all this, mark you, was said with a kindly smile of wisdom. He was constantly saying : ’ We noblemen,’ or ’ I, as a nobleman.’ Apparently he had forgotten that our grandfather was a peasant and our father a common soldier. Even our family name, Tchimacha-Himalaysky, which is really an absurd one, seemed to him full-sounding, distinguished, and very pleasing.
"But my point does not concern him so much as myself. I want to tell you what a change took place in me in those few hours while I was in his house. In the evening, while we were having tea, the cook laid a plateful of gooseberries on the table. They had not been bought, but were his own gooseberries, plucked for the first time since the bushes were planted. Nicholai Ivanich laughed with joy and for a minute or two he looked in silence at the gooseberries with tears in his eyes. He could not speak for excitement, then put one into his mouth, glanced at me in triumph, like a child at last being given its favourite toy, and said :
" ’How good they are !’
"He went on eating greedily, and saying all the while : " ’How good they are! Do try one!’
"It was hard and sour, but, as Poushkin said, the illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths. I saw a happy man, one whose dearest dream had come true, who had attained his goal in life, who had got what he wanted, and was pleased with his destiny and with himself. In my idea of human life there is always some alloy of sadness, but now at the sight of a happy man I was filled with something like despair. And at night it grew on me. A bed was made up for me in the room near my brother’s and I could hear him, unable to sleep, going again and again to the plate of gooseberries. I thought : ’After all, what a lot of contented, happy people there must be ! What an overwhelming power that means ! I look at this life and see the arrogance and the idleness of the strong, the ignorance and bestiality of the weak, the horrible poverty everywhere, overcrowding, drunkenness, hypocrisy, falsehood . . . Meanwhile in all the houses, all the streets, there is peace ; out of fifty thousand people who live in our town there is not one to kick against it all. Think of the people who go to the market for food : during the day they eat ; at night they sleep, talk nonsense, marry, grow old, piously follow their dead to the cemetery; one never sees or hears those who suffer, and all the horror of life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. Every thing is quiet, peaceful, and against it all there is only the silent protest of statistics ; so many go mad, so many gallons are drunk, so many children die of starvation . . . And such a state of things is obviously what we want ; apparently a happy man only feels so because the unhappy bear their burden in silence, but for which happiness would be impossible. It is a general hypnosis. Every happy man should have some one with a little hammer at his door to knock and remind him that there are unhappy people, and that, however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show its claws, and some misfortune will be fall him—illness, poverty, loss, and then no one will see or hear him, just as he now neither see’s nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer, and the happy go on living, just a little fluttered with the petty cares of every day, like an aspen-tree in the wind—and everything is all right.’
"That night I was able to understand how I, too, had been content and happy," Ivan Ivanich went on, getting up. "I, too, at meals or out hunting, used to lay down the law about living, and religion, and govern ing the mases. I, too, used to say that teaching is light, that education is necessary, but that for simple folk reading and writing is enough for the present. Freedom is a boon, I used to say, as essential as the air we breathe, but we must wait. Yes I used to say so, but now I ask : ’Why do we wait ?’" Ivan Ivanich glanced angrily at Bourkin. ’Why do we wait, I ask you? What considerations keep us fast? I am told that we cannot have everything at once, and that every idea is realised in time. But who says so? Where is the proof that it is so? You refer me to the natural order of things, to the law of cause and effect, but is there order or natural law in that I, a living, thinking creature, should stand by a ditch until it fills up, or is narrowed, when I could jump it or throw a bridge over it? Tell me, I say, why should we wait? Wait, when we have no strength to live, and yet must live and are full of the desire to live !
"I left my brother early the next morning, and from that time on I found it impossible to live in town. The peace and the quiet of it oppress me. I dare not look in at the windows, for nothing is more dreadful to see than the sight of a happy family, sitting round a table, having tea. I am an old man now and am no good for the struggle. I commenced late. I can only grieve within my soul, and fret and sulk. At night my head buzzes with the rush of my thoughts and I cannot sleep ... Ah! If I were young!"
Ivan Ivanich walked excitedly up and down the room and repeated:
"If I were young."
He suddenly walked up to Aliokhin and shook him first by one hand and then by the other.
"Pavel Konstantinich," he said in a voice of entreaty, "don’t be satisfied, don’t let yourself be lulled to sleep ! While you are young, strong, wealthy, do not cease to do good ! Happiness does not exist, nor should it, and if there is any meaning or purpose in life, they are not in our peddling little happiness, but in something reasonable and grand. Do good !"
Ivan Ivanich said, this with a piteous supplicating smile, as though he were asking a personal favour.
Then they all three sat in different corners of the drawing-room and were silent. Ivan Ivanich’s story had satisfied neither Bourkin nor Aliokhin. With the generals and ladies looking down from their gilt frames, seeming alive in the firelight, it was tedious to hear the story of a miserable official who ate gooseberries . . . Somehow they had a longing to hear and to speak of charming people, and of women. And the mere fact of sitting in the drawing-room where everything—the lamp with its coloured shade, the chairs, and the carpet under their feet—told how the very people who now looked down at them from their frames once walked, and sat and had tea there, and the fact that pretty Pelagueya was near—was much better than any story.
Aliokhin wanted very much to go to bed ; he had to get up for his work very early, about two in the morning, and now his eyes were closing, but he was afraid of his guests saying something interesting without his hearing it, so he would not go. He did not trouble to think whether what Ivan Ivanich had been saying was clever or right ; his guests were talking of neither groats, nor hay, nor tar, but of something which had no bearing on his life, and he liked it and wanted them to go on. . . .
"However, it’s time to go to bed," said Bourkin, getting up. " I will wish you good night."
Aliokhin said good night and went down-stairs, and left his guests. Each had a large room with an old wooden bed and carved ornaments ; in the corner was an ivory crucifix; and their wide, cool beds, made by pretty Pelagueya, smelled sweetly of clean linen.
Ivan Ivanich undressed in silence and lay down.
"God forgive me, a wicked sinner," he murmured, as he drew the clothes over his head.
A smell of burning tobacco came from his pipe which lay on the table, and Bourkin could not sleep for a long time and was worried because he could not make out where the unpleasant smell came from.
The rain beat against the windows all night long.


THE Professor received a telegram from the Lyalikovs’ factory; he was asked to come as quickly as possible. The daughter of some Madame Lyalikov, apparently the owner of the factory, was ill, and that was all that one could make out of the long, incoherent telegram. And the Professor did not go himself, but sent instead his assistant, Korolyov.
It was two stations from Moscow, and there was a drive of three miles from the station. A carriage with three horses had been sent to the station to meet Korolyov; the coachman wore a hat with a peacock’s feather on it, and answered every question in a loud voice like a soldier: "No, sir!" "Certainly, sir!"
It was Saturday evening; the sun was setting, the workpeople were coming in crowds from the factory to the station, and they bowed to the carriage in which Korolyov was driving. And he was charmed with the evening, the farmhouses and villas on the road, and the birch-trees, and the quiet atmosphere all around, when the fields and woods and the sun seemed preparing, like the workpeople now on the eve of the holiday, to rest, and perhaps to pray. . . .
He was born and had grown up in Moscow; he did not know the country, and he had never taken any interest in factories, or been inside one, but he had happened to read about factories, and had been in the houses of manufacturers and had talked to them; and whenever he saw a factory far or near, he always thought how quiet and peaceable it was outside, but within there was always sure to be impenetrable ignorance and dull egoism on the side of the owners, wearisome, unhealthy toil on the side of the workpeople, squabbling, vermin, vodka. And now when the workpeople timidly and respectfully made way for the carriage, in their faces, their caps, their walk, he read physical impurity, drunkenness, nervous exhaustion, bewilderment.
They drove in at the factory gates. On each side he caught glimpses of the little houses of workpeople, of the faces of women, of quilts and linen on the railings. "Look out!" shouted the coachman, not pulling up the horses. It was a wide courtyard without grass, with five immense blocks of buildings with tall chimneys a little distance one from another, warehouses and barracks, and over everything a sort of grey powder as though from dust. Here and there, like oases in the desert, there were pitiful gardens, and the green and red roofs of the houses in which the managers and clerks lived. The coachman suddenly pulled up the horses, and the carriage stopped at the house, which had been newly painted grey; here was a flower garden, with a lilac bush covered with dust, and on the yellow steps at the front door there was a strong smell of paint.
"Please come in, doctor," said women’s voices in the passage and the entry, and at the same time he heard sighs and whisperings. "Pray walk in. . . . We’ve been expecting you so long . . . we’re in real trouble. Here, this way."
Madame Lyalikov—a stout elderly lady wearing a black silk dress with fashionable sleeves, but, judging from her face, a simple uneducated woman—looked at the doctor in a flutter, and could not bring herself to hold out her hand to him; she did not dare. Beside her stood a personage with short hair and a pince-nez; she was wearing a blouse of many colours, and was very thin and no longer young. The servants called her Christina Dmitryevna, and Korolyov guessed that this was the governess. Probably, as the person of most education in the house, she had been charged to meet and receive the doctor, for she began immediately, in great haste, stating the causes of the illness, giving trivial and tiresome details, but without saying who was ill or what was the matter.
The doctor and the governess were sitting talking while the lady of the house stood motionless at the door, waiting. From the conversation Korolyov learned that the patient was Madame Lyalikov’s only daughter and heiress, a girl of twenty, called Liza; she had been ill for a long time, and had consulted various doctors, and the previous night she had suffered till morning from such violent palpitations of the heart, that no one in the house had slept, and they had been afraid she might die.
"She has been, one may say, ailing from a child," said Christina Dmitryevna in a sing-song voice, continually wiping her lips with her hand. "The doctors say it is nerves; when she was a little girl she was scrofulous, and the doctors drove it inwards, so I think it may be due to that."
They went to see the invalid. Fully grown up, big and tall, but ugly like her mother, with the same little eyes and disproportionate breadth of the lower part of the face, lying with her hair in disorder, muffled up to the chin, she made upon Korolyov at the first minute the impression of a poor, destitute creature, sheltered and cared for here out of charity, and he could hardly believe that this was the heiress of the five huge buildings.
"I am the doctor come to see you," said Korolyov. "Good evening."
He mentioned his name and pressed her hand, a large, cold, ugly hand; she sat up, and, evidently accustomed to doctors, let herself be sounded, without showing the least concern that her shoulders and chest were uncovered.
"I have palpitations of the heart," she said, "It was so awful all night. . . . I almost died of fright! Do give me something."
"I will, I will; don’t worry yourself."
Korolyov examined her and shrugged his shoulders.
"The heart is all right," he said; "it’s all going on satisfactorily; everything is in good order. Your nerves must have been playing pranks a little, but that’s so common. The attack is over by now, one must suppose; lie down and go to sleep."
At that moment a lamp was brought into the bed-room. The patient screwed up her eyes at the light, then suddenly put her hands to her head and broke into sobs. And the impression of a destitute, ugly creature vanished, and Korolyov no longer noticed the little eyes or the heavy development of the lower part of the face. He saw a soft, suffering expression which was intelligent and touching: she seemed to him altogether graceful, feminine, and simple; and he longed to soothe her, not with drugs, not with advice, but with simple, kindly words. Her mother put her arms round her head and hugged her. What despair, what grief was in the old woman’s face! She, her mother, had reared her and brought her up, spared nothing, and devoted her whole life to having her daughter taught French, dancing, music: had engaged a dozen teachers for her; had consulted the best doctors, kept a governess. And now she could not make out the reason of these tears, why there was all this misery, she could not understand, and was bewildered; and she had a guilty, agitated, despairing expression, as though she had omitted something very important, had left something undone, had neglected to call in somebody—and whom, she did not know.
"Lizanka, you are crying again . . . again," she said, hugging her daughter to her. "My own, my darling, my child, tell me what it is! Have pity on me! Tell me."
Both wept bitterly. Korolyov sat down on the side of the bed and took Liza’s hand.
"Come, give over; it’s no use crying," he said kindly. "Why, there is nothing in the world that is worth those tears. Come, we won’t cry; that’s no good. . . ."
And inwardly he thought:
"It’s high time she was married. . . ."
"Our doctor at the factory gave her kalibromati," said the governess, "but I notice it only makes her worse. I should have thought that if she is given anything for the heart it ought to be drops. . . . I forget the name. . . . Convallaria, isn’t it?"
And there followed all sorts of details. She interrupted the doctor, preventing his speaking, and there was a look of effort on her face, as though she supposed that, as the woman of most education in the house, she was duty bound to keep up a conversation with the doctor, and on no other subject but medicine.
Korolyov felt bored.
"I find nothing special the matter," he said, addressing the mother as he went out of the bedroom. "If your daughter is being attended by the factory doctor, let him go on attending her. The treatment so far has been perfectly correct, and I see no reason for changing your doctor. Why change? It’s such an ordinary trouble; there’s nothing seriously wrong."
He spoke deliberately as he put on his gloves, while Madame Lyalikov stood without moving, and looked at him with her tearful eyes.
"I have half an hour to catch the ten o’clock train," he said. "I hope I am not too late."
"And can’t you stay?" she asked, and tears trickled down her cheeks again. "I am ashamed to trouble you, but if you would be so good . . . . For God’s sake," she went on in an undertone, glancing towards the door, "do stay to-night with us! She is all I have . . . my only daughter. . . . She frightened me last night; I can’t get over it. . . . Don’t go away, for goodness’ sake! . . ."
He wanted to tell her that he had a great deal of work in Moscow, that his family were expecting him home; it was disagreeable to him to spend the evening and the whole night in a strange house quite needlessly; but he looked at her face, heaved a sigh, and began taking off his gloves without a word.
All the lamps and candles were lighted in his honour in the drawing-room and the dining-room. He sat down at the piano and began turning over the music. Then he looked at the pictures on the walls, at the portraits. The pictures, oil-paintings in gold frames, were views of the Crimea—a stormy sea with a ship, a Catholic monk with a wineglass; they were all dull, smooth daubs, with no trace of talent in them. There was not a single good-looking face among the portraits, nothing but broad cheekbones and astonished-looking eyes. Lyalikov, Liza’s father, had a low forehead and a self-satisfied expression; his uniform sat like a sack on his bulky plebeian figure; on his breast was a medal and a Red Cross Badge. There was little sign of culture, and the luxury was senseless and haphazard, and was as ill fitting as that uniform. The floors irritated him with their brilliant polish, the lustres on the chandelier irritated him, and he was reminded for some reason of the story of the merchant who used to go to the baths with a medal on his neck. . . .
He heard a whispering in the entry; some one was softly snoring. And suddenly from outside came harsh, abrupt, metallic sounds, such as Korolyov had never heard before, and which he did not understand now; they roused strange, unpleasant echoes in his soul.
"I believe nothing would induce me to remain here to live . . ." he thought, and went back to the music-books again.
"Doctor, please come to supper!" the governess called him in a low voice.
He went into supper. The table was large and laid with a vast number of dishes and wines, but there were only two to supper: himself and Christina Dmitryevna. She drank Madeira, ate rapidly, and talked, looking at him through her pince-nez:
"Our workpeople are very contented. We have performances at the factory every winter; the workpeople act themselves. They have lectures with a magic lantern, a splendid tea-room, and everything they want. They are very much attached to us, and when they heard that Lizanka was worse they had a service sung for her. Though they have no education, they have their feelings, too."
"It looks as though you have no man in the house at all," said Korolyov.
"Not one. Pyotr Nikanoritch died a year and a half ago, and left us alone. And so there are the three of us. In the summer we live here, and in winter we live in Moscow, in Polianka. I have been living with them for eleven years—as one of the family."
At supper they served sterlet, chicken rissoles, and stewed fruit; the wines were expensive French wines.
"Please don’t stand on ceremony, doctor," said Christina Dmitryevna, eating and wiping her mouth with her fist, and it was evident she found her life here exceedingly pleasant. "Please have some more."
After supper the doctor was shown to his room, where a bed had been made up for him, but he did not feel sleepy. The room was stuffy and it smelt of paint; he put on his coat and went out.
It was cool in the open air; there was already a glimmer of dawn, and all the five blocks of buildings, with their tall chimneys, barracks, and warehouses, were distinctly outlined against the damp air. As it was a holiday, they were not working, and the windows were dark, and in only one of the buildings was there a furnace burning; two windows were crimson, and fire mixed with smoke came from time to time from the chimney. Far away beyond the yard the frogs were croaking and the nightingales singing.
Looking at the factory buildings and the barracks, where the workpeople were asleep, he thought again what he always thought when he saw a factory. They may have performances for the workpeople, magic lanterns, factory doctors, and improvements of all sorts, but, all the same, the workpeople he had met that day on his way from the station did not look in any way different from those he had known long ago in his childhood, before there were factory performances and improvements. As a doctor accustomed to judging correctly of chronic complaints, the radical cause of which was incomprehensible and incurable, he looked upon factories as something baffling, the cause of which also was obscure and not removable, and all the improvements in the life of the factory hands he looked upon not as superfluous, but as comparable with the treatment of incurable illnesses.
"There is something baffling in it, of course . . ." he thought, looking at the crimson windows. "Fifteen hundred or two thousand workpeople are working without rest in unhealthy surroundings, making bad cotton goods, living on the verge of starvation, and only waking from this nightmare at rare intervals in the tavern; a hundred people act as overseers, and the whole life of that hundred is spent in imposing fines, in abuse, in injustice, and only two or three so-called owners enjoy the profits, though they don’t work at all, and despise the wretched cotton. But what are the profits, and how do they enjoy them? Madame Lyalikov and her daughter are unhappy—it makes one wretched to look at them; the only one who enjoys her life is Christina Dmitryevna, a stupid, middle-aged maiden lady in pince-nez. And so it appears that all these five blocks of buildings are at work, and inferior cotton is sold in the Eastern markets, simply that Christina Dmitryevna may eat sterlet and drink Madeira."
Suddenly there came a strange noise, the same sound Korolyov had heard before supper. Some one was striking on a sheet of metal near one of the buildings; he struck a note, and then at once checked the vibrations, so that short, abrupt, discordant sounds were produced, rather like "Dair . . . dair . . . dair. . . ." Then there was half a minute of stillness, and from another building there came sounds equally abrupt and unpleasant, lower bass notes: "Drin . . . drin . . . drin. . ." Eleven times. Evidently it was the watchman striking the hour. Near the third building he heard: "Zhuk . . . zhuk . . . zhuk. . . ." And so near all the buildings, and then behind the barracks and beyond the gates. And in the stillness of the night it seemed as though these sounds were uttered by a monster with crimson eyes—the devil himself, who controlled the owners and the work-people alike, and was deceiving both.
Korolyov went out of the yard into the open country.
"Who goes there?" some one called to him at the gates in an abrupt voice.
"It’s just like being in prison," he thought, and made no answer.
Here the nightingales and the frogs could be heard more distinctly, and one could feel it was a night in May. From the station came the noise of a train; somewhere in the distance drowsy cocks were crowing; but, all the same, the night was still, the world was sleeping tranquilly. In a field not far from the factory there could be seen the framework of a house and heaps of building material:
Korolyov sat down on the planks and went on thinking.
"The only person who feels happy here is the governess, and the factory hands are working for her gratification. But that’s only apparent: she is only the figurehead. The real person, for whom everything is being done, is the devil."
And he thought about the devil, in whom he did not believe, and he looked round at the two windows where the fires were gleaming. It seemed to him that out of those crimson eyes the devil himself was looking at him—that unknown force that had created the mutual relation of the strong and the weak, that coarse blunder which one could never correct. The strong must hinder the weak from living —such was the law of Nature; but only in a newspaper article or in a school book was that intelligible and easily accepted. In the hotchpotch which was everyday life, in the tangle of trivialities out of which human relations were woven, it was no longer a law, but a logical absurdity, when the strong and the weak were both equally victims of their mutual relations, unwillingly submitting to some directing force, unknown, standing outside life, apart from man.
So thought Korolyov, sitting on the planks, and little by little he was possessed by a feeling that this unknown and mysterious force was really close by and looking at him. Meanwhile the east was growing paler, time passed rapidly; when there was not a soul anywhere near, as though everything were dead, the five buildings and their chimneys against the grey background of the dawn had a peculiar look—not the same as by day; one forgot altogether that inside there were steam motors, electricity, telephones, and kept thinking of lake-dwellings, of the Stone Age, feeling the presence of a crude, unconscious force. . . .
And again there came the sound: "Dair . . . dair . . . dair . . . dair . . ." twelve times. Then there was stillness, stillness for half a minute, and at the other end of the yard there rang out.
"Drin . . . drin . . . drin. . . ."
"Horribly disagreeable," thought Korolyov.
"Zhuk . . . zhuk . . ." there resounded from a third place, abruptly, sharply, as though with annoyance—"Zhuk . . . zhuk. . . ."
And it took four minutes to strike twelve. Then there was a hush; and again it seemed as though everything were dead.
Korolyov sat a little longer, then went to the house, but sat up for a good while longer. In the adjoining rooms there was whispering, there was a sound of shuffling slippers and bare feet.
"Is she having another attack?" thought Korolyov.
He went out to have a look at the patient. By now it was quite light in the rooms, and a faint glimmer of sunlight, piercing through the morning mist, quivered on the floor and on the wall of the drawing-room. The door of Liza’s room was open, and she was sitting in a low chair beside her bed, with her hair down, wearing a dressing-gown and wrapped in a shawl. The blinds were down on the windows.
"How do you feel?" asked Korolyov.
"Well, thank you."
He touched her pulse, then straightened her hair, that had fallen over her forehead.
"You are not asleep," he said. "It’s beautiful weather outside. It’s spring. The nightingales are singing, and you sit in the dark and think of something."
She listened and looked into his face; her eyes were sorrowful and intelligent, and it was evident she wanted to say something to him.
"Does this happen to you often?" he said.
She moved her lips, and answered:
"Often, I feel wretched almost every night."
At that moment the watchman in the yard began striking two o’clock. They heard: "Dair . . . dair . . ." and she shuddered.
"Do those knockings worry you?" he asked.
"I don’t know. Everything here worries me," she answered, and pondered. "Everything worries me. I hear sympathy in your voice; it seemed to me as soon as I saw you that I could tell you all about it."
"Tell me, I beg you."
"I want to tell you of my opinion. It seems to me that I have no illness, but that I am weary and frightened, because it is bound to be so and cannot be otherwise. Even the healthiest person can’t help being uneasy if, for instance, a robber is moving about under his window. I am constantly being doctored," she went on, looking at her knees, and she gave a shy smile. "I am very grateful, of course, and I do not deny that the treatment is a benefit; but I should like to talk, not with a doctor, but with some intimate friend who would understand me and would convince me that I was right or wrong."
"Have you no friends?" asked Korolyov.
"I am lonely. I have a mother; I love her, but, all the same, I am lonely. That’s how it happens to be. . . . Lonely people read a great deal, but say little and hear little. Life for them is mysterious; they are mystics and often see the devil where he is not. Lermontov’s Tamara was lonely and she saw the devil."
"Do you read a great deal?"
"Yes. You see, my whole time is free from morning till night. I read by day, and by night my head is empty; instead of thoughts there are shadows in it."
"Do you see anything at night?" asked Korolyov.
"No, but I feel. . . ."
She smiled again, raised her eyes to the doctor, and looked at him so sorrowfully, so intelligently; and it seemed to him that she trusted him, and that she wanted to speak frankly to him, and that she thought the same as he did. But she was silent, perhaps waiting for him to speak.
And he knew what to say to her. It was clear to him that she needed as quickly as possible to give up the five buildings and the million if she had it—to leave that devil that looked out at night; it was clear to him, too, that she thought so herself, and was only waiting for some one she trusted to confirm her.
But he did not know how to say it. How? One is shy of asking men under sentence what they have been sentenced for; and in the same way it is awkward to ask very rich people what they want so much money for, why they make such a poor use of their wealth, why they don’t give it up, even when they see in it their unhappiness; and if they begin a conversation about it themselves, it is usually embarrassing, awkward, and long.
"How is one to say it?" Korolyov wondered. "And is it necessary to speak?"
And he said what he meant in a roundabout way:
"You in the position of a factory owner and a wealthy heiress are dissatisfied; you don’t believe in your right to it; and here now you can’t sleep. That, of course, is better than if you were satisfied, slept soundly, and thought everything was satisfactory. Your sleeplessness does you credit; in any case, it is a good sign. In reality, such a conversation as this between us now would have been unthinkable for our parents. At night they did not talk, but slept sound; we, our generation, sleep badly, are restless, but talk a great deal, and are always trying to settle whether we are right or not. For our children or grandchildren that question— whether they are right or not—will have been settled. Things will be clearer for them than for us. Life will be good in fifty years’ time; it’s only a pity we shall not last out till then. It would be interesting to have a peep at it."
"What will our children and grandchildren do?" asked Liza.
"I don’t know. . . . I suppose they will throw it all up and go away."
"Go where?"
"Where? . . . Why, where they like," said Korolyov; and he laughed. "There are lots of places a good, intelligent person can go to."
He glanced at his watch.
"The sun has risen, though," he said. "It is time you were asleep. Undress and sleep soundly. Very glad to have made your acquaintance," he went on, pressing her hand. "You are a good, interesting woman. Good-night!"
He went to his room and went to bed.
In the morning when the carriage was brought round they all came out on to the steps to see him off. Liza, pale and exhausted, was in a white dress as though for a holiday, with a flower in her hair; she looked at him, as yesterday, sorrowfully and intelligently, smiled and talked, and all with an expression as though she wanted to tell him something special, important—him alone. They could hear the larks trilling and the church bells pealing. The windows in the factory buildings were sparkling gaily, and, driving across the yard and afterwards along the road to the station, Korolyov thought neither of the workpeople nor of lake dwellings, nor of the devil, but thought of the time, perhaps close at hand, when life would be as bright and joyous as that still Sunday morning; and he thought how pleasant it was on such a morning in the spring to drive with three horses in a good carriage, and to bask in the sunshine.



IT was ten o’clock in the evening and the full moon was shining over the garden. In the Shumins’ house an evening service celebrated at the request of the grandmother, Marfa Mihalovna, was just over, and now Nadya — she had gone into the garden for a minute — could see the table being laid for supper in the dining-room, and her grandmother bustling about in her gorgeous silk dress; Father Andrey, a chief priest of the cathedral, was talking to Nadya’s mother, Nina Ivanovna, and now in the evening light through the window her mother for some reason looked very young; Andrey Andreitch, Father Andrey’s son, was standing by listening attentively.

It was still and cool in the garden, and dark peaceful shadows lay on the ground. There was a sound of frogs croaking, far, far away beyond the town. There was a feeling of May, sweet May! One drew deep breaths and longed to fancy that not here but far away under the sky, above the trees, far away in the open country, in the fields and the woods, the life of spring was unfolding now, mysterious, lovely, rich and holy beyond the understanding of weak, sinful man. And for some reason one wanted to cry.

She, Nadya, was already twenty-three. Ever since she was sixteen she had been passionately dreaming of marriage and at last she was engaged to Andrey Andreitch, the young man who was standing on the other side of the window; she liked him, the wedding was already fixed for July 7, and yet there was no joy in her heart, she was sleeping badly, her spirits drooped. . . . She could hear from the open windows of the basement where the kitchen was the hurrying servants, the clatter of knives, the banging of the swing door; there was a smell of roast turkey and pickled cherries, and for some reason it seemed to her that it would be like that all her life, with no change, no end to it.

Some one came out of the house and stood on the steps; it was Alexandr Timofeitch, or, as he was always called, Sasha, who had come from Moscow ten days before and was staying with them. Years ago a distant relation of the grandmother, a gentleman’s widow called Marya Petrovna, a thin, sickly little woman who had sunk into poverty, used to come to the house to ask for assistance. She had a son Sasha. It used for some reason to be said that he had talent as an artist, and when his mother died Nadya’s grandmother had, for the salvation of her soul, sent him to the Komissarovsky school in Moscow; two years later he went into the school of painting, spent nearly fifteen years there, and only just managed to scrape through the leaving examination in the section of architecture. He did not set up as an architect, however, but took a job at a lithographer’s. He used to come almost every year, usually very ill, to stay with Nadya’s grandmother to rest and recover.

He was wearing now a frock-coat buttoned up, and shabby canvas trousers, crumpled into creases at the bottom. And his shirt had not been ironed and he had somehow all over a look of not being fresh. He was very thin, with big eyes, long thin fingers and a swarthy bearded face, and all the same he was handsome. With the Shumins he was like one of the family, and in their house felt he was at home. And the room in which he lived when he was there had for years been called Sasha’s room. Standing on the steps he saw Nadya, and went up to her.

"It’s nice here," he said.

"Of course it’s nice, you ought to stay here till the autumn."

"Yes, I expect it will come to that. I dare say I shall stay with you till September."

He laughed for no reason, and sat down beside her.

"I’m sitting gazing at mother," said Nadya. "She looks so young from here! My mother has her weaknesses, of course," she added, after a pause, "but still she is an exceptional woman."

"Yes, she is very nice . . ." Sasha agreed. "Your mother, in her own way of course, is a very good and sweet woman, but . . . how shall I say? I went early this morning into your kitchen and there I found four servants sleeping on the floor, no bedsteads, and rags for bedding, stench, bugs, beetles . . . it is just as it was twenty years ago, no change at all. Well, Granny, God bless her, what else can you expect of Granny? But your mother speaks French, you know, and acts in private theatricals. One would think she might understand."

As Sasha talked, he used to stretch out two long wasted fingers before the listener’s face.

"It all seems somehow strange to me here, now I am out of the habit of it," he went on. "There is no making it out. Nobody ever does anything. Your mother spends the whole day walking about like a duchess, Granny does nothing either, nor you either. And your Andrey Andreitch never does anything either."

Nadya had heard this the year before and, she fancied, the year before that too, and she knew that Sasha could not make any other criticism, and in old days this had amused her, but now for some reason she felt annoyed.

"That’s all stale, and I have been sick of it for ages," she said and got up. "You should think of something a little newer."

He laughed and got up too, and they went together toward the house. She, tall, handsome, and well-made, beside him looked very healthy and smartly dressed; she was conscious of this and felt sorry for him and for some reason awkward.

"And you say a great deal you should not," she said. "You’ve just been talking about my Andrey, but you see you don’t know him."

"My Andrey. . . . Bother him, your Andrey. I am sorry for your youth."

They were already sitting down to supper as the young people went into the dining-room. The grandmother, or Granny as she was called in the household, a very stout, plain old lady with bushy eyebrows and a little moustache, was talking loudly, and from her voice and manner of speaking it could be seen that she was the person of most importance in the house. She owned rows of shops in the market, and the old-fashioned house with columns and the garden, yet she prayed every morning that God might save her from ruin and shed tears as she did so. Her daughter-in-law, Nadya’s mother, Nina Ivanovna, a fair-haired woman tightly laced in, with a pince-nez, and diamonds on every finger, Father Andrey, a lean, toothless old man whose face always looked as though he were just going to say something amusing, and his son, Andrey Andreitch, a stout and handsome young man with curly hair looking like an artist or an actor, were all talking of hypnotism.

"You will get well in a week here," said Granny, addressing Sasha. "Only you must eat more. What do you look like!" she sighed. "You are really dreadful! You are a regular prodigal son, that is what you are."

"After wasting his father’s substance in riotous living," said Father Andrey slowly, with laughing eyes. "He fed with senseless beasts."

"I like my dad," said Andrey Andreitch, touching his father on the shoulder. "He is a splendid old fellow, a dear old fellow."

Everyone was silent for a space. Sasha suddenly burst out laughing and put his dinner napkin to his mouth.

"So you believe in hypnotism?" said Father Andrey to Nina Ivanovna.

"I cannot, of course, assert that I believe," answered Nina Ivanovna, assuming a very serious, even severe, expression; "but I must own that there is much that is mysterious and incomprehensible in nature."

"I quite agree with you, though I must add that religion distinctly curtails for us the domain of the mysterious."

A big and very fat turkey was served. Father Andrey and Nina Ivanovna went on with their conversation. Nina Ivanovna’s diamonds glittered on her fingers, then tears began to glitter in her eyes, she grew excited.

"Though I cannot venture to argue with you," she said, "you must admit there are so many insoluble riddles in life!"

"Not one, I assure you."

After supper Andrey Andreitch played the fiddle and Nina Ivanovna accompanied him on the piano. Ten years before he had taken his degree at the university in the Faculty of Arts, but had never held any post, had no definite work, and only from time to time took part in concerts for charitable objects; and in the town he was regarded as a musician.

Andrey Andreitch played; they all listened in silence. The samovar was boiling quietly on the table and no one but Sasha was drinking tea. Then when it struck twelve a violin string suddenly broke; everyone laughed, bustled about, and began saying good-bye.

After seeing her fiancé out, Nadya went upstairs where she and her mother had their rooms (the lower storey was occupied by the grandmother). They began putting the lights out below in the dining-room, while Sasha still sat on drinking tea. He always spent a long time over tea in the Moscow style, drinking as much as seven glasses at a time. For a long time after Nadya had undressed and gone to bed she could hear the servants clearing away downstairs and Granny talking angrily. At last everything was hushed, and nothing could be heard but Sasha from time to time coughing on a bass note in his room below.


When Nadya woke up it must have been two o’clock, it was beginning to get light. A watchman was tapping somewhere far away. She was not sleepy, and her bed felt very soft and uncomfortable. Nadya sat up in her bed and fell to thinking as she had done every night in May. Her thoughts were the same as they had been the night before, useless, persistent thoughts, always alike, of how Andrey Andreitch had begun courting her and had made her an offer, how she had accepted him and then little by little had come to appreciate the kindly, intelligent man. But for some reason now when there was hardly a month left before the wedding, she began to feel dread and uneasiness as though something vague and oppressive were before her.

"Tick-tock, tick-tock . . ." the watchman tapped lazily. ". . . Tick-tock."

Through the big old-fashioned window she could see the garden and at a little distance bushes of lilac in full flower, drowsy and lifeless from the cold; and the thick white mist was floating softly up to the lilac, trying to cover it. Drowsy rooks were cawing in the far-away trees.

"My God, why is my heart so heavy?"

Perhaps every girl felt the same before her wedding. There was no knowing! Or was it Sasha’s influence? But for several years past Sasha had been repeating the same thing, like a copybook, and when he talked he seemed naive and queer. But why was it she could not get Sasha out of her head? Why was it?

The watchman left off tapping for a long while. The birds were twittering under the windows and the mist had disappeared from the garden. Everything was lighted up by the spring sunshine as by a smile. Soon the whole garden, warm and caressed by the sun, returned to life, and dewdrops like diamonds glittered on the leaves and the old neglected garden on that morning looked young and gaily decked.

Granny was already awake. Sasha’s husky cough began. Nadya could hear them below, setting the samovar and moving the chairs. The hours passed slowly, Nadya had been up and walking about the garden for a long while and still the morning dragged on.

At last Nina Ivanovna appeared with a tear-stained face, carrying a glass of mineral water. She was interested in spiritualism and homeopathy, read a great deal, was fond of talking of the doubts to which she was subject, and to Nadya it seemed as though there were a deep mysterious significance in all that.

Now Nadya kissed her mother and walked beside her.

"What have you been crying about, mother?" she asked.

"Last night I was reading a story in which there is an old man and his daughter. The old man is in some office and his chief falls in love with his daughter. I have not finished it, but there was a passage which made it hard to keep from tears," said Nina Ivanovna and she sipped at her glass. "I thought of it this morning and shed tears again."

"I have been so depressed all these days," said Nadya after a pause. "Why is it I don’t sleep at night!"

"I don’t know, dear. When I can’t sleep I shut my eyes very tightly, like this, and picture to myself Anna Karenin moving about and talking, or something historical from the ancient world. . . ."

Nadya felt that her mother did not understand her and was incapable of understanding. She felt this for the first time in her life, and it positively frightened her and made her want to hide herself; and she went away to her own room.

At two o’clock they sat down to dinner. It was Wednesday, a fast day, and so vegetable soup and bream with boiled grain were set before Granny.

To tease Granny Sasha ate his meat soup as well as the vegetable soup. He was making jokes all through dinner-time, but his jests were laboured and invariably with a moral bearing, and the effect was not at all amusing when before making some witty remark he raised his very long, thin, deathly-looking fingers; and when one remembered that he was very ill and would probably not be much longer in this world, one felt sorry for him and ready to weep.

After dinner Granny went off to her own room to lie down. Nina Ivanovna played on the piano for a little, and then she too went away.

"Oh, dear Nadya!" Sasha began his usual afternoon conversation, "if only you would listen to me! If only you would!"

She was sitting far back in an old-fashioned armchair, with her eyes shut, while he paced slowly about the room from corner to corner.

"If only you would go to the university," he said. "Only enlightened and holy people are interesting, it’s only they who are wanted. The more of such people there are, the sooner the Kingdom of God will come on earth. Of your town then not one stone will be left, everything will he blown up from the foundations, everything will be changed as though by magic. And then there will be immense, magnificent houses here, wonderful gardens, marvellous fountains, remarkable people. . . . But that’s not what matters most. What matters most is that the crowd, in our sense of the word, in the sense in which it exists now — that evil will not exist then, because every man will believe and every man will know what he is living for and no one will seek moral support in the crowd. Dear Nadya, darling girl, go away! Show them all that you are sick of this stagnant, grey, sinful life. Prove it to yourself at least!"

"I can’t, Sasha, I’m going to be married."

"Oh nonsense! What’s it for!"

They went out into the garden and walked up and down a little.

"And however that may be, my dear girl, you must think, you must realize how unclean, how immoral this idle life of yours is," Sasha went on. "Do understand that if, for instance, you and your mother and your grandmother do nothing, it means that someone else is working for you, you are eating up someone else’s life, and is that clean, isn’t it filthy?"

Nadya wanted to say "Yes, that is true"; she wanted to say that she understood, but tears came into her eyes, her spirits drooped, and shrinking into herself she went off to her room.

Towards evening Andrey Andreitch arrived and as usual played the fiddle for a long time. He was not given to much talk as a rule, and was fond of the fiddle, perhaps because one could be silent while playing. At eleven o’clock when he was about to go home and had put on his greatcoat, he embraced Nadya and began greedily kissing her face, her shoulders, and her hands.

"My dear, my sweet, my charmer," he muttered. "Oh how happy I am! I am beside myself with rapture!"

And it seemed to her as though she had heard that long, long ago, or had read it somewhere . . . in some old tattered novel thrown away long ago. In the dining-room Sasha was sitting at the table drinking tea with the saucer poised on his five long fingers; Granny was laying out patience; Nina Ivanovna was reading. The flame crackled in the ikon lamp and everything, it seemed, was quiet and going well. Nadya said good-night, went upstairs to her room, got into bed and fell asleep at once. But just as on the night before, almost before it was light, she woke up. She was not sleepy, there was an uneasy, oppressive feeling in her heart. She sat up with her head on her knees and thought of her fiancé and her marriage. . . . She for some reason remembered that her mother had not loved her father and now had nothing and lived in complete dependence on her mother-in-law, Granny. And however much Nadya pondered she could not imagine why she had hitherto seen in her mother something special and exceptional, how it was she had not noticed that she was a simple, ordinary, unhappy woman.

And Sasha downstairs was not asleep, she could hear him coughing. He is a queer, naive man, thought Nadya, and in all his dreams, in all those marvellous gardens and wonderful fountains one felt there was something absurd. But for some reason in his naiveté, in this very absurdity there was something so beautiful that as soon as she thought of the possibility of going to the university, it sent a cold thrill through her heart and her bosom and flooded them with joy and rapture.

"But better not think, better not think . . ." she whispered. "I must not think of it."

"Tick-tock," tapped the watchman somewhere far away. "Tick-tock . . . tick-tock. . . ."


In the middle of June Sasha suddenly felt bored and made up his mind to return to Moscow.

"I can’t exist in this town," he said gloomily. "No water supply, no drains! It disgusts me to eat at dinner; the filth in the kitchen is incredible. . . ."

"Wait a little, prodigal son!" Granny tried to persuade him, speaking for some reason in a whisper, "the wedding is to be on the seventh."

"I don’t want to."

"You meant to stay with us until September!"

"But now, you see, I don’t want to. I must get to work."

The summer was grey and cold, the trees were wet, everything in the garden looked dejected and uninviting, it certainly did make one long to get to work. The sound of unfamiliar women’s voices was heard downstairs and upstairs, there was the rattle of a sewing machine in Granny’s room, they were working hard at the trousseau. Of fur coats alone, six were provided for Nadya, and the cheapest of them, in Granny’s words, had cost three hundred roubles! The fuss irritated Sasha; he stayed in his own room and was cross, but everyone persuaded him to remain, and he promised not to go before the first of July.

Time passed quickly. On St. Peter’s day Andrey Andreitch went with Nadya after dinner to Moscow Street to look once more at the house which had been taken and made ready for the young couple some time before. It was a house of two storeys, but so far only the upper floor had been furnished. There was in the hall a shining floor painted and parqueted, there were Viennese chairs, a piano, a violin stand; there was a smell of paint. On the wall hung a big oil painting in a gold frame — a naked lady and beside her a purple vase with a broken handle.

"An exquisite picture," said Andrey Andreitch, and he gave a respectful sigh. "It’s the work of the artist Shismatchevsky."

Then there was the drawing-room with the round table, and a sofa and easy chairs upholstered in bright blue. Above the sofa was a big photograph of Father Andrey wearing a priest’s velvet cap and decorations. Then they went into the dining-room in which there was a sideboard; then into the bedroom; here in the half dusk stood two bedsteads side by side, and it looked as though the bedroom had been decorated with the idea that it would always be very agreeable there and could not possibly be anything else. Andrey Andreitch led Nadya about the rooms, all the while keeping his arm round her waist; and she felt weak and conscience-stricken. She hated all the rooms, the beds, the easy chairs; she was nauseated by the naked lady. It was clear to her now that she had ceased to love Andrey Andreitch or perhaps had never loved him at all; but how to say this and to whom to say it and with what object she did not understand, and could not understand, though she was thinking about it all day and all night. . . . He held her round the waist, talked so affectionately, so modestly, was so happy, walking about this house of his; while she saw nothing in it all but vulgarity, stupid, naive, unbearable vulgarity, and his arm round her waist felt as hard and cold as an iron hoop. And every minute she was on the point of running away, bursting into sobs, throwing herself out of a window. Andrey Andreitch led her into the bathroom and here he touched a tap fixed in the wall and at once water flowed.

