The Schoolmistress and Other Stories
by Anton Chekov
Translated by Constance Garrett
AT half-past eight they drove out of the town.
The highroad was dry, a lovely April sun was shining warmly, but
the snow was still lying in the ditches and in the woods. Winter,
dark, long, and spiteful, was hardly over; spring had come all of
a sudden. But neither the warmth nor the languid transparent
woods, warmed by the breath of spring, nor the black flocks of
birds flying over the huge puddles that were like lakes, nor the
marvelous fathomless sky, into which it seemed one would have
gone away so joyfully, presented anything new or interesting to
Marya Vassilyevna who was sitting in the cart. For thirteen years
she had been schoolmistress, and there was no reckoning how many
times during all those years she had been to the town for her
salary; and whether it were spring as now, or a rainy autumn
evening, or winter, it was all the same to her, and she always --
invariably -- longed for one thing only, to get to the end of her
journey as quickly as could be.
She felt as though she had been living in that part of the
country for ages and ages, for a hundred years, and it seemed to
her that she knew every stone, every tree on the road from the
town to her school. Her past was here, her present was here, and
she could imagine no other future than the school, the road to
the town and back again, and again the school and again the road.
. . .
She had got out of the habit of thinking of her past before she
became a schoolmistress, and had almost forgotten it. She had
once had a father and mother; they had lived in Moscow in a big
flat near the Red Gate, but of all that life there was left in
her memory only something vague and fluid like a dream. Her
father had died when she was ten years old, and her mother had
died soon after. . . . She had a brother, an officer; at first
they used to write to each other, then her brother had given up
answering her letters, he had got out of the way of writing. Of
her old belongings, all that was left was a photograph of her
mother, but it had grown dim from the dampness of the school, and
now nothing could be seen but the hair and the eyebrows.
When they had driven a couple of miles, old Semyon, who was
driving, turned round and said:
"They have caught a government clerk in the town. They have taken
him away. The story is that with some Germans he killed Alexeyev,
the Mayor, in Moscow."
"Who told you that?"
"They were reading it in the paper, in Ivan Ionov's tavern."
And again they were silent for a long time. Marya Vassilyevna
thought of her school, of the examination that was coming soon,
and of the girl and four boys she was sending up for it. And just
as she was thinking about the examination, she was overtaken by
a neighboring landowner called Hanov in a carriage with four
horses, the very man who had been examiner in her school the year
before. When he came up to her he recognized her and bowed.
"Good-morning," he said to her. "You are driving home, I
This Hanov, a man of forty with a listless expression and a face
that showed signs of wear, was beginning to look old, but was
still handsome and admired by women. He lived in his big
homestead alone, and was not in the service; and people used to
say of him that he did nothing at home but walk up and down the
room whistling, or play chess with his old footman. People said,
too, that he drank heavily. And indeed at the examination the
year before the very papers he brought with him smelt of wine
and scent. He had been dressed all in new clothes on that
occasion, and Marya Vassilyevna thought him very attractive, and
all the while she sat beside him she had felt embarrassed. She
was accustomed to see frigid and sensible examiners at the
school, while this one did not remember a single prayer, or know
what to ask questions about, and was exceedingly courteous and
delicate, giving nothing but the highest marks.
"I am going to visit Bakvist," he went on, addressing Marya
Vassilyevna, "but I am told he is not at home."
They turned off the highroad into a by-road to the village, Hanov
leading the way and Semyon following. The four horses moved at a
walking pace, with effort dragging the heavy carriage through the
mud. Semyon tacked from side to side, keeping to the edge of the
road, at one time through a snowdrift, at another through a pool,
often jumping out of the cart and helping the horse. Marya
Vassilyevna was still thinking about the school, wondering
whether the arithmetic questions at the examination would be
difficult or easy. And she felt annoyed with the Zemstvo board at
which she had found no one the day before. How unbusiness-like!
Here she had been asking them for the last two years to dismiss
the watchman, who did nothing, was rude to her, and hit the
schoolboys; but no one paid any attention. It was hard to find
the president at the office, and when one did find him he would
say with tears in his eyes that he hadn't a moment to spare; the
inspector visited the school at most once in three years, and
knew nothing whatever about his work, as he had been in the
Excise Duties Department, and had received the post of school
inspector through influence. The School Council met very rarely,
and there was no knowing where it met; the school guardian was
an almost illiterate peasant, the head of a tanning business,
unintelligent, rude, and a great friend of the watchman's -- and
goodness knows to whom she could appeal with complaints or
inquiries . . . .
"He really is handsome," she thought, glancing at Hanov.
The road grew worse and worse. . . . They drove into the wood.
Here there was no room to turn round, the wheels sank deeply in,
water splashed and gurgled through them, and sharp twigs struck
them in the face.
"What a road!" said Hanov, and he laughed.
The schoolmistress looked at him and could not understand why
this queer man lived here. What could his money, his interesting
appearance, his refined bearing do for him here, in this mud, in
this God-forsaken, dreary place? He got no special advantages
out of life, and here, like Semyon, was driving at a jog-trot on
an appalling road and enduring the same discomforts. Why live
here if one could live in Petersburg or abroad? And one would
have thought it would be nothing for a rich man like him to make
a good road instead of this bad one, to avoid enduring this
misery and seeing the despair on the faces of his coachman and
Semyon; but he only laughed, and apparently did not mind, and
wanted no better life. He was kind, soft, naive, and he did
not understand this coarse life, just as at the examination he
did not know the prayers. He subscribed nothing to the schools
but globes, and genuinely regarded himself as a useful person and
a prominent worker in the cause of popular education. And what
use were his globes here?
"Hold on, Vassilyevna!" said Semyon.
The cart lurched violently and was on the point of upsetting;
something heavy rolled on to Marya Vassilyevna's feet -- it was
her parcel of purchases. There was a steep ascent uphill through
the clay; here in the winding ditches rivulets were gurgling.
The water seemed to have gnawed away the road; and how could one
get along here! The horses breathed hard. Hanov got out of his
carriage and walked at the side of the road in his long overcoat.
He was hot.
"What a road!" he said, and laughed again. "It would soon smash
up one's carriage."
"Nobody obliges you to drive about in such weather," said Semyon
surlily. "You should stay at home."
"I am dull at home, grandfather. I don't like staying at home."
Beside old Semyon he looked graceful and vigorous, but yet in his
walk there was something just perceptible which betrayed in him a
being already touched by decay, weak, and on the road to ruin.
And all at once there was a whiff of spirits in the wood. Marya
Vassilyevna was filled with dread and pity for this man going to
his ruin for no visible cause or reason, and it came into her
mind that if she had been his wife or sister she would have
devoted her wh ole life to saving him from ruin. His wife! Life
was so ordered that here he was living in his great house alone,
and she was living in a God-forsaken village alone, and yet for
some reason the mere thought that he and she might be close to
one another and equals seemed impossible and absurd. In reality,
life was arranged and human relations were complicated so
utterly beyond all understanding that when one thought about it
one felt uncanny and one's heart sank.
"And it is beyond all understanding," she thought, "why God gives
beauty, this graciousness, and sad, sweet eyes to weak, unlucky,
useless people -- why they are so charming."
"Here we must turn off to the right," said Hanov, getting into
his carriage. "Good-by! I wish you all things good!"
And again she thought of her pupils, of the examination, of the
watchman, of the School Council; and when the wind brought the
sound of the retreating carriage these thoughts were mingled with
others. She longed to think of beautiful eyes, of love, of the
happiness which would never be. . . .
His wife? It was cold in the morning, there was no one to heat
the stove, the watchman disappeared; the children came in as soon
as it was light, bringing in snow and mud and making a noise: it
was all so inconvenient, so comfortless. Her abode consisted of
one little room and the kitchen close by. Her head ached every
day after her work, and after dinner she had heart-burn. She had
to collect money from the school-children for wood and for the
watchman, and to give it to the school guardian, and then to
entreat him -- that overfed, insolent peasant -- for God's sake
to send her wood. And at night she dreamed of examinations,
peasants, snowdrifts. And this life was making her grow old and
coarse, making her ugly, angular, and awkward, as though she
were made of lead. She was always afraid, and she would get up
from her seat and not venture to sit down in the presence of a
member of the Zemstvo or the school guardian. And she used
formal, deferential expressions when she spoke of any one of
them. And no one thought her attractive, and life was passing
drearily, without affection, without friendly sympathy, without
interesting acquaintances. How awful it would have been in her
position if she had fallen in love!
"Hold on, Vassilyevna!"
Again a sharp ascent uphill. . . .
She had become a schoolmistress from necessity, without feeling
any vocation for it; and she had never thought of a vocation, of
serving the cause of enlightenment; and it always seemed to her
that what was most important in her work was not the children,
nor enlightenment, but the examinations. And what time had she
for thinking of vocation, of serving the cause of enlightenment?
Teachers, badly paid doctors, and their assistants, with their
terribly hard work, have not even the comfort of thinking
that they are serving an idea or the people, as their
heads are always stuffed with thoughts of their daily bread, of
wood for the fire, of bad roads, of illnesses. It is a
hard-working, an uninteresting life, and only silent, patient
cart-horses like Mary Vassilyevna could put up with it for long;
the lively, nervous, impressionable people who talked about
vocation and serving the idea were soon weary of it and gave up
Semyon kept picking out the driest and shortest way, first by a
meadow, then by the backs of the village huts; but in one place
the peasants would not let them pass, in another it was the
priest's land and they could not cross it, in another Ivan Ionov
had bought a plot from the landowner and had dug a ditch round
it. They kept having to turn back.
They reached Nizhneye Gorodistche. Near the tavern on the
dung-strewn earth, where the snow was still lying, there stood
wagons that had brought great bottles of crude sulphuric acid.
There were a great many people in the tavern, all drivers, and
there was a smell of vodka, tobacco, and sheepskins. There was a
loud noise of conversation and the banging of the swing-door.
Through the wall, without ceasing for a moment, came the sound of
a concertina being played in the shop. Marya Vassilyevna
sat down and drank some tea, while at the next table peasants
were drinking vodka and beer, perspiring from the tea they had
just swallowed and the stifling fumes of the tavern.
"I say, Kuzma!" voices kept shouting in confusion. "What there!"
"The Lord bless us!" "Ivan Dementyitch, I can tell you that!"
"Look out, old man!"
A little pock-marked man with a black beard, who was quite drunk,
was suddenly surprised by something and began using bad language.
"What are you swearing at, you there?" Semyon, who was sitting
some way off, responded angrily. "Don't you see the young lady?"
"The young lady!" someone mimicked in another corner.
"We meant nothing . . ." said the little man in confusion. "I beg
your pardon. We pay with our money and the young lady with hers.
"Good-morning," answered the schoolmistress.
"And we thank you most feelingly."
Marya Vassilyevna drank her tea with satisfaction, and she, too,
began turning red like the peasants, and fell to thinking again
about firewood, about the watchman. . . .
"Stay, old man," she heard from the next table, "it's the
schoolmistress from Vyazovye. . . . We know her; she's a good
"She's all right!"
The swing-door was continually banging, some coming in, others
going out. Marya Vassilyevna sat on, thinking all the time of the
same things, while the concertina went on playing and playing.
The patches of sunshine had been on the floor, then they
passed to the counter, to the wall, and disappeared altogether;
so by the sun it was past midday. The peasants at the next table
were getting ready to go. The little man, somewhat unsteadily,
went up to Marya Vassilyevna and held out his hand to her;
following his example, the others shook hands, too, at parting,
and went out one after another, and the swing-door squeaked and
slammed nine times.
"Vassilyevna, get ready," Semyon called to her.
They set off. And again they went at a walking pace.
"A little while back they were building a school here in their
Nizhneye Gorodistche," said Semyon, turning round. "It was a
wicked thing that was done!"
"They say the president put a thousand in his pocket, and the
school guardian another thousand in his, and the teacher five
"The whole school only cost a thousand. It's wrong to slander
people, grandfather. That's all nonsense."
"I don't know, . . . I only tell you what folks say."
But it was clear that Semyon did not believe the schoolmistress.
The peasants did not believe her. They always thought she
received too large a salary, twenty-one roubles a month (five
would have been enough), and that of the money that she
collected from the children for the firewood and the watchman the
greater part she kept for herself. The guardian thought the same
as the peasants, and he himself made a profit off the firewood
and received payments from the peasants for being a guardian --
without the knowledge of the authorities.
The forest, thank God! was behind them, and now it would be flat,
open ground all the way to Vyazovye, and there was not far to go
now. They had to cross the river and then the railway line, and
then Vyazovye was in sight.
"Where are you driving?" Marya Vassilyevna asked Semyon. "Take
the road to the right to the bridge."
"Why, we can go this way as well. It's not deep enough to
"Mind you don't drown the horse."
"Look, Hanov is driving to the bridge," said Marya Vassilyevna,
seeing the four horses far away to the right. "It is he, I
"It is. So he didn't find Bakvist at home. What a pig-headed
fellow he is. Lord have mercy upon us! He's driven over there,
and what for? It's fully two miles nearer this way."
They reached the river. In the summer it was a little stream
easily crossed by wading. It usually dried up in August, but now,
after the spring floods, it was a river forty feet in breadth,
rapid, muddy, and cold; on the bank and right up to the water
there were fresh tracks of wheels, so it had been crossed here.
"Go on!" shouted Semyon angrily and anxiously, tugging violently
at the reins and jerking his elbows as a bird does its wings. "Go
The horse went on into the water up to his belly and stopped, but
at once went on again with an effort, and Marya Vassilyevna was
aware of a keen chilliness in her feet.
"Go on!" she, too, shouted, getting up. "Go on!"
They got out on the bank.
"Nice mess it is, Lord have mercy upon us!" muttered Semyon,
setting straight the harness. "It's a perfect plague with this
Zemstvo. . . ."
Her shoes and goloshes were full of water, the lower part of her
dress and of her coat and one sleeve were wet and dripping: the
sugar and flour had got wet, and that was worst of all, and Marya
Vassilyevna could only clasp her hands in despair and say:
Oh, Semyon, Semyon! How tiresome you are really! . . ."
The barrier was down at the railway crossing. A train was coming
out of the station. Marya Vassilyevna stood at the crossing
waiting till it should pass, and shivering all over with cold.
Vyazovye was in sight now, and the school with the green roof,
and the church with its crosses flashing in the evening sun: and
the station windows flashed too, and a pink smoke rose from the
engine . . . and it seemed to her that everything was trembling
Here was the train; the windows reflected the gleaming light like
the crosses on the church: it made her eyes ache to look at them.
On the little platform between two first-class carriages a lady
was standing, and Marya Vassilyevna glanced at her as she
passed. Her mother! What a resemblance! Her mother had had just
such luxuriant hair, just such a brow and bend of the head. And
with amazing distinctness, for the first time in those thirteen
years, there rose before her mind a vivid picture of her mother,
her father, her brother, their flat in Moscow, the aquarium with
little fish, everything to the tiniest detail; she heard the
sound of the piano, her father's voice; she felt as she had been
then, young, good-looking, well-dressed, in a bright warm room
among her own people. A feeling of joy and happiness suddenly
came over her, she pressed her hands to her temples in an
ecstacy, and called softly, beseechingly:
And she began crying, she did not know why. Just at that instant
Hanov drove up with his team of four horses, and seeing him she
imagined happiness such as she had never had, and smiled and
nodded to him as an equal and a friend, and it seemed to her
that her happiness, her triumph, was glowing in the sky and on
all sides, in the windows and on the trees. Her father and mother
had never died, she had never been a schoolmistress, it was a
long, tedious, strange dream, and now she had awakened. . . .
"Vassilyevna, get in!"
And at once it all vanished. The barrier was slowly raised. Marya
Vassilyevna, shivering and numb with cold, got into the cart. The
carriage with the four horses crossed the railway line; Semyon
followed it. The signalman took off his cap.
"And here is Vyazovye. Here we are."
A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
A MEDICAL student called Mayer, and a pupil of the Moscow School
of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture called Rybnikov, went
one evening to see their friend Vassilyev, a law student, and
suggested that he should go with them to S. Street. For a long
time Vassilyev would not consent to go, but in the end he put on
his greatcoat and went with them.
He knew nothing of fallen women except by hearsay and from books,
and he had never in his life been in the houses in which they
live. He knew that there are immoral women who, under the
pressure of fatal circumstances -- environment, bad education,
poverty, and so on -- are forced to sell their honor for money.
They know nothing of pure love, have no children, have no civil
rights; their mothers and sisters weep over them as though they
were dead, science treats of them as an evil, men address them
with contemptuous familiarity. But in spite of all that, they do
not lose the semblance and image of God. They all acknowledge
their sin and hope for salvation. Of the means that lead to
salvation they can avail themselves to the fullest extent.
Society, it is true, will not forgive people their past, but in
the sight of God St. Mary of Egypt is no lower than the other
saints. When it had happened to Vassilyev in the street to
recognize a fallen woman as such, by her dress or her manners,
or to see a picture of one in a comic paper, he always remembered
a story he had once read: a young man, pure and self-sacrificing,
loves a fallen woman and urges her to become his wife; she,
considering herself unworthy of such happiness, takes poison.
Vassilyev lived in one of the side streets turning out of
Tverskoy Boulevard. When he came out of the house with his two
friends it was about eleven o'clock. The first snow had not long
fallen, and all nature was under the spell of the fresh snow.
There was the smell of snow in the air, the snow crunched softly
under the feet; the earth, the roofs, the trees, the seats on the
boulevard, everything was soft, white, young, and this made the
houses look quite different from the day before; the street
lamps burned more brightly, the air was more transparent, the
carriages rumbled with a deeper note, and with the fresh, light,
frosty air a feeling stirred in the soul akin to the white,
youthful, feathery snow. "Against my will an unknown force,"
hummed the medical student in his agreeable tenor, "has led me to
these mournful shores."
"Behold the mill . . ." the artist seconded him, "in ruins now. .
"Behold the mill . . . in ruins now," the medical student
repeated, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head mournfully.
He paused, rubbed his forehead, trying to remember the words, and
then sang aloud, so well that passers-by looked round:
"Here in old days when I was free,
Love, free, unfettered, greeted me."
The three of them went into a restaurant and, without taking off
their greatcoats, drank a couple of glasses of vodka each. Before
drinking the second glass, Vassilyev noticed a bit of cork in his
vodka, raised the glass to his eyes, and gazed into
it for a long time, screwing up his shortsighted eyes. The
medical student did not understand his expression, and said:
"Come, why look at it? No philosophizing, please. Vodka is given
us to be drunk, sturgeon to be eaten, women to be visited, snow
to be walked upon. For one evening anyway live like a human
"But I haven't said anything . . ." said Vassilyev, laughing. "Am
I refusing to?"
There was a warmth inside him from the vodka. He looked with
softened feelings at his friends, admired them and envied them.
In these strong, healthy, cheerful people how wonderfully
balanced everything is, how finished and smooth is everything in
their minds and souls! They sing, and have a passion for the
theatre, and draw, and talk a great deal, and drink, and they
don't have headaches the day after; they are both poetical and
debauched, both soft and hard; they can work, too, and be
indignant, and laugh without reason, and talk nonsense; they are
warm, honest, self-sacrificing, and as men are in no way inferior
to himself, Vassilyev, who watched over every step he took and
every word he uttered, who was fastidious and cautious,
and ready to raise every trifle to the level of a problem. And
he longed for one evening to live as his friends did, to open
out, to let himself loose from his own control. If vodka had to
be drunk, he would drink it, though his head would be splitting
next morning. If he were taken to the women he would go. He would
laugh, play the fool, gaily respond to the passing advances of
strangers in the street. . . .
He went out of the restaurant laughing. He liked his friends --
one in a crushed broad-brimmed hat, with an affectation of
artistic untidiness; the other in a sealskin cap, a man not poor,
though he affected to belong to the Bohemia of learning. He
liked the snow, the pale street lamps, the sharp black tracks
left in the first snow by the feet of the passers-by. He liked
the air, and especially that limpid, tender, naive, as it were
virginal tone, which can be seen in nature only twice in the
year -- when everything is covered with snow, and in spring on
bright days and moonlight evenings when the ice breaks on the
"Against my will an unknown force,
Has led me to these mournful shores,"
he hummed in an undertone.
And the tune for some reason haunted him and his friends all the
way, and all three of them hummed it mechanically, not in time
with one another.
Vassilyev's imagination was picturing how, in another ten
minutes, he and his friends would knock at a door; how by little
dark passages and dark rooms they would steal in to the women;
how, taking advantage of the darkness, he would strike a match,
would light up and see the face of a martyr and a guilty smile.
The unknown, fair or dark, would certainly have her hair down and
be wearing a white dressing-jacket; she would be panic-stricken
by the light, would be fearfully confused, and would say: "For
God's sake, what are you doing! Put it out!" It would all be
dreadful, but interesting and new.
The friends turned out of Trubnoy Square into Gratchevka, and
soon reached the side street which Vassilyev only knew by
reputation. Seeing two rows of houses with brightly lighted
windows and wide-open doors, and hearing gay strains of pianos
and violins, sounds which floated out from every door and
mingled in a strange chaos, as though an unseen orchestra were
tuning up in the darkness above the roofs, Vassilyev was
surprised and said:
"What a lot of houses!"
"That's nothing," said the medical student. "In London there are
ten times as many. There are about a hundred thousand such women
The cabmen were sitting on their boxes as calmly and
indifferently as in any other side street; the same passers-by
were walking along the pavement as in other streets. No one was
hurrying, no one was hiding his face in his coat-collar, no one
shook his head reproachfully. . . . And in this indifference to
the noisy chaos of pianos and violins, to the bright windows and
wide-open doors, there was a feeling of something very open,
insolent, reckless, and devil-may-care. Probably it was as gay
and noisy at the slave-markets in their day, and people's faces
and movements showed the same indifference.
"Let us begin from the beginning," said the artist.
The friends went into a narrow passage lighted by a lamp with a
reflector. When they opened the door a man in a black coat, with
an unshaven face like a flunkey's, and sleepy-looking eyes, got
up lazily from a yellow sofa in the hall. The place smelt like a
laundry with an odor of vinegar in addition. A door from the hall
led into a brightly lighted room. The medical student and the
artist stopped at this door and, craning their necks, peeped into
"Buona sera, signori, rigolleto -- hugenotti -- traviata!" began
the artist, with a theatrical bow.
"Havanna -- tarakano -- pistoleto!" said the medical student,
pressing his cap to his breast and bowing low.
Vassilyev was standing behind them. He would have liked to make a
theatrical bow and say something silly, too, but he only smiled,
felt an awkwardness that was like shame, and waited impatiently
for what would happen next.
A little fair girl of seventeen or eighteen, with short hair, in
a short light-blue frock with a bunch of white ribbon on her
bosom, appeared in the doorway.
"Why do you stand at the door?" she said. "Take off your coats
and come into the drawing-room."
The medical student and the artist, still talking Italian, went
into the drawing-room. Vassilyev followed them irresolutely.
"Gentlemen, take off your coats!" the flunkey said sternly; "you
can't go in like that."
In the drawing-room there was, besides the girl, another woman,
very stout and tall, with a foreign face and bare arms. She was
sitting near the piano, laying out a game of patience on her lap.
She took no notice whatever of the visitors.
"Where are the other young ladies?" asked the medical student.
"They are having their tea," said the fair girl. "Stepan," she
called, "go and tell the young ladies some students have come!"
A little later a third young lady came into the room. She was
wearing a bright red dress with blue stripes. Her face was
painted thickly and unskillfully, her brow was hidden under her
hair, and there was an unblinking, frightened stare in her eyes.
As she came in, she began at once singing some song in a coarse,
powerful contralto. After her a fourth appeared, and after her a
fifth. . . .
In all this Vassilyev saw nothing new or interesting. It seemed
to him that that room, the piano, the looking-glass in its cheap
gilt frame, the bunch of white ribbon, the dress with the blue
stripes, and the blank indifferent faces, he had seen before and
more than once. Of the darkness, the silence, the secrecy, the
guilty smile, of all that he had expected to meet here and had
dreaded, he saw no trace.
Everything was ordinary, prosaic, and uninteresting. Only one
thing faintly stirred his curiosity -- the terrible, as it were
intentionally designed, bad taste which was visible in the
cornices, in the absurd pictures, in the dresses, in the bunch
of ribbons. There was something characteristic and peculiar in
this bad taste.
"How poor and stupid it all is!" thought Vassilyev. "What is
there in all this trumpery I see now that can tempt a normal man
and excite him to commit the horrible sin of buying a human being
for a rouble? I understand any sin for the sake of splendor,
beauty, grace, passion, taste; but what is there here? What is
there here worth sinning for? But . . . one mustn't think!"
"Beardy, treat me to some porter!" said the fair girl, addressing
Vassilyev was at once overcome with confusion.
"With pleasure," he said, bowing politely. "Only excuse me,
madam, I . . . I won't drink with you. I don't drink.
Five minutes later the friends went off into another house.
"Why did you ask for porter?" said the medical student angrily.
"What a millionaire! You have thrown away six roubles for no
reason whatever -- simply waste!"
"If she wants it, why not let her have the pleasure?" said
Vassilyev, justifying himself.
"You did not give pleasure to her, but to the 'Madam.' They are
told to ask the visitors to stand them treat because it is a
profit to the keeper."
"Behold the mill . . ." hummed the artist, "in ruins now. . . ."
Going into the next house, the friends stopped in the hall and
did not go into the drawing-room. Here, as in the first house, a
figure in a black coat, with a sleepy face like a flunkey's, got
up from a sofa in the hall. Looking at this flunkey, at
his face and his shabby black coat, Vassilyev thought: "What
must an ordinary simple Russian have gone through before fate
flung him down as a flunkey here? Where had he been before and
what had he done? What was awaiting him? Was he married? Where
was his mother, and did she know that he was a servant here?"
And Vassilyev could not help particularly noticing the flunkey in
each house. In one of the houses -- he thought it was the fourth
-- there was a little spare, frail-looking flunkey with
a watch-chain on his waistcoat. He was reading a newspaper, and
took no notice of them when they went in. Looking at his face
Vassilyev, for some reason, thought that a man with such a face
might steal, might murder, might bear false witness. But the
face was really interesting: a big forehead, gray eyes, a little
flattened nose, thin compressed lips, and a blankly stupid and at
the same time insolent expression like that of a young harrier
overtaking a hare. Vassilyev thought it would be nice to touch
this man's hair, to see whether it was soft or coarse. It must be
coarse like a dog's.
Having drunk two glasses of porter, the artist became suddenly
tipsy and grew unnaturally lively.
"Let's go to another!" he said peremptorily, waving his hands. "I
will take you to the best one."
When he had brought his fri ends to the house which in his
opinion was the best, he declared his firm intention of dancing a
quadrille. The medical student grumbled something about their
having to pay the musicians a rouble, but agreed to be his
_vis-a-vis_. They began dancing.
It was just as nasty in the best house as in the worst. Here
there were just the same looking-glasses and pictures, the same
styles of coiffure and dress. Looking round at the furnishing of
the rooms and the costumes, Vassilyev realized that this was not
lack of taste, but something that might be called the taste, and
even the style, of S. Street, which could not be found
elsewhere--something intentional in its ugliness, not accidental,
but elaborated in the course of years. After he had been in eight
houses he was no longer surprised at the color of the dresses, at
the long trains, the gaudy ribbons, the sailor dresses, and the
thick purplish rouge on the cheeks; he saw that it all had to be
like this, that if a single one of the women had been dressed
like a human being, or if there had been one decent engraving on
the wall, the general tone of the whole street would have
"How unskillfully they sell themselves!" he thought. "How can
they fail to understand that vice is only alluring when it is
beautiful and hidden, when it wears the mask of virtue? Modest
black dresses, pale faces, mournful smiles, and darkness would
be far more effective than this clumsy tawdriness. Stupid things!
If they don't understand it of themselves, their visitors might
surely have taught them. . . ."
A young lady in a Polish dress edged with white fur came up to
him and sat down beside him.
"You nice dark man, why aren't you dancing?" she asked. "Why are
you so dull?"
"Because it is dull."
"Treat me to some Lafitte. Then it won't be dull."
Vassilyev made no answer. He was silent for a little, and then
"What time do you get to sleep?"
"At six o'clock."
"And what time do you get up?"
"Sometimes at two and sometimes at three."
"And what do you do when you get up?"
"We have coffee, and at six o'clock we have dinner."
"And what do you have for dinner?"
"Usually soup, beefsteak, and dessert. Our madam keeps the girls
well. But why do you ask all this?"
"Oh, just to talk. . . ."
Vassilyev longed to talk to the young lady about many things. He
felt an intense desire to find out where she came from, whether
her parents were living, and whether they knew that she was here;
how she had come into this house; whether she were cheerful and
satisfied, or sad and oppressed by gloomy thoughts; whether she
hoped some day to get out of her present position. . . . But he
could not think how to begin or in what shape to put his
questions so as not to seem impertinent. He thought
for a long time, and asked:
"How old are you?"
"Eighty," the young lady jested, looking with a laugh at the
antics of the artist as he danced.
All at once she burst out laughing at something, and uttered a
long cynical sentence loud enough to be heard by everyone.
Vassilyev was aghast, and not knowing how to look, gave a
constrained smile. He was the only one who smiled; all the
others, his friends, the musicians, the women, did not even
glance towards his neighbor, but seemed not to have heard her.
"Stand me some Lafitte," his neighbor said again.
Vassilyev felt a repulsion for her white fur and for her voice,
and walked away from her. It seemed to him hot and stifling, and
his heart began throbbing slowly but violently, like a hammer --
one! two! three!
"Let us go away!" he said, pulling the artist by his sleeve.
"Wait a little; let me finish."
While the artist and the medical student were finishing the
quadrille, to avoid looking at the women, Vassilyev scrutinized
the musicians. A respectable-looking old man in spectacles,
rather like Marshal Bazaine, was playing the piano; a young man
with a fair beard, dressed in the latest fashion, was playing the
violin. The young man had a face that did not look stupid nor
exhausted, but intelligent, youthful, and fresh. He was dressed
fancifully and with taste; he played with feeling. It was
a mystery how he and the respectable-looking old man had come
here. How was it they were not ashamed to sit here? What were
they thinking about when they looked at the women?
If the violin and the piano had been played by men in rags,
looking hungry, gloomy, drunken, with dissipated or stupid faces,
then one could have understood their presence, perhaps. As it
was, Vassilyev could not understand it at all. He recalled the
story of the fallen woman he had once read, and he thought now
that that human figure with the guilty smile had nothing in
common with what he was seeing now. It seemed to him that he was
seeing not fallen women, but some different world quite apart,
alien to him and incomprehensible; if he had seen this world
before on the stage, or read of it in a book, he would not have
believed in it. . . .
The woman with the white fur burst out laughing again and uttered
a loathsome sentence in a loud voice. A feeling of disgust took
possession of him. He flushed crimson and went out of the room.
"Wait a minute, we are coming too!" the artist shouted to him.
"While we were dancing," said the medical student, as they all
three went out into the street, "I had a conversation with my
partner. We talked about her first romance. He, the hero, was an
accountant at Smolensk with a wife and five children. She was
seventeen, and she lived with her papa and mamma, who sold soap
"How did he win her heart?" asked Vassilyev.
"By spending fifty roubles on underclothes for her. What next!"
"So he knew how to get his partner's story out of her," thought
Vassilyev about the medical student. "But I don't know how to."
"I say, I am going home!" he said.
"Because I don't know how to behave here. Besides, I am bored,
disgusted. What is there amusing in it? If they were human beings
-- but they are savages and animals. I am going; do as you like."
"Come, Grisha, Grigory, darling. . ." said the artist in a
tearful voice, hugging Vassilyev, "come along! Let's go to one
more together and damnation take them! . . . Please do, Grisha!"
They persuaded Vassilyev and led him up a staircase. In the
carpet and the gilt banisters, in the porter who opened the door,
and in the panels that decorated the hall, the same S. Street
style was apparent, but carried to a greater perfection, more
"I really will go home!" said Vassilyev as he was taking off his
"Come, come, dear boy," said the artist, and he kissed him on the
neck. "Don't be tiresome. . . . Gri-gri, be a good comrade! We
came together, we will go back together. What a beast you are,
"I can wait for you in the street. I think it's loathsome,
"Come, come, Grisha. . . . If it is loathsome, you can observe
it! Do you understand? You can observe!"
"One must take an objective view of things," said the medical
Vassilyev went into the drawing-room and sat down. There were a
number of visitors in the room besides him and his friends: two
infantry officers, a bald, gray-haired gentleman in spectacles,
two beardless youths from the institute of land-surveying, and a
very tipsy man who looked like an actor. All the young ladies
were taken up with these visitors and paid no attention to
Only one of them, dressed _a la Aida,_ glanced sideways at him,
smiled, and said, yawning: "A dark one has come. . . ."
Vassilyev's heart was throbbing and his face burned. He felt
ashamed before these visitors of his presence here, and he felt
disgusted and miserable. He was tormented by the thought that he,
a decent and loving man (such as he had hitherto considered
himself), hated these women and felt nothing but repulsion
towards them. He felt pity neither for the women nor the
musicians nor the flunkeys.
"It is because I am not trying to understand them," he thought.
"They are all more like animals than human beings, but of course
they are human beings all the same , they have souls. One must
understand them and then judge. . . ."
"Grisha, don't go, wait for us," the artist shouted to him and
The medical student disappeared soon after.
"Yes, one must make an effort to understand, one mustn't be like
this. . ." Vassilyev went on thinking.
And he began gazing at each of the women with strained attention,
looking for a guilty smile. But either he did not know how to
read their faces, or not one of these women felt herself to be
guilty; he read on every face nothing but a blank expression of
everyday vulgar boredom and complacency. Stupid faces, stupid
smiles, harsh, stupid voices, insolent movements, and nothing
else. Apparently each of them had in the past a romance with an
accountant based on underclothes for fifty roubles, and looked
for no other charm in the present but coffee, a dinner of three
courses, wines, quadrilles, sleeping till two in the afternoon. .
Finding no guilty smile, Vassilyev began to look whether there
was not one intelligent face. And his attention was caught by one
pale, rather sleepy, exhausted-looking face. . . . It was a dark
woman, not very young, wearing a dress covered with spangles;
she was sitting in an easy-chair, looking at the floor lost in
thought. Vassilyev walked from one corner of the room to the
other, and, as though casually, sat down beside her.
"I must begin with something trivial," he thought, "and pass to
what is serious. . . ."
"What a pretty dress you have," and with his finger he touched
the gold fringe of her fichu.
"Oh, is it? . . ." said the dark woman listlessly.
"What province do you come from?"
"I? From a distance. . . . From Tchernigov."
"A fine province. It's nice there."
"Any place seems nice when one is not in it."
"It's a pity I cannot describe nature," thought Vassilyev. "I
might touch her by a description of nature in Tchernigov. No
doubt she loves the place if she has been born there."
"Are you dull here?" he asked.
"Of course I am dull."
"Why don't you go away from here if you are dull?"
"Where should I go to? Go begging or what?"
"Begging would be easier than living here."
How do you know that? Have you begged?"
"Yes, when I hadn't the money to study. Even if I hadn't anyone
could understand that. A beggar is anyway a free man, and you are
The dark woman stretched, and watched with sleepy eyes the
footman who was bringing a trayful of glasses and seltzer water.
"Stand me a glass of porter," she said, and yawned again.
"Porter," thought Vassilyev. "And what if your brother or mother
walked in at this moment? What would you say? And what would they
say? There would be porter then, I imagine. . . ."
All at once there was the sound of weeping. From the adjoining
room, from which the footman had brought the seltzer water, a
fair man with a red face and angry eyes ran in quickly. He was
followed by the tall, stout "madam," who was shouting in a
"Nobody has given you leave to slap girls on the cheeks! We have
visitors better than you, and they don't fight! Impostor!"
