A Desperate Character and Other Stories by Ivan Turgenev
A STRANGE STORY
A DESPERATE CHARACTER AND OTHER STORIES
BY IVAN TURGENEV
Translated from the Russian By CONSTANCE GARNETT
The six tales now translated for the English reader were written by
Turgenev at various dates between 1847 and 1881. Their chronological
The Brigadier, 1867
A Strange Story, 1869
Punin and Baburin, 1874
Old Portraits, 1881
A Desperate Character, 1881
Pyetushkov is the work of a young man of twenty-nine, and its
lively, unstrained realism is so bold, intimate, and delicate as to
contradict the flattering compliment that the French have paid to one
another—that Turgenev had need to dress his art by the aid of French
Although Pyetushkov shows us, by a certain open naivete
of style, that a youthful hand is at work, it is the hand of a young
master, carrying out the realism of the 'forties'—that of Gogol,
Balzac, and Dickens—straightway, with finer point, to find a perfect
equilibrium free from any bias or caricature. The whole strength and
essence of the realistic method has been developed in Pyetushkov
to its just limits. The Russians are instinctive realists, and
carry the warmth of life into their pages, which warmth the French seem
to lose in clarifying their impressions and crystallising them in art.
Pyetushkov is not exquisite: it is irresistible. Note how the
reader is transported bodily into Pyetushkov's stuffy room, and how the
major fairly boils out of the two pages he lives in! (pp. 301, 302).
That is realism if you like. A woman will see the point of
Pyetushkov very quickly. Onisim and Vassilissa and the aunt walk
and chatter around the stupid Pyetushkov, and glance at him
significantly in a manner that reveals everything about these people's
world. All the servants who appear in the tales in this volume are hit
off so marvellously that one sees the lower-class world, which is such
a mystery to certain refined minds, has no secrets for Turgenev.
Of a different, and to our taste more fascinating, genre is
The Brigadier. It is greater art because life's prosaic growth is
revealed not merely realistically, but also poetically, life as a tiny
part of the great universe around it. The tale is a microcosm of
Turgenev's own nature; his love of Nature, his tender sympathy for all
humble, ragged, eccentric, despised human creatures; his unfaltering
keenness of gaze into character, his fine sense of proportion, mingle
in. The Brigadier, to create for us a sense of the pitiableness
of man's tiny life, of the mere human seed which springs and spreads a
while on earth, and dies under the menacing gaze of the advancing
years. 'Out of the sweetness came forth strength' is perhaps the best
saying by which one can define Turgenev's peculiar merits in The
Punin and Baburin presents to us again one of those ragged
ones, one of 'the poor in spirit,' the idealist Punin, a character
whose portrait challenges Dostoievsky's skill on the latter's own
ground. That delicious Punin! and that terrible grandmother's scene
with Baburin! How absolutely Slav is the blending of irony and kindness
in the treatment of Punin, Cucumber, and Pyetushkov, few English
readers will understand. All the characters in Punin and Baburin
are so strongly drawn, so intensely alive, that, like Rembrandt's
portraits, they make the living people, who stand looking at them,
absurdly grey and lifeless by comparison! Baburin is a Nihilist before
the times of Nihilism, he is a type of the strong characters that arose
later in the movement of the 'eighties.'
A pre-Nihilistic type is also the character of Sophie in A
Strange Story. But the chief value of this last psychological study
is that it gives the English mind a clue to the fundamental distinction
that marks off the Russian people from the peoples of the West.
Sophie's words—'You spoke of the will—that's what must be broken' (p.
61)—define most admirably the deepest aspiration of the Russian soul.
To be lowly and suffering, to be despised, sick, to be under the lash
of fate, to be trampled under foot by others, to be unworthy,
all this secret desire of the Russian soul implies that the Russian has
little will, that he finds it easier to resign himself than to
make the effort to be powerful, triumphant, worthy. It is from the
resignation and softness of the Russian nature that all its
characteristic virtues spring. Whereas religion with the English mind
is largely an anxiety to be moral, to be right and righteous, to
be 'a chosen vessel of the Lord,' religion with the Russian implies a
genuine abasement and loss of self, a bowing before the will of Heaven,
and true brotherly love. The Western mind rises to greatness by
concentrating the will-power in action, by assertion of all its inner
force, by shutting out forcibly whatever might dominate or distract or
weaken it. But the Russian mind, through its lack of character,
will-power, and hardness, rises to greatness in its acceptance of life,
and in its sympathy with all the unfortunate, the wretched, the poor in
spirit. Of course in practical life the Russian lacks many of the
useful virtues the Western peoples possess and has most of their vices;
but certainly his pity, charity, and brotherliness towards men more
unfortunate than himself largely spring from his fatalistic acceptance
of his own unworthiness and weakness. So in Sophie's case the desire
for self-sacrifice, and her impregnable conviction that to suffer and
endure is right, is truly Russian in the sense of letting the
individuality go with the stream of fate, not against it.
And hence the formidable spirit of the youthful generation that
sacrificed itself in the Nihilistic movement: the strenuous action of
'the youth' once set in movement, the spirit of self-sacrifice impelled
it calmly towards its goal despite all the forces and threats of fate.
Sophie is indeed an early Nihilist born before her time.
We have said that the lack of will in the Russian nature is at the
root of Russian virtues and vices, and in this connection it is curious
to remark that a race's soul seems often to grow out of the race's
aspiration towards what it is not in life. Is not the French
intellect, for example, so cool, clear-headed, so delicately analytic
of its own motives, that through the principle of counterpoise
it strives to lose itself and release itself in continual rhetoric and
emotional positions? Is not the German mind so alive to the material
facts of life, to the necessity of getting hold of concrete advantages
in life, and of not letting them go, that it deliberately slackens the
bent bow, and plunges itself and relaxes itself in floods of
abstractions, and idealisations, and dreams of sentimentality?
Assuredly it is because the Russian is so inwardly discontented with
his own actions that he is such a keen and incisive critic of
everything false and exaggerated, that he despises all French
rhetoric and German sentimentalism. And in this sense it is that the
Russian's lack of will comes in to deepen his soul. He surrenders
himself thereby to the universe, and, as do the Asiatics, does not let
the tiny shadow of his fate, dark though it may be, shut out the
universe so thoroughly from his consciousness, as does the aggressive
struggling will-power of the Western man striving to let his
individuality have full play. The Russian's attitude may indeed be
compared to a bowl which catches and sustains what life brings it; and
the Western man's to a bowl inverted to ward off what drops from the
impassive skies. The mental attitude of the Russian peasant indeed
implies that in blood he is nearer akin to the Asiatics than Russian
ethnologists have wished to allow. Certainly in the inner life of
thought, intellectually, morally, and emotionally, he is a half-way
house between the Western and Eastern races, just as geographically he
spreads over the two continents. By natural law his destiny calls him
towards the East. Should he one day spread his rule further and further
among the Asiatics and hold the keys of an immense Asiatic empire,
well! future English philosophers may feel thereat a curious fatalistic
A DESPERATE CHARACTER
... We were a party of eight in the room, and we were talking of
contemporary affairs and men.
'I don't understand these men!' observed A.: 'they're such desperate
fellows.... Really desperate.... There has never been anything like it
'Yes, there has,' put in P., a man getting on in years, with grey
hair, born some time in the twenties of this century: 'there were
desperate characters in former days too, only they were not like the
desperate fellows of to-day. Of the poet Yazikov some one has said that
he had enthusiasm, but not applied to anything—an enthusiasm without
an object. So it was with those people—their desperateness was without
an object. But there, if you'll allow me, I'll tell you the story of my
nephew, or rather cousin, Misha Poltyev. It may serve as an example of
the desperate characters of those days.
He came into God's world, I remember, in 1828, at his father's
native place and property, in one of the sleepiest corners of a sleepy
province of the steppes. Misha's father, Andrei Nikolaevitch Poltyev, I
remember well to this day. He was a genuine old-world landowner, a
God-fearing, sedate man, fairly—for those days—well educated, just a
little cracked, to tell the truth—and, moreover, he suffered from
epilepsy.... That too is an old-world, gentlemanly complaint.... Andrei
Nikolaevitch's fits were, however, slight, and generally ended in sleep
and depression. He was good-hearted, and of an affable demeanour, not
without a certain stateliness: I always pictured to myself the tsar
Mihail Fedorovitch as like him. The whole life of Andrei Nikolaevitch
was passed in the punctual fulfilment of every observance established
from old days, in strict conformity with all the usages of the old
orthodox holy Russian mode of life. He got up and went to bed, ate his
meals, and went to his bath, rejoiced or was wroth (both very rarely,
it is true), even smoked his pipe and played cards (two great
innovations!), not after his own fancy, not in a way of his own, but
according to the custom and ordinance of his fathers—with due decorum
and formality. He was tall, well built, and stout; his voice was soft
and rather husky, as is so often the case with virtuous people in
Russia; he was scrupulously neat in his dress and linen, and wore white
cravats and full-skirted snuff-coloured coats, but his noble blood was
nevertheless evident; no one could have taken him for a priest's son or
a merchant! At all times, on all possible occasions, and in all
possible contingencies, Andrei Nikolaevitch knew without fail what
ought to be done, what was to be said, and precisely what expressions
were to be used; he knew when he ought to take medicine, and just what
he ought to take; what omens were to be believed and what might be
disregarded ... in fact, he knew everything that ought to be done....
For as everything had been provided for and laid down by one's elders,
one had only to be sure not to imagine anything of one's self.... And
above all, without God's blessing not a step to be taken!—It must be
confessed that a deadly dulness reigned supreme in his house, in those
low-pitched, warm, dark rooms, that so often resounded with the singing
of liturgies and all-night services, and had the smell of incense and
Lenten dishes almost always hanging about them!
Andrei Nikolaevitch—no longer in his first youth—married a young
lady of a neighbouring family, without fortune, a very nervous and
sickly person, who had had a boarding-school education. She played the
piano fairly, spoke boarding-school French, was easily moved to
enthusiasm, and still more easily to melancholy and even tears.... She
was of unbalanced character, in fact. She regarded her life as wasted,
could not care for her husband, who, 'of course,' did not understand
her; but she respected him, ... she put up with him; and being
perfectly honest and perfectly cold, she never even dreamed of another
'affection.' Besides, she was always completely engrossed in the care,
first, of her own really delicate health, secondly, of the health of
her husband, whose fits always inspired in her something like
superstitious horror, and lastly, of her only son, Misha, whom she
brought up herself with great zeal. Andrei Nikolaevitch did not oppose
his wife's looking after Misha, on the one condition of his education
never over-stepping the lines laid down, once and for all, within which
everything must move in his house! Thus, for instance, at
Christmas-time, and at New Year, and St. Vassily's eve, it was
permissible for Misha to dress up and masquerade with the servant
boys—and not only permissible, but even a binding duty.... But, at any
other time, God forbid! and so on, and so on.
I remember Misha at thirteen. He was a very pretty boy, with rosy
little cheeks and soft lips (indeed he was soft and plump-looking all
over), with prominent liquid eyes, carefully brushed and combed,
caressing and modest—a regular little girl! There was only one thing
about him I did not like: he rarely laughed; but when he did laugh, his
teeth—large white teeth, pointed like an animal's—showed
disagreeably, and the laugh itself had an abrupt, even savage, almost
animal sound, and there were unpleasant gleams in his eyes. His mother
was always praising him for being so obedient and well behaved, and not
caring to make friends with rude boys, but always preferring feminine
society. 'A mother's darling, a milksop,' his father, Andrei
Nikolaevitch, would call him; 'but he's always ready to go into the
house of God.... And that I am glad to see.' Only one old neighbour,
who had been a police captain, once said before me, speaking of Misha,
'Mark my words, he'll be a rebel.' And this saying, I remember,
surprised me very much at the time. The old police captain, it is true,
used to see rebels on all sides.
Just such an exemplary youth Misha continued to be till the
eighteenth year of his age, up to the death of his parents, both of
whom he lost almost on the same day. As I was all the while living
constantly at Moscow, I heard nothing of my young kinsman. An
acquaintance coming from his province did, it is true, inform me that
Misha had sold the paternal estate for a trifling sum; but this piece
of news struck me as too wildly improbable! And behold, all of a
sudden, one autumn morning there flew into the courtyard of my house a
carriage, with a pair of splendid trotting horses, and a coachman of
monstrous size on the box; and in the carriage, wrapped in a cloak of
military cut, with a beaver collar two yards deep, and with a foraging
cap cocked on one side, a la diable m'emporte, sat ... Misha! On
catching sight of me (I was standing at the drawing-room window, gazing
in astonishment at the flying equipage), he laughed his abrupt laugh,
and jauntily flinging back his cloak, he jumped out of the carriage and
ran into the house.
'Misha! Mihail Andreevitch!' I was beginning, ... 'Is it you?'
'Call me Misha,'—he interrupted me. 'Yes, it's I, ... I, in my own
person.... I have come to Moscow ... to see the world ... and show
myself. And here I am, come to see you. What do you say to my
horses?... Eh?' he laughed again.
Though it was seven years since I had seen Misha last, I recognised
him at once. His face had remained just as youthful and as pretty as
ever—there was no moustache even visible; only his cheeks looked a
little swollen under his eyes, and a smell of spirits came from his
lips. 'Have you been long in Moscow?' I inquired.
'I supposed you were at home in the country, looking after the
'Eh! The country I threw up at once! As soon as my parents died—may
their souls rest in peace—(Misha crossed himself scrupulously, without
a shade of mockery) at once, without a moment's delay, ... ein,
zwei, drei! ha, ha! I let it go cheap, damn it! A rascally fellow
turned up. But it's no matter! Anyway, I am living as I fancy, and
amusing other people. But why are you staring at me like that? Was I,
really, to go dragging on in the same old round, do you suppose? ... My
dear fellow, couldn't I have a glass of something?'
Misha spoke fearfully quick and hurriedly, and, at the same time, as
though he were only just waked up from sleep.
'Misha, upon my word!' I wailed; 'have you no fear of God? What do
you look like? What an attire! And you ask for a glass too! And to sell
such a fine estate for next to nothing....'
'God I fear always, and do not forget,' he broke in.... 'But He is
good, you know—God is.... He will forgive! And I am good too.... I
have never yet hurt any one in my life. And drink is good too; and as
for hurting,... it never hurt any one either. And my get-up is quite
the most correct thing.... Uncle, would you like me to show you I can
walk straight? Or to do a little dance?'
'Oh, spare me, please! A dance, indeed! You'd better sit down.'
'As to that, I'll sit down with pleasure.... But why do you say
nothing of my greys? Just look at them, they're perfect lions! I've got
them on hire for the time, but I shall buy them for certain, ... and
the coachman too.... It's ever so much cheaper to have one's own
horses. And I had the money, but I lost it yesterday at faro. It's no
matter, I'll make it up to-morrow. Uncle, ... how about that little
I was still unable to get over my amazement. 'Really, Misha, how old
are you? You ought not to be thinking about horses or cards, ... but
going into the university or the service.'
Misha first laughed again, then gave vent to a prolonged whistle.
'Well, uncle, I see you're in a melancholy humour to-day. I'll come
back another time. But I tell you what: you come in the evening to
Sokolniki. I've a tent pitched there. The gypsies sing, ... such
goings-on.... And there's a streamer on the tent, and on the streamer,
written in large letters: “The Troupe of Poltyev's Gypsies.” The
streamer coils like a snake, the letters are of gold, attractive for
every one to read. A free entertainment—whoever likes to come! ... No
refusal! I'm making the dust fly in Moscow ... to my glory! ... Eh?
will you come? Ah, I've one girl there ... a serpent! Black as your
boot, spiteful as a dog, and eyes ... like living coals! One can never
tell what she's going to do—kiss or bite! ... Will you come, uncle?
... Well, good-bye, till we meet!'
And with a sudden embrace, and a smacking kiss on my shoulder, Misha
darted away into the courtyard, and into the carriage, waved his cap
over his head, hallooed,—the monstrous coachman leered at him over his
beard, the greys dashed off, and all vanished!
The next day I—like a sinner—set off to Sokolniki, and did
actually see the tent with the streamer and the inscription. The
drapery of the tent was raised; from it came clamour, creaking, and
shouting. Crowds of people were thronging round it. On a carpet spread
on the ground sat gypsies, men and women, singing and beating drums,
and in the midst of them, in a red silk shirt and velvet breeches, was
Misha, holding a guitar, dancing a jig. 'Gentlemen! honoured friends!
walk in, please! the performance is just beginning! Free to all!' he
was shouting in a high, cracked voice. 'Hey! champagne! pop! a pop on
the head! pop up to the ceiling! Ha! you rogue there, Paul de Kock!'
Luckily he did not see me, and I hastily made off.
I won't enlarge on my astonishment at the spectacle of this
transformation. But, how was it actually possible for that quiet and
modest boy to change all at once into a drunken buffoon? Could it all
have been latent in him from childhood, and have come to the surface
directly the yoke of his parents' control was removed? But that he had
made the dust fly in Moscow, as he expressed it—of that, certainly,
there could be no doubt. I have seen something of riotous living in my
day; but in this there was a sort of violence, a sort of frenzy of
self-destruction, a sort of desperation!
For two months these diversions continued.... And once more I was
standing at my drawing-room window, looking into the courtyard.... All
of a sudden—what could it mean? ... there came slowly stepping in at
the gate a pilgrim ... a squash hat pulled down on his forehead, his
hair combed out straight to right and left below it, a long gown, a
leather belt ... Could it be Misha? He it was!
I went to meet him on the steps.... 'What's this masquerade for?' I
'It's not a masquerade, uncle,' Misha answered with a deep sigh:
since all I had I've squandered to the last farthing—and a great
repentance too has come upon me—so I have resolved to go to the
Sergiev monastery of the Holy Trinity to expiate my sins in prayer. For
what refuge was left me? ... And so I have come to you to say good-bye,
uncle, like a prodigal son.'
I looked intently at Misha. His face was just the same, rosy and
fresh (indeed it remained almost unchanged to the end), and the eyes,
liquid, affectionate, and languishing—and the hands, as small and
white.... But he smelt of spirits.
'Well,' I pronounced at last, 'it's a good thing to do—since
there's nothing else to be done. But why is it you smell of spirits?'
'A relic of the past,' answered Misha, and he suddenly laughed, but
immediately pulled himself up, and, making a straight, low bow—a
monk's bow—he added: 'Won't you help me on my way? I'm going, see, on
foot to the monastery....'
'To-day ... at once.'
'Why be in such a hurry?'
'Uncle, my motto always was, “Make haste, make haste!”'
'But what is your motto now?'
'It's the same now.... Only, make haste towards good!'
And so Misha went off, leaving me to ponder on the vicissitudes of
But he soon reminded me of his existence. Two months after his
visit, I got a letter from him, the first of those letters, of which
later on he furnished me with so abundant a supply. And note a peculiar
fact: I have seldom seen a neater, more legible handwriting than that
unbalanced fellow's. And the wording of his letters was exceedingly
correct, just a little flowery. Invariable entreaties for assistance,
always attended with resolutions to reform, vows, and promises on his
honour.... All of it seemed—and perhaps was—sincere. Misha's
signature to his letters was always accompanied by peculiar strokes,
flourishes, and stops, and he made great use of marks of exclamation.
In this first letter Misha informed me of a new 'turn in his fortune.'
(Later on he used to refer to these turns as plunges, ... and frequent
were the plunges he took.) He was starting for the Caucasus on active
service for his tsar and his country in the capacity of a cadet! And,
though a certain benevolent aunt had entered into his impecunious
position, and had sent him an inconsiderable sum, still he begged me to
assist him in getting his equipment. I did what he asked, and for two
years I heard nothing more of him.
I must own I had the gravest doubts as to his having gone to the
Caucasus. But it turned out that he really had gone there, had, by
favour, got into the T——regiment as a cadet, and had been serving in
it for those two years. A perfect series of legends had sprung up there
about him. An officer of his regiment related them to me.
I learned a great deal which I should never have expected of him.—I
was, of course, hardly surprised that as a military man, as an officer,
he was not a success, that he was in fact worse than useless; but what
I had not anticipated was that he was by no means conspicuous for much
bravery; that in battle he had a downcast, woebegone air, seemed
half-depressed, half-bewildered. Discipline of every sort worried him,
and made him miserable; he was daring to the point of insanity when
only his own personal safety was in question; no bet was too mad
for him to accept; but do harm to others, kill, fight, he could not,
possibly because his heart was too good—or possibly because his
'cottonwool' education (so he expressed it), had made him too soft.
Himself he was quite ready to murder in any way at any moment.... But
others—no. 'There's no making him out,' his comrades said of him;
'he's a flabby creature, a poor stick—and yet such a desperate
fellow—a perfect madman!' I chanced in later days to ask Misha what
evil spirit drove him, forced him, to drink to excess, risk his life,
and so on. He always had one answer—'wretchedness.'
'But why are you wretched?'
'Why! how can you ask? If one comes, anyway, to one's self, begins
to feel, to think of the poverty, of the injustice, of Russia.... Well,
it's all over with me! ... one's so wretched at once—one wants to put
a bullet through one's head! One's forced to start drinking.'
'Why ever do you drag Russia in?'
'How can I help it? Can't be helped! That's why I'm afraid to
'It all comes, and your wretchedness too, from having nothing to
'But I don't know how to do anything, uncle! dear fellow! Take one's
life, and stake it on a card—that I can do! Come, you tell me what I
ought to do, what to risk my life for? This instant ... I'll ...'
'But you must simply live.... Why risk your life?'
'I can't! You say I act thoughtlessly.... But what else can I do?
... If one starts thinking—good God, all that comes into one's head!
It's only Germans who can think! ...'
What use was it talking to him? He was a desperate man, and that's
all one can say.
Of the Caucasus legends I have spoken about, I will tell you two or
three. One day, in a party of officers, Misha began boasting of a sabre
he had got by exchange—'a genuine Persian blade!' The officers
expressed doubts as to its genuineness. Misha began disputing. 'Here
then,' he cried at last; 'they say the man that knows most about sabres
is Abdulka the one-eyed. I'll go to him, and ask.' The officers
wondered. 'What Abdulka? Do you mean that lives in the mountains? The
rebel never subdued? Abdul-khan?' 'Yes, that's him.' 'Why, but he'll
take you for a spy, will put you in a hole full of bugs, or else cut
your head off with your own sabre. And, besides, how are you going to
get to him? They'll catch you directly.' 'I'll go to him, though, all
the same.' 'Bet you won't!' 'Taken!' And Misha promptly saddled his
horse and rode off to Abdulka. He disappeared for three days. All felt
certain that the crazy fellow had come by his end. But, behold! he came
back—drunk, and with a sabre, not the one he had taken, but another.
They began questioning him. 'It was all right,' said he; 'Abdulka's a
nice fellow. At first, it's true, he ordered them to put irons on my
legs, and was even on the point of having me impaled. Only, I explained
why I had come, and showed him the sabre. “And you'd better not keep
me,” said I; “don't expect a ransom for me; I've not a farthing to
bless myself with—and I've no relations.” Abdulka was surprised; he
looked at me with his solitary eye. “Well,” said he, “you are a bold
one, you Russian; am I to believe you?” “You may believe me,” said I;
“I never tell a lie.” (And this was true; Misha never lied.) Abdulka
looked at me again. “And do you know how to drink wine?” “I do,” said
I; “give me as much as you will, I'll drink it.” Abdulka was surprised
again; he called on Allah. And he told his—daughter, I suppose—such a
pretty creature, only with an eye like a jackal's—to bring a
wine-skin. And I began to get to work on it. “But your sabre,” said he,
“isn't genuine; here, take the real thing. And now we are pledged
friends.” But you've lost your bet, gentlemen; pay up.'
The second legend of Misha is of this nature. He was passionately
fond of cards; but as he had no money, and could never pay his debts at
cards (though he was never a card-sharper), no one at last would sit
down to a game with him. So one day he began urgently begging one of
his comrades among the officers to play with him! 'But if you lose, you
don't pay.' 'The money certainly I can't pay, but I'll put a shot
through my left hand, see, with this pistol here!' 'But whatever use
will that be to me?' 'No use, but still it will be curious.' This
conversation took place after a drinking bout in the presence of
witnesses. Whether it was that Misha's proposition struck the officer
as really curious—anyway he agreed. Cards were brought, the game
began. Misha was in luck; he won a hundred roubles. And thereupon his
opponent struck his forehead with vexation. 'What an ass I am!' he
cried, 'to be taken in like this! As if you'd have shot your hand if
you had lost!—a likely story! hold out your purse!' 'That's a lie,'
retorted Misha: 'I've won—but I'll shoot my hand.' He snatched up his
pistol—and bang, fired at his own hand. The bullet passed right
through it ... and in a week the wound had completely healed.
Another time, Misha was riding with his comrades along a road at
night ... and they saw close to the roadside a narrow ravine like a
deep cleft, dark—so dark you couldn't see the bottom. 'Look,' said one
of the officers, 'Misha may be a desperate fellow, but he wouldn't leap
into that ravine.' 'Yes, I'd leap in!' 'No, you wouldn't, for I dare
say it's seventy feet deep, and you might break your neck.' His friend
knew his weak point—vanity.... There was a great deal of it in Misha.
'But I'll leap in anyway! Would you like to bet on it? Ten roubles.'
'Good!' And the officer had hardly uttered the word, when Misha and his
horse were off—into the ravine—and crashing down over the stones. All
were simply petrified.... A full minute passed, and they heard Misha's
voice, dimly, as it were rising up out of the bowels of the earth: 'All
right! fell on the sand ... but it was a long flight! Ten roubles
'Climb out!' shouted his comrades. 'Climb out, I dare say!' echoed
Misha. 'A likely story! I should like to see you climb out. You'll have
to go for torches and ropes now. And, meanwhile, to keep up my spirits
while I wait, fling down a flask....'
And so Misha had to stay five hours at the bottom of the ravine; and
when they dragged him out, it turned out that his shoulder was
dislocated. But that in no way troubled him. The next day a
bone-setter, one of the black-smiths, set his shoulder, and he used it
as though nothing had been the matter.
His health in general was marvellous, incredible. I have already
mentioned that up to the time of his death he kept his almost
childishly fresh complexion. Illness was a thing unknown to him, in
spite of his excesses; the strength of his constitution never once
showed signs of giving way. When any other man would infallibly have
been seriously ill, or even have died, he merely shook himself, like a
duck in the water, and was more blooming than ever. Once, also in the
Caucasus ... this legend is really incredible, but one may judge
from it what Misha was thought to be capable of.... Well, once, in the
Caucasus, in a state of drunkenness, he fell down with the lower half
of his body in a stream of water; his head and arms were on the bank,
out of water. It was winter-time, there was a hard frost, and when he
was found next morning, his legs and body were pulled out from under a
thick layer of ice, which had formed over them in the night—and he
didn't even catch cold! Another time—this was in Russia (near Orel,
and also in a time of severe frost)—he was in a tavern outside the
town in company with seven young seminarists (or theological students),
and these seminarists were celebrating their final examination, but had
invited Misha, as a delightful person, a man of 'inspiration,' as the
phrase was then. A very great deal was drunk, and when at last the
festive party got ready to depart, Misha, dead drunk, was in an
unconscious condition. All the seven seminarists together had but one
three-horse sledge with a high back; where were they to stow the
unresisting body? Then one of the young men, inspired by classical
reminiscences, proposed tying Misha by his feet to the back of the
sledge, as Hector was tied to the chariot of Achilles! The proposal met
with approval ... and jolting up and down over the holes, sliding
sideways down the slopes, with his legs torn and flayed, and his head
rolling in the snow, poor Misha travelled on his back for the mile and
a half from the tavern to the town, and hadn't as much as a cough
afterwards, hadn't turned a hair! Such heroic health had nature
bestowed upon him!
From the Caucasus he came again to Moscow, in a Circassian dress, a
dagger in his sash, a high-peaked cap on his head. This costume he
retained to the end, though he was no longer in the army, from which he
had been discharged for outstaying his leave. He stayed with me,
borrowed a little money ... and forthwith began his 'plunges,' his
wanderings, or, as he expressed it, 'his peregrinations from pillar to
post,' then came the sudden disappearances and returns, and the showers
of beautifully written letters addressed to people of every possible
description, from an archbishop down to stable-boys and mid-wives! Then
came calls upon persons known and unknown! And this is worth noticing:
when he made these calls, he was never abject and cringing, he never
worried people by begging, but on the contrary behaved with propriety,
and had positively a cheerful and pleasant air, though the inveterate
smell of spirits accompanied him everywhere, and his Oriental costume
gradually changed into rags. 'Give, and God will reward you, though I
don't deserve it,' he would say, with a bright smile and a candid
blush; 'if you don't give, you'll be perfectly right, and I shan't
blame you for it. I shall find food to eat, God will provide! And there
are people poorer than I, and much more deserving of help—plenty,
plenty!' Misha was particularly successful with women: he knew how to
appeal to their sympathy. But don't suppose that he was or fancied
himself a Lovelace....Oh, no! in that way he was very modest. Whether
it was that he had inherited a cool temperament from his parents, or
whether indeed this too is to be set down to his dislike for doing any
one harm—as, according to his notions, relations with a woman meant
inevitably doing a woman harm—I won't undertake to decide; only in all
his behaviour with the fair sex he was extremely delicate. Women felt
this, and were the more ready to sympathise with him and help him,
until at last he revolted them by his drunkenness and debauchery, by
the desperateness of which I have spoken already.... I can think of no
other word for it.
But in other relations he had by that time lost every sort of
delicacy, and was gradually sinking to the lowest depths of
degradation. He once, in the public assembly at T——, got as far as
setting on the table a jug with a notice: 'Any one, to whom it may seem
agreeable to give the high-born nobleman Poltyev (authentic documents
in proof of his pedigree are herewith exposed) a flip on the nose, may
satisfy this inclination on putting a rouble into this jug.' And I am
told there were persons found willing to pay for the privilege of
flipping a nobleman's nose! It is true that one such person, who put in
only one rouble and gave him two flips, he first almost
strangled, and then forced to apologise; it is true, too, that part of
the money gained in this fashion he promptly distributed among other
poor devils ... but still, think what a disgrace!
In the course of his 'peregrinations from pillar to post,' he made
his way, too, to his ancestral home, which he had sold for next to
nothing to a speculator and money-lender well known in those days. The
money-lender was at home, and hearing of the presence in the
neighbourhood of the former owner, now reduced to vagrancy, he gave
orders not to admit him into the house, and even, in case of necessity,
to drive him away. Misha announced that he would not for his part
consent to enter the house, polluted by the presence of so repulsive a
person; that he would permit no one to drive him away, but was going to
the churchyard to pay his devotions at the grave of his parents. So in
fact he did.
In the churchyard he was joined by an old house-serf, who had once
been his nurse. The money-lender had deprived this old man of his
monthly allowance, and driven him off the estate; since then his refuge
had been a corner in a peasant's hut. Misha had been too short a time
in possession of his estate to have left behind him a particularly
favourable memory; still the old servant could not resist running to
the churchyard as soon as he heard of his young master's being there.
He found Misha sitting on the ground between the tombstones, asked for
his hand to kiss, as in old times, and even shed tears on seeing the
rags which clothed the limbs of his once pampered young charge.
Misha gazed long and silently at the old man. 'Timofay!' he said at
last; Timofay started.
'What do you desire?'
'Have you a spade?'
'I can get one.... But what do you want with a spade, Mihailo
'I want to dig myself a grave, Timofay, and to lie here for time
everlasting between my father and mother. There's only this spot left
me in the world. Get a spade!'
'Yes, sir,' said Timofay; he went and got it. And Misha began at
once digging in the ground, while Timofay stood by, his chin propped in
his hand, repeating: 'It's all that's left for you and me, master!'
Misha dug and dug, from time to time observing: 'Life's not worth
living, is it, Timofay?'
'It's not indeed, master.'
The hole was already of a good depth. People saw what Misha was
about, and ran to tell the new owner about it. The money-lender was at
first very angry, wanted to send for the police: 'This is sacrilege,'
said he. But afterwards, probably reflecting that it was inconvenient
anyway to have to do with such a madman, and that it might lead to a
scandal,—he went in his own person to the churchyard, and approaching
Misha, still toiling, made him a polite bow. He went on with his
digging as though he had not noticed his successor. 'Mihail Andreitch,'
began the money-lender, 'allow me to ask what you are doing here?'
'You can see—I am digging myself a grave.'
'Why are you doing so?'
'Because I don't want to live any longer.'
The money-lender fairly threw up his hands in amazement. 'You don't
want to live?'
Misha glanced menacingly at the money-lender. 'That surprises you?
Aren't you the cause of it all? ... You? ... You? ... Wasn't it you,
Judas, who robbed me, taking advantage of my childishness? Aren't you
flaying the peasants' skins off their backs? Haven't you taken from
this poor old man his crust of dry bread? Wasn't it you? ... O God!
everywhere nothing but injustice, and oppression, and evil-doing....
Everything must go to ruin then, and me too! I don't care for life, I
don't care for life in Russia!' And the spade moved faster than ever in
'Here's a devil of a business!' thought the money-lender; 'he's
positively burying himself alive.' 'Mihail Andreevitch,' he began
again: 'listen. I've been behaving badly to you, indeed; they told me
falsely of you.'
Misha went on digging.
'But why be desperate?'
Misha still went on digging, and kept throwing the earth at the
money-lender's feet, as though to say, 'Here you are, land-grabber.'
'Really, you 're wrong in this. Won't you be pleased to come in to
have some lunch, and rest a bit?'
Misha raised his head. 'So that's it now! And anything to drink?'
The money-lender was delighted. 'Why, of course ... I should think
'You invite Timofay too?'
'Well, ... yes, him too.'
Misha pondered. 'Only, mind ... you made me a beggar, you know....
Don't think you can get off with one bottle!'
'Set your mind at rest ... there shall be all you can want.'
Misha got up and flung down the spade.... 'Well, Timosha,' said he
to his old nurse; 'let's do honour to our host.... Come along.'
'Yes, sir,' answered the old man.
And all three started off to the house together. The money-lender
knew the man he had to deal with. At the first start Misha, it is true,
exacted a promise from him to 'grant all sorts of immunities' to the
peasants; but an hour later, this same Misha, together with Timofay,
both drunk, were dancing a galop in the big apartments, which still
seemed pervaded by the God-fearing shade of Andrei Nikolaevitch; and an
hour later still, Misha in a dead sleep (he had a very weak head for
spirits), laid in a cart with his high cap and dagger, was being driven
off to the town, more than twenty miles away, and there was flung under
a hedge.... As for Timofay, who could still keep on his legs, and only
hiccupped—him, of course, they kicked out of the house; since they
couldn't get at the master, they had to be content with the old
Some time passed again, and I heard nothing of Misha.... God knows
what he was doing. But one day, as I sat over the samovar at a
posting-station on the T——highroad, waiting for horses, I suddenly
heard under the open window of the station room a hoarse voice,
uttering in French the words: 'Monsieur ... monsieur ... prenez pitie
d'un pauvre gentil-homme ruine.' ... I lifted my head, glanced.... The
mangy-looking fur cap, the broken ornaments on the ragged Circassian
dress, the dagger in the cracked sheath, the swollen, but still rosy
face, the dishevelled, but still thick crop of hair.... Mercy on us!
Misha! He had come then to begging alms on the high-roads. I could not
help crying out. He recognised me, started, turned away, and was about
to move away from the window. I stopped him ... but what could I say to
him? Give him a lecture? ... In silence I held out a five-rouble note;
he, also in silence, took it in his still white and plump, though
shaking and dirty hand, and vanished round the corner of the house.
It was a good while before they gave me horses, and I had time to
give myself up to gloomy reflections on my unexpected meeting with
Misha; I felt ashamed of having let him go so unsympathetically.
At last I set off on my way, and half a mile from the station I
observed ahead of me, in the road, a crowd of people moving along with
a curious, as it seemed rhythmic, step. I overtook this crowd—and what
did I see?
Some dozen or so beggars, with sacks over their shoulders, were
walking two by two, singing and leaping about, while in front of them
danced Misha, stamping time with his feet, and shouting,
'Natchiki-tchikaldy, tchuk, tchuk, tchuk! ... Natchiki-tchikaldy,
tchuk, tchuk, tchuk!' Directly my carriage caught them up, and he saw
me, he began at once shouting, 'Hurrah! Stand in position! right about
face, guard of the roadside!'
The beggars took up his shout, and halted; while he, with his
peculiar laugh, jumped on to the carriage step, and again yelled:
'What's the meaning of this?' I asked with involuntary astonishment.
'This? This is my company, my army—all beggars, God's people,
friends of my heart. Every one of them, thanks to you, has had a glass;
and now we are all rejoicing and making merry! ... Uncle! Do you know
it's only with beggars, God's people, that one can live in the world
... by God, it is!'
I made him no answer ... but at that moment he struck me as such a
kind good creature, his face expressed such childlike
simple-heartedness.... A light seemed suddenly as it were to dawn upon
me, and I felt a pang in my heart.... 'Get into the carriage,' I said
to him. He was taken aback....
'What? Into the carriage?'
'Yes, get in, get in,' I repeated; 'I want to make you a suggestion.
Sit down.... Come along with me.'
'Well, as you will.' He sat down. 'Well, and you, my honoured
friends, my dear comrades,' he added, addressing the beggars,
'fare-well, till we meet again.' Misha took off his high cap, and bowed
low. The beggars all seemed overawed.... I told the coachman to whip up
the horses, and the carriage rolled off.
The suggestion I wanted to make Misha was this: the idea suddenly
occurred to me to take him with me to my home in the country, about
five-and-twenty miles from that station, to rescue him, or at least to
make an effort to rescue him. 'Listen, Misha,' I said; 'will you come
along and live with me? ... You shall have everything provided you; you
shall have clothes and linen made you; you shall be properly fitted
out, and you shall have money to spend on tobacco, and so on, only on
one condition, that you give up drink.... Do you agree?'
Misha was positively aghast with delight; he opened his eyes wide,
flushed crimson, and suddenly falling on my shoulder, began kissing me,
and repeating in a broken voice, 'Uncle ... benefactor ... God reward
you.' ... He burst into tears at last, and taking off his cap fell to
wiping his eyes, his nose, his lips with it.
'Mind,' I observed; 'remember the condition, not to touch strong
'Damnation to it!' he cried, with a wave of both arms, and with this
impetuous movement, I was more than ever conscious of the strong smell
of spirits with which he seemed always saturated.... 'Uncle, if you
knew what my life has been.... If it hadn't been for sorrow, a cruel
fate.... But now I swear, I swear, I will mend my ways, I will show
you.... Uncle, I've never told a lie—you can ask whom you like.... I'm
honest, but I'm an unlucky fellow, uncle; I've known no kindness from
Here he broke down finally into sobs. I tried to soothe him, and
succeeded so far that when we reached home Misha had long been lost in
a heavy sleep, with his head on my knees.
He was at once assigned a room for himself, and at once, first
thing, taken to the bath, which was absolutely essential. All his
clothes, and his dagger and cap and torn boots, were carefully put away
in a loft; he was dressed in clean linen, slippers, and some clothes of
mine, which, as is always the way with poor relations, at once seemed
to adapt themselves to his size and figure. When he came to table,
washed, clean, and fresh, he seemed so touched and happy, he beamed all
over with such joyful gratitude, that I too felt moved and joyful....
His face was completely transformed.... Boys of twelve have faces like
that on Easter Sundays, after the communion, when, thickly pomaded, in
new jacket and starched collars, they come to exchange Easter greetings
with their parents. Misha was continually—with a sort of cautious
incredulity—feeling himself and repeating: 'What does it mean? ... Am
I in heaven?' The next day he announced that he had not slept all
night, he had been in such ecstasy.
I had living in my house at that time an old aunt with her niece;
both of them were extremely disturbed when they heard of Misha's
presence; they could not comprehend how I could have asked him into my
house! There were very ugly rumours about him. But in the first place,
I knew he was always very courteous with ladies; and, secondly, I
counted on his promises of amendment. And, in fact, for the first two
days of his stay under my roof Misha not merely justified my
expectations but surpassed them, while the ladies of the household were
simply enchanted with him. He played piquet with the old lady, helped
her to wind her worsted, showed her two new games of patience; for the
niece, who had a small voice, he played accompaniments on the piano,
and read Russian and French poetry. He told both the ladies lively but
discreet anecdotes; in fact, he showed them every attention, so that
they repeatedly expressed their surprise to me, and the old lady even
observed how unjust people sometimes were.... The things—the things
they had said of him ... and he such a quiet fellow, and so polite ...
poor Misha! It is true that at table 'poor Misha' licked his lips in a
rather peculiar, hurried way, if he simply glanced at the bottle. But I
had only to shake my finger at him, and he would turn his eyes upwards,
and lay his hand on his heart ... as if to say, I have sworn.... 'I am
regenerated now,' he assured me.... 'Well, God grant it be so,' was my
thought.... But this regeneration did not last long.
The first two days he was very talkative and cheerful. But even on
the third day he seemed somehow subdued, though he remained, as before,
with the ladies and tried to entertain them. A half mournful, half
dreamy expression flitted now and then over his face, and the face
itself was paler and looked thinner. 'Are you unwell?' I asked him.
'Yes,' he answered; 'my head aches a little.' On the fourth day he
was completely silent; for the most part he sat in a corner, hanging
his head disconsolately, and his dejected appearance worked upon the
compassionate sympathies of the two ladies, who now, in their turn,
tried to amuse him. At table he ate nothing, stared at his plate, and
rolled up pellets of bread. On the fifth day the feeling of compassion
in the ladies began to be replaced by other emotions—uneasiness and
even alarm. Misha was so strange, he held aloof from people, and kept
moving along close to the walls, as though trying to steal by
unnoticed, and suddenly looking round as though some one had called
him. And what had become of his rosy colour? It seemed covered over by
a layer of earth. 'Are you still unwell?' I asked him.
'No, I'm all right,' he answered abruptly.
'Are you dull?'
'Why should I be dull?' But he turned away and would not look me in
'Or is it that wretchedness come over you again?' To this he made no
reply. So passed another twenty-four hours.
Next day my aunt ran into my room in a state of great excitement,
declaring that she would leave the house with her niece, if Misha was
to remain in it.
'Why, we are dreadfully scared with him.... He's not a man, he's a
wolf,—nothing better than a wolf. He keeps moving and moving about,
and doesn't speak—and looks so wild.... He almost gnashes his teeth at
me. My Katia, you know, is so nervous.... She was so struck with him
the first day.... I'm in terror for her, and indeed for myself too.'
... I didn't know what to say to my aunt. I couldn't, anyway, turn
Misha out, after inviting him.
He relieved me himself from my difficult position. The same day,—I
was still sitting in my own room,—suddenly I heard behind me a husky
and angry voice: 'Nikolai Nikolaitch, Nikolai Nikolaitch!' I looked
round; Misha was standing in the doorway with a face that was fearful,
black-looking and distorted. 'Nikolai Nikolaitch!' he repeated ... (not
'What do you want?'
'Let me go ... at once!'
'Let me go, or I shall do mischief, I shall set the house on fire or
cut some one's throat.' Misha suddenly began trembling. 'Tell them to
give me back my clothes, and let a cart take me to the highroad, and
let me have some money, however little!'
'Are you displeased, then, at anything?'