"What do you say to that?" he said, and laughed. "I had a tank holding two hundred gallons put in the loft, and so now we shall have water."

They walked across the yard and went out into the street and took a cab. Thick clouds of dust were blowing, and it seemed as though it were just going to rain.

"You are not cold?" said Andrey Andreitch, screwing up his eyes at the dust.

She did not answer.

"Yesterday, you remember, Sasha blamed me for doing nothing," he said, after a brief silence. "Well, he is right, absolutely right! I do nothing and can do nothing. My precious, why is it? Why is it that the very thought that I may some day fix a cockade on my cap and go into the government service is so hateful to me? Why do I feel so uncomfortable when I see a lawyer or a Latin master or a member of the Zemstvo? O Mother Russia! O Mother Russia! What a burden of idle and useless people you still carry! How many like me are upon you, long-suffering Mother!"

And from the fact that he did nothing he drew generalizations, seeing in it a sign of the times.

"When we are married let us go together into the country, my precious; there we will work! We will buy ourselves a little piece of land with a garden and a river, we will labour and watch life. Oh, how splendid that will be!"

He took off his hat, and his hair floated in the wind, while she listened to him and thought: "Good God, I wish I were home!"

When they were quite near the house they overtook Father Andrey.

"Ah, here’s father coming," cried Andrey Andreitch, delighted, and he waved his hat. "I love my dad really," he said as he paid the cabman. "He’s a splendid old fellow, a dear old fellow."

Nadya went into the house, feeling cross and unwell, thinking that there would be visitors all the evening, that she would have to entertain them, to smile, to listen to the fiddle, to listen to all sorts of nonsense, and to talk of nothing but the wedding.

Granny, dignified, gorgeous in her silk dress, and haughty as she always seemed before visitors, was sitting before the samovar. Father Andrey came in with his sly smile.

"I have the pleasure and blessed consolation of seeing you in health," he said to Granny, and it was hard to tell whether he was joking or speaking seriously.


The wind was beating on the window and on the roof; there was a whistling sound, and in the stove the house spirit was plaintively and sullenly droning his song. It was past midnight; everyone in the house had gone to bed, but no one was asleep, and it seemed all the while to Nadya as though they were playing the fiddle below. There was a sharp bang; a shutter must have been torn off. A minute later Nina Ivanovna came in in her nightgown, with a candle.

"What was the bang, Nadya?" she asked.

Her mother, with her hair in a single plait and a timid smile on her face, looked older, plainer, smaller on that stormy night. Nadya remembered that quite a little time ago she had thought her mother an exceptional woman and had listened with pride to the things she said; and now she could not remember those things, everything that came into her mind was so feeble and useless.

In the stove was the sound of several bass voices in chorus, and she even heard "O-o-o my G-o-od!" Nadya sat on her bed, and suddenly she clutched at her hair and burst into sobs.

"Mother, mother, my own," she said. "If only you knew what is happening to me! I beg you, I beseech you, let me go away! I beseech you!"

"Where?" asked Nina Ivanovna, not understanding, and she sat down on the bedstead. "Go where?"

For a long while Nadya cried and could not utter a word.

"Let me go away from the town," she said at last. "There must not and will not be a wedding, understand that! I don’t love that man . . . I can’t even speak about him."

"No, my own, no!" Nina Ivanovna said quickly, terribly alarmed. "Calm yourself — it’s just because you are in low spirits. It will pass, it often happens. Most likely you have had a tiff with Andrey; but lovers’ quarrels always end in kisses!"

"Oh, go away, mother, oh, go away," sobbed Nadya.

"Yes," said Nina Ivanovna after a pause, "it’s not long since you were a baby, a little girl, and now you are engaged to be married. In nature there is a continual transmutation of substances. Before you know where you are you will be a mother yourself and an old woman, and will have as rebellious a daughter as I have."

"My darling, my sweet, you are clever you know, you are unhappy," said Nadya. "You are very unhappy; why do you say such very dull, commonplace things? For God’s sake, why?"

Nina Ivanovna tried to say something, but could not utter a word; she gave a sob and went away to her own room. The bass voices began droning in the stove again, and Nadya felt suddenly frightened. She jumped out of bed and went quickly to her mother. Nina Ivanovna, with tear-stained face, was lying in bed wrapped in a pale blue quilt and holding a book in her hands.

"Mother, listen to me!" said Nadya. "I implore you, do understand! If you would only understand how petty and degrading our life is. My eyes have been opened, and I see it all now. And what is your Andrey Andreitch? Why, he is not intelligent, mother! Merciful heavens, do understand, mother, he is stupid!"

Nina Ivanovna abruptly sat up.

"You and your grandmother torment me," she said with a sob. "I want to live! to live," she repeated, and twice she beat her little fist upon her bosom. "Let me be free! I am still young, I want to live, and you have made me an old woman between you!"

She broke into bitter tears, lay down and curled up under the quilt, and looked so small, so pitiful, so foolish. Nadya went to her room, dressed, and sitting at the window fell to waiting for the morning. She sat all night thinking, while someone seemed to be tapping on the shutters and whistling in the yard.

In the morning Granny complained that the wind had blown down all the apples in the garden, and broken down an old plum tree. It was grey, murky, cheerless, dark enough for candles; everyone complained of the cold, and the rain lashed on the windows. After tea Nadya went into Sasha’s room and without saying a word knelt down before an armchair in the corner and hid her face in her hands.

"What is it?" asked Sasha.

"I can’t . . ." she said. "How I could go on living here before, I can’t understand, I can’t conceive! I despise the man I am engaged to, I despise myself, I despise all this idle, senseless existence."

"Well, well," said Sasha, not yet grasping what was meant. "That’s all right . . . that’s good."

"I am sick of this life," Nadya went on. "I can’t endure another day here. To-morrow I am going away. Take me with you for God’s sake!"

For a minute Sasha looked at her in astonishment; at last he understood and was delighted as a child. He waved his arms and began pattering with his slippers as though he were dancing with delight.

"Splendid," he said, rubbing his hands. "My goodness, how fine that is!"

And she stared at him without blinking, with adoring eyes, as though spellbound, expecting every minute that he would say something important, something infinitely significant; he had told her nothing yet, but already it seemed to her that something new and great was opening before her which she had not known till then, and already she gazed at him full of expectation, ready to face anything, even death.

"I am going to-morrow," he said after a moment’s thought. "You come to the station to see me off. . . . I’ll take your things in my portmanteau, and I’ll get your ticket, and when the third bell rings you get into the carriage, and we’ll go off. You’ll see me as far as Moscow and then go on to Petersburg alone. Have you a passport?"


"I can promise you, you won’t regret it," said Sasha, with conviction. "You will go, you will study, and then go where fate takes you. When you turn your life upside down everything will be changed. The great thing is to turn your life upside down, and all the rest is unimportant. And so we will set off to-morrow?"

"Oh yes, for God’s sake!"

It seemed to Nadya that she was very much excited, that her heart was heavier than ever before, that she would spend all the time till she went away in misery and agonizing thought; but she had hardly gone upstairs and lain down on her bed when she fell asleep at once, with traces of tears and a smile on her face, and slept soundly till evening.


A cab had been sent for. Nadya in her hat and overcoat went upstairs to take one more look at her mother, at all her belongings. She stood in her own room beside her still warm bed, looked about her, then went slowly in to her mother. Nina Ivanovna was asleep; it was quite still in her room. Nadya kissed her mother, smoothed her hair, stood still for a couple of minutes . . . then walked slowly downstairs.

It was raining heavily. The cabman with the hood pulled down was standing at the entrance, drenched with rain.

"There is not room for you, Nadya," said Granny, as the servants began putting in the luggage. "What an idea to see him off in such weather! You had better stop at home. Goodness, how it rains!"

Nadya tried to say something, but could not. Then Sasha helped Nadya in and covered her feet with a rug. Then he sat down beside her.

"Good luck to you! God bless you!" Granny cried from the steps. "Mind you write to us from Moscow, Sasha!"

"Right. Good-bye, Granny."

"The Queen of Heaven keep you!"

"Oh, what weather!" said Sasha.

It was only now that Nadya began to cry. Now it was clear to her that she certainly was going, which she had not really believed when she was saying good-bye to Granny, and when she was looking at her mother. Good-bye, town! And she suddenly thought of it all: Andrey, and his father and the new house and the naked lady with the vase; and it all no longer frightened her, nor weighed upon her, but was naive and trivial and continually retreated further away. And when they got into the railway carriage and the train began to move, all that past which had been so big and serious shrank up into something tiny, and a vast wide future which till then had scarcely been noticed began unfolding before her. The rain pattered on the carriage windows, nothing could be seen but the green fields, telegraph posts with birds sitting on the wires flitted by, and joy made her hold her breath; she thought that she was going to freedom, going to study, and this was just like what used, ages ago, to be called going off to be a free Cossack.

She laughed and cried and prayed all at once.

"It’s a-all right," said Sasha, smiling. "It’s a-all right."


Autumn had passed and winter, too, had gone. Nadya had begun to be very homesick and thought every day of her mother and her grandmother; she thought of Sasha too. The letters that came from home were kind and gentle, and it seemed as though everything by now were forgiven and forgotten. In May after the examinations she set off for home in good health and high spirits, and stopped on the way at Moscow to see Sasha. He was just the same as the year before, with the same beard and unkempt hair, with the same large beautiful eyes, and he still wore the same coat and canvas trousers; but he looked unwell and worried, he seemed both older and thinner, and kept coughing, and for some reason he struck Nadya as grey and provincial.

"My God, Nadya has come!" he said, and laughed gaily. "My darling girl!"

They sat in the printing room, which was full of tobacco smoke, and smelt strongly, stiflingly of Indian ink and paint; then they went to his room, which also smelt of tobacco and was full of the traces of spitting; near a cold samovar stood a broken plate with dark paper on it, and there were masses of dead flies on the table and on the floor. And everything showed that Sasha ordered his personal life in a slovenly way and lived anyhow, with utter contempt for comfort, and if anyone began talking to him of his personal happiness, of his personal life, of affection for him, he would not have understood and would have only laughed.

"It is all right, everything has gone well," said Nadya hurriedly. "Mother came to see me in Petersburg in the autumn; she said that Granny is not angry, and only keeps going into my room and making the sign of the cross over the walls."

Sasha looked cheerful, but he kept coughing, and talked in a cracked voice, and Nadya kept looking at him, unable to decide whether he really were seriously ill or whether it were only her fancy.

"Dear Sasha," she said, "you are ill."

"No, it’s nothing, I am ill, but not very . . ."

"Oh, dear!" cried Nadya, in agitation. "Why don’t you go to a doctor? Why don’t you take care of your health? My dear, darling Sasha," she said, and tears gushed from her eyes and for some reason there rose before her imagination Andrey Andreitch and the naked lady with the vase, and all her past which seemed now as far away as her childhood; and she began crying because Sasha no longer seemed to her so novel, so cultured, and so interesting as the year before. "Dear Sasha, you are very, very ill . . . I would do anything to make you not so pale and thin. I am so indebted to you! You can’t imagine how much you have done for me, my good Sasha! In reality you are now the person nearest and dearest to me."

They sat on and talked, and now, after Nadya had spent a winter in Petersburg, Sasha, his works, his smile, his whole figure had for her a suggestion of something out of date, old-fashioned, done with long ago and perhaps already dead and buried.

"I am going down the Volga the day after tomorrow," said Sasha, "and then to drink koumiss. I mean to drink koumiss. A friend and his wife are going with me. His wife is a wonderful woman; I am always at her, trying to persuade her to go to the university. I want her to turn her life upside down."

After having talked they drove to the station. Sasha got her tea and apples; and when the train began moving and he waved his handkerchief at her, smiling, it could be seen even from his legs that he was very ill and would not live long.

Nadya reached her native town at midday. As she drove home from the station the streets struck her as very wide and the houses very small and squat; there were no people about, she met no one but the German piano-tuner in a rusty greatcoat. And all the houses looked as though they were covered with dust. Granny, who seemed to have grown quite old, but was as fat and plain as ever, flung her arms round Nadya and cried for a long time with her face on Nadya’s shoulder, unable to tear herself away. Nina Ivanovna looked much older and plainer and seemed shrivelled up, but was still tightly laced, and still had diamonds flashing on her fingers.

"My darling," she said, trembling all over, "my darling!"

Then they sat down and cried without speaking. It was evident that both mother and grandmother realized that the past was lost and gone, never to return; they had now no position in society, no prestige as before, no right to invite visitors; so it is when in the midst of an easy careless life the police suddenly burst in at night and made a search, and it turns out that the head of the family has embezzled money or committed forgery — and goodbye then to the easy careless life for ever!

Nadya went upstairs and saw the same bed, the same windows with naive white curtains, and outside the windows the same garden, gay and noisy, bathed in sunshine. She touched the table, sat down and sank into thought. And she had a good dinner and drank tea with delicious rich cream; but something was missing, there was a sense of emptiness in the rooms and the ceilings were so low. In the evening she went to bed, covered herself up and for some reason it seemed to her to be funny lying in this snug, very soft bed.

Nina Ivanovna came in for a minute; she sat down as people who feel guilty sit down, timidly, and looking about her.

"Well, tell me, Nadya," she enquired after a brief pause, "are you contented? Quite contented?"

"Yes, mother."

Nina Ivanovna got up, made the sign of the cross over Nadya and the windows.

"I have become religious, as you see," she said. "You know I am studying philosophy now, and I am always thinking and thinking. . . . And many things have become as clear as daylight to me. It seems to me that what is above all necessary is that life should pass as it were through a prism."

"Tell me, mother, how is Granny in health?"

"She seems all right. When you went away that time with Sasha and the telegram came from you, Granny fell on the floor as she read it; for three days she lay without moving. After that she was always praying and crying. But now she is all right again."

She got up and walked about the room.

"Tick-tock," tapped the watchman. "Tick-tock, tick-tock. . . ."

"What is above all necessary is that life should pass as it were through a prism," she said; "in other words, that life in consciousness should be analyzed into its simplest elements as into the seven primary colours, and each element must be studied separately."

What Nina Ivanovna said further and when she went away, Nadya did not hear, as she quickly fell asleep.

May passed; June came. Nadya had grown used to being at home. Granny busied herself about the samovar, heaving deep sighs. Nina Ivanovna talked in the evenings about her philosophy; she still lived in the house like a poor relation, and had to go to Granny for every farthing. There were lots of flies in the house, and the ceilings seemed to become lower and lower. Granny and Nina Ivanovna did not go out in the streets for fear of meeting Father Andrey and Andrey Andreitch. Nadya walked about the garden and the streets, looked at the grey fences, and it seemed to her that everything in the town had grown old, was out of date and was only waiting either for the end, or for the beginning of something young and fresh. Oh, if only that new, bright life would come more quickly — that life in which one will be able to face one’s fate boldly and directly, to know that one is right, to be light-hearted and free! And sooner or later such a life will come. The time will come when of Granny’s house, where things are so arranged that the four servants can only live in one room in filth in the basement — the time will come when of that house not a trace will remain, and it will be forgotten, no one will remember it. And Nadya’s only entertainment was from the boys next door; when she walked about the garden they knocked on the fence and shouted in mockery: "Betrothed! Betrothed!"

A letter from Sasha arrived from Saratov. In his gay dancing handwriting he told them that his journey on the Volga had been a complete success, but that he had been taken rather ill in Saratov, had lost his voice, and had been for the last fortnight in the hospital. She knew what that meant, and she was overwhelmed with a foreboding that was like a conviction. And it vexed her that this foreboding and the thought of Sasha did not distress her so much as before. She had a passionate desire for life, longed to be in Petersburg, and her friendship with Sasha seemed now sweet but something far, far away! She did not sleep all night, and in the morning sat at the window, listening. And she did in fact hear voices below; Granny, greatly agitated, was asking questions rapidly. Then some one began crying. . . . When Nadya went downstairs Granny was standing in the corner, praying before the ikon and her face was tearful. A telegram lay on the table.

For some time Nadya walked up and down the room, listening to Granny’s weeping; then she picked up the telegram and read it.

It announced that the previous morning Alexandr Timofeitch, or more simply, Sasha, had died at Saratov of consumption.

Granny and Nina Ivanovna went to the church to order a memorial service, while Nadya went on walking about the rooms and thinking. She recognized clearly that her life had been turned upside down as Sasha wished; that here she was, alien, isolated, useless and that everything here was useless to her; that all the past had been torn away from her and vanished as though it had been burnt up and the ashes scattered to the winds. She went into Sasha’s room and stood there for a while.

"Good-bye, dear Sasha," she thought, and before her mind rose the vista of a new, wide, spacious life, and that life, still obscure and full of mysteries, beckoned her and attracted her.

She went upstairs to her own room to pack, and next morning said good-bye to her family, and full of life and high spirits left the town — as she supposed for ever.


1. УСТРИЦЫ (1884)
3. КОШМАР (1886)
4. СВЯТОЮ НОЧЬЮ (1886)
5. ТИНА (1886)
6. ПОЦЕЛУЙ (1887)
7. ИМЕНИНЫ (1888)
8. ПРИПАДОК (1889)
9. ЖЕНА (1892)
10. СТРАХ (1892)
11. В РОДНОМ УГЛУ (1897)
12. КРЫЖОВНИК (1898)
14. НЕВЕСТА (1903)


Мне не нужно слишком напрягать память, чтобы во всех подробностях вспомнить дождливые осенние сумерки, когда я стою с отцом на одной из многолюдных московских улиц и чувствую, как мною постепенно овладевает странная болезнь. Боли нет никакой, но ноги мои подгибаются, слова останавливаются поперек горла, голова бессильно склоняется набок… По-видимому, я сейчас должен упасть и потерять сознание.
Попади я в эти минуты в больницу, доктора должны были бы написать на моей доске: Fames[3] — болезнь, которой нет в медицинских учебниках.
Возле меня на тротуаре стоит мой родной отец в поношенном летнем пальто и триковой шапочке, из которой торчит белеющий кусочек ваты. На его ногах большие, тяжелые калоши. Суетный человек, боясь, чтобы люди не увидели, что он носит калоши на босую ногу, натянул на голени старые голенища.
Этот бедный, глуповатый чудак, которого я люблю тем сильнее, чем оборваннее и грязнее делается его летнее франтоватое пальто, пять месяцев тому назад прибыл в столицу искать должности по письменной части. Все пять месяцев он шатался по городу, просил дела и только сегодня решился выйти на улицу просить милостыню…
Против нас большой трехэтажный дом с синей вывеской: «Трактир». Голова моя слабо откинута назад и набок, и я поневоле гляжу вверх, на освещенные окна трактира. В окнах мелькают человеческие фигуры. Виден правый бок оркестриона, две олеографии, висячие лампы… Вглядываясь в одно из окон, я усматриваю белеющее пятно. Пятно это неподвижно и своими прямолинейными контурами резко выделяется из общего темно-коричневого фона. Я напрягаю зрение и в пятне узнаю белую стенную вывеску. На ней что-то написано, но что именно — не видно…
Полчаса я не отрываю глаз от вывески. Своею белизною она притягивает мои глаза и словно гипнотизирует мой мозг. Я стараюсь прочесть, но старания мои тщетны.
Наконец странная болезнь вступает в свои права.
Шум экипажей начинает казаться мне громом, в уличной вони различаю я тысячи запахов, глаза мои в трактирных лампах и уличных фонарях видят ослепительные молнии. Мои пять чувств напряжены и хватают через норму. Я начинаю видеть то, чего не видел ранее.
— Устрицы… — разбираю я на вывеске.
Странное слово! Прожил я на земле ровно восемь лет и три месяца, но ни разу не слыхал этого слова. Что оно значит? Не есть ли это фамилия хозяина трактира? Но ведь вывески с фамилиями вешаются на дверях, а не на стенах!
— Папа, что значит устрицы? — спрашиваю я хриплым голосом, силясь повернуть лицо в сторону отца.
Отец мой не слышит. Он всматривается в движения толпы и провожает глазами каждого прохожего… По его глазам я вижу, что он хочет сказать что-то прохожим, но роковое слово тяжелой гирей висит на его дрожащих губах и никак не может сорваться. За одним прохожим он даже шагнул и тронул его за рукав, но когда тот обернулся, он сказал «виноват», сконфузился и попятился назад.
— Папа, что значит устрицы? — повторяю я.
— Это такое животное… Живет в море…
Я мигом представляю себе это неведомое морское животное. Оно должно быть чем-то средним между рыбой и раком. Так как оно морское, то из него приготовляют, конечно, очень вкусную горячую уху с душистым перцем и лавровым листом, кисловатую селянку с хрящиками, раковый соус, холодное с хреном… Я живо воображаю себе, как приносят с рынка это животное, быстро чистят его, быстро суют в горшок… быстро, быстро, потому что всем есть хочется… ужасно хочется! Из кухни несется запах рыбного жаркого и ракового супа.
Я чувствую, как этот запах щекочет мое нёбо, ноздри, как он постепенно овладевает всем моим телом… Трактир, отец, белая вывеска, мои рукава — всё пахнет этим запахом, пахнет до того сильно, что я начинаю жевать. Я жую и делаю глотки, словно и в самом деле в моем рту лежит кусок морского животного…
Ноги мои гнутся от наслаждения, которое я чувствую, и я, чтобы не упасть, хватаю отца за рукав и припадаю к его мокрому летнему пальто. Отец дрожит и жмется. Ему холодно…
— Папа, устрицы постные или скоромные? — спрашиваю я.
— Их едят живыми… — говорит отец. — Они в раковинах, как черепахи, но… из двух половинок.
Вкусный запах мгновенно перестает щекотать мое тело, и иллюзия пропадает… Теперь я всё понимаю!
— Какая гадость, — шепчу я, — какая гадость!
Так вот что значит устрицы! Я воображаю себе животное, похожее на лягушку. Лягушка сидит в раковине, глядит оттуда большими блестящими глазами и играет своими отвратительными челюстями. Я представляю себе, как приносят с рынка это животное в раковине, с клешнями, блестящими глазами и со склизкой кожей… Дети все прячутся, а кухарка, брезгливо морщась, берет животное за клешню, кладет его на тарелку и несет в столовую. Взрослые берут его и едят… едят живьем, с глазами, с зубами, с лапками! А оно пищит и старается укусить за губу…
Я морщусь, но… но зачем же зубы мои начинают жевать? Животное мерзко, отвратительно, страшно, но я ем его, ем с жадностью, боясь разгадать его вкус и запах. Одно животное съедено, а я уже вижу блестящие глаза другого, третьего… Я ем и этих… Наконец ем салфетку, тарелку, калоши отца, белую вывеску… Ем всё, что только попадется мне на глаза, потому что я чувствую, что только от еды пройдет моя болезнь. Устрицы страшно глядят глазами и отвратительны, я дрожу от мысли о них, но я хочу есть! Есть!
— Дайте устриц! Дайте мне устриц! — вырывается из моей груди крик, и я протягиваю вперед руки.
— Помогите, господа! — слышу я в это время глухой, придушенный голос отца. — Совестно просить, но — боже мой! — сил не хватает!
— Дайте устриц! — кричу я, теребя отца за фалды.
— А ты разве ешь устриц? Такой маленький! — слышу я возле себя смех.
Перед нами стоят два господина в цилиндрах и со смехом глядят мне в лицо.
— Ты, мальчуган, ешь устриц? В самом деле? Это интересно! Как же ты их ешь?
Помню, чья-то сильная рука тащит меня к освещенному трактиру. Через минуту собирается вокруг толпа и глядит на меня с любопытством и смехом. Я сижу за столом и ем что-то склизкое, соленое, отдающее сыростью и плесенью. Я ем с жадностью, не жуя, не глядя и не осведомляясь, что я ем. Мне кажется, что если я открою глаза, то непременно увижу блестящие глаза, клешни и острые зубы…
Я вдруг начинаю жевать что-то твердое. Слышится хрустенье.
— Ха-ха! Он раковины ест! — смеется толпа. — Дурачок, разве это можно есть?
Засим я помню страшную жажду. Я лежу на своей постели и не могу уснуть от изжоги и странного вкуса, который я чувствую в своем горячем рту. Отец мой ходит из угла в угол и жестикулирует руками.
— Я, кажется, простудился, — бормочет он. — Что-то такое чувствую в голове… Словно сидит в ней кто-то… А может быть, это оттого, что я не… тово… не ел сегодня… Я, право, странный какой-то, глупый… Вижу, что эти господа платят за устриц десять рублей, отчего бы мне не подойти и не попросить у них несколько… взаймы? Наверное бы дали.
К утру я засыпаю, и мне снится лягушка с клешнями, сидящая в раковине и играющая глазами. В полдень просыпаюсь от жажды и ищу глазами отца: он всё еще ходит и жестикулирует…


Благородный отец и простак Щипцов, высокий, плотный старик, славившийся не столько сценическими дарованиями, сколько своей необычайной физической силой, «вдрызг» поругался во время спектакля с антрепренером и в самый разгар руготни вдруг почувствовал, что у него в груди что-то оборвалось. Антрепренер Жуков обыкновенно в конце каждого горячего объяснения начинал истерически хохотать и падал в обморок, но Щипцов на сей раз не стал дожидаться такого конца и поспешил восвояси. Брань и ощущение разрыва в груди так взволновали его, что, уходя из театра, он забыл смыть с лица грим и только сорвал бороду.
Придя к себе в номер, Щипцов долго шагал из угла в угол, потом сел на кровать, подпер голову кулаками и задумался. Не шевелясь и не издав ни одного звука, просидел он таким образом до двух часов другого дня, когда в его номер вошел комик Сигаев.
— Ты что же это, Шут Иванович, на репетицию не приходил? — набросился на него комик, пересиливая одышку и наполняя номер запахом винного перегара. — Где ты был?
Щипцов ничего не ответил и только взглянул на комика мутными, подкрашенными глазами.
— Хоть бы рожу-то вымыл! — продолжал Сигаев. — Стыдно глядеть! Ты натрескался или... болен, что ли? Да что ты молчишь? Я тебя спрашиваю: ты болен?
Щипцов молчал. Как ни была опачкана его физиономия, но комик, вглядевшись попристальнее, не мог не заметить поразительной бледности, пота и дрожания губ. Руки и ноги тоже дрожали, да и всё громадное тело верзилы-простака казалось помятым, приплюснутым. Комик быстро оглядел номер, но не увидел ни штофов, ни бутылок, ни другой какой-либо подозрительной посуды.
— Знаешь, Мишутка, а ведь ты болен! — встревожился он. — Накажи меня бог, ты болен! На тебе лица нет!
Щипцов молчал и уныло глядел в пол.
— Это ты простудился! — продолжал Сигаев, беря его за руку. — Ишь какие руки горячие! Что у тебя болит?
— До... домой хочу, — пробормотал Щипцов.
— А ты нешто сейчас не дома?
— Нет... в Вязьму...
— Эва, куда захотел! До твоей Вязьмы и в три года не доскачешь... Что, к папашеньке и мамашеньке захотелось? Чай, давно уж они у тебя сгнили и могилок их не сыщешь...
— У меня там ро... родина...
— Ну, нечего, нечего мерлехлюндию распускать. Эта психопатия чувств, брат, последнее дело... Выздоравливай, да завтра тебе нужно в «Князе Серебряном» Митьку играть. Больше ведь некому. Выпей-ка чего-нибудь горячего да касторки прими. Есть у тебя деньги на касторку? Или постой, я сбегаю и куплю.
Комик пошарил у себя в карманах, нашел пятиалтынный и побежал в аптеку. Через четверть часа он вернулся.
— На, пей! — сказал он, поднося ко рту благородного отца склянку. — Пей прямо из пузырька... Разом! Вот так... На, теперь гвоздичкой закуси, чтоб душа этой дрянью не провоняла.
Комик посидел еще немного у больного, потом нежно поцеловал его и ушел. К вечеру забегал к Щипцову jeune-premier1 Брама-Глинский. Даровитый артист был в прюнелевых полусапожках, имел на левой руке перчатку, курил сигару и даже издавал запах гелиотропа, но, тем не менее, все-таки сильно напоминал путешественника, заброшенного в страну, где нет ни бань, ни прачек, ни портных...
— Ты, я слышал, заболел? — обратился он к Щипцову, перевернувшись на каблуке. — Что с тобой? Ей-богу, что с тобой?..
Щипцов молчал и не шевелился.
— Что же ты молчишь? Дурнота в голове, что ли? Ну, молчи, не стану приставать... молчи...
Брама-Глинский (так он зовется по театру, в паспорте же он значится Гуськовым) отошел к окну, заложил руки в карманы и стал глядеть на улицу. Перед его глазами расстилалась громадная пустошь, огороженная серым забором, вдоль которого тянулся целый лес прошлогоднего репейника. За пустошью темнела чья-то заброшенная фабрика с наглухо забитыми окнами. Около трубы кружилась запоздавшая галка. Вся эта скучная, безжизненная картина начинала уже подергиваться вечерними сумерками.
— Домой надо! — услышал jeune-premier.
— Куда это домой?
— В Вязьму... на родину...
— До Вязьмы, брат, тысяча пятьсот верст... — вздохнул Брама-Глинский, барабаня по стеклу. — А зачем тебе в Вязьму?
— Там бы помереть...
— Ну, вот еще, выдумал! Помереть... Заболел первый раз в жизни и уж воображает, что смерть пришла... Нет, брат, такого буйвола, как ты, никакая холера не проберет. До ста лет проживешь... Что у тебя болит?
— Ничего не болит, но я... чувствую...
— Ничего ты не чувствуешь, а всё это у тебя от лишнего здоровья. Силы в тебе бушуют. Тебе бы теперь дербалызнуть хорошенечко, выпить этак, знаешь, чтоб во всем теле пертурбация произошла. Пьянство отлично освежает... Помнишь, как ты в Ростове-на-Дону насвистался? Господи, даже вспомнить страшно! Бочонок с вином мы с Сашкой вдвоем еле-еле донесли, а ты его один выпил да потом еще за ромом послал... Допился до того, что чертей мешком ловил и газовый фонарь с корнем вырвал. Помнишь? Тогда еще ты ходил греков бить...
Под влиянием таких приятных воспоминаний лицо Щипцова несколько прояснилось и глаза заблестели.
— А помнишь, как я антрепренера Савойкина бил? — забормотал он, поднимая голову. — Да что говорить! Бил я на своем веку тридцать трех антрепренеров, а что меньшей братии, то и не упомню. И каких антрепренеров-то бил! Таких, что и ветрам не позволяли до себя касаться! Двух знаменитых писателей бил, одного художника!
— Что ж ты плачешь?
— В Херсоне лошадь кулаком убил. А в Таганроге напали раз на меня ночью жулики, человек пятнадцать. Я поснимал с них шапки, а они идут за мной да просят: «Дяденька, отдай шапку!» Такие-то дела.
— Что ж ты, дурило, плачешь?
— А теперь шабаш... чувствую. В Вязьму бы ехать!
Наступила пауза. После молчания Щипцов вдруг вскочил и схватился за шапку. Вид у него был расстроенный.
— Прощай! В Вязьму еду! — проговорил он покачиваясь.
— А деньги на дорогу?
— Гм!.. Я пешком пойду!
— Ты ошалел...
Оба взглянули друг на друга, вероятно, потому, что у обоих мелькнула в голове одна и та же мысль — о необозримых полях, нескончаемых лесах, болотах.
— Нет, ты, я вижу, спятил! — решил jeune-premier. — Вот что, брат... Первым делом ложись, потом выпей коньяку с чаем, чтоб в пот ударило. Ну, и касторки, конечно. Постой, где бы коньяку взять?
Брама-Глинский подумал и решил сходить к купчихе Цитринниковой, попытать ее насчет кредита: авось, баба сжалится — отпустит в долг! Jeune-premier отправился и через полчаса вернулся с бутылкой коньяку и с касторкой. Щипцов по-прежнему сидел неподвижно на кровати, молчал и глядел в пол. Предложенную товарищем касторку он выпил, как автомат, без участия сознания. Как автомат, сидел он потом за столом и пил чай с коньяком; машинально выпил всю бутылку и дал товарищу уложить себя в постель. Jeune-premier укрыл его одеялом и пальто, посоветовал пропотеть и ушел.
Наступила ночь. Коньяку было выпито много, но Щипцов не спал. Он лежал неподвижно под одеялом и глядел на темный потолок, потом, увидев луну, глядевшую в окно, он перевел глаза с потолка на спутника земли и так пролежал с открытыми глазами до самого утра. Утром, часов в девять, прибежал антрепренер Жуков.
— Что это вы, ангел, хворать вздумали? — закудахтал он, морща нос. — Ай, ай! Нешто при вашей комплекции можно хворать? Стыдно, стыдно! А я, знаете, испугался! Ну, неужели, думаю, на него наш разговор подействовал? Душенька моя, надеюсь, что вы не от меня заболели! Ведь и вы меня, тово... И к тому же между товарищами не может быть без этого. Вы меня там и ругали и... с кулаками даже лезли, а я вас люблю! Ей-богу, люблю! Уважаю и люблю! Ну, вот объясните, ангел, за что я вас так люблю? Не родня вы мне, не сват, не жена, а как узнал, что вы прихворнули, — словно кто ножом резанул.
Жуков долго объяснялся в любви, потом полез целоваться и в конце концов так расчувствовался, что начал истерически хохотать и хотел даже упасть в обморок, но, спохватившись, вероятно, что он не у себя дома и не в театре, отложил обморок до более удобного случая и уехал.
Вскоре после него явился трагик Адабашев, личность тусклая, подслеповатая и говорящая в нос... Он долго глядел на Щипцова, долго думал и вдруг сделал открытие:
— Знаешь что, Мифа? — спросил он, произнося в нос вместо ш — ф и придавая своему лицу таинственное выражение. — Знаешь что?! Тебе нужно выпить касторки!!
Щипцов молчал. Молчал он и немного погодя, когда трагик вливал ему в рот противное масло. Часа через два после Адабашева пришел в номер театральный парикмахер Евлампий, или, как называли его почему-то актеры, Риголетто. Он тоже, как и трагик, долго глядел на Щипцова, потом вздохнул, как паровоз, и медленно, с расстановкой начал развязывать принесенный им узел. В узле было десятка два банок и несколько пузырьков.
— Послали б за мной, и я б вам давно банки поставил! — сказал он нежно, обнажая грудь Щипцова. — Запустить болезнь не трудно!
Засим Риголетто погладил ладонью широкую грудь благородного отца и покрыл ее всю кровососными банками.
— Да-с... — говорил он, увязывая после этой операции свои орудия, обагренные кровью Щипцова. — Прислали бы за мной, я и пришел бы... Насчет денег беспокоиться нечего... Я из жалости... Где вам взять, ежели тот идол платить не хочет? Таперя вот извольте капель этих принять. Вкусные капли! А таперя извольте маслица выпить. Касторка самая настоящая. Вот так! На здоровье! Ну, а таперя прощайте-с...
Риголетто взял свой узел и, довольный, что помог ближнему, удалился.
Утром следующего дня комик Сигаев, зайдя к Щипцову, застал его в ужаснейшем состоянии. Он лежал под пальто, тяжело дышал и водил блуждающими глазами по потолку. В руках он судорожно мял скомканное одеяло.
— В Вязьму! — зашептал он, увидав комика. — В Вязьму!
— Вот это, брат, уж мне и не нравится! — развел руками комик. — Вот... вот... вот это, брат, и нехорошо! Извини, но... даже, брат, глупо...
— В Вязьму надо! Ей-богу, в Вязьму!
— Не... не ожидал от тебя!.. — бормотал совсем растерявшийся комик. — Чёрт знает! Чего ради расквасился! Э... э... э... и нехорошо! Верзила, с каланчу ростом, а плачешь. Нешто актеру можно плакать?
— Ни жены, ни детей, — бормотал Щипцов. — Не идти бы в актеры, а в Вязьме жить! Пропала, Семен, жизнь! Ох, в Вязьму бы!
— Э... э... э... и нехорошо! Вот и глупо... подло даже!
Успокоившись и приведя свои чувства в порядок, Сигаев стал утешать Щипцова, врать ему, что товарищи порешили его на общий счет в Крым отправить и проч., но тот не слушал и всё бормотал про Вязьму... Наконец, комик махнул рукой и, чтобы утешить больного, сам стал говорить про Вязьму.
— Хороший город! — утешал он. — Отличный, брат, город! Пряниками прославился. Пряники классические, но — между нами говоря — того... подгуляли. После них у меня целую неделю потом был того... Но что там хорошо, так это купец! Всем купцам купец. Уж коли угостит тебя, так угостит!
Комик говорил, а Щипцов молчал, слушал и одобрительно кивал головой.
К вечеру он умер.