A hubbub arose. Vassilyev was frightened and turned pale. In the
next room there was the sound of bitter, genuine weeping, as
though of someone insulted. And he realized that there were real
people living here who, like people everywhere else, felt
insulted, suffered, wept, and cried for help. The feeling of
oppressive hate and disgust gave way to an acute feeling of pity
and anger against the aggressor. He rushed into the room where
there was weeping. Across rows of bottles on a marble-top table
he distinguished a suffering face, wet with tears, stretched out
his hands towards that face, took a step towards the table, but
at once drew back in horror. The weeping girl was drunk.
As he made his way though the noisy crowd gathered about the fair
man, his heart sank and he felt frightened like a child; and it
seemed to him that in this alien, incomprehensible world people
wanted to pursue him, to beat him, to pelt him with filthy
words. . . . He tore down his coat from the hatstand and ran
Leaning against the fence, he stood near the house waiting for
his friends to come out. The sounds of the pianos and violins,
gay, reckless, insolent, and mournful, mingled in the air in a
sort of chaos, and this tangle of sounds seemed again like an
unseen orchestra tuning up on the roofs. If one looked upwards
into the darkness, the black background was all spangled with
white, moving spots: it was snow falling. As the snowflakes came
into the light they floated round lazily in the air like
down, and still more lazily fell to the ground. The snowflakes
whirled thickly round Vassilyev and hung upon his beard, his
eyelashes, his eyebrows. . . . The cabmen, the horses, and the
passers-by were white.
"And how can the snow fall in this street!" thought Vassilyev.
"Damnation take these houses!"
His legs seemed to be giving way from fatigue, simply from having
run down the stairs; he gasped for breath as though he had been
climbing uphill, his heart beat so loudly that he could hear it.
He was consumed by a desire to get out of the street as quickly
as possible and to go home, but even stronger was his desire to
wait for his companions and vent upon them his oppressive
There was much he did not understand in these houses, the souls
of ruined women were a mystery to him as before; but it was clear
to him that the thing was far worse than could have been
believed. If that sinful woman who had poisoned herself was
called fallen, it was difficult to find a fitting name for all
these who were dancing now to this tangle of sound and uttering
long, loathsome sentences. They were not on the road to ruin, but
"There is vice," he thought, "but neither consciousness of sin
nor hope of salvation. They are sold and bought, steeped in wine
and abominations, while they, like sheep, are stupid,
indifferent, and don't understand. My God! My God!"
It was clear to him, too, that everything that is called human
dignity, personal rights, the Divine image and semblance, were
defiled to their very foundations -- "to the very marrow," as
drunkards say -- and that not only the street and the stupid
women were responsible for it.
A group of students, white with snow, passed him laughing and
talking gaily; one, a tall thin fellow, stopped, glanced into
Vassilyev's face, and said in a drunken voice:
"One of us! A bit on, old man? Aha-ha! Never mind, have a good
time! Don't be down-hearted, old chap!"
He took Vassilyev by the shoulder and pressed his cold wet
mustache against his cheek, then he slipped, staggered, and,
waving both hands, cried:
"Hold on! Don't upset!"
And laughing, he ran to overtake his companions.
Through the noise came the sound of the artist's voice:
"Don't you dare to hit the women! I won't let you, damnation take
you! You scoundrels!"
The medical student appeared in the doorway. He looked from side
to side, and seeing Vassilyev, said in an agitated voice:
"You here! I tell you it's really impossible to go anywhere with
Yegor! What a fellow he is! I don't understand him! He has got up
a scene! Do you hear? Yegor!" he shouted at the door. Yegor!"
"I won't allow you to hit women!" the artist's piercing voice
sounded from above. Something heavy and lumbering rolled down the
stairs. It was the artist falling headlong. Evidently he had been
He picked himself up from the ground, shook his hat, and, with an
angry and indignant face, brandished his fist towards the top of
the stairs and shouted:
"Scoundrels! Torturers! Bloodsuckers! I won't allow you to hit
them! To hit a weak, drunken woman! Oh, you brutes! . . ."
"Yegor! . . . Come, Yegor! . . ." the medical student began
imploring him. "I give you my word of honor I'll never come with
you again. On my word of honor I won't!"
Little by little the artist was pacified and the friends went
"Against my will an unknown force," hummed the medical student,
"has led me to these mournful shores."
"Behold t he mill," the artist chimed in a little later, "in
ruins now. What a lot of snow, Holy Mother! Grisha, why did you
go? You are a funk, a regular old woman."
Vassilyev walked behind his companions, looked at their backs,
"One of two things: either we only fancy prostitution is an evil,
and we exaggerate it; or, if prostitution really is as great an
evil as is generally assumed, these dear friends of mine are as
much slaveowners, violators, and murderers, as the inhabitants
of Syria and Cairo, that are described in the 'Neva.' Now they
are singing, laughing, talking sense, but haven't they just been
exploiting hunger, ignorance, and stupidity? They have -- I have
been a witness of it. What is the use of their humanity, their
medicine, their painting? The science, art, and lofty sentiments
of these soul-destroyers remind me of the piece of bacon in the
story. Two brigands murdered a beggar in a forest; they began
sharing his clothes between them, and found in his wallet a piece
of bacon. 'Well found,' said one of them, 'let us have a bit.'
'What do you mean? How can you?' cried the other in horror. 'Have
you forgotten that to-day is Wednesday?' And they would not eat
it. After murdering a man, they came out of the forest in the
firm conviction that they were keeping the fast. In the same way
these men, after buying women, go their way imagining that they
are artists and men of science. . . ."
"Listen!" he said sharply and angrily. "Why do you come here? Is
it possible -- is it possible you don't understand how horrible
it is? Your medical books tell you that every one of these women
dies prematurely of consumption or something; art tells you that
morally they are dead even earlier. Every one of them dies
because she has in her time to entertain five hundred men on an
average, let us say. Each one of them is killed by five hundred
men. You are among those five hundred! If each of you in the
course of your lives visits this place or others like it two
hundred and fifty times, it follows that one woman is killed for
every two of you! Can't you understand that? Isn't it horrible to
murder, two of you, three of you, five of you, a foolish, hungry
woman! Ah! isn't it awful, my God!"
"I knew it would end like that," the artist said frowning. "We
ought not to have gone with this fool and ass! You imagine you
have grand notions in your head now, ideas, don't you? No, it's
the devil knows what, but not ideas. You are looking at me
now with hatred and repulsion, but I tell you it's better you
should set up twenty more houses like those than look like that.
There's more vice in your expression than in the whole street!
Come along, Volodya, let him go to the devil! He's a fool and an
ass, and that's all. . . ."
"We human beings do murder each other," said the medical student.
"It's immoral, of course, but philosophizing doesn't help it.
At Trubnoy Square the friends said good-by and parted. When he
was left alone, Vassilyev strode rapidly along the boulevard. He
felt frightened of the darkness, of the snow which was falling in
heavy flakes on the ground, and seemed as though it would cover
up the whole world; he felt frightened of the street lamps
shining with pale light through the clouds of snow. His soul was
possessed by an unaccountable, faint-hearted terror. Passers-by
came towards him from time to time, but he timidly moved to one
side; it seemed to him that women, none but women, were coming
from all sides and staring at him. . . .
"It's beginning," he thought, "I am going to have a breakdown."
At home he lay on his bed and said, shuddering all over: "They
are alive! Alive! My God, those women are alive!"
He encouraged his imagination in all sorts of ways to picture
himself the brother of a fallen woman, or her father; then a
fallen woman herself, with her painted cheeks; and it all moved
him to horror.
It seemed to him that he must settle the question at once at all
costs, and that this question was not one that did not concern
him, but was his own personal problem. He made an immense effort,
repressed his despair, and, sitting on the bed, holding his head
in his hands, began thinking how one could save all the women he
had seen that day. The method for attacking problems of all kinds
was, as he was an educated man, well known to him. And, however
excited he was, he strictly adhered to that method. He recalled
the history of the problem and its literature, and for a quarter
of an hour he paced from one end of the room to the other trying
to remember all the methods practiced at the present time for
saving women. He had very many good friends and acquaintances
who lived in lodgings in Petersburg. . . . Among them were a good
many honest and self-sacrificing men. Some of them had attempted
to save women. . . .
"All these not very numerous attempts," thought Vassilyev, "can
be divided into three groups. Some, after buying the woman out of
the brothel, took a room for her, bought her a sewing-machine,
and she became a semptress. And whether he wanted to or
not, after having bought her out he made her his mistress; then
when he had taken his degree, he went away and handed her into
the keeping of some other decent man as though she were a thing.
And the fallen woman remained a fallen woman. Others, after
buying her out, took a lodging apart for her, bought the
inevitable sewing-machine, and tried teaching her to read,
preaching at her and giving her books. The woman lived and sewed
as long as it was interesting and a novelty to her, then getting
bored, began receiving men on the sly, or ran away and went back
where she could sleep till three o'clock, drink coffee, and have
good dinners. The third class, the most ardent and
self-sacrificing, had taken a bold, resolute step. They had
married them. And when the insolent and spoilt, or stupid and
crushed animal became a wife, the head of a household, and
afterwards a mother, it turned her whole existence and attitude
to life upside down, so that it was hard to recognize the fallen
woman afterwards in the wife and the mother. Yes, marriage was
the best and perhaps the only means."
"But it is impossible!" Vassilyev said aloud, and he sank upon
his bed. "I, to begin with, could not marry one! To do that one
must be a saint and be unable to feel hatred or repulsion. But
supposing that I, the medical student, and the artist mastered
ourselves and did marry them -- suppose they were all married.
What would be the result? The result would be that while here in
Moscow they were being married, some Smolensk accountant would be
debauching another lot, and that lot would be streaming here to
fill the vacant places, together with others from Saratov,
Nizhni-Novgorod, Warsaw. . . . And what is one to do with the
hundred thousand in London? What's one to do with those in
The lamp in which the oil had burnt down began to smoke.
Vassilyev did not notice it. He began pacing to and fro again,
still thinking. Now he put the question differently: what must be
done that fallen women should not be needed? For that, it was
essential that the men who buy them and do them to death should
feel all the immorality of their share in enslaving them and
should be horrified. One must save the men.
"One won't do anything by art and science, that is clear . . ."
thought Vassilyev. "The only way out of it is missionary work."
And he began to dream how he would the next evening stand at the
corner of the street and say to every passer-by: "Where are you
going and what for? Have some fear of God!"
He would turn to the apathetic cabmen and say to them: "Why are
you staying here? Why aren't you revolted? Why aren't you
indignant? I suppose you believe in God and know that it is a
sin, that people go to hell for it? Why don't you speak? It is
true that they are strangers to you, but you know even they have
fathers, brothers like yourselves. . . ."
One of Vassilyev's friends had once said of him that he was a
talented man. There are all sorts of talents -- talent for
writing, talent for the stage, talent for art; but he had a
peculi ar talent -- a talent for _humanity_. He possessed an
extraordinarily fine delicate scent for pain in general. As a
good actor reflects in himself the movements and voice of others,
so Vassilyev could reflect in his soul the sufferings of others.
When he saw tears, he wept; beside a sick man, he felt sick
himself and moaned; if he saw an act of violence, he felt as
though he himself were the victim of it, he was frightened as a
child, and in his fright ran to help. The pain of others worked
on his nerves, excited him, roused him to a state of frenzy, and
Whether this friend were right I don't know, but what Vassilyev
experienced when he thought this question was settled was
something like inspiration. He cried and laughed, spoke aloud the
words that he should say next day, felt a fervent love for those
who would listen to him and would stand beside him at the corner
of the street to preach; he sat down to write letters, made vows
to himself. . . .
All this was like inspiration also from the fact that it did not
last long. Vassilyev was soon tired. The cases in London, in
Hamburg, in Warsaw, weighed upon him by their mass as a mountain
weighs upon the earth; he felt dispirited, bewildered, in
the face of this mass; he remembered that he had not a gift for
words, that he was cowardly and timid, that indifferent people
would not be willing to listen and understand him, a law student
in his third year, a timid and insignificant person; that
genuine missionary work included not only teaching but deeds. . .
When it was daylight and carriages were already beginning to
rumble in the street, Vassilyev was lying motionless on the sofa,
staring into space. He was no longer thinking of the women, nor
of the men, nor of missionary work. His whole attention was
turned upon the spiritual agony which was torturing him. It was a
dull, vague, undefined anguish akin to misery, to an extreme form
of terror and to despair. He could point to the place where the
pain was, in his breast under his heart; but he could not
compare it with anything. In the past he had had acute toothache,
he had had pleurisy and neuralgia, but all that was insignificant
compared with this spiritual anguish. In the presence of that
pain life seemed loathsome. The dissertation,
the excellent work he had written already, the people he loved,
the salvation of fallen women -- everything that only the day
before he had cared about or been indifferent to, now when he
thought of them irritated him in the same way as the noise of
the carriages, the scurrying footsteps of the waiters in the
passage, the daylight. . . . If at that moment someone had
performed a great deed of mercy or had committed a revolting
outrage, he would have felt the same repulsion for both actions.
Of all the thoughts that strayed through his mind only two did
not irritate him: one was that at every moment he had the power
to kill himself, the other that this agony would not last more
than three days. This last he knew by experience.
After lying for a while he got up and, wringing his hands, walked
about the room, not as usual from corner to corner, but round the
room beside the walls. As he passed he glanced at himself in the
looking-glass. His face looked pale and sunken, his
temples looked hollow, his eyes were bigger, darker, more
staring, as though they belonged to someone else, and they had an
expression of insufferable mental agony.
At midday the artist knocked at the door.
"Grigory, are you at home?" he asked.
Getting no answer, he stood for a minute, pondered, and answered
himself in Little Russian: "Nay. The confounded fellow has gone
to the University."
And he went away. Vassilyev lay down on the bed and, thrusting
his head under the pillow, began crying with agony, and the more
freely his tears flowed the more terrible his mental anguish
became. As it began to get dark, he thought of the agonizing
night awaiting him, and was overcome by a horrible despair. He
dressed quickly, ran out of his room, and, leaving his door wide
open, for no object or reason, went out into the street. Without
asking himself where he should go, he walked quickly along
Snow was falling as heavily as the day before; it was thawing.
Thrusting his hands into his sleeves, shuddering and frightened
at the noises, at the trambells, and at the passers-by, Vassilyev
walked along Sadovoy Street as far as Suharev Tower; then to the
Red Gate; from there he turned off to Basmannya Street. He went
into a tavern and drank off a big glass of vodka, but that did
not make him feel better. When he reached Razgulya he turned to
the right, and strode along side streets in which he had never
been before in his life. He reached the old bridge by which the
Yauza runs gurgling, and from which one can see long rows of
lights in the windows of the Red Barracks. To distract his
spiritual anguish by some new sensation or some other pain,
Vassilyev, not knowing what to do, crying and shuddering, undid
his greatcoat and jacket and exposed his bare chest to the wet
snow and the wind. But that did not lessen his suffering either.
Then he bent down over the rail of the bridge and looked down
into the black, yeasty Yauza, and he longed to plunge down head
foremost; not from loathing for life, not for the sake of
suicide, but in order to bruise himself at least, and by one pain
to ease the other. But the black water, the darkness, the
deserted banks covered with snow were terrifying. He shivered and
walked on. He walked up and down by the Red Barracks, then turned
back and went down to a copse, from the copse back to the bridge
"No, home, home!" he thought. "At home I believe it's better. . ."
And he went back. When he reached home he pulled off his wet coat
and cap, began pacing round the room, and went on pacing round
and round without stopping till morning.
When next morning the artist and the medical student went in to
him, he was moving about the room with his shirt torn, biting his
hands and moaning with pain.
"For God's sake!" he sobbed when he saw his friends, "take me
where you please, do what you can; but for God's sake, save me
quickly! I shall kill myself!"
The artist turned pale and was helpless. The medical student,
too, almost shed tears, but considering that doctors ought to be
cool and composed in every emergency said coldly:
"It's a nervous breakdown. But it's nothing. Let us go at once to
"Wherever you like, only for God's sake, make haste"
"Don't excite yourself. You must try and control yourself."
The artist and the medical student with trembling hands put
Vassilyev's coat and hat on and led him out into the street.
"Mihail Sergeyitch has been wanting to make your acquaintance for
a long time," the medical student said on the way. "He is a very
nice man and thoroughly good at his work. He took his degree in
1882, and he has an immense practice already. He treats students
as though he were one himself."
"Make haste, make haste! . . ." Vassilyev urged.
Mihail Sergeyitch, a stout, fair-haired doctor, received the
friends with politeness and frigid dignity, and smiled only on
one side of his face.
"Rybnikov and Mayer have spoken to me of your illness already,"
he said. "Very glad to be of service to you. Well? Sit down, I
beg. . . ."
He made Vassilyev sit down in a big armchair near the table, and
moved a box of cigarettes towards him.
"Now then!" he began, stroking his knees. "Let us get to work. .
. . How old are you?"
He asked questions and the medical student answered them. He
asked whether Vassilyev's father had suffered from certain
special diseases, whether he drank to excess, whether he were
remarkable for cruelty or any peculiarities. He made similar
inquiries about his grandfather, mother, sisters, and brothers.
On learning that his mother had a beautiful voice and sometimes
acted on the stage, he grew more animated at once, and asked:
"Excuse me, but don't you remember, perhaps, your mother had a
passion for the stage?"
Twenty minutes passed. Vassilyev was annoyed by the way the docto
r kept stroking his knees and talking of the same thing.
"So far as I understand your questions, doctor," he said, "you
want to know whether my illness is hereditary or not. It is not."
The doctor proceeded to ask Vassilyev whether he had had any
secret vices as a boy, or had received injuries to his head;
whether he had had any aberrations, any peculiarities, or
exceptional propensities. Half the questions usually asked by
doctors of their patients can be left unanswered without the
slightest ill effect on the health, but Mihail Sergeyitch, the
medical student, and the artist all looked as though if Vassilyev
failed to answer one question all would be lost. As he received
answers, the doctor for some reason noted them down on a slip of
paper. On learning that Vassilyev had taken his degree in natural
science, and was now studying law, the doctor pondered.
"He wrote a first-rate piece of original work last year, . . ."
said the medical student.
"I beg your pardon, but don't interrupt me; you prevent me from
concentrating," said the doctor, and he smiled on one side of his
face. "Though, of course, that does enter into the diagnosis.
Intense intellectual work, nervous exhaustion. . . . Yes, yes. .
. . And do you drink vodka?" he said, addressing Vassilyev.
Another twenty minutes passed. The medical student began telling
the doctor in a low voice his opinion as to the immediate cause
of the attack, and described how the day before yesterday the
artist, Vassilyev, and he had visited S. Street.
The indifferent, reserved, and frigid tone in which his friends
and the doctor spoke of the women and that miserable street
struck Vassilyev as strange in the extreme. . . .
"Doctor, tell me one thing only," he said, controlling himself so
as not to speak rudely. "Is prostitution an evil or not?"
"My dear fellow, who disputes it?" said the doctor, with an
expression that suggested that he had settled all such questions
for himself long ago. "Who disputes it?"
"You are a mental doctor, aren't you?" Vassilyev asked curtly.
"Yes, a mental doctor."
"Perhaps all of you are right!" said Vassilyev, getting up and
beginning to walk from one end of the room to the other.
"Perhaps! But it all seems marvelous to me! That I should have
taken my degree in two faculties you look upon as a great
achievement; because I have written a work which in three years
will be thrown aside and forgotten, I am praised up to the skies;
but because I cannot speak of fallen women as unconcernedly as of
these chairs, I am being examined by a doctor, I am called mad,
I am pitied!"
Vassilyev for some reason felt all at once unutterably sorry for
himself, and his companions, and all the people he had seen two
days before, and for the doctor; he burst into tears and sank
into a chair.
His friends looked inquiringly at the doctor. The latter, with
the air of completely comprehending the tears and the despair, of
feeling himself a specialist in that line, went up to Vassilyev
and, without a word, gave him some medicine to drink; and then,
when he was calmer, undressed him and began to investigate the
degree of sensibility of the skin, the reflex action of the
knees, and so on.
And Vassilyev felt easier. When he came out from the doctor's he
was beginning to feel ashamed; the rattle of the carriages no
longer irritated him, and the load at his heart grew lighter and
lighter as though it were melting away. He had two prescriptions
in his hand: one was for bromide, one was for morphia. . . . He
had taken all these remedies before.
In the street he stood still and, saying good-by to his friends,
dragged himself languidly to the University.
"To whom shall I tell my grief?"
THE twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling
lazily about the street lamps, which have just been lighted, and
lying in a thin soft layer on roofs, horses' backs, shoulders,
caps. Iona Potapov, the sledge-driver, is all white like a
ghost. He sits on the box without stirring, bent as double as the
living body can be bent. If a regular snowdrift fell on him it
seems as though even then he would not think it necessary to
shake it off. . . . His little mare is white and motionless
too. Her stillness, the angularity of her lines, and the
stick-like straightness of her legs make her look like a
halfpenny gingerbread horse. She is probably lost in thought.
Anyone who has been torn away from the plough, from the familiar
gray landscapes, and cast into this slough, full of monstrous
lights, of unceasing uproar and hurrying people, is bound to
It is a long time since Iona and his nag have budged. They came
out of the yard before dinnertime and not a single fare yet. But
now the shades of evening are falling on the town. The pale light
of the street lamps changes to a vivid color, and the
bustle of the street grows noisier.
"Sledge to Vyborgskaya!" Iona hears. "Sledge!"
Iona starts, and through his snow-plastered eyelashes sees an
officer in a military overcoat with a hood over his head.
"To Vyborgskaya," repeats the officer. "Are you asleep? To
In token of assent Iona gives a tug at the reins which sends
cakes of snow flying from the horse's back and shoulders. The
officer gets into the sledge. The sledge-driver clicks to the
horse, cranes his neck like a swan, rises in his seat, and more
from habit than necessity brandishes his whip. The mare cranes
her neck, too, crooks her stick-like legs, and hesitatingly sets
of. . . .
"Where are you shoving, you devil?" Iona immediately hears shouts
from the dark mass shifting to and fro before him. "Where the
devil are you going? Keep to the r-right!"
"You don't know how to drive! Keep to the right," says the
A coachman driving a carriage swears at him; a pedestrian
crossing the road and brushing the horse's nose with his shoulder
looks at him angrily and shakes the snow off his sleeve. Iona
fidgets on the box as though he were sitting on thorns, jerks
his elbows, and turns his eyes about like one possessed as though
he did not know where he was or why he was there.
"What rascals they all are!" says the officer jocosely. "They are
simply doing their best to run up against you or fall under the
horse's feet. They must be doing it on purpose."
Iona looks as his fare and moves his lips. . . . Apparently he
means to say something, but nothing comes but a sniff.
"What?" inquires the officer.
Iona gives a wry smile, and straining his throat, brings out
huskily: "My son . . . er . . . my son died this week, sir."
"H'm! What did he die of?"
Iona turns his whole body round to his fare, and says:
"Who can tell! It must have been from fever. . . . He lay three
days in the hospital and then he died. . . . God's will."
"Turn round, you devil!" comes out of the darkness. "Have you
gone cracked, you old dog? Look where you are going!"
"Drive on! drive on! . . ." says the officer. "We shan't get
there till to-morrow going on like this. Hurry up!"
The sledge-driver cranes his neck again, rises in his seat, and
with heavy grace swings his whip. Several times he looks round at
the officer, but the latter keeps his eyes shut and is apparently
disinclined to listen. Putting his fare down at Vyborgskaya,
Iona stops by a restaurant, and again sits huddled up on the box.
. . . Again the wet snow paints him and his horse white. One hour
passes, and then another. . . .
Three young men, two tall and thin, one short and hunchbacked,
come up, railing at each other and loudly stamping on the
pavement with their goloshes.
"Cabby, to the Police Bridge!" the hunchback cries in a cracked
voice. "The three of us, . . . twenty kopecks!"
Iona tugs at the reins and clicks to his horse. Twenty kopecks is
not a fair price, but he has no thoughts for that. Whether it is
a rouble or whether it is five kopecks does not matter to him now
so long as he has a fare. . . . The three young men, shoving
each other and using bad language, go up to the sledge, and all
three try to sit down at once. The question remains to be
settled: Which are to sit down and which one is to stand? After
a long altercation, ill-temper, and abuse, they come to the
conclusion that the hunchback must stand because he is the
"Well, drive on," says the hunchback in his cracked voice,
settling himself and breathing down Iona's neck. "Cut along! What
a cap you've got, my friend! You wouldn't find a worse one in all
Petersburg. . . ."
"He-he! . . . he-he! . . ." laughs Iona. "It's nothing to boast
"Well, then, nothing to boast of, drive on! Are you going to
drive like this all the way? Eh? Shall I give you one in the
"My head aches," says one of the tall ones. "At the Dukmasovs'
yesterday Vaska and I drank four bottles of brandy between us."
"I can't make out why you talk such stuff," says the other tall
one angrily. "You lie like a brute."
"Strike me dead, it's the truth! . . ."
"It's about as true as that a louse coughs."
"He-he!" grins Iona. "Me-er-ry gentlemen!"
"Tfoo! the devil take you!" cries the hunchback indignantly.
"Will you get on, you old plague, or won't you? Is that the way
to drive? Give her one with the whip. Hang it all, give it her
Iona feels behind his back the jolting person and quivering voice
of the hunchback. He hears abuse addressed to him, he sees
people, and the feeling of loneliness begins little by little to
be less heavy on his heart. The hunchback swears at him, till he
chokes over some elaborately whimsical string of epithets and is
overpowered by his cough. His tall companions begin talking of a
certain Nadyezhda Petrovna. Iona looks round at them. Waiting
till there is a brief pause, he looks round once more and says:
"This week . . . er. . . my. . . er. . . son died!"
"We shall all die, . . ." says the hunchback with a sigh, wiping
his lips after coughing. "Come, drive on! drive on! My friends, I
simply cannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us
"Well, you give him a little encouragement . . . one in the
"Do you hear, you old plague? I'll make you smart. If one stands
on ceremony with fellows like you one may as well walk. Do you
hear, you old dragon? Or don't you care a hang what we say? "
And Iona hears rather than feels a slap on the back of his neck.
"He-he! . . . " he laughs. "Merry gentlemen . . . . God give you
"Cabman, are you married?" asks one of the tall ones.
"I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now is the
damp earth. . . . He-ho-ho!. . . .The grave that is! . . . Here
my son's dead and I am alive. . . . It's a strange thing, death
has come in at the wrong door. . . . Instead of coming for me it
went for my son. . . ."
And Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at that
point the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces that, thank
God! they have arrived at last. After taking his twenty kopecks,
Iona gazes for a long while after the revelers, who disappear
into a dark entry. Again he is alone and again there is silence
for him. . . . The misery which has been for a brief space eased
comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever. With
a look of anxiety and suffering Iona's eyes stray restlessly
among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the street:
can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to
him? But the crowds flit by heedless of him and his misery. . . .
His misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona's heart were
to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole
world, it seems, but yet it is not seen. It has found a
hiding-place in such an insignificant shell that one would not
have found it with a candle by daylight. . . .
Iona sees a house-porter with a parcel and makes up his mind to
"What time will it be, friend?" he asks.
"Going on for ten. . . . Why have you stopped here? Drive on!"
Iona drives a few paces away, bends himself double, and gives
himself up to his misery. He feels it is no good to appeal to
people. But before five minutes have passed he draws himself up,
shakes his head as though he feels a sharp pain, and tugs at the
reins. . . . He can bear it no longer.
"Back to the yard!" he thinks. "To the yard!"
And his little mare, as though she knew his thoughts, falls to
trotting. An hour and a half later Iona is sitting by a big dirty
stove. On the stove, on the floor, and on the benches are people
snoring. The air is full of smells and stuffiness. Iona looks at
the sleeping figures, scratches himself, and regrets that he has
come home so early. . . .
"I have not earned enough to pay for the oats, even," he thinks.
"That's why I am so miserable. A man who knows how to do his
work, . . . who has had enough to eat, and whose horse has had
enough to eat, is always at ease. . . ."
In one of the corners a young cabman gets up, clears his throat
sleepily, and makes for the water-bucket.
"Want a drink?" Iona asks him.
"May it do you good. . . . But my son is dead, mate. . . . Do you
hear? This week in the hospital. . . . It's a queer business. . .
Iona looks to see the effect produced by his words, but he sees
nothing. The young man has covered his head over and is already
asleep. The old man sighs and scratches himself. . . . Just as
the young man had been thirsty for water, he thirsts for speech.
His son will soon have been dead a week, and he has not really
talked to anybody yet . . . . He wants to talk of it properly,
with deliberation. . . . He wants to tell how his son was taken
ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died.
. . . He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to the
hospital to get his son's clothes. He still has his daughter
Anisya in the country. . . . And he wants to talk about her too.
. . . Yes, he has plenty to talk about now. His
listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament. . . . It would be
even better to talk to women. Though they are silly creatures,
they blubber at the first word.
"Let's go out and have a look at the mare," Iona thinks. "There
is always time for sleep. . . . You'll have sleep enough, no
fear. . . ."
He puts on his coat and goes into the stables where his mare is
standing. He thinks about oats, about hay, about the weather. . .
. He cannot think about his son when he is alone. . . . To talk
about him with someone is possible, but to think of him and
picture him is insufferable anguish. . . .
"Are you munching?" Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes.
"There, munch away, munch away. . . . Since we have not earned
enough for oats, we will eat hay. . . . Yes, . . . I have grown
too old to drive. . . . My son ought to be driving, not I. . . .
He was a real cabman. . . . He ought to have lived. . . ."
Iona is silent for a while, and then he goes on:
"That's how it is, old girl. . . . Kuzma Ionitch is gone. . . .
He said good-by to me. . . . He went and died for no reason. . .
. Now, suppose you had a little colt, and you were own mother to
that little colt. . . . And all at once that same little colt
went and died. . . . You'd be sorry, wouldn't you? . . ."
The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master's
hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.
A WAYFARER'S STORY
IN the year in which my story begins I had a job at a little
station on one of our southwestern railways. Whether I had a gay
or a dull life at the station you can judge from the fact that
for fifteen miles round there was not one human habitation,
not one woman, not one decent tavern; and in those days I was
young, strong, hot-headed, giddy, and foolish. The only
distraction I could possibly find was in the windows of the
passenger trains, and in the vile vodka which the Jews drugged
with thorn-apple. Sometimes there would be a glimpse of a
woman's head at a carriage window, and one would stand like a
statue without breathing and stare at it until the train turned
into an almost invisible speck; or one would drink all one could
of the loathsome vodka till one was stupefied and did not feel
the passing of the long hours and days. Upon me, a native of the
no rth, the steppe produced the effect of a deserted Tatar
cemetery. In the summer the steppe with its solemn calm, the
monotonous chur of the grasshoppers, the transparent moonlight
from which one could not hide, reduced me to listless melancholy;
and in the winter the irreproachable whiteness of the steppe, its
cold distance, long nights, and howling wolves oppressed me like
a heavy nightmare. There were several people living at the
station: my wife and I, a deaf and scrofulous telegraph clerk,
and three watchmen. My assistant, a young man who was in
consumption, used to go for treatment to the town, where he
stayed for months at a time, leaving his duties to me together
with the right of pocketing his salary. I had no children, no
cake would have tempted visitors to come and see me, and I could
only visit other officials on the line, and that no oftener than
once a month.
I remember my wife and I saw the New Year in. We sat at table,
chewed lazily, and heard the deaf telegraph clerk monotonously
tapping on his apparatus in the next room. I had already drunk
five glasses of drugged vodka, and, propping my heavy head on my
fist, thought of my overpowering boredom from which there was no
escape, while my wife sat beside me and did not take her eyes off
me. She looked at me as no one can look but a woman who has
nothing in this world but a handsome husband. She loved me
madly, slavishly, and not merely my good looks, or my soul, but
my sins, my ill-humor and boredom, and even my cruelty when, in
drunken fury, not knowing how to vent my ill-humor, I tormented
her with reproaches.
In spite of the boredom which was consuming me, we were preparing
to see the New Year in with exceptional festiveness, and were
awaiting midnight with some impatience. The fact is, we had in
reserve two bottles of champagne, the real thing, with the label
of Veuve Clicquot; this treasure I had won the previous autumn in
a bet with the station-master of D. when I was drinking with him
at a christening. It sometimes happens during a lesson in
mathematics, when the very air is still with boredom, a
butterfly flutters into the class-room; the boys toss their heads
and begin watching its flight with interest, as though they saw
before them not a butterfly but something new and strange; in the
same way ordinary champagne, chancing to come into our dreary
station, roused us. We sat in silence looking alternately at the
clock and at the bottles.
When the hands pointed to five minutes to twelve I slowly began
uncorking a bottle. I don't know whether I was affected by the
vodka, or whether the bottle was wet, but all I remember is that
when the cork flew up to the ceiling with a bang, my bottle
slipped out of my hands and fell on the floor. Not more than a
glass of the wine was spilt, as I managed to catch the bottle and
put my thumb over the foaming neck.
"Well, may the New Year bring you happiness!" I said, filling two
My wife took her glass and fixed her frightened eyes on me. Her
face was pale and wore a look of horror.
"Did you drop the bottle?" she asked.
"Yes. But what of that?"
"It's unlucky," she said, putting down her glass and turning
paler still. "It's a bad omen. It means that some misfortune will
happen to us this year."
"What a silly thing you are," I sighed. "You are a clever woman,
and yet you talk as much nonsense as an old nurse. Drink."
"God grant it is nonsense, but . . . something is sure to happen!
She did not even sip her glass, she moved away and sank into
thought. I uttered a few stale commonplaces about superstition,
drank half a bottle, paced up and down, and then went out of the
Outside there was the still frosty night in all its cold,
inhospitable beauty. The moon and two white fluffy clouds beside
it hung just over the station, motionless as though glued to the
spot, and looked as though waiting for something. A faint
transparent light came from them and touched the white earth
softly, as though afraid of wounding her modesty, and lighted up
everything -- the snowdrifts, the embankment. . . . It was still.
I walked along the railway embankment.
"Silly woman," I thought, looking at the sky spangled with
brilliant stars. "Even if one admits that omens sometimes tell
the truth, what evil can happen to us? The misfortunes we have
endured already, and which are facing us now, are so great that
it is difficult to imagine anything worse. What further harm can
you do a fish which has been caught and fried and served up with
A poplar covered with hoar frost looked in the bluish darkness
like a giant wrapt in a shroud. It looked at me sullenly and
dejectedly, as though like me it realized its loneliness. I stood
a long while looking at it.
"My youth is thrown away for nothing, like a useless cigarette
end," I went on musing. "My parents died when I was a little
child; I was expelled from the high school, I was born of a noble
family, but I have received neither education nor breeding, and
I have no more knowledge than the humblest mechanic. I have no
refuge, no relations, no friends, no work I like. I am not fitted
for anything, and in the prime of my powers I am good for nothing
but to be stuffed into this little station; I have known nothing
but trouble and failure all my life. What can happen worse?"
Red lights came into sight in the distance. A train was moving
towards me. The slumbering steppe listened to the sound of it. My
thoughts were so bitter that it seemed to me that I was thinking
aloud and that the moan of the telegraph wire and the rumble of
the train were expressing my thoughts.
"What can happen worse? The loss of my wife?" I wondered. "Even
that is not terrible. It's no good hiding it from my conscience:
I don't love my wife. I married her when I was only a wretched
boy; now I am young and vigorous, and she has gone off and grown
older and sillier, stuffed from her head to her heels with
conventional ideas. What charm is there in her maudlin love, in
her hollow chest, in her lusterless eyes? I put up with her, but
I don't love her. What can happen? My youth is being wasted, as
the saying is, for a pinch of snuff. Women flit before my eyes
only in the carriage windows, like falling stars. Love I never
had and have not. My manhood, my courage, my power of feeling are
going to ruin. . . . Everything is being thrown away like dirt,
and all my wealth here in the steppe is not worth a farthing."