'I can't live like this!' he shrieked at the top of his voice. 'I
can't live in your respectable, thrice-accursed house! It makes me
sick, and ashamed to live so quietly! ... How you manage to
'That is,' I interrupted in my turn, 'you mean—you can't live
'Well, yes! yes!' he shrieked again: 'only let me go to my brethren,
my friends, to the beggars! ... Away from your respectable, loathsome
I was about to remind him of his sworn promises, but Misha's
frenzied look, his breaking voice, the convulsive tremor in his
limbs,—it was all so awful, that I made haste to get rid of him; I
said that his clothes should be given him at once, and a cart got
ready; and taking a note for twenty-five roubles out of a drawer, I
laid it on the table. Misha had begun to advance in a menacing way
towards me,—but on this, suddenly he stopped, his face worked,
flushed, he struck himself on the breast, the tears rushed from his
eyes, and muttering, 'Uncle! angel! I know I'm a ruined man! thanks!
thanks!' he snatched up the note and ran away.
An hour later he was sitting in the cart dressed once more in his
Circassian costume, again rosy and cheerful; and when the horses
started, he yelled, tore off the peaked cap, and, waving it over his
head, made bow after bow. Just as he was going off, he had given me a
long and warm embrace, and whispered, 'Benefactor, benefactor ...
there's no saving me!' He even ran to the ladies and kissed their
hands, fell on his knees, called upon God, and begged their
forgiveness! Katia I found afterwards in tears.
The coachman, with whom Misha had set off, on coming home informed
me that he had driven him to the first tavern on the highroad—and that
there 'his honour had stuck,' had begun treating every one
indiscriminately—and had quickly sunk into unconsciousness. From that
day I never came across Misha again, but his ultimate fate I learned in
the following manner.
Three years later, I was again at home in the country; all of a
sudden a servant came in and announced that Madame Poltyev was asking
to see me. I knew no Madame Poltyev, and the servant, who made this
announcement, for some unknown reason smiled sarcastically. To my
glance of inquiry, he responded that the lady asking for me was young,
poorly dressed, and had come in a peasant's cart with one horse, which
she was driving herself! I told him to ask Madame Poltyev up to my
I saw a woman of five-and-twenty, in the dress of the small
tradesman class, with a large kerchief on her head. Her face was
simple, roundish, not without charm; she looked dejected and gloomy,
and was shy and awkward in her movements.
'You are Madame Poltyev?' I inquired, and I asked her to sit down.
'Yes,' she answered in a subdued voice, and she did not sit down. 'I
am the widow of your nephew, Mihail Andreevitch Poltyev.'
'Is Mihail Andreevitch dead? Has he been dead long? But sit down, I
She sank into a chair.
'It's two months.'
'And had you been married to him long?'
'I had been a year with him.'
'Where have you come from now?'
'From out Tula way.... There's a village there,
Znamenskoe-Glushkovo—perhaps you may know it. I am the daughter of the
deacon there. Mihail Andreitch and I lived there.... He lived in my
father's house. We were a whole year together.'
The young woman's lips twitched a little, and she put her hand up to
them. She seemed to be on the point of tears, but she controlled
herself, and cleared her throat.
'Mihail Andreitch,' she went on: 'before his death enjoined upon me
to go to you; “You must be sure to go,” said he! And he told me to
thank you for all your goodness, and to give you ... this ... see, this
little thing (she took a small packet out of her pocket) which he
always had about him.... And Mihail Andreitch said, if you would be
pleased to accept it in memory of him, if you would not disdain it....
“There's nothing else,” said he, “I can give him” ... that is, you....'
In the packet there was a little silver cup with the monogram of
Misha's mother. This cup I had often seen in Misha's hands, and once he
had even said to me, speaking of some poor fellow, that he really was
destitute, since he had neither cup nor bowl, 'while I, see, have this
I thanked her, took the cup, and asked:
'Of what complaint had Misha died? No doubt....'
Then I bit my tongue ... but the young woman understood my unuttered
hint.... She took a swift glance at me, then looked down again, smiled
mournfully, and said at once: 'Oh no! he had quite given that up, ever
since he got to know me ... But he had no health at all! ... It was
shattered quite. As soon as he gave up drink, he fell into ill health
directly. He became so steady; he always wanted to help father in his
land or in the garden, ... or any other work there might be ... in
spite of his being of noble birth. But how could he get the strength?
... At writing, too, he tried to work; as you know, he could do that
work capitally, but his hands shook, and he couldn't hold the pen
properly. ... He was always finding fault with himself; “I'm a
white-handed poor creature,” he would say; “I've never done any good to
anybody, never helped, never laboured!” He worried himself very much
about that.... He used to say that our people labour,—but what use are
we? ... Ah, Nikolai Nikolaitch, he was a good man—and he was fond of
me ... and I... Ah, pardon me....'
Here the young woman wept outright. I would have consoled her, but I
did not know how.
'Have you a child left you?' I asked at last.
She sighed. 'No, no child.... Is it likely?' And her tears flowed
faster than ever.
'And so that was how Misha's troubled wanderings had ended,' the old
man P. wound up his narrative. 'You will agree with me, I am sure, that
I'm right in calling him a desperate character; but you will most
likely agree too that he was not like the desperate characters of
to-day; still, a philosopher, you must admit, would find a family
likeness between him and them. In him and in them there's the thirst
for self-destruction, the wretchedness, the dissatisfaction.... And
what it all comes from, I leave the philosopher to decide.'
BOUGIVALLE, November 1881.
A STRANGE STORY
Fifteen years ago—began H.—official duties compelled me to spend a
few days in the principal town of the province of T——. I stopped at a
very fair hotel, which had been established six months before my
arrival by a Jewish tailor, who had grown rich. I am told that it did
not flourish long, which is often the case with us; but I found it
still in its full splendour: the new furniture emitted cracks like
pistol-shots at night; the bed-linen, table-cloths, and napkins smelt
of soap, and the painted floors reeked of olive oil, which, however, in
the opinion of the waiter, an exceedingly elegant but not very clean
individual, tended to prevent the spread of insects. This waiter, a
former valet of Prince G.'s, was conspicuous for his free-and-easy
manners and his self-assurance. He invariably wore a second-hand
frockcoat and slippers trodden down at heel, carried a table-napkin
under his arm, and had a multitude of pimples on his cheeks. With a
free sweeping movement of his moist hands he gave utterance to brief
but pregnant observations. He showed a patronising interest in me, as a
person capable of appreciating his culture and knowledge of the world;
but he regarded his own lot in life with a rather disillusioned eye.
'No doubt about it,' he said to me one day; 'ours is a poor sort of
position nowadays. May be sent flying any day!' His name was Ardalion.
I had to make a few visits to official persons in the town. Ardalion
procured me a coach and groom, both alike shabby and loose in the
joints; but the groom wore livery, the carriage was adorned with an
heraldic crest. After making all my official calls, I drove to see a
country gentleman, an old friend of my father's, who had been a long
time settled in the town.... I had not met him for twenty years; he had
had time to get married, to bring up a good-sized family, to be left a
widower and to make his fortune. His business was with government
monopolies, that is to say, he lent contractors for monopolies loans at
heavy interest.... 'There is always honour in risk,' they say, though
indeed the risk was small.
In the course of our conversation there came into the room with
hesitating steps, but as lightly as though on tiptoe, a young girl of
about seventeen, delicate-looking and thin. 'Here,' said my
acquaintance, 'is my eldest daughter Sophia; let me introduce you. She
takes my poor wife's place, looks after the house, and takes care of
her brothers and sisters.' I bowed a second time to the girl who had
come in (she meanwhile dropped into a chair without speaking), and
thought to myself that she did not look much like housekeeping or
looking after children. Her face was quite childish, round, with small,
pleasing, but immobile features; the blue eyes, under high, also
immobile and irregular eyebrows, had an intent, almost astonished look,
as though they had just observed something unexpected; the full little
mouth with the lifted upper lip, not only did not smile, but seemed as
though altogether innocent of such a practice; the rosy flush under the
tender skin stood in soft, diffused patches on the cheeks, and neither
paled nor deepened. The fluffy, fair hair hung in light clusters each
side of the little head. Her bosom breathed softly, and her arms were
pressed somehow awkwardly and severely against her narrow waist. Her
blue gown fell without folds—like a child's—to her little feet. The
general impression this girl made upon me was not one of morbidity, but
of something enigmatical. I saw before me not simply a shy, provincial
miss, but a creature of a special type—that I could not make out. This
type neither attracted nor repelled me; I did not fully understand it,
and only felt that I had never come across a nature more sincere. Pity
... yes! pity was the feeling that rose up within me at the sight of
this young, serious, keenly alert life—God knows why! 'Not of this
earth,' was my thought, though there was nothing exactly 'ideal' in the
expression of the face, and though Mademoiselle Sophie had obviously
come into the drawing-room in fulfilment of those duties of lady of the
house to which her father had referred.
He began to talk of life in the town of T——, of the social
amusements and advantages it offered. 'We're very quiet here,' he
observed; 'the governor's a melancholy fellow; the marshal of the
province is a bachelor. But there'll be a big ball in the Hall of the
Nobility the day after to-morrow. I advise you to go; there are some
pretty girls here. And you'll see all our intelligentsi too.'
My acquaintance, as a man of university education, was fond of using
learned expressions. He pronounced them with irony, but also with
respect. Besides, we all know that moneylending, together with
respectability, developes a certain thoughtfulness in men.
'Allow me to ask, will you be at the ball?' I said, turning to my
friend's daughter. I wanted to hear the sound of her voice.
'Papa intends to go,' she answered, 'and I with him.'
Her voice turned out to be soft and deliberate, and she articulated
every syllable fully, as though she were puzzled.
'In that case, allow me to ask you for the first quadrille.'
She bent her head in token of assent, and even then did not smile.
I soon withdrew, and I remember the expression in her eyes, fixed
steadily upon me, struck me as so strange that I involuntarily looked
over my shoulder to see whether there were not some one or some thing
she was looking at behind my back.
I returned to the hotel, and after dining on the never-varied
'soupe-julienne,' cutlets, and green peas, and grouse cooked to a dry,
black chip, I sat down on the sofa and gave myself up to reflection.
The subject of my meditations was Sophia, this enigmatical daughter of
my old acquaintance; but Ardalion, who was clearing the table,
explained my thoughtfulness in his own way; he set it down to boredom.
'There is very little in the way of entertainment for visitors in
our town,' he began with his usual easy condescension, while he went on
at the same time flapping the backs of the chairs with a dirty
dinner-napkin—a practice peculiar, as you're doubtless aware, to
servants of superior education. 'Very little!'
He paused, and the huge clock on the wall, with a lilac rose on its
white face, seemed in its monotonous, sleepy tick, to repeat his words:
'Ve-ry! ve-ry!' it ticked. 'No concerts, nor theatres,' pursued
Ardalion (he had travelled abroad with his master, and had all but
stayed in Paris; he knew much better than to mispronounce this last
word, as the peasants do)—'nor dances, for example; nor evening
receptions among the nobility and gentry—there is nothing of the kind
whatever.' (He paused a moment, probably to allow me to observe the
choiceness of his diction.) 'They positively visit each other but
seldom. Every one sits like a pigeon on its perch. And so it comes to
pass that visitors have simply nowhere to go.'
Ardalion stole a sidelong glance at me.
'But there is one thing,' he went on, speaking with a drawl, 'in
case you should feel that way inclined....'
He glanced at me a second time and positively leered, but I suppose
did not observe signs of the requisite inclination in me.
The polished waiter moved towards the door, pondered a moment, came
back, and after fidgeting about uneasily a little, bent down to my ear,
and with a playful smile said:
'Would you not like to behold the dead?'
I stared at him in perplexity.
'Yes,' he went on, speaking in a whisper; 'there is a man like that
here. He's a simple artisan, and can't even read and write, but he does
marvellous things. If you, for example, go to him and desire to see any
one of your departed friends, he will be sure to show him you.'
'How does he do it?'
'That's his secret. For though he's an uneducated man—to speak
bluntly, illiterate—he's very great in godliness! Greatly respected he
is among the merchant gentry!'
'And does every one in the town know about this?'
'Those who need to know; but, there, of course—there's danger from
the police to be guarded against. Because, say what you will, such
doings are forbidden anyway, and for the common people are a
temptation; the common people—the mob, we all know, quickly come to
'Has he shown you the dead?' I asked Ardalion.
Ardalion nodded. 'He has; my father he brought before me as if
I stared at Ardalion. He laughed and played with his dinner-napkin,
and condescendingly, but unflinchingly, looked at me.
'But this is very curious!' I cried at last. 'Couldn't I make the
acquaintance of this artisan?'
'You can't go straight to him; but one can act through his mother.
She's a respectable old woman; she sells pickled apples on the bridge.
If you wish it, I will ask her.'
Ardalion coughed behind his hand. 'And a gratuity, whatever you
think fit, nothing much, of course, should also be handed to her—the
old lady. And I on my side will make her understand that she has
nothing to fear from you, as you are a visitor here, a gentleman—and
of course you can understand that this is a secret, and will not in any
case get her into any unpleasantness.'
Ardalion took the tray in one hand, and with a graceful swing of the
tray and his own person, turned towards the door.
'So I may reckon upon you!' I shouted after him.
'You may trust me!' I heard his self-satisfied voice say: 'We'll
talk to the old woman and transmit you her answer exactly.'
* * * * *
I will not enlarge on the train of thought aroused in me by the
extraordinary fact Ardalion had related; but I am prepared to admit
that I awaited the promised reply with impatience. Late in the evening
Ardalion came to me and announced that to his annoyance he could not
find the old woman. I handed him, however, by way of encouragement, a
three-rouble note. The next morning he appeared again in my room with a
beaming countenance; the old woman had consented to see me.
'Hi! boy!' shouted Ardalion in the corridor; 'Hi! apprentice! Come
here!' A boy of six came up, grimed all over with soot like a kitten,
with a shaved head, perfectly bald in places, in a torn, striped smock,
and huge goloshes on his bare feet. 'You take the gentleman, you know
where,' said Ardalion, addressing the 'apprentice,' and pointing to me.
'And you, sir, when you arrive, ask for Mastridia Karpovna.'
The boy uttered a hoarse grunt, and we set off.
* * * * *
We walked rather a long while about the unpaved streets of the town
of T——; at last in one of them, almost the most deserted and desolate
of all, my guide stopped before an old two-story wooden house, and
wiping his nose all over his smock-sleeve, said: 'Here; go to the
right.' I passed through the porch into the outer passage, stumbled
towards my right, a low door creaked on rusty hinges, and I saw before
me a stout old woman in a brown jacket lined with hare-skin, with a
parti-coloured kerchief on her head.
'Mastridia Karpovna?' I inquired.
'The same, at your service,' the old woman replied in a piping
voice. 'Please walk in. Won't you take a chair?'
The room into which the old woman conducted me was so littered up
with every sort of rubbish, rags, pillows, feather-beds, sacks, that
one could hardly turn round in it. The sunlight barely struggled in
through two dusty little windows; in one corner, from behind a heap of
boxes piled on one another, there came a feeble whimpering and
wailing.... I could not tell from what; perhaps a sick baby, or perhaps
a puppy. I sat down on a chair, and the old woman stood up directly
facing me. Her face was yellow, half-transparent like wax; her lips
were so fallen in that they formed a single straight line in the midst
of a multitude of wrinkles; a tuft of white hair stuck out from below
the kerchief on her head, but the sunken grey eyes peered out alertly
and cleverly from under the bony overhanging brow; and the sharp nose
fairly stuck out like a spindle, fairly sniffed the air as if it would
say: I'm a smart one! 'Well, you're no fool!' was my thought. At the
same time she smelt of spirits.
I explained to her the object of my visit, of which, however, as I
observed, she must be aware. She listened to me, blinked her eyes
rapidly, and only lifted her nose till it stuck out still more sharply,
as though she were making ready to peck.
'To be sure, to be sure,' she said at last; 'Ardalion Matveitch did
say something, certainly; my son Vassinka's art you were wanting....
But we can't be sure, my dear sir....'
'Oh, why so?' I interposed. 'As far as I'm concerned, you may feel
perfectly easy.... I'm not an informer.'
'Oh, mercy on us,' the old woman caught me up hurriedly, 'what do
you mean? Could we dare to suppose such a thing of your honour! And on
what ground could one inform against us? Do you suppose it's some
sinful contrivance of ours? No, sir, my son's not the one to lend
himself to anything wicked ... or give way to any sort of
witchcraft.... God forbid indeed, holy Mother of Heaven! (The old woman
crossed herself three times.) He's the foremost in prayer and fasting
in the whole province; the foremost, your honour, he is! And that's
just it: great grace has been vouchsafed to him. Yes, indeed. It's not
the work of his hands. It's from on high, my dear; so it is.'
'So you agree?' I asked: 'when can I see your son?'
The old woman blinked again and shifted her rolled up handkerchief
from one sleeve to the other.
'Oh, well, sir—well, sir, I can't say.'
'Allow me, Mastridia Karpovna, to hand you this,' I interrupted, and
I gave her a ten-rouble note.
The old woman clutched it at once in her fat, crooked fingers, which
recalled the fleshy claws of an owl, quickly slipped it into her
sleeve, pondered a little, and as though she had suddenly reached a
decision, slapped her thighs with her open hand.
'Come here this evening a little after seven,' she said, not in her
previous voice, but in quite a different one, more solemn and subdued;
'only not to this room, but kindly go straight up to the floor above,
and you'll find a door to your left, and you open that door; and you'll
go, your honour, into an empty room, and in that room you'll see a
chair. Sit you down on that chair and wait; and whatever you see, don't
utter a word and don't do anything; and please don't speak to my son
either; for he's but young yet, and he suffers from fits. He's very
easily scared; he'll tremble and shake like any chicken ... a sad thing
I looked at Mastridia. 'You say he's young, but since he's your son
'In the spirit, sir, in the spirit. Many's the orphan I have under
my care!' she added, wagging her head in the direction of the corner,
from which came the plaintive whimper. 'O—O God Almighty, holy Mother
of God! And do you, your honour, before you come here, think well which
of your deceased relations or friends—the kingdom of Heaven to
them!—you're desirous of seeing. Go over your deceased friends, and
whichever you select, keep him in your mind, keep him all the while
till my son comes!'
'Why, mustn't I tell your son whom ...'
'Nay, nay, sir, not one word. He will find out what he needs in your
thoughts himself. You've only to keep your friend thoroughly in mind;
and at your dinner drink a drop of wine—just two or three glasses;
wine never comes amiss.' The old woman laughed, licked her lips, passed
her hand over her mouth, and sighed.
'So at half-past seven?' I queried, getting up from my chair.
'At half-past seven, your honour, at half-past seven,' Mastridia
Karpovna replied reassuringly.
* * * * *
I took leave of the old woman and went back to the hotel. I did not
doubt that they were going to make a fool of me, but in what way?—that
was what excited my curiosity. With Ardalion I did not exchange more
than two or three words. 'Did she see you?' he asked me, knitting his
brow, and on my affirmative reply, he exclaimed: 'The old woman's as
good as any statesman!' I set to work, in accordance with the
'statesman's' counsel, to run over my deceased friends.
After rather prolonged hesitation I fixed, at last, on an old man
who had long been dead, a Frenchman, once my tutor. I selected him not
because he had any special attraction for me; but his whole figure was
so original, so unlike any figure of to-day, that it would be utterly
impossible to imitate it. He had an enormous head, fluffy white hair
combed straight back, thick black eyebrows, a hawk nose, and two large
warts of a pinkish hue in the middle of the forehead; he used to wear a
green frockcoat with smooth brass buttons, a striped waistcoat with a
stand-up collar, a jabot and lace cuffs. 'If he shows me my old
Dessaire,' I thought, 'well, I shall have to admit that he's a
At dinner I followed the old dame's behest and drank a bottle of
Lafitte, of the first quality, so Ardalion averred, though it had a
very strong flavour of burnt cork, and a thick sediment at the bottom
of each glass.
* * * * *
Exactly at half-past seven I stood in front of the house where I had
conversed with the worthy Mastridia Karpovna. All the shutters of the
windows were closed, but the door was open. I went into the house,
mounted the shaky staircase to the first story, and opening a door on
the left, found myself, as the old woman had said, in a perfectly
empty, rather large room; a tallow candle set in the window-sill threw
a dim light over the room; against the wall opposite the door stood a
wicker-bottomed chair. I snuffed the candle, which had already burnt
down enough to form a long smouldering wick, sat down on the chair and
began to wait.
The first ten minutes passed rather quickly; in the room itself
there was absolutely nothing which could distract my attention, but I
listened intently to every rustle, looked intently at the closed
door.... My heart was throbbing. After the first ten minutes followed
another ten minutes, then half an hour, three-quarters of an hour, and
not a stir of any kind around! I coughed several times to make my
presence known; I began to feel bored and out of temper; to be made a
fool of in just that way had not entered into my calculations. I was on
the point of getting up from my seat, taking the candle from the
window, and going downstairs.... I looked at it; the wick again wanted
snuffing; but as I turned my eyes from the window to the door, I could
not help starting; with his back leaning against the door stood a man.
He had entered so quickly and noiselessly that I had heard nothing. He
wore a simple blue smock; he was of middle height and rather thick-set.
With his hands behind his back and his head bent, he was staring at me.
In the dim light of the candle I could not distinctly make out his
features. I saw nothing but a shaggy mane of matted hair falling on his
forehead, and thick, rather drawn lips and whitish eyes. I was nearly
speaking to him, but I recollected Mastridia's injunction, and bit my
lips. The man, who had come in, continued to gaze at me, and, strange
to say, at the same time I felt something like fear, and, as though at
the word of command, promptly started thinking of my old tutor. He
still stood at the door and breathed heavily, as though he had been
climbing a mountain or lifting a weight, while his eyes seemed to
expand, seemed to come closer to me—and I felt uncomfortable under
their obstinate, heavy, menacing stare; at times those eyes glowed with
a malignant inward fire, a fire such as I have seen in the eyes of a
pointer dog when it 'points' at a hare; and, like a pointer dog, he
kept his eyes intently following mine when I 'tried to double,'
that is, tried to turn my eyes away.
* * * * *
So passed I do not know how long—perhaps a minute, perhaps a
quarter of an hour. He still gazed at me; I still experienced a certain
discomfort and alarm and still thought of the Frenchman. Twice I tried
to say to myself, 'What nonsense! what a farce!' I tried to smile, to
shrug my shoulders.... It was no use! All initiative had all at once
'frozen up' within me—I can find no other word for it. I was overcome
by a sort of numbness. Suddenly I noticed that he had left the door,
and was standing a step or two nearer to me; then he gave a slight
bound, both feet together, and stood closer still.... Then again ...
and again; while the menacing eyes were simply fastened on my whole
face, and the hands remained behind, and the broad chest heaved
painfully. These leaps struck me as ridiculous, but I felt dread too,
and what I could not understand at all, a drowsiness began suddenly to
come upon me. My eyelids clung together ... the shaggy figure with the
whitish eyes in the blue smock seemed double before me, and suddenly
vanished altogether! ... I shook myself; he was again standing between
the door and me, but now much nearer.... Then he vanished again—a sort
of mist seemed to fall upon him; again he appeared ... vanished again
... appeared again, and always closer, closer ... his hard, almost
gasping breathing floated across to me now.... Again the mist fell, and
all of a sudden out of this mist the head of old Dessaire began to take
distinct shape, beginning with the white, brushed-back hair! Yes: there
were his warts, his black eyebrows, his hook nose! There too his green
coat with the brass buttons, the striped waistcoat and jabot.... I
shrieked, I got up.... The old man vanished, and in his place I saw
again the man in the blue smock. He moved staggering to the wall,
leaned his head and both arms against it, and heaving like an
over-loaded horse, in a husky voice said, 'Tea!' Mastridia
Karpovna—how she came there I can't say—flew to him and saying:
'Vassinka! Vassinka!' began anxiously wiping away the sweat, which
simply trickled from his face and hair. I was on the point of
approaching her, but she, so insistently, in such a heart-rending voice
cried: 'Your honour! merciful sir! have pity on us, go away, for
Christ's sake!' that I obeyed, while she turned again to her son.
'Bread-winner, darling,' she murmured soothingly: 'you shall have tea
directly, directly. And you too, sir, had better take a cup of tea at
home!' she shouted after me.
* * * * *
When I got home I obeyed Mastridia and ordered some tea; I felt
tired—even weak. 'Well?' Ardalion questioned me, 'have you been? did
you see something?'
'He did, certainly, show me something ... which, I'll own, I had not
anticipated,' I replied.
'He's a man of marvellous power,' observed Ardalion, carrying off
the samovar; 'he is held in high esteem among the merchant gentry.' As
I went to bed, and reflected on the incident that had occurred to me, I
fancied at last that I had reached some explanation of it. The man
doubtless possessed a considerable magnetic power; acting by some
means, which I did not understand of course, upon my nerves, he had
evoked within me so vividly, so definitely, the image of the old man of
whom I was thinking, that at last I fancied that I saw him before my
eyes.... Such 'metastases,' such transferences of sensation, are
recognised by science. It was all very well; but the force capable of
producing such effects still remained, something marvellous and
mysterious. 'Say what you will,' I thought, 'I've seen, seen with my
own eyes, my dead tutor!'
* * * * *
The next day the ball in the Hall of Nobility took place. Sophia's
father called on me and reminded me of the engagement I had made with
his daughter. At ten o'clock I was standing by her side in the middle
of a ballroom lighted up by a number of copper lamps, and was preparing
to execute the not very complicated steps of the French quadrille to
the resounding blare of the military band. Crowds of people were there;
the ladies were especially numerous and very pretty; but the first
place among them would certainly have been given to my partner, if it
had not been for the rather strange, even rather wild look in her eyes.
I noticed that she hardly ever blinked; the unmistakable expression of
sincerity in her eyes did not make up for what was extraordinary in
them. But she had a charming figure, and moved gracefully, though with
constraint. When she waltzed, and, throwing herself a little back, bent
her slender neck towards her right shoulder, as though she wanted to
get away from her partner, nothing more touchingly youthful and pure
could be imagined. She was all in white, with a turquoise cross on a
I asked her for a mazurka, and tried to talk to her. But her answers
were few and reluctant, though she listened attentively, with the same
expression of dreamy absorption which had struck me when I first met
her. Not the slightest trace of desire to please, at her age, with her
appearance, and the absence of a smile, and those eyes, continually
fixed directly upon the eyes of the person speaking to her, though they
seemed at the same time to see something else, to be absorbed with
something different.... What a strange creature! Not knowing, at last,
how to thaw her, I bethought me of telling her of my adventure of the
* * * * *
She heard me to the end with evident interest, but was not, as I had
expected, surprised at what I told her, and merely asked whether he was
not called Vassily. I recollected that the old woman had called him
'Vassinka.' 'Yes, his name is Vassily,' I answered; 'do you know him?'
'There is a saintly man living here called Vassily,' she observed;
'I wondered whether it was he.'
'Saintliness has nothing to do with this,' I remarked; 'it's simply
the action of magnetism—a fact of interest for doctors and students of
I proceeded to expound my views on the peculiar force called
magnetism, on the possibility of one man's will being brought under the
influence of another's will, and so on; but my explanations—which
were, it is true, somewhat confused—seemed to make no impression on
her. Sophie listened, dropping her clasped hands on her knees with a
fan lying motionless in them; she did not play with it, she did not
move her fingers at all, and I felt that all my words rebounded from
her as from a statue of stone. She heard them, but clearly she had her
own convictions, which nothing could shake or uproot.
'You can hardly admit miracles!' I cried.
'Of course I admit them,' she answered calmly. 'And how can one help
admitting them? Are not we told in the gospel that who has but a grain
of faith as big as a mustard seed, he can remove mountains? One need
only have faith—there will be miracles!'
'It seems there is very little faith nowadays,' I observed; 'anyway,
one doesn't hear of miracles.'
'But yet there are miracles; you have seen one yourself. No; faith
is not dead nowadays; and the beginning of faith ...'
'The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,' I interrupted.
'The beginning of faith,' pursued Sophie, nothing daunted, 'is
self-abasement ... humiliation.'
'Humiliation even?' I queried.
'Yes. The pride of man, haughtiness, presumption—that is what must
be utterly rooted up. You spoke of the will—that's what must be
I scanned the whole figure of the young girl who was uttering such
sentences.... 'My word, the child's in earnest, too,' was my thought. I
glanced at our neighbours in the mazurka; they, too, glanced at me, and
I fancied that my astonishment amused them; one of them even smiled at
me sympathetically, as though he would say: 'Well, what do you think of
our queer young lady? every one here knows what she's like.'
'Have you tried to break your will?' I said, turning to Sophie
'Every one is bound to do what he thinks right,' she answered in a
dogmatic tone. 'Let me ask you,' I began, after a brief silence, 'do
you believe in the possibility of calling up the dead?'
Sophie softly shook her head.
'There are no dead.'
'There are no dead souls; they are undying and can always appear,
when they like.... They are always about us.'
'What? Do you suppose, for instance, that an immortal soul may be at
this moment hovering about that garrison major with the red nose?'
'Why not? The sunlight falls on him and his nose, and is not the
sunlight, all light, from God? And what does external appearance
matter? To the pure all things are pure! Only to find a teacher, to
find a leader!'
'But excuse me, excuse me,' I put in, not, I must own, without
malicious intent. 'You want a leader ... but what is your priest for?'
Sophie looked coldly at me.
'You mean to laugh at me, I suppose. My priestly father tells me
what I ought to do; but what I want is a leader who would show me
himself in action how to sacrifice one's self!'
She raised her eyes towards the ceiling. With her childlike face,
and that expression of immobile absorption, of secret, continual
perplexity, she reminded me of the pre-raphaelite Madonnas....
'I have read somewhere,' she went on, not turning to me, and hardly
moving her lips, 'of a grand person who directed that he should be
buried under a church porch so that all the people who came in should
tread him under foot and trample on him.... That is what one ought to
do in life.'
Boom! boom! tra-ra-ra! thundered the drums from the band.... I must
own such a conversation at a ball struck me as eccentric in the
extreme; the ideas involuntarily kindled within me were of a nature
anything but religious. I took advantage of my partner's being invited
to one of the figures of the mazurka to avoid renewing our
A quarter of an hour later I conducted Mademoiselle Sophie to her
father, and two days after I left the town of T——, and the image of
the girl with the childlike face and the soul impenetrable as stone
slipped quickly out of my memory.
Two years passed, and it chanced that that image was recalled again
to me. It was like this: I was talking to a colleague who had just
returned from a tour in South Russia. He had spent some time in the
town of T——, and told me various items of news about the
neighbourhood. 'By the way!' he exclaimed, 'you knew V. G. B. very
well, I fancy, didn't you?'
'Of course I know him.'
'And his daughter Sophia, do you know her?'
'I've seen her twice.'
'Only fancy, she's run away!'
'Well, I don't know. Three months ago she disappeared, and nothing's
been heard of her. And the astonishing thing is no one can make out
whom she's run off with. Fancy, they've not the slightest idea, not the
smallest suspicion! She'd refused all the offers made her, and she was
most proper in her behaviour. Ah, these quiet, religious girls are the
ones! It's made an awful scandal all over the province! B.'s in
despair.... And whatever need had she to run away? Her father carried
out her wishes in everything. And what's so unaccountable, all the
Lovelaces of the province are there all right, not one's missing.'
'And they've not found her up till now?'
'I tell you she might as well be at the bottom of the sea! It's one
rich heiress less in the world, that's the worst of it.'
This piece of news greatly astonished me. It did not seem at all in
keeping with the recollection I had of Sophia B. But there! anything
* * * * *
In the autumn of the same year fate brought me—again on official
business—into the S——province, which is, as every one knows, next to
the province of T——. It was cold and rainy weather; the worn-out
posting-horses could scarcely drag my light trap through the black
slush of the highroad. One day, I remember, was particularly unlucky:
three times we got 'stuck' in the mud up to the axles of the wheels; my
driver was continually giving up one rut and with moans and grunts
trudging across to the other, and finding things no better with that.
In fact, towards evening I was so exhausted that on reaching the
posting-station I decided to spend the night at the inn. I was given a
room with a broken-down wooden sofa, a sloping floor, and torn paper on
the walls; there was a smell in it of kvas, bast-mats, onions, and even
turpentine, and swarms of flies were on everything; but at any rate I
could find shelter there from the weather, and the rain had set in, as
they say, for the whole day. I ordered a samovar to be brought, and,
sitting on the sofa, settled down to those cheerless wayside
reflections so familiar to travellers in Russia.
They were broken in upon by a heavy knocking that came from the
common room, from which my room was separated by a deal partition. This
sound was accompanied by an intermittent metallic jingle, like the
clank of chains, and a coarse male voice boomed out suddenly: 'The
blessing of God on all within this house. The blessing of God! the
blessing of God! Amen, amen! Scatter His enemies!' repeated the voice,
with a sort of incongruous and savage drawl on the last syllable of
each word.... A noisy sigh was heard, and a ponderous body sank on to
the bench with the same jingling sound. 'Akulina! servant of God, come
here!' the voice began again: 'Behold! Clothed in rags and blessed! ...
Ha-ha-ha! Tfoo! Merciful God, merciful God, merciful God!' the voice
droned like a deacon in the choir. 'Merciful God, Creator of my body,
behold my iniquity.... O-ho-ho! Ha-ha! ... Tfoo! And all abundance be
to this house in the seventh hour!'
'Who's that?' I asked the hospitable landlady, who came in with the
'That, your honour,' she answered me in a hurried whisper, 'is a
blessed, holy man. He's not long come into our parts; and here he's
graciously pleased to visit us. In such weather! The wet's simply
trickling from him, poor dear man, in streams! And you should see the
chains on him—such a lot!'
'The blessing of God! the blessing of God!' the voice was heard
again. 'Akulina! Hey, Akulina! Akulinushka—friend! where is our
paradise? Our fair paradise of bliss? In the wilderness is our
paradise, ... para-dise.... And to this house, from beginning of time,
great happiness, ... o ... o ... o ...' The voice muttered something
inarticulate, and again, after a protracted yawn, there came the hoarse
laugh. This laugh broke out every time, as it were, involuntarily, and
every time it was followed by vigorous spitting.
'Ah, me! Stepanitch isn't here! That's the worst of it!' the
landlady said, as it were to herself, as she stood with every sign of
the profoundest attention at the door. 'He will say some word of
salvation, and I, foolish woman, may not catch it!'
She went out quickly.
* * * * *
In the partition there was a chink; I applied my eye to it. The
crazy pilgrim was sitting on a bench with his back to me; I saw nothing
but his shaggy head, as huge as a beer-can, and a broad bent back in a
patched and soaking shirt. Before him, on the earth floor, knelt a
frail-looking woman in a jacket, such as are worn by women of the
artisan class—old and wet through—and with a dark kerchief pulled
down almost over her eyes. She was trying to pull the holy man's boots
off; her fingers slid off the greasy, slippery leather. The landlady
was standing near her, with her arms folded across her bosom, gazing
reverently at the 'man of God.' He was, as before, mumbling some
At last the woman succeeded in tugging off the boots. She almost
fell backwards, but recovered herself, and began unwinding the strips
of rag which were wrapped round the vagrant's legs. On the sole of his
foot there was a wound.... I turned away.
'A cup of tea wouldn't you bid me get you, my dear?' I heard the
hostess saying in an obsequious voice.
'What a notion!' responded the holy man. 'To indulge the sinful
body.... O-ho-ho! Break all the bones in it ... but she talks of tea!
Oh, oh, worthy old woman, Satan is strong within us.... Fight him with
hunger, fight him with cold, with the sluice-gates of heaven, the
pouring, penetrating rain, and he takes no harm—he is alive still!
Remember the day of the Intercession of the Mother of God! You will
receive, you will receive in abundance!'
The landlady could not resist uttering a faint groan of admiration.
'Only listen to me! Give all thou hast, give thy head, give thy
shirt! If they ask not of thee, yet give! For God is all-seeing! Is it
hard for Him to destroy your roof? He has given thee bread in His
mercy, and do thou bake it in the oven! He seeth all! Se ... e ... eth!
Whose eye is in the triangle? Say, whose?'
The landlady stealthily crossed herself under her neckerchief.
'The old enemy is adamant! A ... da ... mant! A ... da ... mant!'
the religious maniac repeated several times, gnashing his teeth. 'The
old serpent! But God will arise! Yes, God will arise and scatter His
enemies! I will call up all the dead! I will go against His enemy....
'Have you any oil?' said another voice, hardly audible; 'let me put
some on the wound.... I have got a clean rag.'
I peeped through the chink again; the woman in the jacket was still
busied with the vagrant's sore foot.... 'A Magdalen!' I thought.
'I'll get it directly, my dear,' said the woman, and, coming into my
room, she took a spoonful of oil from the lamp burning before the holy
'Who's that waiting on him?' I asked.
'We don't know, sir, who it is; she too, I suppose, is seeking
salvation, atoning for her sins. But what a saintly man he is!'
'Akulinushka, my sweet child, my dear daughter,' the crazy pilgrim
was repeating meanwhile, and he suddenly burst into tears.
The woman kneeling before him lifted her eyes to him.... Heavens!
where had I seen those eyes?
The landlady went up to her with the spoonful of oil. She finished
her operation, and, getting up from the floor, asked if there were a
clean loft and a little hay.... 'Vassily Nikititch likes to sleep on
hay,' she added.
'To be sure there is, come this way,' answered the woman; 'come this
way, my dear,' she turned to the holy man, 'and dry yourself and rest.'
The man coughed, slowly got up from the bench—his chains clanked
again—and turning round with his face to me, looked for the holy
pictures, and began crossing himself with a wide movement.
I recognised him instantly: it was the very artisan Vassily, who had
once shown me my dead tutor!
His features were little changed; only their expression had become
still more unusual, still more terrible.... The lower part of his
swollen face was overgrown with unkempt beard. Tattered, filthy,
wild-looking, he inspired in me more repugnance than horror. He left
off crossing himself, but still his eyes wandered senselessly about the
corners of the room, about the floor, as though he were waiting for
'Vassily Nikititch, please come,' said the woman in the jacket with
a bow. He suddenly threw up his head and turned round, but stumbled and
tottered.... His companion flew to him at once, and supported him under
the arm. Judging by her voice and figure, she seemed still young; her
face it was almost impossible to see.
'Akulinushka, friend!' the vagrant repeated once more in a shaking
voice, and opening his mouth wide, and smiting himself on the breast
with his fist, he uttered a deep groan, that seemed to come from the
bottom of his heart. Both followed the landlady out of the room.
I lay down on my hard sofa and mused a long while on what I had
seen. My mesmeriser had become a regular religious maniac. This was
what he had been brought to by the power which one could not but
recognise in him!
* * * * *
The next morning I was preparing to go on my way. The rain was
falling as fast as the day before, but I could not delay any longer. My
servant, as he gave me water to wash, wore a special smile on his face,
a smile of restrained irony. I knew that smile well; it indicated that
my servant had heard something discreditable or even shocking about
gentlefolks. He was obviously burning with impatience to communicate it
'Well, what is it?' I asked at last.
'Did your honour see the crazy pilgrim yesterday?' my man began at
'Yes; what then?'
'And did you see his companion too?'
'Yes, I saw her.'
'She's a young lady, of noble family.'
'It's the truth I'm telling you; some merchants arrived here this
morning from T——; they recognised her. They did tell me her name, but
I've forgotten it.'
It was like a flash of enlightenment. 'Is the pilgrim still here?' I
'I fancy he's not gone yet. He's been ever so long at the gate, and
making such a wonderful wise to-do, that there's no getting by. He's
amusing himself with this tomfoolery; he finds it pay, no doubt.'
My man belonged to the same class of educated servants as Ardalion.
'And is the lady with him?'
'Yes. She's in attendance on him.'
* * * * *
I went out on to the steps, and got a view of the crazy pilgrim. He
was sitting on a bench at the gate, and, bent down with both his open
hands pressed on it, he was shaking his drooping head from right to
left, for all the world like a wild beast in a cage. The thick mane of
curly hair covered his eyes, and shook from side to side, and so did
his pendulous lips.... A strange, almost unhuman muttering came from
them. His companion had only just finished washing from a pitcher that
was hanging on a pole, and without having yet replaced her kerchief on
her head, was making her way back to the gate along a narrow plank laid
across the dark puddles of the filthy yard. I glanced at her head,
which was now entirely uncovered, and positively threw up my hands with
astonishment: before me stood Sophie B.!
She turned quickly round and fixed upon me her blue eyes, immovable
as ever. She was much thinner, her skin looked coarser and had the
yellowish-ruddy tinge of sunburn, her nose was sharper, and her lips
were harder in their lines. But she was not less good-looking; only
besides her old expression of dreamy amazement there was now a
different look—resolute, almost bold, intense and exalted. There was
not a trace of childishness left in the face now.
I went up to her. 'Sophia Vladimirovna,' I cried, 'can it be you? In
such a dress ... in such company....'
She started, looked still more intently at me, as though anxious to
find out who was speaking to her, and, without saying a word to me,
fairly rushed to her companion.
'Akulinushka,' he faltered, with a heavy sigh, 'our sins, sins ...'
'Vassily Nikititch, let us go at once! Do you hear, at once, at
once,' she said, pulling her kerchief on to her forehead with one hand,
while with the other she supported the pilgrim under the elbow; 'let us
go, Vassily Nikititch: there is danger here.'
'I'm coming, my good girl, I'm coming,' the crazy pilgrim responded
obediently, and, bending his whole body forward, he got up from the
seat. 'Here's only this chain to fasten....'
I once more approached Sophia, and told her my name. I began
beseeching her to listen to me, to say one word to me. I pointed to the
rain, which was coming down in bucketsful. I begged her to have some
care for her health, the health of her companion. I mentioned her
father.... But she seemed possessed by a sort of wrathful, a sort of
vindictive excitement: without paying the slightest attention to me,
setting her teeth and breathing hard, she urged on the distracted
vagrant in an undertone, in soft insistent words, girt him up, fastened
on his chains, pulled on to his hair a child's cloth cap with a broken
peak, stuck his staff in his hand, slung a wallet on her own shoulder,
and went with him out at the gate into the street.... To stop her
actually I had not the right, and it would have been of no use; and at
my last despairing call she did not even turn round. Supporting the
'man of God' under his arm, she stepped rapidly over the black mud of
the street; and in a few moments, across the dim dusk of the foggy
morning, through the thick network of falling raindrops, I saw the last
glimpse of the two figures, the crazy pilgrim and Sophie.... They
turned the corner of a projecting hut, and vanished for ever.
* * * * *
I went back to my room. I fell to pondering. I could not understand
it; I could not understand how such a girl, well brought up, young, and
wealthy, could throw up everything and every one, her own home, her
family, her friends, break with all her habits, with all the comforts
of life, and for what? To follow a half-insane vagrant, to become his
servant! I could not for an instant entertain the idea that the
explanation of such a step was to be found in any prompting, however
depraved, of the heart, in love or passion.... One had but to glance at
the repulsive figure of the 'man of God' to dismiss such a notion
entirely! No, Sophie had remained pure; and to her all things were
pure; I could not understand what Sophie had done; but I did not blame
her, as, later on, I have not blamed other girls who too have
sacrificed everything for what they thought the truth, for what they
held to be their vocation. I could not help regretting that Sophie had
chosen just that path; but also I could not refuse her
admiration, respect even. In good earnest she had talked of
self-sacrifice, of abasement ... in her, words were not opposed
to acts. She had sought a leader, a guide, and had found him, ... and,
my God, what a guide!
Yes, she had lain down to be trampled, trodden under foot.... In the
process of time, a rumour reached me that her family had succeeded at
last in finding out the lost sheep, and bringing her home. But at home
she did not live long, and died, like a 'Sister of Silence,' without
having spoken a word to any one.