Непременный член по крестьянским делам присутствия Кунин, молодой человек, лет тридцати, вернувшись из Петербурга в свое Борисово, послал первым делом верхового в Синьково за тамошним священником, отцом Яковом Смирновым.Часов через пять отец Яков явился.— Очень рад познакомиться! — встретил его в передней Кунин. — Уж год, как живу и служу здесь, пора бы, кажется, быть знакомыми. Милости просим! Но, однако... какой вы молодой! — удивился Кунин. — Сколько вам лет?— Двадцать восемь-с... — проговорил отец Яков, слабо пожимая протянутую руку и, неизвестно отчего, краснея.Кунин ввел гостя к себе в кабинет и принялся его рассматривать.«Какое аляповатое, бабье лицо!» — подумал он.Действительно, в лице отца Якова было очень много «бабьего»: вздернутый нос, ярко-красные щеки и большие серо-голубые глаза с жидкими, едва заметными бровями. Длинные рыжие волосы, сухие и гладкие, спускались на плечи прямыми палками. Усы еще только начинали формироваться в настоящие, мужские усы, а бородка принадлежала к тому сорту никуда не годных бород, который у семинаристов почему-то называется «скоктанием»: реденькая, сильно просвечивающая; погладить и почесать ее гребнем нельзя, можно разве только пощипать... Вся эта скудная растительность сидела неравномерно, кустиками, словно отец Яков, вздумав загримироваться священником и начав приклеивать бороду, был прерван на половине дела. На нем была ряска, цвета жидкого цикорного кофе, с большими латками на обоих локтях.«Странный субъект... — подумал Кунин, глядя на его полы, обрызганные грязью. — Приходит в дом первый раз и не может поприличней одеться».— Садитесь, батюшка, — начал он более развязно, чем приветливо, придвигая к столу кресло. — Садитесь же, прошу вас!Отец Яков кашлянул в кулак, неловко опустился на край кресла и положил ладони на колени. Малорослый, узкогрудый, с потом и краской на лице, он на первых же порах произвел на Кунина самое неприятное впечатление. Ранее Кунин никак не мог думать, что на Руси есть такие несолидные и жалкие на вид священники, а в позе отца Якова, в этом держании ладоней на коленях и в сидении на краешке, ему виделось отсутствие достоинства и даже подхалимство.— Я, батюшка, пригласил вас по делу... — начал Кунин, откидываясь на спинку кресла. — На мою долю выпала приятная обязанность помочь вам в одном вашем полезном предприятии... Дело в том, что, вернувшись из Петербурга, я нашел у себя на столе письмо от предводителя. Егор Дмитриевич предлагает мне взять под свое попечительство церковно-приходскую школу, которая открывается у вас в Синькове. Я, батюшка, очень рад, всей душой... Даже больше: я с восторгом принимаю это предложение!Кунин поднялся и заходил по кабинету.— Конечно, и Егору Дмитриевичу и, вероятно, вам известно, что большими средствами я не располагаю. Имение мое заложено, и живу я исключительно только на жалованье непременного члена. Стало быть, на большую помощь вы рассчитывать не можете, но что в моих силах, то я всё сделаю... А когда, батюшка, думаете открыть школу?— Когда будут деньги... — ответил отец Яков.— Теперь же вы располагаете какими-нибудь средствами?— Почти никакими-с... Мужики постановили на сходе платить ежегодно по тридцати копеек с каждой мужской души, но ведь это только обещание! А на первое обзаведение нужно, по крайней мере, рублей двести...— М-да... К сожалению, у меня теперь нет этой суммы... — вздохнул Кунин. — В поездке я весь истратился и... задолжал даже. Давайте общими силами придумаем что-нибудь.Кунин стал вслух придумывать. Он высказывал свои соображения и следил за лицом отца Якова, ища на нем одобрения или согласия. Но лицо это было бесстрастно, неподвижно и ничего не выражало, кроме застенчивой робости и беспокойства. Глядя на него, можно было подумать, что Кунин говорил о таких мудреных вещах, которых отец Яков не понимал, слушал только из деликатности и притом боялся, чтобы его не уличили в непонимании.«Малый, как видно, не из очень умных... — думал Кунин. — Не в меру робок и глуповат».Несколько оживился и даже улыбнулся отец Яков только тогда, когда в кабинет вошел лакей и внес на подносе два стакана чаю и сухарницу с крендельками. Он взял свой стакан и тотчас же принялся пить.— Не написать ли нам преосвященному? — продолжал соображать вслух Кунин. — Ведь, собственно говоря, не земство, не мы, а высшие духовные власти подняли вопрос о церковно-приходских школах. Они должны, по-настоящему, и средства указать. Мне помнится, я читал, что на этот счет даже была ассигнована сумма какая-то. Вам ничего не известно?Отец Яков так погрузился в чаепитие, что не сразу ответил на этот вопрос. Он поднял на Кунина свои серо-голубые глаза, подумал и, точно вспомнив его вопрос, отрицательно мотнул головой. По некрасивому лицу его от уха до уха разливалось выражение удовольствия и самого обыденного, прозаического аппетита. Он пил и смаковал каждый глоток. Выпив всё до последней капли, он поставил свой стакан на стол, потом взял назад этот стакан, оглядел его дно и опять поставил. Выражение удовольствия сползло с лица... Далее Кунин видел, как его гость взял из сухарницы один кренделек, откусил от него кусочек, потом повертел в руках и быстро сунул его себе в карман.«Ну, уж это совсем не по-иерейски! — подумал Кунин, брезгливо пожимая плечами. — Что это, поповская жадность или ребячество?»Дав гостю выпить еще один стакан чаю и проводив его до передней, Кунин лег на софу и весь отдался неприятному чувству, навеянному на него посещением отца Якова.«Какой странный, дикий человек! — думал он. — Грязен, неряха, груб, глуп и, наверное, пьяница... Боже мой, и это священник, духовный отец! Это учитель народа! Воображаю, сколько иронии должно быть в голосе дьякона, возглашающего ему перед каждой обедней: „Благослови, владыко!“ Хорош владыко! Владыко, не имеющий ни капли достоинства, невоспитанный, прячущий сухари в карманы, как школьник... Фи! Господи, в каком месте были глаза у архиерея, когда он посвящал этого человека? За кого они народ считают, если дают ему таких учителей? Тут нужны люди, которые...»И Кунин задумался о том, кого должны изображать из себя русские священники...«Будь, например, я попом... Образованный и любящий свое дело поп много может сделать... У меня давно бы уже была открыта школа. А проповедь? Если поп искренен и вдохновлен любовью к своему делу, то какие чудные, зажигательные проповеди он может говорить!»Кунин закрыл глаза и стал мысленно слагать проповедь. Немного погодя он сидел за столом и быстро записывал.«Дам тому рыжему, пусть прочтет в церкви...» — думал он.В ближайшее воскресенье, утром, Кунин ехал в Синьково покончить с вопросом о школе и кстати познакомиться с церковью, прихожанином которой он считался. Несмотря на распутицу, утро было великолепное. Солнце ярко светило и резало своими лучами кое-где белевшие пласты залежавшегося снега. Снег на прощанье с землей переливал такими алмазами, что больно было глядеть, а около него спешила зеленеть молодая озимь. Грачи солидно носились над землей. Летит грач, опустится к земле и, прежде чем стать прочно на ноги, несколько раз подпрыгнет...Деревянная церковь, к которой подъехал Кунин, была ветха и сера; колонки у паперти, когда-то выкрашенные в белую краску, теперь совершенно облупились и походили на две некрасивые оглобли. Образ над дверью глядел сплошным темным пятном. Но эта бедность тронула и умилила Кунина. Скромно опустив глаза, он вошел в церковь и остановился у двери. Служба еще только началась. Старый, в дугу согнувшийся дьячок глухим, неразборчивым тенором читал часы. Отец Яков, служивший без дьякона, ходил по церкви и кадил. Если б не смирение, каким проникся Кунин, входя в нищую церковь, то при виде отца Якова он непременно бы улыбнулся. На малорослом иерее была помятая и длинная-предлинная риза из какой-то потертой желтой материи. Нижний край ризы волочился по земле.Церковь была не полна. Кунина, при взгляде на прихожан, поразило на первых порах одно странное обстоятельство: он увидел только стариков и детей... Где же рабочий возраст? Где юность и мужество? Но, постояв немного и вглядевшись попристальней в старческие лица, Кунин увидел, что молодых он принял за старых. Впрочем, этому маленькому оптическому обману он не придал особого значения.Внутри церковь была так же ветха и сера, как и снаружи. На иконостасе и на бурых стенах не было ни одного местечка, которого бы не закоптило и не исцарапало время. Окон было много, но общий колорит казался серым, и поэтому в церкви стояли сумерки.«Кто чист душою, тому хорошо здесь молиться... — думал Кунин. — Как в Риме у св. Петра поражает величие, так здесь трогают эти смирение и простота».Но молитвенное настроение его рассеялось в дым, когда отец Яков вошел в алтарь и начал обедню. По молодости лет, попав в священники прямо с семинарской скамьи, отец Яков не успел еще усвоить себе определенную манеру служить. Читая, он как будто выбирал, на каком голосе ему остановиться, на высоком теноре или жидком баске; кланялся он неумело, ходил быстро, царские врата открывал и закрывал порывисто... Старый дьячок, очевидно больной и глухой, плохо слышал его возгласы, отчего не обходилось без маленьких недоразумений. Не успеет отец Яков прочесть, что нужно, а уж дьячок поет свое, или же отец Яков давно уже кончил, а старик тянется ухом в сторону алтаря, прислушивается и молчит, пока его не дернут за полу. У старика был глухой, болезненный голос, с одышкой, дрожащий и шепелявый... В довершение неблаголепия, дьячку подтягивал очень маленький мальчик, голова которого едва виднелась из-за перилы клироса. Мальчик пел высоким визгливым дискантом и словно старался не попадать в тон. Кунин постоял немного, послушал и вышел покурить. Он был уже разочарован и почти с неприязнью глядел на серую церковь.— Жалуются на падение в народе религиозного чувства... — вздохнул он. — Еще бы! Они бы еще больше понасажали сюда таких попов!Раза три потом входил Кулин в церковь, и всякий раз его сильно потягивало вон на свежий воздух. Дождавшись конца обедни, он отправился к отцу Якову. Дом священника снаружи ничем не отличался от крестьянских изб, только солома на крыше лежала ровнее да на окнах белели занавесочки. Отец Яков ввел Кунина в маленькую светлую комнату с глиняным полом и со стенами, оклеенными дешевыми обоями; несмотря на кое-какие потуги к роскоши, вроде фотографий в рамочках да часов с прицепленными к гире ножницами, обстановка поражала своею скудостью. Глядя на мебель, можно было подумать, что отец Яков ходил по дворам и собирал ее по частям: в одном месте дали ему круглый стол на трех ногах, в другом — табурет, в третьем — стул с сильно загнутой назад спинкой, в четвертом — стул с прямой спинкой, но с вдавленным сиденьем, а в пятом — расщедрились и дали какое-то подобие дивана с плоской спинкой и с решетчатым сиденьем. Это подобие было выкрашено в темно-красный цвет и сильно пахло краской. Кунин сначала хотел сесть на один из стульев, по подумал и сел на табурет.— Вы это первый раз в нашем храме? — спросил отец Яков, вешая свою шляпу на большой уродливый гвоздик.— Да, в первый. Вот что, батюшка... Прежде чем мы приступим к делу, угостите меня чаем, а то у меня вся душа высохла.Отец Яков заморгал глазами, крякнул и пошел за перегородку. Послышалось шушуканье...«Должно быть, с попадьей... — подумал Кунин. — Интересно бы поглядеть, какая у этого рыжего попадья...»Немного погодя отец Яков вышел из-за перегородки красный, потный и, силясь улыбнуться, сел против Кунина на край дивана.— Сейчас поставят самовар, — сказал он, не глядя на своего гостя.«Боже мой, они еще самовара не ставили! — ужаснулся про себя Кунин. — Изволь теперь ждать!»— Я вам привез, — сказал он, — черновое письмо, которое я написал архиерею. Прочту после чая... Может быть, вы найдете что-нибудь добавить...— Хорошо-с.Наступило молчание. Отец Яков пугливо покосился на перегородку, поправил волосы и высморкался.— Погода чудесная-с... — сказал он.— Да. Между прочим, интересную я вещь прочел вчера... Вольское земство постановило передать все свои школы духовенству. Это характерно.Кунин поднялся, зашагал по глиняному полу и начал высказывать свои соображения.— Это ничего, — говорил он, — лишь бы только духовенство стояло на высоте своего призвания и ясно сознавало свои задачи. К моему несчастью, я знаю священников, которые, по своему развитию и нравственным качествам, не годятся в военные писаря, а не то что в священники. А вы согласитесь, плохой учитель принесет школе гораздо меньше вреда, чем плохой священник.Кунин взглянул на отца Якова. Тот сидел согнувшись, о чем-то усердно думал и, по-видимому, не слушал гостя.— Яша, поди-ка сюда! — послышался женский голос из-за перегородки.Отец Яков встрепенулся и пошел за перегородку. Опять началось шушуканье.Купина защемила тоска по чаю.«Нет, не дождусь я тут чаю! — подумал он, глядя на часы. — Да кажется, тут я не совсем желанный гость. Хозяин не соблаговолил со мной и одного слова сказать, а только сидит да глазами хлопает».Кунин взялся за шляпу, дождался отца Якова и простился с ним.«Даром только утро пропало! — злился он дорогой. — Бревно! Пень! Школой он так же интересуется, как я прошлогодним снегом. Нет, не сварю я с ним каши! Ничего у нас с ним не выйдет! Если бы предводитель знал, какой здесь поп, то не спешил бы хлопотать о школе. Надо сперва о хорошем попе позаботиться, а потом уж о школе!»Кунин теперь почти ненавидел отца Якова. Этот человек, его жалкая, карикатурная фигура, в длинной, помятой ризе, его бабье лицо, манера служить, образ жизни и канцелярская, застенчивая почтительность оскорбляли тот небольшой кусочек религиозного чувства, который оставался еще в груди Кунина и тихо теплился наряду с другими нянюшкиными сказками. А холодность и невнимание, с которыми он встретил искреннее, горячее участие Кунина в его же собственном деле, было трудно вынести самолюбию...Вечером того же дня Кунин долго ходил по комнатам и думал, потом решительно сел за стол и написал архиерею письмо. Попросив денег для школы и благословения, он, между прочим, искренно, по-сыновьи, изложил свое мнение о синьковском священнике. «Он молод, — написал он, — недостаточно развит, кажется, ведет нетрезвую жизнь и вообще не удовлетворяет тем требованиям, которые веками сложились у русского народа по отношению к его пастырям». Написав это письмо, Кунин легко вздохнул и лег спать с сознанием, что он сделал доброе дело.В понедельник утром, когда он еще лежал в постели, ему доложили о приходе отца Якова. Вставать ему не хотелось, и он велел сказать, что его нет дома. Во вторник уехал он на съезд и, вернувшись в субботу, узнал от прислуги, что без него ежедневно приходил отец Яков.«Как, однако, ему мои крендельки понравились!» — подумал Кунин.В воскресенье, перед вечером, пришел отец Яков. На этот раз не только полы, но даже и шляпа его была обрызгана грязью. Как и в первое свое посещение, он был красен и потен, сел, как и тогда, на краешек кресла. Кунин порешил не начинать разговора о школе, не метать бисера.— Я вам, Павел Михайлович, списочек учебных пособий принес... — начал отец Яков.— Благодарю.Но по всему видно было, что отец Яков не из-за списочка пришел. Вся его фигура выражала сильное смущение, но в то же время на лице была написана решимость, как у человека, внезапно озаренного идеей. Он порывался сказать что-то важное, крайне нужное и силился теперь побороть свою робость.«Что же он молчит? — злился Кунин. — Расселся тут! Мне ведь некогда возиться с ним!»Чтобы хоть чем-нибудь сгладить неловкость своего молчания и скрыть борьбу, происходившую в нем, священник начал принужденно улыбаться, и эта улыбка, долгая, вымученная сквозь пот и краску лица, не вязавшаяся с неподвижным взглядом серо-голубых глаз, заставила Кунина отвернуться. Ему стало противно.— Извините, батюшка, мне нужно ехать... — сказал он.Отец Яков встрепенулся, как сонный человек, которого ударили, и, не переставая улыбаться, начал в смущении запахивать полы своей рясы. При всем отвращении к этому человеку Кунину вдруг стало жаль его, и он захотел смягчить свою жестокость.— Прошу, батюшка, в другой раз... — сказал он, — а на прощанье у меня к вам будет просьба... Тут как-то я вдохновился, знаете, и написал две проповеди... Отдаю на ваше рассмотрение... Коли сгодятся, прочтите.— Хорошо-с... — сказал отец Яков, покрывая ладонью лежавшие на столе проповеди Кунина. — Я возьму-с...Постояв немного, помявшись и всё еще запахивая ряску, он вдруг перестал принужденно улыбаться и решительно поднял голову.— Павел Михайлович, — сказал он, видимо стараясь говорить громко и явственно.— Что прикажете?— Я слышал, что вы изволили тово... рассчитать своего писаря и... и ищете теперь нового...— Да... А вы имеете порекомендовать кого-нибудь?— Я, видите ли... я... Не можете ли вы отдать эту должность... мне?— Да разве вы бросаете священство? — изумился Кунин.— Нет, нет, — быстро проговорил отец Яков, почему-то бледнея и дрожа всем телом. — Боже меня сохрани! Ежели сомневаетесь, то не нужно, не нужно. Я ведь это как бы между делом... чтоб дивиденды свои увеличить... Не нужно, не беспокойтесь!— Гм... дивиденды... Но ведь я плачу писарю только двадцать рублей в месяц!— Господи, да я и десять взял бы! — прошептал отец Яков, оглядываясь. — И десяти довольно! Вы... вы изумляетесь, и все изумляются. Жадный поп, алчный, куда он деньги девает? Я и сам это чувствую, что жадный... и казню себя, осуждаю... людям в глаза глядеть совестно... Вам, Павел Михайлович, я по совести... привожу истинного бога в свидетели...Отец Яков перевел дух и продолжал:— Приготовил я вам дорогой целую исповедь, но... всё забыл, не подберу теперь слов. Я получаю в год с прихода сто пятьдесят рублей, и все... удивляются, куда я эти деньги деваю... Но я вам всё по совести объясню... Сорок рублей в год я за брата Петра в духовное училище взношу. Он там на всем готовом, но бумага и перья мои...— Ах, верю, верю! Ну, к чему всё это? — замахал рукой Кунин, чувствуя страшную тяжесть от этой откровенности гостя и не зная, куда деваться от слезливого блеска его глаз.— Потом-с, я еще в консисторию за место свое не всё еще выплатил. За место с меня двести рублей положили, чтоб я по десяти в месяц выплачивал... Судите же теперь, что остается? А ведь, кроме того, я должен выдавать отцу Авраамию, по крайней мере, хоть по три рубля в месяц!— Какому отцу Авраамию?— Отцу Авраамию, что до меня в Синькове священником был. Его лишили места за... слабость, а ведь он в Синькове и теперь живет! Куда ему деваться? Кто его кормить станет? Хоть он и стар, но ведь ему и угол, и хлеба, и одежду надо! Не могу я допустить, чтоб он, при своем сане, пошел милостыню просить! Мне ведь грех будет, ежели что! Мне грех! Он... всем задолжал, а ведь мне грех, что я за него не плачу.Отец Яков рванулся с места и, безумно глядя на пол, зашагал из угла в угол.— Боже мой! Боже мой! — забормотал он, то поднимая руки, то опуская. — Спаси нас, господи, и помилуй! И зачем было такой сан на себя принимать, ежели ты маловер и сил у тебя нет? Нет конца моему отчаянию! Спаси, царица небесная.— Успокойтесь, батюшка! — сказал Кунин.— Замучил голод, Павел Михайлович! — продолжал отец Яков. — Извините великодушно, но нет уже сил моих... Я знаю, попроси я, поклонись, и всякий поможет, но... не могу! Совестно мне! Как я стану у мужиков просить? Вы служите тут и сами видите... Какая рука подымется просить у нищего? А просить у кого побогаче, у помещиков, не могу! Гордость! Совестно!Отец Яков махнул рукой и нервно зачесал обеими руками голову.— Совестно! Боже, как совестно! Не могу, гордец, чтоб люди мою бедность видели! Когда вы меня посетили, то ведь чаю вовсе не было, Павел Михайлович! Ни соринки его не было, а ведь открыться перед вами гордость помешала! Стыжусь своей одежды, вот этих латок... риз своих стыжусь, голода... А прилична ли гордость священнику?Отец Яков остановился посреди кабинета и, словно не замечая присутствия Кунина, стал рассуждать с самим собой.— Ну, положим, я снесу и голод, и срам, но ведь у меня, господи, еще попадья есть! Ведь я ее из хорошего дома взял! Она белоручка и нежная, привыкла и к чаю, и к белой булке, и к простыням... Она у родителей на фортепьянах играла... Молодая, еще и двадцати лет нет... Хочется небось и нарядиться, и пошалить, и в гости съездить... А она у меня... хуже кухарки всякой, стыдно на улицу показать. Боже мой, боже мой! Только и утехи у нее, что принесу из гостей яблочек или какой кренделечек...Отец Яков опять обеими руками зачесал голову.— И выходит у нас не любовь, а жалость... Не могу видеть ее без сострадания! И что оно такое, господи, делается на свете. Такое делается, что если в газеты написать, то не поверят люди... И когда всему этому конец будет!— Полноте, батюшка! — почти крикнул Кунин, пугаясь его тона. — Зачем так мрачно смотреть на жизнь?— Извините великодушно, Павел Михайлович... — забормотал отец Яков, как пьяный. — Извините, всё это... пустое, и вы не обращайте внимания... А только я себя виню и буду винить... Буду!Отец Яков оглянулся и зашептал:— Как-то рано утром иду я из Синькова в Лучково; гляжу, а на берегу стоит какая-то женщина и что-то делает... Подхожу ближе и глазам своим не верю... Ужас! Сидит жена доктора, Ивана Сергеича, и белье полощет... Докторша, в институте кончила! Значит, чтоб люди не видели, норовила пораньше встать и за версту от деревни уйти... Неодолимая гордость! Как увидала, что я около нее и бедность ее заметил, покраснела вся... Я оторопел, испугался, подбежал к ней, хочу помочь ей, а она белье от меня прячет, боится, чтоб я ее рваных сорочек не увидел...— Всё это как-то даже невероятно... — сказал Кунин, садясь и почти с ужасом глядя на бледное лицо отца Якова.— Именно, невероятно! Никогда, Павел Михайлович, этого не было, чтоб докторши на реке белье полоскали! Ни в каких странах этого нет! Мне бы, как пастырю и отцу духовному, не допускать бы ее до этого, но что я могу сделать? Что? Сам же еще норовлю у ее мужа даром лечиться! Верно вы изволили определить, что всё это невероятно! Глазам не верится! Во время обедни, знаете, выглянешь из алтаря, да как увидишь свою публику, голодного Авраамия и попадью, да как вспомнишь про докторшу, как у нее от холодной воды руки посинели, то, верите ли, забудешься и стоишь, как дурак, в бесчувствии, пока пономарь не окликнет... Ужас!Отец Яков опять заходил.— Господи Иисусе! — замахал он руками. — Святые угодники! И служить даже не могу... Вы вот про школу мне говорите, а я, как истукан, ничего не понимаю и только об еде думаю... Даже перед престолом... Впрочем... что же это я? — спохватился отец Яков. — Вам уезжать нужно. Простите-с, я ведь это так... извините...Кунин молча пожал руку отца Якова, проводил его до передней и, вернувшись в свой кабинет, остановился перед окном. Он видел, как отец Яков вышел из дому, нахлобучил на голову свою широкополую ржавую шляпу и тихо, понурив голову, точно стыдясь своей откровенности, пошел по дороге.«А его лошади не видно», — подумал Кунин.Помыслить, что священник все эти дни ходил к нему пешком, Кунин боялся: до Синькова было семь-восемь верст, а грязь на дороге стояла невылазная. Далее Кунин видел, как кучер Андрей и мальчик Парамон, прыгая через лужи и обрызгивая отца Якова грязью, подбежали к нему под благословение. Отец Яков снял шляпу и медленно благословил Андрея, потом благословил и погладил по голове мальчика.Кунин провел рукой по глазам, и ему показалось, что рука его от этого стала мокрой. Он отошел от окна и мутными глазами обвел комнату, в которой ему еще слышался робкий, придушенный голос... Он взглянул на стол... К счастью, отец Яков забыл второпях взять с собой его проповеди... Кунин подскочил к ним, изорвал их в клочки и с отвращением швырну под стол.— И я не знал! — простонал он, падая на софу. — Я, который уже более года служу здесь непременным членом, почетным мировым судьей, членом училищного совета! Слепая кукла, фат! Скорей к ним на помощь! Скорей!Он мучительно ворочался, стискивал виски и напрягал свой ум.— Получу 20-го числа жалованья 200 рублей... Под благовидным предлогом суну и ему и докторше... Его позову молебен служить, а для доктора фиктивно заболею... Таким образом, не оскорблю их гордости. И Авраамию помогу...Он рассчитывал по пальцам свои деньги и боялся себе сознаться, что этих двухсот рублей едва хватит ему, чтобы заплатить управляющему, прислуге, тому мужику, который привозит мясо... Поневоле пришлось вспомнить то недалекое прошлое, когда неразумно проживалось отцовское добро, когда, будучи еще двадцатилетним молокососом, он дарил проституткам дорогие веера, платил извозчику Кузьме по десяти рублей в день, подносил из тщеславия актрисам подарки. Ах, как бы пригодились теперь все эти разбросанные рубли, трехрублевики, десятки!«Отец Авраамий проедает в месяц только три рубля, — думал Кунин. — За рубль попадья может себе сорочку сшить, а докторша прачку нанять. По я все-таки помогу! Обязательно помогу!»Тут вдруг Кунин вспомнил донос, который написал он архиерею, и его всего скорчило, как от невзначай налетевшего холода. Это воспоминание наполнило всю его душу чувством гнетущего стыда перед самим собой и перед невидимой правдой...Так началась и завершилась искренняя потуга к полезной деятельности одного из благонамеренных, но чересчур сытых и не рассуждающих людей.


Я стоял на берегу Голтвы и ждал с того берега парома. В обыкновенное время Голтва представляет из себя речонку средней руки, молчаливую и задумчивую, кротко блистающую из-за густых камышей, теперь же предо мной расстилалось целое озеро. Разгулявшаяся вешняя вода перешагнула оба берега и далеко затопила оба побережья, захватив огороды, сенокосы и болота, так что на водной поверхности не редкость было встретить одиноко торчащие тополи и кусты, похожие в потемках на суровые утесы.Погода казалась мне великолепной. Было темно, но я все-таки видел и деревья, и воду, и людей... Мир освещался звездами, которые всплошную усыпали всё небо. Не помню, когда в другое время я видел столько звезд. Буквально некуда было пальцем ткнуть. Тут были крупные, как гусиное яйцо, и мелкие, с конопляное зерно... Ради праздничного парада вышли они на небо все до одной, от мала до велика, умытые, обновленные, радостные, и все до одной тихо шевелили своими лучами. Небо отражалось в воде; звезды купались в темной глубине и дрожали вместе с легкой зыбью. В воздухе было тепло и тихо... Далеко, на том берегу, в непроглядной тьме, горело врассыпную несколько ярко-красных огней...В двух шагах от меня темнел силуэт мужика в высокой шляпе и с толстой, суковатой палкой.— Как, однако, долго нет парома! — сказал я.— А пора ему быть, — ответил мне силуэт.— Ты тоже дожидаешься парома?— Нет, я так... — зевнул мужик, — люминации дожидаюсь. Поехал бы, да, признаться, пятачка на паром нет.— Я тебе дам пятачок.— Нет, благодарим покорно... Ужо на этот пятачок ты за меня там в монастыре свечку поставь... Этак любопытней будет, а я и тут постою. Скажи на милость, нет парома! Словно в воду канул!Мужик подошел к самой воде, взялся рукой за канат и закричал:— Иероним! Иерони-им!Точно в ответ на его крик, с того берега донесся протяжный звон большого колокола. Звон был густой, низкий, как от самой толстой струны контрабаса: казалось, прохрипели сами потемки. Тотчас же послышался выстрел из пушки. Он прокатился в темноте и кончился где-то далеко за моей спиной. Мужик снял шляпу и перекрестился.— Христос воскрес! — сказал он.Не успели застыть в воздухе волны от первого удара колокола, как послышался другой, за ним тотчас же третий, и потемки наполнились непрерывным, дрожащим гулом. Около красных огней загорелись новые огни и все вместе задвигались, беспокойно замелькали.— Иерони-им! — послышался глухой протяжный крик.— С того берега кричат, — сказал мужик. — Значит, и там нет парома. Заснул наш Иероним.Огни и бархатный звон колокола манили к себе... Я уж начал терять терпение и волноваться, но вот наконец, вглядываясь в темную даль, я увидел силуэт чего-то, очень похожего на виселицу. Это был давно жданный паром. Он подвигался с такою медленностью, что если б не постепенная обрисовка его контуров, то можно было бы подумать, что он стоит на одном месте или же идет к тому берегу.— Скорей! Иероним! — крикнул мой мужик. — Барин дожидается!Паром подполз к берегу, покачнулся и со скрипом остановился. На нем, держась за канат, стоял высокий человек в монашеской рясе и в конической шапочке.— Отчего так долго? — спросил я, вскакивая на паром.— Простите Христа ради, — ответил тихо Иероним. — Больше никого нет?— Никого...Иероним взялся обеими руками за канат, изогнулся в вопросительный знак и крякнул. Паром скрипнул и покачнулся. Силуэт мужика в высокой шляпе стал медленно удаляться от меня — значит, паром поплыл. Иероним скоро выпрямился и стал работать одной рукой. Мы молчали и глядели на берег, к которому плыли. Там уже началась «люминация», которой дожидался мужик. У самой воды громадными кострами пылали смоляные бочки. Отражения их, багровые, как восходящая луна, длинными, широкими полосами ползли к нам навстречу. Горящие бочки освещали свой собственный дым и длинные человеческие тени, мелькавшие около огня; но далее в стороны и позади них, откуда несся бархатный звон, была всё та же беспросветная, черная мгла. Вдруг, рассекая потемки, золотой лентой взвилась к небу ракета; она описала дугу и, точно разбившись о небо, с треском рассыпалась в искры. С берега послышался гул, похожий на отдаленное ура.— Как красиво! — сказал я.— И сказать нельзя, как красиво! — вздохнул Иероним. — Ночь такая, господин! В другое время и внимания не обратишь на ракеты, а нынче всякой суете радуешься. Вы сами откуда будете?Я сказал, откуда я.— Так-с... радостный день нынче... — продолжал Иероним слабым, вздыхающим тенорком, каким говорят выздоравливающие больные. — Радуется и небо, и земля, и преисподняя. Празднует вся тварь. Только скажите мне, господин хороший, отчего это даже и при великой радости человек не может скорбей своих забыть?Мне показалось, что этот неожиданный вопрос вызывал меня на один из тех «продлинновенных», душеспасительных разговоров, которые так любят праздные и скучающие монахи. Я не был расположен много говорить, а потому только спросил:— А какие, батюшка, у вас скорби?— Обыкновенно, как и у всех людей, ваше благородие, господин хороший, но в нынешний день случилась в монастыре особая скорбь: в самую обедню, во время паремий, умер иеродьякон Николай...— Что ж, это божья воля! — сказал я, подделываясь под монашеский тон. — Всем умирать нужно. По-моему, вы должны еще радоваться... Говорят, что кто умрет под Пасху или на Пасху, тот непременно попадет в царство небесное.— Это верно.Мы замолчали. Силуэт мужика в высокой шляпе слился с очертаниями берега. Смоляные бочки разгорались всё более и более.— И писание ясно указывает на суету скорби, и размышление, — прервал молчание Иероним, — но отчего же душа скорбит и не хочет слушать разума? Отчего горько плакать хочется?Иероним пожал плечами, повернулся ко мне и заговорил быстро:— Умри я или кто другой, оно бы, может, и незаметно было, но ведь Николай умер! Никто другой, а Николай! Даже поверить трудно, что его уж нет на свете! Стою я тут на пароме и всё мне кажется, что сейчас он с берега голос свой подаст. Чтобы мне на пароме страшно не казалось, он всегда приходил на берег и окликал меня. Нарочито для этого ночью с постели вставал. Добрая душа! Боже, какая добрая и милостивая! У иного человека и матери такой нет, каким у меня был этот Николай! Спаси, господи, его Душу!Иероним взялся за канат, но тотчас же опять повернулся ко мне.— Ваше благородие, а ум какой светлый! — сказал он певучим голосом. — Какой язык благозвучный и сладкий! Именно, как вот сейчас будут петь в заутрени: «О, любезнаго! о, сладчайшаго твоего гласа!» Кроме всех прочих человеческих качеств, в нем был еще и дар необычайный!— Какой дар? — спросил я.Монах оглядел меня и, точно убедившись, что мне можно вверять тайны, весело засмеялся.— У него был дар акафисты писать... — сказал он. — Чудо, господин, да и только! Вы изумитесь, ежели я вам объясню! Отец архимандрит у нас из московских, отец наместник в Казанской академии кончил, есть у нас и иеромонахи разумные, и старцы, но ведь, скажи пожалуйста, ни одного такого нет, чтобы писать умел, а Николай, простой монах, иеродьякон, нигде не обучался и даже видимости наружной не имел, а писал! Чудо! Истинно чудо!Иероним всплеснул руками и, совсем забыв про канат, продолжал с увлечением:— Отец наместник затрудняется проповеди составлять; когда историю монастыря писал, то всю братию загонял и раз десять в город ездил, а Николай акафисты писал! Акафисты! Это не то что проповедь или история!— А разве акафисты трудно писать? — спросил я.— Большая трудность... — покрутил головой Иероним. — Тут и мудростью и святостью ничего не поделаешь, ежели бог дара не дал. Монахи, которые не понимающие, рассуждают, что для этого нужно только знать житие святого, которому пишешь, да с прочими акафистами соображаться. Но это, господин, неправильно. Оно, конечно, кто пишет акафист, тот должен знать житие до чрезвычайности, до последней самомалейшей точки. Ну и соображаться с прочими акафистами нужно, как где начать и о чем писать. К примеру сказать вам, первый кондак везде начинается с «возбранный» или «избранный»... Первый икос завсегда надо начинать с ангела. В акафисте к Иисусу Сладчайшему, ежели интересуетесь, он начинается так: «Ангелов творче и господи сил», в акафисте к пресвятой богородице: «Ангел предстатель с небесе послан бысть», к Николаю Чудотворцу: «Ангела образом, земнаго суща естеством» и прочее. Везде с ангела начинается. Конечно, без того нельзя, чтобы не соображаться, но главное ведь не в житии, не в соответствии с прочим, а в красоте и сладости. Нужно, чтоб всё было стройно, кратко и обстоятельно. Надо, чтоб в каждой строчечке была мягкость, ласковость и нежность, чтоб ни одного слова не было грубого, жесткого или несоответствующего. Так надо писать, чтоб молящийся сердцем радовался и плакал, а умом содрогался и в трепет приходил. В богородичном акафисте есть слова: «Радуйся, высото, неудобовосходимая человеческими помыслы; радуйся, глубино, неудобозримая и ангельскима очима!» В другом месте того же акафиста сказано: «Радуйся, древо светлоплодовитое, от него же питаются вернии; радуйся, древо благосеннолиственное, им же покрываются мнози!»Иероним, словно испугавшись чего-то или застыдившись, закрыл ладонями лицо и покачал головой.— Древо светлоплодовитое... древо благосеннолиственное... — пробормотал он. — Найдет же такие слова! Даст же господь такую способность! Для краткости много слов и мыслей пригонит в одно слово и как это у него всё выходит плавно и обстоятельно! «Светоподательна светильника сущим...» — сказано в акафисте к Иисусу Сладчайшему. Светоподательна! Слова такого нет ни в разговоре, ни в книгах, а ведь придумал же его, нашел в уме своем! Кроме плавности и велеречия, сударь, нужно еще, чтоб каждая строчечка изукрашена была всячески, чтоб тут и цветы были, и молния, и ветер, и солнце, и все предметы мира видимого. И всякое восклицание нужно так составить, чтоб оно было гладенько и для уха вольготней. «Радуйся, крине райскаго прозябения!» — сказано в акафисте Николаю Чудотворцу. Не сказано просто «крине райский», а «крине райскаго прозябения»! Так глаже и для уха сладко. Так именно и Николай писал! Точь-в-точь так! И выразить вам не могу, как он писая!— Да, в таком случае жаль, что он умер, — сказал я. — Однако, батюшка, давайте плыть, а то опоздаем...Иероним спохватился и побежал к канату. На берегу начали перезванивать во все колокола. Вероятно, около монастыря происходил уже крестный ход, потому что всё темное пространство за смоляными бочками было теперь усыпано двигающимися огнями.— Николай печатал свои акафисты? — спросил я Иеронима.— Где ж печатать? — вздохнул он. — Да и странно было бы печатать. К чему? В монастыре у нас этим никто не интересуется. Не любят. Знали, что Николай пишет, но оставляли без внимания. Нынче, сударь, новые писания никто не уважает!— С предубеждением к ним относятся?— Точно так. Будь Николай старцем, то, пожалуй, может, братия и полюбопытствовала бы, а то ведь ему еще и сорока лет не было. Были которые смеялись и даже за грех почитали его писание.— Для чего же он писал?— Так, больше для своего утешения. Из всей братии только я один и читал его акафисты. Приду к нему потихоньку, чтоб прочие не видели, а он и рад, что я интересуюсь. Обнимет меня, по голове гладит, ласковыми словами обзывает, как дитя маленького. Затворит келью, посадит меня рядом с собой и давай читать...Иероним оставил канат и подошел ко мне.— Мы вроде как бы друзья с ним были, — зашептал он, глядя на меня блестящими глазами. — Куда он, туда и я. Меня нет, он тоскует. И любил он меня больше всех, а всё за то, что я от его акафистов плакал. Вспоминать трогательно! Теперь я всё равно как сирота или вдовица. Знаете, у нас в монастыре народ всё хороший, добрый, благочестивый, но... ни в ком нет мягкости и деликатности, всё равно как люди простого звания. Говорят все громко, когда ходят, ногами стучат, шумят, кашляют, а Николай говорил завсегда тихо, ласково, а ежели заметит, что кто спит или молится, то пройдет мимо, как мушка или комарик. Лицо у него было нежное, жалостное...Иероним глубоко вздохнул и взялся за канат. Мы уже приближались к берегу. Прямо из потемок и речной тишины мы постепенно вплывали в заколдованное царство, полное удушливого дыма, трещащего света и гама. Около смоляных бочек, уж ясно было видно, двигались люди. Мельканье огня придавало их красным лицам и фигурам странное почти фантастическое выражение. Изредка среди голов и лиц мелькали лошадиные морды, неподвижные, точно вылитые из красной меди.— Сейчас запоют пасхальный канон... — сказал Иероним, — а Николая нет, некому вникать... Для него слаже и писания не было, как этот канон. В каждое слово, бывало, вникал! Вы вот будете там, господин, и вникните, что поется: дух захватывает!— А вы разве не будете в церкви?— Мне нельзя-с... Перевозить нужно...— Но разве вас не сменят?— Не знаю... Меня еще в девятом часу нужно было сменить, да вот, видите, не сменяют!.. А, признаться, хотелось бы в церковь...— Вы монах?— Да-с... то есть я послушник.Паром врезался в берег и остановился. Я сунул Иерониму пятачок за провоз и прыгнул на сушу. Тотчас же телега с мальчиком и со спящей бабой со скрипом въехала на паром. Иероним, слабо окрашиваемый огнями, налег на канат, изогнулся и сдвинул с места паром...Несколько шагов я сделал по грязи, но далее пришлось идти по мягкой, свежепротоптанной тропинке. Эта тропинка вела к темным, похожим на впадину, монастырским воротам сквозь облака дыма, сквозь беспорядочную толпу людей, распряженных лошадей, телег, бричек. Всё это скрипело, фыркало, смеялось, и по всему мелькали багровый свет и волнистые тени от дыма... Сущий хаос! И в этой толкотне находили еще место заряжать маленькую пушку и продавать пряники!По ту сторону стены, в ограде, происходила не меньшая суетня, но благочиния и порядка наблюдалось больше. Тут пахло можжевельником и росным ладаном. Говорили громко, но смеха и фырканья не слышалось. Около могильных памятников и крестов жались друг к другу люди с куличами и узлами. По-видимому, многие из них приехали святить куличи издалека и были теперь утомлены. По чугунным плитам, которые лежали полосой от ворот до церковной двери, суетливо, звонко стуча сапогами, бегали молодые послушники. На колокольне тоже возились и кричали.«Какая беспокойная ночь! — думал я. — Как хорошо!»Беспокойство и бессонницу хотелось видеть во всей природе, начиная с ночной тьмы и кончая плитами, могильными крестами и деревьями, под которыми суетились люди. Но нигде возбуждение и беспокойство не сказывались так сильно, как в церкви. У входа происходила неугомонная борьба прилива с отливом. Одни входили, другие выходили и скоро опять возвращались, чтобы постоять немного и вновь задвигаться. Люди снуют с места на место, слоняются и как будто чего-то ищут. Волна идет от входа и бежит по всей церкви, тревожа даже передние ряды, где стоят люди солидные и тяжелые. О сосредоточенной молитве не может быть и речи. Молитв вовсе нет, а есть какая-то сплошная, детски-безотчетная радость, ищущая предлога, чтобы только вырваться наружу и излиться в каком-нибудь движении, хотя бы в беспардонном шатании и толкотне.Та же необычайная подвижность бросается в глаза и в самом пасхальном служении. Царские врата во всех приделах открыты настежь, в воздухе около паникадила плавают густые облака ладанного дыма; куда ни взглянешь, всюду огни, блеск, треск свечей... Чтений не полагается никаких; пение, суетливое и веселое, не прерывается до самого конца; после каждой песни в каноне духовенство меняет ризы и выходит кадить, что повторяется почти каждые десять минут.Не успел я занять места, как спереди хлынула волна и отбросила меня назад. Передо мной прошел высокий плотный дьякон с длинной красной свечой; за ним спешил с кадилом седой архимандрит в золотой митре. Когда они скрылись из виду, толпа оттиснула меня опять на прежнее место. Но не прошло и десяти минут, как хлынула новая волна и опять показался дьякон. На этот раз за ним шел отец наместник, тот самый, который, по словам Иеронима, писал историю монастыря.Мне, слившемуся с толпой и заразившемуся всеобщим радостным возбуждением, было невыносимо больно за Иеронима. Отчего его не сменят? Почему бы не пойти на паром кому-нибудь менее чувствующему и менее впечатлительному?«Возведи окрест очи твои, Сионе, и виждь... — пели на клиросе, — се бо приидоша к тебе, яко богосветлая светила, от запада, и севера, и моря, и востока чада твоя...»Я поглядел на лица. На всех было живое выражение торжества; но ни один человек не вслушивался и не вникал в то, что пелось, и ни у кого не «захватывало духа». Отчего не сменят Иеронима? Я мог себе представить этого Иеронима, смиренно стоящего где-нибудь у стены, согнувшегося и жадно ловящего красоту святой фразы. Всё, что теперь проскальзывало мимо слуха стоявших около меня людей, он жадно пил бы своей чуткой душой, упился бы до восторгов, до захватывания духа, и не было бы во всём храме человека счастливее его. Теперь же он плавал взад и вперед по темной реке и тосковал по своем умершем брате и друге.Сзади хлынула волна. Полный, улыбающийся монах, играя четками и оглядываясь назад, боком протискался около меня, пролагая путь какой-то даме в шляпке и бархатной шубке. Вслед за дамой, неся над нашими головами стул, торопился монастырский служка.Я вышел из церкви. Мне хотелось посмотреть мертвого Николая, безвестного сочинителя акафистов. Я прошелся около ограды, где вдоль стены тянулся ряд монашеских келий, заглянул в несколько окон и, ничего не увидел, вернулся назад. Теперь я не сожалею, что не видел Николая; бог знает, быть может, увидев его, я утратил бы образ, который рисует теперь мне мое воображение. Этого симпатичного поэтического человека, выходившего по ночам перекликаться с Иеронимом и пересыпавшего свои акафисты цветами, звездами и лучами солнца, не понятого и одинокого, я представляю себе робким, бледным, с мягкими, кроткими и грустными чертами лица. В его глазах, рядом с умом, должна светиться ласка и та едва сдерживаемая, детская восторженность, какая слышалась мне в голосе Иеронима, когда тот приводил мне цитаты из акафистов.Когда после обедни мы вышли из церкви, то ночи уже не было. Начиналось утро. Звезды погасли, и небо представлялось серо-голубым, хмурым. Чугунные плиты, памятники и почки на деревьях были подернуты росой. В воздухе резко чувствовалась свежесть. За оградой уже не было того оживления, какое я видел ночью. Лошади и люди казались утомленными, сонными, едва двигались, а от смоляных бочек оставались одни только кучки черного пепла. Когда человек утомлен и хочет спать, то ему кажется, что то же самое состояние переживает и природа. Мне казалось, что деревья и молодая трава спали. Казалось, что даже колокола звонили не так громко и весело, как ночью. Беспокойство кончилось, и от возбуждения осталась одна только приятная истома, жажда сна и тепла.Теперь я мог видеть реку с обоими берегами. Над ней холмами то там, то сям носился легкий туман. От воды веяло холодом и суровостью. Когда я прыгнул на паром, на нем уже стояла чья-то бричка и десятка два мужчин и женщин. Канат, влажный и, как казалось мне, сонный, далеко тянулся через широкую реку и местами исчезал в белом тумане.— Христос воскрес! Больше никого нет? — спросил тихий голос.Я узнал голос Иеронима. Теперь ночные потемки уж не мешали мне разглядеть монаха. Это был высокий узкоплечий человек, лет 35, с крупными округлыми чертами лица, с полузакрытыми, лениво глядящими глазами и с нечесаной клиновидной бородкой. Вид у него был необыкновенно грустный и утомленный.— Вас еще не сменили? — удивился я.— Меня-с? — переспросил он, поворачивая ко мне свое озябшее, покрытое росой лицо и улыбаясь. — Теперь уж некому сменять до самого утра. Все к отцу архимандриту сейчас разговляться пойдут-с.Он да еще какой-то мужичок в шапке из рыжего меха, похожей на липовки, в которых продают мед, поналегли на канат, дружно крякнули, и паром тронулся с места.Мы поплыли, беспокоя на пути лениво подымавшийся туман. Все молчали. Иероним машинально работал одной рукой. Он долго водил по нас своими кроткими, тусклыми глазами, потом остановил свой взгляд на розовом чернобровом лице молоденькой купчихи, которая стояла на пароме рядом со мной и молча пожималась от обнимавшего ее тумана. От ее лица не отрывал он глаз в продолжение всего пути.В этом продолжительном взгляде было мало мужского. Мне кажется, что на лице женщины Иероним искал мягких и нежных черт своего усопшего друга.