The train rushed past me with a roar and indifferently cast the
glow of its red lights upon me. I saw it stop by the green lights
of the station, stop for a minute and rumble off again. After
walking a mile and a half I went back. Melancholy thoughts
haunted me still. Painful as it was to me, yet I remember I tried
as it were to make my thoughts still gloomier and more
melancholy. You know people who are vain and not very clever have
moments when the consciousness that they are miserable affords
them positive satisfaction, and they even coquet with their
misery for their own entertainment. There was a great deal of
truth in what I thought, but there was also a great deal that was
absurd and conceited, and there was something boyishly defiant
in my question: "What could happen worse?"
"And what is there to happen?" I asked myself. "I think I have
endured everything. I've been ill, I've lost money, I get
reprimanded by my superiors every day, and I go hungry, and a mad
wolf has run into the station yard. What more is there? I have
been insulted, humiliated, . . . and I have insulted others in my
time. I have not been a criminal, it is true, but I don't think I
am capable of crime -- I am not afraid of being hauled up for
The two little clouds had moved away from the moon and stood at a
little distance, looking as though they were whispering about
something which the moon must not know. A light breeze was racing
across the steppe, bringing the faint rumble of the retreating
My wife met me at the doorway. Her eyes were laughing gaily and
her whole face was beaming with good-humor.
"There is news for you!" she whispered. "Make haste, go to your
room and put on your new coat; we have a visitor."
"Aunt Natalya Petrovna has just come by the train."
"What Natalya Petrovna?"
"The wife of my uncle Semyon Fyodoritch. You don't know her. She
is a very nice, good woman."
Probably I frowned, for my wife looked grave and whispered
"Of course it is queer her having come, but don't be cross,
Nikolay, and don't be hard on her. She is unhappy, you know;
Uncle Semyon Fyodoritch really is ill-natured and tyrannical, it
is difficult to live with him. She says she will only stay three
days with us, only till she gets a letter from her brother."
My wife whispered a great deal more nonsense to me about her
despotic uncle; about the weakness of mankind in general and of
young wives in particular; about its being our duty to give
shelter to all, even great sinners, and so on. Unable to make
head or tail of it, I put on my new coat and went to make
acquaintance with my "aunt."
A little woman with large black eyes was sitting at the table. My
table, the gray walls, my roughly-made sofa, everything to the
tiniest grain of dust seemed to have grown younger and more
cheerful in the presence of this new, young, beautiful, and
dissolute creature, who had a most subtle perfume about her. And
that our visitor was a lady of easy virtue I could see from her
smile, from her scent, from the peculiar way in which she glanced
and made play with her eyelashes, from the tone in which she
talked with my wife -- a respectable woman. There was no need to
tell me she had run away from her husband, that her husband was
old and despotic, that she was good-natured and lively; I took it
all in at the first glance. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there
is a man in all Europe who cannot spot at the first glance a
woman of a certain temperament.
"I did not know I had such a big nephew!" said my aunt, holding
out her hand to me and smiling.
"And I did not know I had such a pretty aunt," I answered.
Supper began over again. The cork flew with a bang out of the
second bottle, and my aunt swallowed half a glassful at a gulp,
and when my wife went out of the room for a moment my aunt did
not scruple to drain a full glass. I was drunk both with the
wine and with the presence of a woman. Do you remember the song?
"Eyes black as pitch, eyes full of passion,
Eyes burning bright and beautiful,
How I love you,
How I fear you!"
I don't remember what happened next. Anyone who wants to know how
love begins may read novels and long stories; I will put it
shortly and in the words of the same silly song:
"It was an evil hour
When first I met you."
Everything went head over heels to the devil. I remember a
fearful, frantic whirlwind which sent me flying round like a
feather. It lasted a long while, and swept from the face of the
earth my wife and my aunt herself and my strength. From the
little station in the steppe it has flung me, as you see, into
this dark street.
Now tell me what further evil can happen to me?
AFTER THE THEATRE
NADYA ZELENIN had just come back with her mamma from the theatre
where she had seen a performance of "Yevgeny Onyegin." As soon as
she reached her own room she threw off her dress, let down her
hair, and in her petticoat and white dressing-jacket hastily sat
down to the table to write a letter like Tatyana's.
"I love you," she wrote, "but you do not love me, do not love
She wrote it and laughed.
She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew that
an officer called Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved her,
but now after the opera she wanted to be doubtful of their love.
To be unloved and unhappy -- how interesting that was. There is
something beautiful, touching, and poetical about it when one
loves and the other is indifferent. Onyegin was interesting
because he was not in love at all, and Tatyana was fascinating
because she was so much in love; but if they had been equally in
love with each other and had been happy, they would perhaps have
"Leave off declaring that you love me," Nadya went on writing,
thinking of Gorny. "I cannot believe it. You are very clever,
cultivated, serious, you have immense talent, and perhaps a
brilliant future awaits you, while I am an uninteresting girl of
no importance, and you know very well that I should be only a
hindrance in your life. It is true that you were attracted by me
and thought you had found your ideal in me, but that was a
mistake, and now you are asking yourself in despair: 'Why did I
meet that girl?' And only your goodness of heart prevents you
from owning it to yourself. . . ."
Nadya felt sorry for herself, she began to cry, and went on:
"It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brother, or I should
take a nun's veil and go whither chance may lead me. And you
would be left free and would love another. Oh, if I were dead! "
She could not make out what she had written through her tears;
little rainbows were quivering on the table, on the floor, on the
ceiling, as though she were looking through a prism. She could
not write, she sank back in her easy-chair and fell to thinking
My God! how interesting, how fascinating men were! Nadya recalled
the fine expression, ingratiating, guilty, and soft, which came
into the officer's face when one argued about music with him, and
the effort he made to prevent his voice from betraying his
passion. In a society where cold haughtiness and indifference are
regarded as signs of good breeding and gentlemanly bearing, one
must conceal one's passions. And he did try to conceal them, but
he did not succeed, and everyone knew very well that he had a
passionate love of music. The endless discussions about music and
the bold criticisms of people who knew nothing about it kept him
always on the strain; he was frightened, timid, and silent. He
played the piano magnificently, like a professional pianist, and
if he had not been in the army he would certainly have been a
The tears on her eyes dried. Nadya remembered that Gorny had
declared his love at a Symphony concert, and again downstairs by
the hatstand where there was a tremendous draught blowing in all
"I am very glad that you have at last made the acquaintance of
Gruzdev, our student friend," she went on writing. "He is a very
clever man, and you will be sure to like him. He came to see us
yesterday and stayed till two o'clock. We were all delighted
with him, and I regretted that you had not come. He said a great
deal that was remarkable."
Nadya laid her arms on the table and leaned her head on them, and
her hair covered the letter. She recalled that the student, too,
loved her, and that he had as much right to a letter from her as
Gorny. Wouldn't it be better after all to write to Gruzdev?
There was a stir of joy in her bosom for no reason whatever; at
first the joy was small, and rolled in her bosom like an
india-rubber ball; then it became more massive, bigger, and
rushed like a wave. Nadya forgot Gorny and Gruzdev; her thoughts
were in a tangle and her joy grew and grew; from her bosom it
passed into her arms and legs, and it seemed as though a light,
cool breeze were breathing on her head and ruffling her hair. Her
shoulders quivered with subdued laughter, the table and the lamp
chimney shook, too, and tears from her eyes splashed on the
letter. She could not stop laughing, and to prove to herself that
she was not laughing about nothing she made haste to think of
"What a funny poodle," she said, feeling as though she would
choke with laughter. "What a funny poodle! "
She thought how, after tea the evening before, Gruzdev had played
with Maxim the poodle, and afterwards had told them about a very
intelligent poodle who had run after a crow in the yard, and the
crow had looked round at him and said: "Oh, you scamp! "
The poodle, not knowing he had to do with a learned crow, was
fearfully confused and retreated in perplexity, then began
barking. . . .
"No, I had better love Gruzdev," Nadya decided, and she tore up
the letter to Gorny.
She fell to thinking of the student, of his love, of her love;
but the thoughts in her head insisted on flowing in all
directions, and she thought about everything -- about her mother,
about the street, about the pencil, about the piano. . . . She
thought of them joyfully, and felt that everything was good,
splendid, and her joy told her that this was not all, that in a
little while it would be better still. Soon it would be spring,
summer, going with her mother to Gorbiki. Gorny would come for
his furlough, would walk about the garden with her and make love
to her. Gruzdev would come too. He would play croquet and
skittles with her, and would tell her wonderful things. She had a
passionate longing for the garden, the darkness, the pure sky,
the stars. Again her shoulders shook with laughter, and it seemed
to her that there was a scent of wormwood in the room and that a
twig was tapping at the window.
She went to her bed, sat down, and not knowing what to do with
the immense joy which filled her with yearning, she looked at the
holy image hanging at the back of her bed, and said:
"Oh, Lord God! Oh, Lord God!"
A LADY'S STORY
NINE years ago Pyotr Sergeyitch, the deputy prosecutor, and I
were riding towards evening in hay-making time to fetch the
letters from the station.
The weather was magnificent, but on our way back we heard a peal
of thunder, and saw an angry black storm-cloud which was coming
straight towards us. The storm-cloud was approaching us and we
were approaching it.
Against the background of it our house and church looked white
and the tall poplars shone like silver. There was a scent of rain
and mown hay. My companion was in high spirits. He kept laughing
and talking all sorts of nonsense. He said it would be
nice if we could suddenly come upon a medieval castle with
turreted towers, with moss on it and owls, in which we could take
shelter from the rain and in the end be killed by a thunderbolt.
. . .
Then the first wave raced through the rye and a field of oats,
there was a gust of wind, and the dust flew round and round in
the air. Pyotr Sergeyitch laughed and spurred on his horse.
"It's fine!" he cried, "it's splendid!"
Infected by his gaiety, I too began laughing at the thought that
in a minute I should be drenched to the skin and might be struck
Riding swiftly in a hurricane when one is breathless with the
wind, and feels like a bird, thrills one and puts one's heart in
a flutter. By the time we rode into our courtyard the wind had
gone down, and big drops of rain were pattering on the grass and
on the roofs. There was not a soul near the stable.
Pyotr Sergeyitch himself took the bridles off, and led the horses
to their stalls. I stood in the doorway waiting for him to
finish, and watching the slanting streaks of rain; the sweetish,
exciting scent of hay was even stronger here than in the fields;
the storm-clouds and the rain made it almost twilight.
"What a crash!" said Pyotr Sergeyitch, coming up to me after a
very loud rolling peal of thunder when it seemed as though the
sky were split in two. "What do you say to that?"
He stood beside me in the doorway and, still breathless from his
rapid ride, looked at me. I could see that he was admiring me.
"Natalya Vladimirovna," he said, "I would give anything only to
stay here a little longer and look at you. You are lovely
His eyes looked at me with delight and supplication, his face was
pale. On his beard and mustache were glittering raindrops, and
they, too, seemed to be looking at me with love.
"I love you," he said. "I love you, and I am happy at seeing you.
I know you cannot be my wife, but I want nothing, I ask nothing;
only know that I love you. Be silent, do not answer me, take no
notice of it, but only know that you are dear to me and let me
look at you."
His rapture affected me too; I looked at his enthusiastic face,
listened to his voice which mingled with the patter of the rain,
and stood as though spellbound, unable to stir.
I longed to go on endlessly looking at his shining eyes and
"You say nothing, and that is splendid," said Pyotr Sergeyitch.
"Go on being silent."
I felt happy. I laughed with delight and ran through the
drenching rain to the house; he laughed too, and, leaping as he
went, ran after me.
Both drenched, panting, noisily clattering up the stairs like
children, we dashed into the room. My father and brother, who
were not used to seeing me laughing and light-hearted, looked at
me in surprise and began laughing too.
The storm-clouds had passed over and the thunder had ceased, but
the raindrops still glittered on Pyotr Sergeyitch's beard. The
whole evening till supper-time he was singing, whistling, playing
noisily with the dog and racing about the room after it, so that
he nearly upset the servant with the samovar. And at supper he
ate a great deal, talked nonsense, and maintained that when one
eats fresh cucumbers in winter there is the fragrance of spring
in one's mouth.
When I went to bed I lighted a candle and threw my window wide
open, and an undefined feeling took possession of my soul. I
remembered that I was free and healthy, that I had rank and
wealth, that I was beloved; above all, that I had rank and
wealth, rank and wealth, my God! how nice that was! . . . Then,
huddling up in bed at a touch of cold which reached me from the
garden with the dew, I tried to discover whether I loved Pyotr
Sergeyitch or not, . . . and fell asleep unable to reach any
And when in the morning I saw quivering patches of sunlight and
the shadows of the lime trees on my bed, what had happened
yesterday rose vividly in my memory. Life seemed to me rich,
varied, full of charm. Humming, I dressed quickly and went out
into the garden. . . .
And what happened afterwards? Why -- nothing. In the winter when
we lived in town Pyotr Sergeyitch came to see us from time to
time. Country acquaintances are charming only in the country and
in summer; in the town and in winter they lose their charm. When
you pour out tea for them in the town it seems as though they are
wearing other people's coats, and as though they stirred their
tea too long. In the town, too, Pyotr Sergeyitch spoke sometimes
of love, but the effect was not at all the same as in the
country. In the town we were more vividly conscious of the wall
that stood between us. I had rank and wealth, while he was poor,
and he was not even a nobleman, but only the son of a deacon and
a deputy public prosecutor; we both of us -- I through my youth
and he for some unknown reason -- thought of that wall as very
high and thick, and when he was with us in the town he would
criticize aristocratic society with a forced smile, and maintain
a sullen silence when there was anyone else in the drawing-room.
There is no wall that cannot be broken through, but the heroes of
the modern romance, so far as I know them, are too timid,
spiritless, lazy, and oversensitive, and are too ready to resign
themselves to the thought that they are doomed to failure, that
personal life has disappointed them; instead of struggling they
merely criticize, calling the world vulgar and forgetting that
their criticism passes little by little into vulgarity.
I was loved, happiness was not far away, and seemed to be almost
touching me; I went on living in careless ease without trying to
understand myself, not knowing what I expected or what I wanted
from life, and time went on and on. . . . People passed by me
with their love, bright days and warm nights flashed by, the
nightingales sang, the hay smelt fragrant, and all this, sweet
and overwhelming in remembrance, passed with me as with everyone
rapidly, leaving no trace, was not prized, and vanished like
mist. . . . Where is it all?
My father is dead, I have grown older; everything that delighted
me, caressed me, gave me hope -- the patter of the rain, the
rolling of the thunder, thoughts of happiness, talk of love --
all that has become nothing but a memory, and I see before me a
flat desert dist ance; on the plain not one living soul, and out
there on the horizon it is dark and terrible. . . .
A ring at the bell. . . . It is Pyotr Sergeyitch. When in the
winter I see the trees and remember how green they were for me in
the summer I whisper:
"Oh, my darlings!"
And when I see people with whom I spent my spring-time, I feel
sorrowful and warm and whisper the same thing.
He has long ago by my father's good offices been transferred to
town. He looks a little older, a little fallen away. He has long
given up declaring his love, has left off talking nonsense,
dislikes his official work, is ill in some way and
disillusioned; he has given up trying to get anything out of
life, and takes no interest in living. Now he has sat down by the
hearth and looks in silence at the fire. . . .
Not knowing what to say I ask him:
"Well, what have you to tell me?"
"Nothing," he answers.
And silence again. The red glow of the fire plays about his
I thought of the past, and all at once my shoulders began
quivering, my head dropped, and I began weeping bitterly. I felt
unbearably sorry for myself and for this man, and passionately
longed for what had passed away and what life refused us now. And
now I did not think about rank and wealth.
I broke into loud sobs, pressing my temples, and muttered:
"My God! my God! my life is wasted!"
And he sat and was silent, and did not say to me: "Don't weep."
He understood that I must weep, and that the time for this had
I saw from his eyes that he was sorry for me; and I was sorry for
him, too, and vexed with this timid, unsuccessful man who could
not make a life for me, nor for himself.
When I saw him to the door, he was, I fancied, purposely a long
while putting on his coat. Twice he kissed my hand without a
word, and looked a long while into my tear-stained face. I
believe at that moment he recalled the storm, the streaks of
rain, our laughter, my face that day; he longed to say something
to me, and he would have been glad to say it; but he said
nothing, he merely shook his head and pressed my hand. God help
After seeing him out, I went back to my study and again sat on
the carpet before the fireplace; the red embers were covered with
ash and began to grow dim. The frost tapped still more angrily at
the windows, and the wind droned in the chimney.
The maid came in and, thinking I was asleep, called my name.
OLD SEMYON, nicknamed Canny, and a young Tatar, whom no one knew
by name, were sitting on the river-bank by the camp-fire; the
other three ferrymen were in the hut. Semyon, an old man of
sixty, lean and toothless, but broad shouldered and still
healthy-looking, was drunk; he would have gone in to sleep long
before, but he had a bottle in his pocket and he was afraid that
the fellows in the hut would ask him for vodka. The Tatar was ill
and weary, and wrapping himself up in his rags was describing
how nice it was in the Simbirsk province, and what a beautiful
and clever wife he had left behind at home. He was not more than
twenty five, and now by the light of the camp-fire, with his pale
and sick, mournful face, he looked like a boy.
"To be sure, it is not paradise here," said Canny. "You can see
for yourself, the water, the bare banks, clay, and nothing else.
. . . Easter has long passed and yet there is ice on the river,
and this morning there was snow. . ."
"It's bad! it's bad!" said the Tatar, and looked round him in
The dark, cold river was flowing ten paces away; it grumbled,
lapped against the hollow clay banks and raced on swiftly towards
the far-away sea. Close to the bank there was the dark blur of a
big barge, which the ferrymen called a "karbos." Far away on the
further bank, lights, dying down and flickering up again,
zigzagged like little snakes; they were burning last year's
grass. And beyond the little snakes there was darkness again.
There little icicles could be heard knocking against the barge
It was damp and cold. . . .
The Tatar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at
home, and the same blackness all round, but something was
lacking. At home in the Simbirsk province the stars were quite
different, and so was the sky.
"It's bad! it's bad!" he repeated.
"You will get used to it," said Semyon, and he laughed. "Now you
are young and foolish, the milk is hardly dry on your lips, and
it seems to you in your foolishness that you are more wretched
than anyone; but the time will come when you will say to
yourself: 'I wish no one a better life than mine.' You look at
me. Within a week the floods will be over and we shall set up the
ferry; you will all go wandering off about Siberia while I shall
stay and shall begin going from bank to bank. I've been going
like that for twenty-two years, day and night. The pike and the
salmon are under the water while I am on the water. And thank God
for it, I want nothing; God give everyone such a life."
The Tatar threw some dry twigs on the camp-fire, lay down closer
to the blaze, and said:
"My father is a sick man. When he dies my mother and wife will
come here. They have promised."
"And what do you want your wife and mother for?" asked Canny.
"That's mere foolishness, my lad. It's the devil confounding you,
damn his soul! Don't you listen to him, the cursed one. Don't let
him have his way. He is at you about the women, but you spite
him; say, 'I don't want them!' He is on at you about freedom, but
you stand up to him and say: 'I don't want it!' I want nothing,
neither father nor mother, nor wife, nor freedom, nor post, nor
paddock; I want nothing, damn their souls!"
Semyon took a pull at the bottle and went on:
"I am not a simple peasant, not of the working class, but the son
of a deacon, and when I was free I lived at Kursk; I used to wear
a frockcoat, and now I have brought myself to such a pass that I
can sleep naked on the ground and eat grass. And I wish no one a
better life. I want nothing and I am afraid of nobody, and the
way I look at it is that there is nobody richer and freer than I
am. When they sent me here from Russia from the first day I stuck
it out; I want nothing! The devil was at me about my wife and
about my home and about freedom, but I told him: 'I want
nothing.' I stuck to it, and here you see I live well, and I
don't complain, and if anyone gives way to the devil and listens
to him, if but once, he is lost, there is no salvation for him:
he is sunk in the bog to the crown of his head and will never get
"It is not only a foolish peasant like you, but even gentlemen,
well-educated people, are lost. Fifteen years ago they sent a
gentleman here from Russia. He hadn't shared something with his
brothers and had forged something in a will. They did say he was
a prince or a baron, but maybe he was simply an official -- who
knows? Well, the gentleman arrived here, and first thing he
bought himself a house and land in Muhortinskoe. 'I want to live
by my own work,' says he, 'in the sweat of my brow, for I am not
a gentleman now,' says he, 'but a settler.' 'Well,' says I, 'God
help you, that's the right thing.' He was a young man then, busy
and careful; he used to mow himself and catch fish and ride sixty
miles on horseback. Only this is what happened: from the very
first year he took to riding to Gyrino for the post; he used to
stand on my ferry and sigh: 'Ech, Semyon, how long it is since
they sent me any money from home!' 'You don't want money, Vassily
Sergeyitch,' says I. 'What use is it to you? You cast away the
past, and forget it as though it had never been at all, as though
it had been a dream, and begin to live anew. Don't listen to the
devil,' says I; 'he will bring you to no good, he'll draw you
into a snare. Now you want money,' says I, ' but in a very
little while you'll be wanting something else, and then more and
more. If you want to be happy,' says I, the chief thing is not to
want anything. Yes. . . . If,' says I, 'if Fate has wronged you
and me cruelly it's no good asking for her favor and bowing down
to her, but you despise her and laugh at her, or else she will
laugh at you.' That's what I said to him. . . .
"Two years later I ferried him across to this side, and he was
rubbing his hands and laughing. ' I am going to Gyrino to meet my
wife,' says he. 'She was sorry for me,' says he; 'she has come.
She is good and kind.' And he was breathless with joy. So a day
later he came with his wife. A beautiful young lady in a hat; in
her arms was a baby girl. And lots of luggage of all sorts. And
my Vassily Sergeyitch was fussing round her; he couldn't take his
eyes off her and couldn't say enough in praise of her. 'Yes,
brother Semyon, even in Siberia people can live!' 'Oh, all
right,' thinks I, 'it will be a different tale presently.' And
from that time forward he went almost every week to inquire
whether money had not come from Russia. He wanted a lot of
money. 'She is losing her youth and beauty here in Siberia for my
sake,' says he, 'and sharing my bitter lot with me, and so I
ought,' says he, 'to provide her with every comfort. . . .'
"To make it livelier for the lady he made acquaintance with the
officials and all sorts of riff-raff. And of course he had to
give food and drink to all that crew, and there had to be a piano
and a shaggy lapdog on the sofa -- plague take it! . . . Luxury,
in fact, self-indulgence. The lady did not stay with him long.
How could she? The clay, the water, the cold, no vegetables for
you, no fruit. All around you ignorant and drunken people and no
sort of manners, and she was a spoilt lady from Petersburg or
Moscow. . . . To be sure she moped. Besides, her husband, say
what you like, was not a gentleman now, but a settler -- not the
"Three years later, I remember, on the eve of the Assumption,
there was shouting from the further bank. I went over with the
ferry, and what do I see but the lady, all wrapped up, and with
her a young gentleman, an official. A sledge with three horses.
. . . I ferried them across here, they got in and away like the
wind. They were soon lost to sight. And towards morning Vassily
Sergeyitch galloped down to the ferry. 'Didn't my wife come this
way with a gentleman in spectacles, Semyon?' 'She did,' said I;
'you may look for the wind in the fields!' He galloped in pursuit
of them. For five days and nights he was riding after them. When
I ferried him over to the other side afterwards, he flung himself
on the ferry and beat his head on the boards of the ferry and
howled. 'So that's how it is,' says I. I laughed, and reminded
him 'people can live even in Siberia!' And he beat his head
harder than ever. . . .
"Then he began longing for freedom. His wife had slipped off to
Russia, and of course he was drawn there to see her and to get
her away from her lover. And he took, my lad, to galloping almost
every day, either to the post or the town to see the commanding
officer; he kept sending in petitions for them to have mercy on
him and let him go back home; and he used to say that he had
spent some two hundred roubles on telegrams alone. He sold his
land and mortgaged his house to the Jews. He grew gray and bent,
and yellow in the face, as though he was in consumption. If he
talked to you he would go, khee -- khee -- khee,. . . and there
were tears in his eyes. He kept rushing about like this with
petitions for eight years, but now he has grown brighter and
more cheerful again: he has found another whim to give way to.
You see, his daughter has grown up. He looks at her, and she is
the apple of his eye. And to tell the truth she is all right,
good-looking, with black eyebrows and a lively disposition.
Every Sunday he used to ride with her to church in Gyrino. They
used to stand on the ferry, side by side, she would laugh and he
could not take his eyes off her. 'Yes, Semyon,' says he, 'people
can live even in Siberia. Even in Siberia there is happiness.
Look,' says he, 'what a daughter I have got! I warrant you
wouldn't find another like her for a thousand versts round.'
'Your daughter is all right,' says I, 'that's true, certainly.'
But to myself I thought: 'Wait a bit, the wench is young,
her blood is dancing, she wants to live, and there is no
life here.' And she did begin to pine, my lad. . . .
She faded and faded, and now she can hardly crawl about.
"So you see what Siberian happiness is, damn its soul! You see
how people can live in Siberia. . . . He has taken to going from
one doctor to another and taking them home with him. As soon as
he hears that two or three hundred miles away there is a
doctor or a sorcerer, he will drive to fetch him. A terrible lot
of money he spent on doctors, and to my thinking he had better
have spent the money on drink. . . . She'll die just the same.
She is certain to die, and then it will be all over with him.
He'll hang himself from grief or run away to Russia -- that's a
sure thing. He'll run away and they'll catch him, then he will be
tried, sent to prison, he will have a taste of the lash. . . ."
"Good! good!" said the Tatar, shivering with cold.
"What is good?" asked Canny.
"His wife, his daughter. . . . What of prison and what of sorrow!
-- anyway, he did see his wife and his daughter. . . . You say,
want nothing. But 'nothing' is bad! His wife lived with him three
years -- that was a gift from God. 'Nothing' is bad,
but three years is good. How not understand?"
Shivering and hesitating, with effort picking out the Russian
words of which he knew but few, the Tatar said that God forbid
one should fall sick and die in a strange land, and be buried in
the cold and dark earth; that if his wife came to him for one
day, even for one hour, that for such happiness he would be ready
to bear any suffering and to thank God. Better one day of
happiness than nothing.
Then he described again what a beautiful and clever wife he had
left at home. Then, clutching his head in both hands, he began
crying and assuring Semyon that he was not guilty, and was
suffering for nothing. His two brothers and an uncle had carried
off a peasant's horses, and had beaten the old man till he was
half dead, and the commune had not judged fairly, but had
contrived a sentence by which all the three brothers were sent to
Siberia, while the uncle, a rich man, was left at home.
"You will get used to it!" said Semyon.
The Tatar was silent, and stared with tear-stained eyes at the
fire; his face expressed bewilderment and fear, as though he
still did not understand why he was here in the darkness and the
wet, beside strangers, and not in the Simbirsk province.
Canny lay near the fire, chuckled at something, and began humming
a song in an undertone.
"What joy has she with her father?" he said a little later. "He
loves her and he rejoices in her, that's true; but, mate, you
must mind your ps and qs with him, he is a strict old man, a
harsh old man. And young wenches don't want strictness. They
want petting and ha-ha-ha! and ho-ho-ho! and scent and pomade.
Yes. . . . Ech! life, life," sighed Semyon, and he got up
heavily. "The vodka is all gone, so it is time to sleep. Eh? I am
going, my lad. . . ."
Left alone, the Tatar put on more twigs, lay down and stared at
the fire; he began thinking of his own village and of his wife.
If his wife could only come for a month, for a day; and then if
she liked she might go back again. Better a month or even a day
than nothing. But if his wife kept her promise and came, what
would he have to feed her on? Where could she live here?
"If there were not something to eat, how could she live?" the
Tatar asked aloud.
He was paid only ten kopecks for working all day and all night at
the oar; it is true that travelers gave him tips for tea and for
vodkas but the men shared all they received among themselves, and
gave nothing to the Tatar, but only laughed at him.
And from poverty he was hungry, cold, and frightened. . . . Now,
when his whole body was aching and shivering, he ought to go into
the hut and lie down to sleep; but he had nothing to cover him
there, and it was colder than on the river-bank; here he had
nothing to cover him either, but at least he could make up the
fire. . . .
In another week, when the floods were quite ov er and they set
the ferry going, none of the ferrymen but Semyon would be wanted,
and the Tatar would begin going from village to village begging
for alms and for work. His wife was only seventeen; she was
beautiful, spoilt, and shy; could she possibly go from village to
village begging alms with her face unveiled? No, it was terrible
even to think of that. . . .
It was already getting light; the barge, the bushes of willow on
the water, and the waves could be clearly discerned, and if one
looked round there was the steep clay slope; at the bottom of it
the hut thatched with dingy brown straw, and the huts of the
village lay clustered higher up. The cocks were already crowing
in the village.
The rusty red clay slope, the barge, the river, the strange,
unkind people, hunger, cold, illness, perhaps all that was not
real. Most likely it was all a dream, thought the Tatar. He felt
that he was asleep and heard his own snoring. . . . Of course he
was at home in the Simbirsk province, and he had only to call his
wife by name for her to answer; and in the next room was his
mother. . . . What terrible dreams there are, though! What are
they for? The Tatar smiled and opened his eyes. What river was
this, the Volga?
Snow was falling.
"Boat!" was shouted on the further side. "Boat!"
The Tatar woke up, and went to wake his mates and row over to the
other side. The ferrymen came on to the river-bank, putting on
their torn sheepskins as they walked, swearing with voices husky
from sleepiness and shivering from the cold. On waking
from their sleep, the river, from which came a breath of
piercing cold, seemed to strike them as revolting and horrible.
They jumped into the barge without hurrying themselves. . . . The
Tatar and the three ferrymen took the long, broad-bladed oars,
which in the darkness looked like the claws of crabs; Semyon
leaned his stomach against the tiller. The shout on the other
side still continued, and two shots were fired from a revolver,
probably with the idea that the ferrymen were asleep or had gone
to the pot-house in the village.
"All right, you have plenty of time," said Semyon in the tone of
a man convinced that there was no necessity in this world to
hurry -- that it would lead to nothing, anyway.
The heavy, clumsy barge moved away from the bank and floated
between the willow-bushes, and only the willows slowly moving
back showed that the barge was not standing still but moving. The
ferrymen swung the oars evenly in time; Semyon lay with his
stomach on the tiller and, describing a semicircle in the air,
flew from one side to the other. In the darkness it looked as
though the men were sitting on some antediluvian animal with long
paws, and were moving on it through a cold, desolate land, the
land of which one sometimes dreams in nightmares.
They passed beyond the willows and floated out into the open. The
creak and regular splash of the oars was heard on the further
shore, and a shout came: "Make haste! make haste!"
Another ten minutes passed, and the barge banged heavily against
"And it keeps sprinkling and sprinkling," muttered Semyon, wiping
the snow from his face; "and where it all comes from God only
On the bank stood a thin man of medium height in a jacket lined
with fox fur and in a white lambskin cap. He was standing at a
little distance from his horses and not moving; he had a gloomy,
concentrated expression, as though he were trying to remember
something and angry with his untrustworthy memory. When Semyon
went up to him and took off his cap, smiling, he said:
"I am hastening to Anastasyevka. My daughter's worse again, and
they say that there is a new doctor at Anastasyevka."
They dragged the carriage on to the barge and floated back. The
man whom Semyon addressed as Vassily Sergeyitch stood all the
time motionless, tightly compressing his thick lips and staring
off into space; when his coachman asked permission to smoke in
his presence he made no answer, as though he had not heard.
Semyon, lying with his stomach on the tiller, looked mockingly at
him and said:
"Even in Siberia people can live -- can li-ive!"
There was a triumphant expression on Canny's face, as though he
had proved something and was delighted that things had happened
as he had foretold. The unhappy helplessness of the man in the
foxskin coat evidently afforded him great pleasure.
"It's muddy driving now, Vassily Sergeyitch," he said when the
horses were harnessed again on the bank. "You should have put off
going for another fortnight, when it will be drier. Or else not
have gone at all. . . . If any good would come of your going --
but as you know yourself, people have been driving about for
years and years, day and night, and it's alway's been no use.
That's the truth."
Vassily Sergeyitch tipped him without a word, got into his
carriage and drove off.
"There, he has galloped off for a doctor!" said Semyon, shrinking
from the cold. "But looking for a good doctor is like chasing the
wind in the fields or catching the devil by the tail, plague take
your soul! What a queer chap, Lord forgive me a sinner!"
The Tatar went up to Canny, and, looking at him with hatred and
repulsion, shivering, and mixing Tatar words with his broken
Russian, said: "He is good . . . good; but you are bad! You are
bad! The gentleman is a good soul, excellent, and you are a
beast, bad! The gentleman is alive, but you are a dead carcass.
. . . God created man to be alive, and to have joy and grief and
sorrow; but you want nothing, so you are not alive, you are
stone, clay! A stone wants nothing and you want nothing. You are
a stone, and God does not love you, but He loves the gentleman!"
Everyone laughed; the Tatar frowned contemptuously, and with a
wave of his hand wrapped himself in his rags and went to the
campfire. The ferrymen and Semyon sauntered to the hut.
"It's cold," said one ferryman huskily as he stretched himself on
the straw with which the damp clay floor was covered.
"Yes, its not warm," another assented. "It's a dog's life. . . ."
They all lay down. The door was thrown open by the wind and the
snow drifted into the hut; nobody felt inclined to get up and
shut the door: they were cold, and it was too much trouble.
"I am all right," said Semyon as he began to doze. "I wouldn't
wish anyone a better life."
"You are a tough one, we all know. Even the devils won't take
Sounds like a dog's howling came from outside.
"What's that? Who's there?"
"It's the Tatar crying."
"I say. . . . He's a queer one!"
"He'll get u-used to it!" said Semyon, and at once fell asleep.
The others were soon asleep too. The door remained unclosed.
THE long goods train has been standing for hours in the little
station. The engine is as silent as though its fire had gone out;
there is not a soul near the train or in the station yard.
A pale streak of light comes from one of the vans and glides over
the rails of a siding. In that van two men are sitting on an
outspread cape: one is an old man with a big gray beard, wearing
a sheepskin coat and a high lambskin hat, somewhat like a busby;
the other a beardless youth in a threadbare cloth reefer jacket
and muddy high boots. They are the owners of the goods. The old
man sits, his legs stretched out before him, musing in silence;
the young man half reclines and softly strums on a cheap
accordion. A lantern with a tallow candle in it is hanging on the
wall near them.
The van is quite full. If one glances in through the dim light of
the lantern, for the first moment the eyes receive an impression
of something shapeless, monstrous, and unmistakably alive,
something very much like gigantic crabs which move their claws
and feelers, crowd together, and noiselessly climb up the walls
to the ceiling; but if one looks more closely, horns and their
shadows, long lean backs, dirty hides, tails, eyes begin to stand
out in the dusk. They are cattle and their shadows. There are
eight of them in the van. Some turn round and stare at the men
and swing their tails. Others try to stand or lie d own more
comfortably. They are crowded. If one lies down the others must
stand and huddle closer. No manger, no halter, no litter, not a
wisp of hay. . . .*
At last the old man pulls out of his pocket a silver watch and
looks at the time: a quarter past two.
"We have been here nearly two hours," he says, yawning. "Better
go and stir them up, or we may be here till morning. They have
gone to sleep, or goodness knows what they are up to."
The old man gets up and, followed by his long shadow, cautiously
gets down from the van into the darkness. He makes his way along
beside the train to the engine, and after passing some two dozen
vans sees a red open furnace; a human figure sits motionless
facing it; its peaked cap, nose, and knees are lighted up by the
crimson glow, all the rest is black and can scarcely be
distinguished in the darkness.
"Are we going to stay here much longer?" asks the old man.
No answer. The motionless figure is evidently asleep. The old man
clears his throat impatiently and, shrinking from the penetrating
damp, walks round the engine, and as he does so the brilliant
light of the two engine lamps dazzles his eyes for an instant
and makes the night even blacker to him; he goes to the station.