Peace to your heart, poor, enigmatic creature! Vassily Nikititch is
probably on his crazy wanderings still; the iron health of such people
is truly marvellous. Perhaps, though, his epilepsy may have done for
PUNIN AND BABURIN
PIOTR PETROVITCH'S STORY
... I am old and ill now, and my thoughts brood oftenest upon death,
every day coming nearer; rarely I think of the past, rarely I turn the
eyes of my soul behind me. Only from time to time—in winter, as I sit
motionless before the glowing fire, in summer, as I pace with slow
tread along the shady avenue—I recall past years, events, faces; but
it is not on my mature years nor on my youth that my thoughts rest at
such times. They either carry me back to my earliest childhood, or to
the first years of boyhood. Now, for instance, I see myself in the
country with my stern and wrathful grandmother—I was only twelve—and
two figures rise up before my imagination....
But I will begin my story consecutively, and in proper order.
The old footman Filippitch came in, on tiptoe, as usual, with a
cravat tied up in a rosette, with tightly compressed lips, 'lest his
breath should be smelt,' with a grey tuft of hair standing up in the
very middle of his forehead. He came in, bowed, and handed my
grandmother on an iron tray a large letter with an heraldic seal. My
grandmother put on her spectacles, read the letter through....
'Is he here?' she asked.
'What is my lady pleased ...' Filippitch began timidly.
'Imbecile! The man who brought the letter—is he here?'
'He is here, to be sure he is.... He is sitting in the
My grandmother rattled her amber rosary beads....
'Tell him to come to me.... And you, sir,' she turned to me, 'sit
As it was, I was sitting perfectly still in my corner, on the stool
assigned to me.
My grandmother kept me well in hand!
* * * * *
Five minutes later there came into the room a man of
five-and-thirty, black-haired and swarthy, with broad cheek-bones, a
face marked with smallpox, a hook nose, and thick eyebrows, from under
which the small grey eyes looked out with mournful composure. The
colour of the eyes and their expression were out of keeping with the
Oriental cast of the rest of the face. The man was dressed in a decent,
long-skirted coat. He stopped in the doorway, and bowed—only with his
'So your name's Baburin?' queried my grandmother, and she added to
herself: 'Il a l'air d'un armenien.'
'Yes, it is,' the man answered in a deep and even voice. At the
first brusque sound of my grandmother's voice his eyebrows faintly
quivered. Surely he had not expected her to address him as an equal?
'Are you a Russian? orthodox?'
My grandmother took off her spectacles, and scanned Baburin from
head to foot deliberately. He did not drop his eyes, he merely folded
his hands behind his back. What particularly struck my fancy was his
beard; it was very smoothly shaven, but such blue cheeks and chin I had
never seen in my life!
'Yakov Petrovitch,' began my grandmother, 'recommends you strongly
in his letter as sober and industrious; why, then, did you leave his
'He needs a different sort of person to manage his estate, madam.'
'A different ... sort? That I don't quite understand.'
My grandmother rattled her beads again. 'Yakov Petrovitch writes to
me that there are two peculiarities about you. What peculiarities?'
Baburin shrugged his shoulders slightly.
'I can't tell what he sees fit to call peculiarities. Possibly that
I ... don't allow corporal punishment.'
My grandmother was surprised. 'Do you mean to say Yakov Petrovitch
wanted to flog you?'
Baburin's swarthy face grew red to the roots of his hair.
'You have not understood me right, madam. I make it a rule not to
employ corporal punishment ... with the peasants.'
My grandmother was more surprised than ever; she positively threw up
'Ah!' she pronounced at last, and putting her head a little on one
side, once more she scrutinised Baburin attentively. 'So that's your
rule, is it? Well, that's of no consequence whatever to me; I don't
want an overseer, but a counting-house clerk, a secretary. What sort of
a hand do you write?'
'I write well, without mistakes in spelling.'
'That too is of no consequence to me. The great thing for me is for
it to be clear, and without any of those new copybook letters with
tails, that I don't like. And what's your other peculiarity?'
Baburin moved uneasily, coughed....
'Perhaps ... the gentleman has referred to the fact that I am not
'You are married?'
'Oh no ... but ...'
My grandmother knit her brows.
'There is a person living with me ... of the male sex ... a comrade,
a poor friend, from whom I have never parted ... for ... let me see ...
ten years now.'
'A relation of yours?'
'No, not a relation—a friend. As to work, there can be no possible
hindrance occasioned by him,' Baburin made haste to add, as though
foreseeing objections. 'He lives at my cost, occupies the same room
with me; he is more likely to be of use, as he is well
educated—speaking without flattery, extremely so, in fact—and his
morals are exemplary.'
My grandmother heard Baburin out, chewing her lips and half closing
'He lives at your expense?'
'You keep him out of charity?'
'As an act of justice ... as it's the duty of one poor man to help
another poor man.'
'Indeed! It's the first time I've heard that. I had supposed till
now that that was rather the duty of rich people.'
'For the rich, if I may venture to say so, it is an entertainment
... but for such as we ...'
'Well, well, that's enough, that's enough,' my grandmother cut him
short; and after a moment's thought she queried, speaking through her
nose, which was always a bad sign, 'And what age is he, your protege?'
'About my own age.'
'Really, I imagined that you were bringing him up.'
'Not so; he is my comrade—and besides ...'
'That's enough,' my grandmother cut him short a second time. 'You're
a philanthropist, it seems. Yakov Petrovitch is right; for a man in
your position it's something very peculiar. But now let's get to
business. I'll explain to you what your duties will be. And as regards
wages.... Que faites vous ici?' added my grandmother suddenly,
turning her dry, yellow face to me:—'Allez etudier votre devoir de
I jumped up, went up to kiss my grandmother's hand, and went
out,—not to study mythology, but simply into the garden.
* * * * *
The garden on my grandmother's estate was very old and large, and
was bounded on one side by a flowing pond, in which there were not only
plenty of carp and eels, but even loach were caught, those renowned
loach, that have nowadays disappeared almost everywhere. At the head of
this pond was a thick clump of willows; further and higher, on both
sides of a rising slope, were dense bushes of hazel, elder,
honeysuckle, and sloe-thorn, with an undergrowth of heather and clover
flowers. Here and there between the bushes were tiny clearings, covered
with emerald-green, silky, fine grass, in the midst of which squat
funguses peeped out with their comical, variegated pink, lilac, and
straw-coloured caps, and golden balls of 'hen-dazzle' blazed in light
patches. Here in spring-time the nightingales sang, the blackbirds
whistled, the cuckoos called; here in the heat of summer it was always
cool—and I loved to make my way into the wilderness and thicket, where
I had favourite secret spots, known—so, at least, I imagined—only to
On coming out of my grandmother's room I made straight for one of
these spots, which I had named 'Switzerland.' But what was my
astonishment when, before I had reached 'Switzerland,' I perceived
through the delicate network of half-dry twigs and green branches that
some one besides me had found it out! A long, long figure in a long,
loose coat of yellow frieze and a tall cap was standing in the very
spot I loved best of all! I stole up a little nearer, and made out the
face, which was utterly unknown to me, also very long and soft, with
small reddish eyes, and a very funny nose; drawn out as long as a pod
of peas, it positively over-hung the full lips; and these lips,
quivering and forming a round O, were giving vent to a shrill little
whistle, while the long fingers of the bony hands, placed facing one
another on the upper part of the chest, were rapidly moving with a
rotatory action. From time to time the motion of the hands subsided,
the lips ceased whistling and quivering, the head was bent forward as
though listening. I came still nearer, examined him still more
closely.... The stranger held in each hand a small flat cup, such as
people use to tease canaries and make them sing. A twig snapped under
my feet; the stranger started, turned his dim little eyes towards the
copse, and was staggering away ... but he stumbled against a tree,
uttered an exclamation, and stood still.
I came out into the open space. The stranger smiled.
'Good morning,' said I.
'Good morning, little master!'
I did not like his calling me little master. Such familiarity!
'What are you doing here?' I asked sternly.
'Why, look here,' he responded, never leaving off smiling, 'I'm
calling the little birds to sing.' He showed me his little cups. 'The
chaffinches answer splendidly! You, at your tender years, take delight,
no doubt, in the feathered songsters' notes! Listen, I beg; I will
begin chirping, and they'll answer me directly—it's so delightful!'
He began rubbing his little cups. A chaffinch actually did chirp in
response from a mountain ash near. The stranger laughed without a
sound, and winked at me.
The laugh and the wink—every gesture of the stranger, his weak,
lisping voice, his bent knees and thin hands, his very cap and long
frieze coat—everything about him suggested good-nature, something
innocent and droll.
'Have you been here long?' I asked.
'I came to-day.'
'Why, aren't you the person of whom ...'
'Mr. Baburin spoke to the lady here. The same, the same.'
'Your friend's name's Baburin, and what's yours?'
'I'm Punin. Punin's my name; Punin. He's Baburin and I'm Punin.' He
set the little cups humming again. 'Listen, listen to the chaffinch....
How it carols!'
This queer creature took my fancy 'awfully' all at once. Like almost
all boys, I was either timid or consequential with strangers, but I
felt with this man as if I had known him for ages.
'Come along with me,' I said to him; 'I know a place better than
this; there's a seat there; we can sit down, and we can see the dam
'By all means let us go,' my new friend responded in his singing
voice. I let him pass before me. As he walked he rolled from side to
side, tripped over his own feet, and his head fell back.
I noticed on the back of his coat, under the collar, there hung a
small tassel. 'What's that you've got hanging there?' I asked.
'Where?' he questioned, and he put his hand up to the collar to
feel. 'Ah, the tassel? Let it be! I suppose it was sewn there for
ornament! It's not in the way.'
I led him to the seat, and sat down; he settled himself beside me.
'It's lovely here!' he commented, and he drew a deep, deep sigh. 'Oh,
how lovely! You have a most splendid garden! Oh, o—oh!'
I looked at him from one side. 'What a queer cap you've got!' I
couldn't help exclaiming. 'Show it me here!'
'By all means, little master, by all means.' He took off the cap; I
was holding out my hand, but I raised my eyes, and—simply burst out
laughing. Punin was completely bald; not a single hair was to be seen
on the high conical skull, covered with smooth white skin. He passed
his open hand over it, and he too laughed. When he laughed he seemed,
as it were, to gulp, he opened his mouth wide, closed his eyes—and
vertical wrinkles flitted across his forehead in three rows, like
waves. 'Eh,' said he at last, 'isn't it quite like an egg?'
'Yes, yes, exactly like an egg!' I agreed with enthusiasm. 'And have
you been like that long?'
'Yes, a long while; but what hair I used to have!—A golden fleece
like that for which the Argonauts sailed over the watery deeps.'
Though I was only twelve, yet, thanks to my mythological studies, I
knew who the Argonauts were; I was the more surprised at hearing the
name on the lips of a man dressed almost in rags.
'You must have learned mythology, then?' I queried, as I twisted his
cap over and over in my hands. It turned out to be wadded, with a
mangy-looking fur trimming, and a broken cardboard peak.
'I have studied that subject, my dear little master; I've had time
enough for everything in my life! But now restore to me my covering, it
is a protection to the nakedness of my head.'
He put on the cap, and, with a downward slope of his whitish
eyebrows, asked me who I was, and who were my parents.
'I'm the grandson of the lady who owns this place,' I answered. 'I
live alone with her. Papa and mamma are dead.'
Punin crossed himself. 'May the kingdom of heaven be theirs! So
then, you're an orphan; and the heir, too. The noble blood in you is
visible at once; it fairly sparkles in your eyes, and plays like this
... sh ... sh ... sh ...' He represented with his fingers the play of
the blood. 'Well, and do you know, your noble honour, whether my friend
has come to terms with your grandmamma, whether he has obtained the
situation he was promised?'
'I don't know.'
Punin cleared his throat. 'Ah! if one could be settled here, if only
for a while! Or else one may wander and wander far, and find not a
place to rest one's head; the disquieting alarms of life are unceasing,
the soul is confounded....'
'Tell me,' I interrupted: 'are you of the clerical profession?'
Punin turned to me and half closed his eyelids. 'And what may be the
cause of that question, gentle youth?'
'Why, you talk so—well, as they read in church.'
'Because I use the old scriptural forms of expression? But that
ought not to surprise you. Admitting that in ordinary conversation such
forms of expression are not always in place; but when one soars on the
wings of inspiration, at once the language too grows more exalted.
Surely your teacher—the professor of Russian literature—you do have
lessons in that, I suppose?—surely he teaches you that, doesn't he?'
'No, he doesn't,' I responded. 'When we stay in the country I have
no teacher. In Moscow I have a great many teachers.'
'And will you be staying long in the country?'
'Two months, not longer; grandmother says that I'm spoilt in the
country, though I have a governess even here.'
'A French governess?'
Punin scratched behind his ear. 'A mamselle, that's to say?'
'Yes; she's called Mademoiselle Friquet.' I suddenly felt it
disgraceful for me, a boy of twelve, to have not a tutor, but a
governess, like a little girl! 'But I don't mind her,' I added
contemptuously. 'What do I care!'
Punin shook his head. 'Ah, you gentlefolk, you gentlefolk! you're
too fond of foreigners! You have turned away from what is
Russian,—towards all that's strange. You've turned your hearts to
those that come from foreign parts....'
'Hullo! Are you talking in verse?' I asked.
'Well, and why not? I can do that always, as much as you please; for
it comes natural to me....'
But at that very instant there sounded in the garden behind us a
loud and shrill whistle. My new acquaintance hurriedly got up from the
'Good-bye, little sir; that's my friend calling me, looking for
me.... What has he to tell me? Good-bye—excuse me....'
He plunged into the bushes and vanished, while I sat on some time
longer on the seat. I felt perplexity and another feeling, rather an
agreeable one ... I had never met nor spoken to any one like this
before. Gradually I fell to dreaming, but recollected my mythology and
sauntered towards the house.
* * * * *
At home, I learned that my grandmother had arranged to take Baburin;
he had been assigned a small room in the servants' quarters,
overlooking the stable-yard. He had at once settled in there with his
When I had drunk my tea, next morning, without asking leave of
Mademoiselle Friquet, I set off to the servants' quarters. I wanted to
have another chat with the queer fellow I had seen the day before.
Without knocking at the door—the very idea of doing so would never
have occurred to us—I walked straight into the room. I found in it not
the man I was looking for, not Punin, but his protector—the
philanthropist, Baburin. He was standing before the window, without his
outer garment, his legs wide apart. He was busily engaged in rubbing
his head and neck with a long towel.
'What do you want?' he observed, keeping his hands still raised, and
knitting his brows.
'Punin's not at home, then?' I queried in the most free-and-easy
manner, without taking off my cap.
'Mr. Punin, Nikander Vavilitch, at this moment, is not at home,
truly,' Baburin responded deliberately; 'but allow me to make an
observation, young man: it's not the proper thing to come into another
person's room like this, without asking leave.'
I! ... young man! ... how dared he! ... I grew crimson with fury.
'You cannot be aware who I am,' I rejoined, in a manner no longer
free-and-easy, but haughty. 'I am the grandson of the mistress here.'
'That's all the same to me,' retorted Baburin, setting to work with
his towel again. 'Though you are the seignorial grandson, you have no
right to come into other people's rooms.'
'Other people's? What do you mean? I'm—at home here—everywhere.'
'No, excuse me: here—I'm at home; since this room has been assigned
to me, by agreement, in exchange for my work.'
'Don't teach me, if you please,' I interrupted: 'I know better than
you what ...'
'You must be taught,' he interrupted in his turn, 'for you're at an
age when you ... I know my duties, but I know my rights too very well,
and if you continue to speak to me in that way, I shall have to ask you
to go out of the room....'
There is no knowing how our dispute would have ended if Punin had
not at that instant entered, shuffling and shambling from side to side.
He most likely guessed from the expression of our faces that some
unpleasantness had passed between us, and at once turned to me with the
warmest expressions of delight.
'Ah! little master! little master!' he cried, waving his hands
wildly, and going off into his noiseless laugh: 'the little dear! come
to pay me a visit! here he's come, the little dear!' (What's the
meaning of it? I thought: can he be speaking in this familiar way to
me?) 'There, come along, come with me into the garden. I've found
something there.... Why stay in this stuffiness here! let's go!'
I followed Punin, but in the doorway I thought it as well to turn
round and fling a glance of defiance at Baburin, as though to say, I'm
not afraid of you!
He responded in the same way, and positively snorted into the
towel—probably to make me thoroughly aware how utterly he despised me!
What an insolent fellow your friend is!' I said to Punin, directly
the door had closed behind me.
Almost with horror, Punin turned his plump face to me.
'To whom did you apply that expression?' he asked me, with round
'Why, to him, of course.... What's his name? that ... Baburin.'
'Why, yes; that ... blackfaced fellow.'
'Eh ... eh ... eh ...!' Punin protested, with caressing
reproachfulness. 'How can you talk like that, little master! Paramon
Semyonevitch is the most estimable man, of the strictest principles, an
extraordinary person! To be sure, he won't allow any disrespect to him,
because—he knows his own value. That man possesses a vast amount of
knowledge—and it's not a place like this he ought to be filling! You
must, my dear, behave very courteously to him; do you know, he's ...'
here Punin bent down quite to my ear,—'a republican!'
I stared at Punin. This I had not at all expected. From Keidanov's
manual and other historical works I had gathered the fact that at some
period or other, in ancient times, there had existed republicans,
Greeks and Romans. For some unknown reason I had always pictured them
all in helmets, with round shields on their arms, and big bare legs;
but that in real life, in the actual present, above all, in Russia, in
the province of X——, one could come across republicans—that upset
all my notions, and utterly confounded them!
'Yes, my dear, yes; Paramon Semyonitch is a republican,' repeated
Punin; 'there, so you'll know for the future how one should speak of a
man like that! But now let's go into the garden. Fancy what I've found
there! A cuckoo's egg in a redstart's nest! a lovely thing!'
I went into the garden with Punin; but mentally I kept repeating:
'republican! re ... pub ... lican!'
'So,' I decided at last—'that's why he has such a blue chin!'
* * * * *
My attitude to these two persons—Punin and Baburin—took definite
shape from that very day. Baburin aroused in me a feeling of hostility
with which there was, however, in a short time, mingled something akin
to respect. And wasn't I afraid of him! I never got over being afraid
of him even when the sharp severity of his manner with me at first had
quite disappeared. It is needless to say that of Punin I had no fear; I
did not even respect him; I looked upon him—not to put too fine a
point on it—as a buffoon; but I loved him with my whole soul! To spend
hours at a time in his company, to be alone with him, to listen to his
stories, became a genuine delight to me. My grandmother was anything
but pleased at this intimite with a person of the 'lower
classes'—du commun; but, whenever I could break away, I flew at
once to my queer, amusing, beloved friend. Our meetings became more
frequent after the departure of Mademoiselle Friquet, whom my
grandmother sent back to Moscow in disgrace because, in conversation
with a military staff captain, visiting in the neighbourhood, she had
had the insolence to complain of the dulness which reigned in our
household. And Punin, for his part, was not bored by long conversations
with a boy of twelve; he seemed to seek them of himself. How often have
I listened to his stories, sitting with him in the fragrant shade, on
the dry, smooth grass, under the canopy of the silver poplars, or among
the reeds above the pond, on the coarse, damp sand of the hollow bank,
from which the knotted roots protruded, queerly interlaced, like great
black veins, like snakes, like creatures emerging from some
subterranean region! Punin told me the whole story of his life in
minute detail, describing all his happy adventures, and all his
misfortunes, with which I always felt the sincerest sympathy! His
father had been a deacon;—'a splendid man—but, under the influence of
drink, stern to the last extreme.'
Punin himself had received his education in a seminary; but, unable
to stand the severe thrashings, and feeling no inclination for the
priestly calling, he had become a layman, and in consequence had
experienced all sorts of hardships; and, finally, had become a vagrant.
'And had I not met with my benefactor, Paramon Semyonitch,' Punin
commonly added (he never spoke of Baburin except in this way), 'I
should have sunk into the miry abysses of poverty and vice.' Punin was
fond of high-sounding expressions, and had a great propensity, if not
for lying, for romancing and exaggeration; he admired everything, fell
into ecstasies over everything.... And I, in imitation of him, began to
exaggerate and be ecstatic, too. 'What a crazy fellow you've grown! God
have mercy on you!' my old nurse used to say to me. Punin's narratives
used to interest me extremely; but even better than his stories I loved
the readings we used to have together.
It is impossible to describe the feeling I experienced when,
snatching a favourable moment, suddenly, like a hermit in a tale or a
good fairy, he appeared before me with a ponderous volume under his
arm, and stealthily beckoning with his long crooked finger, and winking
mysteriously, he pointed with his head, his eyebrows, his shoulders,
his whole person, toward the deepest recesses of the garden, whither no
one could penetrate after us, and where it was impossible to find us
out. And when we had succeeded in getting away unnoticed; when we had
satisfactorily reached one of our secret nooks, and were sitting side
by side, and, at last, the book was slowly opened, emitting a pungent
odour, inexpressibly sweet to me then, of mildew and age;—with what a
thrill, with what a wave of dumb expectancy, I gazed at the face, at
the lips of Punin, those lips from which in a moment a stream of such
delicious eloquence was to flow! At last the first sounds of the
reading were heard. Everything around me vanished ... no, not vanished,
but grew far away, passed into clouds of mist, leaving behind only an
impression of something friendly and protecting. Those trees, those
green leaves, those high grasses screen us, hide us from all the rest
of the world; no one knows where we are, what we are about—while with
us is poetry, we are saturated in it, intoxicated with it, something
solemn, grand, mysterious is happening to us.... Punin, by preference,
kept to poetry, musical, sonorous poetry; he was ready to lay down his
life for poetry. He did not read, he declaimed the verse majestically,
in a torrent of rhythm, in a rolling outpour through his nose, like a
man intoxicated, lifted out of himself, like the Pythian priestess. And
another habit he had: first he would lisp the verses through softly, in
a whisper, as it were mumbling them to himself.... This he used to call
the rough sketch of the reading; then he would thunder out the same
verse in its 'fair copy,' and would all at once leap up, throw up his
hand, with a half-supplicating, half-imperious gesture.... In this way
we went through not only Lomonosov, Sumarokov, and Kantemir (the older
the poems, the more they were to Punin's taste), but even Heraskov's
Rossiad. And, to tell the truth, it was this same Rossiad
which aroused my enthusiasm most. There is in it, among others, a
mighty Tatar woman, a gigantic heroine; I have forgotten even her name
now; but in those days my hands and feet turned cold as soon as it was
mentioned. 'Yes,' Punin would say, nodding his head with great
significance, 'Heraskov, he doesn't let one off easily. At times one
comes upon a line, simply heart-breaking.... One can only stick to it,
and do one's best.... One tries to master it, but he breaks away again
and trumpets, trumpets, with the crash of cymbals. His name's been well
bestowed on him—the very word, Herrraskov!' Lomonosov Punin found
fault with for too simple and free a style; while to Derzhavin he
maintained an attitude almost of hostility, saying that he was more of
a courtier than a poet. In our house it was not merely that no
attention was given to literature, to poetry; but poetry, especially
Russian poetry, was looked upon as something quite undignified and
vulgar; my grandmother did not even call it poetry, but 'doggrel
verses'; every author of such doggrel was, in her opinion, either a
confirmed toper or a perfect idiot. Brought up among such ideas, it was
inevitable that I should either turn from Punin with disgust—he was
untidy and shabby into the bargain, which was an offence to my
seignorial habits—or that, attracted and captivated by him, I should
follow his example, and be infected by his passion for poetry.... And
so it turned out. I, too, began reading poetry, or, as my grandmother
expressed it, poring over doggrel trash.... I even tried my hand at
versifying, and composed a poem, descriptive of a barrel-organ, in
which occurred the following two lines:
'Lo, the barrel turns around,
And the cogs within resound.'
Punin commended in this effort a certain imitative melody, but
disapproved of the subject itself as low and unworthy of lyrical
Alas! all those efforts and emotions and transports, our solitary
readings, our life together, our poetry, all came to an end at once.
Trouble broke upon us suddenly, like a clap of thunder.
* * * * *
My grandmother in everything liked cleanliness and order, quite in
the spirit of the active generals of those days; cleanliness and order
were to be maintained too in our garden. And so from time to time they
'drove' into it poor peasants, who had no families, no land, no beasts
of their own, and those among the house serfs who were out of favour or
superannuated, and set them to clearing the paths, weeding the borders,
breaking up and sifting the earth in the beds, and so on. Well, one
day, in the very heat of these operations, my grandmother went into the
garden, and took me with her. On all sides, among the trees and about
the lawns, we caught glimpses of white, red, and blue smocks; on all
sides we heard the scraping and clanging of spades, the dull thud of
clods of earth on the slanting sieves. As she passed by the labourers,
my grandmother with her eagle eye noticed at once that one of them was
working with less energy than the rest, and that he took off his cap,
too, with no show of eagerness. This was a youth, still quite young,
with a wasted face, and sunken, lustreless eyes. His cotton smock, all
torn and patched, scarcely held together over his narrow shoulders.
'Who's that?' my grandmother inquired of Filippitch, who was walking
on tiptoe behind her.
'Of whom ... you are pleased ...' Filippitch stammered.
'Oh, fool! I mean the one that looked so sullenly at me. There,
standing yonder, not working.'
'Oh, him! Yes ... th ... th ... that's Yermil, son of Pavel
Afanasiitch, now deceased.'
Pavel Afanasiitch had been, ten years before, head butler in my
grandmother's house, and stood particularly high in her favour. But
suddenly falling into disgrace, he was as suddenly degraded to being
herdsman, and did not long keep even that position. He sank lower
still, and struggled on for a while on a monthly pittance of flour in a
little hut far away. At last he had died of paralysis, leaving his
family in the most utter destitution.
'Aha!' commented my grandmother; 'it's clear the apple's not fallen
far from the tree. Well, we shall have to make arrangements about this
fellow too. I've no need of people like that, with scowling faces.'
My grandmother went back to the house—and made arrangements. Three
hours later Yermil, completely 'equipped,' was brought under the window
of her room. The unfortunate boy was being transported to a settlement;
the other side of the fence, a few steps from him, was a little cart
loaded with his poor belongings. Such were the times then. Yermil stood
without his cap, with downcast head, barefoot, with his boots tied up
with a string behind his back; his face, turned towards the seignorial
mansion, expressed not despair nor grief, nor even bewilderment; a
stupid smile was frozen on his colourless lips; his eyes, dry and
half-closed, looked stubbornly on the ground. My grandmother was
apprised of his presence. She got up from the sofa, went, with a faint
rustle of her silken skirts, to the window of the study, and, holding
her golden-rimmed double eyeglass on the bridge of her nose, looked at
the new exile. In her room there happened to be at the moment four
other persons, the butler, Baburin, the page who waited on my
grandmother in the daytime, and I.
My grandmother nodded her head up and down....
'Madam,' a hoarse almost stifled voice was heard suddenly. I looked
round. Baburin's face was red ... dark red; under his overhanging brows
could be seen little sharp points of light.... There was no doubt about
it; it was he, it was Baburin, who had uttered the word 'Madam.'
My grandmother too looked round, and turned her eyeglass from Yermil
'Who is that ... speaking?' she articulated slowly ... through her
nose. Baburin moved slightly forward.
'Madam,' he began, 'it is I.... I venture ... I imagine ... I make
bold to submit to your honour that you are making a mistake in acting
as ... as you are pleased to act at this moment.'
'That is?' my grandmother said, in the same voice, not removing her
'I take the liberty ...' Baburin went on distinctly, uttering every
word though with obvious effort—'I am referring to the case of this
lad who is being sent away to a settlement ... for no fault of his.
Such arrangements, I venture to submit, lead to dissatisfaction, and to
other—which God forbid!—consequences, and are nothing else than a
transgression of the powers allowed to seignorial proprietors.'
'And where have you studied, pray?' my grandmother asked after a
short silence, and she dropped her eyeglass.
Baburin was disconcerted. 'What are you pleased to wish?' he
'I ask you: where have you studied? You use such learned words.'
'I ... my education ...' Baburin was beginning.
My grandmother shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. 'It seems,'
she interrupted, 'that my arrangements are not to your liking. That is
of absolutely no consequence to me—among my subjects I am sovereign,
and answerable to no one for them, only I am not accustomed to having
people criticising me in my presence, and meddling in what is not their
business. I have no need of learned philanthropists of nondescript
position; I want servants to do my will without question. So I always
lived till you came, and so I shall live after you've gone. You do not
suit me; you are discharged. Nikolai Antonov,' my grandmother turned to
the steward, 'pay this man off; and let him be gone before dinner-time
to-day! D'you hear? Don't put me into a passion. And the other too ...
the fool that lives with him—to be sent off too. What's Yermilka
waiting for?' she added, looking out of window, 'I have seen him. What
more does he want?' My grandmother shook her handkerchief in the
direction of the window, as though to drive away an importunate fly.
Then she sat down in a low chair, and turning towards us, gave the
order grimly: 'Everybody present to leave the room!'
We all withdrew—all, except the day page, to whom my grandmother's
words did not apply, because he was nobody.
My grandmother's decree was carried out to the letter. Before
dinner, both Baburin and my friend Punin were driving away from the
place. I will not undertake to describe my grief, my genuine, truly
childish despair. It was so strong that it stifled even the feeling of
awe-stricken admiration inspired by the bold action of the republican
Baburin. After the conversation with my grandmother, he went at once to
his room and began packing up. He did not vouchsafe me one word, one
look, though I was the whole time hanging about him, or rather, in
reality, about Punin. The latter was utterly distraught, and he too
said nothing; but he was continually glancing at me, and tears stood in
his eyes ... always the same tears; they neither fell nor dried up. He
did not venture to criticise his 'benefactor'—Paramon Semyonitch could
not make a mistake,—but great was his distress and dejection. Punin
and I made an effort to read something out of the Rossiad for
the last time; we even locked ourselves up in the lumber-room—it was
useless to dream of going into the garden—but at the very first line
we both broke down, and I fairly bellowed like a calf, in spite of my
twelve years, and my claims to be grown-up.
When he had taken his seat in the carriage Baburin at last turned to
me, and with a slight softening of the accustomed sternness of his
face, observed: 'It's a lesson for you, young gentleman; remember this
incident, and when you grow up, try to put an end to such acts of
injustice. Your heart is good, your nature is not yet corrupted....
Mind, be careful; things can't go on like this!' Through my tears,
which streamed copiously over my nose, my lips, and my chin, I faltered
out that I would ... I would remember, that I promised ... I would do
... I would be sure ... quite sure ...
But at this point, Punin, whom I had before this embraced twenty
times (my cheeks were burning from the contact with his unshaven beard,
and I was odoriferous of the smell that always clung to him)—at this
point a sudden frenzy came over Punin. He jumped up on the seat of the
cart, flung both hands up in the air, and began in a voice of thunder
(where he got it from!) to declaim the well-known paraphrase of the
Psalm of David by Derzhavin,—a poet for this occasion—not a courtier.
'God the All-powerful doth arise
And judgeth in the congregation of the mighty! ...
How long, how long, saith the Lord,
Will ye have mercy on the wicked?
“Ye have to keep the laws....”'
'Sit down!' Baburin said to him.
Punin sat down, but continued:
'To save the guiltless and needy,
To give shelter to the afflicted,
To defend the weak from the oppressors.'
Punin at the word 'oppressors' pointed to the seignorial abode, and
then poked the driver in the back.
'To deliver the poor out of bondage!
They know not! neither will they understand! ...'
Nikolai Antonov running out of the seignorial abode, shouted at the
top of his voice to the coachman: 'Get away with you! owl! go along!
don't stay lingering here!' and the cart rolled away. Only in the
distance could still be heard:
'Arise, O Lord God of righteousness! ...
Come forth to judge the unjust—
And be Thou the only Ruler of the nations!'
'What a clown!' remarked Nikolai Antonov.
'He didn't get enough of the rod in his young days,' observed the
deacon, appearing on the steps. He had come to inquire what hour it
would please the mistress to fix for the night service.
The same day, learning that Yermil was still in the village, and
would not till early next morning be despatched to the town for the
execution of certain legal formalities, which were intended to check
the arbitrary proceedings of the landowners, but served only as a
source of additional revenue to the functionaries in superintendence of
them, I sought him out, and, for lack of money of my own, handed him a
bundle, in which I had tied up two pocket-handkerchiefs, a shabby pair
of slippers, a comb, an old night-gown, and a perfectly new silk
cravat. Yermil, whom I had to wake up—he was lying on a heap of straw
in the back yard, near the cart—Yermil took my present rather
indifferently, with some hesitation in fact, did not thank me, promptly
poked his head into the straw and fell asleep again. I went home
somewhat disappointed. I had imagined that he would be astonished and
overjoyed at my visit, would see in it a pledge of my magnanimous
intentions for the future—and instead of that ...
'You may say what you like—these people have no feeling,' was my
reflection on my homeward way.
My grandmother, who had for some reason left me in peace the whole
of that memorable day, looked at me suspiciously when I came after
supper to say good-night to her.
'Your eyes are red,' she observed to me in French; 'and there's a
smell of the peasant's hut about you. I am not going to enter into an
examination of what you've been feeling and doing—I should not like to
be obliged to punish you—but I hope you will get over all your
foolishness, and begin to conduct yourself once more in a manner
befitting a well-bred boy. However, we are soon going back to Moscow,
and I shall get you a tutor—as I see you need a man's hand to manage
you. You can go.'
We did, as a fact, go back soon after to Moscow.
Seven years had passed by. We were living as before at Moscow—but I
was by now a student in my second year—and the authority of my
grandmother, who had aged very perceptibly in the last years, no longer
weighed upon me. Of all my fellow-students the one with whom I was on
the friendliest terms was a light-hearted and good-natured youth called
Tarhov. Our habits and our tastes were similar. Tarhov was a great
lover of poetry, and himself wrote verses; while in me the seeds sown
by Punin had not been without fruit. As is often the case with young
people who are very close friends, we had no secrets from one another.
But behold, for several days together I noticed a certain excitement
and agitation in Tarhov.... He disappeared for hours at a time, and I
did not know where he had got to—a thing which had never happened
before. I was on the point of demanding, in the name of friendship, a
full explanation.... He anticipated me.
One day I was sitting in his room.... 'Petya,' he said suddenly,
blushing gaily, and looking me straight in the face, 'I must introduce
you to my muse.'
'Your muse! how queerly you talk! Like a classicist. (Romanticism
was at that time, in 1837, at its full height.) As if I had not known
it ever so long—your muse! Have you written a new poem, or what?'
'You don't understand what I mean,' rejoined Tarhov, still laughing
and blushing. 'I will introduce you to a living muse.'
'Aha! so that's it! But how is she—yours?'
'Why, because ... But hush, I believe it's she coming here.'
There was the light click of hurrying heels, the door opened, and in
the doorway appeared a girl of eighteen, in a chintz cotton gown, with
a black cloth cape on her shoulders, and a black straw hat on her fair,
rather curly hair. On seeing me she was frightened and disconcerted,
and was beating a retreat ... but Tarhov at once rushed to meet her.
'Please, please, Musa Pavlovna, come in! This is my great friend, a
splendid fellow—and the soul of discretion. You've no need to be
afraid of him. Petya,' he turned to me, 'let me introduce my Musa—Musa
Pavlovna Vinogradov, a great friend of mine.'
'How is that ... Musa?' I was beginning.... Tarhov laughed. 'Ah, you
didn't know there was such a name in the calendar? I didn't know it
either, my boy, till I met this dear young lady. Musa! such a charming
name! And suits her so well!'
I bowed again to my comrade's great friend. She left the door, took
two steps forward and stood still. She was very attractive, but I could
not agree with Tarhov's opinion, and inwardly said to myself: 'Well,
she's a strange sort of muse!'
The features of her curved, rosy face were small and delicate; there
was an air of fresh, buoyant youth about all her slender, miniature
figure; but of the muse, of the personification of the muse, I—and not
only I—all the young people of that time had a very different
conception! First of all the muse had infallibly to be dark-haired and
pale. An expression of scornful pride, a bitter smile, a glance of
inspiration, and that 'something'—mysterious, demonic, fateful—that
was essential to our conception of the muse, the muse of Byron, who at
that time held sovereign sway over men's fancies. There was nothing of
that kind to be discerned in the face of the girl who came in. Had I
been a little older and more experienced I should probably have paid
more attention to her eyes, which were small and deep-set, with full
lids, but dark as agate, alert and bright, a thing rare in fair-haired
people. Poetical tendencies I should not have detected in their rapid,
as it were elusive, glance, but hints of a passionate soul, passionate
to self-forgetfulness. But I was very young then.
I held out my hand to Musa Pavlovna—she did not give me hers—she
did not notice my movement; she sat down on the chair Tarhov placed for
her, but did not take off her hat and cape.
She was, obviously, ill at ease; my presence embarrassed her. She
drew deep breaths, at irregular intervals, as though she were gasping
'I've only come to you for one minute, Vladimir Nikolaitch,' she
began—her voice was very soft and deep; from her crimson, almost
childish lips, it seemed rather strange;—'but our madame would not let
me out for more than half an hour. You weren't well the day before
yesterday ... and so, I thought ...'
She stammered and hung her head. Under the shade of her thick, low
brows her dark eyes darted—to and fro—elusively. There are dark,
swift, flashing beetles that flit so in the heat of summer among the
blades of dry grass.
'How good you are, Musa, Musotchka!' cried Tarhov. 'But you must
stay, you must stay a little.... We'll have the samovar in directly.'
'Oh no, Vladimir Nikolaevitch! it's impossible! I must go away this
'You must rest a little, anyway. You're out of breath.... You're
'I'm not tired. It's ... not that ... only ... give me another book;
I've finished this one.' She took out of her pocket a tattered grey
volume of a Moscow edition.
'Of course, of course. Well, did you like it? Roslavlev,'
added Tarhov, addressing me.
'Yes. Only I think Yury Miloslavsky is much better. Our
madame is very strict about books. She says they hinder our working.
For, to her thinking ...'
'But, I say, Yury Miloslavsky's not equal to Pushkin's
Gipsies? Eh? Musa Pavlovna?' Tarhov broke in with a smile.
'No, indeed! The Gipsies ...' she murmured slowly. 'Oh yes,
another thing, Vladimir Nikolaitch; don't come to-morrow ... you know
The girl shrugged her shoulders, and all at once, as though she had
received a sudden shove, got up from her chair.
'Why, Musa, Musotchka,' Tarhov expostulated plaintively. 'Stay a
'No, no, I can't.' She went quickly to the door, took hold of the
'Well, at least, take the book!'
Tarhov rushed towards the girl, but at that instant she darted out
of the room. He almost knocked his nose against the door. 'What a girl!
She's a regular little viper!' he declared with some vexation, and then
sank into thought.
I stayed at Tarhov's. I wanted to find out what was the meaning of
it all. Tarhov was not disposed to be reserved. He told me that the
girl was a milliner; that he had seen her for the first time three
weeks before in a fashionable shop, where he had gone on a commission
for his sister, who lived in the provinces, to buy a hat; that he had
fallen in love with her at first sight, and that next day he had
succeeded in speaking to her in the street; that she had herself, it
seemed, taken rather a fancy to him.
'Only, please, don't you suppose,' he added with warmth,—'don't you
imagine any harm of her. So far, at any rate, there's been nothing of
that sort between us.
'Harm!' I caught him up; 'I've no doubt of that; and I've no doubt
either that you sincerely deplore the fact, my dear fellow! Have
patience—everything will come right'
'I hope so,' Tarhov muttered through his teeth, though with a laugh.
'But really, my boy, that girl ... I tell you—it's a new type, you
know. You hadn't time to get a good look at her. She's a shy
thing!—oo! such a shy thing! and what a will of her own! But that very
shyness is what I like in her. It's a sign of independence! I'm simply
over head and ears, my boy!'
Tarhov fell to talking of his 'charmer,' and even read me the
beginning of a poem entitled: 'My Muse.' His emotional outpourings were
not quite to my taste. I felt secretly jealous of him. I soon left him.
* * * * *
A few days after I happened to be passing through one of the arcades
of the Gostinny Dvor. It was Saturday; there were crowds of people
shopping; on all sides, in the midst of the pushing and crushing, the
shopmen kept shouting to people to buy. Having bought what I wanted, I
was thinking of nothing but getting away from their teasing importunity
as soon as possible—when all at once I halted involuntarily: in a
fruit shop I caught sight of my comrade's charmer—Musa, Musa Pavlovna!
She was standing, profile to me, and seemed to be waiting for
something. After a moment's hesitation I made up my mind to go up to
her and speak. But I had hardly passed through the doorway of the shop
and taken off my cap, when she tottered back dismayed, turned quickly
to an old man in a frieze cloak, for whom the shopman was weighing out
a pound of raisins, and clutched at his arm, as though fleeing to put
herself under his protection. The latter, in his turn, wheeled round
facing her—and, imagine my amazement, I recognised him as Punin!
Yes, it was he; there were his inflamed eyes, his full lips, his
soft, overhanging nose. He had, in fact, changed little during the last
seven years; his face was a little flabbier, perhaps.
'Nikander Vavilitch!' I cried. 'Don't you know me?' Punin started,
opened his mouth, stared at me....
'I haven't the honour,' he was beginning—and all at once he piped
out shrilly: 'The little master of Troitsky (my grandmother's property
was called Troitsky)! Can it be the little master of Troitsky?'
The pound of raisins tumbled out of his hands.
'It really is,' I answered, and, picking up Punin's purchase from
the ground, I kissed him.
He was breathless with delight and excitement; he almost cried,
removed his cap—which enabled me to satisfy myself that the last
traces of hair had vanished from his 'egg'—took a handkerchief out of
it, blew his nose, poked the cap into his bosom with the raisins, put
it on again, again dropped the raisins.... I don't know how Musa was
behaving all this time, I tried not to look at her. I don't imagine
Punin's agitation proceeded from any extreme attachment to my person;
it was simply that his nature could not stand the slightest unexpected
shock. The nervous excitability of these poor devils!
'Come and see us, my dear boy,' he faltered at last; 'you won't be
too proud to visit our humble nest? You're a student, I see ...'
'On the contrary, I shall be delighted, really.'
'Are you independent now?'
'That's capital! How pleased Paramon Semyonitch will be! To-day
he'll be home earlier than usual, and madame lets her, too, off for
Saturdays. But, stop, excuse me, I am quite forgetting myself. Of
course, you don't know our niece!'
I hastened to slip in that I had not yet had the pleasure.
'Of course, of course! How could you know her! Musotchka ... Take
note, my dear sir, this girl's name is Musa—and it's not a nickname,
but her real name ... Isn't that a predestination? Musotchka, I want to
introduce you to Mr. ... Mr. ...'
'B.,' I prompted.
'B.,' he repeated. 'Musotchka, listen! You see before you the most
excellent, most delightful of young men. Fate threw us together when he
was still in years of boyhood! I beg you to look on him as a friend!'
I swung off a low bow. Musa, red as a poppy, flashed a look on me
from under her eyelids, and dropped them immediately.
'Ah!' thought I, 'you 're one of those who in difficult moments
don't turn pale, but red; that must be made a note of.'
'You must be indulgent, she's not a fine lady,' observed Punin, and
he went out of the shop into the street; Musa and I followed him.
* * * * *
The house in which Punin lodged was a considerable distance from the
Gostinny Dvor, being, in fact, in Sadovoy Street. On the way my former
preceptor in poetry had time to communicate a good many details of his
mode of existence. Since the time of our parting, both he and Baburin
had been tossed about holy Russia pretty thoroughly, and had not
long—only a year and a half before—found a permanent home in Moscow.