В большой двор водочного завода «наследников М. Е. Ротштейн», грациозно покачиваясь на седле, въехал молодой человек в белоснежном офицерском кителе. Солнце беззаботно улыбалось на звездочках поручика, на белых стволах берез, на кучах битого стекла, разбросанных там и сям по двору. На всем лежала светлая здоровая красота летнего дня, и ничто не мешало сочной молодой зелени весело трепетать и перемигиваться с ясным, голубым небом. Даже грязный закопченный вид кирпичных сараев и душный запах сивушного масла не портили общего хорошего настроения. Поручик весело спрыгнул с седла, передал лошадь подбежавшему человеку и, поглаживая пальцем свои тонкие черные усики, вошел в парадную дверь. На самой верхней ступени ветхой, но светлой и мягкой лестницы его встретила горничная с немолодым, несколько надменным лицом. Поручик молча подал ей карточку.Идя в покои с карточкой, горничная могла прочесть: «Александр Григорьевич Сокольский». Через минуту она вернулась и сказала поручику, что барышня принять его не может, так как чувствует себя не совсем здоровой. Сокольский поглядел на потолок и вытянул нижнюю губу.— Досадно! — сказал он. — Послушайте, моя милая, — живо заговорил он, — подите и скажите Сусанне Моисеевне, что мне очень нужно поговорить с ней. Очень! Я задержу ее только на одну минуту. Пусть она извинит меня.Горничная пожала одним плечом и лениво пошла к барышне.— Хорошо! — вздохнула она, вернувшись немного погодя. — Пожалуйте!Поручик прошел за ней пять-шесть больших, роскошно убранных комнат, коридор и в конце концов очутился в просторной квадратной комнате, где с первого же шага его поразило изобилие цветущих растений и сладковатый, густой до отвращения запах жасмина. Цветы шпалерами тянулись вдоль стен, заслоняя окна, свешивались с потолка, вились по углам, так что комната походила больше на оранжерею, чем на жилое помещение. Синицы, канарейки и щеглята с писком возились в зелени и бились об оконные стекла.— Простите, пожалуйста, что я вас здесь принимаю! — услышал поручик сочный женский голос, не без приятности картавящий звук р. — Вчера у меня была мигрень и, чтобы она сегодня не повторилась, я стараюсь не шевелиться. Что вы хотите?Как раз против входа, в большом стариковском кресле, откинувши голову назад на подушку, сидела женщина в дорогом китайском шлафроке и с укутанной головой. Из-за вязаного шерстяного платка виден был только бледный длинный нос с острым кончиком и маленькой горбинкой да один большой черный глаз. Просторный шлафрок скрывал ее рост и формы, но по белой красивой руке, по голосу, по носу и глазу ей можно было дать не больше 26—28 лет.— Простите, что я так настойчив... — начал поручик, звякая шпорами. — Честь имею представиться: Сокольский! Приехал я по поручению моего кузена, а вашего соседа, Алексея Ивановича Крюкова, который...— Ах, знаю! — перебила Сусанна Моисеевна. — Я знаю Крюкова. Садитесь, я не люблю, если передо мной стоит что-нибудь большое.— Мой двоюродный брат поручил мне просить вас об одном одолжении, — продолжал поручик, еще раз звякнув шпорами и садясь. — Дело в том, что ваш покойный батюшка покупал зимою у брата овес и остался ему должен небольшую сумму. Срок векселям будет только через неделю, но брат убедительно просил вас, не можете ли вы уплатить этот долг сегодня?Поручик говорил, а сам искоса поглядывал в стороны.«Да никак я в спальне?» — думал он. В одном из углов комнаты, где зелень была гуще и выше, под розовым, точно погребальным балдахином, стояла кровать с измятой, еще не прибранной постелью. Тут же на двух креслах лежали кучи скомканного женского платья. Подолы и рукава, с помятыми кружевами и оборками, свешивались на ковер, по которому там и сям белели тесемки, два-три окурка, бумажки от карамели... Из-под кровати глядели тупые и острые носы длинного ряда всевозможных туфель. И поручику казалось, что приторный жасминный запах идет не от цветов, а от постели и ряда туфель.— А на какую сумму векселя? — спросила Сусанна Моисеевна.— На две тысячи триста.— Ого! — сказала еврейка, показывая и другой большой черный глаз. — А вы говорите — немного! Впрочем, всё равно, что сегодня платить, что через неделю, но у меня в эти два месяца после смерти отца было так много платежей... столько глупых хлопот, что голова кружится! Прошу покорнейше, мне за границу нужно ехать, а меня заставляют заниматься глупостями. Водка, овес... — забормотала она, наполовину закрывая глаза, — овес, векселя, проценты, или, как говорит мой главный приказчик, «прученты»... Это ужасно. Вчера я просто прогнала акцизного. Пристает ко мне со своим Траллесом. Я ему и говорю: убирайтесь вы к чёрту с вашим Траллесом, я никого не принимаю! Поцеловал руку и ушел. Послушайте, не может ли ваш брат подождать месяца два-три?— Жестокий вопрос! — засмеялся поручик. — Брат может и год ждать, но я-то не могу ждать! Ведь это я, надо вам сказать, ради себя хлопочу. Мне нужны во что бы то ни стало деньги, а у брата, как нарочно, ни одного свободного рубля. Приходится поневоле ездить и собирать долги. Сейчас был у арендатора-мужика, теперь вот у вас сижу, от вас еще куда-нибудь поеду и так, пока не соберу пяти тысяч. Ужасно нужны деньги!— Полноте, на что молодому человеку деньги? Прихоть, шалости. Что, вы прокутились, проигрались, женитесь?— Вы угадали! — засмеялся поручик и, слегка приподнявшись, звякнул шпорами. — Действительно, я женюсь...Сусанна Моисеевна пристально поглядела на гостя, сделала кислое лицо и вздохнула.— Не понимаю, что за охота у людей жениться! — сказала она, ища вокруг себя носовой платок. — Жизнь так коротка, так мало свободы, а они еще связывают себя.— У всякого свой взгляд...— Да, да, конечно, у всякого свой взгляд... Но, послушайте, разве вы женитесь на бедной? По страстной любви? И почему вам нужно непременно пять тысяч, а не четыре, не три?«Какой, однако, у нее длинный язык!» — подумал поручик и ответил:— История в том, что по закону офицер не может жениться раньше 28 лет. Если угодно жениться, то или со службы уходи, или же взноси пять тысяч залога.— Ага, теперь понимаю. Послушайте, вот вы сейчас сказали, что у каждого свой взгляд... Может быть, ваша невеста какая-нибудь особенная, замечательная, но... я решительно не понимаю, как это порядочный человек может жить с женщиной? Не понимаю, хоть убейте. Живу я уже, слава тебе господи, 27 лет, но ни разу в жизни не видела ни одной сносной женщины. Все ломаки, безнравственные, лгуньи... Я терплю только горничных и кухарок, а так называемых порядочных я к себе и на пушечный выстрел не подпускаю. Да, слава богу, они сами меня ненавидят и не лезут ко мне. Коли ей нужны деньги, так она мужа пришлет, а сама ни за что не поедет, не из гордости, нет, а просто из трусости, боится, чтоб я ей сцены не сделала. Ах, я отлично понимаю их ненависть! Еще бы! Я откровенно выставляю на вид то, что они всеми силами стараются спрятать от бога и людей. Как же после этого не ненавидеть? Наверное, вам про меня уж с три короба наговорили...— Я так недавно сюда приехал, что...— Но, но, но... по глазам вижу! А разве жена вашего брата не снабдила вас напутствием? Отпускать молодого человека к такой ужасной женщине и не предостеречь — как можно? Ха-ха... Но что, как ваш брат? Он у вас молодец, такой красивый мужчина... Я его несколько раз в обедне видела. Что вы на меня так глядите? Я очень часто бываю в церкви! У всех один бог. Для образованного человека не так важна внешность, как идея... Не правда ли?— Да, конечно... — улыбнулся поручик.— Да, идея... А вы совсем не похожи на вашего брата. Вы тоже красивы, но ваш брат гораздо красивее. Удивительно, как мало сходства!— Немудрено: ведь мы не родные, а двоюродные.— Да, правда. Так вам непременно сегодня нужны деньги? Почему сегодня?— На днях кончается срок моего отпуска.— Ну, что ж с вами делать! — вздохнула Сусанна Моисеевна. — Так и быть уж, дам вам денег, хотя и знаю, что будете бранить меня. Поссоритесь после свадьбы с женой и скажете: «Если б та пархатая жидовка не дала мне денег, так я, может быть, был бы теперь свободен, как птица!» Ваша невеста хороша собой?— Да, ничего...— Гм!.. Все-таки лучше хоть что-нибудь, хоть красота, чем ничего. Впрочем, никакой красотой женщина не может заплатить мужу за свою пустоту.— Это оригинально! — засмеялся поручик. — Вы сами женщина, а такая женофобка!— Женщина... — усмехнулась Сусанна. — Разве я виновата, что бог послал мне такую оболочку? В этом я так же виновата, как вы в том, что у вас есть усы. Не от скрипки зависит выбор футляра. Я себя очень люблю, но когда мне напоминают, что я женщина, то я начинаю ненавидеть себя. Ну, вы уйдите отсюда, я оденусь. Подождите меня в гостиной.Поручик вышел и первым делом глубоко вздохнул, чтобы отделаться от тяжелого жасминного запаха, от которого у него уже начинало кружить голову и першить в горле. Он был удивлен.«Какая странная! — думал он, осматриваясь. — Говорит складно, но... уж чересчур много и откровенно. Психопатка какая-то».Гостиная, в которой он стоял теперь, была убрана богато, с претензией на роскошь и моду. Тут были темные бронзовые блюда с рельефами, виды Ниццы и Рейна на столах, старинные бра, японские статуэтки, но все эти поползновения на роскошь и моду только оттеняли ту безвкусицу, о которой неумолимо кричали золоченые карнизы, цветистые обои, яркие бархатные скатерти, плохие олеографии в тяжелых рамах. Безвкусицу дополняли незаконченность и лишняя теснота, когда кажется, что чего-то недостает и что многое следовало бы выбросить. Заметно было, что вся обстановка заводилась не сразу, а частями, путем выгодных случаев, распродаж.Поручик сам обладал не бог весть каким вкусом, но и он заметил, что вся обстановка носит на себе одну характерную особенность, какую нельзя стереть ни роскошью, ни модой, а именно — полное отсутствие следов женских, хозяйских рук, придающих, как известно, убранству комнат оттенок теплоты, поэзии и уютности. Здесь веяло холодом, как в вокзальных комнатах, клубах и театральных фойе.Собственно еврейского в комнате не было почти ничего, кроме разве одной только большой картины, изображавшей встречу Иакова с Исавом. Поручик оглядывался кругом и, пожимая плечами, думал о своей новой, странной знакомке, о ее развязности и манере говорить. Но вот раскрылась дверь и на пороге появилась она сама, стройная, в длинном черном платье, с сильно затянутой, точно выточенной талией. Теперь уж поручик видел не только нос и глаза, но и белое худощавое лицо, черную кудрявую, как барашек, голову. Она не понравилась ему, хотя и не показалась некрасивой. Вообще к нерусским лицам он питал предубеждение, а тут к тому же нашел, что к черным кудряшкам и густым бровям хозяйки очень не шло белое лицо, своею белизною напоминавшее ему почему-то приторный жасминный запах, что уши и нос были поразительно бледны, как мертвые или вылитые из прозрачного воска. Улыбнувшись, она вместе с зубами показала бледные десны, что тоже ему не понравилось.«Бледная немочь... — подумал он. — Вероятно, нервна, как индюшка».— А вот и я! Пойдемте! — сказала она, идя быстро впереди его и обрывая на пути с цветов желтые листки. — Сейчас я дам вам деньги и, если хотите, покормлю завтраком. Две тысячи триста рублей! После такого хорошего гешефта вы с аппетитом покушаете. Нравятся вам мои комнаты? Здешние барыни говорят, что у меня пахнет чесноком. Этой кухонной остротой исчерпывается всё их остроумие. Спешу вас уверить, что чесноку я даже в погребе не держу, и когда однажды ко мне приехал с визитом доктор, от которого пахло чесноком, то я попросила его взять свою шляпу и ехать благоухать куда-нибудь в другое место. Пахнет у меня не чесноком, а лекарствами. Отец лежал в параличе полтора года и весь дом продушил лекарствами. Полтора года! Мне жаль его, но я рада, что он умер: так он страдал!Она провела офицера через две комнаты, похожие на гостиную, через залу и остановилась в своем кабинете, где стоял женский письменный столик, весь уставленный безделушками. Около него, на ковре, валялось несколько раскрытых загнутых книг. Из кабинета вела небольшая дверь, в которую виден был стол, накрытый для завтрака.Не переставая болтать, Сусанна достала из кармана связку мелких ключей и отперла какой-то мудреный шкап с гнутой, покатой крышкой. Когда крышка поднялась, шкап прогудел жалобную мелодию, напомнившую поручику Эолову арфу. Сусанна выбрала еще один ключ и вторично щелкнула.— У меня здесь подземные ходы и потайные двери, — сказала она, доставая небольшой сафьяновый портфель. — Смешной шкап, не правда ли? А в этом портфеле четверть моего состояния. Посмотрите, какой он пузатенький! Ведь вы меня не придушите?Сусанна подняла на поручика глаза и добродушно засмеялась. Поручик тоже засмеялся.«А она славная!» — подумал он, глядя, как ключи бегают между ее пальцами.— Вот он! — сказала она, выбрав ключик от портфеля. — Ну-с, г. кредитор, пожалуйте на сцену векселя. В сущности, какая глупость вообще деньги! Какое ничтожество, а ведь как любят их женщины! Знаете, я еврейка до мозга костей, без памяти люблю Шмулей и Янкелей, но что мне противно в нашей семитической крови, так это страсть к наживе. Копят и сами не знают, для чего копят. Нужно жить и наслаждаться, а они боятся потратить лишнюю копейку. В этом отношении я больше похожа на гусара, чем на Шмуля. Не люблю, когда деньги долго лежат на одном месте. Да и вообще, кажется, я мало похожа на еврейку. Сильна выдает меня мой акцент, а?— Как вам сказать? — замялся поручик. — Вы говорите чисто, но картавите.Сусанна засмеялась и сунула ключик в замочек портфеля. Поручик достал из кармана пачечку векселей и положил ее вместе с записной книжкой на стол.— Ничего так не выдает еврея, как акцент, — продолжала Сусанна, весело глядя на поручика. — Как бы он ни корчил из себя русского или француза, по попросите его сказать слово пух, и он скажет вам: пэххх... А я выговариваю правильно: пух! пух! пух!Оба засмеялись.«Ей-богу, она славная!» — подумал Сокольский.Сусанна положила портфель на стул, сделала шаг к поручику и, приблизив свое лицо к его лицу, весело продолжала:— После евреев никого я так не люблю, как русских и французов. Я плохо училась в гимназии и истории не знаю, но мне кажется, что судьба земли находится в руках у этих двух народов. Я долго жила за границей... даже в Мадриде прожила полгода... нагляделась на публику и вынесла такое убеждение, что, кроме русских и французов, нет ни одного порядочного народа. Возьмите вы языки... Немецкий язык лошадиный, английский — глупее ничего нельзя себе представить: файть-фийть-фюйть! Итальянский приятен только, когда говоришь на нем медленно, если же послушать итальянских чечёток, то получается тот же еврейский жаргон. А поляки? Боже мой, господи! Нет противнее языка! «Не пепши, Петше, пепшем вепша, бо можешь пшепепшитсь вепша пепшем». Это значит: не перчи, Петр, перцем поросенка, а то можешь переперчить поросенка перцем. Ха-ха-ха!Сусанна Моисеевна закатила глаза и засмеялась таким хорошим, заразительным смехом, что поручик, глядя на нее, весело и громко расхохотался. Она взяла гостя за пуговицу и продолжала:— Вы, конечно, не любите евреев... Я не спорю, недостатков много, как и у всякой нации. Но разве евреи виноваты? Нет, не евреи виноваты, а еврейские женщины! Они недалеки, жадны, без всякой поэзии, скучны... Вы никогда не жили с еврейкой и не знаете, что это за прелесть!Последние слова проговорила Сусанна Моисеевна протяжно, уже без воодушевления и смеха. Она умолкла, точно испугалась своей откровенности, и лицо ее вдруг исказилось странным и непонятным образом. Глаза, не мигая, уставились на поручика, губы открылись и обнаружили стиснутые зубы. На всем лице, на шее и даже на груди задрожало злое, кошачье выражение. Не отрывая глаз от гостя, она быстро перегнула свой стан в сторону и порывисто, как кошка, схватила что-то со стола. Все это было делом нескольких секунд. Следя за ее движениями, поручик видел, как пять пальцев скомкали его векселя, как белая шелестящая бумага мелькнула перед его глазами и исчезла в ее кулаке. Такой резкий, необычайный поворот от добродушного смеха к преступлению так поразил его, что он побледнел и сделал шаг назад...А она, не сводя с него испуганных, пытливых глаз, водила сжатым кулаком себя по бедру и искала кармана. Кулак судорожно, как пойманная рыба, бился около кармана и никак не попадал в щель. Еще мгновение, и векселя исчезли бы в тайниках женского платья, но тут поручик слегка вскрикнул и, побуждаемый больше инстинктом, чем разумом, схватил еврейку за руку около сжатого кулака. Та, еще больше оскалив зубы, рванулась изо всех сил и вырвала руку. Тогда Сокольский одной рукой плотно обхватил ее талию, другою — грудь, и у них началась борьба. Боясь оскорбить женственность и причинить боль, он старался только не давать ей двигаться и уловить кулак с векселями, а она, как угорь, извивалась в его руках своим гибким, упругим телом, рвалась, била его в грудь локтями, царапалась, так что руки его ходили по всему ее телу и он поневоле причинял ей боль и оскорблял ее стыдливость.«Как это необыкновенно! Как странно!» — думал он, не помня себя от удивления, не веря себе и чувствуя всем своим существом, как его мутит от запаха жасмина.Молча, тяжело дыша, натыкаясь на мебель, они переходили с места на место. Сусанну увлекла борьба. Она раскраснелась, закрыла глаза и раз даже, не помня себя, крепко прижалась своим лицом к лицу поручика, так что на губах его остался сладковатый вкус. Наконец, он поймал кулак... Разжав его и не найдя в нем векселей, он оставил еврейку. Красные, с встрепанными прическами, тяжело дыша, глядели они друг на друга. Злое, кошачье выражение на лице еврейки мало-помалу сменилось добродушной улыбкой. Она расхохоталась и, повернувшись на одной ноге, направилась в комнату, где был приготовлен завтрак. Поручик поплелся за ней. Она села за стол и, всё еще красная, тяжело дыша, выпила полрюмки портвейна.— Послушайте, — прервал молчание поручик, — вы, надеюсь, шутите?— Нисколько, — ответила она, запихивая в рот кусочек хлеба.— Гм!.. Как же прикажете понять всё это?— Как угодно. Садитесь завтракать!— Но... ведь это нечестно!— Может быть. Впрочем, не трудитесь читать мне проповедь. У меня свой собственный взгляд на вещи.— Вы не отдадите?— Конечно, нет! Будь вы бедный, несчастный человек, которому есть нечего, ну, тогда другое дело, а то — жениться захотел!— Но ведь это не мои деньги, а брата!— А брату вашему на что деньги? Жене на моды? А мне решительно всё равно, есть ли у вашей belle-sœur 1 платья, или нет.Поручик уже не помнил, что он в чужом доме, у незнакомой дамы, и не стеснял себя приличием. Он шагал по комнате, хмурился и нервно теребил жилетку. Оттого, что еврейка своим бесчестным поступком уронила себя в его глазах, он чувствовал себя смелее и развязнее.— Чёрт знает что! — бормотал он. — Послушайте, я не уйду отсюда, пока не получу от вас векселей!— Ах, тем лучше! — смеялась Сусанна. — Хоть жить здесь оставайтесь, мне же будет веселее.Возбужденный борьбою, поручик глядел на смеющееся, наглое лицо Сусанны, на жующий рот, тяжело дышащую грудь и становился смелее и дерзче. Вместо того, чтобы думать о векселях, он почему-то с какою-то жадностью стал припоминать рассказы своего брата о романических похождениях еврейки, о ее свободном образе жизни, и эти воспоминания только подзадорили его дерзость. Он порывисто сел рядом с еврейкой и, не думая о векселях, стал есть...— Вам водки или вина? — спрашивала со смехом Сусанна. — Так вы останетесь ждать векселя? Бедняжка, столько дней и ночей придется вам провести у меня в ожидании векселей! Ваша невеста не будет в претензии?


Прошло пять часов. Брат поручика, Алексей Иванович Крюков, облеченный в халат и туфли, ходил у себя в усадьбе по комнатам и нетерпеливо посматривал в окна. Это был высокий, плотный мужчина с большой черной бородой, с мужественным лицом и, как сказала правду еврейка, красивый собой, хотя уже и перевалил в тот возраст, когда мужчины излишне толстеют, брюзгнут и плешивеют. По духу и разуму принадлежал он к числу натур, которыми так богата наша интеллигенция: сердечный и добродушный, воспитанный, не чуждый наук, искусств, веры, самых рыцарских понятий о чести, но неглубокий и ленивый. Он любил хорошо поесть и выпить, идеально играл в винт, знал вкус в женщинах и лошадях, в остальном же прочем был туг и неподвижен, как тюлень, и чтобы вызвать его из состояния покоя, требовалось что-нибудь необыкновенное, слишком возмутительное, и тогда уж он забывал всё на свете и проявлял крайнюю подвижность: вопил о дуэли, писал на семи листах прошение министру, сломя голову скакал по уезду, пускал публично «подлеца», судился и т. п.— Что же это нашего Саши до сих пор нет? — спрашивал он жену, заглядывая в окна. — Ведь обедать пора!Подождав поручика до шести часов, Крюковы сели обедать. Вечером, когда уже было пора ужинать, Алексей Иванович прислушивался к шагам, к стуку дверей и пожимал плечами.— Странно! — говорил он. — Должно быть, канальский фендрик у арендатора застрял.Ложась после ужина спать, Крюков так и решил, что поручик загостился у арендатора, где после хорошей попойки остался ночевать.Александр Григорьевич вернулся домой только на другой день утром. Вид у него был крайне сконфуженный и помятый.— Мне нужно поговорить с тобой наедине... — сказал он таинственно брату.Пошли в кабинет. Поручик запер дверь и, прежде чем начать говорить, долго шагал из угла в угол.— Такое, братец, случилось, — начал он, — что я не знаю, как и сказать тебе. Не поверишь ты...И он, заикаясь, краснея и не глядя на брата, рассказал историю с векселями. Крюков, расставя ноги и опустив голову, слушал и хмурился.— Ты это шутишь? — спросил он.— Кой чёрт шучу? Какие тут шутки!— Не понимаю! — пробормотал Крюков, багровея и разводя руками. — Это даже... безнравственно с твоей стороны. Бабенка на твоих глазах творит чёрт знает что, уголовщину, делает подлость, а ты лезешь целоваться!— Но я сам не понимаю, как это случилось! — зашептал поручик, виновато мигая глазами. — Честное слово, не понимаю! Первый раз в жизни наскочил на такое чудовище! Не красотой берет, не умом, а этой, понимаешь, наглостью, цинизмом...— Наглостью, цинизмом... Как это чистоплотно! Уж если так тебе захотелось наглости и цинизма, то взял бы свинью из грязи и съел бы ее живьем! По крайней мере дешевле, а то — две тысячи триста!— Как ты изящно выражаешься! — поморщился поручик. — Я тебе отдам эти две тысячи триста!— Знаю, что отдашь, но разве в деньгах дело? Ну их к чёрту, эти деньги! Меня возмущает твоя тряпичность, дряблость... малодушество поганое! Жених! Имеет невесту!— Но не напоминай... — покраснел поручик. — Мне теперь самому противно. Сквозь землю готов провалиться... Противно и досадно, что за пятью тысячами придется теперь к тетке лезть...Крюков долго еще возмущался и ворчал, потом, успокоившись, сел на софу и стал посмеиваться над братом.— Поручики! — говорил он с презрительной иронией в голосе. — Женихи!Вдруг он вскочил, как ужаленный, топнул ногой и забегал по кабинету.— Нет, я этого так не оставлю! — заговорил он, потрясая кулаком. — Векселя будут у меня! Будут! Я упеку ее! Женщин не бьют, но ее я изувечу... мокрого места не останется! Я не поручик! Меня не тронешь наглостью и цинизмом! Не-ет, чёрт ее подери! Мишка, — закричал он, — беги скажи, чтоб мне беговые дрожки заложили!Крюков быстро оделся и, не слушая встревоженного поручика, сел на беговые дрожки, решительно махнул рукой и покатил к Сусанне Моисеевне. Поручик долго глядел в окно на облако пыли, бежавшее за его дрожками, потянулся, зевнул и пошел к себе в комнату. Через четверть часа он спал крепким сном.В шестом часу его разбудили и позвали к обеду.— Как это мило со стороны Алексея! — встретила его в столовой невестка. — Заставляет ждать себя обедать!— А разве он еще не приехал? — зевнул поручик. — Гм... вероятно к арендатору заехал.Но и к ужину не вернулся Алексей Иванович. Его жена и Сокольский порешили, что он заигрался в карты у арендатора, и, по всей вероятности, останется у него ночевать. Случилось же совсем не то, что они предполагали.Крюков вернулся на другой день утром и, ни с кем не здороваясь, молча юркнул к себе в кабинет.— Ну, что? — зашептал поручик, глядя на него большими глазами.Крюков махнул рукой и фыркнул.— Да что такое? Что ты смеешься?Крюков повалился на диван, уткнул голову в подушку и затрясся от сдерживаемого хохота. Через минуту он поднялся и, глядя на удивленного поручика плачущими от смеха глазами, заговорил:— Прикрой-ка дверь. Ну, да и ба-а-ба же, я тебе доложу!— Получил векселя?Крюков махнул рукой и опять захохотал.— Ну, да и баба! — продолжал он. — Мерси, братец, за знакомство! Это чёрт в юбке! Приезжаю я к ней, вхожу, знаешь, таким Юпитером, что самому себя страшно... нахмурился, насупился, даже кулаки сжал для пущей важности... «Сударыня, говорю, со мной шутки плохи!» — и прочее в таком роде. И судом грозил, и губернатором... Она сначала заплакала, сказала, что пошутила с тобой, и даже повела меня к шкапу, чтобы отдать деньги, потом стала доказывать, что будущность Европы в руках русских и французов, обругала женщин... Я по-твоему развесил уши, осел я этакий... Спела она панегирик моей красоте, потрепала меня за руку около плеча, чтобы посмотреть, какой я сильный и... и, как видишь, сейчас только от нее убрался... Ха-ха... От тебя она в восторге!— Хорош мальчик! — засмеялся поручик. — Женатый, почтенный... Что, стыдно? Противно? Однако, брат, не шутя говоря, у вас в уезде своя царица Тамара завелась...— Кой чёрт в уезде? Другого такого хамелеона во всей России не сыщешь! Отродясь ничего подобного не видывал, а уж я ли не знаток по этой части? Кажется, с ведьмами жил, а ничего подобного не видывал. Именно наглостью и цинизмом берет. Что в ней завлекательно, так это резкие переходы, переливы красок, эта порывистость анафемская... Бррр! А векселя — фюйть! Пиши — пропало. Оба мы с тобой великие грешники, грех пополам. Считаю за тобою не 2 300, а половину. Чур, жене говорить, что у арендатора был.Крюков и поручик уткнули головы в подушки и принялись хохотать. Поднимут головы, взглянут друг на друга и опять упадут на подушки.— Женихи! — дразнил Крюков. — Поручики!— Женатые! — отвечал Сокольский. — Почтенные! Отцы семейств!За обедом они говорили намеками, перемигивались и то и дело, к удивлению домочадцев, прыскали в салфетки. После обеда, всё еще находясь в отменном настроении, они нарядились турками и, гоняясь с ружьями друг за другом, представляли детям войну. Вечером они долго спорили. Поручик доказывал, что низко и подло брать за женой приданое, даже в случае страстной любви с обеих сторон; Крюков же стучал кулаками по столу и говорил, что это абсурд, что муж, не желающий, чтобы жена имела собственность, эгоист и деспот. Оба кричали, кипятились, не понимали друг друга, порядком выпили и в конце концов, подобрав полы своих халатов, разошлись по спальням. Уснули они скоро и спали крепко.Жизнь потекла по-прежнему ровная, ленивая и беспечальная. Тени ложились на землю, в облаках гремел гром, изредка жалобно стонал ветер, как бы желая показать, что и природа может плакать, но ничто не тревожило привычного покоя этих людей. О Сусанне Моисеевне и о векселях они не говорили. Обоим было как-то совестно говорить вслух об этой истории. Зато вспоминали они и думали о ней с удовольствием, как о курьезном фарсе, который неожиданно и случайно разыграла с ними жизнь и о котором приятно будет вспомнить под старость...На шестой или седьмой день после свидания с еврейкой, утром Крюков сидел у себя в кабинете и писал поздравительное письмо к тетке. Около стола молча прохаживался Александр Григорьевич. Поручик плохо спал ночь, проснулся не в духе и теперь скучал. Он ходил и думал о сроке своего отпуска, об ожидавшей его невесте, о том, как это не скучно людям весь век жить в деревне. Остановившись у окна, он долго глядел на деревья, выкурил подряд три папиросы и вдруг повернулся к брату.— У меня, Алеша, к тебе просьба, — сказал он. — Одолжи мне на сегодня верховую лошадь...Крюков пытливо поглядел на него и, нахмурившись, продолжал писать.— Так дашь? — спросил поручик.Крюков опять поглядел на него, потом медленно выдвинул из стола ящик и, достав оттуда толстую пачку, подал ее брату.— Вот тебе пять тысяч... — сказал он. — Хоть и не мои они, но бог с тобой, всё равно. Советую тебе, посылай сейчас за почтовыми и уезжай. Право!Поручик в свою очередь пытливо поглядел на Крюкова и вдруг засмеялся.— А ведь ты угадал, Алеша, — сказал он, краснея. — Я ведь именно к ней хотел ехать. Как подала мне вчера вечером прачка этот проклятый китель, в котором я был тогда, и как запахло жасмином, то... так меня и потянуло!— Уехать надо.— Да, действительно. Кстати уж и отпуск кончился. Правда, поеду сегодня! Ей-богу! Сколько ни живи, а всё уехать придется... Еду!В тот же день перед обедом были поданы почтовые; поручик простился с Крюковым и, сопровождаемый благими пожеланиями, уехал.Прошла еще неделя. Был пасмурный, но жаркий и душный день. С самого раннего утра Крюков бесцельно бродил по комнатам, засматривал в окна или же перелистывал давно уже надоевшие альбомы. Когда ему попадались на глаза жена или дети, он начинал сердито ворчать. В этот день ему почему-то казалось, что дети ведут себя отвратительно, жена плохо глядит за прислугой, что расходы ведутся несообразно с доходами. Всё это значило, что «господа» не в духе.После обеда Крюков, недовольный супом и жарким, велел заложить беговые дрожки. Медленно выехал он со двора, проехал шагом четверть версты и остановился.«Нешто к той... к тому чёрту съездить?» — подумал он, глядя на пасмурное небо.И Крюков даже засмеялся, точно впервые за весь день задал себе этот вопрос. Тотчас же от сердца его отлегла скука и в ленивых глазах заблестело удовольствие. Он ударил по лошади...Всю дорогу воображение его рисовало, как еврейка удивится его приезду, как он посмеется, поболтает и вернется домой освеженный...«Раз в месяц надо освежать себя чем-нибудь... необыденным, — думал он, — чем-нибудь таким, что производило бы в застоявшемся организме хорошую встрепку... реакцию... Будь то хоть выпивка, хоть... Сусанна. Нельзя без этого».Уже темнело, когда он въехал во двор водочного завода. Из открытых окон хозяйского дома слышались смех и пение:
Ярррче молнии, жарррче пламени...
пел чей-то сильный, густой бас.«Эге, у нее гости!» — подумал Крюков.И ему стало неприятно, что у нее гости. «Не вернуться ли?» — думал он, берясь за звонок, но все-таки позвонил и пошел вверх по знакомой лестнице. Из передней он заглянул в залу. Там было человек пять мужчин — всё знакомые помещики и чиновники. Один, высокий и тощий, сидел за роялью, стучал длинными пальцами по клавишам и пел. Остальные слушали и скалили от удовольствия зубы. Крюков огляделся перед зеркалом и хотел уже войти в залу, как в переднюю впорхнула сама Сусанна Моисеевна, веселая, в том же черном платье... Увидев Крюкова, она на мгновение окаменела, потом вскрикнула и просияла от радости.— Это вы? — сказала она, хватая его за руку. — Какой сюрприз!— А, вот она! — улыбнулся Крюков, беря ее за талию. — Так как? Судьба Европы находится в руках русских и французов?— Я так рада! — засмеялась еврейка, осторожно отводя его руку. — Ну, идите в залу. Там всё знакомые... Я пойду скажу, чтобы вам чаю подали. Вас Алексеем зовут? Ну, ступайте, я сейчас...Она сделала ручкой и выбежала из передней, оставив после себя запах того же приторного, сладковатого жасмина. Крюков поднял голову и вошел в залу. Он был приятельски знаком со всеми, кто был в зале, но едва кивнул им головой; те ему тоже едва ответили, точно место, где они встретились, было непристойно, или они мысленно сговорились, что для них удобнее не узнавать друг друга.Из залы Крюков прошел в гостиную, отсюда в другую гостиную. На пути попалось ему три-четыре гостя, тоже знакомых, но едва узнавших его. Лица их были пьяны и веселы. Алексей Иванович косился на них и недоумевал, как это они, люди семейные, почтенные, испытанные горем и нуждою, могут унижать себя до такой жалкой, грошовой веселости! Он пожимал плечами, улыбался и шел дальше.«Есть места, — думал он, — где трезвого тошнит, а у пьяного дух радуется. Помню, в оперетку и к цыганам я ни разу трезвым не ездил. Вино делает человека добрее и мирит его с пороком...»Вдруг он остановился, как вкопанный, и обеими руками ухватился за косяк двери. В кабинете Сусанны, за письменным столом, сидел поручик Александр Григорьевич. Он о чем-то тихо разговаривал с толстым, обрюзглым евреем, а увидев брата, вспыхнул и опустил глаза в альбом.Чувство порядочности встрепенулось в Крюкове и кровь ударила ему в голову. Не помня себя от удивления, стыда и гнева, он молча прошелся около стола. Сокольский еще ниже опустил голову. Лицо его перекосило выражением мучительного стыда.— Ах, это ты, Алеша! — проговорил он, силясь поднять глаза и улыбнуться. — Я заехал сюда проститься и, как видишь... Но завтра я обязательно уезжаю!«Ну, что я могу сказать ему? Что? — думал Алексей Иванович. — Какой я для него судья, если я и сам здесь?»И ни слова не сказав, а только покрякав, он медленно вышел.
Не называй ее небесной и у земли не отнимай...
пел в зале бас. Немного погодя беговые дрожки Крюкова уже стучали по пыльной дороге.