The platform and steps of the station are wet. Here and there are
white patches of freshly fallen melting snow. In the station
itself it is light and as hot as a steam-bath. There is a smell
of paraffin. Except for the weighing-machine and a yellow seat on
which a man wearing a guard's uniform is asleep, there is no
furniture in the place at all. On the left are two wide-open
doors. Through one of them the telegraphic apparatus and a lamp
with a green shade on it can be seen; through the other, a small
room, half of it taken up by a dark cupboard. In this room the
head guard and the engine-driver are sitting on the window-sill.
They are both feeling a cap with their fingers and disputing.
"That's not real beaver, it's imitation," says the engine-driver.
"Real beaver is not like that. Five roubles would be a high price
for the whole cap, if you care to know!"
"You know a great deal about it, . . ." the head guard says,
offended. "Five roubles, indeed! Here, we will ask the merchant.
Mr. Malahin," he says, addressing the old man, "what do you say:
is this imitation beaver or real?"
Old Malahin takes the cap into his hand, and with the air of a
connoisseur pinches the fur, blows on it, sniffs at it, and a
contemptuous smile lights up his angry face.
"It must be imitation!" he says gleefully. "Imitation it is."
A dispute follows. The guard maintains that the cap is real
beaver, and the engine-driver and Malahin try to persuade him
that it is not. In the middle of the argument the old man
suddenly remembers the object of his coming.
"Beaver and cap is all very well, but the train's standing still,
gentlemen!" he says. "Who is it we are waiting for? Let us
"Let us," the guard agrees. "We will smoke another cigarette and
go on. But there is no need to be in a hurry. . . . We shall be
delayed at the next station anyway!"
"Why should we?"
"Oh, well. . . . We are too much behind time. . . . If you are
late at one station you can't help being delayed at the other
stations to let the trains going the opposite way pass. Whether
we set off now or in the morning we shan't be number fourteen.
We shall have to be number twenty-three."
"And how do you make that out?"
"Well, there it is."
Malahin looks at the guard, reflects, and mutters mechanically as
though to himself:
"God be my judge, I have reckoned it and even jotted it down in a
notebook; we have wasted thirty-four hours standing still on the
journey. If you go on like this, either the cattle will die, or
they won't pay me two roubles for the meat when I do get there.
It's not traveling, but ruination."
The guard raises his eyebrows and sighs with an air that seems to
say: "All that is unhappily true!" The engine-driver sits silent,
dreamily looking at the cap. From their faces one can see that
they have a secret thought in common, which they do not utter,
not because they want to conceal it, but because such thoughts
are much better expressed by signs than by words. And the old man
understands. He feels in his pocket, takes out a ten-rouble note,
and without preliminary words, without any change in the tone of
his voice or the expression of his face, but with the confidence
and directness with which probably only Russians give and take
bribes, he gives the guard the note. The latter takes it, folds
it in four, and without undue haste puts it in his pocket.
After that all three go out of the room, and waking the sleeping
guard on the way, go on to the platform.
"What weather!" grumbles the head guard, shrugging his shoulders.
"You can't see your hand before your face."
"Yes, it's vile weather."
From the window they can see the flaxen head of the telegraph
clerk appear beside the green lamp and the telegraphic apparatus;
soon after another head, bearded and wearing a red cap, appears
beside it -- no doubt that of the station-master. The
station-master bends down to the table, reads something on a blue
form, rapidly passing his cigarette along the lines. . . .
Malahin goes to his van.
The young man, his companion, is still half reclining and hardly
audibly strumming on the accordion. He is little more than a boy,
with no trace of a mustache; his full white face with its broad
cheek-bones is childishly dreamy; his eyes have a melancholy and
tranquil look unlike that of a grown-up person, but he is broad,
strong, heavy and rough like the old man; he does not stir nor
shift his position, as though he is not equal to moving his big
body. It seems as though any movement he made would tear his
clothes and be so noisy as to frighten both him and the cattle.
From under his big fat fingers that clumsily pick out the stops
and keys of the accordion comes a steady flow of thin, tinkling
sounds which blend into a simple, monotonous little tune; he
listens to it, and is evidently much pleased with his
A bell rings, but with such a muffled note that it seems to come
from far away. A hurried second bell soon follows, then a third
and the guard's whistle. A minute passes in profound silence; the
van does not move, it stands still, but vague sounds begin to
come from beneath it, like the crunch of snow under
sledge-runners; the van begins to shake and the sounds cease.
Silence reigns again. But now comes the clank of buffers, the
violent shock makes the van start and, as it were, give a lurch
forward, and all the cattle fall against one another.
"May you be served the same in the world to come," grumbles the
old man, setting straight his cap, which had slipped on the back
of his head from the jolt. "He'll maim all my cattle like this!"
Yasha gets up without a word and, taking one of the fallen beasts
by the horns, helps it to get on to its legs. . . . The jolt is
followed by a stillness again. The sounds of crunching snow come
from under the van again, and it seems as though the train had
moved back a little.
"There will be another jolt in a minute," says the old man. And
the convulsive quiver does, in fact, run along the train, there
is a crashing sound and the bullocks fall on one another again.
"It's a job!" says Yasha, listening. "The train must be heavy. It
seems it won't move."
"It was not heavy before, but now it has suddenly got heavy. No,
my lad, the guard has not gone shares with him, I expect. Go and
take him something, or he will be jolting us till morning."
Yasha takes a three-rouble note from the old man and jumps out of
the van. The dull thud of his heavy footsteps resounds outside
the van and gradually dies away. Stillness. . . . In the next
van a bullock utters a prolonged subdued "moo," as though
it were singing.
Yasha comes back. A cold damp wind darts into the van.
"Shut the door, Yasha, and we will go to bed," says the old man.
"Why burn a candle for nothing?"
Yasha moves the heavy door; there is a sound of a whistle, the
engine and the train set off.
"It's cold," mutters the old man, stretching himself on the cape
and laying his head on a bundle. "It is very different at home!
It's warm and clean and soft, and there is room to say your
prayers, but here we are worse off than any pigs. It's four
days and nights since I have taken off my boots."
Yasha, staggering from the jolting of the train, opens the
lantern and snuffs out the wick with his wet fingers. The light
flares up, hisses like a frying pan and goes out.
"Yes, my lad," Malahin goes on, as he feels Yasha lie down beside
him and the young man's huge back huddle against his own, "it's
cold. There is a draught from every crack. If your mother or your
sister were to sleep here for one night they would be dead by
morning. There it is, my lad, you wouldn't study and go to the
high school like your brothers, so you must take the cattle with
your father. It's your own fault, you have only yourself to
blame. . . . Your brothers are asleep in their beds now, they
are snug under the bedclothes, but you, the careless and lazy
one, are in the same box as the cattle. . . . Yes. . . . "
The old man's words are inaudible in the noise of the train, but
for a long time he goes on muttering, sighing and clearing his
throat. . . . The cold air in the railway van grows thicker and
more stifling The pungent odor of fresh dung and smoldering
candle makes it so repulsive and acrid that it irritates Yasha's
throat and chest as he falls asleep. He coughs and sneezes, while
the old man, being accustomed to it, breathes with his whole
chest as though nothing were amiss, and merely clears his throat.
To judge from the swaying of the van and the rattle of the wheels
the train is moving rapidly and unevenly. The engine breathes
heavily, snorting out of time with the pulsation of the train,
and altogether there is a medley of sounds. The bullocks huddle
together uneasily and knock their horns against the walls.
When the old man wakes up, the deep blue sky of early morning is
peeping in at the cracks and at the little uncovered window. He
feels unbearably cold, especially in the back and the feet. The
train is standing still; Yasha, sleepy and morose, is busy with
The old man wakes up out of humor. Frowning and gloomy, he clears
his throat angrily and looks from under his brows at Yasha who,
supporting a bullock with his powerful shoulder and slightly
lifting it, is trying to disentangle its leg.
"I told you last night that the cords were too long," mutters the
old man; "but no, 'It's not too long, Daddy.' There's no making
you do anything, you will have everything your own way. . . .
He angrily moves the door open and the light rushes into the van.
A passenger train is standing exactly opposite the door, and
behind it a red building with a roofed-in platform -- a big
station with a refreshment bar. The roofs and bridges of the
trains, the earth, the sleepers, all are covered with a thin
coating of fluffy, freshly fallen snow. In the spaces between the
carriages of the passenger train the passengers can be seen
moving to and fro, and a red-haired, red-faced gendarme walking
up and down; a waiter in a frock-coat and a snow-white
shirt-front, looking cold and sleepy, and probably very much
dissatisfied with his fate, is running along the platform
carrying a glass of tea and two rusks on a tray.
The old man gets up and begins saying his prayers towards the
east. Yasha, having finished with the bullock and put down the
spade in the corner, stands beside him and says his prayers also.
He merely moves his lips and crosses himself; the father prays
in a loud whisper and pronounces the end of each prayer aloud and
". . . And the life of the world to come. Amen," the old man says
aloud, draws in a breath, and at once whispers another prayer,
rapping out clearly and firmly at the end: " . . . and lay calves
upon Thy altar!"
After saying his prayers, Yasha hurriedly crosses himself and
says: "Five kopecks, please."
And on being given the five-kopeck piece, he takes a red copper
teapot and runs to the station for boiling water. Taking long
jumps over the rails and sleepers, leaving huge tracks in the
feathery snow, and pouring away yesterday's tea out of the
teapot he runs to the refreshment room and jingles his
five-kopeck piece against his teapot. From the van the bar-keeper
can be seen pushing away the big teapot and refusing to give half
of his samovar for five kopecks, but Yasha turns the tap himself
and, spreading wide his elbows so as not to be interfered with
fills his teapot with boiling water.
"Damned blackguard!" the bar-keeper shouts after him as he runs
back to the railway van.
The scowling face of Malahin grows a little brighter over the
"We know how to eat and drink, but we don't remember our work.
Yesterday we could do nothing all day but eat and drink, and I'll
be bound we forgot to put down what we spent. What a memory! Lord
have mercy on us!"
The old man recalls aloud the expenditure of the day before, and
writes down in a tattered notebook where and how much he had
given to guards, engine-drivers, oilers. . . .
Meanwhile the passenger train has long ago gone off, and an
engine runs backwards and forwards on the empty line, apparently
without any definite object, but simply enjoying its freedom. The
sun has risen and is playing on the snow; bright drops are
falling from the station roof and the tops of the vans.
Having finished his tea, the old man lazily saunters from the van
to the station. Here in the middle of the first-class
waiting-room he sees the familiar figure of the guard standing
beside the station-master, a young man with a handsome beard and
in a magnificent rough woollen overcoat. The young man, probably
new to his position, stands in the same place, gracefully
shifting from one foot to the other like a good racehorse, looks
from side to side, salutes everyone that passes by, smiles and
screws up his eyes. . . . He is red-cheeked, sturdy, and
good-humored; his face is full of eagerness, and is as fresh as
though he had just fallen from the sky with the feathery snow.
Seeing Malahin, the guard sighs guiltily and throws up his
"We can't go number fourteen," he says. "We are very much behind
time. Another train has gone with that number."
The station-master rapidly looks through some forms, then turns
his beaming blue eyes upon Malahin, and, his face radiant with
smiles and freshness, showers questions on him:
"You are Mr. Malahin? You have the cattle? Eight vanloads? What
is to be done now? You are late and I let number fourteen go in
the night. What are we to do now?"
The young man discreetly takes hold of the fur of Malahin's coat
with two pink fingers and, shifting from one foot to the other,
explains affably and convincingly that such and such numbers have
gone already, and that such and such are going, and that he is
ready to do for Malahin everything in his power. And from his
face it is evident that he is ready to do anything to please not
only Malahin, but the whole world -- he is so happy, so pleased,
and so delighted! The old man listens, and though he can make
absolutely nothing of the intricate system of numbering the
trains, he nods his head approvingly, and he, too, puts two
fingers on the soft wool of the rough coat. He enjoys seeing and
hearing the polite and genial young man. To show goodwill on his
side also, he takes out a ten-rouble note and, after a moment's
thought, adds a couple of rouble notes to it, and gives them to
the station-master. The latter takes them, puts his finger to his
cap, and gracefully thrusts them into his pocket.
"Well, gentlemen, can't we arrange it like this?" he says,
kindled by a new idea that has flashed on him. "The troop train
is late, . . . as you see, it is not here, . . . so why shouldn't
you go as the troop train?** And I will let the troop train
go as twenty-eight. Eh?"
"If you like," agrees the guard.
"Excellent!" the station-master says, delighted. "In that case
there is no need for you to wait here; you can set off at once.
I'll dispatch you immediately. Excellent!"
He salutes Malahin and runs off to his room, reading forms as he
goes. The old man is very much pleased by the conversation that
has just taken place; he smiles and looks about the room as
though looking for something else agreeable.
"We'll have a drink, though," he says, taking the guard's arm.
"It seems a little early for drinking."
"No, you must let me treat you to a glass in a friendly way."
They both go to the refreshment bar. After having a drink the
guard spends a long time selecting something to eat.
He is a very stout, elderly man, with a puffy and discolored
face. His fatness is unpleasant, flabby-looking, and he is sallow
as people are who drink too much and sleep irregularly.
"And now we might have a second glass," says Malahin. "It's cold
now, it's no sin to drink. Please take some. So I can rely upon
you, Mr. Guard, that there will be no hindrance or unpleasantness
for the rest of the journey. For you know in moving cattle every
hour is precious. To-day meat is one price; and to-morrow, look
you, it will be another. If you are a day or two late and don't
get your price, instead of a profit you get home -- excuse my
saying it -- with out your breeches. Pray take a little. . . .
I rely on you, and as for standing you something or what you
like, I shall be pleased to show you my respect at any time."
After having fed the guard, Malahin goes back to the van.
"I have just got hold of the troop train," he says to his son.
"We shall go quickly. The guard says if we go all the way with
that number we shall arrive at eight o'clock to-morrow evening.
If one does not bestir oneself, my boy, one gets nothing. . . .
That's so. . . . So you watch and learn. . . ."
After the first bell a man with a face black with soot, in a
blouse and filthy frayed trousers hanging very slack, comes to
the door of the van. This is the oiler, who had been creeping
under the carriages and tapping the wheels with a hammer.
"Are these your vans of cattle?" he asks.
"Why, because two of the vans are not safe. They can't go on,
they must stay here to be repaired."
"Oh, come, tell us another! You simply want a drink, to get
something out of me. . . . You should have said so."
"As you please, only it is my duty to report it at once."
Without indignation or protest, simply, almost mechanically, the
old man takes two twenty-kopeck pieces out of his pocket and
gives them to the oiler. He takes them very calmly, too, and
looking good-naturedly at the old man enters into conversation.
"You are going to sell your cattle, I suppose. . . . It's good
Malahin sighs and, looking calmly at the oiler's black face,
tells him that trading in cattle used certainly to be profitable,
but now it has become a risky and losing business.
"I have a mate here," the oiler interrupts him. "You merchant
gentlemen might make him a little present. . .."
Malahin gives something to the mate too. The troop train goes
quickly and the waits at the stations are comparatively short.
The old man is pleased. The pleasant impression made by the young
man in the rough overcoat has gone deep, the vodka he has
drunk slightly clouds his brain, the weather is magnificent, and
everything seems to be going well. He talks without ceasing, and
at every stopping place runs to the refreshment bar. Feeling the
need of a listener, he takes with him first the guard, and then
the engine-driver, and does not simply drink, but makes a long
business of it, with suitable remarks and clinking of glasses.
"You have your job and we have ours," he says with an affable
smile. "May God prosper us and you, and not our will but His be
The vodka gradually excites him and he is worked up to a great
pitch of energy. He wants to bestir himself, to fuss about, to
make inquiries, to talk incessantly. At one minute he fumbles in
his pockets and bundles and looks for some form. Then he thinks
of something and cannot remember it; then takes out his
pocketbook, and with no sort of object counts over his money. He
bustles about, sighs and groans, clasps his hands. . . . Laying
out before him the letters and telegrams from the meat salesmen
in the city, bills, post office and telegraphic receipt forms,
and his note book, he reflects aloud and insists on Yasha's
And when he is tired of reading over forms and talking about
prices, he gets out at the stopping places, runs to the vans
where his cattle are, does nothing, but simply clasps his hands
and exclaims in horror.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" he says in a complaining voice. "Holy
Martyr Vlassy! Though they are bullocks, though they are beasts,
yet they want to eat and drink as men do. . . . It's four days
and nights since they have drunk or eaten. Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
Yasha follows him and does what he is told like an obedient son.
He does not like the old man's frequent visits to the refreshment
bar. Though he is afraid of his father, he cannot refrain from
remarking on it.
"So you have begun already!" he says, looking sternly at the old
man. "What are you rejoicing at? Is it your name-day or what?"
"Don't you dare teach your father."
"Fine goings on!"
When he has not to follow his father along the other vans Yasha
sits on the cape and strums on the accordion. Occasionally he
gets out and walks lazily beside the train; he stands by the
engine and turns a prolonged, unmoving stare on the wheels or
on the workmen tossing blocks of wood into the tender; the hot
engine wheezes, the falling blocks come down with the mellow,
hearty thud of fresh wood; the engine-driver and his assistant,
very phlegmatic and imperturbable persons, perform
incomprehensible movements and don't hurry themselves. After
standing for a while by the engine, Yasha saunters lazily to the
station; here he looks at the eatables in the refreshment bar,
reads aloud some quite uninteresting notice, and goes back
slowly to the cattle van. His face expresses neither boredom nor
desire; apparently he does not care where he is, at home, in the
van, or by the engine.
Towards evening the train stops near a big station. The lamps
have only just been lighted along the line; against the blue
background in the fresh limpid air the lights are bright and pale
like stars; they are only red and glowing under the station
roof, where it is already dark. All the lines are loaded up with
carriages, and it seems that if another train came in there would
be no place for it. Yasha runs to the station for boiling water
to make the evening tea. Well-dressed ladies and high-school
boys are walking on the platform. If one looks into the distance
from the platform there are far-away lights twinkling in the
evening dusk on both sides of the station -- that is the town.
What town? Yasha does not care to know. He sees only the dim
lights and wretched buildings beyond the station, hears the
cabmen shouting, feels a sharp, cold wind on his face, and
imagines that the town is probably disagreeable, uncomfortable,
While they are having tea, when it is quite dark and a lantern is
hanging on the wall again as on the previous evening, the train
quivers from a slight shock and begins moving backwards. After
going a little way it stops; they hear indistinct shouts,
someone sets the chains clanking near the buffers and shouts,
"Ready!" The train moves and goes forward. Ten minutes later it
is dragged back again.
Getting out of the van, Malahin does not recognize his train. His
eight vans of bullocks are standing in the same row with some
trolleys which were not a part of the train before. Two or three
of these are loaded with rubble and the others are empty. The
guards running to and fro on the platform are strangers. They
give unwilling and indistinct answers to his questions. They have
no thoughts to spare for Malahin; they are in a hurry to get the
train together so as to finish as soon as possible and be back
in the warmth.
"What number is this?" asks Malahin
"And where is the troop train? Why have you taken me off the
Getting n o answer, the old man goes to the station. He looks
first for the familiar figure of the head guard and, not finding
him, goes to the station-master. The station-master is sitting at
a table in his own room, turning over a bundle of forms. He is
busy, and affects not to see the newcomer. His appearance is
impressive: a cropped black head, prominent ears, a long hooked
nose, a swarthy face; he has a forbidding and, as it were,
offended expression. Malahin begins making his complaint at
"What?" queries the station-master. "How is this?" He leans
against the back of his chair and goes on, growing indignant:
"What is it? and why shouldn't you go by number eighteen? Speak
more clearly, I don't understand! How is it? Do you want me to
be everywhere at once?"
He showers questions on him, and for no apparent reason grows
sterner and sterner. Malahin is already feeling in his pocket for
his pocketbook, but in the end the station-master, aggrieved and
indignant, for some unknown reason jumps up from his seat and
runs out of the room. Malahin shrugs his shoulders, and goes out
to look for someone else to speak to.
From boredom or from a desire to put the finishing stroke to a
busy day, or simply that a window with the inscription
"Telegraph! " on it catches his eye, he goes to the window and
expresses a desire to send off a telegram. Taking up a pen, he
thinks for a moment, and writes on a blue form: "Urgent. Traffic
Manager. Eight vans of live stock. Delayed at every station.
Kindly send an express number. Reply paid. Malahin."
Having sent off the telegram, he goes back to the
station-master's room. There he finds, sitting on a sofa covered
with gray cloth, a benevolent-looking gentleman in spectacles and
a cap of raccoon fur; he is wearing a peculiar overcoat very much
like a lady's, edged with fur, with frogs and slashed sleeves.
Another gentleman, dried-up and sinewy, wearing the uniform of a
railway inspector, stands facing him.
"Just think of it," says the inspector, addressing the gentleman
in the queer overcoat. " I'll tell you an incident that really is
A1! The Z. railway line in the coolest possible way stole three
hundred trucks from the N. line. It's a fact, sir! I swear it!
They carried them off, repainted them, put their letters on them,
and that's all about it. The N. line sends its agents everywhere,
they hunt and hunt. And then -- can you imagine it? -- the
Company happen to come upon a broken-down carriage of the Z.
line. They repair it at their depot, and all at once, bless my
soul! see their own mark on the wheels What do you say to that?
Eh? If I did it they would send me to Siberia, but the railway
companies simply snap their fingers at it!"
It is pleasant to Malahin to talk to educated, cultured people.
He strokes his beard and joins in the conversation with dignity.
"Take this case, gentlemen, for instance," he says. I am
transporting cattle to X. Eight vanloads. Very good. . . . Now
let us say they charge me for each vanload as a weight of ten
tons; eight bullocks don't weigh ten tons, but much less, yet
they don't take any notice of that. . . ."
At that instant Yasha walks into the room looking for his father.
He listens and is about to sit down on a chair, but probably
thinking of his weight goes and sits on the window-sill
"They don't take any notice of that," Malahin goes on, "and
charge me and my son the third-class fare, too, forty-two
roubles, for going in the van with the bullocks. This is my son
Yakov. I have two more at home, but they have gone in for study.
Well and apart from that it is my opinion that the railways have
ruined the cattle trade. In old days when they drove them in
herds it was better."
The old man's talk is lengthy and drawn out. After every sentence
he looks at Yasha as though he would say: "See how I am talking
to clever people."
"Upon my word!" the inspector interrupts him. "No one is
indignant, no one criticizes. And why? It is very simple. An
abomination strikes the eye and arouses indignation only when it
is exceptional, when the established order is broken by it. Here,
where, saving your presence, it constitutes the long-established
program and forms and enters into the basis of the order itself,
where every sleeper on the line bears the trace of it and stinks
of it, one too easily grows accustomed to it! Yes, sir!"
The second bell rings, the gentlemen in the queer overcoat gets
up. The inspector takes him by the arm and, still talking with
heat, goes off with him to the platform. After the third bell the
station-master runs into his room, and sits down at his table.
"Listen, with what number am I to go?" asks Malahin.
The station-master looks at a form and says indignantly:
"Are you Malahin, eight vanloads? You must pay a rouble a van and
six roubles and twenty kopecks for stamps. You have no stamps.
Total, fourteen roubles, twenty kopecks."
Receiving the money, he writes something down, dries it with
sand, and, hurriedly snatching up a bundle of forms, goes quickly
out of the room.
At ten o'clock in the evening Malahin gets an answer from the
traffic manager: "Give precedence."
Reading the telegram through, the old man winks significantly
and, very well pleased with himself, puts it in his pocket.
"Here," he says to Yasha, "look and learn."
At midnight his train goes on. The night is dark and cold like
the previous one; the waits at the stations are long. Yasha sits
on the cape and imperturbably strums on the accordion, while the
old man is still more eager to exert himself. At one of
the stations he is overtaken by a desire to lodge a complaint.
At his request a gendarme sits down and writes:
"November 10, 188-. -- I, non-commissioned officer of the Z.
section of the N. police department of railways, Ilya Tchered, in
accordance with article II of the statute of May 19, 1871, have
drawn up this protocol at the station of X. as herewith follows.
. . . "
"What am I to write next?" asks the gendarme.
Malahin lays out before him forms, postal and telegraph receipts,
accounts. . . . He does not know himself definitely what he wants
of the gendarme; he wants to describe in the protocol not any
separate episode but his whole journey, with all his losses and
conversations with station-masters -- to describe it lengthily
"At the station of Z.," he says, "write that the station-master
unlinked my vans from the troop train because he did not like my
And he wants the gendarme to be sure to mention his countenance.
The latter listens wearily, and goes on writing without hearing
him to the end. He ends his protocol thus:
"The above deposition I, non-commissioned officer Tchered, have
written down in this protocol with a view to present it to the
head of the Z. section, and have handed a copy thereof to Gavril
The old man takes the copy, adds it to the papers with which his
side pocket is stuffed, and, much pleased, goes back to his van.
In the morning Malahin wakes up again in a bad humor, but his
wrath vents itself not on Yasha but the cattle.
"The cattle are done for!" he grumbles. "They are done for! They
are at the last gasp! God be my judge! they will all die. Tfoo!"
The bullocks, who have had nothing to drink for many days,
tortured by thirst, are licking the hoar frost on the walls, and
when Malachin goes up to them they begin licking his cold fur
jacket. From their clear, tearful eyes it can be seen that they
are exhausted by thirst and the jolting of the train, that they
are hungry and miserable.
"It's a nice job taking you by rail, you wretched brutes!"
mutters Malahin. "I could wish you were dead to get it over! It
makes me sick to look at you!"
At midday the train stops at a big station where, according to
the regulations, there was drinking water provided for cattle.
Water is given to the cattle, but the bullocks will not drink it:
the water is too cold. . . .
* * * * * * *
Two more days and nights pass, and at last in the distance in the
murky fog the city comes into sight. The jou rney is over. The
train comes to a standstill before reaching the town, near a
goods' station. The bullocks, released from the van, stagger and
stumble as though they were walking on slippery ice.
Having got through the unloading and veterinary inspection,
Malahin and Yasha take up their quarters in a dirty, cheap hotel
in the outskirts of the town, in the square in which the
cattle-market is held. Their lodgings are filthy and their food
is disgusting, unlike what they ever have at home; they sleep to
the harsh strains of a wretched steam hurdy-gurdy which plays day
and night in the restaurant under their lodging.
The old man spends his time from morning till night going about
looking for purchasers, and Yasha sits for days in the hotel
room, or goes out into the street to look at the town. He sees
the filthy square heaped up with dung, the signboards of
restaurants, the turreted walls of a monastery in the fog.
Sometimes he runs across the street and looks into the grocer's
shop, admires the jars of cakes of different colors, yawns, and
lazily saunters back to his room. The city does not interest him.
At last the bullocks are sold to a dealer. Malahin hires drovers.
The cattle are divided into herds, ten in each, and driven to the
other end of the town. The bullocks, exhausted, go with drooping
heads through the noisy streets, and look indifferently at what
they see for the first and last time in their lives. The tattered
drovers walk after them, their heads drooping too. They are
bored. . . . Now and then some drover starts out of his brooding,
remembers that there are cattle in front of him intrusted to his
charge, and to show that he is doing his duty brings a stick down
full swing on a bullock's back. The bullock staggers with the
pain, runs forward a dozen paces, and looks about him as though
he were ashamed at being beaten before people.
After selling the bullocks and buying for his family presents
such as they could perfectly well have bought at home, Malahin
and Yasha get ready for their journey back. Three hours before
the train goes the old man, who has already had a drop too much
with the purchaser and so is fussy, goes down with Yasha to the
restaurant and sits down to drink tea. Like all provincials, he
cannot eat and drink alone: he must have company as fussy and as
fond of sedate conversation as himself.
"Call the host!" he says to the waiter; "tell him I should like
to entertain him."
The hotel-keeper, a well-fed man, absolutely indifferent to his
lodgers, comes and sits down to the table.
"Well, we have sold our stock," Malahin says, laughing. "I have
swapped my goat for a hawk. Why, when we set off the price of
meat was three roubles ninety kopecks, but when we arrived it had
dropped to three roubles twenty-five. They tell us we are too
late, we should have been here three days earlier, for now there
is not the same demand for meat, St. Philip's fast has come. . .
. Eh? It's a nice how-do-you-do! It meant a loss of fourteen
roubles on each bullock. Yes. But only think what it costs to
bring the stock! Fifteen roubles carriage, and you must put down
six roubles for each bullock, tips, bribes, drinks, and one thing
and another. . . ."
The hotel-keeper listens out of politeness and reluctantly drinks
tea. Malahin sighs and groans, gesticulates, jests about his
ill-luck, but everything shows that the loss he has sustained
does not trouble him much. He doesn't mind whether he has lost
or gained as long as he has listeners, has something to make a
fuss about, and is not late for his train.
An hour later Malahin and Yasha, laden with bags and boxes, go
downstairs from the hotel room to the front door to get into a
sledge and drive to the station. They are seen off by the
hotel-keeper, the waiter, and various women. The old man is
touched. He thrusts ten-kopeck pieces in all directions, and says
in a sing-song voice:
"Good by, good health to you! God grant that all may be well with
you. Please God if we are alive and well we shall come again in
Lent. Good-by. Thank you. God bless you!"
Getting into the sledge, the old man spends a long time crossing
himself in the direction in which the monastery walls make a
patch of darkness in the fog. Yasha sits beside him on the very
edge of the seat with his legs hanging over the side. His face
as before shows no sign of emotion and expresses neither boredom
nor desire. He is not glad that he is going home, nor sorry that
he has not had time to see the sights of the city.
The cabman whips up the horse and, turning round, begins swearing
at the heavy and cumbersome luggage.
---- * On many railway lines, in order to avoid accidents, it is
against the regulations to carry hay on the trains, and so live
stock are without fodder on the journey. -- Author's Note.
**The train destined especially for the transport of troops is
called the troop train; when they are no troops it takes goods,
and goes more rapidly than ordinary goods train. -- Author's
THE turner, Grigory Petrov, who had been known for years past as
a splendid craftsman, and at the same time as the most senseless
peasant in the Galtchinskoy district, was taking his old woman to
the hospital. He had to drive over twenty miles, and
it was an awful road. A government post driver could hardly have
coped with it, much less an incompetent sluggard like Grigory. A
cutting cold wind was blowing straight in his face. Clouds of
snowflakes were whirling round and round in all directions, so
that one could not tell whether the snow was falling from the sky
or rising from the earth. The fields, the telegraph posts, and
the forest could not be seen for the fog of snow. And when a
particularly violent gust of wind swooped down on Grigory, even
the yoke above the horse's head could not be seen. The wretched,
feeble little nag crawled slowly along. It took all its strength
to drag its legs out of the snow and to tug with its head. The
turner was in a hurry. He kept restlessly hopping up and down on
the front seat and lashing the horse's back.
"Don't cry, Matryona, . . ." he muttered. "Have a little
patience. Please God we shall reach the hospital, and in a trice
it will be the right thing for you. . . . Pavel Ivanitch will
give you some little drops, or tell them to bleed you; or maybe
his honor will be pleased to rub you with some sort of spirit --
it'll . . . draw it out of your side. Pavel Ivanitch will do his
best. He will shout and stamp about, but he will do his best. . .
. He is a nice gentleman, affable, God give him health! As soon
as we get there he will dart out of his room and will begin
calling me names. 'How? Why so?' he will cry. 'Why did you not
come at the right time? I am not a dog to be hanging about
waiting on you devils all day. Why did you not come
in the morning? Go away! Get out of my sight. Come again
to-morrow.' And I shall say: 'Mr. Doctor! Pavel Ivanitch! Your
honor!' Get on, do! plague take you, you devil! Get on!"
The turner lashed his nag, and without looking at the old woman
went on muttering to himself:
"'Your honor! It's true as before God. . . . Here's the Cross
for you, I set off almost before it was light. How could I be
here in time if the Lord. . . .The Mother of God . . . is wroth,
and has sent such a snowstorm? Kindly look for yourself. .
. . Even a first-rate horse could not do it, while mine -- you
can see for yourself -- is not a horse but a disgrace.' And Pavel
Ivanitch will frown and shout: 'We know you! You always find some
excuse! Especially you, Grishka; I know you of old! I'll be
bound you have stopped at half a dozen taverns!' And I shall say:
'Your honor! am I a criminal or a heathen? My old woman is giving
up her soul to God, she is dying, and am I going to run from
tavern to tavern! What an idea, upon my word! Plague take them,
the taverns!' Then Pavel Ivanitch will order you to be taken into
the hospital, and I shall fall at his feet. . . . 'Pavel
Ivanitch! Your honor, we thank you most humbly! Forgive us fools
and anathemas, don't be hard on us peasants! We deserve a good
kicking, whi le you graciously put yourself out and mess your
feet in the snow!' And Pavel Ivanitch will give me a look as
though he would like to hit me, and will say: 'You'd much better
not be swilling vodka, you fool, but taking pity on your old
woman instead of falling at my feet. You want a thrashing!' 'You
are right there -- a thrashing, Pavel Ivanitch, strike me God!
But how can we help bowing down at your feet if you are our
benefactor, and a real father to us? Your honor! I give you my
word, . . . here as before God, . . . you may spit in my face if
I deceive you: as soon as my Matryona, this same here, is well
again and restored to her natural condition, I'll make anything
for your honor that you would like to order! A cigarette-case,
if you like, of the best birchwood, . . . balls for croquet,
skittles of the most foreign pattern I can turn. . . . I will
make anything for you! I won't take a farthing from you. In
Moscow they would charge you four roubles for such a
cigarette-case, but I won't take a farthing.' The doctor will
laugh and say: 'Oh, all right, all right. . . . I see! But it's a
pity you are a drunkard. . . .' I know how to manage the gentry,
old girl. There isn't a gentleman I couldn't talk to. Only God
grant we don't get off the road. Oh, how it is blowing! One's
eyes are full of snow."
And the turner went on muttering endlessly. He prattled on
mechanically to get a little relief from his depressing feelings.
He had plenty of words on his tongue, but the thoughts and
questions in his brain were even more numerous. Sorrow had come
upon the turner unawares, unlooked-for, and unexpected, and now
he could not get over it, could not recover himself. He had lived
hitherto in unruffled calm, as though in drunken
half-consciousness, knowing neither grief nor joy, and now he was
suddenly aware of a dreadful pain in his heart. The careless
idler and drunkard found himself quite suddenly in the position
of a busy man, weighed down by anxieties and haste, and even
struggling with nature.
The turner remembered that his trouble had begun the evening
before. When he had come home yesterday evening, a little drunk
as usual, and from long-established habit had begun swearing and
shaking his fists, his old woman had looked at her rowdy spouse
as she had never looked at him before. Usually, the expression in
her aged eyes was that of a martyr, meek like that of a dog
frequently beaten and badly fed; this time she had looked at him
sternly and immovably, as saints in the holy pictures or dying
people look. From that strange, evil look in her eyes the trouble
had begun. The turner, stupefied with amazement, borrowed a horse
from a neighbor, and now was taking his old woman to the hospital
in the hope that, by means of powders and ointments, Pavel
Ivanitch would bring back his old woman's habitual expression.
"I say, Matryona, . . ." the turner muttered, "if Pavel Ivanitch
asks you whether I beat you, say, 'Never!' and I never will beat
you again. I swear it. And did I ever beat you out of spite? I
just beat you without thinking. I am sorry for you. Some men
wouldn't trouble, but here I am taking you. . . . I am doing my
best. And the way it snows, the way it snows! Thy Will be done, O
Lord! God grant we don't get off the road. . . . Does your side
ache, Matryona, that you don't speak? I ask you, does your side
It struck him as strange that the snow on his old woman's face
was not melting; it was queer that the face itself looked somehow
drawn, and had turned a pale gray, dingy waxen hue and had grown
grave and solemn.
"You are a fool!" muttered the turner. . . . "I tell you on my
conscience, before God,. . . and you go and . . . Well, you are a
fool! I have a good mind not to take you to Pavel Ivanitch!"
The turner let the reins go and began thinking. He could not
bring himself to look round at his old woman: he was frightened.
He was afraid, too, of asking her a question and not getting an
answer. At last, to make an end of uncertainty, without looking
round he felt his old woman's cold hand. The lifted hand fell
like a log.