Baburin had succeeded in becoming head-clerk in the office of a rich
merchant and manufacturer. 'Not a lucrative berth,' Punin observed with
a sigh,—'a lot of work, and not much profit ... but what's one to do?
One must be thankful to get that! I, too, am trying to earn something
by copying and lessons; only my efforts have so far not been crowned
with success. My writing, you perhaps recollect, is old-fashioned, not
in accordance with the tastes of the day; and as regards lessons—what
has been a great obstacle is the absence of befitting attire; moreover,
I greatly fear that in the matter of instruction—in the subject of
Russian literature—I am also not in harmony with the tastes of the
day; and so it comes about that I am turned away.' (Punin laughed his
sleepy, subdued laugh. He had retained his old, somewhat high-flown
manner of speech, and his old weakness for falling into rhyme.) 'All
run after novelties, nothing but innovations! I dare say you, too, do
not honour the old divinities, and fall down before new idols?'
'And you, Nikander Vavilitch, do you really still esteem Heraskov?'
Punin stood still and waved both hands at once. 'In the highest
degree, sir! in the high ... est de ... gree, I do!'
'And you don't read Pushkin? You don't like Pushkin?'
Punin again flung his hands up higher than his head.
'Pushkin? Pushkin is the snake, lying hid in the grass, who is
endowed with the note of the nightingale!'
While Punin and I talked like this, cautiously picking our way over
the unevenly laid brick pavement of so-called 'white-stoned' Moscow—in
which there is not one stone, and which is not white at all—Musa
walked silently beside us on the side further from me. In speaking of
her, I called her 'your niece.' Punin was silent for a little,
scratched his head, and informed me in an undertone that he had called
her so ... merely as a manner of speaking; that she was really no
relation; that she was an orphan picked up and cared for by Baburin in
the town of Voronezh; but that he, Punin, might well call her daughter,
as he loved her no less than a real daughter. I had no doubt that,
though Punin intentionally dropped his voice, Musa could hear all he
said very well; and she was at once angry, and shy, and embarrassed;
and the lights and shades chased each other over her face, and
everything in it was slightly quivering, the eyelids and brows and lips
and narrow nostrils. All this was very charming, and amusing, and
* * * * *
But at last we reached the 'modest nest.' And modest it certainly
was, the nest. It consisted of a small, one-storied house, that seemed
almost sunk into the ground, with a slanting wooden roof, and four
dingy windows in the front. The furniture of the rooms was of the
poorest, and not over tidy, indeed. Between the windows and on the
walls hung about a dozen tiny wooden cages containing larks, canaries,
and siskins. 'My subjects!' Punin pronounced triumphantly, pointing his
finger at them. We had hardly time to get in and look about us, Punin
had hardly sent Musa for the samovar, when Baburin himself came in. He
seemed to me to have aged much more than Punin, though his step was as
firm as ever, and the expression of his face altogether was unchanged;
but he had grown thin and bent, his cheeks were sunken, and his thick
black shock of hair was sprinkled with grey. He did not recognise me,
and showed no particular pleasure when Punin mentioned my name; he did
not even smile with his eyes, he barely nodded; he asked—very
carelessly and drily—whether my granny were living—and that
was all. 'I'm not over-delighted at a visit from a nobleman,' he seemed
to say; 'I don't feel flattered by it.' The republican was a republican
Musa came back; a decrepit little old woman followed her, bringing
in a tarnished samovar. Punin began fussing about, and pressing me to
take things; Baburin sat down to the table, leaned his head on his
hands, and looked with weary eyes about him. At tea, however, he began
to talk. He was dissatisfied with his position. 'A screw—not a man,'
so he spoke of his employer; 'people in a subordinate position are so
much dirt to him, of no consequence whatever; and yet it's not so long
since he was under the yoke himself. Nothing but cruelty and
covetousness. It's a bondage worse than the government's! And all the
trade here rests on swindling and flourishes on nothing else!'
Hearing such dispiriting utterances, Punin sighed expressively,
assented, shook his head up and down, and from side to side; Musa
maintained a stubborn silence.... She was obviously fretted by the
doubt, what I was, whether I was a discreet person or a gossip. And if
I were discreet, whether it was not with some afterthought in my mind.
Her dark, swift, restless eyes fairly flashed to and fro under their
half-drooping lids. Only once she glanced at me, but so inquisitively,
so searchingly, almost viciously ... I positively started. Baburin
scarcely talked to her at all; but whenever he did address her, there
was a note of austere, hardly fatherly, tenderness in his voice.
Punin, on the contrary, was continually joking with Musa; she
responded unwillingly, however. He called her little snow-maiden,
'Why do you give Musa Pavlovna such names?' I asked.
Punin laughed. 'Because she's such a chilly little thing.'
'Sensible,' put in Baburin: 'as befits a young girl.'
'We may call her the mistress of the house,' cried Punin. 'Hey?
Paramon Semyonitch?' Baburin frowned; Musa turned away ... I did not
understand the hint at the time.
So passed two hours ... in no very lively fashion, though Punin did
his best to 'entertain the honourable company.' For instance, he
squatted down in front of the cage of one of the canaries, opened the
door, and commanded: 'On the cupola! Begin the concert!' The canary
fluttered out at once, perched on the cupola, that is to say, on
Punin's bald pate, and turning from side to side, and shaking its
little wings, carolled with all its might. During the whole time the
concert lasted, Punin kept perfectly still, only conducting with his
finger, and half closing his eyes. I could not help roaring with
laughter ... but neither Baburin nor Musa laughed.
Just as I was leaving, Baburin surprised me by an unexpected
question. He wished to ask me, as a man studying at the university,
what sort of person Zeno was, and what were my ideas about him.
'What Zeno?' I asked, somewhat puzzled.
'Zeno, the sage of antiquity. Surely he cannot be unknown to you?'
I vaguely recalled the name of Zeno, as the founder of the school of
Stoics; but I knew absolutely nothing more about him.
'Yes, he was a philosopher,' I pronounced, at last.
'Zeno,' Baburin resumed in deliberate tones, 'was that wise man, who
declared that suffering was not an evil, since fortitude overcomes all
things, and that the good in this world is one: justice; and virtue
itself is nothing else than justice.'
Punin turned a reverent ear.
'A man living here who has picked up a lot of old books, told me
that saying,' continued Baburin; 'it pleased me much. But I see you are
not interested in such subjects.'
Baburin was right. In such subjects I certainly was not interested.
Since I had entered the university, I had become as much of a
republican as Baburin himself. Of Mirabeau, of Robespierre, I would
have talked with zest. Robespierre, indeed ... why, I had hanging over
my writing-table the lithographed portraits of Fouquier-Tinville and
Chalier! But Zeno! Why drag in Zeno?
As he said good-bye to me, Punin insisted very warmly on my visiting
them next day, Sunday; Baburin did not invite me at all, and even
remarked between his teeth, that talking to plain people of nondescript
position could not give me any great pleasure, and would most likely be
disagreeable to my granny. At that word I interrupted him,
however, and gave him to understand that my grandmother had no longer
any authority over me.
'Why, you've not come into possession of the property, have you?'
'No, I haven't,' I answered.
'Well, then, it follows ...' Baburin did not finish his sentence;
but I mentally finished it for him: 'it follows that I'm a boy.'
'Good-bye,' I said aloud, and I retired.
I was just going out of the courtyard into the street ... Musa
suddenly ran out of the house, and slipping a piece of crumpled paper
into my hand, disappeared at once. At the first lamp-post I unfolded
the paper. It turned out to be a note. With difficulty I deciphered the
pale pencil-marks. 'For God's sake,' Musa had written, 'come to-morrow
after matins to the Alexandrovsky garden near the Kutafia tower I shall
wait for you don't refuse me don't make me miserable I simply must see
you.' There were no mistakes in spelling in this note, but neither was
there any punctuation. I returned home in perplexity.
* * * * *
When, a quarter of an hour before the appointed time, next day, I
began to get near the Kutafia tower (it was early in April, the buds
were swelling, the grass was growing greener, and the sparrows were
noisily chirrupping and quarrelling in the bare lilac bushes),
considerably to my surprise, I caught sight of Musa a little to one
side, not far from the fence. She was there before me. I was going
towards her; but she herself came to meet me.
'Let's go to the Kreml wall,' she whispered in a hurried voice,
running her downcast eyes over the ground; 'there are people here.'
We went along the path up the hill.
'Musa Pavlovna,' I was beginning.... But she cut me short at once.
'Please,' she began, speaking in the same jerky and subdued voice,
'don't criticise me, don't think any harm of me. I wrote a letter to
you, I made an appointment to meet you, because ... I was afraid.... It
seemed to me yesterday,—you seemed to be laughing all the time.
Listen,' she added, with sudden energy, and she stopped short and
turned towards me: 'listen; if you tell with whom ... if you mention at
whose room you met me, I'll throw myself in the water, I'll drown
myself, I'll make an end of myself!'
At this point, for the first time, she glanced at me with the
inquisitive, piercing look I had seen before.
'Why, she, perhaps, really ... would do it,' was my thought.
'Really, Musa Pavlovna,' I protested, hurriedly: 'how can you have
such a bad opinion of me? Do you suppose I am capable of betraying my
friend and injuring you? Besides, come to that, there's nothing in your
relations, as far as I'm aware, deserving of censure.... For goodness'
sake, be calm.'
Musa heard me out, without stirring from the spot, or looking at me
'There's something else I ought to tell you,' she began, moving
forward again along the path, 'or else you may think I'm quite mad! I
ought to tell you, that old man wants to marry me!'
'What old man? The bald one? Punin?'
'No—not he! The other ... Paramon Semyonitch.'
'Is it possible? Has he made you an offer?'
'But you didn't consent, of course?'
'Yes, I did consent ... because I didn't understand what I was about
then. Now it's a different matter.'
I flung up my hands. 'Baburin—and you! Why, he must be fifty!'
'He says forty-three. But that makes no difference. If he were
five—and—twenty I wouldn't marry him. Much happiness I should find in
it! A whole week will go by without his smiling once! Paramon
Semyonitch is my benefactor, I am deeply indebted to him; he took care
of me, educated me; I should have been utterly lost but for him; I'm
bound to look on him as a father.... But be his wife! I'd rather die!
I'd rather be in my coffin!'
'Why do you keep talking about death, Musa Pavlovna?'
Musa stopped again.
'Why, is life so sweet, then? Even your friend Vladimir Nikolaitch,
I may say, I've come to love from being wretched and dull: and then
Paramon Semyonitch with his offers of marriage.... Punin, though he
bores me with his verses, he doesn't scare me, anyway; he doesn't make
me read Karamzin in the evenings, when my head's ready to drop off my
shoulders for weariness! And what are these old men to me? They call me
cold, too. With them, is it likely I should be warm? If they try to
make me—I shall go. Paramon Semyonitch himself's always saying:
Freedom! freedom! All right, I want freedom too. Or else it comes to
this! Freedom for every one else, and keeping me in a cage! I'll tell
him so myself. But if you betray me, or drop a hint—remember; they'll
never set eyes on me again!'
Musa stood in the middle of the path.
'They'll never set eyes on me again!' she repeated sharply. This
time, too, she did not raise her eyes to me; she seemed to be aware
that she would infallibly betray herself, would show what was in her
heart, if any one looked her straight in the face.... And that was just
why she did not lift her eyes, except when she was angry or annoyed,
and then she stared straight at the person she was speaking to.... But
her small pretty face was aglow with indomitable resolution.
'Why, Tarhov was right,' flashed through my head; 'this girl is a
'You've no need to be afraid of me,' I declared, at last.
'Truly? Even, if ... You said something about our relations.... But
even if there were ...' she broke off.
'Even in that case, you would have no need to be afraid, Musa
Pavlovna. I am not your judge. Your secret is buried here.' I pointed
to my bosom. 'Believe me, I know how to appreciate ...'
'Have you got my letter?' Musa asked suddenly.
'In my pocket.'
'Give it here ... quick, quick!'
I got out the scrap of paper. Musa snatched it in her rough little
hand, stood still a moment facing me, as though she were going to thank
me; but suddenly started, looked round, and without even a word at
parting, ran quickly down the hill.
I looked in the direction she had taken. At no great distance from
the tower I discerned, wrapped in an 'Almaviva' ('Almavivas' were then
in the height of fashion), a figure which I recognised at once as
'Aha, my boy,' thought I, 'you must have had notice, then, since
you're on the look-out.'
And whistling to myself, I started homewards.
* * * * *
Next morning I had only just drunk my morning tea, when Punin made
his appearance. He came into my room with rather an embarrassed face,
and began making bows, looking about him, and apologising for his
intrusion, as he called it. I made haste to reassure him. I, sinful
man, imagined that Punin had come with the intention of borrowing
money. But he confined himself to asking for a glass of tea with rum in
it, as, luckily, the samovar had not been cleared away. 'It's with some
trepidation and sinking of heart that I have come to see you,' he said,
as he nibbled a lump of sugar. 'You I do not fear; but I stand in awe
of your honoured grandmother! I am abashed too by my attire, as I have
already communicated to you.' Punin passed his finger along the frayed
edge of his ancient coat. 'At home it's no matter, and in the street,
too, it's no harm; but when one finds one's self in gilded palaces,
one's poverty stares one in the face, and one feels confused!' I
occupied two small rooms on the ground floor, and certainly it would
never have entered any one's head to call them palaces, still less
gilded; but Punin apparently was referring to the whole of my
grandmother's house, though that too was by no means conspicuously
sumptuous. He reproached me for not having been to see them the
previous day; 'Paramon Semyonitch,' said he, 'expected you, though he
did declare that you would be sure not to come. And Musotchka, too,
'What? Musa Pavlovna too?' I queried.
'She too. She's a charming girl we have got with us, isn't she? What
do you say?'
'Very charming,' I assented. Punin rubbed his bare head with
'She's a beauty, sir, a pearl or even a diamond—it's the truth I am
telling you.' He bent down quite to my ear. 'Noble blood, too,' he
whispered to me, 'only—you understand—left-handed; the forbidden
fruit was eaten. Well, the parents died, the relations would do nothing
for her, and flung her to the hazards of destiny, that's to say,
despair, dying of hunger! But at that point Paramon Semyonitch steps
forward, known as a deliverer from of old! He took her, clothed her and
cared for her, brought up the poor nestling; and she has blossomed into
our darling! I tell you, a man of the rarest qualities!'
Punin subsided against the back of the armchair, lifted his hands,
and again bending forward, began whispering again, but still more
mysteriously: 'You see Paramon Semyonitch himself too.... Didn't you
know? he too is of exalted extraction—and on the left side, too. They
do say—his father was a powerful Georgian prince, of the line of King
David.... What do you make of that? A few words—but how much is said?
The blood of King David! What do you think of that? And according to
other accounts, the founder of the family of Paramon Semyonitch was an
Indian Shah, Babur. Blue blood! That's fine too, isn't it? Eh?'
'Well?' I queried, 'and was he too, Baburin, flung to the hazards of
Punin rubbed his pate again. 'To be sure he was! And with even
greater cruelty than our little lady! From his earliest childhood
nothing but struggling! And, in fact, I will confess that, inspired by
Ruban, I composed in allusion to this fact a stanza for the portrait of
Paramon Semyonitch. Wait a bit ... how was it? Yes!
'E'en from the cradle fate's remorseless blows
Baburin drove towards the abyss of woes!
But as in darkness gleams the light, so now
The conqueror's laurel wreathes his noble brow!'
Punin delivered these lines in a rhythmic, sing-song voice, with
full rounded vowels, as verses should be read.
'So that's how it is he's a republican!' I exclaimed.
'No, that's not why,' Punin answered simply. 'He forgave his father
long ago; but he cannot endure injustice of any sort; it's the sorrows
of others that trouble him!'
I wanted to turn the conversation on what I had learned from Musa
the day before, that is to say, on Baburin's matrimonial project,—but
I did not know how to proceed. Punin himself got me out of the
'Did you notice nothing?' he asked me suddenly, slily screwing up
his eyes, 'while you were with us? nothing special?'
'Why, was there anything to notice?' I asked in my turn.
Punin looked over his shoulder, as though anxious to satisfy himself
that no one was listening. 'Our little beauty, Musotchka, is shortly to
be a married lady!'
'Madame Baburin,' Punin announced with an effort, and slapping his
knees several times with his open hands, he nodded his head, like a
'Impossible!' I cried, with assumed astonishment. Punin's head
slowly came to rest, and his hands dropped down. 'Why impossible, allow
me to ask?'
'Because Paramon Semyonitch is more fit to be your young lady's
father; because such a difference in age excludes all likelihood of
love—on the girl's side.'
'Excludes?' Punin repeated excitedly. 'But what about gratitude? and
pure affection? and tenderness of feeling? Excludes! You must consider
this: admitting that Musa's a splendid girl; but then to gain Paramon
Semyonitch's affection, to be his comfort, his prop—his spouse, in
short! is that not the loftiest possible happiness even for such a
girl? And she realises it! You should look, turn an attentive eye! In
Paramon Semyonitch's presence Musotchka is all veneration, all tremor
'That's just what's wrong, Nikander Vavilitch, that she is, as you
say, all tremor. If you love any one you don't feel tremors in their
'But with that I can't agree! Here am I, for instance; no one, I
suppose, could love Paramon Semyonitch more than I, but I ... tremble
'Oh, you—that's a different matter.'
'How is it a different matter? how? how?' interrupted Punin. I
simply did not know him; he got hot, and serious, almost angry, and
quite dropped his rhythmic sing-song in speaking. 'No,' he declared; 'I
notice that you have not a good eye for character! No; you can't read
people's hearts!' I gave up contradicting him ... and to give another
turn to the conversation, proposed, for the sake of old times, that we
should read something together.
Punin was silent for a while.
'One of the old poets? The real ones?' he asked at last.
'No; a new one.'
'A new one?' Punin repeated mistrustfully.
'Pushkin,' I answered. I suddenly thought of the Gypsies
which Tarhov had mentioned not long before. There, by the way, is the
ballad about the old husband. Punin grumbled a little, but I sat him
down on the sofa, so that he could listen more comfortably, and began
to read Pushkin's poem. The passage came at last, 'old husband, cruel
husband'; Punin heard the ballad through to the end, and all at once he
got up impulsively.
'I can't,' he pronounced, with an intense emotion, which impressed
even me;—'excuse me; I cannot hear more of that author. He is an
immoral slanderer; he is a liar ... he upsets me. I cannot! Permit me
to cut short my visit to-day.'
I began trying to persuade Punin to remain; but he insisted on
having his own way with a sort of stupid, scared obstinacy: he repeated
several times that he felt upset, and wished to get a breath of fresh
air—and all the while his lips were faintly quivering and his eyes
avoided mine, as though I had wounded him. So he went away. A little
while after, I too went out of the house and set off to see Tarhov.
* * * * *
Without inquiring of any one, with a student's usual lack of
ceremony, I walked straight into his lodgings. In the first room there
was no one. I called Tarhov by name, and receiving no answer, was just
going to retreat; but the door of the adjoining room opened, and my
friend appeared. He looked at me rather queerly, and shook hands
without speaking. I had come to him to repeat all I had heard from
Punin; and though I felt at once that I had called on Tarhov at the
wrong moment, still, after talking a little about extraneous matters, I
ended by informing him of Baburin's intentions in regard to Musa. This
piece of news did not, apparently, surprise him much; he quietly sat
down at the table, and fixing his eyes intently upon me, and keeping
silent as before, gave to his features an expression ... an expression,
as though he would say: 'Well, what more have you to tell? Come, out
with your ideas!' I looked more attentively into his face.... It struck
me as eager, a little ironical, a little arrogant even. But that did
not hinder me from bringing out my ideas. On the contrary. 'You're
showing off,' was my thought; 'so I am not going to spare you!' And
there and then I proceeded straightway to enlarge upon the mischief of
yielding to impulsive feelings, upon the duty of every man to respect
the freedom and personal life of another man—in short, I proceeded to
enunciate useful and appropriate counsel. Holding forth in this manner,
I walked up and down the room, to be more at ease. Tarhov did not
interrupt me, and did not stir from his seat; he only played with his
fingers on his chin.
'I know,' said I ... (Exactly what was my motive in speaking so, I
have no clear idea myself—envy, most likely; it was not devotion to
morality, anyway!) 'I know,' said I, 'that it's no easy matter, no
joking matter; I am sure you love Musa, and that Musa loves you—that
it is not a passing fancy on your part.... But, see, let us suppose!
(Here I folded my arms on my breast.) ... Let us suppose you gratify
your passion—what is to follow? You won't marry her, you know. And at
the same time you are wrecking the happiness of an excellent, honest
man, her benefactor—and—who knows? (here my face expressed at the
same time penetration and sorrow)—possibly her own happiness too....'
And so on, and so on!
For about a quarter of an hour my discourse flowed on. Tarhov was
still silent. I began to be disconcerted by this silence. I glanced at
him from time to time, not so much to satisfy myself as to the
impression my words were making on him, as to find out why he neither
objected nor agreed, but sat like a deaf mute. At last I fancied that
there was ... yes, there certainly was a change in his face. It began
to show signs of uneasiness, agitation, painful agitation.... Yet,
strange to say, the eager, bright, laughing something, which had struck
me at my first glance at Tarhov, still did not leave that agitated,
that troubled face! I could not make up my mind whether or no to
congratulate myself on the success of my sermon, when Tarhov suddenly
got up, and pressing both my hands, said, speaking very quickly, 'Thank
you, thank you. You're right, of course, ... though, on the other side,
one might observe ... What is your Baburin you make so much of, after
all? An honest fool—and nothing more! You call him a republican—and
he's simply a fool! Oo! That's what he is! All his republicanism simply
means that he can never get on anywhere!'
'Ah! so that's your idea! A fool! can never get on!—but let me tell
you,' I pursued, with sudden heat, 'let me tell you, my dear Vladimir
Nikolaitch, that in these days to get on nowhere is a sign of a fine, a
noble nature! None but worthless people—bad people—get on anywhere
and accommodate themselves to everything. You say Baburin is an honest
fool! Why, is it better, then, to your mind, to be dishonest and
'You distort my words!' cried Tarhov. 'I only wanted to explain how
I understand that person. Do you think he's such a rare specimen? Not a
bit of it! I've met other people like him in my time. A man sits with
an air of importance, silent, obstinate, angular.... O-ho-ho! say you.
It shows that there's a great deal in him! But there's nothing in him,
not one idea in his head—nothing but a sense of his own dignity.'
'Even if there is nothing else, that's an honourable thing,' I broke
in. 'But let me ask where you have managed to study him like this? You
don't know him, do you? Or are you describing him ... from what Musa
Tarhov shrugged his shoulders. 'Musa and I ... have other things to
talk of. I tell you what,' he added, his whole body quivering with
impatience,—'I tell you what: if Baburin has such a noble and honest
nature, how is it he doesn't see that Musa is not a fit match for him?
It's one of two things: either he knows that what he's doing to her is
something of the nature of an outrage, all in the name of gratitude ...
and if so, what about his honesty?—or he doesn't realise it ... and in
that case, what can one call him but a fool?'
I was about to reply, but Tarhov again clutched my hands, and again
began talking in a hurried voice. 'Though ... of course ... I confess
you are right, a thousand times right.... You are a true friend ... but
now leave me alone, please.'
I was puzzled. 'Leave you alone?'
'Yes. I must, don't you see, think over all you've just said,
thoroughly.... I have no doubt you are right ... but now leave me
'You 're in such a state of excitement ...' I was beginning.
'Excitement? I?' Tarhov laughed, but instantly pulled himself up.
'Yes, of course I am. How could I help being? You say yourself it's no
joking matter. Yes; I must think about it ... alone.' He was still
squeezing my hands. 'Good-bye, my dear fellow, good-bye!'
'Good-bye,' I repeated. 'Good-bye, old boy!' As I was going away I
flung a last glance at Tarhov. He seemed pleased. At what? At the fact
that I, like a true friend and comrade, had pointed out the danger of
the way upon which he had set his foot—or that I was going? Ideas of
the most diverse kind were floating in my head the whole day till
evening—till the very instant when I entered the house occupied by
Punin and Baburin, for I went to see them the same day. I am bound to
confess that some of Tarhov's phrases had sunk deep into my soul ...
and were ringing in my ears.... In truth, was it possible Baburin ...
was it possible he did not see she was not a fit match for him?
But could this possibly be: Baburin, the self-sacrificing
Baburin—an honest fool!
* * * * *
Punin had said, when he came to see me, that I had been expected
there the day before. That may have been so, but on this day, it is
certain, no one expected me.... I found every one at home, and every
one was surprised at my visit. Baburin and Punin were both unwell:
Punin had a headache, and he was lying curled up on the sofa, with his
head tied up in a spotted handkerchief, and strips of cucumber applied
to his temples. Baburin was suffering from a bilious attack; all
yellow, almost dusky, with dark rings round his eyes, with scowling
brow and unshaven chin—he did not look much like a bridegroom! I tried
to go away.... But they would not let me go, and even made tea. I spent
anything but a cheerful evening. Musa, it is true, had no ailment, and
was less shy than usual too, but she was obviously vexed, angry.... At
last she could not restrain herself, and, as she handed me a cup of
tea, she whispered hurriedly: 'You can say what you like, you may try
your utmost, you won't make any difference.... So there!' I looked at
her in astonishment, and, seizing a favourable moment, asked her, also
in a whisper, 'What's the meaning of your words?' 'I'll tell you,' she
answered, and her black eyes, gleaming angrily under her frowning
brows, were fastened for an instant on my face, and turned away at
once: 'the meaning is that I heard all you said there to-day, and thank
you for nothing, and things won't be as you 'd have them, anyway.' 'You
were there,' broke from me unconsciously.... But at this point
Baburin's attention was caught, and he glanced in our direction. Musa
walked away from me.
Ten minutes later she managed to come near me again. She seemed to
enjoy saying bold and dangerous things to me, and saying them in the
presence of her protector, under his vigilant eye, only exercising
barely enough caution not to arouse his suspicions. It is well known
that walking on the brink, on the very edge, of the precipice is
woman's favourite pastime. 'Yes, I was there,' whispered Musa, without
any change of countenance, except that her nostrils were faintly
quivering and her lips twitching. 'Yes, and if Paramon Semyonitch asks
me what I am whispering about with you, I'd tell him this minute. What
do I care?'
'Be more careful,' I besought her. 'I really believe they are
'I tell you, I'm quite ready to tell them everything. And who's
noticing? One's stretching his neck off the pillow, like a sick duck,
and hears nothing; and the other's deep in philosophy. Don't you be
afraid!' Musa's voice rose a little, and her cheeks gradually flushed a
sort of malignant, dusky red; and this suited her marvellously, and
never had she been so pretty. As she cleared the table, and set the
cups and saucers in their places, she moved swiftly about the room;
there was something challenging about her light, free and easy
movement. 'You may criticise me as you like,' she seemed to say; 'but
I'm going my own way, and I'm not afraid of you.'
I cannot disguise the fact that I found Musa bewitching just that
evening. 'Yes,' I mused; 'she's a little spitfire—she's a new type....
She's—exquisite. Those hands know how to deal a blow, I dare say....
What of it! No matter!'
'Paramon Semyonitch,' she cried suddenly, 'isn't a republic an
empire in which every one does as he chooses?'
'A republic is not an empire,' answered Baburin, raising his head,
and contracting his brows; 'it is a ... form of society in which
everything rests on law and justice.'
'Then,' Musa pursued, 'in a republic no one can oppress any one
'And every one is free to dispose of himself?'
'Ah! that's all I wanted to know.'
'Why do you want to know?'
'Oh, I wanted to—I wanted you to tell me that.'
'Our young lady is anxious to learn,' Punin observed from the sofa.
When I went out into the passage Musa accompanied me, not, of
course, from politeness, but with the same malicious intent. I asked
her, as I took leave, 'Can you really love him so much?'
'Whether I love him, or whether I don't, that's my affair,'
she answered. 'What is to be, will be.'
'Mind what you're about; don't play with fire ... you'll get burnt.'
'Better be burnt than frozen. You ... with your good advice! And how
can you tell he won't marry me? How do you know I so particularly want
to get married? If I am ruined ... what business is it of yours?'
She slammed the door after me.
I remember that on the way home I reflected with some pleasure that
my friend Vladimir Tarhov might find things rather hot for him with his
new type.... He ought to have to pay something for his happiness!
That he would be happy, I was—regretfully—unable to doubt.
Three days passed by. I was sitting in my room at my writing-table,
and not so much working as getting myself ready for lunch.... I heard a
rustle, lifted my head, and I was stupefied. Before me—rigid,
terrible, white as chalk, stood an apparition ... Punin. His
half-closed eyes were looking at me, blinking slowly; they expressed a
senseless terror, the terror of a frightened hare, and his arms hung at
his sides like sticks.
'Nikander Vavilitch! what is the matter with you? How did you come
here? Did no one see you? What has happened? Do speak!'
'She has run away,' Punin articulated in a hoarse, hardly audible
'What do you say?'
'She has run away,' he repeated.
'Musa. She went away in the night, and left a note.'
'Yes. “I thank you,” she said, “but I am not coming back again.
Don't look for me.” We ran up and down; we questioned the cook; she
knew nothing. I can't speak loud; you must excuse me. I've lost my
'Musa Pavlovna has left you!' I exclaimed. 'Nonsense! Mr. Baburin
must be in despair. What does he intend to do now?'
'He has no intention of doing anything. I wanted to run to the
Governor-general: he forbade it. I wanted to give information to the
police; he forbade that too, and got very angry. He says, “She's free.”
He says, “I don't want to constrain her.” He has even gone to work, to
his office. But he looks more dead than alive. He loved her
terribly....Oh, oh, we both loved her!'
Here Punin for the first time showed that he was not a wooden image,
but a live man; he lifted both his fists in the air, and brought them
down on his pate, which shone like ivory.
'Ungrateful girl!' he groaned; 'who was it gave you food and drink,
clothed you, and brought you up? who cared for you, would have given
all his life, all his soul ... And you have forgotten it all? To cast
me off, truly, were no great matter, but Paramon Semyonitch, Paramon
I begged him to sit down, to rest.
Punin shook his head. 'No, I won't. I have come to you ... I don't
know what for. I'm like one distraught; to stay at home alone is
fearful; what am I to do with myself? I stand in the middle of the
room, shut my eyes, and call, “Musa! Musotchka!” That's the way to go
out of one's mind. But no, why am I talking nonsense? I know why I have
come to you. You know, the other day you read me that thrice-accursed
poem ... you remember, where there is talk of an old husband. What did
you do that for? Did you know something then ... or guessed something?'
Punin glanced at me. 'Piotr Petrovitch,' he cried suddenly, and he
began trembling all over, 'you know, perhaps, where she is. Kind
friend, tell me whom she has gone to!'
I was disconcerted, and could not help dropping my eyes....
'Perhaps she said something in her letter,' I began....
'She said she was leaving us because she loved some one else! Dear,
good friend, you know, surely, where she is? Save her, let us go to
her; we will persuade her. Only think what a man she's bringing to
Punin all at once flushed crimson, the blood seemed to rush to his
head, he plumped heavily down on his knees. 'Save us, friend, let us go
My servant appeared in the doorway, and stood still in amazement.
I had no little trouble to get Punin on to his feet again, to
convince him that, even if I did suspect something, still it would not
do to act like that, on the spur of the moment, especially both
together—that would only spoil all our efforts—that I was ready to do
my best, but would not answer for anything. Punin did not oppose me,
nor did he indeed hear me; he only repeated from time to time in his
broken voice, 'Save her, save her and Paramon Semyonitch.' At last he
began to cry. 'Tell me at least one thing,' he asked ... 'is he
'Yes, he is young,' I answered.
'He is young,' repeated Punin, smearing the tears over his cheeks;
'and she is young.... It's from that that all the trouble's sprung!'
This rhyme came by chance; poor Punin was in no mood for versifying.
I would have given a good deal to hear his rhapsodical eloquence again,
or even his almost noiseless laugh.... Alas! his eloquence was quenched
for ever, and I never heard his laugh again.
I promised to let him know, as soon as I should find out anything
positive.... Tarhov's name I did not, however, mention. Punin suddenly
collapsed completely. 'Very good, very good, sir, thank you,' he said
with a pitiful face, using the word 'sir,' which he had never done
before; 'only mind, sir, do not say anything to Paramon Semyonitch ...
or he'll be angry. In one word, he has forbidden it. Good-bye, sir.'
As he got up and turned his back to me, Punin struck me as such a
poor feeble creature, that I positively marvelled; he limped with both
legs, and doubled up at each step....
'It's a bad look-out. It's the end of him, that's what it means,' I
* * * * *
Though I had promised Punin to trace Musa, yet as I set off the same
day to Tarhov's, I had not the slightest expectation of learning
anything, as I considered it certain that either I should not find him
at home, or that he would refuse to see me. My supposition turned out
to be a mistaken one. I found Tarhov at home; he received me, and I
found out indeed all I wanted to know; but there was nothing gained by
that. Directly I crossed the threshold of his door, Tarhov came
resolutely, rapidly, to meet me, and his eyes sparkling and glowing,
his face grown handsomer and radiant, he said firmly and briskly:
'Listen, Petya, my boy; I guess what you've come for, and what you want
to talk about; but I give you warning, if you say a single word about
her, or about her action, or about what, according to you, is the
course dictated to me by common sense, we're friends no longer, we're
not even acquainted, and I shall beg you to treat me as a stranger.'
I looked at Tarhov; he was quivering all over inwardly, like a
tightly drawn harpstring; he was tingling all over, hardly could he
hold back the tide of brimming youth and passion; violent, ecstatic
happiness had burst into his soul, and had taken full possession of
him—and he of it.
* * * * *
'Is that your final decision?' I pronounced mournfully.
'Yes, Petya, my boy, it's final.'
'In that case, there's nothing for me but to say good-bye.'
Tarhov faintly dropped his eyelids.... He was too happy at that
'Good-bye, Petya, old boy,' he said, a little through his nose, with
a candid smile and a gay flash of all his white teeth.
What was I to do? I left him to his 'happiness.' As I slammed the
door after me, the other door of the room slammed also—I heard it.
* * * * *
It was with a heavy heart that I trudged off next day to see my
luckless acquaintances. I secretly hoped—such is human weakness—that
I should not find them at home, and again I was mistaken. Both were at
home. The change that had taken place in them during the last three
days must have struck any one. Punin looked ghastly white and flabby.
His talkativeness had completely vanished. He spoke listlessly, feebly,
still in the same husky voice, and looked somehow lost and bewildered.
Baburin, on the contrary, seemed shrunk into himself, and blacker than
ever; taciturn at the best of times, he uttered nothing now but a few
abrupt sounds; an expression of stony severity seemed to have frozen on
I felt it impossible to be silent; but what was there to say? I
confined myself to whispering to Punin, 'I have discovered nothing, and
my advice to you is to give up all hope.' Punin glanced at me with his
swollen, red little eyes—the only red left in his face—muttered
something inaudible, and hobbled away. Baburin most likely guessed what
I had been speaking about to Punin, and opening his lips, which were
tightly compressed, as though glued together, he pronounced, in a
deliberate voice, 'My dear sir, since your last visit to us, something
disagreeable has happened to us; our young friend, Musa Pavlovna
Vinogradov, finding it no longer convenient to live with us, has
decided to leave us, and has given us a written communication to that
effect. Not considering that we have any right to hinder her doing so,
we have left her to act according to her own views of what is best. We
trust that she may be happy,' he added, with some effort; 'and I humbly
beg you not to allude to the subject, as any such references are
useless, and even painful.'
'So he too, like Tarhov, forbids my speaking of Musa,' was the
thought that struck me, and I could not help wondering inwardly. He
might well prize Zeno so highly. I wished to impart to him some facts
about that sage, but my tongue would not form the words, and it did
I soon went about my business. At parting neither Punin nor Baburin
said, 'Till we meet!' both with one voice pronounced, 'Good-bye.'
Punin even returned me a volume of the Telegraph I had
brought him, as much as to say, 'he had no need of anything of that
A week later I had a curious encounter. An early spring had set in
abruptly; at midday the heat rose to eighteen degrees Reaumur.
Everything was turning green, and shooting up out of the spongy, damp
earth. I hired a horse at the riding-school, and went out for a ride
into the outskirts of the town, towards the Vorobyov hills. On the road
I was met by a little cart, drawn by a pair of spirited ponies,
splashed with mud up to their ears, with plaited tails, and red ribbons
in their manes and forelocks. Their harness was such as sportsmen
affect, with copper discs and tassels; they were being driven by a
smart young driver, in a blue tunic without sleeves, a yellow striped
silk shirt, and a low felt hat with peacock's feathers round the crown.
Beside him sat a girl of the artisan or merchant class, in a flowered
silk jacket, with a big blue handkerchief on her head—and she was
simply bubbling over with mirth. The driver was laughing too. I drew my
horse on one side, but did not, however, take particular notice of the
swiftly passing, merry couple, when, all at once, the young man shouted
to his ponies.... Why, that was Tarhov's voice! I looked round.... Yes,
it was he; unmistakably he, dressed up as a peasant, and beside
him—wasn't it Musa?
But at that instant their ponies quickened their pace, and they were
out of my sight in a minute. I tried to put my horse into a gallop in
pursuit of them, but it was an old riding school hack, that shambled
from side to side as it moved; it went more slowly galloping than
'Enjoy yourselves, my dear friends!' I muttered through my teeth.
I ought to observe that I had not seen Tarhov during the whole week,
though I had been three times to his rooms. He was never at home.
Baburin and Punin I had not seen either.... I had not been to see them.
I caught cold on my ride; though it was very warm, there was a
piercing wind. I was dangerously ill, and when I recovered I went with
my grandmother into the country 'to feed up,' by the doctor's advice. I
did not get to Moscow again; in the autumn I was transferred to the
Not seven, but fully twelve years had passed by, and I was in my
thirty-second year. My grandmother had long been dead; I was living in
Petersburg, with a post in the Department of Home Affairs. Tarhov I had
lost sight of; he had gone into the army, and lived almost always in
the provinces. We had met twice, as old friends, glad to see each
other; but we had not touched on the past in our talk. At the time of
our last meeting he was, if I remember right, already a married man.
One sultry summer day I was sauntering along Gorohov Street, cursing
my official duties for keeping me in Petersburg, and the heat and
stench and dust of the city. A funeral barred my way. It consisted of a
solitary car, that is, to be accurate, of a decrepit hearse, on which a
poor-looking wooden coffin, half-covered with a threadbare black cloth,
was shaking up and down as it was jolted violently over the uneven
pavement. An old man with a white head was walking alone after the
I looked at him.... His face seemed familiar.... He too turned his
eyes upon me.... Merciful heavens! it was Baburin! I took off my hat,
went up to him, mentioned my name, and walked along beside him.
'Whom are you burying?' I asked.
'Nikander Vavilitch Punin,' he answered.
I felt, I knew beforehand, that he would utter that name, and yet it
set my heart aching. I felt melancholy, and yet I was glad that chance
had enabled me to pay my last respects to my old friend....
'May I go with you, Paramon Semyonitch?'
'You may.... I was following him alone; now there'll be two of us.'
Our walk lasted more than an hour. My companion moved forward,
without lifting his eyes or opening his lips. He had become quite an
old man since I had seen him last; his deeply furrowed, copper-coloured
face stood out sharply against his white hair. Signs of a life of toil
and suffering, of continual struggle, could be seen in Baburin's whole
figure; want and poverty had worked cruel havoc with him. When
everything was over, when what was Punin had disappeared for ever in
the damp ... yes, undoubtedly damp earth of the Smolensky cemetery,
Baburin, after standing a couple of minutes with bowed, uncovered head
before the newly risen mound of sandy clay, turned to me his emaciated,
as it were embittered, face, his dry, sunken eyes, thanked me grimly,
and was about to move away; but I detained him.
'Where do you live, Paramon Semyonitch? Let me come and see you. I
had no idea you were living in Petersburg. We could recall old days,
and talk of our dead friend.'
Baburin did not answer me at once.
'It's two years since I found my way to Petersburg,' he observed at
last; 'I live at the very end of the town. However, if you really care
to visit me, come.' He gave me his address. 'Come in the evening; in
the evening we are always at home ... both of us.'
'Both of you?'
'I am married. My wife is not very well to-day, and that's why she
did not come too. Though, indeed, it's quite enough for one person to
go through this empty formality, this ceremony. As if anybody believed
in it all!'
I was a little surprised at Baburin's last words, but I said
nothing, called a cab, and proposed to Baburin to take him home; but he
* * * * *
The same day I went in the evening to see him. All the way there I
was thinking of Punin. I recalled how I had met him the first time, and
how ecstatic and amusing he was in those days; and afterwards in Moscow
how subdued he had grown—especially the last time I saw him; and now
he had made his last reckoning with life;—life is in grim earnest, it
seems! Baburin was living in the Viborgsky quarter, in a little house
which reminded me of the Moscow 'nest': the Petersburg abode was almost
shabbier in appearance. When I went into his room he was sitting on a
chair in a corner with his hands on his knees; a tallow candle, burning
low, dimly lighted up his bowed, white head. He heard the sound of my
footsteps, started up, and welcomed me more warmly than I had expected.
A few moments later his wife came in; I recognised her at once as
Musa—and only then understood why Baburin had invited me to come; he
wanted to show me that he had after all come by his own.
Musa was greatly changed—in face, in voice, and in manners; but her
eyes were changed most of all. In old times they had darted about like
live creatures, those malicious, beautiful eyes; they had gleamed
stealthily, but brilliantly; their glance had pierced, like a
pin-prick.... Now they looked at one directly, calmly, steadily; their
black centres had lost their lustre. 'I am broken in, I am tame, I am
good,' her soft and dull gaze seemed to say. Her continued, submissive
smile told the same story. And her dress, too, was subdued; brown, with
little spots on it. She came up to me, asked me whether I knew her. She
obviously felt no embarrassment, and not because she had lost a sense
of shame or memory of the past, but simply because all petty
self-consciousness had left her.
Musa talked a great deal about Punin, talked in an even voice, which
too had lost its fire. I learned that of late years he had become very
feeble, had almost sunk into childishness, so much so that he was
miserable if he had not toys to play with; they persuaded him, it is
true, that he made them out of waste stuff for sale ... but he really
played with them himself. His passion for poetry, however, never died
out, and he kept his memory for nothing but verses; a few days before
his death he recited a passage from the Rossiad; but Pushkin he
feared, as children fear bogies. His devotion to Baburin had also
remained undiminished; he worshipped him as much as ever, and even at
the last, wrapped about by the chill and dark of the end, he had
faltered with halting tongue, 'benefactor!' I learned also from Musa
that soon after the Moscow episode, it had been Baburin's fate once
more to wander all over Russia, continually tossed from one private
situation to another; that in Petersburg, too, he had been again in a
situation, in a private business, which situation he had, however, been
obliged to leave a few days before, owing to some unpleasantness with
his employer: Baburin had ventured to stand up for the workpeople....
The invariable smile, with which Musa accompanied her words, set me
musing mournfully; it put the finishing touch to the impression made on
me by her husband's appearance. They had hard work, the two of them, to
make a bare living—there was no doubt of it. He took very little part
in our conversation; he seemed more preoccupied than grieved....
Something was worrying him.
'Paramon Semyonitch, come here,' said the cook, suddenly appearing
in the doorway.
'What is it? what's wanted?' he asked in alarm.
'Come here,' the cook repeated insistently and meaningly. Baburin
buttoned up his coat and went out.