20-го мая, в 8 часов вечера, все шесть батарей N-ой резервной артиллерийской бригады, направлявшейся в лагерь, остановились на ночевку в селе Местечках. В самый разгар суматохи, когда одни офицеры хлопотали около пушек, а другие, съехавшись на площади около церковной ограды, выслушивали квартирьеров, из-за церкви показался верховой в штатском платье и на странной лошади. Лошадь буланая и маленькая, с красивой шеей и с коротким хвостом, шла не прямо, а как-то боком и выделывала ногами маленькие, плясовые движения, как будто ее били хлыстом по ногам. Подъехав к офицерам, верховой приподнял шляпу и сказал:— Его превосходительство генерал-лейтенант фон Раббек, здешний помещик, приглашает господ офицеров пожаловать к нему сию минуту на чай...Лошадь поклонилась, затанцевала и попятилась боком назад; верховой еще раз приподнял шляпу и через мгновение вместе со своею странною лошадью исчез за церковью.— Чёрт знает что такое! — ворчали некоторые офицеры, расходясь по квартирам. — Спать хочется, а тут этот фон Раббек со своим чаем! Знаем, какой тут чай!Офицерам всех шести батарей живо припомнился прошлогодний случай, когда во время маневров они, и с ними офицеры одного казачьего полка, таким же вот образом были приглашены на чай одним помещиком-графом, отставным военным; гостеприимный и радушный граф обласкал их, накормил, напоил и не пустил в деревню на квартиры, а оставил ночевать у себя. Всё это, конечно, хорошо, лучшего и не нужно, но беда в том, что отставной военный обрадовался молодежи не в меру. Он до самой зари рассказывал офицерам, эпизоды из своего хорошего прошлого, водил их по комнатам, показывал дорогие картины, старые гравюры, редкое оружие, читал подлинные письма высокопоставленных людей, а измученные, утомленные офицеры слушали, глядели и, тоскуя по постелям, осторожно зевали в рукава; когда наконец хозяин отпустил их, спать было уже поздно.Не таков ли и этот фон Раббек? Таков или не таков, но делать было нечего. Офицеры приоделись, почистились и гурьбою пошли искать помещичий дом. На площади, около церкви, им сказали, что к господам можно пройти низом — за церковью спуститься к реке и идти берегом до самого сада, а там аллеи доведут куда нужно, или же верхом — прямо от церкви по дороге, которая в полуверсте от деревни упирается в господские амбары. Офицеры решили идти верхом.— Какой же это фон Раббек? — рассуждали они дорогой. — Не тот ли, что под Плевной командовал N-й кавалерийской дивизией?— Нет, тот не фон Раббек, а просто Раббе, и без фон.— А какая хорошая погода!У первого господского амбара дорога раздваивалась: одна ветвь шла прямо и исчезала в вечерней мгле, другая — вела вправо к господскому дому. Офицеры повернули вправо и стали говорить тише... По обе стороны дороги тянулись каменные амбары с красными крышами, тяжелые и суровые, очень похожие на казармы уездного города. Впереди светились окна господского дома.— Господа, хорошая примета! — сказал кто-то из офицеров. — Наш сеттер идет впереди всех; значит, чует, что будет добыча!..Шедший впереди всех поручик Лобытко, высокий и плотный, но совсем безусый (ему было более 25 лет, но на его круглом, сытом лице почему-то еще не показывалась растительность), славившийся в бригаде своим чутьем и уменьем угадывать на расстоянии присутствие женщин, обернулся и сказал:— Да, здесь женщины должны быть. Это я инстинктом чувствую.У порога дома офицеров встретил сам фон Раббек, благообразный старик лет шестидесяти, одетый в штатское платье. Пожимая гостям руки, он сказал, что он очень рад и счастлив, но убедительно, ради бога, просит господ офицеров извинить его за то, что он не пригласил их к себе ночевать; к нему приехали две сестры с детьми, братья и соседи, так что у него не осталось ни одной свободной комнаты.Генерал пожимал всем руки, просил извинения и улыбался, но по лицу его видно было, что он был далеко не так рад гостям, как прошлогодний граф, и что пригласил он офицеров только потому, что этого, по его мнению, требовало приличие. И сами офицеры, идя вверх по мягкой лестнице и слушая его, чувствовали, что они приглашены в этот дом только потому, что было бы неловко не пригласить их, и при виде лакеев, которые спешили зажигать огни внизу у входа и наверху в передней, им стало казаться, что они внесли с собою в этот дом беспокойство и тревогу. Там, где, вероятно, ради какого-нибудь семейного торжества или события съехались две сестры с детьми, братья и соседи, может ли понравиться присутствие девятнадцати незнакомых офицеров?Наверху, у входа в залу, гости были встречены высокой и стройной старухой с длинным чернобровым лицом, очень похожей на императрицу Евгению. Приветливо и величественно улыбаясь, она говорила, что рада и счастлива видеть у себя гостей, и извинялась, что она и муж лишены на этот раз возможности пригласить гг. офицеров к себе ночевать. По ее красивой, величественной улыбке, которая мгновенно исчезала с лица всякий раз, когда она отворачивалась за чем-нибудь от гостей, видно было, что на своем веку она видела много гг. офицеров, что ей теперь не до них, а если она пригласила их к себе в дом и извиняется, то только потому, что этого требует ее воспитание и положение в свете.В большой столовой, куда вошли офицеры, на одном краю длинного стола сидело за чаем с десяток мужчин и дам, пожилых и молодых. За их стульями, окутанная легким сигарным дымом, темнела группа мужчин; среди нее стоял какой-то худощавый молодой человек с рыжими бачками и, картавя, о чем-то громко говорил по-английски. Из-за группы, сквозь дверь, видна была светлая комната с голубою мебелью.— Господа, вас так много, что представлять нет никакой возможности! — сказал громко генерал, стараясь казаться очень веселым. — Знакомьтесь, господа, сами попросту!Офицеры — одни с очень серьезными и даже строгими лицами, другие натянуто улыбаясь и все вместе чувствуя себя очень неловко, кое-как раскланялись и сели за чай.Больше всех чувствовал себя неловко штабс-капитан Рябович, маленький, сутуловатый офицер, в очках и с бакенами, как у рыси. В то время как одни из его товарищей делали серьезные лица, а другие натянуто улыбались, его лицо, рысьи бакены и очки как бы говорили: «Я самый робкий, самый скромный и самый бесцветный офицер во всей бригаде!» На первых порах, входя в столовую и потом сидя за чаем, он никак не мог остановить своего внимания на каком-нибудь одном лице или предмете. Лица, платья, граненые графинчики с коньяком, пар от стаканов, лепные карнизы — всё это сливалось в одно общее, громадное впечатление, вселявшее в Рябовича тревогу и желание спрятать свою голову. Подобно чтецу, впервые выступающему перед публикой, он видел всё, что было у него перед глазами, но видимое как-то плохо понималось (у физиологов такое состояние, когда субъект видит, но не понимает, называется «психической слепотой»). Немного же погодя, освоившись, Рябович прозрел и стал наблюдать. Ему, как человеку робкому и необщественному, прежде всего бросилось в глаза то, чего у него никогда не было, а именно — необыкновенная храбрость новых знакомых. Фон Раббек, его жена, две пожилые дамы, какая-то барышня в сиреневом платье и молодой человек с рыжими бачками, оказавшийся младшим сыном Раббека, очень хитро, точно у них ранее была репетиция, разместились среди офицеров и тотчас же подняли горячий спор, в который не могли не вмешаться гости. Сиреневая барышня стала горячо доказывать, что артиллеристам живется гораздо легче, чем кавалерии и пехоте, а Раббек и пожилые дамы утверждали противное. Начался перекрестный разговор. Рябович глядел на сиреневую барышню, которая очень горячо спорила о том, что было для нее чуждо и вовсе не интересно, и следил, как на ее лице появлялись и исчезали неискренние улыбки. Фон Раббек и его семья искусно втягивали офицеров в спор, а сами между тем зорко следили за их стаканами и ртами, все ли они пьют, у всех ли сладко и отчего такой-то не ест бисквитов или не пьет коньяку. И чем больше Рябович глядел и слушал, тем больше нравилась ему эта неискренняя, но прекрасно дисциплинированная семья.После чая офицеры пошли в зал. Чутье не обмануло поручика Лобытко: в зале было много барышень и молодых дам. Сеттер-поручик уже стоял около одной очень молоденькой блондинки в черном платье и, ухарски изогнувшись, точно опираясь на невидимую саблю, улыбался и кокетливо играл плечами. Он говорил, вероятно, какой-нибудь очень неинтересный вздор, потому что блондинка снисходительно глядела на его сытое лицо и равнодушно спрашивала: «Неужели?» И по этому бесстрастному «неужели» сеттер, если бы был умен, мог бы заключить, что ему едва ли крикнут «пиль!».Загремел рояль; грустный вальс из залы полетел в настежь открытые окна, и все почему-то вспомнили, что за окнами теперь весна, майский вечер. Все почувствовали, что в воздухе пахнет молодой листвой тополя, розами и сиренью. Рябович, в котором под влиянием музыки заговорил выпитый коньяк, покосился на окно, улыбнулся и стал следить за движениями женщин, и ему уже казалось, что запах роз, тополя и сирени идет не из сада, а от женских лиц и платьев.Сын Раббека пригласил какую-то тощую девицу и сделал с нею два тура. Лобытко, скользя по паркету, подлетел к сиреневой барышне и понесся с нею по зале. Танцы начались... Рябович стоял около двери среди нетанцующих и наблюдал. Во всю свою жизнь он ни разу не танцевал, и ни разу в жизни ему не приходилось обнимать талию порядочной женщины. Ему ужасно нравилось, когда человек у всех на глазах брал незнакомую девушку за талию и подставлял ей для руки свое плечо, но вообразить себя в положении этого человека он никак не мог. Было время, когда он завидовал храбрости и прыти своих товарищей и болел душою; сознание, что он робок, сутуловат и бесцветен, что у него длинная талия и рысьи бакены, глубоко оскорбляло его, но с летами это сознание стало привычным, и теперь он, глядя на танцующих или громко говорящих, уже не завидовал, а только грустно умилялся.Когда началась кадриль, молодой фон Раббек подошел к нетанцующим и пригласил двух офицеров сыграть на бильярде. Офицеры согласились и пошли с ним из залы. Рябович от нечего делать, желая принять хоть какое-нибудь участие в общем движении, поплелся за ними. Из залы они прошли в гостиную, потом в узкий стеклянный коридор, отсюда в комнату, где при появлении их быстро вскочили с диванов три сонные лакейские фигуры. Наконец, пройдя целый ряд комнат, молодой Раббек и офицеры вошли в небольшую комнату, где стоял бильярд. Началась игра.Рябович, никогда не игравший ни во что, кроме карт, стоял возле бильярда и равнодушно глядел на игроков, а они, в расстегнутых сюртуках, с киями в руках, шагали, каламбурили и выкрикивали непонятные слова. Игроки не замечали его, и только изредка кто-нибудь из них, толкнув его локтем или зацепив нечаянно кием, оборачивался и говорил: «Pardon!» Первая партия еще не кончилась, а уж он соскучился, и ему стало казаться, что он лишний и мешает... Его потянуло обратно в залу, и он вышел.На обратном пути ему пришлось пережить маленькое приключение. На полдороге он заметил, что идет не туда, куда нужно. Он отлично помнил, что на пути ему должны встретиться три сонные лакейские фигуры, но прошел он пять-шесть комнат, эти фигуры точно сквозь землю провалились. Заметив свою ошибку, он прошел немного назад, взял вправо и очутился в полутемном кабинете, какого не видал, когда шел в бильярдную; постояв здесь полминуты, он нерешительно отворил первую попавшуюся ему на глаза дверь и вошел в совершенно темную комнату. Прямо видна была дверная щель, в которую бил яркий свет; из-за двери доносились глухие звуки грустной мазурки. Тут так же, как и в зале, окна были открыты настежь и пахло тополем, сиренью и розами...Рябович остановился в раздумье... В это время неожиданно для него послышались торопливые шаги и шуршанье платья, женский задыхающийся голос прошептал: «наконец-то!» и две мягкие, пахучие, несомненно женские руки охватили его шею; к его щеке прижалась теплая щека и одновременно раздался звук поцелуя. Но тотчас же целовавшая слегка вскрикнула и, как показалось Рябовичу, с отвращением отскочила от него. Он тоже едва не вскрикнул и бросился к яркой дверной щели...Когда он вернулся в залу, сердце его билось и руки дрожали так заметно, что он поторопился спрятать их за спину. На первых порах его мучили стыд и страх, что весь зал знает о том, что его сейчас обнимала и целовала женщина, он ежился и беспокойно оглядывался по сторонам, но, убедившись, что в зале по-прежнему преспокойно пляшут и болтают, он весь предался новому, до сих пор ни разу в жизни не испытанному ощущению. С ним делалось что-то странное... Его шея, которую только что обхватывали мягкие пахучие руки, казалось ему, была вымазана маслом; на щеке около левого уса, куда поцеловала незнакомка, дрожал легкий, приятный холодок, как от мятных капель, и чем больше он тер это место, тем сильнее, чувствовался этот холодок; весь же он от головы до пят был полон нового, странного чувства, которое всё росло и росло... Ему захотелось плясать, говорить, бежать в сад, громко смеяться... Он совсем забыл, что он сутуловат и бесцветен, что у него рысьи бакены и «неопределенная наружность» (так однажды была названа его наружность в дамском разговоре, который он нечаянно подслушал). Когда мимо него проходила жена Раббека, он улыбнулся ей так широко и ласково, что она остановилась и вопросительно поглядела на него.— Ваш дом мне ужасно нравится!.. — сказал он, поправляя очки.Генеральша улыбнулась и рассказала, что этот дом принадлежал еще ее отцу, потом она спросила, живы ли его родители, давно ли он на службе, отчего так тощ и проч. ...Получив ответы на свои вопросы, она пошла дальше, а он после разговора с нею стал улыбаться еще ласковее и думать, что его окружают великолепнейшие люди...За ужином Рябович машинально ел всё, что ему предлагали, пил и, не слыша ничего, старался объяснить себе недавнее приключение... Это приключение носило характер таинственный и романический, но объяснить его было нетрудно. Наверное, какая-нибудь барышня или дама назначила кому-нибудь свидание в темной комнате, долго ждала и, будучи нервно возбуждена, приняла Рябовича за своего героя; это тем более вероятно, что Рябович, проходя через темную комнату, остановился в раздумье, то есть имел вид человека, который тоже чего-то ждет... Так и объяснил себе Рябович полученный поцелуй.«А кто же она? — думал он, оглядывая женские лица. — Она должна быть молода, потому что старые не ходят на свидания. Затем, что она интеллигентна, чувствовалось по шороху платья, по запаху, по голосу...»Он остановил взгляд на сиреневой барышне, и она ему очень понравилась; у нее были красивые плечи и руки, умное лицо и прекрасный голос. Рябовичу, глядя на нее, захотелось, чтобы именно она, а не кто другая, была тою незнакомкой... Но она как-то неискренно засмеялась и поморщила свой длинный нос, который показался ему старообразным; тогда он перевел взгляд на блондинку в черном платье. Эта была моложе, попроще и искреннее, имела прелестные виски и очень красиво пила из рюмки. Рябовичу теперь захотелось, чтобы она была тою. Но скоро он нашел, что ее лицо плоско, и перевел глаза на ее соседку...«Трудно угадать, — думал он, мечтая. — Если от сиреневой взять только плечи и руки, прибавить виски блондинки, а глаза взять у этой, что сидит налево от Лобытко, то...»Он сделал в уме сложение, и у него получился образ девушки, целовавшей его, тот образ, которого он хотел, но никак не мог найти за столом...После ужина гости, сытые и охмелевшие, стали прощаться и благодарить. Хозяева опять начали извиняться, что не могут оставить их у себя ночевать.— Очень, очень рад, господа! — говорил генерал, и на этот раз искренно (вероятно, оттого, что, провожая гостей, люди бывают гораздо искреннее и добрее, чем встречая). — Очень рад! Милости просим на обратном пути! Без церемонии! Куда же вы? Хотите ве́рхом идти? Нет, идите через сад, низом — здесь ближе.Офицеры вышли в сад. После яркого света и шума в саду показалось им очень темно и тихо. До самой калитки шли они молча. Были они полупьяны, веселы, довольны, но потемки и тишина заставили их на минуту призадуматься. Каждому из них, как Рябовичу, вероятно, пришла одна и та же мысль: настанет ли и для них когда-нибудь время, когда они, подобно Раббеку, будут иметь большой дом, семью, сад, когда и они будут иметь также возможность, хотя бы неискренно, ласкать людей, делать их сытыми, пьяными, довольными?Выйдя из калитки, они все сразу заговорили и без причины стали громко смеяться. Теперь уж они шли по тропинке, которая спускалась вниз к реке и потом бежала у самой воды, огибая прибрежные кусты, промоины и вербы, нависшие над водой. Берег и тропинка были еле видны, а другой берег весь тонул в потемках. Кое-где на темной воде отражались звезды; они дрожали и расплывались — и только по этому можно было догадаться, что река текла быстро. Было тихо. На том берегу стонали сонные кулики, а на этом, в одном из кустов, не обращая никакого внимания на толпу офицеров, громко заливался соловей. Офицеры постояли около куста, потрогали его, а соловей всё пел.— Каков? — послышались одобрительные возгласы. — Мы стоим возле, а он ноль внимания! Этакая шельма!В конце пути тропинка шла вверх и около церковной ограды впадала в дорогу. Здесь офицеры, утомленные ходьбой на гору, посидели, покурили. На другом берегу показался красный тусклый огонек, и они от нечего делать долго решали, костер ли это, огонь ли в окне, или что-нибудь другое... Рябович тоже глядел на огонь, и ему казалось, что этот огонь улыбался и подмигивал ему с таким видом, как будто знал о поцелуе.Придя на квартиру, Рябович поскорее разделся и лег. В одной избе с ним остановились Лобытко и поручик Мерзляков, тихий, молчаливый малый, считавшийся в своем кружке образованным офицером и всегда, где только было возможно, читавший «Вестник Европы», который возил всюду с собой. Лобытко разделся, долго ходил из угла в угол, с видом человека, который не удовлетворен, и послал денщика за пивом. Мерзляков лег, поставил у изголовья свечу и погрузился в чтение «Вестника Европы».«Кто же она?» — думал Рябович, глядя на закопченный потолок.Шея его всё еще, казалось ему, была вымазана маслом и около рта чувствовался холодок, как от мятных капель. В воображении его мелькали плечи и руки сиреневой барышни, виски и искренние глаза блондинки в черном, талии, платья, броши. Он старался остановить свое внимание на этих образах, а они прыгали, расплывались, мигали. Когда на широком черном фоне, который видит каждый человек, закрывая глаза, совсем исчезали эти образы, он начинал слышать торопливые шаги, шорох платья, звук поцелуя и — сильная беспричинная радость овладевала им... Предаваясь этой радости, он слышал, как денщик вернулся и доложил, что пива нет. Лобытко страшно возмутился и опять зашагал.— Ну, не идиот ли? — говорил он, останавливаясь то перед Рябовичем, то перед Мерзляковым. — Каким надо быть болваном и дураком, чтобы не найти пива! А? Ну, не каналья ли?— Конечно, здесь нельзя найти пива, — сказал Мерзляков, не отрывая глаз от «Вестника Европы».— Да? Вы так думаете? — приставал Лобытко. — Господи боже мой, забросьте меня на луну, так я сейчас же найду вам и пива и женщин! Вот пойду сейчас и найду... Назовите меня подлецом, если не найду!Он долго одевался и натягивал большие сапоги, потом молча выкурил папироску и пошел.— Раббек, Граббек, Лаббек, — забормотал он, останавливаясь в сенях. — Не хочется идти одному, чёрт возьми. Рябович, не хотите ли променаж сделать? А?Не получив ответа, он вернулся, медленно разделся и лег. Мерзляков вздохнул, сунул в сторону «Вестник Европы» и потушил свечу.— Н-да-с... — пробормотал Лобытко, закуривая в потемках папиросу.Рябович укрылся с головой и, свернувшись калачиком, стал собирать в воображении мелькающие образы и соединять их в одно целое. Но у него ничего не получилось. Скоро он уснул, и последней его мыслью было то, что кто-то обласкал и обрадовал его, что в его жизни совершилось что-то необыкновенное, глупое, но чрезвычайно хорошее и радостное. Эта мысль не оставляла его и во сне.Когда он проснулся, ощущения масла на шее и мятного холодка около губ уж не было, но радость по-вчерашнему волной ходила в груди. Он с восторгом поглядел на оконные рамы, позолоченные восходящим солнцем, и прислушался к движению, происходившему на улице. У самых окон громко разговаривали. Батарейный командир Рябовича, Лебедецкий, только что догнавший бригаду, очень громко, от непривычки говорить тихо, беседовал со своим фельдфебелем.— А еще что? — кричал командир.— При вчерашней перековке, ваше высокоблагородие, Голубчика заковали. Фельдшер приложил глины с уксусом. Ведут теперь в поводу сторонкой. А также, ваше высокоблагородие, вчерась мастеровой Артемьев напился и поручик велели посадить его на передок запасного лафета.Фельдфебель доложил еще, что Карпов забыл новые шнуры к трубам и колья к палаткам и что гг. офицеры вчерашний вечер изволили быть в гостях у генерала фон Раббека. Среди разговора в окне показалась рыжебородая голова Лебедецкого. Он пощурил близорукие глаза на сонные физиономии офицеров и поздоровался.— Всё благополучно? — спросил он.— Коренная подседельная набила себе холку, — ответил Лобытко, зевая, — новым хомутом.Командир вздохнул, подумал и сказал громко:— А я еще думаю к Александре Евграфовне съездить. Надо ее проведать. Ну, прощайте. К вечеру я вас догоню.Через четверть часа бригада тронулась в путь. Когда она двигалась по дороге мимо господских амбаров, Рябович поглядел вправо на дом. Окна были закрыты жалюзи. Очевидно, в доме все еще спали. Спала и та, которая вчера целовала Рябовича. Он захотел вообразить ее спящею. Открытое настежь окно спальни, зеленые ветки, заглядывающие в это окно, утреннюю свежесть, запах тополя, сирени и роз, кровать, стул и на нем платье, которое вчера шуршало, туфельки, часики на столе — всё это нарисовал он себе ясно и отчетливо, но черты лица, милая сонная улыбка, именно то, что важно и характерно, ускользало от его воображения, как ртуть из-под пальца. Проехав полверсты, он оглянулся назад: желтая церковь, дом, река и сад были залиты светом; река со своими ярко-зелеными берегами, отражая в себе голубое небо и кое-где серебрясь на солнце, была очень красива. Рябович взглянул в последний раз на Местечки, и ему стало так грустно, как будто он расставался с чем-то очень близким и родным.А на пути перед глазами лежали одни только давно знакомые, неинтересные картины... Направо и налево поля молодой ржи и гречихи с прыгающими грачами; взглянешь вперед — видишь пыль и затылки, оглянешься назад — видишь ту же пыль и лица... Впереди всех шагают четыре человека с шашками — это авангард. За ними толпа песельников, а за песельниками трубачи верхами. Авангард и песельники, как факельщики в похоронной процессии, то и дело забывают об уставном расстоянии и заходят далеко вперед... Рябович находится у первого орудия пятой батареи. Ему видны все четыре батареи, идущие впереди его. Для человека невоенного эта длинная, тяжелая вереница, какою представляется движущаяся бригада, кажется мудреной и мало понятной кашей; непонятно, почему около одного орудия столько людей и почему его везут столько лошадей, опутанных странной сбруей, точно оно и в самом деле так страшно и тяжело. Для Рябовича же всё понятно, а потому крайне неинтересно. Он давно уже знает, для чего впереди каждой батареи рядом с офицером едет солидный фейерверкер и почему он называется уносным; вслед за спиной этого фейерверкера видны ездовые первого, потом среднего выноса; Рябович знает, что левые лошади, на которых они сидят, называются подседельными, а правые подручными — это очень неинтересно. За ездовым следуют две коренные лошади. На одной из них сидит ездовой со вчерашней пылью на спине и с неуклюжей, очень смешной деревяшкой на правой ноге; Рябович знает назначение этой деревяшки, и она не кажется ему смешною. Ездовые, все, сколько их есть, машинально взмахивают нагайками и изредка покрикивают. Само орудие некрасиво. На передке лежат мешки с овсом, прикрытые брезентом, а орудие всё завешано чайниками, солдатскими сумками, мешочками и имеет вид маленького безвредного животного, которое неизвестно для чего окружили люди и лошади. По бокам его, с подветренной стороны, размахивая руками, шагают шесть человек прислуги. За орудием опять начинаются новые уносные, ездовые, коренные, а за ними тянется новое орудие, такое же некрасивое и невнушительное, как и первое. За вторым следует третье, четвертое; около четвертого офицер и т. д. Всех батарей в бригаде шесть, а в каждой батарее по четыре орудия. Вереница тянется на полверсты. Заканчивается она обозом, около которого задумчиво, понурив свою длинноухую голову, шагает в высшей степени симпатичная рожа — осел Магар, вывезенный одним батарейным командиром из Турции.Рябович равнодушно глядел вперед и назад, на затылки и на лица; в другое время он задремал бы, но теперь он весь погрузился в свои новые, приятные мысли. Сначала, когда бригада только что двинулась в путь, он хотел убедить себя, что история с поцелуем может быть интересна только как маленькое таинственное приключение, что по существу она ничтожна и думать о ней серьезно по меньшей мере глупо; но скоро он махнул на логику рукой и отдался мечтам... То он воображал себя в гостиной у Раббека, рядом с девушкой, похожей на сиреневую барышню и на блондинку в черном; то закрывал глаза и видел себя с другою, совсем незнакомою девушкою с очень неопределенными чертами лица, мысленно он говорил, ласкал, склонялся к плечу, представлял себе войну и разлуку, потом встречу, ужин с женой, детей...— К валькам! — раздавалась команда всякий раз при спуске с горы.Он тоже кричал «к валькам!» и боялся, чтобы этот крик не порвал его мечты и не вызвал бы его к действительности...Проезжая мимо какого-то помещичьего имения, Рябович поглядел через палисадник в сад. На глаза ему попалась длинная, прямая, как линейка, аллея, посыпанная желтым песком и обсаженная молодыми березками... С жадностью размечтавшегося человека он представил себе маленькие женские ноги, идущие по желтому песку, и совсем неожиданно в его воображении ясно вырисовалась та, которая целовала его и которую он сумел представить себе вчера за ужином. Этот образ остановился в его мозгу и уж не оставлял его.В полдень сзади, около обоза, раздался крик:— Смирно! Глаза налево! Гг. офицеры!В коляске, на паре белых лошадей, прокатил бригадный генерал. Он остановился около второй батареи и закричал что-то такое, чего никто не понял. К нему поскакали несколько офицеров, в том числе и Рябович.— Ну, как? Что? — спросил генерал, моргая красными глазами. — Есть больные?Получив ответы, генерал, маленький и тощий, пожевал, подумал и сказал, обращаясь к одному из офицеров:— У вас коренной ездовой третьего орудия снял наколенник и повесил его, каналья, на передок. Взыщите с него.Он поднял глаза на Рябовича и продолжал:— А у вас, кажется, нашильники слишком длинны...Сделав еще несколько скучных замечаний, генерал поглядел на Лобытко и усмехнулся.— А у вас, поручик Лобытко, сегодня очень грустный вид, — сказал он. — По Лопуховой скучаете? А? Господа, он по Лопуховой соскучился!Лопухова была очень полная и очень высокая дама, давно уже перевалившая за сорок. Генерал, питавший пристрастие к крупным особам, какого бы возраста они ни были, подозревал в этом пристрастии и своих офицеров. Офицеры почтительно улыбнулись. Бригадный, довольный тем, что сказал что-то очень смешное и ядовитое, громко захохотал, коснулся кучерской спины и сделал под козырек. Коляска покатила дальше...«Всё, о чем я теперь мечтаю и что мне теперь кажется невозможным и неземным, в сущности очень обыкновенно, — думал Рябович, глядя на облака пыли, бежавшие за генеральской коляской. — Всё это очень обыкновенно и переживается всеми... Например, этот генерал в свое время любил, теперь женат, имеет детей. Капитан Вахтер тоже женат и любим, хотя у него очень некрасивый красный затылок и нет талии... Сальманов груб и слишком татарин, но у него был роман, кончившийся женитьбой... Я такой же, как и все, и переживу рано или поздно то же самое, что и все...»И мысль, что он обыкновенный человек и что жизнь его обыкновенна, обрадовала и подбодрила его. Он уже смело, как хотел, рисовал ее и свое счастье и ничем не стеснял своего воображения...Когда вечером бригада прибыла к месту и офицеры отдыхали в палатках, Рябович, Мерзляков и Лобытко сидели вокруг сундука и ужинали. Мерзляков не спеша ел и, медленно жуя, читал «Вестник Европы», который держал на коленях. Лобытко без умолку говорил и подливал в стакан пиво, а Рябович, у которого от целодневных мечтаний стоял туман в голове, молчал и пил. После трех стаканов он охмелел, ослабел и ему неудержимо захотелось поделиться с товарищами своим новым ощущением.— Странный случился со мной случай у этих Раббеков... — начал он, стараясь придать своему голосу равнодушный и насмешливый тон. — Пошел я, знаете ли, в бильярдную...Он стал рассказывать очень подробно историю с поцелуем и через минуту умолк... В эту минуту он рассказал всё, и его страшно удивило, что для рассказа понадобилось так мало времени. Ему казалось, что о поцелуе можно рассказывать до самого утра. Выслушав его, Лобытко, много лгавший, а потому никому не веривший, недоверчиво посмотрел на него и усмехнулся. Мерзляков пошевелил бровями и покойно, не отрывая глаз от «Вестника Европы», сказал:— Бог знает что!.. Бросается на шею, не окликнув... Должно быть, психопатка какая-нибудь.— Да, должно быть, психопатка... — согласился Рябович.— Подобный же случай был однажды со мной... — сказал Лобытко, делая испуганные глаза. — Еду я в прошлом году в Ковно... Беру билет II класса... Вагон битком набит, и спать невозможно. Даю кондуктору полтину... Тот берет мой багаж и ведет меня в купе... Ложусь и укрываюсь одеялом... Темно, понимаете ли. Вдруг слышу, кто-то трогает меня за плечо и дышит мне на лицо. Я этак сделал движение рукой и чувствую чей-то локоть... Открываю глаза и, можете себе представить, — женщина! Черные глаза, губы красные, как хорошая семга, ноздри дышат страстью, грудь — буфера...— Позвольте, — перебил покойно Мерзляков, — насчет груди я понимаю, но как вы могли увидеть губы, если было темно?Лобытко стал изворачиваться и смеяться над несообразительностью Мерзлякова. Это покоробило Рябовича. Он отошел от сундука, лег и дал себе слово никогда не откровенничать.Наступила лагерная жизнь... Потекли дни, очень похожие друг на друга. Во все эти дни Рябович чувствовал, мыслил и держал себя, как влюбленный. Каждое утро, когда денщик подавал ему умываться, он, обливая голову холодной водой, всякий раз вспоминал, что в его жизни есть что-то хорошее и теплое.Вечерами, когда товарищи начинали разговор о любви и о женщинах, он прислушивался, подходил ближе и принимал такое выражение, какое бывает на лицах солдат, когда они слушают рассказ о сражении, в котором сами участвовали. А в те вечера, когда подгулявшее обер-офицерство с сеттером-Лобытко во главе делало донжуанские набеги на «слободку», Рябович, принимавший участие в набегах, всякий раз бывал грустен, чувствовал себя глубоко виноватым и мысленно просил у нее прощения... В часы безделья или в бессонные ночи, когда ему приходила охота вспоминать детство, отца, мать, вообще родное и близкое, он непременно вспоминал и Местечки, странную лошадь, Раббека, его жену, похожую на императрицу Евгению, темную комнату, яркую щель в двери....31-го августа он возвращался из лагеря, но уже не со всей бригадой, а с двумя батареями. Всю дорогу он мечтал и волновался, точно ехал на родину. Ему страстно хотелось опять увидеть странную лошадь, церковь, неискреннюю семью Раббеков, темную комнату; «внутренний голос», так часто обманывающий влюбленных, шептал ему почему-то, что он непременно увидит ее... И его мучили вопросы: как он встретится с ней? о чем будет с ней говорить? не забыла ли она о поцелуе? На худой конец, думал он, если бы даже она не встретилась ему, то для него было бы приятно уже одно то, что он пройдется по темной комнате и вспомнит...К вечеру на горизонте показались знакомая церковь и белые амбары. У Рябовича забилось сердце... Он не слушал офицера, ехавшего рядом и что-то говорившего ему, про всё забыл и с жадностью всматривался в блестевшую вдали реку, в крышу дома, в голубятню, над которой кружились голуби, освещенные заходившим солнцем.Подъезжая к церкви и потом выслушивая квартирьера, он ждал каждую секунду, что из-за ограды покажется верховой и пригласит офицеров к чаю, но... доклад квартирьеров кончился, офицеры спешились и побрели в деревню, а верховой не показывался...«Сейчас Раббек узнает от мужиков, что мы приехали, и пришлет за нами», — думал Рябович, входя в избу и не понимая, зачем это товарищ зажигает свечу и зачем денщики спешат ставить самовары...Тяжелое беспокойство овладело им. Он лег, потом встал и поглядел в окно, не едет ли верховой? Но верхового не было. Он опять лег, через полчаса встал и, не выдержав беспокойства, вышел на улицу и ушагал к церкви. На площади, около ограды, было темно и пустынно... Какие-то три солдата стояли рядом у самого спуска и молчали. Увидев Рябовича, они встрепенулись и отдали честь. Он откозырял им в ответ и стал спускаться вниз по знакомой тропинке.На том берегу всё небо было залито багровой краской: восходила луна; какие-то две бабы, громко разговаривая, ходили по огороду и рвали капустные листья; за огородами темнело несколько изб... А на этом берегу было всё то же, что и в мае: тропинка, кусты, вербы, нависшие над водой... только не слышно было храброго соловья да не пахло тополем и молодой травой.Дойдя до сада, Рябович заглянул в калитку. В саду было темно и тихо... Видны были только белые стволы ближайших берез да кусочек аллеи, всё же остальное мешалось в черную массу. Рябович жадно вслушивался и всматривался, но, простояв с четверть часа и не дождавшись ни звука, ни огонька, поплелся назад...Он подошел к реке. Перед ним белели генеральская купальня и простыни, висевшие на перилах мостика... Он взошел на мостик, постоял и без всякой надобности потрогал простыню. Простыня оказалась шаршавой и холодной. Он поглядел вниз на воду... Река бежала быстро и едва слышно журчала около сваен купальни. Красная луна отражалась у левого берега; маленькие волны бежали по ее отражению, растягивали его, разрывали на части и, казалось, хотели унести...«Как глупо! Как глупо! — думал Рябович, глядя на бегущую воду. — Как всё это неумно!»Теперь, когда он ничего не ждал, история с поцелуем, его нетерпение, неясные надежды и разочарование представлялись ему в ясном свете. Ему уж не казалось странным, что он не дождался генеральского верхового и что никогда не увидит той, которая случайно поцеловала его вместо другого; напротив, было бы странно, если бы он увидел ее...Вода бежала неизвестно куда и зачем. Бежала она таким же образом и в мае; из речки в мае месяце она влилась в большую реку, из реки в море, потом испарилась, обратилась в дождь, и, быть может, она, та же самая вода, опять бежит теперь перед глазами Рябовича... К чему? Зачем?И весь мир, вся жизнь показались Рябовичу непонятной, бесцельной шуткой... А отведя глаза от воды и взглянув на небо, он опять вспомнил, как судьба в лице незнакомой женщины нечаянно обласкала его, вспомнил свои летние мечты и образы, и его жизнь показалась ему необыкновенно скудной, убогой и бесцветной...Когда он вернулся к себе в избу, то не застал ни одного товарища. Денщик доложил ему, что все они ушли к «генералу Фонтрябкину», приславшему за ними верхового... На мгновение в груди Рябовича вспыхнула радость, но он тотчас же потушил ее, лег в постель и назло своей судьбе, точно желая досадить ей, не пошел к генералу.



После именинного обеда, с его восемью блюдами и бесконечными разговорами, жена именинника Ольга Михайловна пошла в сад. Обязанность непрерывно улыбаться и говорить, звон посуды, бестолковость прислуги, длинные обеденные антракты и корсет, который она надела, чтобы скрыть от гостей свою беременность, утомили ее до изнеможения. Ей хотелось уйти подальше от дома, посидеть в тени и отдохнуть на мыслях о ребенке, который должен был родиться у нее месяца через два. Она привыкла к тому, что эти мысли приходили к ней, когда она с большой аллеи сворачивала влево на узкую тропинку; тут в густой тени слив и вишен сухие ветки царапали ей плечи и шею, паутина садилась на лицо, а в мыслях вырастал образ маленького человечка неопределенного пола, с неясными чертами, и начинало казаться, что не паутина ласково щекочет лицо и шею, а этот человечек; когда же в конце тропинки показывался жидкий плетень, а за ним пузатые ульи с черепяными крышками, когда в неподвижном, застоявшемся воздухе начинало пахнуть и сеном и медом и слышалось кроткое жужжанье пчел, маленький человечек совсем овладевал Ольгой Михайловной. Она садилась на скамеечке около шалаша, сплетенного из лозы, и принималась думать.И на этот раз она дошла до скамеечки, села и стала думать; но в ее воображении вместо маленького человечка вставали большие люди, от которых она только что ушла. Ее сильно беспокоило, что она, хозяйка, оставила гостей; и вспоминала она, как за обедом ее муж Петр Дмитрич и ее дядя Николай Николаич спорили о суде присяжных, о печати и о женском образовании; муж по обыкновению спорил для того, чтобы щегольнуть перед гостями своим консерватизмом, а главное — чтобы не соглашаться с дядей, которого он не любил; дядя же противоречил ему и придирался к каждому его слову для того, чтобы показать обедающим, что он, дядя, несмотря на свои 59 лет, сохранил еще в себе юношескую свежесть духа и свободу мысли. И сама Ольга Михайловна под конец обеда не выдержала и стала неумело защищать женские курсы — не потому, что эти курсы нуждались в защите, а просто потому, что ей хотелось досадить мужу, который, по ее мнению, был несправедлив. Гостей утомил этот спор, но все они нашли нужным вмешаться и говорили много, хотя всем им не было никакого дела ни до суда присяжных, ни до женского образования...Ольга Михайловна сидела по сю сторону плетня, около шалаша. Солнце пряталось за облаками, деревья и воздух хмурились, как перед дождем, но, несмотря на это, было жарко и душно. Сено, скошенное под деревьями накануне Петрова дня, лежало неубранное, печальное, пестрея своими поблекшими цветами и испуская тяжелый приторный запах. Было тихо. За плетнем монотонно жужжали пчелы...Неожиданно послышались шаги и голоса. Кто-то шел по тропинке к пасеке.— Душно! — сказал женский голос. — Как, по-вашему, будет дождь или нет?— Будет, моя прелесть, но не раньше ночи, — ответил томно очень знакомый мужской голос. — Хороший дождь будет.Ольга Михайловна рассудила, что если она поспешит спрятаться в шалаш, то ее не заметят и пройдут мимо, и ей не нужно будет говорить и напряженно улыбаться. Она подобрала платье, нагнулась и вошла в шалаш. Тотчас же лицо, шею и руки ее обдало горячим и душным, как пар, воздухом. Если бы не духота и не спертый запах ржаного хлеба, укропа и лозы, от которого захватывало дыхание, то тут, под соломенною крышей и в сумерках, отлично можно было бы прятаться от гостей и думать о маленьком человечке. Уютно и тихо.— Какое здесь хорошенькое местечко! — сказал женский голос. — Посидимте здесь, Петр Дмитрич.Ольга Михайловна стала глядеть в щель между двумя хворостинами. Она увидала своего мужа Петра Дмитрича и гостью Любочку Шеллер, семнадцатилетнюю девочку, недавно кончившую в институте. Петр Дмитрич, со шляпой на затылке, томный и ленивый оттого, что много пил за обедом, вразвалку ходил около плетня и ногой сгребал в кучу сено; Любочка, розовая от жары и, как всегда, хорошенькая, стояла, заложив руки назад, и следила за ленивыми движениями его большого красивого тела.Ольга Михайловна знала, что ее муж нравится женщинам, и — не любила видеть его с ними. Ничего особенного не было в том, что Петр Дмитрич лениво сгребал сено, чтобы посидеть на нем с Любочкой и поболтать о пустяках; ничего не было особенного и в том, что хорошенькая Любочка кротко глядела на него, но всё же Ольга Михайловна почувствовала досаду на мужа, страх и удовольствие оттого, что ей можно сейчас подслушать.— Садитесь, очаровательница, — сказал Петр Дмитрич, опускаясь на сено и потягиваясь. — Вот так. Ну, расскажите мне что-нибудь.— Вот еще! Я стану рассказывать, а вы уснете.— Я усну? Аллах керим! Могу ли я уснуть, когда на меня глядят такие глазки?В словах мужа и в том, что он в присутствии гостьи сидел развалясь и со шляпой на затылке, не было тоже ничего особенного. Он был избалован женщинами, знал, что нравится им, и в обращении с ними усвоил себе особый тон, который, как все говорили, был ему к лицу. С Любочкой он держал себя так же, как со всеми женщинами. Но Ольга Михайловна все-таки ревновала.— Скажите, пожалуйста, — начала Любочка после некоторого молчания, — правду ли говорят, что вы попали под суд?— Я? Да, попал... К злодеям сопричтен, моя прелесть.— Но за что?— Ни за что, а так... всё больше из-за политики, — зевнул Петр Дмитрич. — Борьба левой и правой. Я, обскурант и рутинер, осмелился употребить в официальной бумаге выражения, оскорбительные для таких непогрешимых Гладстонов, как наш участковый мировой судья Кузьма Григорьевич Востряков и Владимир Павлович Владимиров.Петр Дмитрич еще раз зевнул и продолжал:— А у нас такой порядок, что вы можете неодобрительно отзываться о солнце, о луне, о чем угодно, но храни вас бог трогать либералов! Боже вас сохрани! Либерал — это тот самый поганый сухой гриб, который, если вы нечаянно дотронетесь до него пальцем, обдаст вас облаком пыли.— Что у вас произошло?— Ничего особенного. Весь сыр-бор загорелся из-за чистейшего пустяка. Какой-то учитель, плюгавенькая личность колокольного происхождения, подает Вострякову прошение на трактирщика, обвиняя его в оскорблении словами и действием в публичном месте. Из всего видно, что и учитель и трактирщик оба были пьяны, как сапожники, и оба вели себя одинаково скверно. Если и было оскорбление, то во всяком случае взаимное. Вострякову следовало бы оштрафовать обоих за нарушение тишины и прогнать их из камеры — вот и всё. Но у нас как? У нас на первом плане стоит всегда не лицо, не факт, а фирма и ярлык. Учитель, какой бы он негодяй ни был, всегда прав, потому что он учитель; трактирщик же всегда виноват, потому что он трактирщик и кулак. Востряков приговорил трактирщика к аресту, тот перенес дело в съезд. Съезд торжественно утвердил приговор Вострякова. Ну, я остался при особом мнении... Немножко погорячился... Вот и всё.Петр Дмитрич говорил покойно, с небрежною иронией. На самом же деле предстоящий суд сильно беспокоил его. Ольга Михайловна помнила, как он, вернувшись с злополучного съезда, всеми силами старался скрыть от домашних, что ему тяжело и что он недоволен собой. Как умный человек, он не мог не чувствовать, что в своем особом мнении он зашел слишком далеко, и сколько лжи понадобилось ему, чтобы скрывать от себя и от людей это чувство! Сколько было ненужных разговоров, сколько брюзжанья и неискреннего смеха над тем, что не смешно! Узнав же, что его привлекают к суду, он вдруг утомился и пал духом, стал плохо спать, чаще, чем обыкновенно, стоял у окна и барабанил пальцами по стеклам. И он стыдился сознаться перед женою, что ему тяжело, а ей было досадно...— Говорят, вы были в Полтавской губернии? — спросила Любочка.— Да, был, — ответил Петр Дмитрич. — Третьего дня вернулся оттуда.— Небось, хорошо там?— Хорошо. Даже очень хорошо. Я, надо вам сказать, попал туда как раз на сенокос, а на Украине сенокос самое поэтическое время. Тут у нас большой дом, большой сад, много людей и суеты, так что вы не видите, как косят; тут всё проходит незаметно. Там же у меня на хуторе пятнадцать десятин луга как на ладони: у какого окна ни станьте, отовсюду увидите косарей. На лугу косят, в саду косят, гостей нет, суеты тоже, так что вы поневоле видите, слышите и чувствуете один только сенокос. На дворе и в комнатах пахнет сеном, от зари до зари звенят косы. Вообще Хохландия милая страна. Верите ли, когда я пил у колодцев с журавлями воду, и в жидовских корчмах — поганую водку, когда в тихие вечера доносились до меня звуки хохлацкой скрипки и бубна, то меня манила обворожительная мысль — засесть у себя на хуторе и жить в нем, пока живется, подальше от этих съездов, умных разговоров, философствующих женщин, длинных обедов...Петр Дмитрич не лгал. Ему было тяжело и в самом деле хотелось отдохнуть. И в Полтавскую губернию ездил он только затем, чтобы не видеть своего кабинета, прислуги, знакомых и всего, что могло бы напоминать ему об его раненом самолюбии и ошибках.Любочка вдруг вскочила и в ужасе замахала руками.— Ах, пчела, пчела! — взвизгнула она. — Укусит!— Полноте, не укусит! — сказал Петр Дмитрич, — Какая вы трусиха!— Нет, нет, нет! — крикнула Любочка и, оглядываясь на пчелу, быстро пошла назад.Петр Дмитрич уходил за нею и смотрел ей вслед с умилением и грустью. Должно быть, глядя на нее, он думал о своем хуторе, об одиночестве и — кто знает? — быть может, даже думал о том, как бы тепло и уютно жилось ему на хуторе, если бы женой его была эта девочка — молодая, чистая, свежая, не испорченная курсами, не беременная...Когда голоса и шаги затихли, Ольга Михайловна вышла из шалаша и направилась к дому. Ей хотелось плакать. Она уже сильно ревновала мужа. Ей было понятно, что Петр Дмитрич утомился, был недоволен собой и стыдился, а когда стыдятся, то прячутся прежде всего от близких и откровенничают с чужими; ей было также понятно, что Любочка не опасна, как и все те женщины, которые пили теперь в доме кофе. Но в общем всё было непонятно, страшно, и Ольге Михайловне уже казалось, что Петр Дмитрич не принадлежит ей наполовину...— Он не имеет права! — бормотала она, стараясь осмыслить свою ревность и свою досаду на мужа. — Он не имеет никакого права. Я ему сейчас всё выскажу!Она решила сейчас же найти мужа и высказать ему всё: гадко, без конца гадко, что он нравится чужим женщинам и добивается этого, как манны небесной; несправедливо и нечестно, что он отдает чужим то, что по праву принадлежит его жене, прячет от жены свою душу и совесть, чтобы открывать их первому встречному хорошенькому личику. Что худого сделала ему жена? В чем она провинилась? Наконец, давно уже надоело его лганье: он постоянно рисуется, кокетничает, говорит не то, что думает, и старается казаться не тем, что он есть и кем ему быть должно. К чему эта ложь? Пристала ли она порядочному человеку? Если он лжет, то оскорбляет и себя и тех, кому лжет, и не уважает того, о чем лжет. Неужели ему не понятно, что если он кокетничает и ломается за судейским столом или, сидя за обедом, трактует о прерогативах власти только для того, чтобы насолить дяде, неужели ему не понятно, что этим самым он ставит ни в грош и суд, и себя, и всех, кто его слушает и видит?Выйдя на большую аллею, Ольга Михайловна придала себе такое выражение, как будто уходила сейчас по хозяйственным надобностям. На террасе мужчины пили ликер и закусывали ягодами; один из них, судебный следователь, толстый пожилой человек, балагур и остряк, должно быть, рассказывал какой-нибудь нецензурный анекдот, потому что, увидев хозяйку, он вдруг схватил себя за жирные губы, выпучил глаза и присел. Ольга Михайловна не любила уездных чиновников. Ей не нравились их неуклюжие церемонные жены, сплетни, частые поездки в гости, лесть перед ее мужем, которого все они ненавидели. Теперь же, когда они пили, были сыты и не собирались уезжать, она чувствовала, что их присутствие утомительно до тоски, но, чтобы не показаться нелюбезной, она приветливо улыбнулась судебному следователю и погрозила ему пальцем. Через залу и гостиную она прошла улыбаясь и с таким видом, как будто шла приказать что-то и распорядиться. «Не дай бог, если кто остановит!» — думала она, но сама заставила себя остановиться в гостиной, чтобы из приличия послушать молодого человека, который сидел за пианино и играл; постояв минутку, она крикнула: «Браво, браво, m-r Жорж!» и, хлопнув два раза в ладоши, пошла дальше.Мужа нашла она в кабинете. Он сидел у стола и о чем-то думал. Лицо его было строго, задумчиво и виновато. Это уж был не тот Петр Дмитрич, который спорил за обедом и которого знают гости, а другой — утомленный, виноватый и недовольный собой, которого знает одна только жена. В кабинет пришел он, должно быть, для того, чтобы взять папирос. Перед ним лежал открытый портсигар, набитый папиросами, и одна рука была опущена в ящик стола. Как брал папиросы, так и застыл.Ольге Михайловне стало жаль его. Было ясно, как день, что человек томился и не находил места, быть может, боролся с собой. Ольга Михайловна молча подошла к столу; желая показать, что она не помнит обеденного спора и уже не сердится, она закрыла портсигар и положила его мужу в боковой карман.«Что сказать ему? — думала она. — Я скажу, что ложь тот же лес: чем дальше в лес, тем труднее выбраться из него. Я скажу: ты увлекся своею фальшивою ролью и зашел слишком далеко; ты оскорбил людей, которые были к тебе привязаны и не сделали тебе никакого зла. Поди же, извинись перед ними, посмейся над самим собой, и тебе станет легко. А если хочешь тишины и одиночества, то уедем отсюда вместе».Встретясь глазами с женой, Петр Дмитрич вдруг придал своему лицу выражение, какое у него было за обедом и в саду, — равнодушное и слегка насмешливое, зевнул и поднялся с места.— Теперь шестой час, — сказал он, взглянув на часы. — Если гости смилостивятся и уедут в одиннадцать, то и тогда нам остается ждать еще шесть часов. Весело, нечего сказать!И, что-то насвистывая, он медленно, своею обычною солидною походкой, вышел из кабинета. Слышно было, как он, солидно ступая, прошел через залу, потом через гостиную, чему-то солидно засмеялся и сказал игравшему молодому человеку: «Бра-о! бра-о!» Скоро шаги его затихли: должно быть, вышел в сад. И уж не ревность и не досада, а настоящая ненависть к его шагам, неискреннему смеху и голосу овладела Ольгой Михайловной. Она подошла к окну и поглядела в сад. Петр Дмитрич шел уже по аллее. Заложив одну руку в карман и щелкая пальцами другой, слегка откинув назад голову, он шел солидно, вразвалку и с таким видом, как будто был очень доволен и собой, и обедом, и пищеварением, и природой...На аллее показались два маленьких гимназиста, дети помещицы Чижевской, только что приехавшие, а с ними студент-гувернер в белом кителе и в очень узких брюках. Поравнявшись с Петром Дмитричем, дети и студент остановились и, вероятно, поздравили его с ангелом. Красиво поводя плечами, он потрепал детей за щеки и подал студенту руку небрежно, не глядя на него. Должно быть, студент похвалил погоду и сравнил ее с петербургской, потому что Петр Дмитрич сказал громко и таким тоном, как будто говорил не с гостем, а с судебным приставом или со свидетелем:— Что-с? У вас в Петербурге холодно? А у нас тут, батенька мой, благорастворение воздухов и изобилие плодов земных. А? Что?И, заложив в карман одну руку и щелкнув пальцами другой, он зашагал дальше. Пока он не скрылся за кустами орешника, Ольга Михайловна всё время смотрела ему в затылок и недоумевала. Откуда у тридцатичетырехлетнего человека эта солидная, генеральская походка? Откуда тяжелая, красивая поступь? Откуда эта начальническая вибрация в голосе, откуда все эти «что-с», «н-да-с» и «батенька»?Ольга Михайловна вспомнила, как она, чтобы не скучать одной дома, в первые месяцы замужества ездила в город на съезд, где иногда вместо ее крестного отца, графа Алексея Петровича, председательствовал Петр Дмитрич. На председательском кресле, в мундире н с цепью на груди, он совершенно менялся. Величественные жесты, громовый голос, «что-с», «н-да-с», небрежный тон... Всё обыкновенное человеческое, свое собственное, что привыкла видеть в нем Ольга Михайловна дома, исчезало в величии, и на кресле сидел не Петр Дмитрич, а какой-то другой человек, которого все звали господином председателем. Сознание, что он — власть, мешало ему покойно сидеть на месте, и он искал случая, чтобы позвонить, строго взглянуть на публику, крикнуть... Откуда брались близорукость и глухота, когда он вдруг начинал плохо видеть и слышать и, величественно морщась, требовал, чтобы говорили громче и поближе подходили к столу. С высоты величия он плохо различал лица и звуки, так что если бы, кажется, в эти минуты подошла к нему сама Ольга Михайловна, то он и ей бы крикнул: «Как ваша фамилия?» Свидетелям-крестьянам он говорил «ты», на публику кричал так, что его голос был слышен даже на улице, а с адвокатами держал себя невозможно. Если приходилось говорить присяжному поверенному, то Петр Дмитрич сидел к нему несколько боком и щурил глаза в потолок, желая этим показать, что присяжный поверенный тут вовсе не нужен и что он его не признает и не слушает; если же говорил серо одетый частный поверенный, то Петр Дмитрич весь превращался в слух и измерял поверенного насмешливым, уничтожающим взглядом: вот, мол, какие теперь адвокаты! — «Что же вы хотите этим сказать?» — перебивал он. Если витиеватый поверенный употреблял какое-нибудь иностранное слово и, например, вместо «фиктивный» произносил «фактивный», то Петр Дмитрич вдруг оживлялся и спрашивал: «Что-с? Как? Фактивный? А что это значит?» и потом наставительно замечал: «Не употребляйте тех слов, которых вы не понимаете». И поверенный, кончив свою речь, отходил от стола красный и весь в поту, а Петр Дмитрич, самодовольно улыбаясь, торжествуя победу, откидывался на спинку кресла. В своем обращении с адвокатами он несколько подражал графу Алексею Петровичу, но у графа, когда тот, например, говорил: «Защита, помолчите немножко!» — это выходило старчески-добродушно и естественно, у Петра же Дмитрича грубовато и натянуто.