"She is dead, then! What a business!"
And the turner cried. He was not so much sorry as annoyed. He
thought how quickly everything passes in this world! His trouble
had hardly begun when the final catastrophe had happened. He had
not had time to live with his old woman, to show her he was
sorry for her before she died. He had lived with her for forty
years, but those forty years had passed by as it were in a fog.
What with drunkenness, quarreling, and poverty, there had been no
feeling of life. And, as though to spite him, his old woman died
at the very time when he felt he was sorry for her, that he could
not live without her, and that he had behaved dreadfully badly to
"Why, she used to go the round of the village," he remembered. "I
sent her out myself to beg for bread. What a business! She ought
to have lived another ten years, the silly thing; as it is I'll
be bound she thinks I really was that sort of man. . . . Holy
Mother! but where the devil am I driving? There's no need for a
doctor now, but a burial. Turn back!"
Grigory turned back and lashed the horse with all his might. The
road grew worse and worse every hour. Now he could not see the
yoke at all. Now and then the sledge ran into a young fir tree, a
dark object scratched the turner's hands and flashed before his
eyes, and the field of vision was white and whirling again.
"To live over again," thought the turner.
He remembered that forty years ago Matryona had been young,
handsome, merry, that she had come of a well-to-do family. They
had married her to him because they had been attracted by his
handicraft. All the essentials for a happy life had been there,
but the trouble was that, just as he had got drunk after the
wedding and lay sprawling on the stove, so he had gone on without
waking up till now. His wedding he remembered, but of what
happened after the wedding -- for the life of him he could
remember nothing, except perhaps that he had drunk, lain on the
stove, and quarreled. Forty years had been wasted like that.
The white clouds of snow were beginning little by little to turn
gray. It was getting dusk.
"Where am I going?" the turner suddenly bethought him with a
start. "I ought to be thinking of the burial, and I am on the way
to the hospital. . . . It as is though I had gone crazy."
Grigory turned round again, and again lashed his horse. The
little nag strained its utmost and, with a snort, fell into a
little trot. The turner lashed it on the back time after time. .
. . A knocking was audible behind him, and though he did not
look round, he knew it was the dead woman's head knocking against
the sledge. And the snow kept turning darker and darker, the wind
grew colder and more cutting. . . .
"To live over again!" thought the turner. "I should get a new
lathe, take orders, . . . give the money to my old woman. . . ."
And then he dropped the reins. He looked for them, tried to pick
them up, but could not -- his hands would not work. . . .
"It does not matter," he thought, "the horse will go of itself,
it knows the way. I might have a little sleep now. . . . Before
the funeral or the requiem it would be as well to get a little
rest. . . ."
The turner closed his eyes and dozed. A little later he heard the
horse stop; he opened his eyes and saw before him something dark
like a hut or a haystack. . . .
He would have got out of the sledge and found out what it was,
but he felt overcome by such inertia that it seemed better to
freeze than move, and he sank into a peaceful sleep.
He woke up in a big room with painted walls. Bright sunlight was
streaming in at the windows. The turner saw people facing him,
and his first feeling was a desire to show himself a respectable
man who knew how things should be done.
"A requiem, brothers, for my old woman," he said. "The priest
should be told. . . ."
"Oh, all right, all right; lie down," a voice cut him short.
"Pavel Ivanitch!" the turner cried in surprise, seeing the doctor
before him. "Your honor, benefactor! "
He wanted to leap up and fall on his knees before the doctor,
but felt that his arms and legs would not obey him.
"Your honor, where are my legs, where are my arms!"
"Say good-by to your arms and legs. . . . They've been frozen
off. Come, come! . . . What are you crying for ? You've lived
your life, and thank God for it! I suppose you have had sixty
years of it -- that's enough for you! . . ."
"I am grieving. . . . Graciously forgive me! If I could have
another five or six years! . . ."
"The horse isn't mine, I must give it back. . . . I must bury my
old woman. . . . How quickly it is all ended in this world! Your
honor, Pavel Ivanitch! A cigarette-case of birchwood of the best!
I'll turn you croquet balls. . . ."
The doctor went out of the ward with a wave of his hand. It was
all over with the turner.
ON OFFICIAL DUTY
THE deputy examining magistrate and the district doctor were
going to an inquest in the village of Syrnya. On the road they
were overtaken by a snowstorm; they spent a long time going round
and round, and arrived, not at midday, as they had intended, but
in the evening when it was dark. They put up for the night at the
Zemstvo hut. It so happened that it was in this hut that the dead
body was lying -- the corpse of the Zemstvo insurance agent,
Lesnitsky, who had arrived in Syrnya three
days before and, ordering the samovar in the hut, had shot
himself, to the great surprise of everyone; and the fact that he
had ended his life so strangely, after unpacking his eatables and
laying them out on the table, and with the samovar before him,
led many people to suspect that it was a case of murder; an
inquest was necessary.
In the outer room the doctor and the examining magistrate shook
the snow off themselves and knocked it off their boots. And
meanwhile the old village constable, Ilya Loshadin, stood by,
holding a little tin lamp. There was a strong smell of paraffin.
"Who are you?" asked the doctor.
"Conshtable, . . ." answered the constable.
He used to spell it "conshtable" when he signed the receipts at
the post office.
"And where are the witnesses?"
"They must have gone to tea, your honor."
On the right was the parlor, the travelers' or gentry's room; on
the left the kitchen, with a big stove and sleeping shelves under
the rafters. The doctor and the examining magistrate, followed by
the constable, holding the lamp high above his head, went into
the parlor. Here a still, long body covered with white linen was
lying on the floor close to the table-legs. In the dim light of
the lamp they could clearly see, besides the white covering, new
rubber goloshes, and everything about it was uncanny and
sinister: the dark walls, and the silence, and the goloshes, and
the stillness of the dead body. On the table stood a samovar,
cold long ago; and round it parcels, probably the eatables.
"To shoot oneself in the Zemstvo hut, how tactless!" said the
doctor. "If one does want to put a bullet through one's brains,
one ought to do it at home in some outhouse."
He sank on to a bench, just as he was, in his cap, his fur coat,
and his felt overboots; his fellow-traveler, the examining
magistrate, sat down opposite.
"These hysterical, neurasthenic people are great egoists," the
doctor went on hotly. "If a neurasthenic sleeps in the same room
with you, he rustles his newspaper; when he dines with you, he
gets up a scene with his wife without troubling about your
presence; and when he feels inclined to shoot himself, he shoots
himself in a village in a Zemstvo hut, so as to give the maximum
of trouble to everybody. These gentlemen in every circumstance of
life think of no one but themselves! That's why the elderly so
dislike our 'nervous age.'"
"The elderly dislike so many things," said the examining
magistrate, yawning. "You should point out to the elder
generation what the difference is between the suicides of the
past and the suicides of to-day. In the old days the so-called
gentleman shot himself because he had made away with Government
money, but nowadays it is because he is sick of life, depressed.
. . . Which is better?"
"Sick of life, depressed; but you must admit that he might have
shot himself somewhere else."
"Such trouble!" said the constable, "such trouble! It's a real
affliction. The people are very much upset, your honor; they
haven't slept these three nights. The children are crying. The
cows ought to be milked, but the women won't go to the stall --
they are afraid . . . for fear the gentleman should appear to
them in the darkness. Of course they are silly women, but some of
the men are frightened too. As soon as it is dark they won't go
by the hut one by one, but only in a flock together. And the
witnesses too. . . ."
Dr. Startchenko, a middle-aged man in spectacles with a dark
beard, and the examining magistrate Lyzhin, a fair man, still
young, who had only taken his degree two years before and looked
more like a student than an official, sat in silence, musing.
They were vexed that they were late. Now they had to wait till
morning, and to stay here for the night, though it was not yet
six o'clock; and they had before them a long evening, a dark
night, boredom, uncomfortable beds, beetles, and cold in the
morning; and listening to the blizzard that howled in the chimney
and in the loft, they both thought how unlike all this was the
life which they would have chosen for themselves and of which
they had once dreamed, and how far away they both were from
their contemporaries, who were at that moment walking about the
lighted streets in town without noticing the weather, or were
getting ready for the theatre, or sitting in their studies over a
book. Oh, how much they would have given now only to stroll
along the Nevsky Prospect, or along Petrovka in Moscow, to listen
to decent singing, to sit for an hour or so in a restaurant!
"Oo-oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm in the loft, and something outside
slammed viciously, probably the signboard on the hut.
"You can do as you please, but I have no desire to stay here,"
said Startchenko, getting up. "It's not six yet, it's too early
to go to bed; I am off. Von Taunitz lives not far from here, only
a couple of miles from Syrnya. I shall go to see him and spend
the evening there. Constable, run and tell my coachman not to
take the horses out. And what are you going to do?" he asked
"I don't know; I expect I shall go to sleep."
The doctor wrapped himself in his fur coat and went out. Lyzhin
could hear him talking to the coachman and the bells beginning to
quiver on the frozen horses. He drove off.
"It is not nice for you, sir, to spend the night in here," said
the constable; "come into the other room. It's dirty, but for one
night it won't matter. I'll get a samovar from a peasant and heat
it directly. I'll heap up some hay for you, and then
you go to sleep, and God bless you, your honor."
A little later the examining magistrate was sitting in the
kitchen drinking tea, while Loshadin, the constable, was standing
at the door talking. He was an old man about sixty, short and
very thin, bent and white, with a naive smile on his face
and watery eyes, and he kept smacking with his lips as though he
were sucking a sweetmeat. He was wearing a short sheepskin coat
and high felt boots, and held his stick in his hands all the
time. The youth of the examining magistrate aroused his
compassion, and that was probably why he addressed him
"The elder gave orders that he was to be informed when the police
superintendent or the examining magistrate came," he said, "so I
suppose I must go now. . . . It's nearly three miles to the
_volost_, and the storm, the snowdrifts, are something terrible
-- maybe one won't get there before midnight. Ough! how the wind
"I don't need the elder," said Lyzhin. "There is nothing for him
to do here."
He looked at the old man with curiosity, and asked:
"Tell me, grandfather, how many years have you been constable? "
"How many? Why, thirty years. Five years after the Freedom I
began going as constable, that's how I reckon it. And from that
time I have been going every day since. Other people have
holidays, but I am always going. When it's Easter and the church
bells are ringing and Christ has risen, I still go about with my
bag -- to the treasury, to the post, to the police
superintendent's lodgings, to the rural captain, to the tax
inspector, to the municipal office, to the gentry, to the
peasants, to all orthodox Christians. I carry parcels, notices,
tax papers, letters, forms of different sorts, circulars, and to
be sure, kind gentleman, there are all sorts of forms nowadays,
so as to note down the numbers -- yellow, white, and red -- and
every gentleman or priest or well-to-do peasant must write down
a dozen times in the year how much he has sown and harvested, how
many quarters or poods he has of rye, how many of oats, how many
of hay, and what the weather's like, you know, and insects, too,
of all sorts. To be sure you can write what you like, it's only a
regulation, but one must go and give out the notices and then go
again and collect them. Here, for instance, there's no need to
cut open the gentleman; you know yourself it's a silly thing,
it's only dirtying your hands, and here you have been put to
trouble, your honor; you have come because it's the regulation;
you can't help it. For thirty years I have been going round
according to regulation. In the summer it is all right, it is
warm and dry; but in winter and autumn it's uncomfortable At
times I have been almost drowned and almost frozen; all sorts of
things have happened -- wicked people set on me in the forest and
took away my bag; I have been beaten, and I have been before a
court of law."
"What were you accused of?"
"How do you mean?"
"Why, you see, Hrisanf Grigoryev, the clerk, sold the contractor
some boards belonging to someone else -- cheated him, in fact. I
was mixed up in it. They sent me to the tavern for vodka; well,
the clerk did not share with me -- did not even offer me a glass;
but as through my poverty I was -- in appearance, I mean -- not a
man to be relied upon, not a man of any worth, we were both
brought to trial; he was sent to prison, but, praise God! I was
acquitted on all points. They read a notice, you know, in the
court. And they were all in uniforms -- in the court, I mean. I
can tell you, your honor, my duties for anyone not used to them
are terrible, absolutely killing; but to me it is nothing. In
fact, my feet ache when I am not walking. And at home it is worse
for me. At home one has to heat the stove for the clerk in the
_volost_ office, to fetch water for him, to clean his boots."
"And what wages do you get?" Lyzhin asked.
"Eighty-four roubles a year."
"I'll bet you get other little sums coming in. You do, don't
"Other little sums? No, indeed! Gentlemen nowadays don't often
give tips. Gentlemen nowadays are strict, they take offense at
anything. If you bring them a notice they are offended, if you
take off your cap before them they are offended. 'You have come
to the wrong entrance,' they say. 'You are a drunkard,' they say.
'You smell of onion; you are a blockhead; you are the son of a
bitch.' There are kind-hearted ones, of course; but what does one
get from them? They only laugh and call one all sorts of names.
Mr. Altuhin, for instance, he is a good-natured gentleman; and if
you look at him he seems sober and in his right mind, but so soon
as he sees me he shouts and does not know what he means himself.
He gave me such a name 'You,' said he, . . ." The constable
uttered some word, but in such a low voice that it was impossible
to make out what he said.
"What?" Lyzhin asked. "Say it again."
" 'Administration,' " the constable repeated aloud. "He has been
calling me that for a long while, for the last six years. 'Hullo,
Administration!' But I don't mind; let him, God bless him!
Sometimes a lady will send one a glass of vodka and a bit of pie
and one drinks to her health. But peasants give more; peasants
are more kind-hearted, they have the fear of God in their hearts:
one will give a bit of bread, another a drop of cabbage soup,
another will stand one a glass. The village elders treat one to
tea in the tavern. Here the witnesses have gone to their tea.
'Loshadin,' they said, 'you stay here and keep watch for us,' and
they gave me a kopeck each. You see, they are frightened, not
being used to it, and yesterday they gave me fifteen kopecks and
offered me a glass."
"And you, aren't you frightened?"
"I am, sir; but of course it is my duty, there is no getting away
from it. In the summer I was taking a convict to the town, and he
set upon me and gave me such a drubbing! And all around were
fields, forest -- how could I get away from him? It's just the
same here. I remember the gentleman, Mr. Lesnitsky, when he was
so high, and I knew his father and mother. I am from the village
of Nedoshtchotova, and they, the Lesnitsky family, were not more
than three-quarters of a mile from us and less
than that, their ground next to ours, and Mr. Lesnitsky had a
sister, a God-fearing and tender-hearted lady. Lord keep the soul
of Thy servant Yulya, eternal memory to her! She was never
married, and when she was dying she divided all her property;
she left three hundred acres to the monastery, and six hundred
to the commune of peasants of Nedoshtchotova to commemorate her
soul; but her brother hid the will, they do say burnt it in the
stove, and took all this land for himself. He thought, to
be sure, it was for his benefit; but -- nay, wait a bit, you
won't get on in the world through injustice, brother. The
gentleman did not go to confession for twenty years after. He
kept away from the church, to be sure, and died impenitent. He
burst. He was a very fat man, so he burst lengthways. Then
everything was taken from the young master, from Seryozha, to pay
the debts -- everything there was. Well, he had not gone very far
in his studies, he couldn't do anything, and the president
of the Rural Board, his uncle -- 'I'll take him' -- Seryozha, I
mean -- thinks he, 'for an agent; let him collect the insurance,
that's not a difficult job,' and the gentleman was young and
proud, he wanted to be living on a bigger scale and in better
style and with more freedom. To be sure it was a come-down for
him to be jolting about the district in a wretched cart and
talking to the peasants; he would walk and keep looking on the
ground, looking on the ground and saying nothing; if you
called his name right in his ear, 'Sergey Sergeyitch!' he would
look round like this, 'Eh?' and look down on the ground again,
and now you see he has laid hands on himself. There's no sense in
it, your honor, it's not right, and there's no making out what's
the meaning of it, merciful Lord! Say your father was rich and
you are poor; it is mortifying, there's no doubt about it, but
there, you must make up your mind to it. I used to live in good
style, too; I had two horses, your honor, three cows, I used to
keep twenty head of sheep; but the time has come, and I am left
with nothing but a wretched bag, and even that is not mine but
Government property. And now in our Nedoshtchotova, if the truth
is to be told, my house is the worst of the lot. Makey had four
footmen, and now Makey is a footman himself. Petrak had four
laborers, and now Petrak is a laborer himself."
"How was it you became poor?" asked the examining magistrate.
"My sons drink terribly. I could not tell you how they drink, you
wouldn't believe it."
Lyzhin listened and thought how he, Lyzhin, would go back sooner
or later to Moscow, while this old man would stay here for ever,
and would always be walking and walking. And how many times in
his life he would come across such battered, unkempt old men,
not "men of any worth," in whose souls fifteen kopecks, glasses
of vodka, and a profound belief that you can't get on in this
life by dishonesty, were equally firmly rooted.
Then he grew tired of listening, and told the old man to bring
him some hay for his bed, There was an iron bedstead with a
pillow and a quilt in the traveler's room, and it could be
fetched in ; but the dead man had been lying by it for nearly
three days (and perhaps sitting on it just before his death),
and it would be disagreeable to sleep upon it now. . . .
"It's only half-past seven," thought Lyzhin, glancing at his
watch. "How awful it is!"
He was not sleepy, but having nothing to do to pass away the
time, he lay down and covered himself with a rug. Loshadin went
in and out several times, clearing away the tea-things; smacking
his lips and sighing, he kept tramping round the table; at
last he took his little lamp and went out, and, looking at his
long, gray-headed, bent figure from behind, Lyzhin thought:
"Just like a magician in an opera."
It was dark. The moon must have been behind the clouds, as the
windows and the snow on the window-frames could be seen
"Oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm, "Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
"Ho-ho-ly sa-aints!" wailed a woman in the loft, or it sounded
like it. "Ho-ho-ly sa-aints!"
"B-booh!" something outside banged against the wall. "Trah!"
The examining magistrate listened: there was no woman up there,
it was the wind howling. It was rather cold, and he put his fur
coat over his rug. As he got warm he thought how remote all this
-- the storm, and the hut, and the old man, and the dead body
lying in the next room -- how remote it all was from the life he
desired for himself, and how alien it all was to him, how petty,
how uninteresting. If this man had killed himself in Moscow or
somewhere in the neighborhood, and he had had to hold an inquest
on him there, it would have been interesting, important, and
perhaps he might even have been afraid to sleep in the next room
to the corpse. Here, nearly a thousand miles from Moscow, all
this was seen somehow in a different light; it was not life,
they were not human beings, but something only existing
"according to the regulation," as Loshadin said; it would leave
not the faintest trace in the memory, and would be forgotten as
soon as he, Lyzhin, drove away from Syrnya. The fatherland, the
real Russia, was Moscow, Petersburg; but here he was in the
provinces, the colonies. When one dreamed of playing a leading
part, of becoming a popular figure, of being, for instance,
examining magistrate in particularly important cases or
prosecutor in a circuit court, of being a society lion, one
always thought of Moscow. To live, one must be in Moscow; here
one cared for nothing, one grew easily resigned to one's
insignificant position, and only expected one thing of life --
to get away quickly, quickly. And Lyzhin mentally moved about the
Moscow streets, went into the familiar houses, met his kindred,
his comrades, and there was a sweet pang at his heart at the
thought that he was only twenty-six, and that if in five or ten
years he could break away from here and get to Moscow, even then
it would not be too late and he would still have a whole life
before him. And as he sank into unconsciousness, as his thoughts
began to be confused, he imagined the long corridor of the court
at Moscow, himself delivering a speech, his sisters, the
orchestra which for some reason kept droning: "Oo-oo-oo-oo!
"Booh! Trah!" sounded again. "Booh!"
And he suddenly recalled how one day, when he was talking to the
bookkeeper in the little office of the Rural Board, a thin, pale
gentleman with black hair and dark eyes walked in; he had a
disagreeable look in his eyes such as one sees in people who
have slept too long after dinner, and it spoilt his delicate,
intelligent profile; and the high boots he was wearing did not
suit him, but looked clumsy. The bookkeeper had introduced him:
"This is our insurance agent."
"So that was Lesnitsky, . . . this same man," Lyzhin reflected
He recalled Lesnitsky's soft voice, imagined his gait, and it
seemed to him that someone was walking beside him now with a step
All at once he felt frightened, his head turned cold.
"Who's there?" he asked in alarm.
"What do you want here?"
"I have come to ask, your honor -- you said this evening that you
did not want the elder, but I am afraid he may be angry. He told
me to go to him. Shouldn't I go?"
"That's enough, you bother me," said Lyzhin with vexation, and he
covered himself up again.
"He may be angry. . . . I'll go, your honor. I hope you will be
comfortable," and Loshadin went out.
In the passage there was coughing and subdued voices. The
witnesses must have returned.
"We'll let those poor beggars get away early to-morrow, . . ."
thought the examining magistrate; "we'll begin the inquest as
soon as it is daylight."
He began sinking into forgetfulness when suddenly there were
steps again, not timid this time but rapid and noisy. There was
the slam of a door, voices, the scratching of a match. . . .
"Are you asleep? Are you asleep?" Dr. Startchenko was asking him
hurriedly and angrily as he struck one match after another; he
was covered with snow, and brought a chill air in with him. "Are
you asleep? Get up! Let us go to Von Taunitz's. He has sent his
own horses for you. Come along. There, at any rate, you will have
supper, and sleep like a human being. You see I have come for you
myself. The horses are splendid, we shall get there in twenty
"And what time is it now?"
"A quarter past ten."
Lyzhin, sleepy and discontented, put on his felt overboots, his
furlined coat, his cap and hood, and went out with the doctor.
There was not a very sharp frost, but a violent and piercing wind
was blowing and driving along the street the clouds of snow
which seemed to be racing away in terror: high drifts were heaped
up already under the fences and at the doorways. The doctor and
the examining magistrate got into the sledge, and the white
coachman bent over them to button up the cover. They were both
They drove through the village. "Cutting a feathery furrow,"
thought the examining magistrate, listlessly watching the action
of the trace horse's legs. There were lights in all the huts, as
though it were the eve of a great holiday: the peasants had not
gone to bed because they were afraid of the dead body. The
coachman preserved a sullen silence, probably he had felt dreary
while he was waiting by the Zemstvo hut, and now he, too, was
thinking of the dead man.
"At the Von Taunitz's," said Startchenko, "they all set upon me
when they heard that you were left to spend the night in the hut,
and asked me why I did not bring you with me."
As they drove out of the village, at the turning the coachman
suddenly shouted at the top of his voice: "Out of the way!"
They caught a glimpse of a man: he was standing up to his knees
in the snow, moving off the road and staring at the horses. The
examining magistrate saw a stick with a crook, and a beard and a
bag, and he fancied that it was Loshadin, and even fancied that
he was smiling. He flashed by and disappeared.
The road ran at first along the edge of the forest, then along a
broad forest clearing; they caught glimpses of old pines and a
young birch copse, and tall, gnarled young oak trees standing
singly in the clearings where the wood had lately been cut; but
soon it was all merged in the clouds of snow. The coachman said
he could see the forest; the examining magistrate could see
nothing but the trace horse. The wind blew on their backs.
All at once the horses stopped.
"Well, what is it now?" asked Startchenko crossly.
The coachman got down from the box without a word and began
running round the sledge, treading on his heels; he made larger
and larger circles, getting further and further away from the
sledge, and it looked as though he were dancing; at last he came
back and began to turn off to the right.
"You've got off the road, eh?" asked Startchenko.
"It's all ri-ight. . . ."
Then there was a little village and not a single light in it.
Again the forest and the fields. Again they lost the road, and
again the coachman got down from the box and danced round the
sledge. The sledge flew along a dark avenue, flew swiftly on.
And the heated trace horse's hoofs knocked against the sledge .
Here there was a fearful roaring sound from the trees, and
nothing could be seen, as though they were flying on into space;
and all at once the glaring light at the entrance and the
windows flashed upon their eyes, and they heard the good-natured,
drawn-out barking of dogs. They had arrived.
While they were taking off their fur coats and their felt boots
below, "Un Petit Verre de Clicquot" was being played upon the
piano overhead, and they could hear the children beating time
with their feet. Immediately on going in they were aware of the
snug warmth and special smell of the old apartments of a mansion
where, whatever the weather outside, life is so warm and clean
"That's capital!" said Von Taunitz, a fat man with an incredibly
thick neck and with whiskers, as he shook the examining
magistrate's hand. "That's capital! You are very welcome,
delighted to make your acquaintance. We are colleagues to some
extent, you know. At one time I was deputy prosecutor; but not
for long, only two years. I came here to look after the estate,
and here I have grown old -- an old fogey, in fact. You are very
welcome," he went on, evidently restraining his voice so as not
to speak too loud; he was going upstairs with his guests. "I have
no wife, she's dead. But here, I will introduce my daughters,"
and turning round, he shouted down the stairs in a voice of
thunder: "Tell Ignat to have the sledge ready at eight o'clock
His four daughters, young and pretty girls, all wearing gray
dresses and with their hair done up in the same style, and their
cousin, also young and attractive, with her children, were in the
drawingroom. Startchenko, who knew them already, began at once
begging them to sing something, and two of the young ladies spent
a long time declaring they could not sing and that they had no
music; then the cousin sat down to the piano, and with trembling
voices, they sang a duet from "The Queen of Spades." Again "Un
Petit Verre de Clicquot" was played, and the children skipped
about, beating time with their feet. And Startchenko pranced
about too. Everybody laughed.
Then the children said good-night and went off to bed. The
examining magistrate laughed, danced a quadrille, flirted, and
kept wondering whether it was not all a dream? The kitchen of the
Zemstvo hut, the heap of hay in the corner, the rustle of the
beetles, the revolting poverty-stricken surroundings, the voices
of the witnesses, the wind, the snow storm, the danger of being
lost; and then all at once this splendid, brightly lighted room,
the sounds of the piano, the lovely girls, the curly-headed
children, the gay, happy laughter -- such a transformation seemed
to him like a fairy tale, and it seemed incredible that such
transitions were possible at the distance of some two miles in
the course of one hour. And dreary thoughts prevented him from
enjoying himself, and he kept thinking this was not life here,
but bits of life fragments, that everything here was accidental,
that one could draw no conclusions from it; and he even felt
sorry for these girls, who were living and would end their lives
in the wilds, in a province far away from the center of culture,
where nothing is accidental, but everything is in accordance with
reason and law, and where, for instance, every suicide is
intelligible, so that one can explain why it has happened and
what is its significance in the general scheme of things. He
imagined that if the life surrounding him here in the wilds were
not intelligible to him, and if he did not see it, it meant that
it did not exist at all.
At supper the conversation turned on Lesnitsky
"He left a wife and child," said Startchenko. "I would forbid
neurasthenics and all people whose nervous system is out of order
to marry, I would deprive them of the right and possibility of
multiplying their kind. To bring into the world nervous, invalid
children is a crime."
"He was an unfortunate young man," said Von Taunitz, sighing
gently and shaking his head. "What a lot one must suffer and
think about before one brings oneself to take one's own life, . .
. a young life! Such a misfortune may happen in any family, and
that is awful. It is hard to bear such a thing, insufferable. . .
And all the girls listened in silence with grave faces, looking
at their father. Lyzhin felt that he, too, must say something,
but he couldn't think of anything, and merely said:
"Yes, suicide is an undesirable phenomenon."
He slept in a warm room, in a soft bed covered with a quilt under
which there were fine clean sheets, but for some reason did not
feel comfortable: perhaps because the doctor and Von Taunitz
were, for a long time, talking in the adjoining room, and
overhead he heard, through the ceiling and in the stove, the
wind roaring just as in the Zemstvo hut, and as plaintively
Von Taunitz's wife had died two years before, and he was still
unable to resign himself to his loss and, whatever he was talking
about, always mentioned his wife; and there was no trace of a
prosecutor left about him now.
"Is it possible that I may some day come to such a condition?"
thought Lyzhin, as he fell asleep, still hearing through the wall
his host's subdued, as it were bereaved, voice.
The examining magistrate did not sleep soundly. He felt hot and
uncomfortable, and it seemed to him in his sleep that he was not
at Von Taunitz's, and not in a soft clean bed, but still in the
hay at the Zemstvo hut, hearing the subdued voices of the
witnesses; he fancied that Lesnitsky was close by, not fifteen
paces away. In his dreams he remembered how the insurance agent,
black-haired and pale, wearing dusty high boots, had come into
the bookkeeper's office. "This is our insurance agent.
. . ."
Then he dreamed that Lesnitsky and Loshadin the constable were
walking through the open country in the snow, side by side,
supporting each other; the snow was whirling about their heads,
the wind was blowing on their backs, but they walked on,
singing: We go on, and on, and on. . . ."
The old man was like a magician in an opera, and both of them
were singing as though they were on the stage:
"We go on, and on, and on! . . . You are in the warmth, in the
light and snugness, but we are walking in the frost and the
storm, through the deep snow. . . . We know nothing of ease, we
know nothing of joy. . . . We bear all the burden of this life,
yours and ours. . . . Oo-oo-oo! We go on, and on, and on. . . ."
Lyzhin woke and sat up in bed. What a confused, bad dream! And
why did he dream of the constable and the agent together? What
nonsense! And now while Lyzhin's heart was throbbing violently
and he was sitting on his bed, holding his head in his hands, it
seemed to him that there really was something in common between
the lives of the insurance agent and the constable. Don't they
really go side by side holding each other up? Some tie unseen,
but significant and essential, existed between them, and even
between them and Von Taunitz and between all men -- all men; in
this life, even in the remotest desert, nothing is accidental,
everything is full of one common idea, everything has one soul,
one aim, and to understand it it is not enough to think, it is
not enough to reason, one must have also, it seems, the gift of
insight into life, a gift which is evidently not bestowed on all.
And the unhappy man who had broken down, who had killed himself
-- the "neurasthenic," as the doctor called him -- and the old
peasant who spent every day of his life going from one man to
another, were only accidental, were only fragments of life for
one who thought of his own life as accidental, but were parts of
one organism -- marvelous and rational -- for one who thought of
his own life as part of that universal whole and understood it.
So thought Lyzhin, and it was a thought that had long lain hidden
in his soul, and only now it was unfolded broadly and clearly to
He lay down and began to drop asleep; and again they were going
along together, singing: "We go on, and on, and on. . . . We take
from life what is hardest and bitterest in it, and we leave you
what is easy and joyful; and sitting at supper, you can coldly
and sensibly discuss why we suffer and perish, and why we are not
as sound and as satisfied as you."
What they were singing had occurred to his mind before, but the
thought was somewhere in the background behind his other
thoughts, and flickered timidly like a faraway light in foggy
weather. And he felt that this suicide and the peasant's
sufferings lay upon his conscience, too; to resign himself to the
fact that these people, submissive to their fate, should take up
the burden of what was hardest and gloomiest in life -- how awful
it was! To accept this, and to desire for himself a life full of
light and movement among happy and contented people, and to be
continually dreaming of such, means dreaming of fresh suicides of
men crushed by toil and anxiety, or of men weak and outcast whom
people only talk of sometimes at supper with annoyance or
mockery, without going to their help. . . . And again:
"We go on, and on, and on . . ." as though someone were beating
with a hammer on his temples.
He woke early in the morning with a headache, roused by a noise;
in the next room Von Taunitz was saying loudly to the doctor:
"It's impossible for you to go now. Look what's going on outside.
Don't argue, you had better ask the coachman; he won't take you
in such weather for a million."
"But it's only two miles," said the doctor in an imploring voice.
"Well, if it were only half a mile. If you can't, then you can't.
Directly you drive out of the gates it is perfect hell, you would
be off the road in a minute. Nothing will induce me to let you
go, you can say what you like."
"It's bound to be quieter towards evening," said the peasant who
was heating the stove.
And in the next room the doctor began talking of the rigorous
climate and its influence on the character of the Russian, of the
long winters which, by preventing movement from place to place,
hinder the intellectual development of the people; and Lyzhin
listened with vexation to these observations and looked out of
window at the snow drifts which were piled on the fence. He gazed
at the white dust which covered the whole visible expanse, at the
trees which bowed their heads despairingly to right and then to
left, listened to the howling and the banging, and thought
"Well, what moral can be drawn from it? It's a blizzard and that
is all about it. . . ."
At midday they had lunch, then wandered aimlessly about the
house; they went to the windows.
"And Lesnitsky is lying there," thought Lyzhin, watching the
whirling snow, which raced furiously round and round upon the
drifts. "Lesnitsky is lying there, the witnesses are waiting. . .
They talked of the weather, saying that the snowstorm usually
lasted two days and nights, rarely longer. At six o'clock they
had dinner, then they played cards, sang, danced; at last they
had supper. The day was over, they went to bed.
In the night, towards morning, it all subsided. When they got up
and looked out of window, the bare willows with their weakly
drooping branches were standing perfectly motionless; it was dull
and still, as though nature now were ashamed of its orgy, of its
mad nights, and the license it had given to its passions. The
horses, harnessed tandem, had been waiting at the front door
since five o'clock in the morning. When it was fully daylight the
doctor and the examining magistrate put on their fur coats and
felt boots, and, saying good-by to their host, went out.
At the steps beside the coachman stood the familiar figure of the
constable, Ilya Loshadin, with an old leather bag across his
shoulder and no cap on his head, covered with snow all over, and
his face was red and wet with perspiration. The footman who had
come out to help the gentlemen and cover their legs looked at him
sternly and said:
"What are you standing here for, you old devil? Get away!"
"Your honor, the people are anxious," said Loshadin, smiling
naively all over his face, and evidently pleased at seeing
at last the people he had waited for so long. "The people are
very uneasy, the children are crying. . . . They thought, your
honor, that you had gone back to the town again. Show us the
heavenly mercy, our benefactors! . . ."
The doctor and the examining magistrate said nothing, got into
the sledge, and drove to Syrnya.
THE FIRST-CLASS PASSENGER
A FIRST-CLASS passenger who had just dined at the station and
drunk a little too much lay down on the velvet-covered seat,
stretched himself out luxuriously, and sank into a doze. After a
nap of no more than five minutes, he looked with oily eyes at
his _vis-a-vis,_ gave a smirk, and said:
"My father of blessed memory used to like to have his heels
tickled by peasant women after dinner. I am just like him, with
this difference, that after dinner I always like my tongue and my
brains gently stimulated. Sinful man as I am, I like empty
talk on a full stomach. Will you allow me to have a chat with
"I shall be delighted," answered the _vis-a-vis._
"After a good dinner the most trifling subject is sufficient to
arouse devilishly great thoughts in my brain. For instance, we
saw just now near the refreshment bar two young men, and you
heard one congratulate the other on being celebrated. 'I
congratulate you,' he said; 'you are already a celebrity and are
beginning to win fame.' Evidently actors or journalists of
microscopic dimensions. But they are not the point. The question
that is occupying my mind at the moment, sir, is exactly what is
to be understood by the word _fame_ or _charity_. What do you
think? Pushkin called fame a bright patch on a ragged garment; we
all understand it as Pushkin does -- that is, more or less
subjectively -- but no one has yet given a clear, logical
definition of the word. . . . I would give a good deal for such a
"Why do you feel such a need for it?"
"You see, if we knew what fame is, the means of attaining it
might also perhaps be known to us," said the first-class
passenger, after a moment's thought. I must tell you, sir, that
when I was younger I strove after celebrity with every fiber of
my being. To be popular was my craze, so to speak. For the sake of
it I studied, worked, sat up at night, neglected my meals. And I
fancy, as far as I can judge without partiality, I had all the
natural gifts for attaining it. To begin with, I am an engineer
by profession. In the course of my life I have built in Russia
some two dozen magnificent bridges, I have laid aqueducts for
three towns; I have worked in Russia, in England, in Belgium. . .