When I was left alone with Musa, she looked at me with a somewhat
changed glance, and observed in a voice which was also changed, and
with no smile: 'I don't know, Piotr Petrovitch, what you think of me
now, but I dare say you remember what I used to be.... I was
self-confident, light-hearted ... and not good; I wanted to live for my
own pleasure. But I want to tell you this: when I was abandoned, and
was like one lost, and was only waiting for God to take me, or to pluck
up spirit to make an end of myself,—once more, just as in Voronezh, I
met with Paramon Semyonitch—and he saved me once again.... Not a word
that could wound me did I hear from him, not a word of reproach; he
asked nothing of me—I was not worthy of that; but he loved me ... and
I became his wife. What was I to do? I had failed of dying; and I could
not live either after my own choice....What was I to do with myself?
Even so—it was a mercy to be thankful for. That is all.'
She ceased, turned away for an instant ... the same submissive smile
came back to her lips. 'Whether life's easy for me, you needn't ask,'
was the meaning I fancied now in that smile.
The conversation passed to ordinary subjects. Musa told me that
Punin had left a cat that he had been very fond of, and that ever since
his death she had gone up to the attic and stayed there, mewing
incessantly, as though she were calling some one ... the neighbours
were very much scared, and fancied that it was Punin's soul that had
passed into the cat.
'Paramon Semyonitch is worried about something,' I said at last.
'Oh, you noticed it?'—Musa sighed. 'He cannot help being worried. I
need hardly tell you that Paramon Semyonitch has remained faithful to
his principles.... The present condition of affairs can but strengthen
them.' (Musa expressed herself quite differently now from in the old
days in Moscow; there was a literary, bookish flavour in her phrases.)
'I don't know, though, whether I can rely upon you, and how you will
'Why should you imagine you cannot rely upon me?'
'Well, you are in the government service—you are an official.'
'Well, what of that?'
'You are, consequently, loyal to the government.'
I marvelled inwardly ... at Musa's innocence. 'As to my attitude to
the government, which is not even aware of my existence, I won't
enlarge upon that,' I observed; 'but you may set your mind at rest. I
will make no bad use of your confidence. I sympathise with your
husband's ideas ... more than you suppose.'
Musa shook her head.
'Yes; that's all so,' she began, not without hesitation; 'but you
see it's like this. Paramon Semyonitch's ideas will shortly, it may be,
find expression in action. They can no longer be hidden under a bushel.
There are comrades whom we cannot now abandon ...'
Musa suddenly ceased speaking, as though she had bitten her tongue.
Her last words had amazed and a little alarmed me. Most likely my face
showed what I was feeling—and Musa noticed it.
As I have said already, our interview took place in the year 1849.
Many people still remember what a disturbed and difficult time that
was, and by what incidents it was signalised in St. Petersburg. I had
been struck myself by certain peculiarities in Baburin's behaviour, in
his whole demeanour. Twice he had referred to governmental action, to
personages in high authority, with such intense bitterness and hatred,
with such loathing, that I had been dumbfoundered....
'Well?' he asked me suddenly: 'did you set your peasants free?'
I was obliged to confess I had not.
'Why, I suppose your granny's dead, isn't she?'
I was obliged to admit that she was.
'To be sure, you noble gentlemen,' Baburin muttered between his
teeth, '... use other men's hands ... to poke up your fire ... that's
what you like.'
In the most conspicuous place in his room hung the well-known
lithograph portrait of Belinsky; on the table lay a volume of the old
Polar Star, edited by Bestuzhev.
A long time passed, and Baburin did not come back after the cook had
called him away. Musa looked several times uneasily towards the door by
which he had gone out. At last she could bear it no longer; she got up,
and with an apology she too went out by the same door. A quarter of an
hour later she came back with her husband; the faces of both, so at
least I thought, looked troubled. But all of a sudden Baburin's face
assumed a different, an intensely bitter, almost frenzied expression.
'What will be the end of it?' he began all at once in a jerky,
sobbing voice, utterly unlike him, while his wild eyes shifted
restlessly about him. 'One goes on living and living, and hoping that
maybe it'll be better, that one will breathe more freely; but it's
quite the other way—everything gets worse and worse! They have
squeezed us right up to the wall! In my youth I bore all with
patience; they ... maybe ... beat me ... even ... yes!' he added,
turning sharply round on his heels and swooping down as it were, upon
me: 'I, a man of full age, was subjected to corporal punishment ...
yes;—of other wrongs I will not speak.... But is there really nothing
before us but to go back to those old times again? The way they are
treating the young people now! ... Yes, it breaks down all endurance at
last.... It breaks it down! Yes! Wait a bit!'
I had never seen Baburin in such a condition. Musa turned positively
white.... Baburin suddenly cleared his throat, and sank down into a
seat. Not wishing to constrain either him or Musa by my presence, I
decided to go, and was just saying good-bye to them, when the door into
the next room suddenly opened, and a head appeared.... It was not the
cook's head, but the dishevelled and terrified-looking head of a young
'Something's wrong, Baburin, something's wrong!' he faltered
hurriedly, then vanished at once on perceiving my unfamiliar figure.
Baburin rushed after the young man. I pressed Musa's hand warmly,
and withdrew, with presentiments of evil in my heart.
'Come to-morrow,' she whispered anxiously.
'I certainly will come,' I answered.
* * * * *
I was still in bed next morning, when my man handed me a letter from
'Dear Piotr Petrovitch!' she wrote: 'Paramon Semyonitch has been
this night arrested by the police and carried off to the fortress, or I
don't know where; they did not tell me. They ransacked all our papers,
sealed up a great many, and took them away with them. It has been the
same with our books and letters. They say a mass of people have been
arrested in the town. You can fancy how I feel. It is well Nikander
Vavilitch did not live to see it! He was taken just in time. Advise me
what I am to do. For myself I am not afraid—I shall not die of
starvation—but the thought of Paramon Semyonitch gives me no rest.
Come, please, if only you are not afraid to visit people in our
* * * * *
Half an hour later I was with Musa. On seeing me she held out her
hand, and, though she did not utter a word, a look of gratitude flitted
over her face. She was wearing the same clothes as on the previous day;
there was every sign that she had not been to bed or slept all night.
Her eyes were red, but from sleeplessness, not from tears. She had not
been crying. She was in no mood for weeping. She wanted to act, wanted
to struggle with the calamity that had fallen upon them: the old,
energetic, self-willed Musa had risen up in her again. She had no time
even to be indignant, though she was choking with indignation. How to
assist Baburin, to whom to appeal so as to soften his lot—she could
think of nothing else. She wanted to go instantly, ... to petition, ...
demand.... But where to go, whom to petition, what to demand—this was
what she wanted to hear from me, this was what she wanted to consult me
I began by counselling her ... to have patience. For the first
moment there was nothing left to be done but to wait, and, as far as
might be, to make inquiries; and to take any decisive step now when the
affair had scarcely begun, and hardly yet taken shape, would be simply
senseless, irrational. To hope for any success was irrational, even if
I had been a person of much more importance and influence, ... but what
could I, a petty official, do? As for her, she was absolutely without
any powerful friends....
It was no easy matter to make all this plain to her ... but at last
she understood my arguments; she understood, too, that I was not
prompted by egoistic feeling, when I showed her the uselessness of all
efforts. 'But tell me, Musa Pavlovna,' I began, when she sank at last
into a chair (till then she had been standing up, as though on the
point of setting off at once to the aid of Baburin),'how Paramon
Semyonitch, at his age, comes to be mixed up in such an affair? I feel
sure that there are none but young people implicated in it, like the
one who came in yesterday to warn you....'
'Those young people are our friends!' cried Musa, and her eyes
flashed and darted as of old. Something strong, irrepressible, seemed,
as it were, to rise up from the bottom of her soul, ... and I suddenly
recalled the expression 'a new type,' which Tarhov had once used of
her. 'Years are of no consequence when it is a matter of political
principles!' Musa laid a special stress on these last two words. One
might fancy that in all her sorrow it was not unpleasing to her to show
herself before me in this new, unlooked-for character—in the character
of a cultivated and mature woman, fit wife of a republican! ... 'Some
old men are younger than some young ones,' she pursued, 'more capable
of sacrifice.... But that's not the point.'
'I think, Musa Pavlovna,' I observed, 'that you are exaggerating a
little. Knowing the character of Paramon Semyonitch, I should have felt
sure beforehand that he would sympathise with every ... sincere
impulse; but, on the other hand, I have always regarded him as a man of
sense.... Surely he cannot fail to realise all the impracticability,
all the absurdity of conspiracies in Russia? In his position, in his
'Oh, of course,' Musa interrupted, with bitterness in her voice, 'he
is a working man; and in Russia it is only permissible for noblemen to
take part in conspiracies, ... as, for instance, in that of the
fourteenth of December, ... that's what you meant to say.'
'In that case, what do you complain of now?' almost broke from my
lips, ... but I restrained myself. 'Do you consider that the result of
the fourteenth of December was such as to encourage other such
attempts?' I said aloud.
Musa frowned. 'It is no good talking to you about it,' was what I
read in her downcast face.
'Is Paramon Semyonitch very seriously compromised?' I ventured to
ask her. Musa made no reply.... A hungry, savage mewing was heard from
Musa started. 'Ah, it is a good thing Nikander Vavilitch did not see
all this!' she moaned almost despairingly. 'He did not see how
violently in the night they seized his benefactor, our
benefactor—maybe, the best and truest man in the whole world,—he did
not see how they treated that noble man at his age, how rudely they
addressed him, ... how they threatened him, and the threats they used
to him!—only because he was a working man! That young officer, too,
was no doubt just such an unprincipled, heartless wretch as I have
known in my life....'
Musa's voice broke. She was quivering all over like a leaf.
Her long-suppressed indignation broke out at last; old memories
stirred up, brought to the surface by the general tumult of her soul,
showed themselves alive within her.... But the conviction I carried off
at that moment was that the 'new type' was still the same, still the
same passionate, impulsive nature.... Only the impulses by which Musa
was carried away were not the same as in the days of her youth. What on
my first visit I had taken for resignation, for meekness, and what
really was so—the subdued, lustreless glance, the cold voice, the
quietness and simplicity—all that had significance only in relation to
the past, to what would never return....
Now it was the present asserted itself.
I tried to soothe Musa, tried to put our conversation on a more
practical level. Some steps must be taken that could not be postponed;
we must find out exactly where Baburin was; and then secure both for
him and for Musa the means of subsistence. All this presented no
inconsiderable difficulty; what was needed was not to find money, but
work, which is, as we all know, a far more complicated problem....
I left Musa with a perfect swarm of reflections in my head.
I soon learned that Baburin was in the fortress.
The proceedings began, ... dragged on. I saw Musa several times
every week. She had several interviews with her husband. But just at
the moment of the decision of the whole melancholy affair, I was not in
Petersburg. Unforeseen business had obliged me to set off to the south
of Russia. During my absence I heard that Baburin had been acquitted at
the trial; it appeared that all that could be proved against him was,
that young people regarding him as a person unlikely to awaken
suspicion, had sometimes held meetings at his house, and he had been
present at their meetings; he was, however, by administrative order
sent into exile in one of the western provinces of Siberia. Musa went
'Paramon Semyonitch did not wish it,' she wrote to me; 'as,
according to his ideas, no one ought to sacrifice self for another
person, and not for a cause; but I told him there was no question of
sacrifice at all. When I said to him in Moscow that I would be his
wife, I thought to myself—for ever, indissolubly! So indissoluble it
must be till the end of our days....'
Twelve more years passed by.... Every one in Russia knows, and will
ever remember, what passed between the years 1849 and 1861. In my
personal life, too, many changes took place, on which, however, there
is no need to enlarge. New interests came into it, new cares.... The
Baburin couple first fell into the background, then passed out of my
mind altogether. Yet I kept up a correspondence with Musa—at very long
intervals, however. Sometimes more than a year passed without any
tidings of her or of her husband. I heard that soon after 1855 he
received permission to return to Russia; but that he preferred to
remain in the little Siberian town, where he had been flung by destiny,
and where he had apparently made himself a home, and found a haven and
a sphere of activity....
And, lo and behold! towards the end of March in 1861, I received the
following letter from Musa:—
'It is so long since I have written to you, most honoured Piotr
Petrovitch, that I do not even know whether you are still living; and
if you are living, have you not forgotten our existence? But no matter;
I cannot resist writing to you to-day. Everything till now has gone on
with us in the same old way: Paramon Semyonitch and I have been always
busy with our schools, which are gradually making good progress;
besides that, Paramon Semyonitch was taken up with reading and
correspondence and his usual discussions with the Old-believers,
members of the clergy, and Polish exiles; his health has been fairly
good.... So has mine. But yesterday! the manifesto of the 19th of
February reached us! We had long been on the look-out for it. Rumours
had reached us long before of what was being done among you in
Petersburg, ... but yet I can't describe what it was! You know my
husband well; he was not in the least changed by his misfortune; on the
contrary, he has grown even stronger and more energetic, and has a will
as strong as iron, but at this he could not restrain himself! His hands
shook as he read it; then he embraced me three times, and three times
he kissed me, tried to say something—but no! he could not! and ended
by bursting into tears, which was very astounding to see, and suddenly
he shouted, “Hurrah! hurrah! God save the Tsar!” Yes, Piotr Petrovitch,
those were his very words! Then he went on: “Now lettest Thou Thy
servant depart” ... and again: “This is the first step, others are
bound to follow it”; and, just as he was, bareheaded, ran to tell the
great news to our friends. There was a bitter frost, and even a
snowstorm coming on. I tried to prevent him, but he would not listen to
me. And when he came home, he was all covered with snow, his hair, his
face, and his beard—he has a beard right down to his chest now—and
the tears were positively frozen on his cheeks! But he was very lively
and cheerful, and told me to uncork a bottle of home-made champagne,
and he drank with our friends that he had brought back with him, to the
health of the Tsar and of Russia, and all free Russians; and taking the
glass, and fixing his eyes on the ground, he said: “Nikander, Nikander,
do you hear? There are no slaves in Russia any more! Rejoice in the
grave, old comrade!” And much more he said; to the effect that his
“expectations were fulfilled!” He said, too, that now there could be no
turning back; that this was in its way a pledge or promise.... I don't
remember everything, but it is long since I have seen him so happy. And
so I made up my mind to write to you, so that you might know how we
have been rejoicing and exulting in the remote Siberian wilds, so that
you might rejoice with us....'
This letter I received at the end of March. At the beginning of May
another very brief letter arrived from Musa. She informed me that her
husband, Paramon Semyonitch Baburin, had taken cold on the very day of
the arrival of the manifesto, and died on the 12th of April of
inflammation of the lungs, in the 67th year of his age. She added that
she intended to remain where his body lay at rest, and to go on with
the work he had bequeathed her, since such was the last wish of Paramon
Semyonitch, and that was her only law.
Since then I have heard no more of Musa.
About thirty miles from our village there lived, many years ago, a
distant cousin of my mother's, a retired officer of the Guards, and
rather wealthy landowner, Alexey Sergeitch Teliegin. He lived on his
estate and birth-place, Suhodol, did not go out anywhere, and so did
not visit us; but I used to be sent, twice a year, to pay him my
respects—at first with my tutor, but later on alone. Alexey Sergeitch
always gave me a very cordial reception, and I used to stay three or
four days at a time with him. He was an old man even when I first made
his acquaintance; I was twelve, I remember, on my first visit, and he
was then over seventy. He was born in the days of the Empress
Elisabeth—in the last year of her reign. He lived alone with his wife,
Malania Pavlovna; she was ten years younger than he. They had two
daughters; but their daughters had been long married, and rarely
visited Suhodol; they were not on the best of terms with their parents,
and Alexey Sergeitch hardly ever mentioned their names.
I see, even now, the old-fashioned house, a typical manor-house of
the steppes. One story in height, with immense attics, it was built at
the beginning of this century, of amazingly thick beams of pine,—such
beams came in plenty in those days from the Zhizdrinsky pine-forests;
they have passed out of memory now! It was very spacious, and contained
a great number of rooms, rather low-pitched and dark, it is true; the
windows in the walls had been made small for the sake of greater
warmth. In the usual fashion (I ought rather to say, in what was then
the usual fashion), the offices and house-serfs' huts surrounded the
manorial house on all sides, and the garden was close to it—a small
garden, but containing fine fruit-trees, juicy apples, and pipless
pears. The flat steppe of rich, black earth stretched for ten miles
round. No lofty object for the eye; not a tree, nor even a belfry;
somewhere, maybe, jutting up, a windmill, with rents in its sails;
truly, well-named Suhodol, or Dry-flat! Inside the house the rooms were
filled with ordinary, simple furniture; somewhat unusual was the
milestone-post that stood in the window of the drawing-room, with the
following inscription:—'If you walk sixty-eight times round this
drawing-room you will have gone a mile; if you walk eighty-seven times
from the furthest corner of the parlour to the right-hand corner of the
billiard-room, you will have gone a mile,' and so on. But what most of
all impressed a guest at the house for the first time was the immense
collection of pictures hanging on the walls, for the most part works of
the so-called Italian masters: all old-fashioned landscapes of a sort,
or mythological and religious subjects. But all these pictures were
very dark, and even cracked with age;—in one, all that met the eye was
some patches of flesh-colour; in another, undulating red draperies on
an unseen body; or an arch which seemed to be suspended in the air; or
a dishevelled tree with blue foliage; or the bosom of a nymph with an
immense breast, like the lid of a soup-tureen; a cut water-melon, with
black seeds; a turban, with a feather in it, above a horse's head; or
the gigantic brown leg of an apostle, suddenly thrust out, with a
muscular calf, and toes turned upwards. In the drawing-room in the
place of honour hung a portrait of the Empress Catherine II., full
length; a copy of the famous portrait by Lampi—an object of the
special reverence, one might say the adoration, of the master of the
house. From the ceiling hung glass lustres in bronze settings, very
small and very dusty.
Alexey Sergeitch himself was a stumpy, paunchy little old man, with
a chubby face of one uniform tint, yet pleasant, with drawn-in lips,
and very lively little eyes under high eyebrows. He wore his scanty
locks combed to the back of his head; it was only since 1812 that he
had given up wearing powder. Alexey Sergeitch invariably wore a grey
'redingote,' with three capes falling over his shoulders, a striped
waistcoat, chamois-leather breeches, and high boots of dark red
morocco, with heart-shaped scallops and tassels at the tops; he wore a
white muslin cravat, a jabot, lace cuffs, and two gold English 'turnip
watches,' one in each pocket of his waistcoat. In his right hand he
usually carried an enamelled snuff-box full of 'Spanish' snuff, and his
left hand leaned on a cane with a silver-chased knob, worn smooth by
long use. Alexey Sergeitch had a little nasal, piping voice, and an
invariable smile—kindly, but, as it were, condescending, and not
without a certain self-complacent dignity. His laugh, too, was
kindly—a shrill little laugh that tinkled like glass beads. Courteous
and affable he was to the last degree—in the old-fashioned manner of
the days of Catherine—and he moved his hands with slow, rounded
gestures, also in the old style. His legs were so weak that he could
not walk, but ran with hurried little steps from one armchair to
another, in which he would suddenly sit down, or rather fall softly,
like a cushion.
As I have said already, Alexey Sergeitch went out nowhere, and saw
very little of his neighbours, though he liked society, for he was very
fond of talking! It is true that he had society in plenty in his own
house; various Nikanor Nikanoritchs, Sevastiey Sevastietchs,
Fedulitchs, Miheitchs, all poor gentlemen in shabby cossack coats and
camisoles, often from the master's wardrobe, lived under his roof, to
say nothing of the poor gentlewomen in chintz gowns, black kerchiefs
thrown over their shoulders, and worsted reticules in their tightly
clenched fingers—all sorts of Avdotia Savishnas, Pelagea Mironovnas,
and plain Feklushkas and Arinkas, who found a home in the women's
quarters. Never less than fifteen persons sat down to Alexey
Sergeitch's table.... He was such a hospitable man! Among all those
dependants two were particularly conspicuous: a dwarf, nicknamed Janus,
or the Double-faced, of Danish—or, as some maintained,
Jewish—extraction, and the mad Prince L. Contrary to what was
customary in those days, the dwarf did nothing to amuse the master or
mistress, and was not a jester—quite the opposite; he was always
silent, had an ill-tempered and sullen appearance, and scowled and
gnashed his teeth directly a question was addressed to him. Alexey
Sergeitch called him a philosopher, and positively respected him; at
table the dishes were handed to him first, after the guests and master
and mistress. 'God has afflicted him,' Alexey Sergeitch used to say;
'such is His Divine will; but it's not for me to afflict him further.'
'How is he a philosopher?' I asked him once. (Janus didn't take to me;
if I went near him he would fly into a rage, and mutter thickly,
'Stranger! keep off!') 'Eh, God bless me! isn't he a philosopher?'
answered Alexey Sergeitch. 'Look ye, little sir, how wisely he holds
his tongue!' 'But why is he double-faced?' 'Because, little sir, he has
one face on the outside—and so you, surface-gazers, judge him.... But
the other, the real face he hides. And that face I know, and no one
else—and I love him for it ... because that face is good. You, for
instance, look and see nothing ... but I see without a word: he is
blaming me for something; for he's a severe critic! And it's always
with good reason. That, little sir, you can't understand; but you may
believe an old man like me!' The real history of the two-faced
Janus—where he came from, and how he came into Alexey Sergeitch's
hands—no one knew; but the story of Prince L. was well known to every
one. He went, a lad of twenty, of a wealthy and distinguished family,
to Petersburg, to serve in a regiment of the Guards. At the first levee
the Empress Catherine noticed him, stood still before him, and,
pointing at him with her fan, she said aloud, addressing one of her
courtiers, who happened to be near, 'Look, Adam Vassilievitch, what a
pretty fellow! a perfect doll!' The poor boy's head was completely
turned; when he got home he ordered his coach out, and, putting on a
ribbon of St. Anne, proceeded to drive all over the town, as though he
had reached the pinnacle of fortune. 'Drive over every one,' he shouted
to his coachman, 'who does not move out of the way!' All this was
promptly reported to the empress: the decree went forth that he should
be declared insane, and put under the guardianship of two of his
brothers; and they, without a moment's delay, carried him off to the
country, and flung him into a stone cell in chains. As they wanted to
get the benefit of his property, they did not let the poor wretch out,
even when he had completely recovered his balance, and positively kept
him locked up till he really did go out of his mind. But their evil
doings did not prosper; Prince L. outlived his brothers, and, after
long years of adversity, he came into the charge of Alexey Sergeitch,
whose kinsman he was. He was a stout, completely bald man, with a long,
thin nose and prominent blue eyes. He had quite forgotten how to
talk—he simply uttered a sort of inarticulate grumbling; but he sang
old-fashioned Russian ballads beautifully, preserving the silvery
freshness of his voice to extreme old age; and, while he was singing,
he pronounced each word clearly and distinctly. He had attacks at times
of a sort of fury, and then he became terrible: he would stand in the
corner, with his face to the wall, and all perspiring and red—red all
down his bald head and down his neck—he used to go off into vicious
chuckles, and, stamping with his feet, order some one—his brothers
probably—to be punished. 'Beat 'em!' he growled hoarsely, coughing and
choking with laughter; 'flog 'em, don't spare 'em! beat, beat, beat the
monsters, my oppressors! That's it! That's it!' On the day before his
death he greatly alarmed and astonished Alexey Sergeitch. He came, pale
and subdued, into his room, and, making him a low obeisance, first
thanked him for his care and kindness, and then asked him to send for a
priest, for death had come to him—he had seen death, and he must
forgive every one and purify his soul. 'How did you see death?'
muttered Alexey Sergeitch in bewilderment at hearing connected speech
from him for the first time. 'In what shape? with a scythe?' 'No,'
answered Prince L.; 'a simple old woman in a jacket, but with only one
eye in her forehead, and that eye without an eyelid.' And the next day
Prince L. actually did die, duly performing everything, and taking
leave of every one in a rational and affecting manner. 'That's just how
I shall die,' Alexey Sergeitch would sometimes observe. And, as a fact,
something of the same sort did happen with him—but of that later.
But now let us go back to our story. Of the neighbours, as I have
stated already, Alexey Sergeitch saw little; and they did not care much
for him, called him a queer fish, stuck up, and a scoffer, and even a
'martiniste' who recognised no authorities, though they had no clear
idea of the meaning of this term. To a certain extent the neighbours
were right: Alexey Sergeitch had lived in his Suhodol for almost
seventy years on end, and had had hardly anything whatever to do with
the existing authorities, with the police or the law-courts.
'Police-courts are for the robber, and discipline for the soldier,' he
used to say; 'but I, thank God, am neither robber nor soldier!' Rather
queer Alexey Sergeitch certainly was, but the soul within him was by no
means a petty one. I will tell you something about him.
To tell the truth, I never knew what were his political opinions, if
an expression so modern can be used in reference to him; but, in his
own way, he was an aristocrat—more an aristocrat than a typical
Russian country gentleman. More than once he expressed his regret that
God had not given him a son and heir, 'for the honour of our name, to
keep up the family.' In his own room there hung on the wall the
family-tree of the Teliegins, with many branches, and a multitude of
little circles like apples in a golden frame. 'We Teliegins,' he used
to say, 'are an ancient line, from long, long ago: however many
there've been of us Teliegins, we have never hung about great men's
ante-rooms; we've never bent our backs, or stood about in waiting, nor
picked up a living in the courts, nor run after decorations; we've
never gone trailing off to Moscow, nor intriguing in Petersburg; we've
sat at home, each in his hole, his own man on his own land ...
home-keeping birds, sir!—I myself, though I did serve in the
Guards—but not for long, thank you.' Alexey Sergeitch preferred the
old days. 'There was more freedom in those days, more decorum; on my
honour, I assure you! but since the year eighteen hundred' (why from
that year, precisely, he did not explain), 'militarism, the soldiery,
have got the upper hand. Our soldier gentlemen stuck some sort of
turbans of cocks' feathers on their heads then, and turned like cocks
themselves; began binding their necks up as stiff as could be ... they
croak, and roll their eyes—how could they help it, indeed? The other
day a police corporal came to me; “I've come to you,” says he,
“honourable sir,” ... (fancy his thinking to surprise me with that! ...
I know I'm honourable without his telling me!) “I have business with
you.” And I said to him, “My good sir, you'd better first unfasten the
hooks on your collar. Or else, God have mercy on us—you'll sneeze. Ah,
what would happen to you! what would happen to you! You'd break off,
like a mushroom ... and I should have to answer for it!” And they do
drink, these military gentlemen—oh, oh, oh! I generally order
home-made champagne to be given them, because to them, good wine or
poor, it's all the same; it runs so smoothly, so quickly, down their
throats—how can they distinguish it? And, another thing, they've
started sucking at a pap-bottle, smoking a tobacco-pipe. Your military
gentleman thrusts his pap-bottle under his moustaches, between his
lips, and puffs the smoke out of his nose, his mouth, and even his
ears—and fancies himself a hero! There are my sons-in-law—though one
of them's a senator, and the other some sort of an administrator over
there—they suck the pap-bottle, and they reckon themselves clever
Alexey Sergeitch could not endure smoking; and moreover, he could
not endure dogs, especially little dogs. 'If you're a Frenchman, to be
sure, you may well keep a lapdog: you run and you skip about here and
there, and it runs after you with its tail up ... but what's the use of
it to people like us?' He was exceedingly neat and particular. Of the
Empress Catherine he never spoke but with enthusiasm, and in exalted,
rather bookish phraseology: 'Half divine she was, not human! Only look,
little sir, at that smile,' he would add, pointing reverentially to
Lampi's portrait, 'and you will agree: half divine! I was so fortunate
in my life as to be deemed worthy to behold that smile close, and never
will it be effaced from my heart!' And thereupon he would relate
anecdotes of the life of Catherine, such as I have never happened to
read or hear elsewhere. Here is one of them. Alexey Sergeitch did not
permit the slightest allusion to the weaknesses of the great Tsaritsa.
'And, besides,' he exclaimed, 'can one judge of her as of other
One day while she was sitting in her peignoir during her morning
toilette, she commanded her hair to be combed.... And what do you
think? The lady-in-waiting passed the comb through, and sparks of
electricity simply showered out! Then she summoned to her presence the
court physician Rogerson, who happened to be in waiting at the court,
and said to him: 'I am, I know, censured for certain actions; but do
you see this electricity? Consequently, as such is my nature and
constitution, you can judge for yourself, as you are a doctor, that it
is unjust for them to censure me, and they ought to comprehend me!' The
following incident remained indelible in Alexey Sergeitch's memory. He
was standing one day on guard indoors, in the palace—he was only
sixteen at the time—and behold the empress comes walking past him; he
salutes ... 'and she,' Alexey Sergeitch would exclaim at this point
with much feeling, 'smiling at my youth and my zeal, deigned to give me
her hand to kiss and patted my cheek, and asked me “who I was? where I
came from? of what family?” and then' ... here the old man's voice
usually broke ... 'then she bade me greet my mother in her name and
thank her for having brought up her children so well. And whether I was
on earth or in heaven, and how and where she deigned to vanish, whether
she floated away into the heights or went her way into the other
apartments ... to this day I do not know!'
More than once I tried to question Alexey Sergeitch about those
far-away times, about the people who made up the empress's circle....
But for the most part he edged off the subject. 'What's the use of
talking about old times?' he used to say ... 'it's only making one's
self miserable, remembering that then one was a fine young fellow, and
now one hasn't a tooth left in one's head. And what is there to say?
They were good old times ... but there, enough of them! And as for
those folks—you were asking, you troublesome boy, about the lucky
ones!—haven't you seen how a bubble comes up on the water? As long as
it lasts and is whole, what colours play upon it! Red, and blue, and
yellow—a perfect rainbow or diamond you'd say it was! Only it soon
bursts, and there's no trace of it left. And so it was with those
'But how about Potiomkin?' I once inquired.
Alexey Sergeitch looked grave. 'Potiomkin, Grigory Alexandrovitch,
was a statesman, a theologian, a pupil of Catherine's, her cherished
creation, one must say.... But enough of that, little sir!'
Alexey Sergeitch was a very devout man, and, though it was a great
effort, he attended church regularly. Superstition was not noticeable
in him; he laughed at omens, the evil eye, and such 'nonsense,' but he
did not like a hare to run across his path, and to meet a priest was
not altogether agreeable to him. For all that, he was very respectful
to clerical persons, and went up to receive their blessing, and even
kissed the priest's hand every time, but he was not willing to enter
into conversation with them. 'Such an extremely strong odour comes from
them,' he explained: 'and I, poor sinner, am fastidious beyond reason;
they've such long hair, and all oily, and they comb it out on all
sides—they think they show me respect by so doing, and they clear
their throats so loudly when they talk—from shyness may be, or I dare
say they want to show respect in that way too. And besides, they make
one think of one's last hour. And, I don't know how it is, but I still
want to go on living. Only, my little sir, don't you repeat my words;
we must respect the clergy—it's only fools that don't respect them;
and I'm to blame to babble nonsense in my old age.'
Alexey Sergeitch, like most of the noblemen of his day, had received
a very slight education; but he had, to some extent, made good the
deficiency himself by reading. He read none but Russian books of the
end of last century; the more modern authors he thought insipid and
deficient in style.... While he read, he had placed at his side on a
round, one-legged table, a silver tankard of frothing spiced kvas of a
special sort, which sent an agreeable fragrance all over the house. He
used to put on the end of his nose a pair of big, round spectacles, but
in latter years he did not so much read as gaze dreamily over the rims
of his spectacles, lifting his eyebrows, chewing his lips, and sighing.
Once I caught him weeping with a book on his knees, greatly, I own, to
He had recalled these lines:
'O pitiful race of man!
Peace is unknown to thee!
Thou canst not find it save
In the dust of the grave....
Bitter, bitter is that sleep!
Rest, rest in death ... but living weep!'
These lines were the composition of a certain Gormitch-Gormitsky, a
wandering poet, to whom Alexey Sergeitch had given a home in his house,
as he struck him as a man of delicate feeling and even of subtlety; he
wore slippers adorned with ribbons, spoke with a broad accent, and
frequently sighed, turning his eyes to heaven; in addition to all these
qualifications, Gormitch-Gormitsky spoke French decently, having been
educated in a Jesuit college, while Alexey Sergeitch only 'followed
conversation.' But having once got terribly drunk at the tavern, that
same subtle Gormitsky showed a turbulence beyond all bounds; he gave a
fearful thrashing to Alexey Sergeitch's valet, the man cook, two
laundry-maids who chanced to get in his way, and a carpenter from
another village, and he broke several panes in the windows, screaming
furiously all the while: 'There, I'll show them, these Russian loafers,
And the strength the frail-looking creature put forth! It was hard
work for eight men to master him! For this violent proceeding Alexey
Sergeitch ordered the poet to be turned out of the house, after being
put, as a preliminary measure, in the snow—it was winter-time—to
'Yes,' Alexey Sergeitch used to say, 'my day is over; I was a
spirited steed, but I've run my last race now. Then, I used to keep
poets at my expense, and I used to buy pictures and books of the Jews,
geese of the best breeds, and pouter-pigeons of pure blood.... I used
to go in for everything! Though dogs I never did care for keeping,
because it goes with drinking, foulness, and buffoonery! I was a young
man of spirit, not to be outdone. That there should be anything of
Teliegin's and not first-rate ... why, it was not to be thought of! And
I had a splendid stud of horses. And my horses came—from what stock do
you think, young sir? Why, from none other than the celebrated stables
of the Tsar, Ivan Alexeitch, brother of Peter the Great ... it's the
truth I'm telling you! All fawn-coloured stallions, sleek—their manes
to their knees, their tails to their hoofs.... Lions! And all that
was—and is buried in the past. Vanity of vanities—and every kind of
vanity! But still—why regret it? Every man has his limits set him.
There's no flying above the sky, no living in the water, no getting
away from the earth.... We'll live a bit longer, anyway!'
And the old man would smile again and sniff his Spanish snuff.
The peasants liked him; he was, in their words, a kind master, not
easily angered. Only they, too, repeated that he was a worn-out steed.
In former days Alexey Sergeitch used to go into everything himself—he
used to drive out to the fields, and to the mill, and to the dairy, and
peep into the granaries and the peasants' huts; every one knew his
racing droshky, upholstered in crimson plush, and drawn by a tall mare,
with a broad white star all over her forehead, called 'Beacon,' of the
same famous breed. Alexey Sergeitch used to drive her himself, the ends
of the reins crushed up in his fists. But when his seventieth year
came, the old man let everything go, and handed over the management of
the estate to the bailiff Antip, of whom he was secretly afraid, and
whom he called Micromegas (a reminiscence of Voltaire!), or simply,
plunderer. 'Well, plunderer, what have you to say? Have you stacked a
great deal in the barn?' he would ask with a smile, looking straight
into the plunderer's eyes. 'All, by your good favour, please your
honour,' Antip would respond cheerfully. 'Favour's all very well, only
you mind what I say, Micromegas! don't you dare touch the peasants, my
subjects, out of my sight! If they come to complain ... I've a cane,
you see, not far off!' 'Your cane, your honour, Alexey Sergeitch, I
always keep well in mind,' Antip Micromegas would respond, stroking his
beard. 'All right, don't forget it.' And the master and the bailiff
would laugh in each other's faces. With the servants, and with the
serfs in general, his 'subjects' (Alexey Sergeitch liked that word) he
was gentle in his behaviour. 'Because, think a little, nephew; nothing
of their own, but the cross on their neck—and that copper—and daren't
hanker after other people's goods ... how can one expect sense of
them?' It is needless to state that of the so-called 'serf question' no
one even dreamed in those days; it could not disturb the peace of mind
of Alexey Sergeitch: he was quite happy in the possession of his
'subjects'; but he was severe in his censure of bad masters, and used
to call them the enemies of their order. He divided the nobles
generally into three classes: the prudent, 'of whom there are too few';
the prodigal, 'of whom there are quite enough'; and the senseless, 'of
whom there are shoals and shoals.'
'And if any one of them is harsh and oppressive with his
subjects'—he would say—'then he sins against God, and is guilty
Yes, the house-serfs had an easy life of it with the old man; the
'subjects out of sight' no doubt fared worse, in spite of the cane with
which he threatened Micromegas. And what a lot there were of them,
those house-serfs, in his house! And for the most part sinewy, hairy,
grumbling old fellows, with stooping shoulders, in long-skirted nankeen
coats, belted round the waist, with a strong, sour smell always
clinging to them. And on the women's side, one could hear nothing but
the patter of bare feet, the swish of petticoats. The chief valet was
called Irinarh, and Alexey Sergeitch always called him in a
long-drawn-out call: 'I-ri-na-a-arh!' The others he called: 'Boy! Lad!
Whoever's there of the men!' Bells he could not endure: 'It's not an
eating-house, God forbid!' And what used to surprise me was that
whatever time Alexey Sergeitch called his valet, he always promptly
made his appearance, as though he had sprung out of the earth, and with
a scrape of his heels, his hands behind his back, would stand before
his master, a surly, as it were angry, but devoted servant!
Alexey Sergeitch was liberal beyond his means; but he did not like
to be called 'benefactor.' 'Benefactor to you, indeed, sir! ... I'm
doing myself a benefit, and not you, sir!' (when he was angry or
indignant, he always addressed people with greater formality). 'Give to
a beggar once,' he used to say, 'and give him twice, and three
times.... And—if he should come a fourth time, give to him still—only
then you might say too: “It's time, my good man, you found work for
something else, not only for your mouth.”' 'But, uncle,' one asked,
sometimes, 'suppose even after that the beggar came again, a fifth
time?' 'Oh, well, give again the fifth time.' He used to have the sick,
who came to him for aid, treated at his expense, though he had no faith
in doctors himself, and never sent for them. 'My mother,' he declared,
'used to cure illnesses of all sorts with oil and salt—she gave it
internally, and rubbed it on too—it always answered splendidly. And
who was my mother? She was born in the days of Peter the Great—only
Alexey Sergeitch was a Russian in everything; he liked none but
Russian dishes, he was fond of Russian songs, but the harmonica—a
'manufactured contrivance'—he hated; he liked looking at the
serf-girls' dances and the peasant-women's jigs; in his youth, I was
told, he had been an enthusiastic singer and a dashing dancer; he liked
steaming himself in the bath, and steamed himself so vigorously that
Irinarh, who, serving him as bathman, used to beat him with a bundle of
birch-twigs steeped in beer, to rub him with a handful of tow, and then
with a woollen cloth—the truly devoted Irinarh used to say every time,
as he crept off his shelf red as a 'new copper image': 'Well, this time
I, the servant of God, Irinarh Tolobiev, have come out alive. How will
it be next time?'
And Alexey Sergeitch spoke excellent Russian, a little
old-fashioned, but choice and pure as spring water, continually
interspersing his remarks with favourite expressions: ''Pon my honour,
please God, howsoever that may be, sir, and young sir....'
But enough of him. Let us talk a little about Alexey Sergeitch's
wife, Malania Pavlovna. Malania Pavlovna was born at Moscow.
She had been famous as the greatest beauty in Moscow—la Venus de
Moscou. I knew her as a thin old woman with delicate but
insignificant features, with crooked teeth, like a hare's, in a tiny
little mouth, with a multitude of finely crimped little yellow curls on
her forehead, and painted eyebrows. She invariably wore a pyramidal cap
with pink ribbons, a high ruff round her neck, a short white dress, and
prunella slippers with red heels; and over her dress she wore a jacket
of blue satin, with a sleeve hanging loose from her right shoulder.
This was precisely the costume in which she was arrayed on St. Peter's
Day in the year 1789! On that day she went, being still a girl, with
her relations to the Hodinskoe field to see the famous boxing-match
arranged by Orlov. 'And Count Alexey Grigorievitch' (oh, how often I
used to hear this story!) 'noticing me, approached, bowed very low,
taking his hat in both hands, and said: “Peerless beauty,” said he,
“why have you hung that sleeve from your shoulder? Do you, too, wish to
try a tussle with me? ... By all means; only I will tell you beforehand
you have vanquished me—I give in! And I am your captive.” And every
one was looking at us and wondering.' And that very costume she had
worn continually ever since. 'Only I didn't wear a cap, but a hat a
la bergere de Trianon; and though I was powdered, yet my hair shone
through it, positively shone through it like gold!' Malania Pavlovna
was foolish to the point of 'holy innocence,' as it is called; she
chattered quite at random, as though she were hardly aware herself of
what dropped from her lips—and mostly about Orlov. Orlov had become,
one might say, the principal interest of her life. She usually walked
... or rather swam, into the room with a rhythmic movement of the head,
like a peacock, stood still in the middle, with one foot strangely
turned out, and two fingers holding the tip of the loose sleeve (I
suppose this pose, too, must once have charmed Orlov); she would glance
about her with haughty nonchalance, as befits a beauty—and with a
positive sniff, and a murmur of 'What next!' as though some importunate
gallant were besieging her with compliments, she would go out again,
tapping her heels and shrugging her shoulders. She used, too, to take
Spanish snuff out of a tiny bonbonniere, picking it up with a tiny
golden spoon; and from time to time, especially when any one unknown to
her was present, she would hold up—not to her eyes, she had splendid
sight, but to her nose—a double eyeglass in the shape of a half-moon,
with a coquettish turn of her little white hand, one finger held out
separate from the rest. How often has Malania Pavlovna described to me
her wedding in the church of the Ascension, in Arbaty—such a fine
church!—and how all Moscow was there ... 'and the crush there
was!—awful! Carriages with teams, golden coaches, outriders ... one
outrider of Count Zavadovsky got run over! and we were married by the
archbishop himself—and what a sermon he gave us! every one was
crying—wherever I looked I saw tears ... and the governor-general's
horses were tawny, like tigers. And the flowers, the flowers that were
brought! ... Simply loads of flowers!' And how on that day a foreigner,
a wealthy, tremendously wealthy person, had shot himself from love—and
how Orlov too had been there.... And going up to Alexey Sergeitch, he
had congratulated him and called him a lucky man.... 'A lucky man you
are, you silly fellow!' said he. And how in answer to these words
Alexey Sergeitch had made a wonderful bow, and had swept the floor from
left to right with the plumes of his hat, as if he would say: 'Your
Excellency, there is a line now between you and my spouse, which you
will not overstep!' And Orlov, Alexey Grigorievitch understood at once,
and commended him. 'Oh! that was a man! such a man!' And how, 'One day,
Alexis and I were at his house at a ball—I was married then—and he
had the most marvellous diamond buttons! And I could not resist it, I
admired them. “What marvellous diamonds you have, Count!” said I. And
he, taking up a knife from the table, at once cut off a button and
presented it to me and said: “In your eyes, my charmer, the diamonds
are a hundred times brighter; stand before the looking-glass and
compare them.” And I stood so, and he stood beside me. “Well, who's
right?” said he, while he simply rolled his eyes, looking me up and
down. And Alexey Sergeitch was very much put out about it, but I said
to him: “Alexis,” said I, “please don't you be put out; you ought to
know me better!” And he answered me: “Don't disturb yourself, Melanie!”
And these very diamonds are now round my medallion of Alexey
Grigorievitch—you've seen it, I dare say, my dear;—I wear it on
feast-days on a St. George ribbon, because he was a brave hero, a
knight of St. George: he burned the Turks.'