Послышались аплодисменты. Это молодой человек кончил играть. Ольга Михайловна вспомнила про гостей и поторопилась в гостиную.— Я вас заслушалась, — сказала она, подходя к пианино. — Я вас заслушалась. У вас удивительные способности! Но не находите ли вы, что наш пианино расстроен?В это время в гостиную входили два гимназиста и с ними студент.— Боже мой, Митя и Коля! — сказала протяжно и радостно Ольга Михайловна, идя к ним навстречу. — Какие большие стали! Даже не узнаешь вас! А где же ваша мама?— Поздравляю вас с именинником, — начал развязно студент, — и желаю всего лучшего. Екатерина Андреевна поздравляет и просит извинения. Она не совсем здорова.— Какая же она недобрая! Я ее весь день ждала. А вы давно из Петербурга? — спросила Ольга Михайловна студента. — Какая теперь там погода? — и, не дожидаясь ответа, она ласково взглянула на гимназистов и повторила: — Какие большие выросли! Давно ли они приезжали сюда с няней, а теперь уже гимназисты! Старое старится, а молодое растет... Вы обедали?— Ах, не беспокойтесь, пожалуйста! — сказал студент.— Ведь вы не обедали?— Ради бога, не беспокойтесь!— Но ведь вы хотите есть? — спросила Ольга Михайловна грубым и жестким голосом, нетерпеливо и с досадой — это вышло у нее нечаянно, но тотчас же она закашлялась, улыбнулась, покраснела. — Какие большие выросли! — сказала она мягко.— Не беспокойтесь, пожалуйста! — сказал еще раз студент.Студент просил не беспокоиться, дети молчали; очевидно, все трое хотели есть. Ольга Михайловна повела их в столовую и приказала Василию накрыть на стол.— Недобрая ваша мама! — говорила она, усаживая их. — Совсем меня забыла. Недобрая, недобрая, недобрая... Так и скажите ей. А вы на каком факультете? — спросила она у студента.— На медицинском.— Ну, а у меня слабость к докторам, представьте. Я очень жалею, что мой муж не доктор. Какое надо иметь мужество, чтобы, например, делать операции или резать трупы! Ужасно! Вы не боитесь? Я бы, кажется, умерла от страха. Вы, конечно, выпьете водки?— Не беспокойтесь, пожалуйста.— С дороги нужно, нужно выпить. Я женщина, да и то пью иногда. А Митя и Коля выпьют малаги. Вино слабенькое, не бойтесь. Какие они, право, молодцы! Женить даже можно.Ольга Михайловна говорила без умолку. Она по опыту знала, что, занимая гостей, гораздо легче и удобнее говорить, чем слушать. Когда говоришь, нет надобности напрягать внимание, придумывать ответы на вопросы и менять выражение лица. Но она нечаянно задала какой-то серьезный вопрос, студент стал говорить длинно, и ей поневоле пришлось слушать. Студент знал, что она когда-то была на курсах, а потому, обращаясь к ней, старался казаться серьезным.— Вы на каком факультете? — спросила она, забыв, что однажды уже задавала этот вопрос.— На медицинском.Ольга Михайловна вспомнила, что давно уже не была с дамами.— Да? Значит, вы доктором будете? — сказала она, поднимаясь. — Это хорошо. Я жалею, что сама не пошла на медицинские курсы. Так вы тут обедайте, господа, и выходите в сад. Я вас познакомлю с барышнями.Она вышла и взглянула на часы: было без пяти минут шесть. И она удивилась, что время идет так медленно, и ужаснулась, что до полуночи, когда разъедутся гости, осталось еще шесть часов. Куда убить эти шесть часов? Какие фразы говорить? Как держать себя с мужем?В гостиной и на террасе не были ни души. Все гости разбрелись по саду.«Нужно будет предложить им до чая прогулку в березняк или катанье на лодках, — думала Ольга Михайловна, торопясь к крокету, откуда слышались голоса и смех. — А стариков усадить играть в винт...»От крокета навстречу ей шел лакей Григорий с пустыми бутылками.— Где же барыни? — спросила она.— В малиннике. Там и барин.— А, господи боже мой! — с ожесточением крикнул кто-то на крокете. — Да я же тысячу раз же говорил вам то же самое! Чтобы знать болгар, надо их видеть! Нельзя судить по газетам!От этого ли крика или от чего другого, Ольга Михайловна вдруг почувствовала сильную слабость во всем теле, особенно в ногах и в плечах. Ей вдруг захотелось не говорить, не слышать, не двигаться.— Григорий, — сказала она томно и с усилием, — когда вы будете подавать чай или что-нибудь, то, пожалуйста, не обращайтесь ко мне, не спрашивайте, не говорите ни о чем... Делайте всё сами и... и не стучите ногами. Умоляю... Я не могу, потому что...Она не договорила и пошла дальше к крокету, но по дороге вспомнила о барынях и повернула к малиннику. Небо, воздух и деревья по-прежнему хмурились и обещали дождь; было жарко и душно; громадные стаи ворон, предчувствуя непогоду, с криком носились над садом. Чем ближе к огороду, тем аллеи становились запущеннее, темнее и у́же; на одной из них, прятавшейся в густой заросли диких груш, кислиц, молодых дубков, хмеля, целые облака мелких черных мошек окружили Ольгу Михайловну; она закрыла руками лицо и стала насильно воображать маленького человечка... В воображении пронеслись Григорий, Митя, Коля, лица мужиков, приходивших утром поздравлять...Послышались чьи-то шаги, и она открыла глаза. К ней навстречу быстро шел дядя Николай Николаич.— Это ты, милая? Очень рад... — начал он, задыхаясь. — На два слова... — Он вытер платком свой бритый красный подбородок, потом вдруг отступил шаг назад, всплеснул руками и выпучил глаза. — Матушка, до каких же пор это будет продолжаться? — заговорил он быстро, захлебываясь. — Я тебя спрашиваю: где границы? Не говорю уже о том, что его держимордовские взгляды деморализуют среду, что он оскорбляет во мне и в каждом честном, мыслящем человеке всё святое и лучшее — не говорю, но пусть он будет хоть приличен! Что такое? Кричит, рычит, ломается, корчит из себя какого-то Бонапарта, не дает слова сказать... чёрт его знает! Какие-то величественные жесты, генеральский смех, снисходительный тон! Да позвольте вас спросить: кто он такой? Я тебя спрашиваю: кто он такой? Муж своей жены, мелкопоместный титуляр, которому посчастливилось жениться на богатой! Выскочка и юнкер, каких много! Щедринский тип! Клянусь богом, что-нибудь из двух: или он страдает манией величия, или в самом деле права эта старая, выжившая из ума крыса, граф Алексей Петрович, когда говорит, что теперешние дети и молодые люди поздно становятся взрослыми и до сорока лет играют в извозчики и в генералы!— Это верно, верно... — согласилась Ольга Михайловна. — Позволь мне пройти.— Теперь ты рассуди, к чему это поведет? — продолжал дядя, загораживая ей дорогу. — Чем кончится эта игра в консерватизм и в генералы? Уже под суд попал! Попал! Я очень рад! Докричался и достукался до того, что угодил на скамью подсудимых. И не то чтобы окружный суд или что, а судебная палата! Хуже этого, кажется, и придумать нельзя! Во-вторых, со всеми рассорился! Сегодня именины, а, погляди, не приехали ни Востряков, ни Яхонтов, ни Владимиров, ни Шевуд, ни граф... На что, кажется, консервативнее графа Алексея Петровича, да и тот не приехал. И никогда больше не приедет! Увидишь, что не приедет!— Ах, боже мой, да я-то тут при чем? — спросила Ольга Михайловна.— Как при чем? Ты его жена! Ты умна, была на курсах, и в твоей власти сделать из него честного работника!— На курсах не учат, как влиять на тяжелых людей. Я должна буду, кажется, просить у всех вас извинения, что была на курсах! — сказала Ольга Михайловна резко. — Послушай, дядя, если у тебя целый день над ухом будут играть одни и те же гаммы, то ты не усидишь на месте и сбежишь. Я уж круглый год по целым дням слышу одно и то же, одно и то же. Господа, надо же, наконец, иметь сожаление!Дядя сделал очень серьезное лицо, потом пытливо поглядел на нее и покривил рот насмешливою улыбкой.— Вот оно что! — пропел он старушечьим голосом. — Виноват-с! — сказал он и церемонно раскланялся. — Если ты сама подпала под его влияние и изменила убеждения, то так бы и сказала раньше. Виноват-с!— Да, я изменила убеждения! — крикнула она. — Радуйся!— Виноват-с!Дядя в последний раз церемонно поклонился, как-то вбок, и, весь съежившись, шаркнул ногой и пошел назад.«Дурак, — подумала Ольга Михайловна. — И ехал бы себе домой».Дам и молодежь нашла она на огороде в малиннике. Одни ели малину, другие, кому уже надоела малина, бродили по грядам клубники или рылись в сахарном горошке. Несколько в стороне от малинника, около ветвистой яблони, кругом подпертой палками, повыдерганными из старого палисадника, Петр Дмитрич косил траву. Волосы его падали на лоб, галстук развязался, часовая цепочка выпала из петли. В каждом его шаге и взмахе косой чувствовались уменье и присутствие громадной физической силы. Возле него стояли Любочка и дочери соседа, полковника Букреева, Наталья и Валентина, или, как их все звали, Ната и Вата, анемичные и болезненно-полные блондинки лет 16—17, в белых платьях, поразительно похожие друг на друга. Петр Дмитрич учил их косить.— Это очень просто... — говорил он. — Нужно только уметь держать косу и не горячиться, то есть не употреблять силы больше, чем нужно. Вот так... Не угодно ли теперь вам? — предложил он косу Любочке. — Ну-ка!Любочка неумело взяла в руки косу, вдруг покраснела и засмеялась.— Не робейте, Любовь Александровна! — крикнула Ольга Михайловна так громко, чтобы ее могли слышать все дамы и знать, что она с ними. — Не робейте! Надо учиться! Выйдете за толстовца, косить заставит.Любочка подняла косу, но опять засмеялась и, обессилев от смеха, тотчас же опустила ее. Ей было стыдно и приятно, что с нею говорят, как с большой. Ната, не улыбаясь и не робея, с серьезным, холодным лицом, взяла косу, взмахнула и запутала ее в траве; Вата, тоже не улыбаясь, серьезная и холодная, как сестра, молча взяла косу и вонзила ее в землю. Проделав это, обе сестры взялись под руки и молча пошли к малине.Петр Дмитрич смеялся и шалил, как мальчик, и это детски-шаловливое настроение, когда он становился чрезмерно добродушен, шло к нему гораздо более, чем что-либо другое. Ольга Михайловна любила его таким. Но мальчишество его продолжалось обыкновенно недолго. Так и на этот раз, пошалив с косой, он почему-то нашел нужным придать своей шалости серьезный оттенок.— Когда я кошу, то чувствую себя, знаете ли, здоровее и нормальнее, — сказал он. — Если бы меня заставили довольствоваться одною только умственной жизнью, то я бы, кажется, с ума сошел. Чувствую, что я не родился культурным человеком! Мне бы косить, пахать, сеять, лошадей выезжать...И у Петра Дмитрича с дамами начался разговор о преимуществах физического труда, о культуре, потом о вреде денег, о собственности. Слушая мужа, Ольга Михайловна почему-то вспомнила о своем приданом.«А ведь будет время, — подумала она, — когда он не простит мне, что я богаче его. Он горд и самолюбив. Пожалуй, возненавидит меня за то, что многим обязан мне».Она остановилась около полковника Букреева, который ел малину и тоже принимал участие в разговоре.— Пожалуйте, — сказал он, давая дорогу Ольге Михайловне и Петру Дмитричу. — Тут самая спелая... Итак-с, по мнению Прудона, — продолжал он, возвысив голос, — собственность есть воровство. Но я, признаться, Прудона не признаю и философом его не считаю. Для меня французы не авторитет, бог с ними!— Ну, что касается Прудонов и всяких там Боклей, то я тут швах, — сказал Петр Дмитрич. — Насчет философии обращайтесь вот к ней, к моей супруге. Она была на курсах и всех этих Шопенгауэров и Прудонов насквозь...Ольге Михайловне опять стало скучно. Она опять пошла по саду, по узкой тропиночке, мимо яблонь и груш, и опять у нее был такой вид, как будто шла она по очень важному делу. А вот изба садовника... На пороге сидела жена садовника Варвара и ее четверо маленьких ребятишек с большими стрижеными головами. Варвара тоже была беременна и собиралась родить, по ее вычислениям, к Илье-пророку. Поздоровавшись, Ольга Михайловна молча оглядела ее и детей и спросила:— Ну, как ты себя чувствуешь?— А ничего...Наступило молчание. Обе женщины молча как будто понимали друг друга.— Страшно родить в первый раз, — сказала Ольга Михайловна, подумав, — мне всё кажется, что я не перенесу, умру.— И мне представлялось, да вот жива же... Мало ли чего!Варвара, беременная уже в пятый раз и опытная, глядела на свою барыню несколько свысока и говорила с нею наставительным тоном, а Ольга Михайловна невольно чувствовала ее авторитет; ей хотелось говорить о своем страхе, о ребенке, об ощущениях, но она боялась, чтобы это не показалось Варваре мелочным и наивным. И она молчала и ждала, когда сама Варвара скажет что-нибудь.— Оля, домой идем! — крикнул из малинника Петр Дмитрич.Ольге Михайловне нравилось молчать, ждать и глядеть на Варвару. Она согласилась бы простоять так, молча и без всякой надобности, до самой ночи. Но нужно было идти. Едва она отошла от избы, как уж к ней навстречу бежали Любочка, Вата и Ната. Две последние не добежали до нее на целую сажень и обе разом остановились, как вкопанные; Любочка же добежала и повисла к ней на шею.— Милая! Хорошая! Бесценная! — заговорила она, целуя ее в лицо и в шею. — Поедемте чай пить на остров!— На остров! На остров! — сказали обе разом одинаковые Вата и Ната, не улыбаясь.— Но ведь дождь будет, мои милые.— Не будет, не будет! — крикнула Любочка, делая плачущее лицо. — Все согласны ехать! Милая, хорошая!— Там все собираются ехать чай пить на остров, — сказал Петр Дмитрич, подходя. — Распорядись... Мы все поедем на лодках, а самовары и всё прочее надо отправить с прислугой в экипаже.Он пошел рядом с женой и взял ее под руку. Ольге Михайловне захотелось сказать мужу что-нибудь неприятное, колкое, хотя бы даже упомянуть о приданом, чем жестче, тем, казалось, лучше. Она подумала и сказала:— Отчего это граф Алексей Петрович не приехал? Как жаль!— Я очень рад, что он не приехал, — солгал Петр Дмитрич. — Мне этот юродивый надоел пуще горькой редьки.— Но ведь ты до обеда ждал его с таким нетерпением!


Через полчаса все гости уже толпились на берегу около свай, где были привязаны лодки. Все много говорили, смеялись и от излишней суеты никак не могли усесться в лодки. Три лодки были уже битком набиты пассажирами, а две стояли пустые. От этих двух пропали куда-то ключи, и от реки то и дело бегали во двор посланные поискать ключей. Одни говорили, что ключи у Григория, другие — что они у приказчика, третьи советовали призвать кузнеца и отбить замки. И все говорили разом, перебивая и заглушая друг друга. Петр Дмитрич нетерпеливо шагал по берегу и кричал:— Это чёрт знает что такое! Ключи должны всегда лежать в передней на окне! Кто смел взять их оттуда? Приказчик может, если ему угодно, завести себе свою лодку!Наконец, ключи нашлись. Тогда оказалось, что не хватает двух весел. Снова поднялась суматоха. Петр Дмитрич, которому наскучило шагать, прыгнул в узкий и длинный челн, выдолбленный из тополя, и, покачнувшись, едва не упав в воду, отчалил от берега. За ним одна за другою, при громком смехе и визге барышень, поплыли и другие лодки.Белое облачное небо, прибрежные деревья, камыши, лодки с людьми и с веслами отражались в воде, как в зеркале; под лодками, далеко в глубине, в бездонной пропасти тоже было небо и летали птицы. Один берег, на котором стояла усадьба, был высок, крут и весь покрыт деревьями; на другом, отлогом, зеленели широкие заливные луга и блестели заливы. Проплыли лодки саженей пятьдесят, и из-за печально склонившихся верб на отлогом берегу показались избы, стадо коров; стали слышаться песни, пьяные крики и звуки гармоники.Там и сям по реке шныряли челны рыболовов, плывших ставить на ночь свои переметы. В одном челноке сидели подгулявшие музыканты-любители и играли на самоделковых скрипках и виолончели.Ольга Михайловна сидела у руля. Она приветливо улыбалась и много говорила, чтобы занять гостей, а сама искоса поглядывала на мужа. Он плыл на своем челне впереди всех, стоя и работая одним веслом. Легкий остроносый челнок, который все гости звали душегубкой, а сам Петр Дмитрич почему-то Пендераклией, бежал быстро; он имел живое, хитрое выражение и, казалось, ненавидел тяжелого Петра Дмитрича и ждал удобной минуты, чтобы выскользнуть из-под его ног. Ольга Михайловна посматривала на мужа, и ей были противны его красота, которая нравилась всем, затылок, его поза, фамильярное обращение с женщинами; она ненавидела всех женщин, сидевших в лодке, ревновала и в то же время каждую минуту вздрагивала и боялась, чтобы валкий челнок не опрокинулся и не наделал бед.— Тише, Петр! — кричала она, и сердце ее замирало от страха. — Садись в лодку! Мы и так верим, что ты смел!Беспокоили ее и те люди, которые сидели с нею в лодке. Всё это были обыкновенные, недурные люди, каких много, но теперь каждый из них представлялся ей необыкновенным и дурным. В каждом она видела одну только неправду. «Вот, — думала она, — работает веслом молодой шатен в золотых очках и с красивою бородкой, это богатый, сытый и всегда счастливый маменькин сынок, которого все считают честным, свободомыслящим, передовым человеком. Еще года нет, как он кончил в университете и приехал на житье в уезд, но уж говорит про себя: „Мы земские деятели“. Но пройдет год, и он, как многие другие, соскучится, уедет в Петербург и, чтобы оправдать свое бегство, будет всюду говорить, что земство никуда не годится и что он обманут. А с другой лодки, не отрывая глаз, глядит на него молодая жена и верит, что он „земский деятель“, как через год поверит тому, что земство никуда не годится. А вот полный, тщательно выбритый господин в соломенной шляпе с широкою лентой и с дорогою сигарой в зубах. Этот любит говорить: „Пора нам бросить фантазии и приняться за дело!“ У него иоркширские свиньи, бутлеровские ульи, рапс, ананасы, маслобойня, сыроварня, итальянская двойная бухгалтерия. Но каждое лето, чтобы осенью жить с любовницей в Крыму, он продает на сруб свой лес и закладывает по частям землю. А вот дядюшка Николай Николаич, который сердит на Петра Дмитрича и все-таки почему-то не уезжает домой!»Ольга Михайловна поглядывала на другие лодки и там она видела одних только неинтересных чудаков, актеров или недалеких людей. Вспомнила она всех, кого только знала в уезде, и никак не могла вспомнить ни одного такого человека, о котором могла бы сказать или подумать хоть что-нибудь хорошее. Все, казалось ей, бездарны, бледны, недалеки, узки, фальшивы, бессердечны, все говорили не то, что думали, и делали не то, что хотели. Скука и отчаяние душили ее; ей хотелось вдруг перестать улыбаться, вскочить и крикнуть: «Вы мне надоели!» и потом прыгнуть из лодки и поплыть к берегу.— Господа, возьмем Петра Дмитрича на буксир! — крикнул кто-то.— На буксир! На буксир! — подхватили остальные. — Ольга Михайловна, берите на буксир вашего мужа!Чтобы взять на буксир, Ольга Михайловна, сидевшая у руля, должна была не пропустить момента и ловко схватить Пендераклию у носа за цепь. Когда она нагибалась за цепью, Петр Дмитрич поморщился и испуганно посмотрел на нее.— Как бы ты не простудилась тут! — сказал он.«Если ты боишься за меня и за ребенка, то зачем же ты меня мучишь?» — подумала Ольга Михайловна.Петр Дмитрич признал себя побежденным и, не желая плыть на буксире, прыгнул с Пендераклии в лодку, и без того уж набитую пассажирами, прыгнул так неаккуратно, что лодка сильно накренилась, и все вскрикнули от ужаса.«Это он прыгнул, чтобы нравиться женщинам, — подумала Ольга Михайловна. — Он знает, что это красиво...»У нее, как думала она, от скуки, досады, от напряженной улыбки и от неудобства, какое чувствовалось во всем теле, началась дрожь в руках и ногах. И чтобы скрыть от гостей эту дрожь, она старалась громче говорить, смеяться, двигаться...«В случае, если я вдруг заплачу, — думала она, — то скажу, что у меня болят зубы...»Но вот, наконец, лодки пристали к острову «Доброй Надежды». Так назывался полуостров, образовавшийся вследствие загиба реки под острым углом, покрытый старою рощей из березы, дуба, вербы и тополя. Под деревьями уже стояли столы, дымили самовары, и около посуды уже хлопотали Василий и Григорий, в своих фраках и в белых вязаных перчатках. На другом берегу, против «Доброй Надежды», стояли экипажи, приехавшие с провизией. С экипажей корзины и узлы с провизией переправлялись на остров в челноке, очень похожем на Пендераклию. У лакеев, кучеров и даже у мужика, который сидел в челноке, выражение лиц было торжественное, именинное, какое бывает только у детей и прислуги.Пока Ольга Михайловна заваривала чай и наливала первые стаканы, гости занимались наливкой и сладостями. Потом же началась суматоха, обычная на пикниках во время чаепития, очень скучная и утомительная для хозяек. Едва Григорий и Василий успели разнести, как к Ольге Михайловне уже потянулись руки с пустыми стаканами. Один просил без сахару, другой — покрепче, третий — пожиже, четвертый благодарил. И всё это Ольга Михайловна должна была помнить и потом кричать: «Иван Петрович, это вам без сахару?» или: «Господа, кто просил пожиже?» Но тот, кто просил пожиже или без сахару, уже не помнил этого и, увлекшись приятными разговорами, брал первый попавшийся стакан. В стороне от стола бродили, как тени, унылые фигуры и делали вид, что ищут в траве грибов или читают этикеты на коробках, — это те, которым не хватило стаканов. «Вы пили чай?» — спрашивала Ольга Михайловна, и тот, к кому относился этот вопрос, просил не беспокоиться и говорил: «Я подожду», хотя для хозяйки было удобнее, чтобы гости не ждали, а торопились.Одни, занятые разговорами, пили чай медленно, задерживая у себя стаканы по получасу, другие же, в особенности кто много пил за обедом, не отходили от стола и выпивали стакан за стаканом, так что Ольга Михайловна едва успевала наливать. Один молодой шутник пил чай вприкуску и всё приговаривал: «Люблю, грешный человек, побаловать себя китайскою травкой». То и дело просил он с глубоким вздохом: «Позвольте еще одну черепушечку!» Пил он много, сахар кусал громко и думал, что всё это смешно и оригинально и что он отлично подражает купцам. Никто не понимал, что все эти мелочи были мучительны для хозяйки, да и трудно было понять, так как Ольга Михайловна всё время приветливо улыбалась и болтала вздор.А она чувствовала себя нехорошо... Ее раздражали многолюдство, смех, вопросы, шутник, ошеломленные и сбившиеся с ног лакеи, дети, вертевшиеся около стола; ее раздражало, что Вата похожа на Нату, Коля на Митю и что не разберешь, кто из них пил уже чай, а кто еще нет. Она чувствовала, что ее напряженная приветливая улыбка переходит в злое выражение, и ей каждую минуту казалось, что она сейчас заплачет.— Господа, дождь! — крикнул кто-то.Все посмотрели на небо.— Да, в самом деле дождь... — подтвердил Петр Дмитрич и вытер щеку.Небо уронило только несколько капель, настоящего дождя еще не было, но гости побросали чай и заторопились. Сначала все хотели ехать в экипажах, но раздумали и направились к лодкам. Ольга Михайловна, под предлогом, что ей нужно поскорее распорядиться насчет ужина, попросила позволения отстать от общества и ехать домой в экипаже.Сидя в коляске, она прежде всего дала отдохнуть своему лицу от улыбки. С злым лицом она ехала через деревню и с злым лицом отвечала на поклоны встречных мужиков. Приехав домой, она прошла черным ходом к себе в спальню и прилегла на постель мужа.— Господи, боже мой, — шептала она, — к чему эта каторжная работа? К чему эти люди толкутся здесь и делают вид, что им весело? К чему я улыбаюсь и лгу? Не понимаю, не понимаю!Послышались шаги и голоса. Это вернулись гости.«Пусть, — подумала Ольга Михайловна. — Я еще полежу».Но в спальню вошла горничная и сказала:— Барыня, Марья Григорьевна уезжает!Ольга Михайловна вскочила, поправила прическу и поспешила из спальни.— Марья Григорьевна, что же это такое? — начала она обиженным голосом, идя навстречу Марье Григорьевне. — Куда вы это торопитесь?— Нельзя, голубчик, нельзя! Я и так уже засиделась. Меня дома дети ждут.— Недобрая вы! Отчего же вы детей с собой не взяли?— Милая, если позволите, я привезу их к вам как-нибудь в будень, но сегодня...— Ах, пожалуйста, — перебила Ольга Михайловна, — я буду очень рада! Дети у вас такие милые! Поцелуйте их всех... Но, право, вы меня обижаете! Зачем торопиться, не понимаю!— Нельзя, нельзя... Прощайте, милая. Берегите себя. Вы ведь в таком теперь положении...И обе поцеловались. Проводив гостью до экипажа, Ольга Михайловна пошла в гостиную к дамам. Там уж огни были зажжены, и мужчины усаживались играть в карты.


Гости стали разъезжаться после ужина, в четверть первого. Провожая гостей, Ольга Михайловна стояла на крыльце и говорила:— Право, вы бы взяли шаль! Становится немножко свежо. Не дай бог, простудитесь!— Не беспокойтесь, Ольга Михайловна! — отвечали гости, усаживаясь. — Ну, прощайте! Смотрите же, мы ждем вас! Не обманите!— Тпррр! — сдерживал кучер лошадей.— Трогай, Денис! Прощайте, Ольга Михайловна!— Детей поцелуйте!Коляска трогалась с места и тотчас же исчезала в потемках. В красном круге, бросаемом лампою на дорогу, показывалась новая пара или тройка нетерпеливых лошадей и силуэт кучера с протянутыми вперед руками. Опять начинались поцелуи, упреки и просьбы приехать еще раз или взять шаль. Петр Дмитрич выбегал из передней и помогал дамам сесть в коляску.— Ты поезжай теперь на Ефремовщину, — учил он кучера. — Через Манькино ближе, да там дорога хуже. Чего доброго, опрокинешь... Прощайте, моя прелесть! Mille compliments 1 вашему художнику!— Прощайте, душечка, Ольга Михайловна! Уходите в комнаты, а то простудитесь! Сыро!— Тпррр! Балуешься!— Это какие же у вас лошади? — спрашивал Петр Дмитрич.— В Великом посту у Хайдарова купили, — отвечал кучер.— Славные конячки...И Петр Дмитрич хлопал пристяжную по крупу.— Ну, трогай! Дай бог час добрый!Наконец уехал последний гость. Красный круг на дороге закачался, поплыл в сторону, сузился и погас — это Василий унес с крыльца лампу. В прошлые разы обыкновенно, проводив гостей, Петр Дмитрич и Ольга Михайловна начинали прыгать в зале друг перед другом, хлопать в ладоши и петь: «Уехали! уехали! уехали!» Теперь же Ольге Михайловне было не до того. Она пошла в спальню, разделась и легла в постель.Ей казалось, что она уснет тотчас же и будет спать крепко. Ноги и плечи ее болезненно ныли, голова отяжелела от разговоров, и во всем теле по-прежнему чувствовалось какое-то неудобство. Укрывшись с головой, она полежала минуты три, потом взглянула из-под одеяла на лампадку, прислушалась к тишине и улыбнулась.— Хорошо, хорошо... — зашептала она, подгибая ноги, которые, казалось ей, оттого, что она много ходила, стали длиннее. — Спать, спать...Ноги не укладывались, всему телу было неудобно, и она повернулась на другой бок. По спальне с жужжаньем летала большая муха и беспокойно билась о потолок. Слышно было также, как в зале Григорий и Василий, осторожно ступая, убирали столы; Ольге Михайловне стало казаться, что она уснет и ей будет удобно только тогда, когда утихнут эти звуки. И она опять нетерпеливо повернулась на другой бок.Послышался из гостиной голос мужа. Должно быть, кто-нибудь остался ночевать, потому что Петр Дмитрич к кому-то обращался и громко говорил:— Я не скажу, чтобы граф Алексей Петрович был фальшивый человек. Но он поневоле кажется таким, потому что все вы, господа, стараетесь видеть в нем не то, что он есть на самом деле. В его юродивости видят оригинальный ум, в фамильярном обращении — добродушие, в полном отсутствии взглядов видят консерватизм. Допустим даже, что он в самом деле консерватор восемьдесят четвертой пробы. Но что такое в сущности консерватизм?Петр Дмитрич, сердитый и на графа Алексея Петровича, и на гостей, и на самого себя, отводил теперь душу. Он бранил и графа, и гостей, и с досады на самого себя готов был высказывать и проповедовать, что угодно. Проводив гостя, он походил из угла в угол по гостиной, прошелся по столовой, по коридору, по кабинету, потом опять по гостиной, и вошел в спальню. Ольга Михайловна лежала на спине, укрытая одеялом только по пояс (ей уже казалось жарко), и со злым лицом следила за мухой, которая стучала по потолку.— Разве кто остался ночевать? — спросила она.— Егоров.Петр Дмитрич разделся и лег на свою постель. Он молча закурил папиросу и тоже стал следить за мухой. Взгляд его был суров и беспокоен. Молча минут пять Ольга Михайловна глядела на его красивый профиль. Ей казалось почему-то, что если бы муж вдруг повернулся к ней лицом и сказал: «Оля, мне тяжело!», то она заплакала бы или засмеялась, и ей стало бы легко. Она думала, что ноги ноют и всему ее телу неудобно оттого, что у нее напряжена душа.— Петр, о чем ты думаешь? — спросила она.— Так, ни о чем... — ответил муж.— У тебя в последнее время завелись от меня какие-то тайны. Это нехорошо.— Почему же нехорошо? — ответил Петр Дмитрич сухо и не сразу. — У каждого из нас есть своя личная жизнь, должны быть и свои тайны поэтому.— Личная жизнь, свои тайны... всё это слова! Пойми, что ты меня оскорбляешь! — сказала Ольга Михайловна, поднимаясь и садясь на постели. — Если у тебя тяжело на душе, то почему ты скрываешь это от меня? И почему ты находишь более удобным откровенничать с чужими женщинами, а не с женой? Я ведь слышала, как ты сегодня на пасеке изливался перед Любочкой.— Ну, и поздравляю. Очень рад, что слышала.Это значило: оставь меня в покое, не мешай мне думать! Ольга Михайловна возмутилась. Досада, ненависть и гнев, которые накоплялись у нее в течение дня, вдруг точно запенились; ей хотелось сейчас же, не откладывая до завтра, высказать мужу всё, оскорбить его, отомстить... Делая над собой усилия, чтобы не кричать, она сказала:— Так знай же, что всё это гадко, гадко и гадко! Сегодня я ненавидела тебя весь день — вот что ты наделал!Петр Дмитрич тоже поднялся и сел.— Гадко, гадко, гадко! — продолжала Ольга Михайловна, начиная дрожать всем телом. — Меня нечего поздравлять! Поздравь ты лучше самого себя! Стыд, срам! Долгался до такой степени, что стыдишься оставаться с женой в одной комнате! Фальшивый ты человек! Я вижу тебя насквозь и понимаю каждый твой шаг!— Оля, когда ты бываешь не в духе, то, пожалуйста, предупреждай меня. Тогда я буду спать в кабинете.Сказавши это, Петр Дмитрич взял подушку и вышел из спальни. Ольга Михайловна не предвидела этого. Несколько минут она молча, с открытым ртом и дрожа всем телом, глядела на дверь, за которою скрылся муж, и старалась понять, что значит это. Есть ли это один из тех приемов, которые употребляют в спорах фальшивые люди, когда бывают неправы, или же это оскорбление, обдуманно нанесенное ее самолюбию? Как понять? Ольге Михайловне припомнился ее двоюродный брат, офицер, веселый малый, который часто со смехом рассказывал ей, что когда ночью «супружница начинает пилить» его, то он обыкновенно берет подушку и, посвистывая, уходит к себе в кабинет, а жена остается в глупом и смешном положении. Этот офицер женат на богатой, капризной и глупой женщине, которую он не уважает и только терпит.Ольга Михайловна вскочила с постели. По ее мнению, теперь ей оставалось только одно: поскорее одеться и навсегда уехать из этого дома. Дом был ее собственный, но тем хуже для Петра Дмитрича. Не рассуждая, нужно это или нет, она быстро пошла в кабинет, чтобы сообщить мужу о своем решении («Бабья логика!» — мелькнуло у нее в мыслях) и сказать ему на прощанье еще что-нибудь оскорбительное, едкое...Петр Дмитрич лежал на диване и делал вид, что читает газету. Возле него на стуле горела свеча. Из-за газеты не было видно его лица.— Потрудитесь мне объяснить, что это значит? Я вас спрашиваю!— Вас... — передразнил Петр Дмитрич, не показывая лица. — Надоело, Ольга! Честное слово, я утомлен, и мне теперь не до этого... Завтра будем браниться.— Нет, я тебя отлично понимаю! — продолжала Ольга Михайловна. — Ты меня ненавидишь! Да, да! Ты меня ненавидишь за то, что я богаче тебя! Ты никогда не простишь мне этого и всегда будешь лгать мне! («Бабья логика!» — опять мелькнуло в ее мыслях.) Сейчас, я знаю, ты смеешься надо мной... Я даже уверена, что ты и женился на мне только затем, чтобы иметь ценз и этих подлых лошадей... О, я несчастная!Петр Дмитрич уронил газету и приподнялся. Неожиданное оскорбление ошеломило его. Он детски-беспомощно улыбнулся, растерянно поглядел на жену и, точно защищая себя от ударов, протянул к ней руки и сказал умоляюще:— Оля!И ожидая, что она скажет еще что-нибудь ужасное, он прижался к спинке дивана, и вся его большая фигура стала казаться такою же беспомощно-детскою, как и улыбка.— Оля, как ты могла это сказать? — прошептал он.Ольга Михайловна опомнилась. Она вдруг почувствовала свою безумную любовь к этому человеку, вспомнила, что он ее муж, Петр Дмитрич, без которого она не может прожить ни одного дня и который ее любит тоже безумно. Она зарыдала громко, не своим голосом, схватила себя за голову и побежала назад в спальню.Она упала в постель, и мелкие, истерические рыдания, мешающие дышать, от которых сводит руки и ноги, огласили спальню. Вспомнив, что через три-четыре комнаты ночует гость, она спрятала голову под подушку, чтобы заглушить рыдания, но подушка свалилась на пол, и сама она едва не упала, когда нагнулась за ней; потянула она к лицу одеяло, но руки не слушались и судорожно рвали всё, за что она хваталась.Ей казалось, что всё уже пропало, что неправда, которую она сказала для того, чтобы оскорбить мужа, разбила вдребезги всю ее жизнь. Муж не простит ее. Оскорбление, которое она нанесла ему, такого сорта, что его не сгладишь никакими ласками, ни клятвами... Как она убедит мужа, что сама не верила тому, что говорила?— Кончено, кончено! — кричала она, не замечая, что подушка опять свалилась на пол. — Ради бога, ради бога!Должно быть, разбуженные ее криками, уже проснулись гость и прислуга; завтра весь уезд будет знать, что с нею была истерика, и все обвинят в этом Петра Дмитрича. Она делала усилия, чтобы сдержать себя, но рыдания с каждою минутой становились всё громче и громче.— Ради бога! — кричала она не своим голосом и не понимала, для чего кричит это. — Ради бога!Ей показалось, что под нею провалилась кровать и ноги завязли в одеяле. Вошел в спальню Петр Дмитрич в халате и со свечой в руках.— Оля, полно! — сказал он.Она поднялась и, стоя в постели на коленях, жмурясь от свечи, выговорила сквозь рыдания:— Пойми... пойми...Ей хотелось сказать, что ее замучили гости, его ложь, ее ложь, что у нее накипело, но она могла только выговорить:— Пойми... пойми!— На выпей! — сказал он, подавая ей воды.Она послушно взяла стакан и стала пить, но вода расплескалась и полилась ей на руки, грудь, колени... «Должно быть, я теперь ужасно безобразна!» — подумала она. Петр Дмитрич, молча, уложил ее в постель и укрыл одеялом, потом взял свечу и вышел.— Ради бога! — крикнула опять Ольга Михайловна. — Петр, пойми, пойми!Вдруг что-то сдавило ее внизу живота и спины с такой силой, что плач ее оборвался и она от боли укусила подушку. Но боль тотчас же отпустила ее, и она опять зарыдала.Вошла горничная и, поправляя на ней одеяло, спросила встревоженно:— Барыня, голубушка, что с вами?— Убирайтесь отсюда! — строго сказал Петр Дмитрич, подходя к постели.— Пойми, пойми... — начала Ольга Михайловна.— Оля, прошу тебя, успокойся! — сказал он. — Я не хотел тебя обидеть. Я не ушел бы из спальни, если бы знал, что это на тебя так подействует. Мне просто было тяжело. Говорю тебе как честный человек...— Пойми... Ты лгал, я лгала...— Я понимаю... Ну, ну, будет! Я понимаю... — говорил Петр Дмитрич нежно, садясь на ее постель. — То сказала ты сгоряча, понятно... Клянусь богом, я люблю тебя больше всего на свете и, когда женился на тебе, ни разу не вспомнил, что ты богата. Я бесконечно любил и только... Уверяю тебя. Никогда я не нуждался и не знал цены деньгам, а потому не умею чувствовать разницу между твоим состоянием и моим. Мне всегда казалось, что мы одинаково богаты. А что я в мелочах фальшивил, то это... конечно, правда. Жизнь у меня до сих пор была устроена так несерьезно, что как-то нельзя было обойтись без мелкой лжи. Мне теперь самому тяжело. Оставим этот разговор, бога ради!..Ольга Михайловна опять почувствовала сильную боль и схватила мужа за рукав.— Больно, больно, больно... — сказала она быстро. — Ах, больно!— Чёрт бы взял этих гостей! — пробормотал Петр Дмитрич, поднимаясь. — Ты не должна была ездить сегодня на остров! — крикнул он. — И как это я, дурак, не остановил тебя? Господи, боже мой!Он досадливо почесал себе голову, махнул рукой и вышел из спальни.Потом он несколько раз входил, садился к ней на кровать и говорил много, то очень нежно, то сердито, но она плохо слышала его. Рыдания чередовались у нее с страшною болью, и каждая новая боль была сильнее и продолжительнее. Сначала во время боли она задерживала дыхание и кусала подушку, но потом стала кричать неприличным, раздирающим голосом. Раз, увидев около себя мужа, она вспомнила, что оскорбила его, и, не рассуждая, бред ли это или настоящий Петр Дмитрич, схватила обеими руками его руку и стала целовать ее.— Ты лгал, я лгала... — начала она оправдываться. — Пойми, пойми... Меня замучили, вывели из терпенья...— Оля, мы тут не одни! — сказал Петр Дмитрич.Ольга Михайловна приподняла голову и увидела Варвару, которая стояла на коленях около комода и выдвигала нижний ящик. Верхние ящики были уже выдвинуты. Кончив с комодом, Варвара поднялась и, красная от напряжения, с холодным, торжественным лицом принялась отпирать шкатулку.— Марья, не отопру! — сказала она шёпотом. — Отопри, что ли.Горничная Марья ковыряла ножницами в подсвечнике, чтобы вставить новую свечку; она подошла к Варваре и помогла ей отпереть шкатулку.— Чтоб ничего запертого не было... — шептала Варвара. — Отопри, мать моя, и этот коробок. Барин, — обратилась она к Петру Дмитричу, — вы бы послали к отцу Михаилу, чтоб царские врата отпер! Надо!— Делайте, что хотите, — сказал Петр Дмитрич, прерывисто дыша, — только ради бога скорей доктора или акушерку! Поехал Василий? Пошли еще кого-нибудь. Пошли своего мужа!«Я рожу», — сообразила Ольга Михайловна. — Варвара, — простонала она, — но ведь он родится не живой!— Ничего, ничего, барыня... — зашептала Варвара. — Бог даст, живой бундить (так она выговаривала слово «будет»)! Бундить живой.Когда Ольга Михайловна в другой раз очнулась от боли, то уж не рыдала и не металась, а только стонала. От стонов она не могла удержаться даже в те промежутки, когда не было боли. Свечи еще горели, но уже сквозь шторы пробивался утренний свет. Было, вероятно, около пяти часов утра. В спальне за круглым столиком сидела какая-то незнакомая женщина в белом фартуке и с очень скромною физиономией. По выражению ее фигуры видно было, что она давно уже сидит. Ольга Михайловна догадалась, что это акушерка.— Скоро кончится? — спросила она и в своем голосе услышала какую-то особую, незнакомую ноту, какой раньше у нее никогда не было. «Должно быть, я умираю от родов», — подумала она.В спальню осторожно вошел Петр Дмитрич, одетый, как днем, и стал у окна, спиной к жене. Он приподнял штору и поглядел в окно.— Какой дождь! — сказал он.— А который час? — спросила Ольга Михайловна, чтобы еще раз услышать в своем голосе незнакомую нотку.— Без четверти шесть, — отвечала акушерка.«А что, если я в самом деле умираю? — подумала Ольга Михайловна, глядя на голову мужа и на оконные стекла, по которым стучал дождь. — Как он без меня будет жить? С кем он будет чай пить, обедать, разговаривать по вечерам, спать?»И он показался ей маленьким, осиротевшим; ей стало жаль его и захотелось сказать ему что-нибудь приятное, ласковое, утешительное. Она вспомнила, как он весною собирался купить себе гончих и как она, находя охоту забавой жестокой и опасной, помешала ему сделать это.— Петр, купи себе гончих! — простонала она.Он опустил штору и подошел к постели, хотел что-то сказать, но в это время Ольга Михайловна почувствовала боль и вскрикнула неприличным, раздирающим голосом.От боли, частых криков и стонов она отупела. Она слышала, видела, иногда говорила, но плохо понимала и сознавала только, что ей больно или сейчас будет больно. Ей казалось, что именины были уже давно-давно, не вчера, а как будто год назад, и что ее новая болевая жизнь продолжается дольше, чем ее детство, ученье в институте, курсы, замужество, и будет продолжаться еще долго-долго, без конца. Она видела, как акушерке принесли чай, как позвали ее в полдень завтракать, а потом обедать; видела, как Петр Дмитрич привык входить, стоять подолгу у окна и выходить, как привыкли входить какие-то чужие мужчины, горничная, Варвара... Варвара говорила только «бундить, бундить» и сердилась, когда кто-нибудь задвигал ящики в комоде. Ольга Михайловна видела, как в комнате и в окнах менялся свет: то он был сумеречный, то мутный, как туман, то ясный, дневной, какой был вчера за обедом, то опять сумеречный... И каждая из этих перемен продолжалась так же долго, как детство, ученье в институте, курсы...Вечером два доктора — один костлявый, лысый, с широкою рыжею бородою, другой с еврейским лицом, черномазый и в дешевых очках — делали Ольге Михайловне какую-то операцию. К тому, что чужие мужчины касались ее тела, она относилась совершенно равнодушно. У нее уже не было ни стыда, ни воли, и каждый мог делать с нею, что хотел. Если бы в это время кто-нибудь бросился на нее с ножом или оскорбил Петра Дмитрича, или отнял бы у нее права на маленького человечка, то она не сказала бы ни одного слова.Во время операции ей дали хлороформу. Когда она потом проснулась, боли всё еще продолжались и были невыносимы. Была ночь. И Ольга Михайловна вспомнила, что точно такая же ночь с тишиною, с лампадкой, с акушеркой, неподвижно сидящей у постели, с выдвинутыми ящиками комода, с Петром Дмитричем, стоящим у окна, была уже, но когда-то очень, очень давно…