. Secondly, I am the author of several special treatises in my
own line. And thirdly, my dear sir, I have from a boy had a
weakness for chemistry. Studying that science in my leisure
hours, I discovered methods of obtaining certain organic acids,
so that you will find my name in all the foreign manuals of
chemistry. I have always been in the service, I have risen to the
grade of actual civil councilor, and I have an unblemished
record. I will not fatigue your attention by enumerating my works
and my merits, I will only say that I have done far more than some
celebrities. And yet here I am in my old age, I am getting ready
for my coffin, so to say, and I am as celebrated as that black dog
yonder running on the embankment."
"How can you tell? Perhaps you are celebrated."
"H'm! Well, we will test it at once. Tell me, have you ever heard
the name Krikunov?"
The _vis-a-vis_ raised his eyes to the ceiling, thought a minute,
"No, I haven't heard it, . . ." he said.
"That is my surname. You, a man of education, getting on in
years, have never heard of me -- a convincing proof! It is
evident that in my efforts to gain fame I have not done the right
thing at all: I did not know the right way to set to work, and,
trying to catch fame by the tail, got on the wrong side of her."
"What is the right way to set to work?"
"Well, the devil only knows! Talent, you say? Genius?
Originality? Not a bit of it, sir!. . . People have lived and
made a career side by side with me who were worthless, trivial,
and even contemptible compared with me. They did not do one-tenth
of the work I did, did not put themselves out, were not
distinguished for their talents, and did not make an effort to be
celebrated, but just look at them! Their names are continually in
the newspapers and on men's lips! If you are not tired of
listening I will illustrate it by an example. Some years ago I
built a bridge in the town of K. I must tell you that the
dullness of that scurvy little town was terrible. If it had not
been for women and cards I believe I should have gone out of my
mind. Well, it's an old story: I was so bored that I got into an
affair with a singer. Everyone was enthusiastic about her, the
devil only knows why; to my thinking she was -- what shall I say?
-- an ordinary, commonplace creature, like lots of others. The
hussy was empty-headed, ill-tempered, greedy, and what's more,
she was a fool.
"She ate and drank a vast amount, slept till five o clock in the
afternoon -- and I fancy did nothing else. She was looked upon as
a cocotte, and that was indeed her profession; but when people
wanted to refer to her in a literary fashion, they called her an
actress and a singer. I used to be devoted to the theatre, and
therefore this fraudulent pretense of being an actress made me
furiously indignant. My young lady had not the slightest right to
call herself an actress or a singer. She was a creature entirely
devoid of talent, devoid of feeling -- a pitiful creature one may
say. As far as I can judge she sang disgustingly. The whole charm
of her 'art' lay in her kicking up her legs on every suitable
occasion, and not being embarrassed when people walked into her
dressing-room. She usually selected translated vaudevilles, with
singing in them, and opportunities for disporting herself in male
attire, in tights. In fact it was -- ough! Well, I ask your
attention. As I remember now, a public ceremony took place to
celebrate the opening of the newly constructed bridge. There was
a religious service, there were speeches, telegrams, and so on. I
hung about my cherished creation, you know, all the while afraid
that my heart would burst with the excitement of an author. Its
an old story and there's no need for false modesty, and so I will
tell you that my bridge was a magnificent work! It was not a
bridge but a picture, a perfect delight! And who would not have
been excited when the whole town came to the opening? 'Oh,' I
thought, 'now the eyes of all the public will be on me! Where
shall I hide myself?' Well, I need not have worried myself, sir
-- alas! Except the official personages, no one took the
slightest notice of me. They stood in a crowd on the river-bank,
gazed like sheep at the bridge, and did not concern themselves to
know who had built it. And it was from that time, by the way,
that I began to hate our estimable public -- damnation take
them! Well, to continue. All at once the public became agitated;
a whisper ran through the crowd, . . . a smile came on their
faces, their shoulders began to move. 'They must have seen me,' I
thought. A likely idea! I looked, and my singer, with a train of
young scamps, was making her way through the crowd. The eyes of
the crowd were hurriedly following this procession. A whisper
began in a thousand voices: 'That's so-and-so. . . . Charming!
Bewitching!' Then it was they noticed me. . . . A couple of
young milksops, local amateurs of the scenic art, I presume,
looked at me, exchanged glances, and whispered: 'That's her
lover!' How do you like that? And an unprepossessing individual
in a top-hat, with a chin that badly needed shaving, hung round
me, shifting from one foot to the other, then turned to me with
"'Do you know who that lady is, walking on the other bank? That's
so-and-so. . . . Her voice is beneath all criticism, but she has
a most perfect mastery of it! . . .'
" 'Can you tell me,' I asked the unprepossessing individual, 'who
built this bridge?'
" 'I really don't know,' answered the individual; some engineer,
" 'And who built the cathedral in your town?' I asked again.
" 'I really can't tell you.'
"Then I asked him who was considered the best teacher in K., who
the best architect, and to all my questions the unprepossessing
individual answered that he did not know.
" 'And tell me, please,' I asked in conclusion, with whom is that
" 'With some engineer called Krikunov.'
"Well, how do you like that, sir? But to proceed. There are no
minnesingers or bards nowadays, and celebrity is created almost
exclusively by the newspapers. The day after the dedication of
the bridge, I greedily snatched up the local _Messenger,_ and
looked for myself in it. I spent a long time running my eyes over
all the four pages, and at last there it was -- hurrah! I began
reading: 'Yesterday in beautiful weather, before a vast concourse
of people, in the presence of His Excellency the Governor of the
province, so-and-so, and other dignitaries, the ceremony of the
dedication of the newly constructed bridge took place,' and so
on. . . . Towards the end: Our talented actress so-and-so, the
favorite of the K. public, was present at the dedication looking
very beautiful. I need not say that her arrival created a
sensation. The star was wearing . . .' and so on. They might have
given me one word! Half a word. Petty as it seems, I actually
cried with vexation!
"I consoled myself with the reflection that the provinces are
stupid, and one could expect nothing of them and for celebrity
one must go to the intellectual centers -- to Petersburg and to
Moscow. And as it happened, at that very time there was a work
of mine in Petersburg which I had sent in for a competition. The
date on which the result was to be declared was at hand.
"I took leave of K. and went to Petersburg. It is a long journey
from K. to Petersburg, and that I might not be bored on the
journey I took a reserved compartment and -- well -- of course, I
took my singer. We set off, and all the way we were eating,
drinking champagne, and -- tra-la--la! But behold, at last we
reach the intellectual center. I arrived on the very day the
result was declared, and had the satisfaction, my dear sir, of
celebrating my own success: my work received the first prize.
Hurrah! Next day I went out along the Nevsky and spent seventy
kopecks on various newspapers. I hastened to my hotel room, lay
down on the sofa, and, controlling a quiver of excitement, made
haste to read. I ran through one newspaper -- nothing. I ran
through a second -- nothing either; my God! At last, in the
fourth, I lighted upon the following paragraph: 'Yesterday the
well-known provincial actress so-and-so arrived by express in
Petersburg. We note with pleasure that the climate of the South
has had a beneficial effect on our fair friend; her charming
stage appearance. . .' and I don't remember the rest! Much lower
down than that paragraph I found, printed in the smallest type:
first prize in the competition was adjudged to an engineer
called so-and-so.' That was all! And to make things better, they
even misspelt my name: instead of Krikunov it was Kirkutlov. So
much for your intellectual center! But that was not all. . . . By
the time I left Petersburg, a month later, all the newspapers
were vying with one another in discussing our incomparable,
divine, highly talented actress, and my mistress was referred to,
not by her surname, but by her Christian name and her father's. .
"Some years later I was in Moscow. I was summoned there by a
letter, in the mayor's own handwriting, to undertake a work for
which Moscow, in its newspapers, had been clamoring for over a
hundred years. In the intervals of my work I delivered five
public lectures, with a philanthropic object, in one of the
museums there. One would have thought that was enough to make one
known to the whole town for three days at least, wouldn't one?
But, alas! not a single Moscow gazette said a word about me
There was something about houses on fire, about an operetta,
sleeping town councilors, dr unken shop keepers -- about
everything; but about my work, my plans, my lectures -- mum. And
a nice set they are in Moscow! I got into a tram. . . . It was
packed full; there were ladies and military men and students of
both sexes, creatures of all sorts in couples.
"'I am told the town council has sent for an engineer to plan
such and such a work!' I said to my neighbor, so loudly that all
the tram could hear. 'Do you know the name of the engineer?'
"My neighbor shook his head. The rest of the public took a
cursory glance at me, and in all their eyes I read: 'I don't
"'I am told that there is someone giving lectures in such and
such a museum?' I persisted, trying to get up a conversation. 'I
hear it is interesting.'
"No one even nodded. Evidently they had not all of them heard of
the lectures, and the ladies were not even aware of the existence
of the museum. All that would not have mattered, but imagine, my
dear sir, the people suddenly leaped to their feet and struggled
to the windows. What was it? What was the matter?
"'Look, look!' my neighbor nudged me. 'Do you see that dark man
getting into that cab? That's the famous runner, King!'
"And the whole tram began talking breathlessly of the runner who
was then absorbing the brains of Moscow.
"I could give you ever so many other examples, but I think that
is enough. Now let us assume that I am mistaken about myself,
that I am a wretchedly boastful and incompetent person; but apart
from myself I might point to many of my contemporaries, men
remarkable for their talent and industry, who have nevertheless
died unrecognized. Are Russian navigators, chemists, physicists,
mechanicians, and agriculturists popular with the public? Do our
cultivated masses know anything of Russian artists,
sculptors, and literary men? Some old literary hack,
hard-working and talented, will wear away the doorstep of the
publishers' offices for thirty-three years, cover reams of paper,
be had up for libel twenty times, and yet not step beyond his
ant-heap. Can you mention to me a single representative of our
literature who would have become celebrated if the rumor had not
been spread over the earth that he had been killed in a duel,
gone out of his mind, been sent into exile, or had cheated at
The first-class passenger was so excited that he dropped his
cigar out of his mouth and got up.
"Yes," he went on fiercely, "and side by side with these people I
can quote you hundreds of all sorts of singers, acrobats,
buffoons, whose names are known to every baby. Yes!"
The door creaked, there was a draught, and an individual of
forbidding aspect, wearing an Inverness coat, a top-hat, and blue
spectacles, walked into the carriage. The individual looked round
at the seats, frowned, and went on further.
"Do you know who that is?" there came a timid whisper from the
furthest corner of the compartment.
That is N. N., the famous Tula cardsharper who was had up in
connection with the Y. bank affair."
"There you are!" laughed the first-class passenger. He knows a
Tula cardsharper, but ask him whether he knows Semiradsky,
Tchaykovsky, or Solovyov the philosopher -- he'll shake his head.
. . . It swinish!"
Three minutes passed in silence.
"Allow me in my turn to ask you a question," said the _vis-a-vis_
timidly, clearing his throat. Do you know the name of Pushkov?"
"Pushkov? H'm! Pushkov. . . . No, I don't know it!"
"That is my name,. . ." said the _vis-a-vis,_, overcome with
embarrassment. "Then you don't know it? And yet I have been a
professor at one of the Russian universities for thirty-five
years, . . . a member of the Academy of Sciences, . . . have
published more than one work. . . ."
The first-class passenger and the _vis-a-vis_ looked at each
other and burst out laughing.
A TRAGIC ACTOR
IT was the benefit night of Fenogenov, the tragic actor. They
were acting "Prince Serebryany." The tragedian himself was
playing Vyazemsky; Limonadov, the stage manager, was playing
Morozov; Madame Beobahtov, Elena. The performance was a grand
success. The tragedian accomplished wonders indeed. When he was
carrying off Elena, he held her in one hand above his head as he
dashed across the stage. He shouted, hissed, banged with his
feet, tore his coat across his chest. When he refused to fight
Morozov, he trembled all over as nobody ever trembles in reality,
and gasped loudly. The theatre shook with applause. There were
endless calls. Fenogenov was presented with a silver
cigarette-case and a bouquet tied with long ribbons. The ladies
waved their handkerchiefs and urged their men to applaud, many
shed tears. . . . But the one who was the most enthusiastic and
most excited was Masha, daughter of Sidoretsky the police
captain. She was sitting in the first row of the stalls beside
her papa; she was ecstatic and could not take her eyes off the
stage even between the acts. Her delicate little hands and feet
were quivering, her eyes were full of tears, her cheeks turned
paler and paler. And no wonder -- she was at the theatre for the
first time in her life.
"How well they act! how splendidly!" she said to her papa the
police captain, every time the curtain fell. How good Fenogenov
And if her papa had been capable of reading faces he would have
read on his daughter's pale little countenance a rapture that was
almost anguish. She was overcome by the acting, by the play, by
the surroundings. When the regimental band began playing between
the acts, she closed her eyes, exhausted.
"Papa!" she said to the police captain during the last interval,
"go behind the scenes and ask them all to dinner to-morrow!"
The police captain went behind the scenes, praised them for all
their fine acting, and complimented Madame Beobahtov.
"Your lovely face demands a canvas, and I only wish I could wield
And with a scrape, he thereupon invited the company to dinner.
"All except the fair sex," he whispered. "I don't want the
actresses, for I have a daughter."
Next day the actors dined at the police captain's. Only three
turned up, the manager Limonadov, the tragedian Fenogenov, and
the comic man Vodolazov; the others sent excuses. The dinner was
a dull affair. Limonadov kept telling the police captain how
much he respected him, and how highly he thought of all persons
in authority; Vodolazov mimicked drunken merchants and Armenians;
and Fenogenov (on his passport his name was Knish), a tall, stout
Little Russian with black eyes and frowning brow,
declaimed "At the portals of the great," and "To be or not to
be." Limonadov, with tears in his eyes, described his interview
with the former Governor, General Kanyutchin. The police captain
listened, was bored, and smiled affably. He was well satisfied,
although Limonadov smelt strongly of burnt feathers, and
Fenogenov was wearing a hired dress coat and boots trodden down
at heel. They pleased his daughter and made her lively, and that
was enough for him. And Masha never took her eyes off the
actors. She had never before seen such clever, exceptional
In the evening the police captain and Masha were at the theatre
again. A week later the actors dined at the police captain's
again, and after that came almost every day either to dinner or
supper. Masha became more and more devoted to the theatre, and
went there every evening.
She fell in love with the tragedian. One fine morning, when the
police captain had gone to meet the bishop, Masha ran away with
Limonadov's company and married her hero on the way. After
celebrating the wedding, the actors composed a long and touching
letter and sent it to the police captain.
It was the work of their combined efforts.
"Bring out the motive, the motive!" Limonadov kept saying as he
dictated to the comic man. "Lay on the respect. . . . These
official chaps like it. Add something of a sort . . . to draw a
The answer to this letter was most discomforting. The police
captain disowned his daughter for marrying, as he said, "a
stupid, idle Little Russian with no fixed home or occupation."
And the day after this answer was received M asha was writing to
"Papa, he beats me! Forgive us!"
He had beaten her, beaten her behind the scenes, in the presence
of Limonadov, the washerwoman, and two lighting men. He
remembered how, four days before the wedding, he was sitting in
the London Tavern with the whole company, and all were talking
about Masha. The company were advising him to "chance it," and
Limonadov, with tears in his eyes urged: "It would be stupid and
irrational to let slip such an opportunity! Why, for a sum like
that one would go to Siberia, let alone getting married! When
you marry and have a theatre of your own, take me into your
company. I shan't be master then, you'll be master."
Fenogenov remembered it, and muttered with clenched fists:
"If he doesn't send money I'll smash her! I won't let myself be
made a fool of, damn my soul!"
At one provincial town the company tried to give Masha the slip,
but Masha found out, ran to the station, and got there when the
second bell had rung and the actors had all taken their seats.
"I've been shamefully treated by your father," said the
tragedian; "all is over between us!"
And though the carriage was full of people, she went down on her
knees and held out her hands, imploring him:
"I love you! Don't drive me away, Kondraty Ivanovitch," she
besought him. "I can't live without you!"
They listened to her entreaties, and after consulting together,
took her into the company as a "countess" -- the name they used
for the minor actresses who usually came on to the stage in
crowds or in dumb parts. To begin with Masha used to play
maid-servants and pages, but when Madame Beobahtov, the flower of
Limonadov's company, eloped, they made her _ingenue_. She acted
badly, lisped, and was nervous. She soon grew used to it,
however, and began to be liked by the audience. Fenogenov was
"To call her an actress!" he used to say. "She has no figure, no
deportment, nothing whatever but silliness."
In one provincial town the company acted Schiller's " Robbers."
Fenogenov played Franz, Masha, Amalie. The tragedian shouted and
quivered. Masha repeated her part like a well-learnt lesson, and
the play would have gone off as they generally did had
it not been for a trifling mishap. Everything went well up to
the point where Franz declares his love for Amalie and she seizes
his sword. The tragedian shouted, hissed, quivered, and squeezed
Masha in his iron embrace. And Masha, instead of repulsing him
and crying "Hence! " trembled in his arms like a bird and did not
move, . . .she seemed petrified.
"Have pity on me!" she whispered in his ear. "Oh, have pity on
me! I am so miserable!"
"You don't know your part! Listen to the prompter!" hissed the
tragedian, and he thrust his sword into her hand.
After the performance, Limonadov and Fenogenov were sitting in
the ticket box-office engaged in conversation.
"Your wife does not learn her part, you are right there," the
manager was saying. "She doesn't know her line. . . . Every man
has his own line, . . . but she doesn't know hers. . . ."
Fenogenov listened, sighed, and scowled and scowled.
Next morning, Masha was sitting in a little general shop writing:
"Papa, he beats me! Forgive us! Send us some money!"
A COLLEGIATE assessor called Miguev stopped at a telegraph-post
in the course of his evening walk and heaved a deep sigh. A week
before, as he was returning home from his evening walk, he had
been overtaken at that very spot by his former housemaid, Agnia,
who said to him viciously:
"Wait a bit! I'll cook you such a crab that'll teach you to ruin
innocent girls! I'll leave the baby at your door, and I'll have
the law of you, and I'll tell your wife, too. . . ."
And she demanded that he should put five thousand roubles into
the bank in her name. Miguev remembered it, heaved a sigh, and
once more reproached himself with heartfelt repentance for the
momentary infatuation which had caused him so much worry and
When he reached his bungalow, he sat down to rest on the
doorstep. It was just ten o'clock, and a bit of the moon peeped
out from behind the clouds. There was not a soul in the street
nor near the bungalows; elderly summer visitors were already
going to bed, while young ones were walking in the wood. Feeling
in both his pockets for a match to light his cigarette, Miguev
brought his elbow into contact with something soft. He looked
idly at his right elbow, and his face was instantly contorted by
a look of as much horror as though he had seen a snake beside
him. On the step at the very door lay a bundle. Something oblong
in shape was wrapped up in something -- judging by the feel of
it, a wadded quilt. One end of the bundle was a little open, and
the collegiate assessor, putting in his hand, felt something damp
and warm. He leaped on to his feet in horror, and looked about
him like a criminal trying to escape from his warders. . . .
"She has left it!" he muttered wrathfully through his teeth,
clenching his fists. "Here it lies. . . . Here lies my
transgression! O Lord!"
He was numb with terror, anger, and shame. . . What was he to do
now? What would his wife say if she found out? What would his
colleagues at the office say? His Excellency would be sure to dig
him in the ribs, guffaw, and say: "I congratulate you! . . .
He-he-he! Though your beard is gray, your heart is gay. . . . You
are a rogue, Semyon Erastovitch!" The whole colony of summer
visitors would know his secret now, and probably the respectable
mothers of families would shut their doors to him.
Such incidents always get into the papers, and the humble name
of Miguev would be published all over Russia. . . .
The middle window of the bungalow was open and he could
distinctly hear his wife, Anna Filippovna, laying the table for
supper; in the yard close to the gate Yermolay, the porter, was
plaintively strumming on the balalaika. The baby had only to wake
up and begin to cry, and the secret would be discovered. Miguev
was conscious of an overwhelming desire to make haste.
"Haste, haste! . . ." he muttered, "this minute, before anyone
sees. I'll carry it away and lay it on somebody's doorstep. . .
Miguev took the bundle in one hand and quietly, with a deliberate
step to avoid awakening suspicion, went down the street. . . .
"A wonderfully nasty position!" he reflected, trying to assume an
air of unconcern. "A collegiate assessor walking down the street
with a baby! Good heavens! if anyone sees me and understands the
position, I am done for. . . . I'd better put it on this
doorstep. . . . No, stay, the windows are open and perhaps
someone is looking. Where shall I put it? I know! I'll take it to
the merchant Myelkin's.. .. Merchants are rich people and
tenderhearted; very likely they will say thank you and adopt
And Miguev made up his mind to take the baby to Myelkin's,
although the merchant's villa was in the furthest street, close
to the river.
"If only it does not begin screaming or wriggle out of the
bundle," thought the collegiate assessor. "This is indeed a
pleasant surprise! Here I am carrying a human being under my arm
as though it were a portfolio. A human being, alive, with soul,
with feelings like anyone else. . . . If by good luck the
Myelkins adopt him, he may turn out somebody. . . . Maybe he will
become a professor, a great general, an author. . . . Anything
may happen! Now I am carrying him under my arm like a bundle of
rubbish, and perhaps in thirty or forty years I may not dare to
sit down in his presence. . . .
As Miguev was walking along a narrow, deserted alley, beside a
long row of fences, in the thick black shade of the lime trees,
it suddenly struck him that he was doing something very cruel and
"How mean it is really!" he thought. "So mean that one can't
imagine anything meaner. . . . Why are we shifting this poor baby
from door to door? It's not its fault that it's been born. It's
done us no harm. We are scoundrels. . . . We take our pleasure,
and the innocent babies have to pay the penalty. Only to think of
all this wretched business!
I've done wrong and the child has a cruel fate before it. If I
lay it at the Myelkins' door, they'll send it to the foundling
hospital, and there it will grow up among strangers, in
mechanical routine, . . . no love, no petting, no spoiling. . . .
And then he'll be apprenticed to a shoemaker, . . . he'll take to
drink, will learn to use filthy language, will go hungry. A
shoemaker! and he the son of a collegiate assessor, of good
family. . . . He is my flesh and blood, . . . "
Miguev came out of the shade of the lime trees into the bright
moonlight of the open road, and opening the bundle, he looked at
"Asleep!" he murmured. "You little rascal! why, you've an
aquiline nose like your father's. . . . He sleeps and doesn't
feel that it's his own father looking at him! . . . It's a drama,
my boy. . . Well, well, you must forgive me. Forgive me, old
boy. . . . It seems it's your fate. . . ."
The collegiate assessor blinked and felt a spasm running down his
cheeks. . . . He wrapped up the baby, put him under his arm, and
strode on. All the way to the Myelkins' villa social questions
were swarming in his brain and conscience was gnawing in his
"If I were a decent, honest man, he thought, "I should damn
everything, go with this baby to Anna Filippovna, fall on my
knees before her, and say: 'Forgive me! I have sinned! Torture
me, but we won't ruin an innocent child. We have no children; let
us adopt him!" She's a good sort, she'd consent. . . . And then
my child would be with me. . . . Ech!"
He reached the Myelkins' villa and stood still hesitating. He
imagined himself in the parlor at home, sitting reading the paper
while a little boy with an aquiline nose played with the tassels
of his dressing gown. At the same time visions forced themselves
on his brain of his winking colleagues, and of his Excellency
digging him in the ribs and guffawing. . . . Besides the pricking
of his conscience, there was something warm, sad, and tender in
his heart. . . .
Cautiously the collegiate assessor laid the baby on the verandah
step and waved his hand. Again he felt a spasm run over his face.
. . .
"Forgive me, old fellow! I am a scoundrel, he muttered. "Don't
remember evil against me."
He stepped back, but immediately cleared his throat resolutely
"Oh, come what will! Damn it all! I'll take him, and let people
say what they like!"
Miguev took the baby and strode rapidly back.
"Let them say what they like," he thought. "I'll go at once, fall
on my knees, and say: 'Anna Filippovna!' Anna is a good sort,
she'll understand. . . . And we'll bring him up. . . . If it's a
boy we'll call him Vladimir, and if it's a girl we'll call her
Anna! Anyway, it will be a comfort in our old age."
And he did as he determined. Weeping and almost faint with shame
and terror, full of hope and vague rapture, he went into his
bungalow, went up to his wife, and fell on his knees before her.
"Anna Filippovna!" he said with a sob, and he laid the baby on
the floor. "Hear me before you punish. . . . I have sinned! This
is my child. . . . You remember Agnia? Well, it was the devil
drove me to it. . . ."
And, almost unconscious with shame and terror, he jumped up
without waiting for an answer, and ran out into the open air as
though he had received a thrashing. . . .
"I'll stay here outside till she calls me," he thought. "I'll
give her time to recover, and to think it over. . . ."
The porter Yermolay passed him with his balalaika, glanced at him
and shrugged his shoulders. A minute later he passed him again,
and again he shrugged his shoulders.
"Here's a go! Did you ever!" he muttered grinning. "Aksinya, the
washer-woman, was here just now, Semyon Erastovitch. The silly
woman put her baby down on the steps here, and while she was
indoors with me, someone took and carried off the baby. . .
Who'd have thought it!"
"What? What are you saying?" shouted Miguev at the top of his
Yermolay, interpreting his master's wrath in his own fashion,
scratched his head and heaved a sigh.
"I am sorry, Semyon Erastovitch," he said, "but it's the summer
holidays, . . . one can't get on without . . . without a woman, I
mean. . . ."
And glancing at his master's eyes glaring at him with anger and
astonishment, he cleared his throat guiltily and went on:
"It's a sin, of course, but there -- what is one to do?. . .
You've forbidden us to have strangers in the house, I know, but
we've none of our own now. When Agnia was here I had no women to
see me, for I had one at home; but now, you can see for
yourself, sir, . . . one can't help having strangers. In Agnia's
time, of course, there was nothing irregular, because. . ."
"Be off, you scoundrel!" Miguev shouted at him, stamping, and he
went back into the room.
Anna Filippovna, amazed and wrathful, was sitting as before, her
tear-stained eyes fixed on the baby. . . .
"There! there!" Miguev muttered with a pale face, twisting his
lips into a smile. "It was a joke. . . . It's not my baby, . . .
it's the washer-woman's! . . . I . . . I was joking. . . . Take
it to the porter."
"HONORED Sir, Father and Benefactor!" a petty clerk called
Nevyrazimov was writing a rough copy of an Easter congratulatory
letter. "I trust that you may spend this Holy Day even as many
more to come, in good health and prosperity. And to your family
also I . . ."
The lamp, in which the kerosene was getting low, was smoking and
smelling. A stray cockroach was running about the table in alarm
near Nevyrazimov's writing hand. Two rooms away from the office
Paramon the porter was for the third time cleaning his
best boots, and with such energy that the sound of the
blacking-brush and of his expectorations was audible in all the
"What else can I write to him, the rascal?" Nevyrazimov wondered,
raising his eyes to the smutty ceiling.
On the ceiling he saw a dark circle -- the shadow of the
lamp-shade. Below it was the dusty cornice, and lower still the
wall, which had once been painted a bluish muddy color. And the
office seemed to him such a place of desolation that he felt
sorry, not only for himself, but even for the cockroach.
"When I am off duty I shall go away, but he'll be on duty here
all his cockroach-life," he thought, stretching. "I am bored!
Shall I clean my boots?"
And stretching once more, Nevyrazimov slouched lazily to the
porter's room. Paramon had finished cleaning his boots. Crossing
himself with one hand and holding the brush in the other, he was
standing at the open window-pane, listening.
"They're ringing," he whispered to Nevyrazimov, looking at him
with eyes intent and wide open. "Already!"
Nevyrazimov put his ear to the open pane and listened. The Easter
chimes floated into the room with a whiff of fresh spring air.
The booming of the bells mingled with the rumble of carriages,
and above the chaos of sounds rose the brisk tenor tones
of the nearest church and a loud shrill laugh.
"What a lot of people!" sighed Nevyrazimov, looking down into the
street, where shadows of men flitted one after another by the
illumination lamps. "They're all hurrying to the midnight
service. . . . Our fellows have had a drink by now, you may be
sure, and are strolling about the town. What a lot of laughter,
what a lot of talk! I'm the only unlucky one, to have to sit here
on such a day: And I have to do it every year!"
"Well, nobody forces you to take the job. It's not your turn to
be on duty today, but Zastupov hired you to take his place. When
other folks are enjoying themselves you hire yourself out. It's
"Devil a bit of it! Not much to be greedy over -- two roubles is
all he gives me; a necktie as an extra. . . . It's poverty, not
greediness. And it would be jolly, now, you know, to be going
with a party to the service, and then to break the fast. . . .
To drink and to have a bit of supper and tumble off to sleep. . .
. One sits down to the table, there's an Easter cake and the
samovar hissing, and some charming little thing beside you. . . .
You drink a glass and chuck her under the chin, and it's first-
rate. . . . You feel you're somebody. . . . Ech h-h! . . . I've
made a mess of things! Look at that hussy driving by in her
carriage, while I have to sit here and brood."
"We each have our lot in life, Ivan Danilitch. Please God, you'll
be promoted and drive about in your carriage one day."
"I? No, brother, not likely. I shan't get beyond a 'titular,' not
if I try till I burst. I'm not an educated man."
"Our General has no education either, but . . ."
"Well, but the General stole a hundred thousand before he got his
position. And he's got very different manners and deportment from
me, brother. With my manners and deportment one can't get far!
And such a scoundrelly surname, Nevyrazimov! It's a hopeless
position, in fact. One may go on as one is, or one may hang
oneself . . ."
He moved away from the window and walked wearily about the rooms.
The din of the bells grew louder and louder. . . . There was no
need to stand by the window to hear it. And the better he could
hear the bells and the louder the roar of the carriages, the
darker seemed the muddy walls and the smutty cornice and the more
the lamp smoked.
"Shall I hook it and leave the office?" thought Nevyrazimov.
But such a flight promised nothing worth having. . . . After
coming out of the office and wandering about the town,
Nevyrazimov would have gone home to his lodging, and in his
lodging it was even grayer and more depressing than in the
office. . . .
Even supposing he were to spend that day pleasantly and with
comfort, what had he beyond? Nothing but the same gray walls, the
same stop-gap duty and complimentary letters. . . .
Nevyrazimov stood still in the middle of the office and sank into
thought. The yearning for a new, better life gnawed at his heart
with an intolerable ache. He had a passionate longing to find
himself suddenly in the street, to mingle with the living crowd,
to take part in the solemn festivity for the sake of which all
those bells were clashing and those carriages were rumbling. He
longed for what he had known in childhood -- the family circle,
the festive faces of his own people, the white cloth, light,
warmth . . . ! He thought of the carriage in which the lady had
just driven by, the overcoat in which the head clerk was so
smart, the gold chain that adorned the secretary's chest. . . .
He thought of a warm bed, of the Stanislav order, of new boots,
of a uniform without holes in the elbows. . . . He thought of all
those things because he had none of them.
"Shall I steal?" he thought. "Even if stealing is an easy
matter, hiding is what's difficult. Men run away to America, they
say, with what they've stolen, but the devil knows where that
blessed America is. One must have education even to steal, it
The bells died down. He heard only a distant noise of carriages
and Paramon's cough, while his depression and anger grew more and
more intense and unbearable. The clock in the office struck
"Shall I write a secret report? Proshkin did, and he rose
Nevyrazimov sat down at his table and pondered. The lamp in which
the kerosene had quite run dry was smoking violently and
threatening to go out. The stray cockroach was still running
about the table and had found no resting-place.
"One can always send in a secret report, but how is one to make
it up? I should want to make all sorts of innuendoes and
insinuations, like Proshkin, and I can't do it. If I made up
anything I should be the first to get into trouble for it. I'm an
ass, damn my soul!"
And Nevyrazimov, racking his brain for a means of escape from his
hopeless position, stared at the rough copy he had written. The
letter was written to a man whom he feared and hated with his
whole soul, and from whom he had for the last ten years been
trying to wring a post worth eighteen roubles a month, instead of
the one he had at sixteen roubles.
"Ah, I'll teach you to run here, you devil!" He viciously slapped
the palm of his hand on the cockroach, who had the misfortune to
catch his eye. "Nasty thing!"
The cockroach fell on its back and wriggled its legs in despair.
Nevyrazimov took it by one leg and threw it into the lamp. The
lamp flared up and spluttered.
And Nevyrazimov felt better.
IN the village church of Verhny Zaprudy mass was just over. The
people had begun moving and were trooping out of church. The only
one who did not move was Andrey Andreyitch, a shopkeeper and old
inhabitant of Verhny Zaprudy. He stood waiting, with his elbows
on the railing of the right choir. His fat and shaven face,
covered with indentations left by pimples, expressed on this
occasion two contradictory feelings: resignation in the face of
inevitable destiny, and stupid, unbounded disdain for
the smocks and striped kerchiefs passing by him. As it was
Sunday, he was dressed like a dandy. He wore a long cloth
overcoat with yellow bone buttons, blue trousers not thrust into
his boots, and sturdy goloshes -- the huge clumsy goloshes only
seen on the feet of practical and prudent persons of firm
His torpid eyes, sunk in fat, were fixed upon the ikon stand. He
saw the long familiar figures of the saints, the verger Matvey
puffing out his cheeks and blowing out the candles, the darkened
candle stands, the threadbare carpet, the sacristan Lopuhov
running impulsively from the altar and carrying the holy bread to
the churchwarden. . . . All these things he had seen for years,
and seen over and over again like the five fingers of his hand. .
. . There was only one thing, however, that was somewhat strange
and unusual. Father Grigory, still in his vestments, was standing
at the north door, twitching his thick eyebrows angrily.
"Who is it he is winking at? God bless him!" thought the
shopkeeper. "And he is beckoning with his finger! And he stamped
his foot! What next! What's the matter, Holy Queen and Mother!
Whom does he mean it for?"
Andrey Andreyitch looked round and saw the church completely
deserted. There were some ten people standing at the door, but
they had their backs to the altar.
"Do come when you are called! Why do you stand like a graven
image?" he heard Father Grigory's angry voice. "I am calling
The shopkeeper looked at Father Grigory's red and wrathful face,
and only then realized that the twitching eyebrows and beckoning
finger might refer to him. He started, left the railing, and
hesitatingly walked towards the altar, tramping with his heavy
"Andrey Andreyitch, was it you asked for prayers for the rest of
Mariya's soul?" asked the priest, his eyes angrily transfixing
the shopkeeper's fat, perspiring face.
"Then it was you wrote this? You?" And Father Grigory angrily
thrust before his eyes the little note.
And on this little note, handed in by Andrey Andreyitch before
mass, was written in big, as it were staggering, letters:
"For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot
"Yes, certainly I wrote it, . . ." answered the shopkeeper.
"How dared you write it?" whispered the priest, and in his husky
whisper there was a note of wrath and alarm.
The shopkeeper looked at him in blank amazement; he was
perplexed, and he, too, was alarmed. Father Grigory had never in
his life spoken in such a tone to a leading resident of Verhny
Zaprudy. Both were silent for a minute, staring into each other's
face. The shopkeeper's amazement was so great that his fat face
spread in all directions like spilt dough.
"How dared you?" repeated the priest.
"Wha . . . what?" asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.
"You don't understand?" whispered Father Grigory, stepping back
in astonishment and clasping his hands. "What have you got on
your shoulders, a head or some other object? You send a note up
to the altar, and write a word in it which it would be unseemly
even to utter in the street! Why are you rolling your eyes?
Surely you know the meaning of the word?"
"Are you referring to the word harlot?" muttered the shopkeeper,
flushing crimson and blinking. "But you know, the Lord in His
mercy . . . forgave this very thing, . . . forgave a harlot. . .
. He has prepared a place for her, and indeed from the life of
the holy saint, Mariya of Egypt, one may see in what sense the
word is used -- excuse me . . ."
The shopkeeper wanted to bring forward some other argument in his
justification, but took fright and wiped his lips with his sleeve
"So that's what you make of it!" cried Father Grigory, clasping
his hands. "But you see God has forgiven her -- do you
understand? He has forgiven, but you judge her, you slander her,
call her by an unseemly name, and whom! Your own deceased
daughter! Not only in Holy Scripture, but even in worldly
literature you won't read of such a sin! I tell you again,
Andrey, you mustn't be over-subtle! No, no, you mustn't be
over-subtle, brother! If God has given you an inquiring mind, and
if you cannot direct it, better not go into things. . . . Don't
go into things, and hold your peace!"