For all that, Malania Pavlovna was a very kind-hearted woman; she
was easily pleased. 'She's not one to snarl, nor to sneer,' the maids
used to say of her. Malania Pavlovna was passionately fond of sweet
things—and a special old woman who looked after nothing but the jam,
and so was called the jam-maid, would bring her, ten times a day, a
china dish with rose-leaves crystallised in sugar, or barberries in
honey, or sherbet of bananas. Malania Pavlovna was afraid of solitude—
dreadful thoughts are apt to come over one, she would say—and was
almost always surrounded by companions, whom she would urgently
implore: 'Talk, talk! why do you sit like that, simply keeping your
seats warm!' and they would begin twittering like canaries. She was no
less devout than Alexey Sergeitch, and was very fond of praying; but
as, in her own words, she had never learned to repeat prayers well, she
kept for the purpose a poor deacon's widow who prayed with such relish!
Never stumbled over a word in her life! And this deacon's widow
certainly could utter the words of prayer in a sort of unbroken flow,
not interrupting the stream to breathe out or draw breath in, while
Malania Pavlovna listened and was much moved. She had another widow in
attendance on her—it was her duty to tell her stories in the night.
'But only the old ones,' Malania Pavlovna would beg—'those I know
already; the new ones are all so far-fetched.' Malania Pavlovna was
flighty in the extreme, and at times she was fanciful too; some
ridiculous notion would suddenly come into her head. She did not like
the dwarf, Janus, for instance; she was always fancying he would
suddenly get up and shout, 'Don't you know who I am? The prince of the
Buriats. Mind, you are to obey me!' Or else that he would set fire to
the house in a fit of spleen. Malania Pavlovna was as liberal as Alexey
Sergeitch; but she never gave money—she did not like to soil her
hands—but kerchiefs, bracelets, dresses, ribbons; or she would send
pies from the table, or a piece of roast meat, or a bottle of wine. She
liked feasting the peasant-women, too, on holidays; they would dance,
and she would tap with her heels and throw herself into attitudes.
Alexey Sergeitch was well aware that his wife was a fool; but almost
from the first year of his marriage he had schooled himself to keep up
the fiction that she was very witty and fond of saying cutting things.
Sometimes when her chatter began to get beyond all bounds, he would
threaten her with his finger, and say as he did so: 'Ah, the tongue,
the tongue! what it will have to answer for in the other world! It will
be pierced with a redhot pin!'
Malania Pavlovna was not offended, however, at this; on the
contrary, she seemed to feel flattered at hearing a reproof of that
sort, as though she would say, 'Well! is it my fault if I'm naturally
Malania Pavlovna adored her husband, and had been all her life an
exemplarily faithful wife; but there had been a romance even in her
life—a young cousin, an hussar, killed, as she supposed, in a duel on
her account; but, according to more trustworthy reports, killed by a
blow on the head from a billiard-cue in a tavern brawl. A water-colour
portrait of this object of her affections was kept by her in a secret
drawer. Malania Pavlovna always blushed up to her ears when she
mentioned Kapiton—such was the name of the young hero—and Alexey
Sergeitch would designedly scowl, shake his finger at his wife again,
and say: 'No trusting a horse in the field nor a woman in the house.
Don't talk to me of Kapiton, he's Cupidon!' Then Malania Pavlovna would
be all of a flutter and say: 'Alexis, Alexis, it's too bad of you! In
your young days you flirted, I've no doubt, with all sorts of misses
and madams—and so now you imagine....' 'Come, that's enough, that's
enough, my dear Malania,' Alexey Sergeitch interrupted with a smile.
'Your gown is white—but whiter still your soul!' 'Yes, Alexis, it is
whiter!' 'Ah, what a tongue, what a tongue!' Alexis would repeat,
patting her hand.
To speak of 'views' in the case of Malania Pavlovna would be even
more inappropriate than in the case of Alexey Sergeitch; yet I once
chanced to witness a strange manifestation of my aunt's secret
feelings. In the course of conversation I once somehow mentioned the
famous chief of police, Sheshkovsky; Malania Pavlovna turned suddenly
livid—positively livid, green, in spite of her rouge and paint—and in
a thick and perfectly unaffected voice (a very rare thing with her—she
usually minced a little, intoned, and lisped) she said: 'Oh, what a
name to utter! And towards nightfall, too! Don't utter that name!' I
was astonished; what kind of significance could his name have for such
a harmless and inoffensive creature, incapable—not merely of
doing—even of thinking of anything not permissible? Anything but
cheerful reflections were aroused in me by this terror, manifesting
itself after almost half a century.
Alexey Sergeitch died in his eighty-eighth year—in the year 1848,
which apparently disturbed even him. His death, too, was rather
strange. He had felt well the same morning, though by that time he
never left his easy-chair. And all of a sudden he called his wife:
'Malania, my dear, come here.' 'What is it, Alexis?' 'It's time for me
to die, my dear, that's what it is.' 'Mercy on you, Alexey Sergeitch!
What for?' 'Because, first of all, one must know when to take leave;
and, besides, I was looking the other day at my feet.... Look at my
feet ... they are not mine ... say what you like ... look at my hands,
look at my stomach ... that stomach's not mine—so really I'm using up
another man's life. Send for the priest; and meanwhile, put me to
bed—from which I shall not get up again.' Malania Pavlovna was
terribly upset; however, she put the old man to bed and sent for the
priest. Alexey Sergeitch confessed, took the sacrament, said good-bye
to his household, and fell asleep. Malania Pavlovna was sitting by his
bedside. 'Alexis!' she cried suddenly, 'don't frighten me, don't shut
your eyes! Are you in pain?' The old man looked at his wife: 'No, no
pain ... but it's difficult ... difficult to breathe.' Then after a
brief silence: 'Malania,' he said, 'so life has slipped by—and do you
remember when we were married ... what a couple we were?' 'Yes, we
were, my handsome, charming Alexis!' The old man was silent again.
'Malania, my dear, shall we meet again in the next world?' 'I will pray
God for it, Alexis,' and the old woman burst into tears. 'Come, don't
cry, silly; maybe the Lord God will make us young again then—and again
we shall be a fine pair!' 'He will make us young, Alexis!' 'With the
Lord all things are possible,' observed Alexey Sergeitch. 'He worketh
great marvels!—maybe He will make you sensible.... There, my love, I
was joking; come, let me kiss your hand.' 'And I yours.' And the two
old people kissed each other's hands simultaneously.
Alexey Sergeitch began to grow quieter and to sink into
forgetfulness. Malania Pavlovna watched him tenderly, brushing the
tears off her eyelashes with her finger-tips. For two hours she
continued sitting there. 'Is he asleep?' the old woman with the talent
for praying inquired in a whisper, peeping in behind Irinarh, who,
immovable as a post, stood in the doorway, gazing intently at his
expiring master. 'He is asleep,' answered Malania Pavlovna also in a
whisper. And suddenly Alexey Sergeitch opened his eyes. 'My faithful
companion,' he faltered, 'my honoured wife, I would bow down at your
little feet for all your love and faithfulness—but how to get up? Let
me sign you with the cross.' Malania Pavlovna moved closer, bent
down.... But the hand he had raised fell back powerless on the quilt,
and a few moments later Alexey Sergeitch was no more.
His daughters arrived only on the day of the funeral with their
husbands; they had no children either of them. Alexey Sergeitch showed
them no animosity in his will, though he never even mentioned them on
his death-bed. 'My heart has grown hard to them,' he once said to me.
Knowing his kindly nature, I was surprised at his words. It is hard to
judge between parents and children. 'A great ravine starts from a
little rift,' Alexey Sergeitch said to me once in this connection: 'a
wound a yard wide may heal; but once cut off even a finger nail, it
will not grow again.'
I fancy the daughters were ashamed of their eccentric old parents.
A month later and Malania Pavlovna too passed away. From the very
day of Alexey Sergeitch's death she had hardly risen from her bed, and
had not put on her usual attire; but they buried her in the blue
jacket, and with Orlov's medallion on her shoulder, only without the
diamonds. Those her daughters divided, on the pretext that the diamonds
should be used in the setting of some holy pictures; in reality, they
used them to adorn their own persons.
And so I can see my old friends as though they were alive and before
my eyes, and pleasant is the memory I preserve of them. And yet on my
very last visit to them (I was a student by then) an incident occurred
which jarred upon the impression of patriarchal harmony always produced
in me by the Teliegin household.
Among the house-serfs there was one Ivan, called 'Suhys' Ivan,' a
coachman or coach-boy, as they called him on account of his small size,
in spite of his being no longer young. He was a tiny little man, brisk,
snub-nosed, curly-headed, with an everlastingly smiling, childish face,
and little eyes, like a mouse's. He was a great joker, a most comic
fellow; he was great at all sorts of tricks—he used to fly kites, let
off fireworks and rockets, to play all sorts of games, gallop standing
up on the horse's back, fly higher than all the rest in the swing, and
could even make Chinese shadows. No one could amuse children better;
and he would gladly spend the whole day looking after them. When he
started laughing, the whole house would seem to liven up; they would
answer him—one would say one thing, one another, but he always made
them all merry.... And even if they abused him, they could not but
laugh. Ivan danced marvellously, especially the so-called 'fish dance.'
When the chorus struck up a dance tune, the fellow would come into the
middle of the ring, and then there would begin such a turning and
skipping and stamping, and then he would fall flat on the ground, and
imitate the movement of a fish brought out of the water on to dry land;
such turning and wriggling, the heels positively clapped up to the
head; and then he would get up and shriek—the earth seemed simply
quivering under him. At times Alexey Sergeitch, who was, as I have said
already, exceedingly fond of watching dancing, could not resist
shouting, 'Little Vania, here! coach-boy! Dance us the fish, smartly
now'; and a minute later he would whisper enthusiastically: 'Ah, what a
fellow it is!'
Well, on my last visit, this Ivan Suhih came into my room, and,
without saying a word, fell on his knees. 'Ivan, what's the matter?'
'Save me, sir.' 'Why, what is it?' And thereupon Ivan told me his
He was exchanged, twenty years ago, by 'the Suhy family for a serf
of the Teliegins';—simply exchanged without any kind of formality or
written deed: the man given in exchange for him had died, but the Suhys
had forgotten about Ivan, and he had stayed on in Alexey Sergeitch's
house as his own serf; only his nickname had served to recall his
origin. But now his former masters were dead; the estate had passed
into other hands; and the new owner, who was reported to be a cruel and
oppressive man, having learned that one of his serfs was detained
without cause or reason at Alexey Sergeitch's, began to demand him
back; in case of refusal he threatened legal proceedings, and the
threat was not an empty one, as he was himself of the rank of privy
councillor, and had great weight in the province. Ivan had rushed in
terror to Alexey Sergeitch. The old man was sorry for his dancer, and
he offered the privy councillor to buy Ivan for a considerable sum. But
the privy councillor would not hear of it; he was a Little Russian, and
obstinate as the devil. The poor fellow would have to be given up. 'I
have spent my life here, and I'm at home here; I have served here, here
I have eaten my bread, and here I want to die,' Ivan said to me—and
there was no smile on his face now; on the contrary, it looked turned
to stone.... 'And now I am to go to this wretch.... Am I a dog to be
flung from one kennel to another with a noose round my neck? ... to be
told: “There, get along with you!” Save me, master; beg your uncle,
remember how I always amused you.... Or else there'll be harm come of
it; it won't end without sin.'
'What sort of sin, Ivan?'
'I shall kill that gentleman. I shall simply go and say to him,
“Master, let me go back; or else, mind, be careful of yourself.... I
shall kill you.”'
If a siskin or a chaffinch could have spoken, and had begun
declaring that it would peck another bird to death, it would not have
reduced me to greater amazement than did Ivan at that moment. What!
Suhys' Vania, that dancing, jesting, comic fellow, the favourite
playfellow of children, and a child himself, that kindest-hearted of
creatures, a murderer! What ridiculous nonsense! Not for an instant did
I believe him; what astonished me to such a degree was that he was
capable of saying such a thing. Anyway I appealed to Alexey Sergeitch.
I did not repeat what Ivan had said to me, but began asking him whether
something couldn't be done. 'My young sir,' the old man answered, 'I
should be only too happy—but what's to be done? I offered this Little
Russian an immense compensation—I offered him three hundred roubles,
'pon my honour, I tell you! but he—there's no moving him! what's one
to do? The transaction was not legal, it was done on trust, in the
old-fashioned way ... and now see what mischief's come of it! This
Little Russian fellow, you see, will take Ivan by force, do what we
will: his arm is powerful, the governor eats cabbage-soup at his table;
he'll be sending along soldiers. And I'm afraid of those soldiers! In
old days, to be sure, I would have stood up for Ivan, come what might;
but now, look at me, what a feeble creature I have grown! How can I
make a fight for it?' It was true; on my last visit I found Alexey
Sergeitch greatly aged; even the centres of his eyes had that milky
colour that babies' eyes have, and his lips wore not his old conscious
smile, but that unnatural, mawkish, unconscious grin, which never, even
in sleep, leaves the faces of very decrepit old people.
I told Ivan of Alexey Sergeitch's decision. He stood still, was
silent for a little, shook his head. 'Well,' said he at last, 'what is
to be there's no escaping. Only my mind's made up. There's nothing
left, then, but to play the fool to the end. Something for drink,
please!' I gave him something; he drank himself drunk, and that day
danced the 'fish dance' so that the serf-girls and peasant-women
positively shrieked with delight—he surpassed himself in his antics so
Next day I went home, and three months later, in Petersburg, I heard
that Ivan had kept his word. He had been sent to his new master; his
master had called him into his room, and explained to him that he would
be made coachman, that a team of three ponies would be put in his
charge, and that he would be severely dealt with if he did not look
after them well, and were not punctual in discharging his duties
generally. 'I'm not fond of joking.' Ivan heard the master out, first
bowed down to his feet, and then announced it was as his honour
pleased, but he could not be his servant.
'Let me off for a yearly quit-money, your honour,' said he, 'or send
me for a soldier; or else there'll be mischief come of it!'
The master flew into a rage. 'Ah, what a fellow you are! How dare
you speak to me like that? In the first place, I'm to be called your
excellency, and not your honour; and, secondly, you're beyond the age,
and not of a size to be sent for a soldier; and, lastly, what mischief
do you threaten me with? Do you mean to set the house on fire, eh?'
'No, your excellency, not the house on fire.'
'Murder me, then, eh?'
Ivan was silent. 'I'm not your servant,' he said at last.
'Oh well, I'll show you,' roared the master, 'whether you 're my
servant or not.' And he had Ivan cruelly punished, but yet had the
three ponies put into his charge, and made him coachman in the stables.
Ivan apparently submitted; he began driving about as coachman. As he
drove well, he soon gained favour with the master, especially as Ivan
was very quiet and steady in his behaviour, and the ponies improved so
much in his hands; he turned them out as sound and sleek as
cucumbers—it was quite a sight to see. The master took to driving out
with him oftener than with the other coachmen. Sometimes he would ask
him, 'I say, Ivan, do you remember how badly we got on when we met?
You've got over all that nonsense, eh?' But Ivan never made any
response to such remarks. So one day the master was driving with Ivan
to the town in his three-horse sledge with bells and a highback covered
with carpet. The horses began to walk up the hill, and Ivan got off the
box-seat and went behind the back of the sledge as though he had
dropped something. It was a sharp frost; the master sat wrapped up,
with a beaver cap pulled down on to his ears. Then Ivan took an axe
from under his skirt, came up to the master from behind, knocked off
his cap, and saying, 'I warned you, Piotr Petrovitch—you've yourself
to blame now!' he struck off his head at one blow. Then he stopped the
ponies, put the cap on his dead master, and, getting on the box-seat
again, drove him to the town, straight to the courts of justice.
'Here's the Suhinsky general for you, dead; I have killed him. As I
told him, so I did to him. Put me in fetters.'
They took Ivan, tried him, sentenced him to the knout, and then to
hard labour. The light-hearted, bird-like dancer was sent to the mines,
and there passed out of sight for ever....
Yes; one can but repeat, in another sense, Alexey Sergeitch's words:
'They were good old times ... but enough of them!'
Reader, do you know those little homesteads of country gentlefolks,
which were plentiful in our Great Russian Oukraine twenty-five or
thirty years ago? Now one rarely comes across them, and in another ten
years the last of them will, I suppose, have disappeared for ever. The
running pond overgrown with reeds and rushes, the favourite haunt of
fussy ducks, among whom one may now and then come across a wary 'teal';
beyond the pond a garden with avenues of lime-trees, the chief beauty
and glory of our black-earth plains, with smothered rows of 'Spanish'
strawberries, with dense thickets of gooseberries, currants, and
raspberries, in the midst of which, in the languid hour of the stagnant
noonday heat, one would be sure to catch glimpses of a serf-girl's
striped kerchief, and to hear the shrill ring of her voice. Close by
would be a summer-house standing on four legs, a conservatory, a
neglected kitchen garden, with flocks of sparrows hung on stakes, and a
cat curled up on the tumble-down well; a little further, leafy
apple-trees in the high grass, which is green below and grey above,
straggling cherry-trees, pear-trees, on which there is never any fruit;
then flower-beds, poppies, peonies, pansies, milkwort, 'maids in
green,' bushes of Tartar honeysuckle, wild jasmine, lilac and acacia,
with the continual hum of bees and wasps among their thick, fragrant,
sticky branches. At last comes the manor-house, a one-storied building
on a brick foundation, with greenish window-panes in narrow frames, a
sloping, once painted roof, a little balcony from which the vases of
the balustrade are always jutting out, a crooked gable, and a husky old
dog in the recess under the steps at the door. Behind the house a wide
yard with nettles, wormwood, and burdocks in the corners, outbuildings
with doors that stick, doves and rooks on the thatched roofs, a little
storehouse with a rusty weathercock, two or three birch-trees with
rooks' nests in their bare top branches, and beyond—the road with
cushions of soft dust in the ruts and a field and the long hurdles of
the hemp patches, and the grey little huts of the village, and the
cackle of geese in the far-away rich meadows.... Is all this familiar
to you, reader? In the house itself everything is a little awry, a
little rickety—but no matter. It stands firm and keeps warm; the
stoves are like elephants, the furniture is of all sorts, home-made.
Little paths of white footmarks run from the doors over the painted
floors. In the hall siskins and larks in tiny cages; in the corner of
the dining-room an immense English clock in the form of a tower, with
the inscription, 'Strike—silent'; in the drawing-room portraits of the
family, painted in oils, with an expression of ill-tempered alarm on
the brick-coloured faces, and sometimes too an old warped picture of
flowers and fruit or a mythological subject. Everywhere there is the
smell of kvas, of apples, of linseed-oil and of leather. Flies buzz and
hum about the ceiling and the windows. A daring cockroach suddenly
shows his countenance from behind the looking-glass frame.... No
matter, one can live here—and live very well too.
Just such a homestead it was my lot to visit thirty years ago ... it
was in days long past, as you perceive. The little estate in which this
house stood belonged to a friend of mine at the university; it had only
recently come to him on the death of a bachelor cousin, and he was not
living in it himself.... But at no great distance from it there were
wide tracts of steppe bog, in which at the time of summer migration,
when they are on the wing, there are great numbers of snipe; my friend
and I, both enthusiastic sportsmen, agreed therefore to go on St.
Peter's day, he from Moscow, I from my own village, to his little
house. My friend lingered in Moscow, and was two days late; I did not
care to start shooting without him. I was received by an old servant,
Narkiz Semyonov, who had had notice of my coming. This old servant was
not in the least like 'Savelitch' or 'Caleb'; my friend used to call
him in joke 'Marquis.' There was something of conceit, even of
affectation, about him; he looked down on us young men with a certain
dignity, but cherished no particularly respectful sentiments for other
landowners either; of his old master he spoke slightingly, while his
own class he simply scorned for their ignorance. He could read and
write, expressed himself correctly and with judgment, and did not
drink. He seldom went to church, and so was looked upon as a dissenter.
In appearance he was thin and tall, had a long and good-looking face, a
sharp nose, and overhanging eyebrows, which he was continually either
knitting or lifting; he wore a neat, roomy coat, and boots to his knees
with heart-shaped scallops at the tops.
On the day of my arrival, Narkiz, having given me lunch and cleared
the table, stood in the doorway, looked intently at me, and with some
play of the eyebrows observed:
'What are you going to do now, sir?'
'Well, really, I don't know. If Nikolai Petrovitch had kept his word
and come, we should have gone shooting together.'
'So you really expected, sir, that he would come at the time he
'Of course I did.'
'H'm.' Narkiz looked at me again and shook his head as it were with
commiseration. 'If you 'd care to amuse yourself with reading,' he
continued: 'there are some books left of my old master's; I'll get them
you, if you like; only you won't read them, I expect.'
'They're books of no value; not written for the gentlemen of these
'Have you read them?'
'If I hadn't read them, I wouldn't have spoken about them. A
dream-book, for instance ... that's not much of a book, is it? There
are others too, of course ... only you won't read them either.'
'They are religious books.'
I was silent for a space.... Narkiz was silent too.
'What vexes me most,' I began, 'is staying in the house in such
'Take a walk in the garden; or go into the copse. We've a copse here
beyond the threshing-floor. Are you fond of fishing?'
'Are there fish here?'
'Yes, in the pond. Loaches, sand-eels, and perches are caught there.
Now, to be sure, the best time is over; July's here. But anyway, you
might try.... Shall I get the tackle ready?'
'Yes, do please.'
'I'll send a boy with you ... to put on the worms. Or maybe I 'd
better come myself?' Narkiz obviously doubted whether I knew how to set
about things properly by myself.
'Come, please, come along.'
Narkiz, without a word, grinned from ear to ear, then suddenly
knitted his brows ... and went out of the room.
Half an hour later we set off to catch fish. Narkiz had put on an
extraordinary sort of cap with ears, and was more dignified than ever.
He walked in front with a steady, even step; two rods swayed regularly
up and down on his shoulders; a bare-legged boy followed him carrying a
can and a pot of worms.
'Here, near the dike, there's a seat, put up on the floating
platform on purpose,' Narkiz was beginning to explain to me, but he
glanced ahead, and suddenly exclaimed: 'Aha! but our poor folk are here
already ... they keep it up, it seems.'
I craned my head to look from behind him, and saw on the floating
platform, on the very seat of which he had been speaking, two persons
sitting with their backs to us; they were placidly fishing.
'Who are they?' I asked.
'Neighbours,' Narkiz responded, with displeasure. 'They've nothing
to eat at home, and so here they come to us.'
'Are they allowed to?'
'The old master allowed them.... Nikolai Petrovitch maybe won't give
them permission.... The long one is a superannuated deacon—quite a
silly creature; and as for the other, that's a little stouter—he's a
'A brigadier?' I repeated, wondering. This 'brigadier's' attire was
almost worse than the deacon's.
'I assure you he's a brigadier. And he did have a fine property
once. But now he has only a corner given him out of charity, and he
lives ... on what God sends him. But, by the way, what are we to do?
They've taken the best place.... We shall have to disturb our precious
'No, Narkiz, please don't disturb them. We'll sit here a little
aside; they won't interfere with us. I should like to make acquaintance
with the brigadier.'
'As you like. Only, as far as acquaintance goes ... you needn't
expect much satisfaction from it, sir; he's grown very weak in his
head, and in conversation he's silly as a little child. As well he may
be; he's past his eightieth year.'
'What's his name?'
'Vassily Fomitch. Guskov's his surname.'
'And the deacon?'
'The deacon? ... his nickname's Cucumber. Every one about here calls
him so; but what his real name is—God knows! A foolish creature! A
'Do they live together?'
'No; but there—the devil has tied them together, it seems.'
We approached the platform. The brigadier cast one glance upon us
... and promptly fixed his eyes on the float; Cucumber jumped up,
pulled back his rod, took off his worn-out clerical hat, passed a
trembling hand over his rough yellow hair, made a sweeping bow, and
gave vent to a feeble little laugh. His bloated face betrayed him an
inveterate drunkard; his staring little eyes blinked humbly. He gave
his neighbour a poke in the ribs, as though to let him know that they
must clear out.... The brigadier began to move on the seat.
'Sit still, I beg; don't disturb yourselves,' I hastened to say.
'You won't interfere with us in the least. We'll take up our position
here; sit still.'
Cucumber wrapped his ragged smock round him, twitched his shoulders,
his lips, his beard.... Obviously he felt our presence oppressive and
he would have been glad to slink away, ... but the brigadier was again
lost in the contemplation of his float.... The 'ne'er-do-weel' coughed
twice, sat down on the very edge of the seat, put his hat on his knees,
and, tucking his bare legs up under him, he discreetly dropped in his
'Any bites?' Narkiz inquired haughtily, as in leisurely fashion he
unwound his reel.
'We've caught a matter of five loaches,' answered Cucumber in a
cracked and husky voice: 'and he took a good-sized perch.'
'Yes, a perch,' repeated the brigadier in a shrill pipe.
I fell to watching closely—not him, but his reflection in the pond.
It was as clearly reflected as in a looking-glass—a little darker, a
little more silvery. The wide stretch of pond wafted a refreshing
coolness upon us; a cool breath of air seemed to rise, too, from the
steep, damp bank; and it was the sweeter, as in the dark blue, flooded
with gold, above the tree tops, the stagnant sultry heat hung, a burden
that could be felt, over our heads. There was no stir in the water near
the dike; in the shade cast by the drooping bushes on the bank, water
spiders gleamed, like tiny bright buttons, as they described their
everlasting circles; at long intervals there was a faint ripple just
perceptible round the floats, when a fish was 'playing' with the worm.
Very few fish were taken; during a whole hour we drew up only two
loaches and an eel. I could not say why the brigadier aroused my
curiosity; his rank could not have any influence on me; ruined noblemen
were not even at that time looked upon as a rarity, and his appearance
presented nothing remarkable. Under the warm cap, which covered the
whole upper part of his head down to his ears and his eyebrows, could
be seen a smooth, red, clean-shaven, round face, with a little nose,
little lips, and small, clear grey eyes. Simplicity and weakness of
character, and a sort of long-standing, helpless sorrow, were visible
in that meek, almost childish face; the plump, white little hands with
short fingers had something helpless, incapable about them too.... I
could not conceive how this forlorn old man could once have been an
officer, could have maintained discipline, have given his commands—and
that, too, in the stern days of Catherine! I watched him; now and then
he puffed out his cheeks and uttered a feeble whistle, like a little
child; sometimes he screwed up his eyes painfully, with effort, as all
decrepit people will. Once he opened his eyes wide and lifted them....
They stared at me from out of the depths of the water—and strangely
touching and even full of meaning their dejected glance seemed to me.
I tried to begin a conversation with the brigadier ... but Narkiz
had not misinformed me; the poor old man certainly had become weak in
his intellect. He asked me my surname, and after repeating his inquiry
twice, pondered and pondered, and at last brought out: 'Yes, I fancy
there was a judge of that name here. Cucumber, wasn't there a judge
about here of that name, hey?' 'To be sure there was, Vassily Fomitch,
your honour,' responded Cucumber, who treated him altogether as a
child. 'There was, certainly. But let me have your hook; your worm must
have been eaten off.... Yes, so it is.'
'Did you know the Lomov family?' the brigadier suddenly asked me in
a cracked voice.
'What Lomov family is that?'
'Why, Fiodor Ivanitch, Yevstigney Ivanitch, Alexey Ivanitch the Jew,
and Fedulia Ivanovna the plunderer, ... and then, too ...'
The brigadier suddenly broke off and looked down confused.
They were the people he was most intimate with,' Narkiz whispered,
bending towards me; 'it was through them, through that same Alexey
Ivanitch, that he called a Jew, and through a sister of Alexey
Ivanitch's, Agrafena Ivanovna, as you may say, that he lost all his
'What are you saying there about Agrafena Ivanovna?' the brigadier
called out suddenly, and his head was raised, his white eyebrows were
frowning.... 'You'd better mind! And why Agrafena, pray? Agrippina
Ivanovna—that's what you should call her.'
'There—there—there, sir,' Cucumber was beginning to falter.
'Don't you know the verses the poet Milonov wrote about her?' the
old man went on, suddenly getting into a state of excitement, which was
a complete surprise to me. 'No hymeneal lights were kindled,' he began
chanting, pronouncing all the vowels through his nose, giving the
syllables 'an,' 'en,' the nasal sound they have in French; and it was
strange to hear this connected speech from his lips: 'No torches ...
No, that's not it:
“Not vain Corruption's idols frail
Not amaranth nor porphyry
Rejoiced their hearts ...
One thing in them ...”
'That was about us. Do you hear?
“One thing in them unquenchable,
Subduing, sweet, desirable,
To nurse their mutual flame in love!”
And you talk about Agrafena!'
Narkiz chuckled half-contemptuously, half-indifferently. 'What a
queer fish it is!' he said to himself. But the brigadier had again
relapsed into dejection, the rod had dropped from his hands and slipped
into the water.
'Well, to my thinking, our fishing is a poor business,' observed
Cucumber; 'the fish, see, don't bite at all. It's got fearfully hot,
and there's a fit of “mencholy” come over our gentleman. It's clear we
must be going home; that will be best.' He cautiously drew out of his
pocket a tin bottle with a wooden stopper, uncorked it, scattered snuff
on his wrist, and sniffed it up in both nostrils at once.... 'Ah, what
good snuff!' he moaned, as he recovered himself. 'It almost made my
tooth ache! Now, my dear Vassily Fomitch, get up—it's time to be off!'
The brigadier got up from the bench.
'Do you live far from here?' I asked Cucumber.
'No, our gentleman lives not far ... it won't be as much as a mile.'
'Will you allow me to accompany you?' I said, addressing the
brigadier. I felt disinclined to let him go.
Narkiz was surprised at my intention; but I paid no attention to the
disapproving shake of his long-eared cap, and walked out of the garden
with the brigadier, who was supported by Cucumber. The old man moved
fairly quickly, with a motion as though he were on stilts.
We walked along a scarcely trodden path, through a grassy glade
between two birch copses. The sun was blazing; the orioles called to
each other in the green thicket; corncrakes chattered close to the
path; blue butterflies fluttered in crowds about the white, and red
flowers of the low-growing clover; in the perfectly still grass bees
hung, as though asleep, languidly buzzing. Cucumber seemed to pull
himself together, and brightened up; he was afraid of Narkiz—he lived
always under his eye; I was a stranger—a new comer—with me he was
soon quite at home.
'Here's our gentleman,' he said in a rapid flow; 'he's a small eater
and no mistake! but only one perch, is that enough for him? Unless,
your honour, you would like to contribute something? Close here round
the corner, at the little inn, there are first-rate white wheaten
rolls. And if so, please your honour, this poor sinner, too, will
gladly drink on this occasion to your health, and may it be of long
years and long days.' I gave him a little silver, and was only just in
time to pull away my hand, which he was falling upon to kiss. He
learned that I was a sportsman, and fell to talking of a very good
friend of his, an officer, who had a 'Mindindenger' Swedish gun, with a
copper stock, just like a cannon, so that when you fire it off you are
almost knocked senseless—it had been left behind by the French—and a
dog—simply one of Nature's marvels! that he himself had always had a
great passion for the chase, and his priest would have made no trouble
about it—he used in fact to catch quails with him—but the
ecclesiastical superior had pursued him with endless persecution; 'and
as for Narkiz Semyonitch,' he observed in a sing-song tone, 'if
according to his notions I'm not a trustworthy person—well, what I say
is: he's let his eyebrows grow till he's like a woodcock, and he
fancies all the sciences are known to him.' By this time we had reached
the inn, a solitary tumble-down, one-roomed little hut without backyard
or outbuildings; an emaciated dog lay curled up under the window; a hen
was scratching in the dust under his very nose. Cucumber sat the
brigadier down on the bank, and darted instantly into the hut. While he
was buying the rolls and emptying a glass, I never took my eyes off the
brigadier, who, God knows why, struck me as something of an enigma. In
the life of this man—so I mused—there must certainly have been
something out of the ordinary. But he, it seemed, did not notice me at
all. He was sitting huddled up on the bank, and twisting in his fingers
some pinks which he had gathered in my friend's garden. Cucumber made
his appearance, at last, with a bundle of rolls in his hand; he made
his appearance, all red and perspiring, with an expression of gleeful
surprise on his face, as though he had just seen something exceedingly
agreeable and unexpected. He at once offered the brigadier a roll to
eat, and the latter at once ate it. We proceeded on our way.
On the strength of the spirits he had drunk, Cucumber quite
'unbent,' as it is called. He began trying to cheer up the brigadier,
who was still hurrying forward with a tottering motion as though he
were on stilts. 'Why are you so downcast, sir, and hanging your head?
Let me sing you a song. That'll cheer you up in a minute.' He turned to
me: 'Our gentleman is very fond of a joke, mercy on us, yes! Yesterday,
what did I see?—a peasant-woman washing a pair of breeches on the
platform, and a great fat woman she was, and he stood behind her,
simply all of a shake with laughter—yes, indeed! ... In a minute,
allow me: do you know the song of the hare? You mustn't judge me by my
looks; there's a gypsy woman living here in the town, a perfect fright,
but sings—'pon my soul! one's ready to lie down and die.' He opened
wide his moist red lips and began singing, his head on one side, his
eyes shut, and his beard quivering:
'The hare beneath the bush lies still,
The hunters vainly scour the hill;
The hare lies hid and holds his breath,
His ears pricked up, he lies there still
Waiting for death.
O hunters! what harm have I done,
To vex or injure you? Although
Among the cabbages I run,
One leaf I nibble—only one,
And that's not yours!
Cucumber went on with ever-increasing energy:
'Into the forest dark he fled,
His tail he let the hunters see;
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” says he,
“That so I turn my back on you—
I am not yours!”'
Cucumber was not singing now ... he was bellowing:
'The hunters hunted day and night,
And still the hare was out of sight.
So, talking over his misdeeds,
They ended by disputing quite—
Alas, the hare is not for us!
The squint-eye is too sharp for us!'
The first two lines of each stanza Cucumber sang with each syllable
drawn out; the other three, on the contrary, very briskly, and
accompanied them with little hops and shuffles of his feet; at the
conclusion of each verse he cut a caper, in which he kicked himself
with his own heels. As he shouted at the top of his voice: 'The
squint-eye is too sharp for us!' he turned a somersault.... His
expectations were fulfilled. The brigadier suddenly went off into a
thin, tearful little chuckle, and laughed so heartily that he could not
go on, and stayed still in a half-sitting posture, helplessly slapping
his knees with his hands. I looked at his face, flushed crimson, and
convulsively working, and felt very sorry for him at that instant
especially. Encouraged by his success, Cucumber fell to capering about
in a squatting position, singing the refrain of: 'Shildi-budildi!' and
'Natchiki-tchikaldi!' He stumbled at last with his nose in the dust....
The brigadier suddenly ceased laughing and hobbled on.
We went on another quarter of a mile. A little village came into
sight on the edge of a not very deep ravine; on one side stood the
'lodge,' with a half-ruined roof and a solitary chimney; in one of the
two rooms of this lodge lived the brigadier. The owner of the village,
who always resided in Petersburg, the widow of the civil councillor
Lomov, had—so I learned later—bestowed this little nook upon the
brigadier. She had given orders that he should receive a monthly
pension, and had also assigned for his service a half-witted serf-girl
living in the same village, who, though she barely understood human
speech, was yet capable, in the lady's opinion, of sweeping a floor and
cooking cabbage-soup. At the door of the lodge the brigadier again
addressed me with the same eighteenth-century smile: would I be pleased
to walk into his 'apartement'? We went into this 'apartement.'
Everything in it was exceedingly filthy and poor, so filthy and so poor
that the brigadier, noticing, probably, by the expression of my face,
the impression it made on me, observed, shrugging his shoulders, and
half closing his eyelids: 'Ce n'est pas ... oeil de perdrix.' ... What
precisely he meant by this remained a mystery to me.... When I
addressed him in French, I got no reply from him in that language. Two
objects struck me especially in the brigadier's abode: a large
officer's cross of St. George in a black frame, under glass, with an
inscription in an old-fashioned handwriting: 'Received by the Colonel
of the Tchernigov regiment, Vassily Guskov, for the storming of Prague
in the year 1794'; and secondly, a half-length portrait in oils of a
handsome, black-eyed woman with a long, dark face, hair turned up high
and powdered, with postiches on the temple and chin, in a flowered,
low-cut bodice, with blue frills, the style of 1780. The portrait was
badly painted, but was probably a good likeness; there was a wonderful
look of life and will, something extraordinarily living and resolute,
about the face. It was not looking at the spectator; it was, as it
were, turning away and not smiling; the curve of the thin nose, the
regular but flat lips, the almost unbroken straight line of the thick
eyebrows, all showed an imperious, haughty, fiery temper. No great
effort was needed to picture that face glowing with passion or with
rage. Just below the portrait on a little pedestal stood a
half-withered bunch of simple wild flowers in a thick glass jar. The
brigadier went up to the pedestal, stuck the pinks he was carrying into
the jar, and turning to me, and lifting his hand in the direction of
the portrait, he observed: 'Agrippina Ivanovna Teliegin, by birth
Lomov.' The words of Narkiz came back to my mind; and I looked with
redoubled interest at the expressive and evil face of the woman for
whose sake the brigadier had lost all his fortune.
'You took part, I see, sir, in the storming of Prague,' I began,
pointing to the St. George cross, 'and won a sign of distinction, rare
at any time, but particularly so then; you must remember Suvorov?'
'Alexander Vassilitch?' the brigadier answered, after a brief
silence, in which he seemed to be pulling his thoughts together; 'to be
sure, I remember him; he was a little, brisk old man. Before one could
stir a finger, he'd be here and there and everywhere (the brigadier
chuckled). He rode into Warsaw on a Cossack horse; he was all in
diamonds, and he says to the Poles: “I've no watch, I forgot it in
Petersburg—no watch!” and they shouted and huzzaed for him. Queer
chaps! Hey! Cucumber! lad!' he added suddenly, changing and raising his
voice (the deacon-buffoon had remained standing at the door), 'where's
the rolls, eh? And tell Grunka ... to bring some kvas!'
'Directly, your honour,' I heard Cucumber's voice reply. He handed
the brigadier the bundle of rolls, and, going out of the lodge,
approached a dishevelled creature in rags—the half-witted girl,
Grunka, I suppose—and as far as I could make out through the dusty
little window, proceeded to demand kvas from her—at least, he several
times raised one hand like a funnel to his mouth, and waved the other
in our direction.
I made another attempt to get into conversation with the brigadier;
but he was evidently tired: he sank, sighing and groaning, on the
little couch, and moaning, 'Oy, oy, my poor bones, my poor bones,'
untied his garters. I remember I wondered at the time how a man came to
be wearing garters. I did not realise that in former days every one
wore them. The brigadier began yawning with prolonged, unconcealed
yawns, not taking his drowsy eyes off me all the time; so very little
children yawn. The poor old man did not even seem quite to understand
my question.... And he had taken Prague! He, sword in hand, in the
smoke and the dust—at the head of Suvorov's soldiers, the
bullet-pierced flag waving above him, the hideous corpses under his
feet.... He ... he! Wasn't it wonderful! But yet I could not help
fancying that there had been events more extraordinary in the
brigadier's life. Cucumber brought white kvas in an iron jug; the
brigadier drank greedily—his hands shook. Cucumber supported the
bottom of the jug. The old man carefully wiped his toothless mouth with
both hands—and again staring at me, fell to chewing and munching his
lips. I saw how it was, bowed, and went out of the room.
'Now he'll have a nap,' observed Cucumber, coming out behind me.
'He's terribly knocked up to-day—he went to the grave early this
'To whose grave?'
'To Agrafena Ivanovna's, to pay his devotions.... She is buried in
our parish cemetery here; it'll be four miles from here. Vassily
Fomitch visits it every week without fail. Indeed, it was he who buried
her and put the fence up at his own expense.'
'Has she been dead long?'
'Well, let's think—twenty years about.'
'Was she a friend of his, or what?'
'Her whole life, you may say, she passed with him ... really. I
myself, I must own, never knew the lady, but they do say ... what there
was between them ... well, well, well! Sir,' the deacon added
hurriedly, seeing I had turned away, 'wouldn't you like to give me
something for another drop, for it's time I was home in my hut and
rolled up in my blanket?'
I thought it useless to question Cucumber further, so gave him a few
coppers, and set off homewards.
At home I betook myself for further information to Narkiz. He, as I
might have anticipated, was somewhat unapproachable, stood a little on
his dignity, expressed his surprise that such paltry matters could
'interest' me, and, finally, told me what he knew. I heard the
Vassily Fomitch Guskov had become acquainted with Agrafena Ivanovna
Teliegin at Moscow soon after the suppression of the Polish
insurrection; her husband had had a post under the governor-general,
and Vassily Fomitch was on furlough. He fell in love with her there and
then, but did not leave the army at once; he was a man of forty with no
family, with a fortune. Her husband soon after died. She was left
without children, poor, and in debt.... Vassily Fomitch heard of her
position, threw up the service (he received the rank of brigadier on
his retirement) and sought out his charming widow, who was not more
than five-and-twenty, paid all her debts, redeemed her estate.... From
that time he had never parted from her, and finished by living
altogether in her house. She, too, seems to have cared for him, but
would not marry him. 'She was froward, the deceased lady,' was Narkiz's
comment on this: 'My liberty,' she would say, 'is dearer to me than
anything.' But as for making use of him—she made use of him 'in every
possible way,' and whatever money he had, he dragged to her like an
ant. But the frowardness of Agrafena Ivanovna at times assumed extreme
proportions; she was not of a mild temper, and somewhat too ready with
her hands.... Once she pushed her page-boy down the stairs, and he went
and broke two of his ribs and one leg.... Agrafena Ivanovna was
frightened ... she promptly ordered the page to be shut up in the
lumber-room, and she did not leave the house nor give up the key of the
room to any one, till the moans within had ceased.... The page was
secretly buried.... 'And had it been in the Empress Catherine's time,'
Narkiz added in a whisper, bending down, 'maybe the affair would have
ended there—many such deeds were hidden under a bushel in those days,
but as ...' here Narkiz drew himself up and raised his voice:' as our
righteous Tsar Alexander the Blessed was reigning then ... well, a fuss
was made.... A trial followed, the body was dug up ... signs of
violence were found on it ... and a great to-do there was. And what do
you think? Vassily Fomitch took it all on himself. “I,” said he, “am
responsible for it all; it was I pushed him down, and I too shut him
up.” Well, of course, all the judges then, and the lawyers and the
police ... fell on him directly ... fell on him and never let him go
... I can assure you ... till the last farthing was out of his purse.
They'd leave him in peace for a while, and then attack him again. Down
to the very time when the French came into Russia they were worrying at
him, and only dropped him then. Well, he managed to provide for
Agrafena Ivanovna—to be sure, he saved her—that one must say. Well,
and afterwards, up to her death, indeed, he lived with her, and they do
say she led him a pretty dance—the brigadier, that is; sent him on
foot from Moscow into the country—by God, she did—to get her rents
in, I suppose. It was on her account, on account of this same Agrafena
Ivanovna—he fought a duel with the English milord Hugh Hughes; and the
English milord was forced to make a formal apology too. But later on
the brigadier went down hill more and more.... Well, and now he can't
be reckoned a man at all.'
'Who was that Alexey Ivanitch the Jew,' I asked, 'through whom he
was brought to ruin?'
'Oh, the brother of Agrafena Ivanovna. A grasping creature, Jewish
indeed. He lent his sister money at interest, and Vassily Fomitch was
her security. He had to pay for it too ... pretty heavily!'
'And Fedulia Ivanovna the plunderer—who was she?'
'Her sister too ... and a sharp one too, as sharp as a lance. A
'What a place to find a Werter!' I thought next day, as I set off
again towards the brigadier's dwelling. I was at that time very young,
and that was possibly why I thought it my duty not to believe in the
lasting nature of love. Still, I was impressed and somewhat puzzled by
the story I had heard, and felt an intense desire to stir up the old
man, to make him talk freely. 'I'll first refer to Suvorov again,' so I
resolved within myself; 'there must be some spark of his former fire
hidden within him still ... and then, when he's warmed up, I'll turn
the conversation on that ... what's her name? ... Agrafena Ivanovna. A
queer name for a “Charlotte”—Agrafena!'