«Я не умерла»... — подумала Ольга Михайловна, когда опять стала понимать окружающее и когда болей уже не было.В два настежь открытые окна спальни глядел ясный летний день; в саду за окнами, не умолкая ни на одну секунду, кричали воробьи и сороки.Ящики в комоде были уже заперты, постель мужа прибрана. Не было в спальне ни акушерки, ни Варвары, ни горничной; один только Петр Дмитрич по-прежнему стоял неподвижно у окна и глядел в сад. Не слышно было детского плача, никто не поздравлял и не радовался, очевидно, маленький человечек родился не живой.— Петр! — окликнула Ольга Михайловна мужа.Петр Дмитрич оглянулся. Должно быть, с того времени, как уехал последний гость и Ольга Михайловна оскорбила своего мужа, прошло очень много времени, так как Петр Дмитрич заметно осунулся и похудел.— Что тебе? — спросил он, подойдя к постели.Он глядел в сторону, шевелил губами и улыбался детски-беспомощно.— Всё уже кончилось? — спросила Ольга Михайловна.Петр Дмитрич хотел что-то ответить, но губы его задрожали, и рот покривился старчески, как у беззубого дяди Николая Николаича.— Оля! — сказал он, ломая руки, и из глаз его вдруг брызнули крупные слезы. — Оля! Не нужно мне ни твоего ценза, ни съездов (он всхлипнул)... ни особых мнений, ни этих гостей, ни твоего приданого... ничего мне не нужно! Зачем мы не берегли нашего ребенка? Ах, да что говорить!Он махнул рукой и вышел из спальни.А для Ольги Михайловны было уже решительно всё равно. В голове у нее стоял туман от хлороформа, на душе было пусто... То тупое равнодушие к жизни, какое было у нее, когда два доктора делали ей операцию, всё еще не покидало ее.



Студент-медик Майер и ученик московского училища живописи, ваяния и зодчества Рыбников пришли как-то вечером к своему приятелю студенту-юристу Васильеву и предложили ему сходить с ними в С — в переулок. Васильев сначала долго не соглашался, но потом оделся и пошел с ними.Падших женщин он знал только понаслышке и из книг, и в тех домах, где они живут, не был ни разу в жизни. Он знал, что есть такие безнравственные женщины, которые под давлением роковых обстоятельств — среды, дурного воспитания, нужды и т. п. вынуждены бывают продавать за деньги свою честь. Они не знают чистой любви, не имеют детей, не правоспособны; матери и сестры оплакивают их, как мертвых, наука третирует их, как зло, мужчины говорят им ты. Но, несмотря на всё это, они не теряют образа и подобия божия. Все они сознают свой грех и надеются на спасение. Средствами, которые ведут к спасению, они могут пользоваться в самых широких размерах. Правда, общество не прощает людям прошлого, но у бога святая Мария Египетская считается не ниже других святых. Когда Васильеву приходилось по костюму или по манерам узнавать на улице падшую женщину или видеть ее изображение в юмористическом журнале, то всякий раз он вспоминал одну историю, где-то и когда-то им вычитанную: какой-то молодой человек, чистый и самоотверженный, полюбил падшую женщину и предложил ей стать его женою, она же, считая себя недостойною такого счастия, отравилась.Васильев жил в одном из переулков, выходящих на Тверской бульвар. Когда он вышел с приятелями из дому, было около 11 часов. Недавно шел первый снег, и всё в природе находилось под властью этого молодого снега. В воздухе пахло снегом, под ногами мягко хрустел снег, земля, крыши, деревья, скамьи на бульварах — всё было мягко, бело, молодо, и от этого дома выглядывали иначе, чем вчера, фонари горели ярче, воздух был прозрачней, экипажи стучали глуше, и в душу вместе со свежим, легким морозным воздухом просилось чувство, похожее на белый, молодой, пушистый снег.— «Невольно к этим грустным берегам, — запел медик приятным тенором, — меня влечет неведомая сила...»— «Вот мельница... — подтянул ему художник. — Она уж развалилась...»— «Вот мельница... Она уж развалилась...», — повторил медик, поднимая брови и грустно покачивая головою.Он помолчал, потер лоб, припоминая слова, и запел громко и так хорошо, что на него оглянулись прохожие:— «Здесь некогда меня встречала свободного свободная любовь...»Все трое зашли в ресторан и, не снимая пальто, выпили у буфета по две рюмки водки. Перед тем, как выпить по второй, Васильев заметил у себя в водке кусочек пробки, поднес рюмку к глазам, долго глядел в нее и близоруко хмурился. Медик не понял его выражения и сказал:— Ну, что глядишь? Пожалуйста, без философии! Водка дана, чтобы пить ее, осетрина — чтобы есть, женщины — чтобы бывать у них, снег — чтобы ходить по нем. Хоть один вечер поживи по-человечески!— Да я ничего... — сказал Васильев, смеясь. — Разве я отказываюсь?От водки у него потеплело в груди. Он с умилением глядел на своих приятелей, любовался ими и завидовал. Как у этих здоровых, сильных, веселых людей всё уравновешено, как в их умах и душах всё законченно и гладко! Они и поют, и страстно любят театр, и рисуют, и много говорят, и пьют, и голова у них не болит на другой день после этого; они и поэтичны, и распутны, и нежны, и дерзки; они умеют и работать, и возмущаться, и хохотать без причины, и говорить глупости; они горячи, честны, самоотверженны и как люди ничем не хуже его, Васильева, который сторожит каждый свой шаг и каждое свое слово, мнителен, осторожен и малейший пустяк готов возводить на степень вопроса. И ему захотелось хоть один вечер пожить так, как живут приятели, развернуться, освободить себя от собственного контроля. Понадобится водку пить? Он будет пить, хотя бы завтра у него лопнула голова от боли. Его ведут к женщинам? Он идет. Он будет хохотать, дурачиться, весело отвечать на затрогивания прохожих...Вышел он из ресторана со смехом. Ему нравились его приятели — один в помятой широкополой шляпе с претензией на художественный беспорядок, другой в котиковой шапочке, человек не бедный, но с претензией на принадлежность к ученой богеме; нравился ему снег, бледные фонарные огни, резкие, черные следы, какие оставляли по первому снегу подошвы прохожих; нравился ему воздух и особенно этот прозрачный, нежный, наивный, точно девственный тон, какой в природе можно наблюдать только два раза в году: когда всё покрыто снегом и весною в ясные дни или в лунные вечера, когда на реке ломает лед.— «Невольно к этим грустным берегам, — запел он вполголоса, — меня влечет неведомая сила...»И всю дорогу почему-то у него и у его приятелей не сходил с языка этот мотив, и все трое напевали его машинально, не в такт друг другу.Воображение Васильева рисовало, как минут через десять он и его приятели постучатся в дверь, как они по темным коридорчикам и по темным комнатам будут красться к женщинам, как он, воспользовавшись потемками, чиркнет спичкой и вдруг осветит и увидит страдальческое лицо и виноватую улыбку. Неведомая блондинка или брюнетка наверное будет с распущенными волосами и в белой ночной кофточке; она испугается света, страшно сконфузится и скажет: «Ради бога, что вы делаете! Потушите!» Всё это страшно, но любопытно и ново.


Приятели с Трубной площади повернули на Грачевку и скоро вошли в переулок, о котором Васильев знал только понаслышке. Увидев два ряда домов с ярко освещенными окнами и с настежь открытыми дверями, услышав веселые звуки роялей и скрипок — звуки, которые вылетали из всех дверей и мешались в странную путаницу, похожую на то, как будто где-то в потемках, над крышами, настраивался невидимый оркестр, Васильев удивился и сказал:— Как много домов!— Это что! — сказал медик. — В Лондоне в десять раз больше. Там около ста тысяч таких женщин.Извозчики сидели на козлах так же покойно и равнодушно, как и во всех переулках; по тротуарам шли такие же прохожие, как и на других улицах. Никто не торопился, никто не прятал в воротник своего лица, никто не покачивал укоризненно головой... И в этом равнодушии, в звуковой путанице роялей и скрипок, в ярких окнах, в настежь открытых дверях чувствовалось что-то очень откровенное, наглое, удалое и размашистое. Должно быть, во время оно на рабовладельческих рынках было так же весело и шумно и лица и походка людей выражали такое же равнодушие.— Начнем с самого начала, — сказал художник.Приятели вошли в узкий коридорчик, освещенный лампою с рефлектором. Когда они отворили дверь, то в передней с желтого дивана лениво поднялся человек в черном сюртуке, с небритым лакейским лицом и с заспанными глазами. Тут пахло, как в прачечной, и кроме того еще уксусом. Из передней вела дверь в ярко освещенную комнату. Медик и художник остановились в этой двери и, вытянув шеи, оба разом заглянули в комнату.— Бона-сэра, сеньеры, риголетто-гугеноты-травиата! — начал художник, театрально раскланиваясь.— Гаванна-таракано-пистолето! — сказал медик, прижимая к груди свою шапочку и низко кланяясь.Васильев стоял позади них. Ему тоже хотелось театрально раскланяться и сказать что-нибудь глупое, но он только улыбался, чувствовал неловкость, похожую на стыд, и с нетерпением ждал, что будет дальше. В дверях показалась маленькая блондинка лет 17—18, стриженая, в коротком голубом платье и с белым аксельбантом на груди.— Что ж вы в дверях стоите? — сказала она. — Снимите ваши пальты и входите в залу.Медик и художник, продолжая говорить по-итальянски, вошли в залу. Васильев нерешительно пошел за ними.— Господа, снимайте ваши пальты! — сказал строго лакей. — Так нельзя.Кроме блондинки, в зале была еще одна женщина, очень полная и высокая, с нерусским лицом и с обнаженными руками. Она сидела около рояля и раскладывала у себя на коленях пасьянс. На гостей она не обратила никакого внимания.— Где же остальные барышни? — спросил медик.— Они чай пьют, — сказала блондинка. — Степан, — крикнула она, — пойди скажи барышням, что студенты пришли!Немного погодя в залу вошла третья барышня. Эта была в ярко-красном платье с синими полосами. Лицо ее было густо и неумело накрашено, лоб прятался за волосами, глаза глядели не мигая и испуганно. Войдя, она тотчас же запела сильным, грубым контральто какую-то песню. За нею показалась четвертая барышня, за нею пятая...Во всем этом Васильев не видел ничего ни нового, ни любопытного. Ему казалось, что эту залу, рояль, зеркало в дешевой золотой раме, аксельбант, платье с синими полосами и тупые, равнодушные лица он видел уже где-то и не один раз. Потемок же, тишины, тайны, виноватой улыбки, всего того, что ожидал он здесь встретить и что пугало его, он не видел даже тени.Всё было обыкновенно, прозаично и неинтересно. Одно только слегка раздражало его любопытство — это страшная, словно нарочно придуманная безвкусица, какая видна была в карнизах, в нелепых картинах, в платьях, в аксельбанте. В этой безвкусице было что-то характерное, особенное.«Как всё бедно и глупо! — думал Васильев. — Что во всей этой чепухе, которую я теперь вижу, может искусить нормального человека, побудить его совершить страшный грех — купить за рубль живого человека? Я понимаю любой грех ради блеска, красоты, грации, страсти, вкуса, но тут-то что? Ради чего тут грешат? Впрочем... не надо думать!»— Борода, угостите портером! — обратилась к нему блондинка.Васильев вдруг сконфузился.— С удовольствием... — сказал он, вежливо кланяясь. — Только извините, сударыня, я... я с вами пить не буду. Я не пью.Минут через пять приятели шли уже в другой дом.— Ну, зачем ты потребовал портеру? — сердился медик. — Миллионщик какой! Бросил шесть рублей, так, здорово-живешь, на ветер!— Если она хочет, то отчего же не сделать ей этого удовольствия? — оправдывался Васильев.— Ты доставил удовольствие не ей, а хозяйке. Требовать от гостей угощения приказывают им хозяйки, которым это выгодно.— «Вот мельница... — запел художник. — Она уж развалилась...»Придя в другой дом, приятели постояли только в передней, но в залу не входили. Так же, как и в первом доме, в передней с дивана поднялась фигура в сюртуке и с заспанным лакейским лицом. Глядя на этого лакея, на его лицо и поношенный сюртук, Васильев подумал: «Сколько должен пережить обыкновенный, простой русский человек, прежде чем судьба забрасывает его сюда в лакеи? Где он был раньше и что делал? Что ждет его? Женат ли он? Где его мать и знает ли она, что он служит тут в лакеях?» И уж Васильев невольно в каждом доме обращал свое внимание прежде всего на лакея. В одном из домов, кажется, в четвертом по счету, был лакей маленький, тщедушный, сухой, с цепочкой на жилетке. Он читал «Листок» и не обратил никакого внимания на вошедших. Поглядев на его лицо, Васильев почему-то подумал, что человек с таким лицом может и украсть, и убить, и дать ложную клятву. А лицо в самом деле было интересное: большой лоб, серые глаза, приплюснутый носик, мелкие, стиснутые губы, а выражение тупое и в то же время наглое, как у молодой гончей собаки, когда она догоняет зайца. Васильев подумал, что хорошо бы потрогать этого лакея за волосы: жесткие они или мягкие? Должно быть, жесткие, как у собаки.


Художник оттого, что выпил два стакана портеру, как-то вдруг опьянел и неестественно оживился.— Пойдемте в другой! — командовал он, размахивая руками. — Я вас поведу в самый лучший!Приведя приятелей в тот дом, который, по его мнению, был самым лучшим, он изъявил настойчивое желание танцевать кадриль. Медик стал ворчать на то, что музыкантам придется платить рубль, но согласился быть vis-a-vis. Начали танцевать.В самом лучшем было так же нехорошо, как и в самом худшем. Тут были точно такие же зеркала и картины, такие же прически и платья. Осматривая обстановку и костюмы, Васильев уже понимал, что это не безвкусица, а нечто такое, что можно назвать вкусом и даже стилем С — ва переулка и чего нельзя найти нигде в другом месте, нечто цельное в своем безобразии, не случайное, выработанное временем. После того, как он побывал в восьми домах, его уж не удивляли ни цвета платьев, ни длинные шлейфы, ни яркие банты, ни матросские костюмы, ни густая фиолетовая окраска щек; он понимал, что всё это здесь так и нужно, что если бы хоть одна из женщин оделась по-человечески или если бы на стене повесили порядочную гравюру, то от этого пострадал бы общий тон всего переулка.«Как неумело они продают себя! — думал он. — Неужели они не могут понять, что порок только тогда обаятелен, когда он красив и прячется, когда он носит оболочку добродетели? Скромные черные платья, бледные лица, печальные улыбки и потемки сильнее действуют, чем эта аляповатая мишура. Глупые! Если они сами не понимают этого, то гости бы их поучили, что ли...»Барышня в польском костюме с белой меховой опушкой подошла к нему и села рядом с ним.— Симпатичный брюнет, что ж вы не танцуете? — спросила она. — Отчего вы такой скучный?— Потому что скучно.— А вы угостите лафитом. Тогда не будет скучно.Васильев ничего не ответил. Он помолчал и спросил:— Вы в котором часу ложитесь спать?— В шестом.— А встаете когда?— Когда в два, а когда и в три.— А вставши, что делаете?— Кофий пьем, в седьмом часу обедаем.— А что вы обедаете?— Обыкновенно... Суп или щи, биштекс, дессерт. Наша мадам хорошо содержит девушек. Да для чего вы всё это спрашиваете?— Так, чтоб поговорить...Васильеву хотелось поговорить с барышней о многом. Он чувствовал сильное желание узнать, откуда она родом, живы ли ее родители и знают ли они, что она здесь, как она попала в этот дом, весела ли и довольна или же печальна и угнетена мрачными мыслями, надеется ли выйти когда-нибудь из своего настоящего положения... Но никак он не мог придумать, с чего начать и какую форму придать вопросу, чтоб не показаться нескромным. Он долго думал и спросил:— Вам сколько лет?— Восемьдесят, — сострила барышня, глядя со смехом на фокусы, какие выделывал руками и ногами плясавший художник.Вдруг она чему-то захохотала и сказала громко, так, что все слышали, длинную циничную фразу. Васильев оторопел и, не зная, какое выражение придать своему лицу, напряженно улыбнулся. Улыбнулся только один он, все же остальные — его приятели, музыканты и женщины даже и не взглянули на его соседку, точно не слышали.— Угостите лафитом! — опять сказала соседка.Васильев почувствовал отвращение к ее белой опушке и к голосу и отошел от нее. Ему уж казалось душно и жарко, и сердце начинало биться медленно, но сильно, как молот: раз!-два!-три!— Пойдем отсюда! — сказал он, дернув художника за рукав.— Погоди, дай кончить.Пока художник и медик кончали кадриль, Васильев, чтобы не глядеть на женщин, осматривал музыкантов. На рояли играл благообразный старик в очках, похожий лицом на маршала Базена; на скрипке — молодой человек с русой бородкой, одетый по последней моде. У молодого человека было лицо не глупое, не испитое, а наоборот, умное, молодое, свежее. Одет он был прихотливо и со вкусом, играл с чувством. Задача: как он и этот приличный, благообразный старик попали сюда? отчего им не стыдно сидеть здесь? о чем они думают, когда глядят на женщин?Если бы на рояли и на скрипке играли люди оборванные, голодные, мрачные, пьяные, с испитыми или тупыми лицами, тогда присутствие их, быть может, было бы понятно. Теперь же Васильев ничего не понимал. Ему вспоминалась история падшей женщины, прочитанная им когда-то, и он находил теперь, что этот человеческий образ с виноватой улыбкой не имеет ничего общего с тем, что он теперь видит. Ему казалось, что он видит не падших женщин, а какой-то другой, совершенно особый мир, ему чуждый и непонятный; если бы раньше он увидел этот мир в театре на сцене или прочел бы о нем в книге, то не поверил бы...Женщина с белой опушкой опять захохотала и громко произнесла отвратительную фразу. Гадливое чувство овладело им, он покраснел и вышел.— Постой, и мы идем! — крикнул ему художник.


— Сейчас у меня с моей дамой, пока мы плясали, был разговор, — рассказывал медик, когда все трое вышли на улицу. — Речь шла об ее первом романе. Он, герой — какой-то бухгалтер в Смоленске, имеющий жену и пятерых ребят. Ей было 17 лет и жила она у папаши и мамаши, торгующих мылом и свечами.— Чем же он победил ее сердце? — спросил Васильев.— Тем, что купил ей белья на пятьдесят рублей. Чёрт знает что!«Однако же, вот он сумел выпытать у своей дамы ее роман, — подумал Васильев про медика. — А я не умею...» — Господа, я ухожу домой! — сказал он.— Почему?— Потому, что я не умею держать себя здесь. К тому же мне скучно и противно. Что тут веселого? Хоть бы люди были, а то дикари и животные. Я ухожу, как угодно.— Ну, Гриша, Григорий, голубчик... — сказал плачущим голосом художник, прижимаясь к Васильеву. — Пойдем! Сходим еще в один, и будь они прокляты... Пожалуйста! Григорианц!Васильева уговорили и повели вверх по лестнице. В ковре и в золоченых перилах, в швейцаре, отворившем дверь, и в панно, украшавших переднюю, чувствовался всё тот же стиль С — ва переулка, но усовершенствованный, импонирующий.— Право, я пойду домой! — сказал Васильев, снимая пальто.— Ну, ну, голубчик... — сказал художник и поцеловал его в шею. — Не капризничай... Гри-Гри, будь товарищем! Вместе пришли, вместе и уйдем. Какой ты скот, право.— Я могу подождать вас на улице. Ей-богу, мне здесь противно!— Ну, ну, Гриша... Противно, а ты наблюдай! Понимаешь? Наблюдай!— Надо смотреть объективно на вещи, — сказал серьезно медик.Васильев вошел в залу и сел. Кроме него и приятелей, в зале было еще много гостей: два пехотных офицера, какой-то седой и лысый господин в золотых очках, два безусых студента из межевого института и очень пьяный человек с актерским лицом. Все барышни были заняты этими гостями и не обратили на Васильева никакого внимания. Только одна из них, одетая Аидой, искоса взглянула на него, чему-то улыбнулась и проговорила, зевая:— Брюнет пришел...У Васильева стучало сердце и горело лицо. Ему было и стыдно перед гостями за свое присутствие здесь, и гадко, и мучительно. Его мучила мысль, что он, порядочный и любящий человек (таким он до сих пор считал себя), ненавидит этих женщин и ничего не чувствует к ним, кроме отвращения. Ему не было жаль ни этих женщин, ни музыкантов, ни лакеев.«Это оттого, что я не стараюсь понять их, — думал он. — Все они похожи на животных больше, чем на людей, но ведь они все-таки люди, у них есть души. Надо их понять и тогда уж судить...»— Гриша, ты же не уходи, нас подожди! — крикнул ему художник и исчез куда-то.Скоро исчез и медик.«Да, надо постараться понять, а так нельзя...» — продолжал думать Васильев.И он стал напряженно вглядываться в лицо каждой женщины и искать виноватой улыбки. Но — или он не умел читать на лицах, или же ни одна из этих женщин не чувствовала себя виноватою — на каждом лице он читал только тупое выражение обыденной, пошлой скуки и довольства. Глупые глаза, глупые улыбки, резкие, глупые голоса, наглые движения — и ничего больше. По-видимому, у каждой в прошлом был роман с бухгалтером и с бельем на пятьдесят рублей, а в настоящем нет другой прелести в жизни, кроме кофе, обеда из трех блюд, вина, кадрили, спанья до двух часов...Не найдя ни одной виноватой улыбки, Васильев стал искать: нет ли умного лица. И внимание его остановилось на одном бледном, немножко сонном, утомленном лице... Это была немолодая брюнетка, одетая в костюм, усыпанный блестками; она сидела в кресле, глядела в пол и о чем-то думала. Васильев прошелся из угла в угол и точно нечаянно сел рядом с нею.«Нужно начать с чего-нибудь пошлого, — думал он, — а потом постепенно перейти к серьезному...» — А какой у вас хорошенький костюмчик! — сказал он и коснулся пальцем золотой бахромы на косынке.— Какой есть... — сказала вяло брюнетка.— Вы из какой губернии?— Я? Дальняя... Из Черниговской.— Хорошая губерния. Там хорошо.— Там хорошо, где нас нет.«Жаль, что я не умею природу описывать, — подумал Васильев. — Можно было бы тронуть ее описаниями черниговской природы. Небось, ведь любит, коли родилась там».— Вам здесь скучно? — спросил он.— Известно, скучно.— Отчего же вы не уходите отсюда, если вам скучно?— Куда ж я уйду? Милостыню просить, что ли?— Милостыню просить легче, чем жить здесь.— А вы откуда знаете? Нешто вы просили?— Просил, когда нечем было платить за ученье. Хотя бы даже не просил, это так понятно. Нищий, как бы ни было, свободный человек, а вы раба.Брюнетка потянулась и проводила сонными глазами лакея, который нес на подносе стаканы и сельтерскую воду.— Угостите портером, — сказала она и опять зевнула.«Портером... — подумал Васильев. — А что, если бы сейчас вошел сюда твой брат или твоя мать? Что бы ты сказала? А что сказали бы они? Был бы тогда портер, воображаю...»Вдруг послышался плач. Из соседней комнаты, куда лакей понес сельтерскую, быстро вышел какой-то блондин с красным лицом и сердитыми глазами. За ним шла высокая, полная хозяйка и кричала визгливым голосом:— Никто вам не позволял бить девушек по щекам! У нас бывают гости получше вас, да не дерутся! Шарлатан!Поднялся шум. Васильев испугался и побледнел. В соседней комнате плакали навзрыд, искренно, как плачут оскорбленные. И он понял, что в самом деле тут живут люди, настоящие люди, которые, как везде, оскорбляются, страдают, плачут, просят помощи... Тяжелая ненависть и гадливое чувство уступили свое место острому чувству жалости и злобы на обидчика. Он бросился в ту комнату, где плакали; сквозь ряды бутылок, стоявших на мраморной доске стола, он разглядел страдальческое, мокрое от слез лицо, протянул к этому лицу руки, сделал шаг к столу, но тотчас же в ужасе отскочил назад. Плачущая была пьяна.Пробираясь сквозь шумную толпу, собравшуюся вокруг блондина, он пал духом, струсил, как мальчик, и ему казалось, что в этом чужом, непонятном для него мире хотят гнаться за ним, бить его, осыпать грязными словами... Он сорвал с вешалки свое пальто и бросился опрометью вниз по лестнице.


Прижавшись к забору, он стоял около дома и ждал, когда выйдут его товарищи. Звуки роялей и скрипок, веселые, удалые, наглые и грустные, путались в воздухе в какой-то хаос, и эта путаница по-прежнему походила на то, как будто в потемках над крышами настраивался невидимый оркестр. Если взглянуть вверх на эти потемки, то весь черный фон был усыпан белыми движущимися точками: это шел снег. Хлопья его, попав в свет, лениво кружились в воздухе, как пух, и еще ленивее падали на землю. Снежинки кружились толпой около Васильева и висли на его бороде, ресницах, бровях... Извозчики, лошади и прохожие были белы.«И как может снег падать в этот переулок! — думал Васильев. — Будь прокляты эти дома!»Оттого, что он сбежал вниз по лестнице, ноги подгибались от усталости; он задыхался, точно взбирался на гору, сердце стучало так, что было слышно. Его томило желание скорее выбраться из переулка и идти домой, но еще сильнее хотелось дождаться товарищей и сорвать на них свое тяжелое чувство.Он многого не понял в домах, души погибающих женщин остались для него по-прежнему тайной, но для него ясно было, что дело гораздо хуже, чем можно было думать. Если та виноватая женщина, которая отравилась, называлась падшею, то для всех этих, которые плясали теперь под звуковую путаницу и говорили длинные отвратительные фразы, трудно было подобрать подходящее название. Это были не погибающие, а уже погибшие.«Порок есть, — думал он, — но нет ни сознания вины, ни надежды на спасение. Их продают, покупают, топят в вине и в мерзостях, а они, как овцы, тупы, равнодушны и не понимают. Боже мой, боже мой!»Для него также ясно было, что всё то, что называется человеческим достоинством, личностью, образом и подобием божиим, осквернено тут до основания, «вдрызг», как говорят пьяницы, и что виноваты в этом не один только переулок да тупые женщины.Толпа студентов, белых от снега, весело разговаривая и со смехом, прошла мимо него. Один из них, высокий и тонкий, остановился, заглянул Васильеву в лицо и сказал пьяным голосом:— Наш! Налимонился, брат? Ага-га, брат! Ничего, гуляй! Валяй! Не унывай, дядя!Он взял Васильева за плечи и прижался к его щеке мокрыми холодными усами, потом поскользнулся, покачнулся и, взмахнув обеими руками, крикнул:— Держись! Не падай!И засмеявшись, побежал догонять своих товарищей.Сквозь шум послышался голос художника:— Вы не смеете бить женщин! Я вам не позволю, чёрт вас подери! Негодяи вы этакие!В дверях дома показался медик. Он поглядел по сторонам и, увидев Васильева, сказал встревоженно:— Ты здесь? Послушай, ей-богу, с Егором положительно невозможно никуда ходить! Что это за человек, не понимаю! Скандал затеял! Слышишь? Егор! — крикнул он в дверь. — Егор!— Я вам не позволю бить женщин! — раздался наверху пронзительный голос художника.Что-то тяжелое и громоздкое покатилось вниз по лестнице. Это художник летел кубарем вниз. Его, очевидно, вытолкали.Он поднялся с земли, отряхнул шляпу и со злым, негодующим лицом погрозил вверх кулаком и крикнул:— Подлецы! Живодеры! Кровопийцы! Я не позволю вам бить! Бить слабую, пьяную женщину! Ах, вы...— Егор... Ну, Егор... — начал умолять медик. — Даю тебе честное слово, уж больше никогда не пойду с тобой в другой раз. Честное слово!Художник мало-помалу успокоился, и приятели пошли домой.— «Невольно к этим грустным берегам, — запел медик, — меня влечет неведомая сила...»— «Вот мельница... — подтянул, немного погодя, художник. — Она уж развалилась...» Экий снег валит, мать пресвятая! Гришка, отчего ты ушел? Трус ты, баба и больше ничего.Васильев шел позади приятелей, глядел им в спины и думал:«Что-нибудь из двух: или нам только кажется, что проституция — зло, и мы преувеличиваем, или же, если проституция в самом деле такое зло, как принято думать, то эти мои милые приятели такие же рабовладельцы, насильники и убийцы, как те жители Сирии и Каира, которых рисуют в „Ниве“. Они теперь поют, хохочут, здраво рассуждают, но разве не они сейчас эксплоатировали голод, невежество и тупость? Они — я был свидетелем. При чем же тут их гуманность, медицина, живопись? Науки, искусства и возвышенные чувства этих душегубов напоминают мне сало в одном анекдоте. Два разбойника зарезали в лесу нищего; стали делить между собою его одежду и нашли в сумке кусок свиного сала. „Очень кстати, — сказал один из них, — давай закусим“. — „Что ты, как можно? — ужаснулся другой. — Разве ты забыл, что сегодня среда?“ И не стали есть. Они, зарезавши человека, вышли из лесу с уверенностью, что они постники. Так и эти, купивши женщин, идут и думают теперь, что они художники и ученые...»— Послушайте, вы! — сказал он сердито и резко. — Зачем вы сюда ходите? Неужели, неужели вы не понимаете, как это ужасно? Ваша медицина говорит, что каждая из этих женщин умирает преждевременно от чахотки или чего-нибудь другого; искусства говорят, что морально она умирает еще раньше. Каждая из них умирает оттого, что на своем веку принимает средним числом, допустим, пятьсот человек. Каждую убивает пятьсот человек. В числе этих пятисот — вы! Теперь, если вы оба за всю жизнь побываете здесь и в других подобных местах по двести пятьдесят раз, то значит на обоих вас придется одна убитая женщина! Разве это не понятно? Разве не ужасно? Убить вдвоем, втроем, впятером одну глупую, голодную женщину! Ах, да разве это не ужасно, боже мой?— Так и знал, что этим кончится, — сказал художник, морщась. — Не следовало бы связываться с этим дураком и болваном! Ты думаешь, что теперь у тебя в голове великие мысли, идеи? Нет, чёрт знает что, а не идеи! Ты сейчас смотришь на меня с ненавистью и с отвращением, а по-моему, лучше бы ты построил еще двадцать таких домов, чем глядеть так. В этом твоем взгляде больше порока, чем во всем переулке! Пойдем, Володя, чёрт с ним! Дурак, болван и больше ничего...— Мы, люди, убиваем взаимно друг друга, — сказал медик. — Это, конечно, безнравственно, но философией тут не поможешь. Прощай!На Трубной площади приятели простились и разошлись. Оставшись один, Васильев быстро зашагал по бульвару. Ему было страшно потемок, страшно снега, который хлопьями валил на землю и, казалось, хотел засыпать весь мир; страшно было фонарных огней, бледно мерцавших сквозь снеговые облака. Душою его овладел безотчетный, малодушный страх. Попадались изредка навстречу прохожие, но он пугливо сторонился от них. Ему казалось, что отовсюду идут и отовсюду глядят на него женщины, только женщины...«Начинается у меня, — думал он. — Припадок начинается...»