"But you know, she, . . . excuse my mentioning it, was an
actress!" articulated Andrey Andreyitch, overwhelmed.
"An actress! But whatever she was, you ought to forget it all now
she is dead, instead of writing it on the note."
"Just so, . . ." the shopkeeper assented.
"You ought to do penance," boomed the deacon from the depths of
the altar, looking contemptuously at Andrey Andreyitch's
embarrassed face, "that would teach you to leave off being so
clever! Your daughter was a well-known actress. There were even
notices of her death in the newspapers. . . . Philosopher!"
"To be sure, . . . certainly," muttered the shopkeeper, "the word
is not a seemly one; but I did not say it to judge her, Father
Grigory, I only meant to speak spiritually, . . . that it might
be clearer to you for whom you were praying. They write
in the memorial notes the various callings, such as the infant
John, the drowned woman Pelagea, the warrior Yegor, the murdered
Pavel, and so on. . . . I meant to do the same."
"It was foolish, Andrey! God will forgive you, but beware another
time. Above all, don't be subtle, but think like other people.
Make ten bows and go your way."
"I obey," said the shopkeeper, relieved that the lecture was
over, and allowing his face to resume its expression of
importance and dignity. "Ten bows? Very good, I understand. But
now, Father, allow me to ask you a favor. . . . Seeing that I am,
anyway, her father, . . . you know yourself, whatever she was,
she was still my daughter, so I was, . . . excuse me, meaning to
ask you to sing the requiem today. And allow me to ask you,
"Well, that's good," said Father Grigory, taking off his
vestments. "That I commend. I can approve of that! Well, go your
way. We will come out immediately."
Andrey Andreyitch walked with dignity from the altar, and with a
solemn, requiem-like expression on his red face took his stand in
the middle of the church. The verger Matvey set before him a
little table with the memorial food upon it, and a little later
the requiem service began.
There was perfect stillness in the church. Nothing could be heard
but the metallic click of the censer and slow singing. . . . Near
Andrey Andreyitch stood the verger Matvey, the midwife
Makaryevna, and her one-armed son Mitka. There was no one else.
The sacristan sang badly in an unpleasant, hollow bass, but the
tune and the words were so mournful that the shopkeeper little by
little lost the expression of dignity and was plunged in sadness.
He thought of his Mashutka, . . . he remembered
she had been born when he was still a lackey in the service of
the owner of Verhny Zaprudy. In his busy life as a lackey he had
not noticed how his girl had grown up. That long period during
which she was being shaped into a graceful creature, with
a little flaxen head and dreamy eyes as big as kopeck-pieces
passed unnoticed by him. She had been brought up like all the
children of favorite lackeys, in ease and comfort in the company
of the young ladies. The gentry, to fill up their idle time,
had taught her to read, to write, to dance; he had had no hand
in her bringing up. Only from time to time casually meeting her
at the gate or on the landing of the stairs, he would remember
that she was his daughter, and would, so far as he had leisure
for it, begin teaching her the prayers and the scripture. Oh,
even then he had the reputation of an authority on the church
rules and the holy scriptures! Forbidding and stolid as her
father's face was, yet the girl listened readily. She repeated
the prayers after him yawning, but on the other hand, when he,
hesitating and trying to express himself elaborately, began
telling her stories, she was all attention. Esau's pottage, the
punishment of Sodom, and the troubles of the boy Joseph made her
turn pale and open her blue eyes wide.
Afterwards when he gave up being a lackey, and with the money he
had saved opened a shop in the village, Mashutka had gone away to
Moscow with his master's family. . . .
Three years before her death she had come to see her father. He
had scarcely recognized her. She was a graceful young woman with
the manners of a young lady, and dressed like one. She talked
cleverly, as though from a book, smoked, and slept till midday.
When Andrey Andreyitch asked her what she was doing, she had
announced, looking him boldly straight in the face: "I am an
actress." Such frankness struck the former flunkey as the acme of
cynicism. Mashutka had begun boasting of her successes and her
stage life; but seeing that her father only turned crimson and
threw up his hands, she ceased. And they spent a fortnight
together without speaking or looking at one another till the day
she went away. Before she went away she asked her father to come
for a walk on the bank of the river. Painful as it was for him to
walk in the light of day, in the sight of all honest people, with
a daughter who was an actress, he yielded to her request.
"What a lovely place you live in!" she said enthusiastically.
"What ravines and marshes! Good heavens, how lovely my native
And she had burst into tears.
"The place is simply taking up room, . . ." Andrey Andreyvitch
had thought, looking blankly at the ravines, not understanding
his daughter's enthusiasm. "There is no more profit from them
than milk from a billy-goat."
And she had cried and cried, drawing her breath greedily with her
whole chest, as though she felt she had not a long time left to
Andrey Andreyitch shook his head like a horse that has been
bitten, and to stifle painful memories began rapidly crossing
himself. . . .
"Be mindful, O Lord," he muttered, "of Thy departed servant, the
harlot Mariya, and forgive her sins, voluntary or involuntary. .
The unseemly word dropped from his lips again, but he did not
notice it: what is firmly imbedded in the consciousness cannot be
driven out by Father Grigory's exhortations or even knocked out
by a nail. Makaryevna sighed and whispered something, drawing in
a deep breath, while one-armed Mitka was brooding over something.
. . .
"Where there is no sickness, nor grief, nor sighing," droned the
sacristan, covering his right cheek with his hand.
Bluish smoke coiled up from the censer and bathed in the broad,
slanting patch of sunshine which cut across the gloomy, lifeless
emptiness of the church. And it seemed as though the soul of the
dead woman were soaring into the sunlight together with the
smoke. The coils of smoke like a child's curls eddied round and
round, floating upwards to the window and, as it were, holding
aloof from the woes and tribulations of which that poor soul was
IN THE COACH-HOUSE
IT was between nine and ten o'clock in the evening. Stepan the
coachman, Mihailo the house-porter, Alyoshka the coachman's
grandson, who had come up from the village to stay with his
grandfather, and Nikandr, an old man of seventy, who used to come
into the yard every evening to sell salt herrings, were sitting
round a lantern in the big coach-house, playing "kings." Through
the wide-open door could be seen the whole yard, the big house,
where the master's family lived, the gates, the cellars, and the
porter's l odge. It was all shrouded in the darkness of night,
and only the four windows of one of the lodges which was let were
brightly lit up. The shadows of the coaches and sledges with
their shafts tipped upwards stretched from the walls to the
doors, quivering and cutting across the shadows cast by the
lantern and the players. . . . On the other side of the thin
partition that divided the coach-house from the stable were the
horses. There was a scent of hay, and a disagreeable smell of
salt herrings coming from old Nikandr.
The porter won and was king; he assumed an attitude such as was
in his opinion befitting a king, and blew his nose loudly on a
"Now if I like I can chop off anybody's head," he said. Alyoshka,
a boy of eight with a head of flaxen hair, left long uncut, who
had only missed being king by two tricks, looked angrily and with
envy at the porter. He pouted and frowned.
"I shall give you the trick, grandfather," he said, pondering
over his cards; "I know you have got the queen of diamonds."
"Well, well, little silly, you have thought enough!"
Alyoshka timidly played the knave of diamonds. At that moment a
ring was heard from the yard.
"Oh, hang you!" muttered the porter, getting up. "Go and open the
gate, O king!"
When he came back a little later, Alyoshka was already a prince,
the fish-hawker a soldier, and the coachman a peasant.
"It's a nasty business," said the porter, sitting down to the
cards again. "I have just let the doctors out. They have not
"How could they? Just think, they would have to pick open the
brains. If there is a bullet in the head, of what use are
"He is lying unconscious," the porter went on. "He is bound to
die. Alyoshka, don't look at the cards, you little puppy, or I
will pull your ears! Yes, I let the doctors out, and the father
and mother in. . . They have only just arrived. Such crying and
wailing, Lord preserve us! They say he is the only son. . . .
It's a grief!"
All except Alyoshka, who was absorbed in the game, looked round
at the brightly lighted windows of the lodge.
"I have orders to go to the police station tomorrow," said the
porter. "There will be an inquiry . . . But what do I know about
it? I saw nothing of it. He called me this morning, gave me a
letter, and said: 'Put it in the letter-box for me.' And his
eyes were red with crying. His wife and children were not at
home. They had gone out for a walk. So when I had gone with the
letter, he put a bullet into his forehead from a revolver. When I
came back his cook was wailing for the whole yard to hear."
"It's a great sin," said the fish-hawker in a husky voice, and he
shook his head, "a great sin!"
"From too much learning," said the porter, taking a trick; "his
wits outstripped his wisdom. Sometimes he would sit writing
papers all night. . . . Play, peasant! . . . But he was a nice
gentleman. And so white skinned, black-haired and tall! . . .
He was a good lodger."
"It seems the fair sex is at the bottom of it," said the
coachman, slapping the nine of trumps on the king of diamonds.
"It seems he was fond of another man's wife and disliked his own;
it does happen."
"The king rebels," said the porter.
At that moment there was again a ring from the yard. The
rebellious king spat with vexation and went out. Shadows like
dancing couples flitted across the windows of the lodge. There
was the sound of voices and hurried footsteps in the yard.
"I suppose the doctors have come again," said the coachman. "Our
Mihailo is run off his legs. . . ."
A strange wailing voice rang out for a moment in the air.
Alyoshka looked in alarm at his grandfather, the coachman; then
at the windows, and said:
"He stroked me on the head at the gate yesterday, and said, 'What
district do you come from, boy?' Grandfather, who was that howled
His grandfather trimmed the light in the lantern and made no
"The man is lost," he said a little later, with a yawn. "He is
lost, and his children are ruined, too. It's a disgrace for his
children for the rest of their lives now."
The porter came back and sat down by the lantern.
"He is dead," he said. "They have sent to the almshouse for the
old women to lay him out."
"The kingdom of heaven and eternal peace to him!" whispered the
coachman, and he crossed himself.
Looking at him, Alyoshka crossed himself too.
"You can't pray for such as him," said the fish-hawker.
"It's a sin."
"That's true," the porter assented. "Now his soul has gone
straight to hell, to the devil. . . ."
"It's a sin," repeated the fish-hawker; "such as he have no
funeral, no requiem, but are buried like carrion with no
The old man put on his cap and got up.
"It was the same thing at our lady's," he said, pulling his cap
on further. "We were serfs in those days; the younger son of our
mistress, the General's lady, shot himself through the mouth with
a pistol, from too much learning, too. It seems that by law such
have to be buried outside the cemetery, without priests, without
a requiem service; but to save disgrace our lady, you know,
bribed the police and the doctors, and they gave her a paper to
say her son had done it when delirious, not knowing what he was
doing. You can do anything with money. So he had a funeral with
priests and every honor, the music played, and he was buried in
the church; for the deceased General had built that church with
his own money, and all his family were buried there. Only this
is what happened, friends. One month passed, and then another,
and it was all right. In the third month they informed the
General's lady that the watchmen had come from that same church.
What did they want? They were brought to her, they fell at her
feet. 'We can't go on serving, your excellency,' they said. 'Look
out for other watchmen and graciously dismiss us.' 'What for?'
'No,' they said, 'we can't possibly; your son howls under the
church all night.' "
Alyoshka shuddered, and pressed his face to the coachman's back
so as not to see the windows.
"At first the General's lady would not listen," continued the old
man. "'All this is your fancy, you simple folk have such
notions,' she said. 'A dead man cannot howl.' Some time
afterwards the watchmen came to her again, and with them the
sacristan. So the sacristan, too, had heard him howling. The
General's lady saw that it was a bad job; she locked herself in
her bedroom with the watchmen. 'Here, my friends, here are
twenty-five roubles for you, and for that go by night in secret,
so that no one should hear or see you, dig up my unhappy son, and
bury him,' she said, 'outside the cemetery.' And I suppose she
stood them a glass . . . And the watchmen did so. The stone with
the inscription on it is there to this day, but he himself, the
General's son, is outside the cemetery. . . . O Lord, forgive us
our transgressions!" sighed the fish-hawker. "There is only one
day in the year when one may pray for such people: the Saturday
before Trinity. . . . You mustn't give alms
to beggars for their sake, it is a sin, but you may feed the
birds for the rest of their souls. The General's lady used to go
out to the crossroads every three days to feed the birds. Once at
the cross-roads a black dog suddenly appeared; it ran up
to the bread, and was such a . . . we all know what that dog
was. The General's lady was like a half-crazy creature for five
days afterwards, she neither ate nor drank. . . . All at once she
fell on her knees in the garden, and prayed and prayed. .
. . Well, good-by, friends, the blessing of God and the Heavenly
Mother be with you. Let us go, Mihailo, you'll open the gate for
The fish-hawker and the porter went out. The coachman and
Alyoshka went out too, so as not to be left in the coach-house.
"The man was living and is dead!" said the coachman, looking
towards the windows where shadows were still flitting to and fro.
"Only this morning he was walking about the yard, and now he is
"The time will come and we shall die too," said the porter,
walking away with the fish -hawker, and at once they both
vanished from sight in the darkness.
The coachman, and Alyoshka after him, somewhat timidly went up to
the lighted windows. A very pale lady with large tear stained
eyes, and a fine-looking gray headed man were moving two
card-tables into the middle of the room, probably with the
intention of laying the dead man upon them, and on the green
cloth of the table numbers could still be seen written in chalk.
The cook who had run about the yard wailing in the morning was
now standing on a chair, stretching up to try and cover the
looking glass with a towel.
"Grandfather what are they doing?" asked Alyoshka in a whisper.
"They are just going to lay him on the tables," answered his
grandfather. "Let us go, child, it is bedtime."
The coachman and Alyoshka went back to the coach-house. They said
their prayers, and took off their boots. Stepan lay down in a
corner on the floor, Alyoshka in a sledge. The doors of the coach
house were shut, there was a horrible stench from the
extinguished lantern. A little later Alyoshka sat up and looked
about him; through the crack of the door he could still see a
light from those lighted windows.
"Grandfather, I am frightened!" he said.
"Come, go to sleep, go to sleep! . . ."
"I tell you I am frightened!"
"What are you frightened of? What a baby!"
They were silent.
Alyoshka suddenly jumped out of the sledge and, loudly weeping,
ran to his grandfather.
"What is it? What's the matter?" cried the coachman in a fright,
getting up also.
"Who is howling?"
"I am frightened, grandfather, do you hear?"
The coachman listened.
"It's their crying," he said. "Come! there, little silly! They
are sad, so they are crying."
"I want to go home, . . ." his grandson went on sobbing and
trembling all over. "Grandfather, let us go back to the village,
to mammy; come, grandfather dear, God will give you the heavenly
kingdom for it. . . ."
"What a silly, ah! Come, be quiet, be quiet! Be quiet, I will
light the lantern, . . . silly!"
The coachman fumbled for the matches and lighted the lantern. But
the light did not comfort Alyoshka.
"Grandfather Stepan, let's go to the village!" he besought him,
weeping. "I am frightened here; oh, oh, how frightened I am! And
why did you bring me from the village, accursed man?"
"Who's an accursed man? You mustn't use such disrespectable words
to your lawful grandfather. I shall whip you."
"Do whip me, grandfather, do; beat me like Sidor's goat, but only
take me to mammy, for God's mercy! . . ."
"Come, come, grandson, come!" the coachman said kindly. "It's all
right, don't be frightened. . . .I am frightened myself. . . .
Say your prayers!"
The door creaked and the porter's head appeared. "Aren't you
asleep, Stepan?" he asked. "I shan't get any sleep all night," he
said, coming in. "I shall be opening and shutting the gates all
night. . . . What are you crying for, Alyoshka?"
"He is frightened," the coachman answered for his grandson.
Again there was the sound of a wailing voice in the air. The
"They are crying. The mother can't believe her eyes. . . . It's
dreadful how upset she is."
"And is the father there?"
"Yes. . . . The father is all right. He sits in the corner and
says nothing. They have taken the children to relations. . . .
Well, Stepan, shall we have a game of trumps?"
"Yes," the coachman agreed, scratching himself, "and you,
Alyoshka, go to sleep. Almost big enough to be married, and
blubbering, you rascal. Come, go along, grandson, go along. . . .
The presence of the porter reassured Alyoshka. He went, not very
resolutely, towards the sledge and lay down. And while he was
falling asleep he heard a half-whisper.
"I beat and cover," said his grandfather.
"I beat and cover," repeated the porter.
The bell rang in the yard, the door creaked and seemed also
saying: "I beat and cover." When Alyoshka dreamed of the
gentleman and, frightened by his eyes, jumped up and burst out
crying, it was morning, his grandfather was snoring, and the
coach-house no longer seemed terrible.
DURING all the years I have been living in this world I have only
three times been terrified.
The first real terror, which made my hair stand on end and made
shivers run all over me, was caused by a trivial but strange
phenomenon. It happened that, having nothing to do one July
evening, I drove to the station for the newspapers. It was a
still, warm, almost sultry evening, like all those monotonous
evenings in July which, when once they have set in, go on for a
week, a fortnight, or sometimes longer, in regular unbroken
succession, and are suddenly cut short by a violent thunderstorm
and a lavish downpour of rain that refreshes everything for a
The sun had set some time before, and an unbroken gray dusk lay
all over the land. The mawkishly sweet scents of the grass and
flowers were heavy in the motionless, stagnant air.
I was driving in a rough trolley. Behind my back the gardener's
son Pashka, a boy of eight years old, whom I had taken with me to
look after the horse in case of necessity, was gently snoring,
with his head on a sack of oats. Our way lay along a narrow
by-road, straight as a ruler, which lay hid like a great snake in
the tall thick rye. There was a pale light from the afterglow of
sunset; a streak of light cut its way through a narrow,
uncouth-looking cloud, which seemed sometimes like a boat and
sometimes like a man wrapped in a quilt. . . .
I had driven a mile and a half, or two miles, when against the
pale background of the evening glow there came into sight one
after another some graceful tall poplars; a river glimmered
beyond them, and a gorgeous picture suddenly, as though by
magic, lay stretched before me. I had to stop the horse, for our
straight road broke off abruptly and ran down a steep incline
overgrown with bushes. We were standing on the hillside and
beneath us at the bottom lay a huge hole full of twilight, of
fantastic shapes, and of space. At the bottom of this hole, in a
wide plain guarded by the poplars and caressed by the gleaming
river, nestled a village. It was now sleeping. . . . Its huts,
its church with the belfry, its trees, stood out against the
gray twilight and were reflected darkly in the smooth surface of
I waked Pashka for fear he should fall out and began cautiously
"Have we got to Lukovo?" asked Pashka, lifting his head lazily.
"Yes. Hold the reins! . . ."
I led the horse down the hill and looked at the village. At the
first glance one strange circumstance caught my attention: at the
very top of the belfry, in the tiny window between the cupola and
the bells, a light was twinkling. This light was like that of a
smoldering lamp, at one moment dying down, at another flickering
up. What could it come from?
Its source was beyond my comprehension. It could not be burning
at the window, for there were neither ikons nor lamps in the top
turret of the belfry; there was nothing there, as I knew, but
beams, dust, and spiders' webs. It was hard to climb up into
that turret, for the passage to it from the belfry was closely
It was more likely than anything else to be the reflection of
some outside light, but though I strained my eyes to the utmost,
I could not see one other speck of light in the vast expanse that
lay before me. There was no moon. The pale and, by now,
quite dim streak of the afterglow could not have been reflected,
for the window looked not to the west, but to the east. These and
other similar considerations were straying through my mind all
the while that I was going down the slope with the horse. At the
bottom I sat down by the roadside and looked again at the light.
As before it was glimmering and flaring up.
"Strange," I thought, lost in conjecture. "Very strange."
And little by little I was overcome by an unpleasant feeling. At
first I thought that this was vexation at not being able to
explain a simple phenomenon; but afterwards, when I suddenly
turned away from the light in horror and caugh t hold of Pashka
with one hand, it became clear that I was overcome with terror. .
I was seized with a feeling of loneliness, misery, and horror, as
though I had been flung down against my will into this great hole
full of shadows, where I was standing all alone with the belfry
looking at me with its red eye.
"Pashka!" I cried, closing my eyes in horror.
"Pashka, what's that gleaming on the belfry?"
Pashka looked over my shoulder at the belfry and gave a yawn.
"Who can tell?"
This brief conversation with the boy reassured me for a little,
but not for long. Pashka, seeing my uneasiness, fastened his big
eyes upon the light, looked at me again, then again at the light.
. . .
"I am frightened," he whispered.
At this point, beside myself with terror, I clutched the boy with
one hand, huddled up to him, and gave the horse a violent lash.
"It's stupid!" I said to myself. "That phenomenon is only
terrible because I don't understand it; everything we don't
understand is mysterious."
I tried to persuade myself, but at the same time I did not leave
off lashing the horse. When we reached the posting station I
purposely stayed for a full hour chatting with the overseer, and
read through two or three newspapers, but the feeling of
uneasiness did not leave me. On the way back the light was not to
be seen, but on the other hand the silhouettes of the huts, of
the poplars, and of the hill up which I had to drive, seemed to
me as though animated. And why the light was there I don't know
to this day.
The second terror I experienced was excited by a circumstance no
less trivial. . . . I was returning from a romantic interview. It
was one o'clock at night, the time when nature is buried in the
soundest, sweetest sleep before the dawn. That time nature was
not sleeping, and one could not call the night a still one.
Corncrakes, quails, nightingales, and woodcocks were calling,
crickets and grasshoppers were chirruping. There was a light mist
over the grass, and clouds were scurrying straight
ahead across the sky near the moon. Nature was awake, as though
afraid of missing the best moments of her life.
I walked along a narrow path at the very edge of a railway
embankment. The moonlight glided over the lines which were
already covered with dew. Great shadows from the clouds kept
flitting over the embankment. Far ahead, a dim green light was
"So everything is well," I thought, looking at them.
I had a quiet, peaceful, comfortable feeling in my heart. I was
returning from a tryst, I had no need to hurry; I was not sleepy,
and I was conscious of youth and health in every sigh, every step
I took, rousing a dull echo in the monotonous hum of
the night. I don't know what I was feeling then, but I remember
I was happy, very happy.
I had gone not more than three-quarters of a mile when I suddenly
heard behind me a monotonous sound, a rumbling, rather like the
roar of a great stream. It grew louder and louder every second,
and sounded nearer and nearer. I looked round; a hundred paces
from me was the dark copse from which I had only just come; there
the embankment turned to the right in a graceful curve and
vanished among the trees. I stood still in perplexity and waited.
A huge black body appeared at once at the turn, noisily darted
towards me, and with the swiftness of a bird flew past me along
the rails. Less than half a minute passed and the blur had
vanished, the rumble melted away into the noise of the night.
It was an ordinary goods truck. There was nothing peculiar about
it in itself, but its appearance without an engine and in the
night puzzled me. Where could it have come from and what force
sent it flying so rapidly along the rails? Where did it come
from and where was it flying to?
If I had been superstitious I should have made up my mind it was
a party of demons and witches journeying to a devils' sabbath,
and should have gone on my way; but as it was, the phenomenon was
absolutely inexplicable to me. I did not believe my eyes, and
was entangled in conjectures like a fly in a spider's web. . . .
I suddenly realized that I was utterly alone on the whole vast
plain; that the night, which by now seemed inhospitable, was
peeping into my face and dogging my footsteps; all the sounds,
the cries of the birds, the whisperings of the trees, seemed
sinister, and existing simply to alarm my imagination. I dashed
on like a madman, and without realizing what I was doing I ran,
trying to run faster and faster. And at once I heard something to
which I had paid no attention before: that is, the plaintive
whining of the telegraph wires.
"This is beyond everything," I said, trying to shame myself.
"It's cowardice! it's silly!"
But cowardice was stronger than common sense. I only slackened my
pace when I reached the green light, where I saw a dark
signal-box, and near it on the embankment the figure of a man,
probably the signalman.
"Did you see it?" I asked breathlessly.
"See whom? What?"
"Why, a truck ran by."
"I saw it, . . ." the peasant said reluctantly. "It broke away
from the goods train. There is an incline at the ninetieth mile .
. .; the train is dragged uphill. The coupling on the last truck
gave way, so it broke off and ran back. . . . There is
no catching it now! . . ."
The strange phenomenon was explained and its fantastic character
vanished. My panic was over and I was able to go on my way.
My third fright came upon me as I was going home from stand
shooting in early spring. It was in the dusk of evening. The
forest road was covered with pools from a recent shower of rain,
and the earth squelched under one's feet. The crimson glow of
sunset flooded the whole forest, coloring the white stems of the
birches and the young leaves. I was exhausted and could hardly
Four or five miles from home, walking along the forest road, I
suddenly met a big black dog of the water spaniel breed. As he
ran by, the dog looked intently at me, straight in my face, and
"A nice dog!" I thought. "Whose is it?"
I looked round. The dog was standing ten paces off with his eyes
fixed on me. For a minute we scanned each other in silence, then
the dog, probably flattered by my attention, came slowly up to me
and wagged his tail.
I walked on, the dog following me.
"Whose dog can it be?" I kept asking myself. "Where does he come
I knew all the country gentry for twenty or thirty miles round,
and knew all their dogs. Not one of them had a spaniel like that.
How did he come to be in the depths of the forest, on a track
used for nothing but carting timber? He could hardly have
dropped behind someone passing through, for there was nowhere for
the gentry to drive to along that road.
I sat down on a stump to rest, and began scrutinizing my
companion. He, too, sat down, raised his head, and fastened upon
me an intent stare. He gazed at me without blinking. I don't know
whether it was the influence of the stillness, the shadows and
sounds of the forest, or perhaps a result of exhaustion, but I
suddenly felt uneasy under the steady gaze of his ordinary doggy
eyes. I thought of Faust and his bulldog, and of the fact that
nervous people sometimes when exhausted have hallucinations.
That was enough to make me get up hurriedly and hurriedly walk
on. The dog followed me.
"Go away!" I shouted.
The dog probably liked my voice, for he gave a gleeful jump and
ran about in front of me.
"Go away!" I shouted again.
The dog looked round, stared at me intently, and wagged his tail
good-humoredly. Evidently my threatening tone amused him. I ought
to have patted him, but I could not get Faust's dog out of my
head, and the feeling of panic grew more and more acute. . .
Darkness was coming on, which completed my confusion, and every
time the dog ran up to me and hit me with his tail, like a coward
I shut my eyes. The same thing happened as with the light in the
belfry and the truck on the railway: I could not stand it and
At home I found a visitor, an old friend, who, after greeting me,
began to complain that as he wa s driving to me he had lost his
way in the forest, and a splendid valuable dog of his had dropped
IT WAS a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and
down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had
given a party one autumn evening. There had been many clever men
there, and there had been interesting conversations. Among other
things they had talked of capital punishment. The majority of the
guests, among whom were many journalists and intellectual men,
disapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of
punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian
States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty ought to
be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life.
"I don't agree with you," said their host the banker. "I have not
tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if
one may judge _a priori_, the death penalty is more moral and
more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills
a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which
executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes
or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?"
"Both are equally immoral," observed one of the guests, "for they
both have the same object -- to take away life. The State is not
God. It has not the right to take away what it cannot restore
when it wants to."
Among the guests was a young lawyer, a young man of
five-and-twenty. When he was asked his opinion, he said:
"The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral,
but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment
for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is
better than not at all."
A lively discussion arose. The banker, who was younger and more
nervous in those days, was suddenly carried away by excitement;
he struck the table with his fist and shouted at the young man:
"It's not true! I'll bet you two millions you wouldn't stay in
solitary confinement for five years."
"If you mean that in earnest," said the young man, "I'll take the
bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years."
"Fifteen? Done!" cried the banker. "Gentlemen, I stake two
"Agreed! You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!" said
the young man.
And this wild, senseless bet was carried out! The banker, spoilt
and frivolous, with millions beyond his reckoning, was delighted
at the bet. At supper he made fun of the young man, and said:
"Think better of it, young man, while there is still time. To me
two millions are a trifle, but you are losing three or four of
the best years of your life. I say three or four, because you
won't stay longer. Don't forget either, you unhappy man, that
voluntary confinement is a great deal harder to bear than
compulsory. The thought that you have the right to step out in
liberty at any moment will poison your whole existence in prison.
I am sorry for you."
And now the banker, walking to and fro, remembered all this, and
asked himself: "What was the object of that bet? What is the good
of that man's losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing
away two millions? Can it prove that the death penalty is better
or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all
nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a
pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money. . . ."
Then he remembered what followed that evening. It was decided
that the young man should spend the years of his captivity under
the strictest supervision in one of the lodges in the banker's
garden. It was agreed that for fifteen years he should not
be free to cross the threshold of the lodge, to see human
beings, to hear the human voice, or to receive letters and
newspapers. He was allowed to have a musical instrument and
books, and was allowed to write letters, to drink wine, and to
smoke. By the terms of the agreement, the only relations he
could have with the outer world were by a little window made
purposely for that object. He might have anything he wanted --
books, music, wine, and so on -- in any quantity he desired by
writing an order, but could only receive them through the
window. The agreement provided for every detail and every trifle
that would make his imprisonment strictly solitary, and bound the
young man to stay there _exactly_ fifteen years, beginning from
twelve o'clock of November 14, 1870, and ending at twelve
o'clock of November 14, 1885. The slightest attempt on his part
to break the conditions, if only two minutes before the end,
released the banker from the obligation to pay him two millions.
For the first year of his confinement, as far as one could judge
from his brief notes, the prisoner suffered severely from
loneliness and depression. The sounds of the piano could be heard
continually day and night from his lodge. He refused wine and
tobacco. Wine, he wrote, excites the desires, and desires are the
worst foes of the prisoner; and besides, nothing could be more
dreary than drinking good wine and seeing no one. And tobacco
spoilt the air of his room. In the first year the books he sent
for were principally of a light character; novels with a
complicated love plot, sensational and fantastic stories, and so
In the second year the piano was silent in the lodge, and the
prisoner asked only for the classics. In the fifth year music was
audible again, and the prisoner asked for wine. Those who watched
him through the window said that all that year he spent doing
nothing but eating and drinking and lying on his bed, frequently
yawning and angrily talking to himself. He did not read books.
Sometimes at night he would sit down to write; he would spend
hours writing, and in the morning tear up all that he had
written. More than once he could be heard crying.
In the second half of the sixth year the prisoner began zealously
studying languages, philosophy, and history. He threw himself
eagerly into these studies -- so much so that the banker had
enough to do to get him the books he ordered. In the course
of four years some six hundred volumes were procured at his
request. It was during this period that the banker received the
following letter from his prisoner:
"My dear Jailer, I write you these lines in six languages. Show
them to people who know the languages. Let them read them. If
they find not one mistake I implore you to fire a shot in the
garden. That shot will show me that my efforts have not been
thrown away. The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak
different languages, but the same flame burns in them all. Oh, if
you only knew what unearthly happiness my soul feels now from
being able to understand them!" The prisoner's desire was
fulfilled. The banker ordered two shots to be fired in the
Then after the tenth year, the prisoner sat immovably at the
table and read nothing but the Gospel. It seemed strange to the
banker that a man who in four years had mastered six hundred
learned volumes should waste nearly a year over one thin book
easy of comprehension. Theology and histories of religion
followed the Gospels.
In the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an
immense quantity of books quite indiscriminately. At one time he
was busy with the natural sciences, then he would ask for Byron
or Shakespeare. There were notes in which he demanded at the
same time books on chemistry, and a manual of medicine, and a
novel, and some treatise on philosophy or theology. His reading
suggested a man swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his
ship, and trying to save his life by greedily clutching first at
one spar and then at another.
The old banker remembered all this, and thought:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock he will regain his freedom. By our
agreement I ought to pay him two millions. If I do pay him, it is
all over with me: I shall be utterly ruined."
Fifteen years before, his millions had been beyond his reckoning;
now he was afraid to ask himself which were greater, his debts or
his assets. Desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild
speculation and the excitability whic h he could not get over
even in advancing years, had by degrees led to the decline of his
fortune and the proud, fearless, self-confident millionaire had
become a banker of middling rank, trembling at every rise and
fall in his investments. "Cursed bet!" muttered the old man,
clutching his head in despair "Why didn't the man die? He is only
forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will marry,
will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look
at him with envy like a beggar, and hear from him every day the
same sentence: 'I am indebted to you for the happiness of my
life, let me help you!' No, it is too much! The one means of
being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that
It struck three o'clock, the banker listened; everyone was asleep
in the house and nothing could be heard outside but the rustling
of the chilled trees. Trying to make no noise, he took from a
fireproof safe the key of the door which had not been opened for
fifteen years, put on his overcoat, and went out of the house.
It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp
cutting wind was racing about the garden, howling and giving the
trees no rest. The banker strained his eyes, but could see
neither the earth nor the white statues, nor the lodge, nor the
trees. Going to the spot where the lodge stood, he twice called
the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently the watchman had
sought shelter from the weather, and was now asleep somewhere
either in the kitchen or in the greenhouse.
"If I had the pluck to carry out my intention," thought the old
man, "Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman."
He felt in the darkness for the steps and the door, and went into
the entry of the lodge. Then he groped his way into a little
passage and lighted a match. There was not a soul there. There
was a bedstead with no bedding on it, and in the corner there
was a dark cast-iron stove. The seals on the door leading to the
prisoner's rooms were intact.
When the match went out the old man, trembling with emotion,
peeped through the little window. A candle was burning dimly in
the prisoner's room. He was sitting at the table. Nothing could
be seen but his back, the hair on his head, and his hands. Open
books were lying on the table, on the two easy-chairs, and on the
carpet near the table.
Five minutes passed and the prisoner did not once stir. Fifteen
years' imprisonment had taught him to sit still. The banker
tapped at the window with his finger, and the prisoner made no
movement whatever in response. Then the banker cautiously broke
the seals off the door and put the key in the keyhole. The rusty
lock gave a grating sound and the door creaked. The banker
expected to hear at once footsteps and a cry of astonishment, but
three minutes passed and it was as quiet as ever in the room. He
made up his mind to go in.
At the table a man unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless.
He was a skeleton with the skin drawn tight over his bones, with
long curls like a woman's and a shaggy beard. His face was yellow
with an earthy tint in it, his cheeks were hollow, his back long
and narrow, and the hand on which his shaggy head was propped was
so thin and delicate that it was dreadful to look at it. His hair
was already streaked with silver, and seeing his emaciated,
aged-looking face, no one would have believed that he was only
forty. He was asleep. . . . In front of his bowed head there lay
on the table a sheet of paper on which there was something
written in fine handwriting.
"Poor creature!" thought the banker, "he is asleep and most
likely dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this
half-dead man, throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the
pillow, and the most conscientious expert would find no sign
of a violent death. But let us first read what he has written
here. . . ."
The banker took the page from the table and read as follows:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom and the right to
associate with other men, but before I leave this room and see
the sunshine, I think it necessary to say a few words to you.
With a clear conscience I tell you, as before God, who beholds
me, that I despise freedom and life and health, and all that in
your books is called the good things of the world.
"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It
is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I
have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags
and wild boars in the forests, have loved women. . . .
Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your
poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered
in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In
your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont
Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched
it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops
with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning
flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have
seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard
the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds'
pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to
converse with me of God. . . . In your books I have flung myself
into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns,
preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms. . . .
"Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought
of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass
in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you.
"And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of
this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and
deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but
death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were
no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity,
your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together
with the earthly globe.
"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have
taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would
marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and
lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit,
or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at
you who exchange heaven for earth. I don't want to understand
"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I
renounce the two millions of which I once dreamed as of paradise
and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the
money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed,
and so break the compact. . . ."
When the banker had read this he laid the page on the table,
kissed the strange man on the head, and went out of the lodge,
weeping. At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the
Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself.