I found my Werter-Guskov in the middle of a tiny kitchen-garden, a
few steps from the lodge, near the old framework of a never-finished
hut, overgrown with nettles. On the mildewed upper beams of this
skeleton hut some miserable-looking turkey poults were scrambling,
incessantly slipping and flapping their wings and cackling. There was
some poor sort of green stuff growing in two or three borders. The
brigadier had just pulled a young carrot out of the ground, and rubbing
it under his arm 'to clean it,' proceeded to chew its thin tail.... I
bowed to him, and inquired after his health.
He obviously did not recognise me, though he returned my
greeting—that is to say, touched his cap with his hand, though without
leaving off munching the carrot.
'You didn't go fishing to-day?' I began, in the hope of recalling
myself to his memory by this question.
'To-day?' he repeated and pondered ... while the carrot, stuck into
his mouth, grew shorter and shorter. 'Why, I suppose it's Cucumber
fishing! ... But I'm allowed to, too.'
'Of course, of course, most honoured Vassily Fomitch.... I didn't
mean that.... But aren't you hot ... like this in the sun.'
The brigadier was wearing a thick wadded dressing-gown.
'Eh? Hot?' he repeated again, as though puzzled over the question,
and, having finally swallowed the carrot, he gazed absently upwards.
'Would you care to step into my apartement?' he said suddenly. The
poor old man had, it seemed, only this phrase still left him always at
We went out of the kitchen-garden ... but there involuntarily I
stopped short. Between us and the lodge stood a huge bull. With his
head down to the ground, and a malignant gleam in his eyes, he was
snorting heavily and furiously, and with a rapid movement of one
fore-leg, he tossed the dust up in the air with his broad cleft hoof,
lashed his sides with his tail, and suddenly backing a little, shook
his shaggy neck stubbornly, and bellowed—not loud, but plaintively,
and at the same time menacingly. I was, I confess, alarmed; but Vassily
Fomitch stepped forward with perfect composure, and saying in a stern
voice, 'Now then, country bumpkin,' shook his handkerchief at him. The
bull backed again, bowed his horns ... suddenly rushed to one side and
ran away, wagging his head from side to side.
'There's no doubt he took Prague,' I thought.
We went into the room. The brigadier pulled his cap off his hair,
which was soaked with perspiration, ejaculated, 'Fa!' ... squatted down
on the edge of a chair ... bowed his head gloomily....
'I have come to you, Vassily Fomitch,' I began my diplomatic
approaches, 'because, as you have served under the leadership of the
great Suvorov—have taken part altogether in such important events—it
would be very interesting for me to hear some particulars of your
The brigadier stared at me.... His face kindled strangely—I began
to expect, if not a story, at least some word of approval, of
'But I, sir, must be going to die soon,' he said in an undertone.
I was utterly nonplussed.
'Why, Vassily Fomitch, 'I brought out at last, 'what makes you ...
The brigadier suddenly flung his arms violently up and down.
'Because, sir ... I, as maybe you know ... often in my dreams see
Agrippina Ivanovna—Heaven's peace be with her!—and never can I catch
her; I am always running after her—but cannot catch her. But last
night—I dreamed—she was standing, as it were, before me, half-turned
away, and laughing.... I ran up to her at once and caught her ... and
she seemed to turn round quite and said to me: “Well, Vassinka, now you
have caught me.”'
'What do you conclude from that, Vassily Fomitch?'
'Why, sir, I conclude: it has come, that we shall be together. And
glory to God for it, I tell you; glory be to God Almighty, the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Ghost (the brigadier fell into a chant): as it
was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Amen!'
The brigadier began crossing himself. I could get nothing more out
of him, so I went away.
The next day my friend arrived.... I mentioned the brigadier, and my
visits to him....
'Oh yes! of course! I know his story,' answered my friend; 'I know
Madame Lomov very well, the privy councillor's widow, by whose favour
he obtained a home here. Oh, wait a minute; I believe there must be
preserved here his letter to the privy councillor's widow; it was on
the strength of that letter that she assigned him his little cot.' My
friend rummaged among his papers and actually found the brigadier's
letter. Here it is word for word, with the omission of the mistakes in
spelling. The brigadier, like every one of his epoch, was a little hazy
in that respect. But to preserve these errors seemed unnecessary; his
letter bears the stamp of his age without them.
'HONOURED MADAM, RAISSA PAVLOVNA!—On the decease of my friend, and
your aunt, I had the happiness of addressing to you two letters, the
first on the first of June, the second on the sixth of July of the year
1815, while she expired on the sixth of May in that year; in them I
discovered to you the feelings of my soul and of my heart, which were
crushed under deadly wrongs, and they reflected in full my bitter
despair, in truth deserving of commiseration; both letters were
despatched by the imperial mail registered, and hence I cannot conceive
that they have not been perused by your eye. By the genuine candour of
my letters, I had counted upon winning your benevolent attention; but
the compassionate feelings of your heart were far removed from me in my
woe! Left on the loss of my one only friend, Agrippina Ivanovna, in the
most distressed and poverty-stricken circumstances, I rested, by her
instructions, all my hopes on your bounty; she, aware of her end
approaching, said to me in these words, as it were from the grave, and
never can I forget them: “My friend, I have been your serpent, and am
guilty of all your unhappiness. I feel how much you have sacrificed for
me, and in return I leave you in a disastrous and truly destitute
situation; on my death have recourse to Raissa Pavlovna”—that is, to
you—“and implore her aid, invite her succour! She has a feeling heart,
and I have confidence in her, that she will not leave you forlorn.”
Honoured madam, let me call to witness the all-high Creator of the
world that those were her words, and I am speaking with her tongue;
and, therefore, trusting firmly in your goodness, to you first of all I
addressed myself with my open-hearted and candid letters; but after
protracted expectation, receiving no reply to them, I could not
conceive otherwise than that your benevolent heart had left me without
attention! Such your unfavourable disposition towards me, reduced me to
the depths of despair—whither, and to whom, was I to turn in my
misfortune I knew not; my soul was troubled, my intellect went astray;
at last, for the completion of my ruin, it pleased Providence to
chastise me in a still more cruel manner, and to turn my thoughts to
your deceased aunt, Fedulia Ivanovna, sister of Agrippina Ivanovna, one
in blood, but not one in heart! Having present to myself, before my
mind's eye, that I had been for twenty years devoted to the whole
family of your kindred, the Lomovs, especially to Fedulia Ivanovna, who
never called Agrippina Ivanovna otherwise than “my heart's precious
treasure,” and me “the most honoured and zealous friend of our family”;
picturing all the above, among abundant tears and sighs in the
stillness of sorrowful night watches, I thought: “Come, brigadier! so,
it seems, it is to be!” and, addressing myself by letter to the said
Fedulia Ivanovna, I received a positive assurance that she would share
her last crumb with me! The presents sent on by me, more than five
hundred roubles' worth in value, were accepted with supreme
satisfaction; and afterwards the money too which I brought with me for
my maintenance, Fedulia Ivanovna was pleased, on the pretext of
guarding it, to take into her care, to the which, to gratify her, I
offered no opposition.
If you ask me whence, and on what ground I conceived such
confidence—to the above, madam, there is but one reply: she was sister
of Agrippina Ivanovna, and a member of the Lomov family! But alas and
alas! all the money aforesaid I was very soon deprived of, and the
hopes which I had rested on Fedulia Ivanovna—that she would share her
last crumb with me—turned out to be empty and vain; on the contrary,
the said Fedulia Ivanovna enriched herself with my property. To wit, on
her saint's day, the fifth of February, I brought her fifty roubles'
worth of green French material, at five roubles the yard; I myself
received of all that was promised five roubles' worth of white pique
for a waistcoat and a muslin handkerchief for my neck, which gifts were
purchased in my presence, as I was aware, with my own money—and that
was all that I profited by Fedulia Ivanovna's bounty! So much for the
last crumb! And I could further, in all sincerity, disclose the
malignant doings of Fedulia Ivanovna to me; and also my expenses,
exceeding all reason, as, among the rest, for sweetmeats and fruits, of
which Fedulia Ivanovna was exceedingly fond;—but upon all this I am
silent, that you may not take such disclosures against the dead in bad
part; and also, seeing that God has called her before His judgment
seat—and all that I suffered at her hands is blotted out from my
heart—and I, as a Christian, forgave her long ago, and pray to God to
'But, honoured madam, Raissa Pavlovna! Surely you will not blame me
for that I was a true and loyal friend of your family, and that I loved
Agrippina Ivanovna with a love so great and so insurmountable that I
sacrificed to her my life, my honour, and all my fortune! that I was
utterly in her hands, and hence could not dispose of myself nor of my
property, and she disposed at her will of me and also of my estate! It
is known to you also that, owing to her action with her servant, I
suffer, though innocent, a deadly wrong—this affair I brought after
her death before the senate, before the sixth department—it is still
unsettled now—in consequence of which I was made accomplice with her,
my estate put under guardianship, and I am still lying under a criminal
charge! In my position, at my age, such disgrace is intolerable to me;
and it is only left me to console my heart with the mournful reflection
that thus, even after Agrippina Ivanovna's death, I suffer for her
sake, and so prove my immutable love and loyal gratitude to her!
'In my letters, above mentioned, to you, I gave you an account with
every detail of Agrippina Ivanovna's funeral, and what masses were read
for her—my affection and love for her spared no outlay! For all the
aforesaid, and for the forty days' requiems, and the reading of the
psalter six weeks after for her (in addition to above, fifty roubles of
mine were lost, which were given as security for payment for the stone,
of which I sent you a description)—on all the aforesaid was spent of
my money seven hundred and fifty roubles, in which is included, by way
of donation to the church, a hundred and fifty roubles.
'In the goodness of your heart, hear the cry of a desperate man,
crushed beneath a load of the crudest calamities! Only your
commiseration and humanity can restore the life of a ruined man! Though
living—in the suffering of my heart and soul I am as one dead; dead
when I think what I was, and what I am; I was a soldier, and served my
country in all fidelity and uprightness, as is the bounden duty of a
loyal Russian and faithful subject, and was rewarded with the highest
honours, and had a fortune befitting my birth and station; and now I
must cringe and beg for a morsel of dry bread; dead above all I am when
I think what a friend I have lost ... and what is life to me after
that? But there is no hastening one's end, and the earth will not open,
but rather seems turned to stone! And so I call upon you, in the
benevolence of your heart, hush the talk of the people, do not expose
yourself to universal censure, that for all my unbounded devotion I
have not where to lay my head; confound them by your bounty to me, turn
the tongues of the evil speakers and slanderers to glorifying your good
works—and I make bold in all humility to add, comfort in the grave
your most precious aunt, Agrippina Ivanovna, who can never be
forgotten, and who for your speedy succour, in answer to my sinful
prayers, will spread her protecting wings about your head, and comfort
in his declining days a lonely old man, who had every reason to expect
a different fate! ... And, with the most profound respect, I have the
honour to be, dear madam, your most devoted servant,
Brigadier and cavalier.'
Several years later I paid another visit to my friend's little
place.... Vassily Fomitch had long been dead; he died soon after I made
his acquaintance. Cucumber was still flourishing. He conducted me to
the tomb of Agrafena Ivanovna. An iron railing enclosed a large slab
with a detailed and enthusiastically laudatory epitaph on the deceased
woman; and there, beside it, as it were at her feet, could be seen a
little mound with a slanting cross on it; the servant of God, the
brigadier and cavalier, Vassily Guskov, lay under this mound.... His
ashes found rest at last beside the ashes of the creature he had loved
with such unbounded, almost undying, love.
In the year 182-... there was living in the town of O——the
lieutenant Ivan Afanasiitch Pyetushkov. He was born of poor parents,
was left an orphan at five years old, and came into the charge of a
guardian. Thanks to this guardian, he found himself with no property
whatever; he had a hard struggle to make both ends meet. He was of
medium height, and stooped a little; he had a thin face, covered with
freckles, but rather pleasing; light brown hair, grey eyes, and a timid
expression; his low forehead was furrowed with fine wrinkles.
Pyetushkov's whole life had been uneventful in the extreme; at close
upon forty he was still youthful and inexperienced as a child. He was
shy with acquaintances, and exceedingly mild in his manner with persons
over whose lot he could have exerted control....
People condemned by fate to a monotonous and cheerless existence
often acquire all sorts of little habits and preferences. Pyetushkov
liked to have a new white roll with his tea every morning. He could not
do without this dainty. But behold one morning his servant, Onisim,
handed him, on a blue-sprigged plate, instead of a roll, three dark red
Pyetushkov at once asked his servant, with some indignation, what he
meant by it.
'The rolls have all been sold out,' answered Onisim, a native of
Petersburg, who had been flung by some queer freak of destiny into the
very wilds of south Russia.
'Impossible!' exclaimed Ivan Afanasiitch.
'Sold out,' repeated Onisim; 'there's a breakfast at the Marshal's,
so they've all gone there, you know.'
Onisim waved his hand in the air, and thrust his right foot forward.
Ivan Afanasiitch walked up and down the room, dressed, and set off
himself to the baker's shop. This establishment, the only one of the
kind in the town of O——, had been opened ten years before by a German
immigrant, had in a short time begun to flourish, and was still
flourishing under the guidance of his widow, a fat woman.
Pyetushkov tapped at the window. The fat woman stuck her unhealthy,
flabby, sleepy countenance out of the pane that opened.
'A roll, if you please,' Pyetushkov said amiably.
'The rolls are all gone,' piped the fat woman.
'Haven't you any rolls?'
'How's that?—really! I take rolls from you every day, and pay for
The woman stared at him in silence. 'Take twists,' she said at last,
yawning; 'or a scone.'
'I don't like them,' said Pyetushkov, and he felt positively hurt.
'As you please,' muttered the fat woman, and she slammed to the
Ivan Afanasiitch was quite unhinged by his intense vexation. In his
perturbation he crossed to the other side of the street, and gave
himself up entirely, like a child, to his displeasure.
'Sir!' ... he heard a rather agreeable female voice; 'sir!'
Ivan Afanasiitch raised his eyes. From the open pane of the
bakehouse window peeped a girl of about seventeen, holding a white roll
in her hand. She had a full round face, rosy cheeks, small hazel eyes,
rather a turn-up nose, fair hair, and magnificent shoulders. Her
features suggested good-nature, laziness, and carelessness.
'Here's a roll for you, sir,' she said, laughing, 'I'd taken for
myself; but take it, please, I'll give it up to you.'
'I thank you most sincerely. Allow me ...'
Pyetushkov began fumbling in his pocket.
'No, no! you are welcome to it.'
She closed the window-pane.
Pyetushkov arrived home in a perfectly agreeable frame of mind.
'You couldn't get any rolls,' he said to his Onisim; 'but here, I've
got one, do you see?'
Onisim gave a bitter laugh.
The same day, in the evening, as Ivan Afanasiitch was undressing, he
asked his servant, 'Tell me, please, my lad, what's the girl like at
the baker's, hey?'
Onisim looked away rather gloomily, and responded, 'What do you want
to know for?'
'Oh, nothing,' said Pyetushkov, taking off his boots with his own
'Well, she's a fine girl!' Onisim observed condescendingly.
'Yes, ... she's not bad-looking,' said Ivan Afanasiitch, also
looking away. 'And what's her name, do you know?'
'And do you know her?'
Onisim did not answer for a minute or two.
'We know her.'
Pyetushkov was on the point of opening his mouth again, but he
turned over on the other side and fell asleep.
Onisim went out into the passage, took a pinch of snuff, and gave
his head a violent shake.
The next day, early in the morning, Pyetushkov called for his
clothes. Onisim brought him his everyday coat—an old grass-coloured
coat, with huge striped epaulettes. Pyetushkov gazed a long while at
Onisim without speaking, then told him to bring him his new coat.
Onisim, with some surprise, obeyed. Pyetushkov dressed, and carefully
drew on his chamois-leather gloves.
'You needn't go to the baker's to-day,' said he with some
hesitation; 'I'm going myself, ... it's on my way.'
'Yes, sir,' responded Onisim, as abruptly as if some one had just
given him a shove from behind.
Pyetushkov set off, reached the baker's shop, tapped at the window.
The fat woman opened the pane.
'Give me a roll, please,' Ivan Afanasiitch articulated slowly.
The fat woman stuck out an arm, bare to the shoulder—a huge arm,
more like a leg than an arm—and thrust the hot bread just under his
Ivan Afanasiitch stood some time under the window, walked once or
twice up and down the street, glanced into the courtyard, and at last,
ashamed of his childishness, returned home with the roll in his hand.
He felt ill at ease the whole day, and even in the evening, contrary to
his habit, did not drop into conversation with Onisim.
The next morning it was Onisim who went for the roll.
Some weeks went by. Ivan Afanasiitch had completely forgotten
Vassilissa, and chatted in a friendly way with his servant as before.
One fine morning there came to see him a certain Bublitsyn, an
easy-mannered and very agreeable young man. It is true he sometimes
hardly knew himself what he was talking about, and was always, as they
say, a little wild; but all the same he had the reputation of being an
exceedingly agreeable person to talk to. He smoked a great deal with
feverish eagerness, with lifted eyebrows and contracted chest—smoked
with an expression of intense anxiety, or, one might rather say, with
an expression as though, let him have this one more puff at his pipe,
and in a minute he would tell you some quite unexpected piece of news;
at times he would even give a grunt and a wave of the hand, while
himself sucking at his pipe, as though he had suddenly recollected
something extraordinarily amusing or important, then he would open his
mouth, let off a few rings of smoke, and utter the most commonplace
remarks, or even keep silence altogether. After gossiping a little with
Ivan Afanasiitch about the neighbours, about horses, the daughters of
the gentry around, and other such edifying topics, Mr. Bublitsyn
suddenly winked, pulled up his shock of hair, and, with a sly smile,
approached the remarkably dim looking-glass which was the solitary
ornament of Ivan Afanasiitch's room.
'There's no denying the fact,' he pronounced, stroking his light
brown whiskers, 'we've got girls here that beat any of your Venus of
Medicis hollow.... Have you seen Vassilissa, the baker girl, for
instance?' ... Mr. Bublitsyn sucked at his pipe.
'But why do I ask you?' pursued Bublitsyn, disappearing in a cloud
of smoke,—'you're not the man to notice, don't you know, Ivan
Afanasiitch! Goodness knows what you do to occupy yourself, Ivan
'The same as you do,' Pyetushkov replied with some vexation, in a
'Oh no, Ivan Afanasiitch, not a bit of it.... How can you say so?'
'Well, why not?'
'Why so, why so?'
Bublitsyn stuck his pipe in the corner of his mouth, and began
scrutinising his not very handsome boots. Pyetushkov felt embarrassed.
'Ah, Ivan Afanasiitch, Ivan Afanasiitch!' pursued Bublitsyn, as
though sparing his feelings. 'But as to Vassilissa, the baker girl, I
can assure you: a very, ve-ry fine girl, ... ve-ry.'
Mr. Bublitsyn dilated his nostrils, and slowly plunged his hands
into his pockets.
Strange to relate, Ivan Afanasiitch felt something of the nature of
jealousy. He began moving restlessly in his chair, burst into explosive
laughter at nothing at all, suddenly blushed, yawned, and, as he
yawned, his lower jaw twitched a little. Bublitsyn smoked three more
pipes, and withdrew. Ivan Afanasiitch went to the window, sighed, and
called for something to drink.
Onisim set a glass of kvas on the table, glanced severely at his
master, leaned back against the door, and hung his head dejectedly.
'What are you so thoughtful about?' his master asked him genially,
but with some inward trepidation.
'What am I thinking about?' retorted Onisim; 'what am I thinking
about? ... it's always about you.'
'Of course it's about you.'
'Why, what is it you are thinking?'
'Why, this is what I'm thinking.' (Here Onisim took a pinch of
snuff.) 'You ought to be ashamed, sir—you ought to be ashamed of
'Yes, ashamed.... Look at Mr. Bublitsyn, Ivan Afanasiitch.... Tell
me if he's not a fine fellow, now.'
'I don't understand you.'
'You don't understand me.... Oh yes, you do understand me.'
'Mr. Bublitsyn's a real gentleman—what a gentleman ought to be. But
what are you, Ivan Afanasiitch, what are you? Tell me that.'
'Why, I'm a gentleman too.'
'A gentleman, indeed!' ... retorted Onisim, growing indignant. 'A
pretty gentleman you are! You're no better, sir, than a hen in a shower
of rain, Ivan Afanasiitch, let me tell you. Here you sit sticking at
home the whole blessed day ... much good it does you, sitting at home
like that! You don't play cards, you don't go and see the gentry, and
as for ... well ...'
Onisim waved his hand expressively.
'Now, come ... you really go ... too far ...' Ivan Afanasiitch said
hesitatingly, clutching his pipe.
'Too far, indeed, Ivan Afanasiitch, too far, you say! Judge for
yourself. Here again, with Vassilissa ... why couldn't you ...'
'But what are you thinking about, Onisim,' Pyetushkov interrupted
'I know what I'm thinking about. But there—I'd better let you
alone! What can you do? Only fancy ... there you ...'
Ivan Afanasiitch got up.
'There, there, if you please, you hold your tongue,' he said
quickly, seeming to be searching for Onisim with his eyes; 'I shall
really, you know ... I ... what do you mean by it, really? You'd better
help me dress.'
Onisim slowly drew off Ivan Afanasiitch's greasy Tartar
dressing-gown, gazed with fatherly commiseration at his master, shook
his head, put him on his coat, and fell to beating him about the back
with a brush.
Pyetushkov went out, and after a not very protracted stroll about
the crooked streets of the town, found himself facing the baker's shop.
A queer smile was playing about his lips.
He had hardly time to look twice at the too well-known
'establishment,' when suddenly the little gate opened, and Vassilissa
ran out with a yellow kerchief on her head and a jacket flung after the
Russian fashion on her shoulders. Ivan Afanasiitch at once overtook
'Where are you going, my dear?'
Vassilissa glanced swiftly at him, laughed, turned away, and put her
hand over her lips.
'Going shopping, I suppose?' queried Ivan Afanasiitch, fidgeting
with his feet.
'How inquisitive we are!' retorted Vassilissa.
'Why inquisitive?' said Pyetushkov, hurriedly gesticulating with his
hands. 'Quite the contrary.... Oh yes, you know,' he added hastily, as
though these last words completely conveyed his meaning.
'Did you eat my roll?'
'To be sure I did,' replied Pyetushkov: 'with special enjoyment.'
Vassilissa continued to walk on and to laugh.
'It's pleasant weather to-day,' pursued Ivan Afanasiitch: 'do you
often go out walking?'
'Ah, how I should like....'
The girls in our district utter those words in a very queer way,
with a peculiar sharpness and rapidity.... Partridges call at sunset
with just that sound.
'To go out walking, don't you know, with you ... into the country,
'How can you?'
'Ah, upon my word, how you do go on!'
'But allow me....'
At this point they were overtaken by a dapper little shopman, with a
little goat's beard, and with his fingers held apart like antlers, so
as to keep his sleeves from slipping over his hands, in a long-skirted
bluish coat, and a warm cap that resembled a bloated water-melon.
Pyetushkov, for propriety's sake, fell back a little behind Vassilissa,
but quickly came up with her again.
'Well, then, what about our walk?'
Vassilissa looked slily at him and giggled again.
'Do you belong to these parts?'
Vassilissa passed her hand over her hair and walked a little more
slowly. Ivan Afanasiitch smiled, and, his heart inwardly sinking with
timidity, he stooped a little on one side and put a trembling arm about
the beauty's waist.
Vassilissa uttered a shriek.
'Give over, do, for shame, in the street.'
'Come now, there, there,' muttered Ivan Afanasiitch.
'Give over, I tell you, in the street.... Don't be rude.'
'A ... a ... ah, what a girl you are!' said Pyetushkov
reproachfully, while he blushed up to his ears.
Vassilissa stood still.
'Now go along with you, sir—go along, do.'
Pyetushkov obeyed. He got home, and sat for a whole hour without
moving from his chair, without even smoking his pipe. At last he took
out a sheet of greyish paper, mended a pen, and after long deliberation
wrote the following letter.
'DEAR MADAM, VASSILISSA TIMOFYEVNA!—Being naturally a most
inoffensive person, how could I have occasioned you annoyance? If I
have really been to blame in my conduct to you, then I must tell you:
the hints of Mr. Bublitsyn were responsible for this, which was what I
never expected. Anyway, I must humbly beg you not to be angry with me.
I am a sensitive man, and any kindness I am most sensible of and
grateful for. Do not be angry with me, Vassilissa Timofyevna, I beg you
most humbly.—I remain respectfully your obedient servant,
Onisim carried this letter to its address.
A fortnight passed. Onisim went every morning as usual to the
baker's shop. One day Vassilissa ran out to meet him.
'Good morning, Onisim Sergeitch.'
Onisim put on a gloomy expression, and responded crossly,
'How is it you never come to see us, Onisim Sergeitch?'
Onisim glanced morosely at her.
'What should I come for? you wouldn't give me a cup of tea, no
'Yes, I would, Onisim Sergeitch, I would. You come and see. Rum in
Onisim slowly relaxed into a smile.
'Well, I don't mind if I do, then.'
'When ... well, you are ...'
'To-day—this evening, if you like. Drop in.
'All right, I'll come along,' replied Onisim, and he sauntered home
with his slow, rolling step.
The same evening in a little room, beside a bed covered with a
striped eider-down, Onisim was sitting at a clumsy little table, facing
Vassilissa. A huge, dingy yellow samovar was hissing and bubbling on
the table; a pot of geranium stood in the window; in the other corner
near the door there stood aslant an ugly chest with a tiny hanging
lock; on the chest lay a shapeless heap of all sorts of old rags; on
the walls were black, greasy prints. Onisim and Vassilissa drank their
tea in silence, looking straight at each other, turning the lumps of
sugar over and over in their hands, as it were reluctantly nibbling
them, blinking, screwing up their eyes, and with a hissing sound
sucking in the yellowish boiling liquid through their teeth. At last
they had emptied the whole samovar, turned upside down the round
cups—one with the inscription, 'Take your fill'; the other with the
words, 'Cupid's dart hath pierced my heart'—then they cleared their
throats, wiped their perspiring brows, and gradually dropped into
'Onisim Sergeitch, how about your master ...' began Vassilissa, and
did not finish her sentence.
'What about my master?' replied Onisim, and he leaned on his hand.
'He's all right. But why do you ask?'
'Oh, I only asked,' answered Vassilissa.
'But I say'—(here Onisim grinned)—'I say, he wrote you a letter,
'Yes, he did.'
Onisim shook his head with an extraordinarily self-satisfied air.
'So he did, did he?' he said huskily, with a smile. 'Well, and what
did he say in his letter to you?'
'Oh, all sorts of things. “I didn't mean anything, Madam, Vassilissa
Timofyevna,” says he, “don't you think anything of it; don't you be
offended, madam,” and a lot more like that he wrote.... But I say,' she
added after a brief silence: 'what's he like?'
'He's all right,' Onisim responded indifferently.
'Does he get angry?'
'He get angry! Not he. Why, do you like him?'
Vassilissa looked down and giggled in her sleeve.
'Come,' grumbled Onisim.
'Oh, what's that to you, Onisim Sergeitch?'
'Oh, come, I tell you.'
'Well,' Vassilissa brought out at last, 'he's ... a gentleman. Of
course ... I ... and besides; he ... you know yourself ...'
'Of course I do,' Onisim observed solemnly.
'Of course you're aware, to be sure, Onisim Sergeitch.' ...
Vassilissa was obviously becoming agitated.
'You tell him, your master, that I'm ...; say, not angry with him,
but that ...'
'We understand,' responded Onisim, and he got up from his seat. 'We
understand. Thanks for the entertainment.'
'Come in again some day.'
'All right, all right.'
Onisim approached the door. The fat woman came into the room.
'Good evening to you, Onisim Sergeitch,' she said in a peculiar
'Good evening to you, Praskovia Ivanovna,' he said in the same
Both stood still for a little while facing each other.
'Well, good day to you, Praskovia Ivanovna,' Onisim chanted out
'Well, good day to you, Onisim Sergeitch,' she responded in the same
Onisim arrived home. His master was lying on his bed, gazing at the
'Where have you been?'
'Where have I been?' ... (Onisim had the habit of repeating
reproachfully the last words of every question.) 'I've been about your
'Why, don't you know? ... I've been to see Vassilissa.'
Pyetushkov blinked and turned over on his bed.
'So that's how it is,' observed Onisim, and he coolly took a pinch
of snuff. 'So that's how it is. You're always like that. Vassilissa
sends you her duty.'
'Really? So that's all about it. Really! ... She told me to say, Why
is it, says she, one never sees him? Why is it, says she, he never
'Well, and what did you say?'
'What did I say? I told her: You're a silly girl—I told her—as if
folks like that are coming to see you! No, you come yourself, I told
'Well, and what did she say?'
'What did she say? ... She said nothing.'
'That is, how do you mean, nothing?'
'Why, nothing, to be sure.'
Pyetushkov said nothing for a little while.
'Well, and is she coming?'
Onisim shook his head.
'She coming! You're in too great a hurry, sir. She coming, indeed!
No, you go too fast.' ...
'But you said yourself that ...'
'Oh, well, it's easy to talk.'
Pyetushkov was silent again.
'Well, but how's it to be, then, my lad?'
'How? ... You ought to know best; you 're a gentleman.'
'Oh, nonsense! come now!'
Onisim swayed complacently backwards and forwards.
'Do you know Praskovia Ivanovna?' he asked at last.
'No. What Praskovia Ivanovna?'
'Why, the baker woman!'
'Oh yes, the baker woman. I've seen her; she's very fat.'
'She's a worthy woman. She's own aunt to the other, to your girl.'
'Why, didn't you know?'
'No, I didn't know.'
Onisim was restrained by respect for his master from giving full
expression to his feelings.
'That's whom it is you should make friends with.'
'Well, I've no objection.'
Onisim looked approvingly at Ivan Afanasiitch.
'But with what object precisely am I to make friends with her?'
'What for, indeed!' answered Onisim serenely.
Ivan Afanasiitch got up, paced up and down the room, stood still
before the window, and without turning his head, with some hesitation
'Won't it be, you know, a little awkward for me with the old woman,
'Oh, that's as you like.'
'Oh, well, I only thought it might, perhaps. My comrades might
notice it; it's a little ... But I'll think it over. Give me my
pipe.... So she,' he went on after a short silence—Vassilissa, I mean,
says then ...'
But Onisim had no desire to continue the conversation, and he
assumed his habitual morose expression.
Ivan Afanasiitch's acquaintance with Praskovia Ivanovna began in the
following manner. Five days after his conversation with Onisim,
Pyetushkov set off in the evening to the baker's shop. 'Well,' thought
he, as he unlatched the creaking gate, 'I don't know how it's to be.'
He mounted the steps, opened the door. A huge, crested hen rushed,
with a deafening cackle, straight under his feet, and long after was
still running about the yard in wild excitement. From a room close by
peeped the astonished countenance of the fat woman. Ivan Afanasiitch
smiled and nodded. The fat woman bowed to him. Tightly grasping his
hat, Pyetushkov approached her. Praskovia Ivanovna was apparently
anticipating an honoured guest; her dress was fastened up at every
hook. Pyetushkov sat down on a chair; Praskovia Ivanovna seated herself
'I have come to you, Praskovia Ivanovna, more on account of....'
Ivan Afanasiitch began at last—and then ceased. His lips were
'You are kindly welcome, sir,' responded Praskovia Ivanovna in the
proper sing-song, and with a bow. 'Always delighted to see a guest.'
Pyetushkov took courage a little.
'I have long wished, you know, to have the pleasure of making your
acquaintance, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
'Much obliged to you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
Followed a silence. Praskovia Ivanovna wiped her face with a
parti-coloured handkerchief; Ivan Afanasiitch continued with intense
attention to gaze away to one side. Both were rather uncomfortable. But
in merchant and petty shopkeeper society, where even old friends never
step outside special angular forms of etiquette, a certain constraint
in the behaviour of guests and host to one another not only strikes no
one as strange, but, on the contrary, is regarded as perfectly correct
and indispensable, particularly on a first visit. Praskovia Ivanovna
was agreeably impressed by Pyetushkov. He was formal and decorous in
his manners, and moreover, wasn't he a man of some rank, too?
'Praskovia Ivanovna, ma'am, I like your rolls very much,' he said to
'Really now, really now.'
'Very good they are, you know, very, indeed.'
'May they do you good, sir, may they do you good. Delighted, to be
'I've never eaten any like them in Moscow.'
'You don't say so now, you don't say so.'
Again a silence followed.
'Tell me, Praskovia Ivanovna,' began Ivan Afanasiitch; 'that's your
niece, I fancy, isn't it, living with you?'
'My own niece, sir.'
'How comes it ... she's with you?'....
'She's an orphan, so I keep her.'
'And is she a good worker?'
'Such a girl to work ... such a girl, sir ... ay ... ay ... to be
sure she is.'
Ivan Afanasiitch thought it discreet not to pursue the subject of
the niece further.
'What bird is that you have in the cage, Praskovia Ivanovna?'
'God knows. A bird of some sort.'
'H'm! Well, so, good day to you, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
'A very good day to your honour. Pray walk in another time, and take
a cup of tea.'
'With the greatest pleasure, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
Pyetushkov walked out. On the steps he met Vassilissa. She giggled.
'Where are you going, my darling?' said Pyetushkov with reckless
'Come, give over, do, you are a one for joking.'
'He, he! And did you get my letter?'
Vassilissa hid the lower part of her face in her sleeve and made no
'And you're not angry with me?'
'Vassilissa!' came the jarring voice of the aunt; 'hey, Vassilissa!'
Vassilissa ran into the house. Pyetushkov returned home. But from
that day he began going often to the baker's shop, and his visits were
not for nothing. Ivan Afanasiitch's hopes, to use the lofty phraseology
suitable, were crowned with success. Usually, the attainment of the
goal has a cooling effect on people, but Pyetushkov, on the contrary,
grew every day more and more ardent. Love is a thing of accident, it
exists in itself, like art, and, like nature, needs no reasons to
justify it, as some clever man has said who never loved, himself, but
made excellent observations upon love.
Pyetushkov became passionately attached to Vassilissa. He was
completely happy. His soul was aglow with bliss. Little by little he
carried all his belongings, at any rate all his pipes, to Praskovia
Ivanovna's, and for whole days together he sat in her back room.
Praskovia Ivanovna charged him something for his dinner and drank his
tea, consequently she did not complain of his presence. Vassilissa had
grown used to him. She would work, sing, or spin before him, sometimes
exchanging a couple of words with him; Pyetushkov watched her, smoked
his pipe, swayed to and fro in his chair, laughed, and in leisure hours
played 'Fools' with her and Praskovia Ivanovna. Ivan Afanasiitch was
But in this world nothing is perfect, and, small as a man's
requirements may be, destiny never quite fulfils them, and positively
spoils the whole thing, if possible.... The spoonful of pitch is sure
to find its way into the barrel of honey! Ivan Afanasiitch experienced
this in his case.
In the first place, from the time of his establishing himself at
Vassilissa's, Pyetushkov dropped more than ever out of all intercourse
with his comrades. He saw them only when absolutely necessary, and
then, to avoid allusions and jeers (in which, however, he was not
always successful), he put on the desperately sullen and intensely
scared look of a hare in a display of fireworks.
Secondly, Onisim gave him no peace; he had lost every trace of
respect for him, he mercilessly persecuted him, put him to shame.
And ... thirdly.... Alas! read further, kindly reader.
One day Pyetushkov (who for the reasons given above found little
comfort outside Praskovia Ivanovna's doors) was sitting in Vassilissa's
room at the back, and was busying himself over some home-brewed
concoction, something in the way of jam or syrup. The mistress of the
house was not at home. Vassilissa was sitting in the shop singing.
There came a knock at the little pane. Vassilissa got up, went to
the window, uttered a little shriek, giggled, and began whispering with
some one. On going back to her place, she sighed, and then fell to
singing louder than ever.
'Who was that you were talking to?' Pyetushkov asked her.
Vassilissa went on singing carelessly.
'Vassilissa, do you hear? Vassilissa!'
'What do you want?'
'Whom were you talking to?'
'What's that to you?'
'I only asked.'
Pyetushkov came out of the back room in a parti-coloured
smoking-jacket with tucked-up sleeves, and a strainer in his hand.
'Oh, a friend of mine,' answered Vassilissa.
'Oh, Piotr Petrovitch.'
'Piotr Petrovitch? ... what Piotr Petrovitch?'
'He's one of your lot. He's got such a difficult name.'
'Yes, yes ... Piotr Petrovitch.'
'And do you know him?'
'Rather!' responded Vassilissa, with a wag of her head.
Pyetushkov, without a word, paced ten times up and down the room.
'I say, Vassilissa,' he said at last, 'that is, how do you know
'How do I know him? ... I know him ... He's such a nice gentleman.'
'How do you mean nice, though? how nice? how nice?'
Vassilissa gazed at Ivan Afanasiitch.
'Nice,' she said slowly and in perplexity. 'You know what I mean.'
Pyetushkov bit his lips and began again pacing the room.
'What were you talking about with him, eh?'
Vassilissa smiled and looked down.
'Speak, speak, speak, I tell you, speak!'
'How cross you are to-day!' observed Vassilissa.
Pyetushkov was silent.
'Come now, Vassilissa,' he began at last; 'no, I won't be cross....
Come, tell me, what were you talking about?'
'He is a one to joke, really, that Piotr Petrovitch!'
'Well, what did he say?'
'He is a fellow!'
Pyetushkov was silent again for a little.
'Vassilissa, you love me, don't you?' he asked her.
'Oh, so that's what you're after, too!'
Poor Pyetushkov felt a pang at his heart. Praskovia Ivanovna came
in. They sat down to dinner. After dinner Praskovia Ivanovna betook
herself to the shelf bed. Ivan Afanasiitch himself lay down on the
stove, turned over and dropped asleep. A cautious creak waked him. Ivan
Afanasiitch sat up, leaned on his elbow, looked: the door was open. He
jumped up—no Vassilissa. He ran into the yard—she was not in the
yard; into the street, looked up and down—Vassilissa was nowhere to be
seen. He ran without his cap as far as the market—no, Vassilissa was
not in sight. Slowly he returned to the baker's shop, clambered on to
the stove, and turned with his face to the wall. He felt miserable.
Bublitsyn ... Bublitsyn ... the name was positively ringing in his
'What's the matter, my good sir?' Praskovia Ivanovna asked him in a
drowsy voice. 'Why are you groaning?'
'Oh, nothing, ma'am. Nothing. I feel a weight oppressing me.'
'It's the mushrooms,' murmured Praskovia Ivanovna—'it's all those
O Lord, have mercy on us sinners!
An hour passed, a second—still no Vassilissa. Twenty times
Pyetushkov was on the point of getting up, and twenty times he huddled
miserably under the sheepskin.... At last he really did get down from
the stove and determined to go home, and positively went out into the
yard, but came back. Praskovia Ivanovna got up. The hired man, Luka,
black as a beetle, though he was a baker, put the bread into the oven.
Pyetushkov went again out on to the steps and pondered. The goat that
lived in the yard went up to him, and gave him a little friendly poke
with his horns. Pyetushkov looked at him, and for some unknown reason
said 'Kss, Kss.' Suddenly the low wicket-gate slowly opened and
Vassilissa appeared. Ivan Afanasiitch went straight to meet her, took
her by the hand, and rather coolly, but resolutely, said to her:
'Come along with me.'
'But, excuse me, Ivan Afanasiitch ... I ...'
'Come with me,' he repeated.
Pyetushkov led her to his lodgings. Onisim, as usual, was lying at
full length asleep. Ivan Afanasiitch waked him, told him to light a
candle. Vassilissa went to the window and sat down in silence. While
Onisim was busy getting a light in the anteroom, Pyetushkov stood
motionless at the other window, staring into the street. Onisim came
in, with the candle in his hands, was beginning to grumble ... Ivan
Afanasiitch turned quickly round: 'Go along,' he said to him.
Onisim stood still in the middle of the room.
'Go away at once,' Pyetushkov repeated threateningly.
Onisim looked at his master and went out.
Ivan Afanasiitch shouted after him:
'Away, quite away. Out of the house. You can come back in two hours'
Onisim slouched off.
Pyetushkov waited till he heard the gate bang, and at once went up
'Where have you been?'
Vassilissa was confused.
'Where have you been? I tell you,' he repeated.
Vassilissa looked round ...
'I am speaking to you ... where have you been?' And Pyetushkov
raised his arm ...
'Don't beat me, Ivan Afanasiitch, don't beat me,' Vassilissa
whispered in terror.
Pyetushkov turned away.
'Beat you ... No! I'm not going to beat you. Beat you? I beg your
pardon, my darling. God bless you! While I supposed you loved me, while
I ... I ... '
Ivan Afanasiitch broke off. He gasped for breath.
'Listen, Vassilissa,' he said at last. 'You know I'm a kind-hearted
man, you know it, don't you, Vassilissa, don't you?'
'Yes, I do,' she said faltering.
'I do nobody any harm, nobody, nobody in the world. And I deceive
nobody. Why are you deceiving me?'
'But I'm not deceiving you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'You aren't deceiving me? Oh, very well! Oh, very well! Then tell me
where you've been.'
'I went to see Matrona.'
'That's a lie!'
'Really, I've been at Matrona's. You ask her, if you don't believe
'And Bub—what's his name ... have you seen that devil?'
'Yes, I did see him.'
'You did see him! you did see him! Oh! you did see him!'
Pyetushkov turned pale.
'So you were making an appointment with him in the morning at the
'He asked me to come.'
'And so you went.... Thanks very much, my girl, thanks very much!'
Pyetushkov made Vassilissa a low bow.
'But, Ivan Afanasiitch, you're maybe fancying ...'
'You'd better not talk to me! And a pretty fool I am! There's
nothing to make an outcry for! You may make friends with any one you
like. I've nothing to do with you. So there! I don't want to know you
Vassilissa got up.
'That's for you to say, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Where are you going?'
'Why, you yourself ...'
'I'm not sending you away,' Pyetushkov interrupted her.
'Oh no, Ivan Afanasiitch.... What's the use of my stopping here?'
Pyetushkov let her get as far as the door.
'So you're going, Vassilissa?'
'You keep on abusing me.'
'I abuse you! You've no fear of God, Vassilissa! When have I abused
you? Come, come, say when?'
'Why! Just this minute weren't you all but beating me?'
'Vassilissa, it's wicked of you. Really, it's downright wicked.'
'And then you threw it in my face, that you don't want to know me.
“I'm a gentleman,” say you.'
Ivan Afanasiitch began wringing his hands speechlessly. Vassilissa
got back as far as the middle of the room.
'Well, God be with you, Ivan Afanasiitch. I'll keep myself to
myself, and you keep yourself to yourself.'
'Nonsense, Vassilissa, nonsense,' Pyetushkov cut her short. 'You
think again; look at me. You see I'm not myself. You see I don't know
what I'm saying.... You might have some feeling for me.'
'You keep on abusing me, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Ah, Vassilissa! Let bygones be bygones. Isn't that right? Come,
you're not angry with me, are you?'
'You keep abusing me,' Vassilissa repeated.
'I won't, my love, I won't. Forgive an old man like me. I'll never
do it in future. Come, you've forgiven me, eh?'