Дома лежал он на кровати и говорил, содрогаясь всем телом:— Живые! Живые! Боже мой, они живые!Он всячески изощрял свою фантазию, воображал себя самого то братом падшей женщины, то отцом ее, то самою падшею женщиною с намазанными щеками, и всё это приводило его в ужас.Ему почему-то казалось, что он должен решить вопрос немедленно, во что бы то ни стало, и что вопрос этот не чужой, а его собственный. Он напряг силы, поборол в себе отчаяние и, севши на кровать, обняв руками голову, стал решать: как спасти всех тех женщин, которых он сегодня видел? Порядок решения всяких вопросов ему, как человеку ученому, был хорошо известен. И он, как ни был возбужден, строго держался этого порядка. Он припомнил историю вопроса, его литературу, а в четвертом часу шагал из угла в угол и старался вспомнить все те опыты, какие в настоящее время практикуются для спасения женщин. У него было очень много хороших приятелей и друзей, живших в нумерах Фальцфейн, Галяшкина, Нечаева, Ечкина... Между ними немало людей честных и самоотверженных. Некоторые из них пытались спасать женщин...«Все эти немногочисленные попытки, — думал Васильев, — можно разделить на три группы. Одни, выкупив из притона женщину, нанимали для нее нумер, покупали ей швейную машинку, и она делалась швеей. И выкупивший, вольно или невольно, делал ее своей содержанкой, потом, кончив курс, уезжал и сдавал ее на руки другому порядочному человеку, как какую-нибудь вещь. И падшая оставалась падшею. Другие, выкупив, тоже нанимали для нее отдельный нумер, покупали неизбежную швейную машинку, пускали в ход грамоту, проповеди, чтение книжек. Женщина жила и шила, пока это для нее было интересно и ново, потом же, соскучившись, начинала тайком от проповедников принимать мужчин или же убегала назад туда, где можно спать до трех часов, пить кофе и сытно обедать. Третьи, самые горячие и самоотверженные, делали смелый, решительный шаг. Они женились. И когда наглое, избалованное или тупое, забитое животное становилось женою, хозяйкой и потом матерью, то это переворачивало вверх дном ее жизнь и мировоззрение, так что потом в жене и в матери трудно было узнать бывшую падшую женщину. Да, женитьба лучшее и, пожалуй, единственное средство».— Но невозможное! — сказал вслух Васильев и повалился в постель. — Я первый не мог бы жениться! Для этого надо быть святым, не уметь ненавидеть и не знать отвращения. Но допустим, что я, медик и художник пересилили себя и женились, что все они выйдут замуж. Но какой же вывод? Вывод какой? А тот вывод, что пока здесь, в Москве, они будут выходить замуж, смоленский бухгалтер развратит новую партию, и эта партия хлынет сюда на вакантные места с саратовскими, нижегородскими, варшавскими... А куда девать сто тысяч лондонских? Куда девать гамбургских?Лампа, в которой выгорел керосин, стала чадить. Васильев не заметил этого. Он опять зашагал, продолжая думать. Теперь уж он поставил вопрос иначе: что нужно сделать, чтобы падшие женщины перестали быть нужны? Для этого необходимо, чтобы мужчины, которые их покупают и убивают, почувствовали всю безнравственность своей рабовладельческой роли и ужаснулись. Надо спасать мужчин.«Наукой и искусствами, очевидно, ничего не поделаешь... — думал Васильев. — Тут единственный выход — это апостольство».И он стал мечтать о том, как завтра же вечером он будет стоять на углу переулка и говорить каждому прохожему:— Куда и зачем вы идете? Побойтесь вы бога!Он обратился к равнодушным извозчикам и им скажет:— Зачем вы тут стоите? Отчего же вы не возмущаетесь, не негодуете? Ведь вы веруете в бога и знаете, что это грешно, что за это люди пойдут в ад, отчего же вы молчите? Правда, они вам чужие, но ведь и у них есть отцы, братья, точно такие же, как вы...Кто-то из приятелей сказал однажды про Васильева, что он талантливый человек. Есть таланты писательские, сценические, художнические, у него же особый талант — человеческий. Он обладает тонким, великолепным чутьем к боли вообще. Как хороший актер отражает в себе чужие движения и голос, так Васильев умеет отражать в своей душе чужую боль. Увидев слезы, он плачет; около больного он сам становится больным и стонет; если видит насилие, то ему кажется, что насилие совершается над ним, он трусит, как мальчик, и, струсив, бежит на помощь. Чужая боль раздражает его, возбуждает, приводит в состояние экстаза и т. п.Прав ли приятель — не знаю, но то, что переживал Васильев, когда ему казалось, что вопрос решен, было очень похоже на вдохновение. Он плакал, смеялся, говорил вслух те слова, какие он скажет завтра, чувствовал горячую любовь к тем людям, которые послушаются его и станут рядом с ним на углу переулка, чтобы проповедовать; он садился писать письма, давал себе клятвы...Всё это было похоже на вдохновение уж и потому, что продолжалось недолго. Васильев скоро устал. Лондонские, гамбургские, варшавские своею массою давили его, как горы давят землю; он робел перед этой массой, терялся; вспоминал он, что у него нет дара слова, что он труслив и малодушен, что равнодушные люди едва ли захотят слушать и понимать его, студента-юриста третьего курса, человека робкого и ничтожного, что истинное апостольство заключается не в одной только проповеди, но и в делах...Когда было светло и на улице уже стучали экипажи, Васильев лежал неподвижно на диване и смотрел в одну точку. Он уже не думал ни о женщинах, ни о мужчинах, ни об апостольстве. Всё внимание его было обращено на душевную боль, которая мучила его. Это была боль тупая, беспредметная, неопределенная, похожая и на тоску, и на страх в высочайшей степени, и на отчаяние. Указать, где она, он мог: в груди, под сердцем; но сравнить ее нельзя было ни с чем. Раньше у него бывала сильная зубная боль, бывали плеврит и невралгии, но всё это в сравнении с душевной болью было ничтожно. При этой боли жизнь представлялась отвратительной. Диссертация, отличное сочинение, уже написанное им, любимые люди, спасение погибающих женщин — всё то, что вчера еще он любил или к чему был равнодушен, теперь при воспоминании раздражало его наравне с шумом экипажей, беготней коридорных, дневным светом... Если бы теперь кто-нибудь на его глазах совершил подвиг милосердия или возмутительное насилие, то на него то и другое произвело бы одинаково отвратительное впечатление. Из всех мыслей, лениво бродивших в его голове, только две не раздражали его: одна — что он каждую минуту имеет власть убить себя, другая — что боль не будет продолжаться дольше трех дней. Второе он знал по опыту.Полежав, он встал и, ломая руки, прошелся не из угла в угол, как обыкновенно, а по квадрату, вдоль стен. Мельком он поглядел на себя в зеркало. Лицо его было бледно и осунулось, виски впали, глаза были больше, темнее, неподвижнее, точно чужие, и выражали невыносимое душевное страдание.В полдень в дверь постучался художник.— Григорий, ты дома? — спросил он.Не получив ответа, он постоял минуту, подумал и ответил себе по-хохлацки:— Нема. В нивырситет пийшов, треклятый хлопец.И ушел. Васильев лег на кровать и, спрятав голову под подушку, стал плакать от боли, и чем обильней лились слезы, тем ужаснее становилась душевная боль. Когда потемнело, он вспомнил о той мучительной ночи, которая ожидает его, и страшное отчаяние овладело им. Он быстро оделся, выбежал из номера и, оставив свою дверь настежь, без всякой надобности и цели вышел на улицу. Не спрашивая себя, куда идти, он быстро пошел по Садовой улице.Снег валил, как вчера; была оттепель. Засунув руки в рукава, дрожа и пугаясь стуков, звонков конки и прохожих, Васильев прошел по Садовой до Сухаревой башни, потом до Красных ворот, отсюда свернул на Басманную. Он зашел в кабак и выпил большой стакан водки, но от этого не стало легче. Дойдя до Разгуляя, он повернул вправо и зашагал по переулкам, в каких не был раньше ни разу в жизни. Он дошел до того старого моста, где шумит Яуза и откуда видны длинные ряды огней в окнах Красных казарм. Чтобы отвлечь свою душевную боль каким-нибудь новым ощущением или другою болью, не зная, что делать, плача и дрожа, Васильев расстегнул пальто и сюртук и подставил свою голую грудь сырому снегу и ветру. Но и это не уменьшило боли. Тогда он нагнулся через перила моста и поглядел вниз, на черную, бурливую Яузу, и ему захотелось броситься вниз головой, не из отвращения к жизни, не ради самоубийства, а чтобы хотя ушибиться и одною болью отвлечь другую. Но черная вода, потемки, пустынные берега, покрытые снегом, были страшны. Он содрогнулся и пошел дальше. Прошелся он вдоль Красных казарм, потом назад и спустился в какую-то рощу, из рощи опять на мост...«Нет, домой, домой! — думал он. — Дома, кажется, легче...»И он пошел назад. Вернувшись домой, он сорвал с себя мокрое пальто и шапку, зашагал вдоль стен и неутомимо шагал до самого утра.


Когда на другой день утром пришли к нему художник и медик, он в разодранной рубахе и с искусанными руками метался по комнате и стонал от боли.— Ради бога! — зарыдал он, увидев приятелей. — Ведите меня, куда хотите, делайте, что знаете, но, бога ради, скорее спасайте меня! Я убью себя!Художник побледнел и растерялся. Медик тоже едва не заплакал, но, полагая, что медики во всех случаях жизни обязаны быть хладнокровны и серьезны, сказал холодно:— Это у тебя припадок. Но это ничего. Пойдем сейчас к доктору.— Куда хотите, только, ради бога, скорей!— Ты не волнуйся. Нужно бороться с собой.Художник и медик дрожащими руками одели Васильева и вывели его на улицу.— Михаил Сергеич давно уже хочет с тобой познакомиться, — говорил дорогою медик. — Он очень милый человек и отлично знает свое дело. Кончил он в 82 году, а практика уже громадная. Со студентами держит себя по-товарищески.— Скорее, скорее... — торопил Васильев.Михаил Сергеич, полный белокурый доктор, встретил приятелей учтиво, солидно, холодно и улыбнулся одной только щекой.— Мне художник и Майер говорили уже о вашей болезни, — сказал он. — Очень рад служить. Ну-с? Садитесь, покорнейше прошу...Он усадил Васильева в большое кресло около стола и придвинул к нему ящик с папиросами.— Ну-с? — начал он, поглаживая колени. — Приступим к делу... Сколько вам лет?Он задавал вопросы, а медик отвечал. Он спросил, не был ли отец Васильева болен какими-нибудь особенными болезнями, не пил ли запоем, не отличался ли жестокостью или какими-либо странностями. То же самое спросил о его деде, матери, сестрах и братьях. Узнав, что его мать имела отличный голос и играла иногда в театре, он вдруг оживился и спросил:— Виноват-с, а не припомните ли, не был ли театр у вашей матушки страстью?Прошло минут двадцать. Васильеву наскучило, что доктор поглаживает колени и говорит всё об одном и том же.— Насколько я понимаю ваши вопросы, доктор, — сказал он, — вы хотите знать, наследственна моя болезнь или нет. Она не наследственна.Далее доктор спросил, не было ли у Васильева в молодости каких-либо тайных пороков, ушибов головы, увлечений, странностей, исключительных пристрастий. На половину вопросов, какие обыкновенно задаются старательными докторами, можно не отвечать без всякого ущерба для здоровья, но у Михаила Сергеича, у медика и художника были такие лица, как будто если бы Васильев не ответил хотя бы на один вопрос, то всё бы погибло. Получая ответы, доктор для чего-то записывал их на бумажке. Узнав, что Васильев кончил уже на естественном факультете и теперь на юридическом, доктор задумался...— В прошлом году он написал отличное сочинение... — сказал медик.— Виноват, не перебивайте меня, вы мешаете мне сосредоточиться, — сказал доктор и улыбнулся одной щекой. — Да, конечно, и это играет роль в анамнезе. Форсированная умственная работа, переутомление... Да, да... А водку вы пьете? — обратился он к Васильеву.— Очень редко.Прошло еще двадцать минут. Медик стал вполголоса высказывать свое мнение о ближайших причинах припадка и рассказал, как третьего дня он, художник и Васильев ходили в С — в переулок.Равнодушный, сдержанный, холодный тон, каким его приятели и доктор говорили о женщинах и о несчастном переулке, показался ему в высшей степени странным...— Доктор, скажите мне только одно, — сдерживая себя, чтобы не быть грубым, сказал он, — проституция зло или нет?— Голубчик, кто ж спорит? — сказал доктор с таким выражением, как будто давно уже решил для себя все эти вопросы. — Кто спорит?— Вы психиатр? — спросил грубо Васильев.— Да-с, психиатр.— Может быть, все вы и правы! — сказал Васильев, поднимаясь и начиная ходить из угла в угол. — Может быть! Но мне всё это кажется удивительным! Что я был на двух факультетах — в этом видят подвиг; за то, что я написал сочинение, которое через три года будет брошено и забудется, меня превозносят до небес, а за то, что о падших женщинах я не могу говорить так же хладнокровно, как об этих стульях, меня лечат, называют сумасшедшим, сожалеют!Васильеву почему-то вдруг стало невыносимо жаль и себя, и товарищей, и всех тех, которых он видел третьего дня, и этого доктора, он заплакал и упал в кресло.Приятели вопросительно глядели на доктора. Тот с таким выражением, как будто отлично понимал и слезы, и отчаяние, как будто чувствовал себя специалистом по этой части, подошел к Васильеву и молча дал ему выпить каких-то капель, а потом, когда он успокоился, раздел его и стал исследовать чувствительность его кожи, коленные рефлексы и проч.И Васильеву полегчало. Когда он выходил от доктора, ему уже было совестно, шум экипажей не казался раздражительным и тяжесть под сердцем становилась всё легче и легче, точно таяла. В руках у него было два рецепта: на одном был бромистый калий, на другом морфий... Всё это принимал он и раньше!На улице он постоял немного, подумал и, простившись с приятелями, лениво поплелся к университету.



Я получил такое письмо:«Милостивый государь, Павел Андреевич! Недалеко от вас, а именно в деревне Пестрове, происходят прискорбные факты, о которых считаю долгом сообщить. Все крестьяне этой деревни продали избы и всё свое имущество и переселились в Томскую губернию, но не доехали и возвратились назад. Здесь, понятно, у них ничего уже нет, всё теперь чужое; поселились они по три и четыре семьи в одной избе, так что население каждой избы не менее 15 человек обоего пола, не считая малых детей, и в конце концов есть нечего, голод, поголовная эпидемия голодного или сыпного тифа: все буквально больны. Фельдшерица говорит: придешь в избу и что видишь? Все больны, все бредят, кто хохочет, кто на стену лезет; в избах смрад, ни воды подать, ни принести ее некому, а пищей служит один мёрзлый картофель. Фельдшерица и Соболь (наш земский врач) что могут сделать, когда им прежде лекарства надо хлеба, которого они не имеют? Управа земская отказывается тем, что они уже выписаны из этого земства и числятся в Томской губернии, да и денег нет. Сообщая об этом вам и зная вашу гуманность, прошу, не откажите в скорейшей помощи. Ваш доброжелатель».Очевидно, писала сама фельдшерица или этот доктор, имеющий звериную фамилию. Земские врачи и фельдшерицы в продолжение многих лет изо дня в день убеждаются, что они ничего не могут сделать, и всё-таки получают жалованье с людей, которые питаются одним мёрзлым картофелем, и всё-таки почему-то считают себя вправе судить, гуманен я или нет.Обеспокоенный анонимным письмом и тем, что каждое утро какие-то мужики приходили в людскую кухню и становились там на колени, и тем, что ночью из амбара вытащили двадцать кулей ржи, сломав предварительно стену, и общим тяжелым настроением, которое поддерживалось разговорами, газетами и дурною погодой, — обеспокоенный всем этим, я работал вяло и неуспешно. Я писал «Историю железных дорог»; нужно было прочесть множество русских и иностранных книг, брошюр, журнальных статей, нужно было щёлкать на счетах, перелистывать логарифмы, думать и писать, потом опять читать, щёлкать и думать; но едва я брался за книгу или начинал думать, как мысли мои путались, глаза жмурились, я со вздохом вставал из-за стола и начинал ходить по большим комнатам своего пустынного деревенского дома. Когда надоедало ходить, я останавливался в кабинете у окна и, глядя через свой широкий двор, через пруд и голый молодой березняк, и через большое поле, покрытое недавно выпавшим, тающим снегом, я видел на горизонте на холме кучу бурых изб, от которых по белому полю спускалась вниз неправильной полосой черная грязная дорога. Это было Пестрово, то самое, о котором писал мне анонимный автор. Если бы не вороны, которые, предвещая дождь или снежную погоду, с криком носились над прудом и полем, и если бы не стук в плотницком сарае, то этот мирок, о котором теперь так много шумят, казался бы похожим на Мертвое озеро — так всё здесь тихо, неподвижно, безжизненно, скучно!Работать и сосредоточиться мешало мне беспокойство; я не знал, что это такое, и хотел думать, что это разочарование. В самом деле, оставил я службу по Министерству путей сообщения и приехал сюда в деревню, чтобы жить в покое и заниматься литературой по общественным вопросам. Это была моя давнишняя, заветная мечта. А теперь нужно было проститься и с покоем, и с литературой, оставить всё и заняться одними только мужиками. И это было неизбежно, потому что кроме меня, как я был убежден, в этом уезде положительно некому было помочь голодающим. Окружали меня люди необразованные, неразвитые, равнодушные, в громадном большинстве нечестные, или же честные, но взбалмошные и несерьезные, как, например, моя жена. Положиться на таких людей было нельзя, оставить мужиков на произвол судьбы было тоже нельзя, значит, оставалось покориться необходимости и самому заняться приведением мужиков в порядок.Начал я с того, что решил пожертвовать в пользу голодающих пять тысяч рублей серебром. И это не уменьшило, а только усилило мое беспокойство. Когда я стоял у окна или ходил по комнатам, меня мучил вопрос, которого раньше не было: как распорядиться этими деньгами? Приказать купить хлеба, пойти по избам и раздавать — это не под силу одному человеку, не говоря уже о том, что второпях рискуешь дать сытому или кулаку вдвое больше, чем голодному. Администрации я не верил. Все эти земские начальники и податные инспектора были люди молодые, и к ним относился я недоверчиво, как ко всей современной молодежи, материалистической и не имеющей идеалов. Земская управа, волостные правления и все вообще уездные канцелярии тоже не внушали мне ни малейшего желания обратиться к их помощи. Я знал, что эти учреждения, присосавшиеся к земскому и казенному пирогу, каждый день держали свои рты наготове, чтобы присосаться к какому-нибудь еще третьему пирогу.Мне приходило на мысль пригласить к себе соседей-помещиков и предложить им организовать у меня в доме что-нибудь вроде комитета или центра, куда бы стекались все пожертвования и откуда по всему уезду давались бы пособия и распоряжения; такая организация, допускавшая частные совещания и широкий свободный контроль, вполне отвечала моим взглядам; но я воображал закуски, обеды, ужины и тот шум, праздность, говорливость и дурной тон, какие неминуемо внесла бы в мой дом эта пестрая уездная компания, и спешил отказаться от своей мысли.Что касается моих домашних, то ждать от них помощи или поддержки я мог меньше всего. От моей первой, отцовской, когда-то большой и шумной семьи уцелела одна только гувернантка m-lle Marie, или, как ее звали теперь, Марья Герасимовна, личность совершенно ничтожная. Эта маленькая, аккуратная старушка лет семидесяти, одетая в светло-серое платье и чепец с белыми лентами, похожая на фарфоровую куклу, всегда сидела в гостиной и читала книгу. Когда я проходил мимо нее, она, зная причину моего раздумья, всякий раз говорила:— Что же вы хотите, Паша? Я и раньше говорила, что это так будет. Вы по нашей прислуге можете судить.Моя вторая семья, то есть жена Наталья Гавриловна, жила в нижнем этаже, в котором занимала все комнаты. Обедала, спала и гостей своих принимала она у себя внизу, совсем не интересуясь тем, как обедаю, как сплю и кого принимаю я. Отношения наши были просты и не натянуты, но холодны, бессодержательны и скучны, как у людей, которые давно уже далеки друг другу, так что даже их жизнь в смежных этажах не походила на близость. Любви страстной, беспокойной, то сладкой, то горькой, как полынь, какую прежде возбуждала во мне Наталья Гавриловна, уже не было; не было уже и прежних вспышек, громких разговоров, попреков, жалоб и тех взрывов ненависти, которые оканчивались обыкновенно со стороны жены поездкой за границу или к родным, а с моей стороны — посылкой денег понемногу, но почаще, чтобы чаще жалить самолюбие жены. (Моя гордая, самолюбивая жена и ее родня живут на мой счет, и жена при всем своем желании не может отказаться от моих денег — это доставляло мне удовольствие и было единственным утешением в моем горе.) Теперь, когда мы случайно встречались внизу в коридоре или на дворе, я кланялся, она приветливо улыбалась; говорили мы о погоде, о том, что, кажется, пора уже вставлять двойные рамы и что кто-то со звонками по плотине проехал, и в это время я читал на ее лице: «Я верна вам и не порочу вашего честного имени, которое вы так любите, вы умны и не беспокоите меня — мы квиты».Я уверял себя, что любовь давно уже погасла во мне и что работа слишком глубоко захватила меня, чтобы я мог серьезно думать о своих отношениях к жене. Но, увы! — я только думал так. Когда жена громко разговаривала внизу, я внимательно прислушивался к ее голосу, хотя нельзя было разобрать ни одного слова. Когда она играла внизу на рояли, я вставал и слушал. Когда ей подавали экипаж или верховую лошадь, я подходил к окну и ждал, когда она выйдет из дому, потом смотрел, как она садилась в коляску или на лошадь и как выезжала со двора. Я чувствовал, что у меня в душе происходит что-то неладное, и боялся, что выражение моего взгляда и лица может выдать меня. Я провожал жену глазами и потом ожидал ее возвращения, чтобы опять увидеть в окно ее лицо, плечи, шубку, шляпку; мне было скучно, грустно, бесконечно жаль чего-то, и хотелось в ее отсутствие пройтись по ее комнатам, и хотелось, чтобы вопрос, который я и жена не сумели решить, потому что не сошлись характерами, поскорее бы решился сам собою, естественным порядком, то есть поскорее бы эта красивая 27-летняя женщина состарилась и поскорее бы моя голова стала седой и лысой.Однажды во время завтрака мой приказчик Владимир Прохорыч доложил мне, что пестровские мужики стали уже сдирать соломенные крыши, чтобы кормить скот, Марья Герасимовна смотрела на меня со страхом и недоумением.— Что же я могу сделать? — сказал я ей. — Один в поле не воин, а я еще никогда не испытывал такого одиночества, как теперь. Я бы дорого дал, чтобы найти во всем уезде хоть одного человека, на которого я мог бы положиться.— А вы пригласите Ивана Иваныча, — сказала Марья Герасимовна.— В самом деле! — вспомнил я и обрадовался. — Это идея! C’est raison 1, — запел я, идя к себе в кабинет, чтобы написать письмо Ивану Ивановичу. — C’est raison, c’est raison…


Из всей массы знакомых, которые когда-то, лет 25—35 назад, пили в этом доме, ели, приезжали ряжеными, влюблялись, женились, надоедали разговорами о своих великолепных сворах и лошадях, остался в живых один только Иван Иваныч Брагин. Когда-то он был очень деятелен, болтлив, криклив и влюбчив и славился своим крайним направлением и каким-то особенным выражением лица, которое очаровывало не только женщин, но и мужчин; теперь же он совсем постарел, заплыл жиром и доживал свой век без направления и выражения. Приехал он на другой день по получении от меня письма, вечером, когда в столовой только что подали самовар и маленькая Марья Герасимовна резала лимон.— Очень рад вас видеть, мой друг, — сказал я весело, встречая его. — А вы всё полнеете!— Это я не полнею, а распух, — ответил он. — Меня пчелы покусали.С фамильярностью человека, который сам смеется над своею толщиною, он взял меня обеими руками за талию и положил мне на грудь свою мягкую большую голову с волосами, зачесанными на лоб по-хохлацки, и залился тонким, старческим смехом.— А вы всё молодеете! — выговорил он сквозь смех. — Не знаю, какой это вы краской голову и бороду красите, мне бы дали. — Он, сопя и задыхаясь, обнял меня и поцеловал в щеку. — Мне бы дали... — повторил он. — Да вам, родной мой, есть сорок?— Ого, уже сорок шесть! — засмеялся я.От Ивана Иваныча пахло свечным салом и кухонным дымом, и это шло к нему. Его большое, распухшее, неповоротливое тело было стянуто в длинный сюртук, похожий на кучерской кафтан, с крючками и с петлями вместо пуговиц и с высокою талией, и было бы странно, если бы от него пахло, например, одеколоном. В двойном, давно не бритом, сизом, напоминавшем репейник подбородке, в выпученных глазах, в одышке и во всей неуклюжей, неряшливой фигуре, голосе, смехе и в речах трудно было узнать того стройного, интересного краснобая, к которому когда-то уездные мужья ревновали своих жен.— Вы мне очень нужны, мой друг, — сказал я, когда мы уже сидели в столовой и пили чай. — Хочется мне организовать какую-нибудь помощь для голодающих, и я не знаю, как за это приняться. Так вот, быть может, вы будете любезны, посоветуете что-нибудь.— Да, да, да... — сказал Иван Иваныч, вздыхая. — Так, так, так...— Я бы вас не беспокоил, но, право, кроме вас, милейший, тут положительно не к кому обратиться. Вы знаете, какие тут люди.— Так, так, так... Да...Я подумал: предстояло совещание серьезное и деловое, в котором мог принимать участие всякий, независимо от места и личных отношений, а потому не пригласить ли Наталью Гавриловну?— Tres faciunt collegium! 1 — сказал я весело. — Что, если бы мы пригласили Наталью Гавриловну? Как вы думаете? Феня, — обратился я к горничной — попросите Наталью Гавриловну пожаловать к нам наверх, если можно, сию минуту. Скажите: очень важное дело.Немного погодя, пришла Наталья Гавриловна. Я поднялся ей навстречу и сказал:— Простите, Natalie, что мы беспокоим вас. Мы толкуем здесь об одном очень важном деле, и нам пришла счастливая мысль воспользоваться вашим добрым советом, в котором вы нам не откажете. Садитесь, прошу вас.Иван Иваныч поцеловал у Натальи Гавриловны руку, а она его в голову, потом, когда все сели за стол, он, слезливо и блаженно глядя на нее, потянулся к ней и опять поцеловал руку. Одета она была в черное и старательно причесана, и пахло от нее свежими духами: очевидно, собралась в гости или ждала к себе кого-нибудь. Входя в столовую, она просто и дружески протянула мне руку и улыбалась мне так же приветливо, как и Ивану Иванычу, — это понравилось мне; но она, разговаривая, двигала пальцами, часто и резко откидывалась на спинку стула и говорила быстро, и эта неровность в речах и движениях раздражала меня и напоминала мне ее родину — Одессу, где общество мужчин и женщин когда-то утомляло меня своим дурным тоном.— Я хочу сделать что-нибудь для голодающих, — начал я и, помолчав немного, продолжал: — Деньги, разумеется, великое дело, но ограничиться одним только денежным пожертвованием и на этом успокоиться значило бы откупиться от главнейших забот. Помощь должна заключаться в деньгах, но главным образом в правильной и серьезной организации. Давайте же подумаем, господа, и сделаем что-нибудь.Наталья Гавриловна вопросительно посмотрела на меня и пожала плечами, как бы желая сказать: «Что же я знаю?»— Да, да, голод... — забормотал Иван Иваныч. — Действительно... Да...— Положение серьезное, — сказал я, — и помощь нужна скорейшая. Полагаю, пунктом первым тех правил, которые нам предстоит выработать, должна быть именно скорость. По-военному: глазомер, быстрота и натиск.— Да, быстрота... — проговорил Иван Иваныч сонно и вяло, как будто засыпая. — Только ничего не поделаешь. Земля не уродила, так что уж тут... никаким глазомером и натиском ее не проймешь... Стихия.. Против бога и судьбы не пойдешь...— Да, но ведь человеку дана голова, чтобы бороться со стихиями.— А? Да... Это так, так... Да.Иван Иваныч чихнул в платок, ожил и, как будто только что проснулся, оглядел меня и жену.— У меня тоже ничего не уродило, — засмеялся он тонким голосом и хитро подмигнул, как будто это в самом деле было очень смешно. — Денег нет, хлеба нет, а работников полон двор, как у графа Шереметьева. Хочу по шеям разогнать, да жалко как будто.Наталья Гавриловна засмеялась и стала расспрашивать Ивана Иваныча об его домашних делах. Ее присутствие доставляло мне удовольствие, какого я уже давно не испытывал, и я боялся смотреть на нее, чтобы мой взгляд как-нибудь не выдал моего скрытого чувства. Наши отношения были таковы, что это чувство могло бы показаться неожиданным и смешным. Жена говорила с Иваном Иванычем и смеялась, нисколько не смущаясь тем, что она у меня и что я не смеюсь.— Итак, господа, что же мы сделаем? — спросил я, выждав паузу. — Полагаю, мы прежде всего, по возможности скорее, объявим подписку. Мы, Natalie, напишем нашим столичным и одесским знакомым и привлечем их к пожертвованиям. Когда же у нас соберется малая толика, мы займемся покупкой хлеба и корма для скота, а вы, Иван Иваныч, будете добры, займетесь распределением пособий. Во всем полагаясь на присущие вам такт и распорядительность, мы с своей стороны позволим себе только выразить желание, чтобы вы, прежде чем выдавать пособие, подробно знакомились на месте со всеми обстоятельствами дела, а также, что очень важно, имели бы наблюдение, чтобы хлеб был выдаваем только истинно нуждающимся, но отнюдь не пьяницам, не лентяям и не кулакам.— Да, да, да... — забормотал Иван Иваныч. — Так, так, так...«Ну, с этой слюнявою развалиной каши не сваришь», — подумал я и почувствовал раздражение.— Надоели мне эти голодающие, ну их! И всё обижаются и всё обижаются, — продолжал Иван Иваныч, обсасывая лимонную корку. — Голодные обижаются на сытых. И те, у кого есть хлеб, обижаются на голодных. Да... С голоду человек шалеет, дуреет, становится дикий. Голод не картошка. Голодный и грубости говорит, и ворует, и, может, еще что похуже... Понимать надо.Иван Иваныч поперхнулся чаем, закашлялся и весь затрясся от скрипучего, удушливого смеха.— Было дело под По... Полтавой! — выговорил он, отмахиваясь обеими руками от смеха и кашля, которые мешали ему говорить. — Было дело под Полтавой! Когда года через три после воли был тут в двух уездах голод, приезжает ко мне покойничек Федор Федорыч и зовет к себе. Поедем да поедем, — пристал, как с ножом к горлу. Отчего ж? Поедем, говорю. Ну, взяли и поехали. Дело было к вечеру, снежок шел. Подъезжаем уже ночью к его усадьбе и вдруг из лесу — бац! и в другой раз: бац! Ах ты, шут тебя... Выскочил я из саней, гляжу — в потемках на меня человек бежит и по колена в снегу грузнет; я его обхватил рукой за плечи, вот этак, и выбил из рук ружьишко, потом другой подвернулся, я его по затылку урезал, так что он крякнул и в снег носом чкнулся, — здоровый я тогда был, рука тяжелая; я с двумя управился, гляжу, а Федя уже на третьем верхом сидит. Задержали мы трех молодчиков, ну, скрутили им назад руки, чтоб какого зла нам и себе не сделали, и привели дураков в кухню. И зло на них берет, и глядеть стыдно: мужики-то знакомые и народ хороший, жалко. Совсем одурели с перепугу. Один плачет и прощения просит, другой зверем глядит и ругается, третий стал на коленки и богу молится. Я и говорю Феде: не обижайся, отпусти ты их, подлецов! Он накормил их, дал по пуду муки и отпустил: ступайте к шуту! Так вот как... Царство небесное, вечный покой! Понимал и не обижался, а были которые обижались, и сколько народу перепортили! Да... Из-за одного клочковского кабака одиннадцать человек в арестантские роты пошло. Да... И теперь, гляди, то же самое... В четверг у меня ночевал следователь Анисьин, так вот он рассказывал про какого-то помещика... Да... Ночью у помещика разобрали стену в амбаре и вытащили двадцать кулей ржи. Когда утром помещик узнал, что у него такой криминал случился, то сейчас бух губернатору телеграмму, потом другую бух прокурору, третью исправнику, четвертую следователю... Известно, кляузников боятся... Начальство всполошилось, и началась катавасия. Две деревни обыскали.— Позвольте, Иван Иваныч, — сказал я. — Двадцать кулей ржи украли у меня, и это я телеграфировал губернатору. Я и в Петербург телеграфировал. Но это вовсе не из любви к кляузничеству, как вы изволили выразиться, и не потому, что я обижался. На всякое дело я прежде всего смотрю с принципиальной стороны. Крадет ли сытый или голодный — для закона безразлично.— Да, да... — забормотал Иван Иваныч, смутившись. — Конечно... Так, да...Наталья Гавриловна покраснела.— Есть люди... — сказала она и остановилась; она сделала над собой усилие, чтобы казаться равнодушной, но не выдержала и посмотрела мне в глаза с ненавистью, которая мне была так знакома. — Есть люди, — сказала она, — для которых голод и человеческое горе существуют только для того, чтобы можно было срывать на них свой дурной, ничтожный характер.Я смутился и пожал плечами.— Я хочу сказать вообще, — продолжала она, — есть люди совершенно равнодушные, лишенные всякого чувства сострадания, но которые не проходят мимо человеческого горя и вмешиваются из страха, что без них могут обойтись. Для их тщеславия нет ничего святого.— Есть люди, — сказал я мягко, — которые обладают ангельским характером, но выражают свои великолепные мысли в такой форме, что бывает трудно отличить ангела от особы, торгующей в Одессе на базаре.Сознаюсь, это было сказано неудачно.Жена поглядела на меня так, как будто ей стоило больших усилий, чтобы молчать. Ее внезапная вспышка и затем неуместное красноречие по поводу моего желания помочь голодающим были по меньшей мере неуместны; когда я приглашал ее наверх, я ожидал совсем иного отношения к себе и к своим намерениям. Не могу сказать определенно, чего я ожидал, но ожидание приятно волновало меня. Теперь же я видел, что продолжать говорить о голодающих было бы тяжело и, пожалуй, не умно.— Да... — забормотал Иван Иваныч некстати. — У купца Бурова тысяч четыреста есть, а может, и больше. Я ему и говорю: «Отвали-ка, тезка, голодающим тысяч сто или двести. Все равно помирать будешь, на тот свет с собой не возьмешь». Обиделся. А помирать-то ведь надо. Смерть не картошка.Опять наступило молчание.— Итак, значит, остается одно: мириться с одиночеством, — вздохнул я. — Один в поле не воин. Ну, что ж! Попробую и один воевать. Авось война с голодом будет более успешна, чем война с равнодушием.— Меня внизу ждут, — сказала Наталья Гавриловна. Она встала из-за стола и обратилась к Ивану Иванычу: — Так вы придете ко мне вниз на минуточку? Я не прощаюсь с вами.И ушла.Иван Иваныч пил уже седьмой стакан, задыхаясь, чмокая и обсасывая то усы, то лимонную корку. Он сонно и вяло бормотал о чем-то, а я не слушал и ждал, когда он уйдет. Наконец, с таким выражением, как будто он приехал ко мне только затем, чтобы напиться чаю, он поднялся и стал прощаться. Провожая его, я сказал:— Итак, вы не дали мне никакого совета.— А? Я человек сырой, отупел, — ответил он. — Какие мои советы? И вы напрасно беспокоитесь... Не знаю, право, отчего вы беспокоитесь? Не беспокойтесь, голубчик! Ей-богу ничего нет... — зашептал он ласково и искренно, успокаивая меня, как ребенка. — Ей-богу ничего!..— Как же ничего? Мужики сдирают с изб крыши и уже, говорят, где-то тиф.— Ну, так что же? В будущем году уродит, будут новые крыши, а если помрем от тифа, то после нас другие люди жить будут. И всё равно помирать надо, не теперь, так после. Не беспокойтесь, красавец!— Я не могу не беспокоиться, — сказал я раздраженно.Мы стояли в слабо освещенной передней. Иван Иваныч вдруг взял меня за локоть и, собираясь сказать что-то, по-видимому, очень важное, с полминуты молча смотрел на меня.— Павел Андреич! — сказал он тихо, и на его жирном застывшем лице и в темных глазах вдруг вспыхнуло то особенное выражение, которым он когда-то славился, в самом деле очаровательное. — Павел Андреич, скажу я вам по-дружески: перемените ваш характер! Тяжело с вами! Голубчик, тяжело!Он пристально посмотрел мне в лицо; прекрасное выражение потухло, взгляд потускнел, и он забормотал вяло и сопя:— Да, да... Извините старика... Чепухенция... Да...Тяжело спускаясь вниз по лестнице, растопырив руки для равновесия и показывая мне свою жирную громадную спину и красный затылок, он давал неприятное впечатление какого-то краба.— Ехали бы вы куда-нибудь, ваше превосходительство, — бормотал он. — В Петербург или за границу... Зачем вам тут жить и золотое время терять? Человек вы молодой, здоровый, богатый... Да... Эх, будь я помоложе, улепетнул бы, как заяц, и только бы в ушах засвистело!


Вспышка жены напомнила мне нашу супружескую жизнь. Прежде, обыкновенно, после всякой вспышки нас непреодолимо тянуло друг к другу, мы сходились и пускали в ход весь динамит, какой с течением времени скоплялся в наших душах. И теперь, после ухода Ивана Иваныча, меня сильно потянуло к жене. Мне хотелось сойти вниз и сказать ей, что ее поведение за чаем оскорбило меня, что она жестока, мелочна и со своим мещанским умом никогда не возвышалась до понимания того, что я говорю и что я делаю. Я долго ходил по комнатам, придумывая, что скажу ей, и угадывая то, что она мне ответит.То беспокойство, которое томило меня в последнее время, в этот вечер, когда ушел Иван Иваныч, я чувствовал в какой-то особенной раздражающей форме. Я не мог ни сидеть, ни стоять, а ходил и ходил, причем выбирал только освещенные комнаты и держался ближе той, в которой сидела Марья Герасимовна. Было чувство, очень похожее на то, какое я испытывал однажды на Немецком море во время бури, когда все боялись, что пароход, не имевший груза и балласта, опрокинется. И в этот вечер я понял, что мое беспокойство было не разочарование, как я думал раньше, а что-то другое, но что именно, я не понимал, и это меня еще больше раздражало.«Пойду к ней, — решил я. — А предлог можно выдумать. Скажу, что мне понадобился Иван Иваныч, вот и всё».Я спустился вниз и по коврам, не торопясь, прошел переднюю и залу. Иван Иваныч сидел в гостиной на диване, опять пил чай и бормотал. Жена стояла против него, держась за спинку кресла. На лице у нее было то тихое, сладкое и послушное выражение, с каким слушают юродивых и блаженненьких, когда в ничтожных словах и в бормотанье предполагают особое, скрытое значение. В выражении и позе жены, показалось мне, было что-то психопатическое или монашеское, и ее комнаты со старинною мебелью, со спящими птицами в клетках и с запахом герани, невысокие, полутемные, очень теплые, напоминали мне покои игуменьи или какой-нибудь богомольной старухи-генеральши.Я вошел в гостиную. Жена не выразила ни удивления, ни смущения и посмотрела на меня сурово и спокойно, как будто знала, что я приду.— Виноват, — сказал я мягко. — Очень рад, Иван Иваныч, что вы еще не уехали. Забыл я у вас наверху спросить: не знаете ли, как имя и отчество председателя нашей земской управы?— Андрей Станиславович. Да...— Merci, — сказал я, достал из кармана книжку и записал.Наступило молчание, в продолжение которого жена и Иван Иваныч, вероятно, ждали, когда я уйду; жена не верила, что мне нужен председатель земской управы — это я видел по ее глазам.— Так я поеду, красавица, — забормотал Иван Иваныч, когда я прошелся по гостиной раз-другой и потом сел около камина.— Нет, — быстро сказала Наталья Гавриловна, дотронувшись до его руки. — Еще четверть часа... Прошу вас.Очевидно, ей не хотелось оставаться со мной с глазу на глаз, без свидетелей.«Что ж, и я подожду четверть часа», — подумал я.— А, идет снег! — сказал я, вставая и глядя в окно. — Превосходный снег! Иван Иваныч, — продолжал я, прохаживаясь по гостиной, — я очень жалею, что я не охотник. Воображаю, какое удовольствие по такому снегу гоняться за зайцами и волками!Жена, стоя на одном месте и не поворачивая головы, а только искоса поглядывая, следила за моими движениями; у нее было такое выражение, как будто я прятал в кармане острый нож или револьвер.— Иван Иваныч, возьмите меня как-нибудь на охоту, — продолжал я мягко. — Я буду вам очень, очень благодарен.В это время в гостиную вошел гость. Это был незнакомый мне господин, лет сорока, высокий, плотный, плешивый, с большою русою бородой и с маленькими глазами. По помятому мешковатому платью и по манерам я принял его за дьячка или учителя, но жена отрекомендовала мне его доктором Соболем.— Очень, очень рад познакомиться! — сказал доктор громко, тенором, крепко пожимая мне руку и наивно улыбаясь. — Очень рад!Он сел за стол, взял стакан чаю и сказал громко:— А нет ли у вас случаем рому или коньячку? Будьте милостивы, Оля, — обратился он к горничной, — поищите в шкапчике, а то я озяб.Я опять сел у камина, глядел, слушал и изредка вставлял в общий разговор какое-нибудь слово. Жена приветливо улыбалась гостям и зорко следила за мною, как за зверем; она тяготилась моим присутствием, а это возбуждало во мне ревность, досаду и упрямое желание причинить ей боль. Жена, думал я, эти уютные комнаты, местечко около камина — мои, давно мои, но почему-то какой-нибудь выживший из ума Иван Иваныч или Соболь имеют на них больше прав, чем я. Теперь я вижу жену не в окно, а вблизи себя, в обычной домашней обстановке, в той самой, которой недостает мне теперь в мои пожилые годы, и несмотря на ее ненависть ко мне, я скучаю по ней, как когда-то в детстве скучал по матери и няне, и чувствую, что теперь, под старость, я люблю ее чище и выше, чем любил прежде, — и поэтому мне хочется подойти к ней, покрепче наступить ей каблуком на носок, причинить боль и при этом улыбнуться.— Мосье Енот, — обратился я к доктору, — сколько у нас в уезде больниц?— Соболь... — поправила жена.— Две-с, — ответил Соболь.— А сколько покойников приходится ежегодно на долю каждой больницы?— Павел Андреич, мне нужно поговорить с вами, — сказала мне жена.Она извинилась пред гостями и вышла в соседнюю комнату. Я встал и пошел за ней.— Вы сию же минуту уйдете к себе наверх, — сказала она.— Вы дурно воспитаны, — сказал я.— Вы сию же минуту уйдете к себе наверх, — резко повторила она и с ненавистью посмотрела мне в лицо.Она стояла так близко, что если бы я немн