'God be with you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Come, laugh then, laugh.'
Vassilissa turned away.
'You laughed, you laughed, my love!' cried Pyetushkov, and he
capered about like a child.
The next day Pyetushkov went to the baker's shop as usual.
Everything went on as before. But there was a settled ache at his
heart. He did not laugh now as often, and sometimes he fell to musing.
Sunday came. Praskovia Ivanovna had an attack of lumbago; she did not
get down from the shelf bed, except with much difficulty to go to mass.
After mass Pyetushkov called Vassilissa into the back room. She had
been complaining all the morning of feeling dull. To judge by the
expression of Ivan Afanasiitch's countenance, he was revolving in his
brain some extraordinary idea, unforeseen even by him.
'You sit down here, Vassilissa,' he said to her, 'and I'll sit here.
I want to have a little talk with you.'
Vassilissa sat down.
'Tell me, Vassilissa, can you write?'
'No, I can't.'
'What about reading?'
'I can't read either.'
'Then who read you my letter?'
'But would you like to learn to read and write?'
'Why, what use would reading and writing be to us, Ivan
'What use? You could read books.'
'But what good is there in books?'
'All sorts of good ... I tell you what, if you like, I'll bring you
'But I can't read, you see, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'I'll read to you.'
'But, I say, won't it be dull?'
'Nonsense! dull! On the contrary, it's the best thing to get rid of
'Maybe you'll read stories, then.'
'You shall see to-morrow.'
In the evening Pyetushkov returned home, and began rummaging in his
boxes. He found several odd numbers of the Library of Good Reading,
five grey Moscow novels, Nazarov's arithmetic, a child's geography with
a globe on the title-page, the second part of Keydanov's history, two
dream-books, an almanack for the year 1819, two numbers of Galatea,
Kozlov's Natalia Dolgorukaia, and the first part of Roslavlev. He pondered a long while which to choose, and finally made up his mind
to take Kozlov's poem, and Roslavlev.
Next day Pyetushkov dressed in haste, put both the books under the
lapel of his coat, went to the baker's shop, and began reading aloud
Zagoskin's novel. Vassilissa sat without moving; at first she smiled,
then seemed to become absorbed in thought ... then she bent a little
forward; her eyes closed, her mouth slightly opened, her hands fell on
her knees; she was dozing. Pyetushkov read quickly, inarticulately, in
a thick voice; he raised his eyes ...
'Vassilissa, are you asleep?'
She started, rubbed her face, and stretched. Pyetushkov felt angry
with her and with himself....
'It's dull,' said Vassilissa lazily.
'I tell you what, would you like me to read you poetry?'
'Poetry ... good poetry.'
'No, that's enough, really.'
Pyetushkov hurriedly picked up Kozlov's poem, jumped up, crossed the
room, ran impulsively up to Vassilissa, and began reading. Vassilissa
let her head drop backwards, spread out her hands, stared into Ivan
Afanasiitch's face, and suddenly went off into a loud harsh guffaw ...
she fairly rolled about with laughing.
Ivan Afanasiitch flung the book on the floor in his annoyance.
Vassilissa went on laughing.
'Why, what are you laughing at, silly?'
Vassilissa roared more than ever.
'Laugh away, laugh away,' Pyetushkov muttered between his teeth.
Vassilissa held her sides, gasping.
'But what is it, idiot?' But Vassilissa could only wave her hands.
Ivan Afanasiitch snatched up his cap, and ran out of the house. With
rapid, unsteady steps, he walked about the town, walked on and on, and
found himself at the city gates. Suddenly there was the rattle of
wheels, the tramp of horses along the street.... Some one called him by
name. He raised his head and saw a big, old-fashioned wagonette. In the
wagonette facing him sat Mr. Bublitsyn between two young ladies, the
daughters of Mr. Tiutiurov. Both the girls were dressed exactly alike,
as though in outward sign of their immutable affection; both smiled
pensively, and carried their heads on one side with a languid grace. On
the other side of the carriage appeared the wide straw hat of their
excellent papa; and from time to time his round, plump neck presented
itself to the gaze of spectators. Beside his straw hat rose the mob-cap
of his spouse. The very attitude of both the parents was a sufficient
proof of their sincere goodwill towards the young man and their
confidence in him. And Bublitsyn obviously was aware of their
flattering confidence and appreciated it. He was, of course, sitting in
an unconstrained position, and talking and laughing without constraint;
but in the very freedom of his manner there could be discerned a shade
of tender, touching respectfulness. And the Tiutiurov girls? It is hard
to convey in words all that an attentive observer could trace in the
faces of the two sisters. Goodwill and gentleness, and discreet gaiety,
a melancholy comprehension of life, and a faith, not to be shaken, in
themselves, in the lofty and noble destiny of man on earth, courteous
attention to their young companion, in intellectual endowments perhaps
not fully their equal, but still by the qualities of his heart quite
deserving of their indulgence ... such were the characteristics and the
feelings reflected at that moment on the faces of the young ladies.
Bublitsyn called to Ivan Afanasiitch for no special reason, simply in
the fulness of his inner satisfaction; he bowed to him with excessive
friendliness and cordiality. The young ladies even looked at him with
gentle amiability, as at a man whose acquaintance they would not object
to.... The good, sleek, quiet horses went by Ivan Afanasiitch at a
gentle trot; the carriage rolled smoothly along the broad road,
carrying with it good-humoured, girlish laughter; he caught a final
glimpse of Mr. Tiutiurov's hat; the two outer horses turned their heads
on each side, jauntily stepping over the short, green grass ... the
coachman gave a whistle of approbation and warning, the carriage
disappeared behind some willows.
A long while poor Pyetushkov remained standing still.
'I'm a poor lonely creature,' he whispered at last ... 'alone in the
A little boy in tatters stopped before him, looked timidly at him,
held out his hand ...
'For Christ's sake, good gentleman.'
Pyetushkov pulled out a copper.
'For your loneliness, poor orphan,' he said with effort, and he
walked back to the baker's shop. On the threshold of Vassilissa's room
Ivan Afanasiitch stopped.
'Yes,' he thought, 'these are my friends. Here is my family, this is
it.... And here Bublitsyn and there Bublitsyn.'
Vassilissa was sitting with her back to him, winding worsted, and
carelessly singing to herself; she was wearing a striped cotton gown;
her hair was done up anyhow.... The room, insufferably hot, smelt of
feather beds and old rags; jaunty, reddish-brown 'Prussians' scurried
rapidly here and there across the walls; on the decrepit chest of
drawers, with holes in it where the locks should have been, beside a
broken jar, lay a woman's shabby slipper.... Kozlov's poem was still
where it had fallen on the floor.... Pyetushkov shook his head, folded
his arms, and went away. He was hurt.
At home he called for his things to dress. Onisim slouched off after
his better coat. Pyetushkov had a great desire to draw Onisim into
conversation, but Onisim preserved a sullen silence. At last Ivan
Afanasiitch could hold out no longer.
'Why don't you ask me where I'm going?'
'Why, what do I want to know where you're going for?'
'What for? Why, suppose some one comes on urgent business, and asks,
“Where's Ivan Afanasiitch?” And then you can tell him, “Ivan
Afanasiitch has gone here or there.”'
'Urgent business.... But who ever does come to you on urgent
'Why, are you beginning to be rude again? Again, hey?'
Onisim turned away, and fell to brushing the coat.
'Really, Onisim, you are a most disagreeable person.'
Onisim looked up from under his brows at his master.
'And you 're always like this. Yes, positively always.'
'But what's the good of my asking you where you're going, Ivan
Afanasiitch? As though I didn't know! To the girl at the baker's shop!'
'There, that's just where you're wrong! that's just where you're
mistaken! Not to her at all. I don't intend going to see the girl at
the baker's shop any more.'
Onisim dropped his eyelids and brandished the brush. Pyetushkov
waited for his approbation; but his servant remained speechless.
'It's not the proper thing,' Pyetushkov went on in a severe
voice—'it's unseemly.... Come, tell me what you think?'
'What am I to think? It's for you to say. What business have I to
Pyetushkov put on his coat. 'He doesn't believe me, the beast,' he
thought to himself.
He went out of the house, but he did not go to see any one. He
walked about the streets. He directed his attention to the sunset. At
last a little after eight o'clock he returned home. He wore a smile; he
repeatedly shrugged his shoulders, as though marvelling at his own
folly. 'Yes,' thought he, 'this is what comes of a strong will....'
Next day Pyetushkov got up rather late. He had not passed a very
good night, did not go out all day, and was fearfully bored. Pyetushkov
read through all his poor books, and praised aloud one story in the
Library of Good Reading. As he went to bed, he told Onisim to give him
his pipe. Onisim handed him a wretched pipe. Pyetushkov began smoking;
the pipe wheezed like a broken-winded horse.
'How disgusting!' cried Ivan Afanasiitch; 'where's my cherry wood
'At the baker's shop,' Onisim responded tranquilly.
Pyetushkov blinked spasmodically.
'Well, you wish me to go for it?'
'No, you needn't; don't go ... no need, don't go, do you hear?'
The night passed somehow. In the morning Onisim, as usual, gave
Pyetushkov on the blue sprigged plate a new white roll. Ivan
Afanasiitch looked out of window and asked Onisim:
'You've been to the baker's shop?'
'Who's to go, if I don't?'
Pyetushkov became plunged in meditation.
'Tell me, please, did you see any one there?'
'Of course I did.'
'Whom did you see there, now, for instance?'
'Why, of course, Vassilissa.'
Ivan Afanasiitch was silent. Onisim cleared the table, and was just
going out of the room....
'Onisim,' Pyetushkov cried faintly.
'What is it?'
'Er ... did she ask after me?'
'Of course she didn't.'
Pyetushkov set his teeth. 'Yes,' he thought, 'that's all it's worth,
her love, indeed....' His head dropped. 'Absurd I was, to be sure,' he
thought again. 'A fine idea to read her poetry. A girl like that! Why,
she's a fool! Why, she's good for nothing but to lie on the stove and
eat pancakes. Why, she's a post, a perfect post; an uneducated
'She's never come,' he whispered, two hours later, still sitting in
the same place, 'she's never come. To think of it; why, she could see
that I left her out of temper; why, she might know that I was hurt.
There's love for you! And she did not even ask if I were well. Never
even said, “Is Ivan Afanasiitch quite well?” She hasn't seen me for two
whole days—and not a sign.... She's even again, maybe, thought fit to
meet that Bub—Lucky fellow. Ouf, devil take it, what a fool I am!'
Pyetushkov got up, paced up and down the room in silence, stood
still, knitted his brows slightly and scratched his neck. 'However,' he
said aloud, 'I'll go to see her. I must see what she's about there. I
must make her feel ashamed. Most certainly ... I'll go. Onisim! my
'Well,' he mused as he dressed, 'we shall see what comes of it. She
may, I dare say, be angry with me. And after all, a man keeps coming
and coming, and all of a sudden, for no rhyme or reason, goes and gives
up coming. Well, we shall see.'
Ivan Afanasiitch went out of the house, and made his way to the
baker's shop. He stopped at the little gate, he wanted to straighten
himself out and set himself to rights.... Pyetushkov clutched at the
folds of his coat with both hands, and almost pulled them out
altogether.... Convulsively he twisted his tightly compressed neck,
fastened the top hook of his collar, drew a deep breath....
'Why are you standing there?' Praskovia Ivanovna bawled to him from
the little window. 'Come in.'
Pyetushkov started, and went in. Praskovia Ivanovna met him in the
'Why didn't you come to see us yesterday, my good sir? Was it,
maybe, some ailment prevented you?'
'Yes, I had something of a headache yesterday....'
'Ah, you should have put cucumber on your temples, my good sir. It
would have taken it away in a twinkling. Is your head aching now?'
'No, it's not.'
'Ah well, and thank Thee, O Lord, for it.'
Ivan Afanasiitch went off into the back room. Vassilissa saw him.
'Ah! good day, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Good day, Vassilissa Ivanovna.'
'Where have you put the tap, Ivan Afanasiitch?'
'Tap? what tap?'
'The wine-tap ... our tap. You must have taken it home with you. You
are such a one ... Lord, forgive us....'
Pyetushkov put on a dignified and chilly air.
'I will direct my man to look. Seeing that I was not here
yesterday,' he pronounced significantly....
'Ah, why, to be sure, you weren't here yesterday.' Vassilissa
squatted down on her heels, and began rummaging in the chest....
'Aunt, hi! aunt!'
'Have you taken my neckerchief?'
'Why, the yellow one.'
'The yellow one?'
'Yes, the yellow, figured one.'
'No, I've not taken it.'
Pyetushkov bent down to Vassilissa.
'Listen to me, Vassilissa; listen to what I am saying to you. It is
not a matter of taps or of neckerchiefs just now; you can attend to
such trifles another time.'
Vassilissa did not budge from her position; she only lifted her
'You just tell me, on your conscience, do you love me or not? That's
what I want to know, once for all.'
'Ah, what a one you are, Ivan Afanasiitch.... Well, then, of
'If you love me, how was it you didn't come to see me yesterday? Had
you no time? Well, you might have sent to find out if I were ill, as I
didn't turn up. But it's little you cared. I might die, I dare say, you
'Ah, Ivan Afanasiitch, one can't be always thinking of one thing,
one's got one's work to do.'
'To be sure,' responded Pyetushkov; 'but all the same ... And it's
improper to laugh at your elders.... It's not right. Moreover, it's as
well in certain cases ... But where's my pipe?'
'Here's your pipe.'
Pyetushkov began smoking.
Several days slipped by again, apparently rather tranquilly. But a
storm was getting nearer. Pyetushkov suffered tortures, was jealous,
never took his eyes off Vassilissa, kept an alarmed watch over her,
annoyed her horribly. Behold, one evening, Vassilissa dressed herself
with more care than usual, and, seizing a favourable instant, sallied
off to make a visit somewhere. Night came on, she had not returned.
Pyetushkov at sunset went home to his lodgings, and at eight o'clock in
the morning ran to the baker's shop.... Vassilissa had not come in.
With an inexpressible sinking at his heart, he waited for her right up
to dinner-time.... They sat down to the table without her....
'Whatever can have become of her?' Praskovia Ivanovna observed
'You spoil her, you simply spoil her utterly!' Pyetushkov repeated,
'Eh! my good sir, there's no looking after a girl!' responded
Praskovia Ivanovna. 'Let her go her way! So long as she does her
work.... Why shouldn't folks enjoy themselves? ...'
A cold shudder ran over Pyetushkov. At last, towards evening,
Vassilissa made her appearance. This was all he was waiting for.
Majestically Pyetushkov rose from his seat, folded his arms, scowled
menacingly.... But Vassilissa looked him boldly in the face, laughed
impudently, and before he could utter a single word she went quickly
into her own room, and locked herself in. Ivan Afanasiitch opened his
mouth, looked in amazement at Praskovia Ivanovna.... Praskovia Ivanovna
cast down her eyes. Ivan Afanasiitch stood still a moment, groped after
his cap, put it on askew, and went out without closing his mouth.
He reached home, took up a leather cushion, and with it flung
himself on the sofa, with his face to the wall. Onisim looked in out of
the passage, went into the room, leaned his back against the door, took
a pinch of snuff, and crossed his legs.
'Are you unwell, Ivan Afanasiitch?' he asked Pyetushkov.
Pyetushkov made no answer.
'Shall I go for the doctor?' Onisim continued, after a brief pause.
'I'm quite well.... Go away,' Ivan Afanasiitch articulated huskily.
'Well? ... no, you're not well, Ivan Afanasiitch.... Is this what
you call being well?'
Pyetushkov did not speak.
'Just look at yourself. You've grown so thin, that you're simply not
like yourself. And what's it all about? It's enough to turn one's brain
to think of it. And you a gentleman born, too!'
Onisim paused. Pyetushkov did not stir.
'Is that the way gentlemen go on? They'd amuse themselves a bit, to
be sure ... why shouldn't they ... they'd amuse themselves, and then
drop it.... They may well say, Fall in love with Old Nick, and you'll
think him a beauty.'
Ivan Afanasiitch merely writhed.
'Well, it's really like this, Ivan Afanasiitch. If any one had said
this and that of you, and your goings on, why, I would have said, “Get
along with you, you fool, what do you take me for?” Do you suppose I'd
have believed it? Why, as it is, I see it with my own eyes, and I can't
believe it. Worse than this nothing can be. Has she put some spell over
you or what? Why, what is there in her? If you come to consider, she's
below contempt, really. She can't even speak as she ought.... She's
simply a baggage! Worse, even!'
'Go away,' Ivan Afanasiitch moaned into the cushion.
'No, I'm not going away, Ivan Afanasiitch. Who's to speak, if I
don't? Why, upon my word! Here, you 're breaking your heart now ... and
over what? Eh, over what? tell me that!'
'Oh, go away, Onisim,' Pyetushkov moaned again. Onisim, for
propriety's sake, was silent for a little while.
'And another thing,' he began again, 'she's no feeling of gratitude
whatever. Any other girl wouldn't know how to do enough to please you;
while she! ... she doesn't even think of you. Why, it's simply a
disgrace. Why, the things people are saying about you, one cannot
repeat them, they positively cry shame on me. If I could have known
beforehand, I'd have....'
'Oh, go away, do, devil!' shrieked Pyetushkov, not stirring from his
place, however, nor raising his head.
'Ivan Afanasiitch, for mercy's sake,' pursued the ruthless Onisim.
'I'm speaking for your good. Despise her, Ivan Afanasiitch; you simply
break it off. Listen to me, or else I'll fetch a wise woman; she'll
break the spell in no time. You'll laugh at it yourself, later on;
you'll say to me, “Onisim, why, it's marvellous how such things happen
sometimes!” You just consider yourself: girls like her, they're like
dogs ... you've only to whistle to them....'
Like one frantic, Pyetushkov jumped up from the sofa ... but, to the
amazement of Onisim, who was already lifting both hands to the level of
his cheeks, he sat down again, as though some one had cut away his legs
from under him.... Tears were rolling down his pale face, a tuft of
hair stood up straight on the top of his head, his eyes looked dimmed
... his drawn lips were quivering ... his head sank on his breast.
Onisim looked at Pyetushkov and plumped heavily down on his knees.
'Dear master, Ivan Afanasiitch,' he cried, 'your honour! Be pleased
to punish me. I'm a fool. I've troubled you, Ivan Afanasiitch.... How
did I dare! Be pleased to punish me, your honour.... It's not worth
your while to weep over my silly words ... dear master. Ivan
But Pyetushkov did not even look at his servant; he turned away and
buried himself in the corner of the sofa again.
Onisim got up, went up to his master, stood over him, and twice he
tugged at his own hair.
'Wouldn't you like to undress, sir ... you should go to bed ... you
should take some raspberry tea ... don't grieve, please your honour....
It's only half a trouble, it's all nothing ... it'll be all right in
the end,' he said to him every two minutes....
But Pyetushkov did not get up from the sofa, and only twitched his
shoulders now and then, and drew up his knees to his stomach....
Onisim did not leave his side all night. Towards morning Pyetushkov
fell asleep, but he did not sleep long. At seven o'clock he got up from
the sofa, pale, dishevelled, and exhausted, and asked for tea.
Onisim with amazing eagerness and speed brought the samovar.
'Ivan Afanasiitch,' he began at last, in a timid voice, 'your honour
is not angry with me?'
'Why should I be angry with you, Onisim?' answered poor Pyetushkov.
'You were perfectly right yesterday, and I quite agreed with you in
'I only spoke through my devotion to you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'I know that.'
Pyetushkov was silent and hung his head.
Onisim saw that things were in a bad way.
'Ivan Afanasiitch,' he said suddenly.
'Would you like me to fetch Vassilissa here?'
Pyetushkov flushed red.
'No, Onisim, I don't wish it. ('Yes, indeed! as if she would come!'
he thought to himself.) One must be firm. It is all nonsense.
Yesterday, I ... It's a disgrace. You are right. One must cut it all
short, once for all, as they say. Isn't that true?'
'It's the gospel truth your honour speaks, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
Pyetushkov sank again into reverie. He wondered at himself, he did
not seem to know himself. He sat without stirring and stared at the
floor. Thoughts whirled round within him, like smoke or fog, while his
heart felt empty and heavy at once.
'But what's the meaning of it, after all,' he thought sometimes, and
again he grew calmer. 'It's nonsense, silliness!' he said aloud, and
passed his hand over his face, shook himself, and his hand dropped
again on his knee, his eyes again rested on the floor.
Intently and mournfully Onisim kept watch on his master.
Pyetushkov lifted his head.
'Tell me, Onisim,' he began, 'is it true, are there really such
'There are, to be sure there are,' answered Onisim, as he thrust one
foot forward. 'Does your honour know the non-commissioned officer,
Krupovaty? ... His brother was ruined by witchcraft. He was bewitched
to love an old woman, a cook, if your honour only can explain that!
They gave him nothing but a morsel of rye bread, with a muttered spell,
of course. And Krupovaty's brother simply lost his heart to the cook,
he fairly ran after the cook, he positively adored her—couldn't keep
his eyes off her. She might tell him to do anything, he'd obey her on
the spot. She'd even make a joke of him before other people, before
strangers. Well, she drove him into a decline, at last. And so it was
Krupovaty's brother died. And you know, she was a cook, and an old
woman too, very old. (Onisim took a pinch of snuff.) Confound the lot
of them, these girls and women-folk!'
'She doesn't care for me a bit, that's clear, at last; that's beyond
all doubt, at last,' Pyetushkov muttered in an undertone, gesticulating
with his head and hands as though he were explaining to a perfectly
extraneous person some perfectly extraneous fact.
'Yes,' Onisim resumed, 'there are women like that.'
'There are,' listlessly repeated Pyetushkov, in a tone half
questioning, half perplexed.
Onisim looked intently at his master.
'Ivan Afanasiitch,' he began, 'wouldn't you have a snack of
'Wouldn't I have a snack of something?' repeated Pyetushkov.
'Or may be you'd like to have a pipe?'
'To have a pipe?' repeated Pyetushkov.
'So this is what it's coming to,' muttered Onisim. 'It's gone deep,
The creak of boots resounded in the passage, and then there was
heard the usual suppressed cough which announces the presence of a
person of subordinate position. Onisim went out and promptly came back,
accompanied by a diminutive soldier with a little, old woman's face, in
a patched cloak yellow with age, and wearing neither breeches nor
cravat. Pyetushkov was startled; while the soldier drew himself up,
wished him good day, and handed him a large envelope bearing the
government seal. In this envelope was a note from the major in command
of the garrison: he called upon Pyetushkov to come to him without fail
Pyetushkov turned the note over in his hands, and could not refrain
from asking the messenger, did he know why the major desired his
presence, though he was very well aware of the utter futility of his
'We cannot tell!' the soldier cried, with great effort, yet hardly
audibly, as though he were half asleep.
'Isn't he summoning the other officers?' Pyetushkov pursued.
'We cannot tell,' the soldier cried a second time, in just the same
'All right, you can go,' pronounced Pyetushkov.
The soldier wheeled round to the left, scraping his foot as he did
so, and slapping himself below the spine (this was considered smart in
the twenties), withdrew.
Pyetushkov exchanged glances with Onisim, who at once assumed a look
of anxiety. Without a word Ivan Afanasiitch set off to the major's.
The major was a man of sixty, corpulent and clumsily built, with a
red and bloated face, a short neck, and a continual trembling in his
fingers, resulting from excessive indulgence in strong drink. He
belonged to the class of so-called 'bourbons,' that's to say, soldiers
risen from the ranks; had learned to read at thirty, and spoke with
difficulty, partly from shortness of breath, partly from inability to
follow his own thought. His temperament exhibited all the varieties
known to science: in the morning, before drinking, he was melancholy;
in the middle of the day, choleric; and in the evening, phlegmatic,
that is to say, he did nothing at that time but snore and grunt till he
was put to bed. Ivan Afanasiitch appeared before him during the
choleric period. He found him sitting on a sofa, in an open
dressing-gown, with a pipe between his teeth. A fat, crop-eared cat had
taken up her position beside him.
'Aha! he's come!' growled the major, casting a sidelong glance out
of his pewtery eyes upon Pyetushkov, and not stirring from his place.
'Sit down. Well, I'm going to give you a talking to. I've wanted to get
hold of you this long while.'
Pyetushkov sank into a chair.
'For,' the major began, with an unexpected lurch of his whole body,
'you're an officer, d'ye see, and so you've got to behave yourself
according to rule. If you'd been a soldier, I'd have flogged you, and
that's all about it, but, as 'tis, you're an officer. Did any one ever
see the like of it? Disgracing yourself—is that a nice thing?'
'Allow me to know to what these remarks may refer?' Pyetushkov was
'I'll have no arguing! I dislike that beyond everything. I've said:
I dislike it; and that's all about it! Ugh—why, your hooks are not in
good form even;—what a disgrace! He sits, day in and day out, at the
baker's shop; and he a gentleman born! There's a petticoat to be found
there—and so there he sits. Let her go to the devil, the petticoat!
Why, they do say he puts the bread in the oven. It's a stain on the
uniform ... so it is!'
'Allow me to submit,' articulated Pyetushkov with a cold chill at
his heart, 'that all this, as far as I can make out, refers to my
private life, so to say....'
'No arguing with me, I tell you! Private life, he protests, too! If
it had been a matter of the service I'd have sent you straight to the
guard-room! Alley, marsheer! Because of the oath. Why, there was a
whole birch copse, maybe, used upon my back, so I should think I know
the service; every rule of discipline I'm very well up in. And I'd have
you to understand, I say this just for the honour of the uniform.
You're disgracing the uniform ... so you are. I say this like a father
... yes. Because all that's put in my charge. I've to answer for it.
And you dare to argue too!' the major shrieked with sudden fury, and
his face turned purple, and he foamed at the mouth, while the cat put
its tail in the air and jumped down to the ground. 'Why, do you know
... why, do you know what I can do? ... I can do anything, anything,
anything! Why, do you know whom you're talking to? Your superior
officer gives you orders and you argue! Your superior officer ... your
Here the major positively choked and spluttered, while poor
Pyetushkov could only draw himself up and turn pale, sitting on the
very edge of his chair.
'I must have' ... the major continued, with an imperious wave of his
trembling hand, 'I must have everything ... up to the mark! Conduct
first-class! I'm not going to put up with any irregularities! You can
make friends with whom you like, that makes no odds to me! But if you
are a gentleman, why, act as such ... behave like one! No putting bread
in the oven for me! No calling a draggletail old woman auntie! No
disgracing the uniform! Silence! No arguing!'
The major's voice broke. He took breath, and turning towards the
door into the passage, bawled, 'Frolka, you scoundrel! The herrings!'
Pyetushkov rose hurriedly and darted away, almost upsetting the
page-boy, who ran to meet him, carrying some sliced herring and a stout
decanter of spirits on an iron tray.
'Silence! No arguing!' sounded after Pyetushkov the disjointed
exclamations of his exasperated superior officer.
A queer sensation overmastered Ivan Afanasiitch when, at last, he
found himself in the street.
'Why am I walking as it were in a dream?' he thought to himself. 'Am
I out of my mind, or what? Why, it passes all belief, at last. Come,
damn it, she's tired of me, come, and I've grown tired of her, come,
and ... What is there out of the way in that?
'I must put an end to it, once for all,' he said almost aloud. 'I'll
go and speak out decisively for the last time, so that it may never
come up again.'
Pyetushkov made his way with rapid step to the baker's shop. The
nephew of the hired man, Luka, a little boy, friend and confidant of
the goat that lived in the yard, darted swiftly to the little gate,
directly he caught sight of Ivan Afanasiitch in the distance.
Praskovia Ivanovna came out to meet Pyetushkov.
'Is your niece at home?' asked Pyetushkov.
Pyetushkov was inwardly relieved at Vassilissa's absence.
'I came to have a few words with you, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
'What about, my good sir?'
'I'll tell you. You comprehend that after all ... that has passed
... after such, so to say, behaviour (Pyetushkov was a little confused)
... in a word ... But, pray, don't be angry with me, though.'
'Certainly not, sir.'
'On the contrary, enter into my position, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
'You're a reasonable woman, you'll understand of yourself, that ...
that I can't go on coming to see you any more.'
'Certainly, sir,' Praskovia Ivanovna repeated slowly.
'I assure you I greatly regret it; I confess it is positively
painful to me, genuinely painful ...'
'You know best, sir,' Praskovia Ivanovna rejoined serenely. 'It's
for you to decide, sir. And, oh, if you'll allow me, I'll give you your
little account, sir.'
Pyetushkov had not at all anticipated such a prompt acquiescence. He
had not desired acquiescence at all; he had only wanted to frighten
Praskovia Ivanovna, and above all Vassilissa. He felt wretched.
'I know,' be began, 'this will not be disagreeable to Vassilissa; on
the contrary, I believe she will be glad.'
Praskovia Ivanovna got out her reckoning beads, and began rattling
'On the other hand,' continued Pyetushkov, growing more and more
agitated, 'if Vassilissa were, for instance, to give an explanation of
her behaviour ... possibly.... Though, of course ... I don't know,
possibly, I might perceive that after all there was no great matter for
blame in it.'
'There's thirty-seven roubles and forty kopecks in notes to your
account, sir,' observed Praskovia Ivanovna. 'Here, would you be pleased
to go through it?'
Ivan Afanasiitch made no reply.
'Eighteen dinners at seventy kopecks each; twelve roubles sixty
'And so we are to part, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
'If so it must be, sir. Things do turn out so. Twelve samovars at
ten kopecks each ...'
'But you might just tell me, Praskovia Ivanovna, where it was
Vassilissa went, and what it was she ...'
'Oh, I never asked her, sir.... One rouble twenty kopecks in
Ivan Afanasiitch sank into meditation.
'Kvas and effervescing drinks,' pursued Praskovia Ivanovna, holding
the counters apart on the frame not with her first, but her third
finger, 'half a rouble in silver. Sugar and rolls for tea, half a
rouble. Four packets of tobacco bought by your orders, eighty kopecks
in silver. To the tailor Kuprian Apollonov ...'
Ivan Afanasiitch suddenly raised his head, put out his hand and
mixed up the counters.
'What are you about, my good man?' cried Praskovia Ivanovna. 'Don't
you trust me?'
'Praskovia Ivanovna,' replied Pyetushkov, with a hurried smile,
'I've thought better of it. I was only, you know ... joking. We'd
better remain friends and go on in the old way. What nonsense it is!
How can we separate—tell me that, please?'
Praskovia Ivanovna looked down and made him no reply.
'Come, we've been talking nonsense, and there's an end of it,'
pursued Ivan Afanasiitch, walking up and down the room, rubbing his
hands, and, as it were, resuming his ancient rights. 'Amen! and now I'd
better have a pipe.'
Praskovia Ivanovna still did not move from her place....
'I see you are angry with me,' said Pyetushkov.
'I've offended you, perhaps. Well! well! forgive me generously.'
'How could you offend me, my good sir? No offence about it.... Only,
please, sir,' added Praskovia Ivanovna, bowing, 'be so good as not to
go on coming to us.'
'It's not for you, sir, to be friends with us, your honour. So,
please, do us the favour ...'
Praskovia Ivanovna went on bowing.
'What ever for?' muttered the astounded Pyetushkov.
'Oh, nothing, sir. For mercy's sake ...'
'No, Praskovia Ivanovna, you must explain this! ...'
'Vassilissa asks you. She says, “I thank you, thank you very much,
and from my heart; only for the future, your honour, give us up.”'
Praskovia Ivanovna bowed down almost to Pyetushkov's feet.
'Vassilissa, you say, begs me not to come?'
'Just so, your honour. When your honour came in to-day, and said
what you did, that you didn't wish, you said, to visit us any more, I
felt relieved, sir, that I did; thinks I, Well, thank God, how nicely
it's all come about! But for that, I should have had hard work to bring
my tongue to say it.... Be so good, sir.'
Pyetushkov turned red and pale almost at the same instant. Praskovia
Ivanovna still went on bowing....
'Very good,' Ivan Afanasiitch cried sharply. 'Good-bye.'
He turned abruptly and put on his cap.
'But the little bill, sir....'
'Send it ... my orderly shall pay you.'
Pyetushkov went with resolute steps out of the baker's shop, and did
not even look round.
A fortnight passed. At first Pyetushkov bore up in an extraordinary
way. He went out, and visited his comrades, with the exception, of
course, of Bublitsyn; but in spite of the exaggerated approbation of
Onisim, he almost went out of his mind at last from wretchedness,
jealousy, and ennui. Conversations with Onisim about Vassilissa were
the only thing that afforded him some consolation. The conversation was
always begun, 'scratched up,' by Pyetushkov; Onisim responded
'It's a strange thing, you know,' Ivan Afanasiitch would say, for
instance, as he lay on the sofa, while Onisim stood in his usual
attitude, leaning against the door, with his hands folded behind his
back, 'when you come to think of it, what it was I saw in that girl.
One would say that there was nothing unusual in her. It's true she has
a good heart. That one can't deny her.'
'Good heart, indeed!' Onisim would answer with displeasure.
'Come, now, Onisim,' Pyetushkov went on, 'one must tell the truth.
It's a thing of the past now; it's no matter to me now, but justice is
justice. You don't know her. She's very good-hearted. Not a single
beggar does she let pass by; she'll always give, if it's only a crust
of bread. Oh! And she's of a cheerful temper, that one must allow,
'What a notion! I don't know where you see the cheerful temper!'
'I tell you ... you don't know her. And she's not mercenary either
... that's another thing. She's not grasping, there's no doubt of it.
Why I never gave her anything, as you know.'
'That's why she's flung you over.'
'No, that's not why!' responded Pyetushkov with a sigh.
'Why, you're in love with her to this day,' Onisim retorted
malignantly. 'You'd be glad to go back there as before.'
'That's nonsense you're talking. No, my lad, you don't know me
either, I can see. Be sent away, and then go dancing attendance—no,
thank you, I'd rather be excused. No, I tell you. You may believe me,
it's all a thing of the past now.'
'Pray God it be so!'
'But why ever shouldn't I be fair to her, now after all? If now I
say she's not good-looking—why, who'd believe me?'
'A queer sort of good looks!'
'Well, find me,—well, mention anybody better-looking ...'
'Oh, you'd better go back to her, then! ...'
'Stupid! Do you suppose that's why I say so? Understand me ...'
'Oh! I understand you,' Onisim answered with a heavy sigh.
Another week passed by. Pyetushkov had positively given up talking
with his Onisim, and had given up going out. From morning till night he
lay on the sofa, his hands behind his head. He began to get thin and
pale, eat unwillingly and hurriedly, and did not smoke at all. Onisim
could only shake his head, as he looked at him.
'You're not well, Ivan Afanasiitch,' he said to him more than once.
'No, I'm all right,' replied Pyetushkov.
At last, one fine day (Onisim was not at home) Pyetushkov got up,
rummaged in his chest of drawers, put on his cloak, though the sun was
rather hot, went stealthily out into the street, and came back a
quarter of an hour later.... He carried something under his cloak....
Onisim was not at home. The whole morning he had been sitting in his
little room, deliberating with himself, grumbling and swearing between
his teeth, and, at last, he sallied off to Vassilissa. He found her in
the shop. Praskovia Ivanovna was asleep on the stove, rhythmically and
'Ah, how d'ye do, Onisim Sergeitch,' began Vassilissa, with a smile;
'why haven't we seen anything of you for so long?'
'Why are you so depressed? Would you like a cup of tea?'
'It's not me we're talking about now,' rejoined Onisim, in a tone of
'Why, what then?'
'What! Don't you understand me? What! What have you done to my
master, come, you tell me that.'
'What I've done to him?'
'What have you done to him? ... You go and look at him. Why, before
we can look round, he'll be in a decline, or dying outright, maybe.'
'It's not my fault, Onisim Sergeitch.'
'Not your fault! God knows. Why, he's lost his heart to you. And
you, God forgive you, treated him as if he were one of yourselves.
Don't come, says you, I'm sick of you. Why, though he's not much to
boast of, he's a gentleman anyway. He's a gentleman born, you know....
Do you realise that?'
'But he's such a dull person, Onisim Sergeitch....'
'Dull! So you must have merry fellows about you!'
'And it's not so much that he's dull: he's so cross, so jealous.'
'Ah, you, you're as haughty as a princess! He was in your way, I
'But you yourself, Onisim Sergeitch, if you remember, were put out
with him about it; “Why is he such friends?” you said; “what's he
always coming for?”'
'Well, was I to be pleased with him for it, do you suppose?'
'Well, then, why are you angry with me now? Here, he's given up
Onisim positively stamped.
'But what am I to do with him, if he's such a madman?' he added,
dropping his voice.
'But how am I in fault? What can I do?'
'I'll tell you what: come with me to him.'
'Why won't you come?'
'But why should I go to see him? Upon my word!'
'Why? Why, because he says you've a good heart; let me see if you've
a good heart.'
'But what good can I do him?'
'Oh, that's my business. You may be sure things are in a bad way,
since I've come to you. It's certain I could think of nothing else to
Onisim paused for a while.
'Well, come along, Vassilissa, please, come along.'
'Oh, Onisim Sergeitch, I don't want to be friendly with him again
'Well, and you needn't—who's talking of it? You've only to say a
couple of words; to say, Why does your honour grieve? ... give over....
'Really, Onisim Sergeitch ...'
'Why, am I to go down on my knees to you, eh? All right—there, I'm
on my knees ...'
'But really ...'
'Why, what a girl it is! Even that doesn't touch her! ...'
Vassilissa at last consented, put a kerchief on her head, and went
out with Onisim.
'You wait here a little, in the passage,' he said to her, when they
reached Pyetushkov's abode, 'and I'll go and let the master know ...'
He went in to Ivan Afanasiitch. Pyetushkov was standing in the
middle of the room, both hands in his pockets, his legs excessively
wide apart; he was slightly swaying backwards and forwards. His face
was hot, and his eyes were sparkling.
'Hullo, Onisim,' he faltered amiably, articulating the consonants
very indistinctly and thickly: 'hullo, my lad. Ah, my lad, when you
weren't here ... he, he, he ...' Pyetushkov laughed and made a sudden
duck forward with his nose. 'Yes, it's an accomplished fact, he, he,
he.... However,' he added, trying to assume a dignified air, 'I'm all
right.' He tried to lift his foot, but almost fell over, and to
preserve his dignity pronounced in a deep bass, 'Boy, bring my pipe!'
Onisim gazed in astonishment at his master, glanced round.... In the
window stood an empty dark-green bottle, with the inscription: 'Best
'I've been drinking, my lad, that's all,' Pyetushkov went on. 'I've
been and taken it. I've been drinking, and that's all about it. And
where've you been? Tell us ... don't be shy ... tell us. You're a good
hand at a tale.'
'Ivan Afanasiitch, mercy on us!' wailed Onisim.
'To be sure. To be sure I will,' replied Pyetushkov with a vague
wave of his hand. 'I'll have mercy on you, and forgive you. I forgive
every one, I forgive you, and Vassilissa I forgive, and every one,
every one. Yes, my lad, I've been drinking.... Dri-ink-ing, lad....
Who's that?' he cried suddenly, pointing to the door into the passage;
'Nobody's there,' Onisim answered hastily: 'who should be there? ...
where are you going?'
'No, no,' repeated Pyetushkov, breaking away from Onisim, 'let me
go, I saw—don't you talk to me,—I saw there, let me go....
Vassilissa!' he shrieked all at once.
Pyetushkov turned pale.
'Well ... well, why don't you come in?' he said at last. 'Come in,
Vassilissa, come in. I'm very glad to see you, Vassilissa.'
Vassilissa glanced at Onisim and came into the room. Pyetushkov went
nearer to her.... He heaved deep, irregular breaths. Onisim watched
him. Vassilissa stole timid glances at both of them.
'Sit down, Vassilissa,' Ivan Afanasiitch began again: 'thanks for
coming. Excuse my being ... what shall I say? ... not quite fit to be
seen. I couldn't foresee, couldn't really, you'll own that yourself.
Come, sit down, see here, on the sofa ... So ... I'm expressing myself
all right, I think.'
Vassilissa sat down.
'Well, good day to you,' Ivan Afanasiitch pursued. 'Come, how are
you? what have you been doing?'
'I'm well, thank God, Ivan Afanasiitch. And you?'
'I? as you see! A ruined man. And ruined by whom? By you,
Vassilissa. But I'm not angry with you. Only I'm a ruined man. You ask
him. (He pointed to Onisim.) Don't you mind my being drunk. I'm drunk,
certainly; only I'm a ruined man. That's why I'm drunk, because I'm a
'Lord have mercy on us, Ivan Afanasiitch!'
'A ruined man, Vassilissa, I tell you. You may believe me. I've
never deceived you. Oh, and how's your aunt?'
'Very well, Ivan Afanasiitch. Thank you.'
Pyetushkov began swaying violently.
'But you're not quite well to-day, Ivan Afanasiitch. You ought to
'No, I'm quite well, Vassilissa. No, don't say I'm not well; you'd
better say I've fallen into evil ways, lost my morals. That's what
would be just. I won't dispute that.'
Ivan Afanasiitch gave a lurch backwards. Onisim ran forward and held
his master up.
'And who's to blame for it? I'll tell you, if you like, who's to
blame. I'm to blame, in the first place. What ought I to have said? I
ought to have said to you: Vassilissa, I love you. Good—well, will you
marry me? Will you? It's true you're a working girl, granted; but
that's all right. It's done sometimes. Why, there, I knew a fellow, he
got married like that. Married a Finnish servant-girl. Took and married
her. And you'd have been happy with me. I'm a good-natured chap, I am!
Never you mind my being drunk, you look at my heart. There, you ask
this ... fellow. So, you see, I turn out to be in fault. And now, of
course, I'm a ruined man.'
Ivan Afanasiitch was more and more in need of Onisim's support.
'All the same, you did wrong, very wrong. I loved you, I respected
you ... what's more, I'm ready to go to church with you this minute.
Will you? You've only to say the word, and we'll start at once. Only
you wounded me cruelly ... cruelly. You might at least have turned me
away yourself—but through your aunt, through that fat female! Why, the
only joy I had in life was you. I'm a homeless man, you know, a poor
lonely creature! Who is there now to be kind to me? who says a kind
word to me? I'm utterly alone. Stript bare as a crow. You ask this ...'
Ivan Afanasiitch began to cry. 'Vassilissa, listen what I say to you,'
he went on: 'let me come and see you as before. Don't be afraid....
I'll be ... quiet as a mouse. You can go and see whom you like,
I'll—be all right: not a word, no protests, you know. Eh? do you
agree? If you like, I'll go down on my knees.' (And Ivan Afanasiitch
bent his knees, but Onisim held him up under the arms.) 'Let me go!
It's not your business! It's a matter of the happiness of a whole life,
don't you understand, and you hinder....'
Vassilissa did not know what to say.
'You won't ... Well, as you will! God be with you. In that case,
good-bye! Good-bye, Vassilissa. I wish you all happiness and prosperity
... but I ... but I ...'
And Pyetushkov sobbed violently. Onisim with all his might held him
up from behind ... first his face worked, then he burst out crying. And
Vassilissa cried too.
Ten years later, one might have met in the streets of the little
town of O——a thinnish man with a reddish nose, dressed in an old
green coat with a greasy plush collar. He occupied a small garret in
the baker's shop, with which we are familiar. Praskovia Ivanovna was no
longer of this world. The business was carried on by her niece,
Vassilissa, and her husband, the red-haired, dim-eyed baker, Demofont.
The man in the green coat had one weakness: he was over fond of drink.
He was, however, always quiet when he was tipsy. The reader has
probably recognised him as Ivan Afanasiitch.