When he got home he lay on his bed, but his tears and emotion
kept him for hours from sleeping.
Next morning the watchmen ran in with pale faces, and told him
they had seen the man who lived in the lodge climb out of the
window into the garden, go to the gate, and disappear. The banker
went at once with the servants to the lodge and made sure
of the flight of his prisoner. To avoid arousing unnecessary
talk, he took from the table the writing in which the millions
were renounced, and when he got home locked it up in the
THE HEAD-GARDENER'S STORY
A SALE of flowers was taking place in Count N.'s greenhouses. The
purchasers were few in number -- a landowner who was a neighbor
of mine, a young timber-merchant, and myself. While the workmen
were carrying out our magnificent purchases and packing them
into the carts, we sat at the entry of the greenhouse and chatted
about one thing and another. It is extremely pleasant to sit in a
garden on a still April morning, listening to the birds, and
watching the flowers brought out into the open air and basking
in the sunshine.
The head-gardener, Mihail Karlovitch, a venerable old man with a
full shaven face, wearing a fur waistcoat and no coat,
superintended the packing of the plants himself, but at the same
time he listened to our conversation in the hope of hearing
something new. He was an intelligent, very good-hearted man,
respected by everyone. He was for some reason looked upon by
everyone as a German, though he was in reality on his father's
side Swedish, on his mother's side Russian, and attended the
Orthodox church. He knew Russian, Swedish, and German. He had
read a good deal in those languages, and nothing one could do
gave him greater pleasure than lending him some new book or
talking to him, for instance, about Ibsen.
He had his weaknesses, but they were innocent ones: he called
himself the head gardener, though there were no under-gardeners;
the expression of his face was unusually dignified and haughty;
he could not endure to be contradicted, and liked to be listened
to with respect and attention.
"That young fellow there I can recommend to you as an awful
rascal," said my neighbor, pointing to a laborer with a swarthy,
gipsy face, who drove by with the water-barrel. "Last week he was
tried in the town for burglary and was acquitted; they
pronounced him mentally deranged, and yet look at him, he is the
picture of health. Scoundrels are very often acquitted nowadays
in Russia on grounds of abnormality and aberration, yet these
acquittals, these unmistakable proofs of an indulgent attitude
to crime, lead to no good. They demoralize the masses, the sense
of justice is blunted in all as they become accustomed to seeing
vice unpunished, and you know in our age one may boldly say in
the words of Shakespeare that in our evil and corrupt age virtue
must ask forgiveness of vice."
"That's very true," the merchant assented. "Owing to these
frequent acquittals, murder and arson have become much more
common. Ask the peasants."
Mihail Karlovitch turned towards us and said:
"As far as I am concerned, gentlemen, I am always delighted to
meet with these verdicts of not guilty. I am not afraid for
morality and justice when they say 'Not guilty,' but on the
contrary I feel pleased. Even when my conscience tells me the
jury have made a mistake in acquitting the criminal, even then I
am triumphant. Judge for yourselves, gentlemen; if the judges and
the jury have more faith in _man_ than in evidence, material
proofs, and speeches for the prosecution, is not that faith _in
man_ in itself higher than any ordinary considerations? Such
faith is only attainable by those few who understand and feel
"A fine thought," I said.
"But it's not a new one. I remember a very long time ago I heard
a legend on that subject. A very charming legend," said the
gardener, and he smiled. "I was told it by my grandmother, my
father's mother, an excellent old lady. She told me it in
Swedish, and it does not sound so fine, so classical, in
But we begged him to tell it and not to be put off by the
coarseness of the Russian language. Much gratified, he
deliberately lighted his pipe, looked angrily at the laborers,
"There settled in a certain little town a solitary, plain,
elderly gentleman called Thomson or Wilson -- but that does not
matter; the surname is not the point. He followed an honorable
profession: he was a doctor. He was always morose and unsociable,
and only spoke when required by his profession. He never visited
anyone, never extended his acquaintance beyond a silent bow, and
lived as humbly as a hermit. The fact was, he was a learned man,
and in those days learned men were not like other people. They
spent their days and nights in contemplation, in reading and in
healing disease, looked upon everything else as trivial, and had
no time to waste a word. The inhabitants of the town understood
this, and tried not to worry him with their visits and empty
chatter. They were very glad that God had sent them at last a
man who could heal diseases, and were proud that such a
remarkable man was living in their town. 'He knows everything,'
they said about him.
"But that was not enough. They ought to have also said, 'He loves
everyone.' In the breast of that learned man there beat a
wonderful angelic heart. Though the people of that town were
strangers and not his own people, yet he loved them like
children, and did not spare himself for them. He was himself ill
with consumption, he had a cough, but when he was summoned to the
sick he forgot his own illness he did not spare himself and,
gasping for breath, climbed up the hills however high they might
be. He disregarded the sultry heat and the cold, despised thirst
and hunger. He would accept no money and strange to say, when one
of his patients died, he would follow the coffin with the
"And soon he became so necessary to the town that the inhabitants
wondered how they could have got on before without the man. Their
gratitude knew no bounds. Grown-up people and children, good and
bad alike, honest men and cheats -- all in fact, respected him
and knew his value. In the little town and all the surrounding
neighborhood there was no man who would allow himself to do
anything disagreeable to him; indeed, they would never have
dreamed of it. When he came out of his lodging, he never
fastened the doors or windows, in complete confidence that there
was no thief who could bring himself to do him wrong. He often
had in the course of his medical duties to walk along the
highroads, through the forests and mountains haunted by numbers
of hungry vagrants; but he felt that he was in perfect security.
"One night he was returning from a patient when robbers fell upon
him in the forest, but when they recognized him, they took off
their hats respectfully and offered him something to eat. When he
answered that he was not hungry, they gave him a warm
wrap and accompanied him as far as the town, happy that fate had
given them the chance in some small way to show their gratitude
to the benevolent man. Well, to be sure, my grandmother told me
that even the horses and the cows and the dogs knew him
and expressed their joy when they met him.
"And this man who seemed by his sanctity to have guarded himself
from every evil, to whom even brigands and frenzied men wished
nothing but good, was one fine morning found murdered. Covered
with blood, with his skull broken, he was lying in a ravine, and
his pale face wore an expression of amazement. Yes, not horror
but amazement was the emotion that had been fixed upon his face
when he saw the murderer before him. You can imagine the grief
that overwhelmed the inhabitants of the town and the surrounding
districts. All were in despair, unable to believe their eyes,
wondering who could have killed the man. The judges who conducted
the inquiry and examined the doctor's body said: 'Here we have
all the signs of a murder, but as there is not a man in the
world capable of murdering our doctor, obviously it was not a
case of murder, and the combination of evidence is due to simple
chance. We must suppose that in the darkness he fell into the
ravine of himself and was mortally injured.'
"The whole town agreed with this opinion. The doctor was buried,
and nothing more was said about a violent death. The existence of
a man who could have the baseness and wickedness to kill the
doctor seemed incredible. There is a limit even to wickedness,
"All at once, would you believe it, chance led them to
discovering the murderer. A vagrant who had been many times
convicted, notorious for his vicious life, was seen selling for
drink a snuff-box and watch that had belonged to the doctor. When
he was questioned he was confused, and answered with an obvious
lie. A search was made, and in his bed was found a shirt with
stains of blood on the sleeves, and a doctor's lancet set in
gold. What more evidence was wanted? They put the criminal in
prison. The inhabitants were indignant, and at the same time
" 'It's incredible! It can't be so! Take care that a mistake is
not made; it does happen, you know, that evidence tells a false
"At his trial the murderer obstinately denied his guilt.
Everything was against him, and to be convinced of his guilt was
as easy as to believe that this earth is black; but the judges
seem to have gone mad: they weighed every proof ten times, looked
distrustfully at the witnesses, flushed crimson and sipped water.
. . . The trial began early in the morning and was only finished
in the evening.
"'Accused!' the chief judge said, addressing the murderer, 'the
court has found you guilty of murdering Dr. So-and-so, and has
sentenced you to. . . .'
"The chief judge meant to say 'to the death penalty,' but he
dropped from his hands the paper on which the sentence was
written, wiped the cold sweat from his face, and cried out:
"'No! May God punish me if I judge wrongly, but I swear he is
not guilty. I cannot admit the thought that there exists a man
who would dare to murder our friend the doctor! A man could not
sink so low!'
"'There cannot be such a man!' the other judges assented.
"'No,' the crowd cried. 'Let him go!'
"The murderer was set free to go where he chose, and not one soul
blamed the court for an unjust verdict. And my grandmother used
to say that for such faith in humanity God forgave the sins of
all the inhabitants of that town. He rejoices when people
believe that man is His image and semblance, and grieves if,
forgetful of human dignity, they judge worse of men than of dogs.
The sentence of acquittal may bring harm to the inhabitants of
the town, but on the other hand, think of the beneficial
influence upon them of that faith in man -- a faith which does
not remain dead, you know; it raises up generous feelings in us,
and always impels us to love and respect every man. Every man!
And that is important."
Mihail Karlovitch had finished. My neighbor would have urged some
objection, but the head-gardener made a gesture that signified
that he did not like objections; then he walked away to the
carts, and, with an expression of dignity, went on looking after
I REMEMBER, when I was a high school boy in the fifth or sixth
class, I was driving with my grandfather from the village of
Bolshoe Kryepkoe in the Don region to Rostov-on-the-Don. It was a
sultry, languidly dreary day of August. Our eyes were glued
together, and our mouths were parched from the heat and the dry
burning wind which drove clouds of dust to meet us; one did not
want to look or speak or think, and when our drowsy driver, a
Little Russian called Karpo, swung his whip at the horses and
lashed me on my cap, I did not protest or utter a sound, but
only, rousing myself from half-slumber, gazed mildly and
dejectedly into the distance to see whether there was a village
visible through the dust. We stopped to feed the horses in a big
Armenian village at a rich Armenian's whom my grandfather knew.
Never in my life have I seen a greater caricature than that
Armenian. Imagine a little shaven head with thick overhanging
eyebrows, a beak of a nose, long gray mustaches, and a wide
mouth with a long cherry-wood chibouk sticking out of it. This
little head was clumsily attached to a lean hunch-back carcass
attired in a fantastic garb, a short red jacket, and full bright
blue trousers. This figure walked straddling its legs and
shuffling with its slippers, spoke without taking the chibouk out
of its mouth, and behaved with truly Armenian dignity, not
smiling, but staring with wide-open eyes and trying to take as
little notice as possible of its guests.
There was neither wind nor dust in the Armenian's rooms, but it
was just as unpleasant, stifling, and dreary as in the steppe and
on the road. I remember, dusty and exhausted by the heat, I sat
in the corner on a green box. The unpainted wooden walls, the
furniture, and the floors colored with yellow ocher smelt of dry
wood baked by the sun. Wherever I looked there were flies and
flies and flies. . . . Grandfather and the Armenian were talking
about grazing, about manure, and about oats. .
. . I knew that they would be a good hour getting the samovar;
that grandfather would be not less than an hour drinking his tea,
and then would lie down to sleep for two or three hours; that I
should waste a quarter of the day waiting, after which there
would be again the heat, the dust, the jolting cart. I heard the
muttering of the two voices, and it began to seem to me that I
had been seeing the Armenian, the cupboard with the crockery, the
flies, the windows with the burning sun beating on them, for
ages and ages, and should only cease to see them in the far-off
future, and I was seized with hatred for the steppe, the sun, the
flies.. . .
A Little Russian peasant woman in a kerchief brought in a tray of
tea-things, then the samovar. The Armenian went slowly out into
the passage and shouted: "Mashya, come and pour out tea! Where
are you, Mashya?"
Hurried footsteps were heard, and there came into the room a girl
of sixteen in a simple cotton dress and a white kerchief. As she
washed the crockery and poured out the tea, she was standing with
her back to me, and all I could see was that she was of a
slender figure, barefooted, and that her little bare heels were
covered by long trousers.
The Armenian invited me to have tea. Sitting down to the table, I
glanced at the girl, who was handing me a glass of tea, and felt
all at once as though a wind were blowing over my soul and
blowing away all the impressions of the day with their dust and
dreariness. I saw the bewitching features of the most beautiful
face I have ever met in real life or in my dreams. Before me
stood a beauty, and I recognized that at the first glance as I
should have recognized lightning.
I am ready to swear that Masha -- or, as her father called her,
Mashya -- was a real beauty, but I don't know how to prove it. It
sometimes happens that clouds are huddled together in disorder on
the horizon, and the sun hiding behind them colors them and the
sky with tints of every possible shade--crimson, orange, gold,
lilac, muddy pink; one cloud is like a monk, another like a fish,
a third like a Turk in a turban. The glow of sunset enveloping a
third of the sky gleams on the cross on the church, flashes on
the windows of the manor house, is reflected in the river and the
puddles, quivers on the trees; far, far away against the
background of the sunset, a flock of wild ducks is flying
homewards. . . . And the boy herding the cows, and the surveyor
driving in his chaise over the dam, and the gentleman out for a
walk, all gaze at the sunset, and every one of them thinks it
terribly beautiful, but no one knows or can say in what its
I was not the only one to think the Armenian girl beautiful. My
grandfather, an old man of seventy, gruff and indifferent to
women and the beauties of nature, looked caressingly at Masha for
a full minute, and asked:
"Is that your daughter, Avert Nazaritch?"
"Yes, she is my daughter," answered the Armenian.
"A fine young lady," said my grandfather approvingly.
An artist would have called the Armenian girl's beauty classical
and severe, it was just that beauty, the contemplation of which
-- God knows why!-- inspires in one the conviction that one is
seeing correct features; that hair, eyes, nose, mouth, neck,
bosom, and every movement of the young body all go together in
one complete harmonious accord in which nature has not blundered
over the smallest line. You fancy for some reason that the
ideally beautiful woman must have such a nose as Masha's,
straight and slightly aquiline, just such great dark eyes, such
long lashes, such a languid glance; you fancy that her black
curly hair and eyebrows go with the soft white tint of her brow
and cheeks as the green reeds go with the quiet stream. Masha's
white neck and her youthful bosom were not fully developed, but
you fancy the sculptor would need a great creative genius to mold
them. You gaze, and little by little the desire comes over you to
say to Masha something extraordinarily pleasant, sincere,
beautiful, as beautiful as she herself was.
At first I felt hurt and abashed that Masha took no notice of me,
but was all the time looking down; it seemed to me as though a
peculiar atmosphere, proud and happy, separated her from me and
jealously screened her from my eyes.
"That's because I am covered with dust," I thought, "am sunburnt,
and am still a boy."
But little by little I forgot myself, and gave myself up entirely
to the consciousness of beauty. I thought no more now of the
dreary steppe, of the dust, no longer heard the buzzing of the
flies, no longer tasted the tea, and felt nothing except that a
beautiful girl was standing only the other side of the table.
I felt this beauty rather strangely. It was not desire, nor
ecstacy, nor enjoyment that Masha excited in me, but a painful
though pleasant sadness. It was a sadness vague and undefined as
a dream. For some reason I felt sorry for myself, for my
grandfather and for the Armenian, even for the girl herself, and
I had a feeling as though we all four had lost something
important and essential to life which we should never find again.
My grandfather, too, grew melancholy; he talked no more about
manure or about oats, but sat silent, looking pensively at
After tea my grandfather lay down for a nap while I went out of
the house into the porch. The house, like all the houses in the
Armenian village stood in the full sun; there was not a tree, not
an awning, no shade. The Armenian's great courtyard, overgrown
with goosefoot and wild mallows, was lively and full of gaiety in
spite of the great heat. Threshing was going on behind one of the
low hurdles which intersected the big yard here and there. Round
a post stuck into the middle of the threshing-floor ran a dozen
horses harnessed side by side, so that they formed one long
radius. A Little Russian in a long waistcoat and full trousers
was walking beside them, cracking a whip and shouting in a tone
that sounded as though he were jeering at the horses and showing
off his power over them.
"A--a--a, you damned brutes! . . . A--a--a, plague take you! Are
The horses, sorrel, white, and piebald, not understanding why
they were made to run round in one place and to crush the wheat
straw, ran unwillingly as though with effort, swinging their
tails with an offended air. The wind raised up perfect clouds
of golden chaff from under their hoofs and carried it away far
beyond the hurdle. Near the tall fresh stacks peasant women were
swarming with rakes, and carts were moving, and beyond the stacks
in another yard another dozen similar horses were running round
a post, and a similar Little Russian was cracking his whip and
jeering at the horses.
The steps on which I was sitting were hot; on the thin rails and
here and there on the window-frames sap was oozing out of the
wood from the heat; red ladybirds were huddling together in the
streaks of shadow under the steps and under the shutters.
The sun was baking me on my head, on my chest, and on my back,
but I did not notice it, and was conscious only of the thud of
bare feet on the uneven floor in the passage and in the rooms
behind me. After clearing away the tea-things, Masha ran down
the steps, fluttering the air as she passed, and like a bird flew
into a little grimy outhouse--I suppose the kitchen--from which
came the smell of roast mutton and the sound of angry talk in
Armenian. She vanished into the dark doorway, and in her place
there appeared on the threshold an old bent, red-faced Armenian
woman wearing green trousers. The old woman was angry and was
scolding someone. Soon afterwards Masha appeared in the doorway,
flushed with the heat of the kitchen and carrying a big black
loaf on her shoulder; swaying gracefully under the weight of the
bread, she ran across the yard to the threshing-floor, darted
over the hurdle, and, wrapt in a cloud of golden chaff, vanished
behind the carts. The Little Russian who was driving the horses
lowered his whip, sank into silence, and gazed for a minute in
the direction of the carts. Then when the Armenian girl darted
again by the horses and leaped over the hurdle, he followed her
with his eyes, and shouted to the horses in a tone as though he
were greatly disappointed:
"Plague take you, unclean devils!"
And all the while I was unceasingly hearing her bare feet, and
seeing how she walked across the yard with a grave, preoccupied
face. She ran now down the steps, swishing the air about me, now
into the kitchen, now to the threshing-floor, now through the
gate, and I could hardly turn my head quickly enough to watch
And the oftener she fluttered by me with her beauty, the more
acute became my sadness. I felt sorry both for her and for myself
and for the Little Russian, who mournfully watched her every time
she ran through the cloud of chaff to the carts. Whether it was
envy of her beauty, or that I was regretting that the girl was
not mine, and never would be, or that I was a stranger to her; or
whether I vaguely felt that her rare beauty was accidental,
unnecessary, and, like everything on earth, of short duration;
or whether, perhaps, my sadness was that peculiar feeling which
is excited in man by the contemplation of real beauty, God only
The three hours of waiting passed unnoticed. It seemed to me that
I had not had time to look properly at Masha when Karpo drove up
to the river, bathed the horse, and began to put it in the
shafts. The wet horse snorted with pleasure and kicked his
hoofs against the shafts. Karpo shouted to it: "Ba--ack!" My
grandfather woke up. Masha opened the creaking gates for us, we
got into the chaise and drove out of the yard. We drove in
silence as though we were angry with one another.
When, two or three hours later, Rostov and Nahitchevan appeared
in the distance, Karpo, who had been silent the whole time,
looked round quickly, and said:
"A fine wench, that at the Armenian's."
And he lashed his horses.
Another time, after I had become a student, I was traveling by
rail to the south. It was May. At one of the stations, I believe
it was between Byelgorod and Harkov, I got out of the tram to
walk about the platform.
The shades of evening were already lying on the station garden,
on the platform, and on the fields; the station screened off the
sunset, but on the topmost clouds of smoke from the engine, which
were tinged with rosy light, one could see the sun had not yet
As I walked up and down the platform I noticed that the greater
number of the passengers were standing or walking near a
second-class compartment, and that they looked as though some
celebrated person were in that compartment. Among the curious
whom I met near this compartment I saw, however, an artillery
officer who had been my fellow-traveler, an intelligent, cordial,
and sympathetic fellow--as people mostly are whom we meet on our
travels by chance and with whom we are not long acquainted.
"What are you looking at there?" I asked.
He made no answer, but only indicated with his eyes a feminine
figure. It was a young girl of seventeen or eighteen, wearing a
Russian dress, with her head bare and a little shawl flung
carelessly on one shoulder; not a passenger, but I suppose a
sister or daughter of the station-master. She was standing near
the carriage window, talking to an elderly woman who was in the
train. Before I had time to realize what I was seeing, I was
suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling I had once experienced in
the Armenian village.
The girl was remarkably beautiful, and that was unmistakable to
me and to those who were looking at her as I was.
If one is to describe her appearance feature by feature, as the
practice is, the only really lovely thing was her thick wavy fair
hair, which hung loose with a black ribbon tied round her head;
all the other features were either irregular or very ordinary.
Either from a peculiar form of coquettishness, or from
short-sightedness, her eyes were screwed up, her nose had an
undecided tilt, her mouth was small, her profile was feebly and
insipidly drawn, her shoulders were narrow and undeveloped for
her age -- and yet the girl made the impression of being really
beautiful, and looking at her, I was able to feel convinced that
the Russian face does not need strict regularity in order to be
lovely; what is more, that if instead of her turn-up nose the
girl had been given a different one, correct and plastically
irreproachable like the Armenian girl's, I fancy her face would
have lost all its charm from the change.
Standing at the window talking, the girl, shrugging at the
evening damp, continually looking round at us, at one moment put
her arms akimbo, at the next raised her hands to her head to
straighten her hair, talked, laughed, while her face at one
moment wore an expression of wonder, the next of horror, and I
don't remember a moment when her face and body were at rest. The
whole secret and magic of her beauty lay just in these tiny,
infinitely elegant movements, in her smile, in the play of her
face, in her rapid glances at us, in the combination of the
subtle grace of her movements with her youth, her freshness, the
purity of her soul that sounded in her laugh and voice, and with
the weakness we love so much in children, in birds, in fawns,
and in young trees.
It was that butterfly's beauty so in keeping with waltzing,
darting about the garden, laughter and gaiety, and incongruous
with serious thought, grief, and repose; and it seemed as though
a gust of wind blowing over the platform, or a fall of rain,
would be enough to wither the fragile body and scatter the
capricious beauty like the pollen of a flower.
"So--o! . . ." the officer muttered with a sigh when, after the
second bell, we went back to our compartment.
And what that "So--o" meant I will not undertake to decide.
Perhaps he was sad, and did not want to go away from the beauty
and the spring evening into the stuffy train; or perhaps he, like
me, was unaccountably sorry for the beauty, for himself, and for
me, and for all the passengers, who were listlessly and
reluctantly sauntering back to their compartments. As we passed
the station window, at which a pale, red-haired telegraphist with
upstanding curls and a faded, broad-cheeked face was sitting
beside his apparatus, the officer heaved a sigh and said:
"I bet that telegraphist is in love with that pretty girl. To
live out in the wilds under one roof with that ethereal creature
and not fall in love is beyond the power of man. And what a
calamity, my friend! what an ironical fate, to be stooping,
unkempt, gray, a decent fellow and not a fool, and to be in love
with that pretty, stupid little girl who would never take a scrap
of notice of you! Or worse still: imagine that telegraphist is in
love, and at the same time married, and that his wife is as
stooping, as unkempt, and as decent a person as himself."
On the platform between our carriage and the next the guard was
standing with his elbows on the railing, looking in the direction
of the beautiful girl, and his battered, wrinkled, unpleasantly
beefy face, exhausted by sleepless nights and the jolting of the
train, wore a look of tenderness and of the deepest sadness, as
though in that girl he saw happiness, his own youth, soberness,
purity, wife, children; as though he were repenting and feeling
in his whole being that that girl was not his, and that for him,
with his premature old age, his uncouthness, and his beefy face,
the ordinary happiness of a man and a passenger was as far away
as heaven. . . .
The third bell rang, the whistles sounded, and the train slowly
moved off. First the guard, the station-master, then the garden,
the beautiful girl with her exquisitely sly smile, passed before
our windows. . . .
Putting my head out and looking back, I saw how, looking after
the train, she walked along the platform by the window where the
telegraph clerk was sitting, smoothed her hair, and ran into the
garden. The station no longer screened off the sunset, the plain
lay open before us, but the sun had already set and the smoke lay
in black clouds over the green, velvety young corn. It was
melancholy in the spring air, and in the darkening sky, and in
the railway carriage.
The familiar figure of the guard came into the carriage, and he
began lighting the candles.
THE SHOEMAKER AND THE DEVIL
IT was Christmas Eve. Marya had long been snoring on the stove;
all the paraffin in the little lamp had burnt out, but Fyodor
Nilov still sat at work. He would long ago have flung aside his
work and gone out into the street, but a customer from Kolokolny
Lane, who had a fortnight before ordered some boots, had been in
the previous day, had abused him roundly, and had ordered him to
finish the boots at once before the morning service.
"It's a convict's life!" Fyodor grumbled as he worked. "Some
people have been asleep long ago, others are enjoying themselves,
while you sit here like some Cain and sew for the devil knows
whom. . . ."
To save himself from accidentally falling asleep, he kept taking
a bottle from under the table and drinking out of it, and after
every pull at it he twisted his head and said aloud:
"What is the reason, kindly tell me, that customers enjoy
themselves while I am forced to sit and work for them? Because
they have money and I am a beggar?"
He hated all his customers, especially the one who lived in
Kolokolny Lane. He was a gentleman of gloomy appearance, with
long hair, a yellow face, blue spectacles, and a husky voice. He
had a German name which one could not pronounce. It was
impossible to tell what was his calling and what he did. When, a
fortnight before, Fyodor had gone to take his measure, he, the
customer, was sitting on the floor pounding something in a
mortar. Before Fyodor had time to say good-morning the contents
of the mortar suddenly flared up and burned with a bright red
flame; there was a stink of sulphur and burnt feathers, and the
room was filled with a thick pink smoke, so that Fyodor sneezed
five times; and as he returned home afterwards, he
thought: "Anyone who feared God would not have anything to do
with things like that."
When there was nothing left in the bottle Fyodor put the boots on
the table and sank into thought. He leaned his heavy head on his
fist and began thinking of his poverty, of his hard life with no
glimmer of light in it. Then he thought of the rich,
of their big houses and their carriages, of their hundred-rouble
notes. . . . How nice it would be if the houses of these rich men
-- the devil flay them! -- were smashed, if their horses died, if
their fur coats and sable caps got shabby! How splendid it would
be if the rich, little by little, changed into beggars having
nothing, and he, a poor shoemaker, were to become rich, and were
to lord it over some other poor shoemaker on Christmas Eve.
Dreaming like this, Fyodor suddenly thought of his work, and
opened his eyes.
"Here's a go," he thought, looking at the boots. "The job has
been finished ever so long ago, and I go on sitting here. I must
take the boots to the gentleman."
He wrapped up the work in a red handkerchief, put on his things,
and went out into the street. A fine hard snow was falling,
pricking the face as though with needles. It was cold, slippery,
dark, the gas-lamps burned dimly, and for some reason there was
a smell of paraffin in the street, so that Fyodor coughed and
cleared his throat. Rich men were driving to and fro on the road,
and every rich man had a ham and a bottle of vodka in his hands.
Rich young ladies peeped at Fyodor out of the carriages and
sledges, put out their tongues and shouted, laughing:
Students, officers, and merchants walked behind Fyodor, jeering
at him and crying:
"Drunkard! Drunkard! Infidel cobbler! Soul of a boot-leg!
All this was insulting, but Fyodor held his tongue and only spat
in disgust. But when Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw, a
master-bootmaker, met him and said: "I've married a rich woman
and I have men working under me, while you are a beggar and have
nothing to eat," Fyodor could not refrain from running after him.
He pursued him till he found himself in Kolokolny Lane. His
customer lived in the fourth house from the corner on the very
top floor. To reach him one had to go through a long, dark
courtyard, and then to climb up a very high slipp ery stair-case
which tottered under one's feet. When Fyodor went in to him he
was sitting on the floor pounding something in a mortar, just as
he had been the fortnight before.
"Your honor, I have brought your boots," said Fyodor sullenly.
The customer got up and began trying on the boots in silence.
Desiring to help him, Fyodor went down on one knee and pulled off
his old, boot, but at once jumped up and staggered towards the
door in horror. The customer had not a foot, but a hoof like a
"Aha!" thought Fyodor; "here's a go!"
The first thing should have been to cross himself, then to leave
everything and run downstairs; but he immediately reflected that
he was meeting a devil for the first and probably the last time,
and not to take advantage of his services would be foolish. He
controlled himself and determined to try his luck. Clasping his
hands behind him to avoid making the sign of the cross, he
coughed respectfully and began:
"They say that there is nothing on earth more evil and impure
than the devil, but I am of the opinion, your honor, that the
devil is highly educated. He has -- excuse my saying it -- hoofs
and a tail behind, but he has more brains than many a student."
"I like you for what you say," said the devil, flattered. "Thank
you, shoemaker! What do you want?"
And without loss of time the shoemaker began complaining of his
lot. He began by saying that from his childhood up he had envied
the rich. He had always resented it that all people did not live
alike in big houses and drive with good horses. Why, he asked,
was he poor? How was he worse than Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw,
who had his own house, and whose wife wore a hat? He had the same
sort of nose, the same hands, feet, head, and back, as the rich,
and so why was he forced to work when others were enjoying
themselves? Why was he married to Marya and not to a lady
smelling of scent? He had often seen beautiful young ladies in
the houses of rich customers, but they either took no notice of
him whatever, or else sometimes laughed and whispered to each
other: "What a red nose that shoemaker has!" It was true that
Marya was a good, kind, hard-working woman, but she was not
educated; her hand was heavy and hit hard, and if one had
occasion to speak of politics or anything intellectual before
her, she would put her spoke in and talk the most awful nonsense.
"What do you want, then?" his customer interrupted him.
"I beg you, your honor Satan Ivanitch, to be graciously pleased
to make me a rich man."
"Certainly. Only for that you must give me up your soul! Before
the cocks crow, go and sign on this paper here that you give me
up your soul."
"Your honor," said Fyodor politely, "when you ordered a pair of
boots from me I did not ask for the money in advance. One has
first to carry out the order and then ask for payment."
"Oh, very well!" the customer assented.
A bright flame suddenly flared up in the mortar, a pink thick
smoke came puffing out, and there was a smell of burnt feathers
and sulphur. When the smoke had subsided, Fyodor rubbed his eyes
and saw that he was no longer Fyodor, no longer a shoemaker, but
quite a different man, wearing a waistcoat and a watch-chain, in
a new pair of trousers, and that he was sitting in an armchair at
a big table. Two foot men were handing him dishes, bowing low and
"Kindly eat, your honor, and may it do you good!"
What wealth! The footmen handed him a big piece of roast mutton
and a dish of cucumbers, and then brought in a frying-pan a roast
goose, and a little afterwards boiled pork with horse-radish
cream. And how dignified, how genteel it all was! Fyodor ate,
and before each dish drank a big glass of excellent vodka, like
some general or some count. After the pork he was handed some
boiled grain moistened with goose fat, then an omelette with
bacon fat, then fried liver, and he went on eating and was
delighted. What more? They served, too, a pie with onion and
steamed turnip with kvass.
"How is it the gentry don't burst with such meals?" he thought.
In conclusion they handed him a big pot of honey. After dinner
the devil appeared in blue spectacles and asked with a low bow:
"Are you satisfied with your dinner, Fyodor Pantelyeitch?"
But Fyodor could not answer one word, he was so stuffed after his
dinner. The feeling of repletion was unpleasant, oppressive, and
to distract his thoughts he looked at the boot on his left foot.
"For a boot like that I used not to take less than seven and a
half roubles. What shoemaker made it?" he asked.
"Kuzma Lebyodkin," answered the footman.
"Send for him, the fool!"
Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw soon made his appearance. He stopped
in a respectful attitude at the door and asked:
"What are your orders, your honor?"
"Hold your tongue!" cried Fyodor, and stamped his foot. "Don't
dare to argue; remember your place as a cobbler! Blockhead! You
don't know how to make boots! I'll beat your ugly phiz to a
jelly! Why have you come?"
"What money? Be off! Come on Saturday! Boy, give him a cuff!"
But he at once recalled what a life the customers used to lead
him, too, and he felt heavy at heart, and to distract his
attention he took a fat pocketbook out of his pocket and began
counting his money. There was a great deal of money, but Fyodor
wanted more still. The devil in the blue spectacles brought him
another notebook fatter still, but he wanted even more; and the
more he counted it, the more discontented he became.
In the evening the evil one brought him a full-bosomed lady in a
red dress, and said that this was his new wife. He spent the
whole evening kissing her and eating gingerbreads, and at night
he went to bed on a soft, downy feather-bed, turned from side to
side, and could not go to sleep. He felt uncanny.
"We have a great deal of money," he said to his wife; "we must
look out or thieves will be breaking in. You had better go and
look with a candle."
He did not sleep all night, and kept getting up to see if his box
was all right. In the morning he had to go to church to matins.
In church the same honor is done to rich and poor alike. When
Fyodor was poor he used to pray in church like this: "God,
forgive me, a sinner!" He said the same thing now though he had
become rich. What difference was there? And after death Fyodor
rich would not be buried in gold, not in diamonds, but in the
same black earth as the poorest beggar. Fyodor would burn in the
same fire as cobblers. Fyodor resented all this, and, too, he
felt weighed down all over by his dinner, and instead of prayer
he had all sorts of thoughts in his head about his box of money,
about thieves, about his bartered, ruined soul.
He came out of church in a bad temper. To drive away his
unpleasant thoughts as he had often done before, he struck up a
song at the top of his voice. But as soon as he began a policeman
ran up and said, with his fingers to the peak of his cap:
"Your honor, gentlefolk must not sing in the street! You are not
Fyodor leaned his back against a fence and fell to thinking: what
could he do to amuse himself?
"Your honor," a porter shouted to him, "don't lean against the
fence, you will spoil your fur coat!"
Fyodor went into a shop and bought himself the very best
concertina, then went out into the street playing it. Everybody
pointed at him and laughed.
"And a gentleman, too," the cabmen jeered at him; "like some
cobbler. . . ."
"Is it the proper thing for gentlefolk to be disorderly in the
street?" a policeman said to him. "You had better go into a
"Your honor, give us a trifle, for Christ's sake," the beggars
wailed, surrounding Fyodor on all sides.
In earlier days when he was a shoemaker the beggars took no
notice of him, now they wouldn't let him pass.
And at home his new wife, the lady, was waiting for him, dressed
in a green blouse and a red skirt. He meant to be attentive to
her, and had just lifted his arm to give her a good clout on the
back, but she said angrily:
"Peasant! Ignorant lout! You don't know how to behave with
ladies! If you love me you will kiss my hand; I don't allow you
to beat me."
"This is a blasted existence!" thought Fyodor. "People do lead a
life! You mustn't sing, you mustn't play the concertina, you
mustn't have a lark with a lady. . . . Pfoo!"
He had no sooner sat down to tea with the lady when the evil
spirit in the blue spectacles appeared and said:
"Come, Fyodor Pantelyeitch, I have performed my part of the
bargain. Now sign your paper and come along with me!"
And he dragged Fyodor to hell, straight to the furnace, and
devils flew up from all directions and shouted:
"Fool! Blockhead! Ass!"
There was a fearful smell of paraffin in hell, enough to
suffocate one. And suddenly it all vanished. Fyodor opened his
eyes and saw his table, the boots, and the tin lamp. The
lamp-glass was black, and from the faint light on the wick came
clouds of stinking smoke as from a chimney. Near the table stood
the customer in the blue spectacles, shouting angrily:
"Fool! Blockhead! Ass! I'll give you a lesson, you scoundrel! You
took the order a fortnight ago and the boots aren't ready yet! Do
you suppose I want to come trapesing round here half a dozen
times a day for my boots? You wretch! you brute!"
Fyodor shook his head and set to work on the boots. The customer
went on swearing and threatening him for a long time. At last
when he subsided, Fyodor asked sullenly:
"And what is your occupation, sir?"
"I make Bengal lights and fireworks. I am a pyrotechnician."
They began ringing for matins. Fyodor gave the customer the
boots, took the money for them, and went to church.
Carriages and sledges with bearskin rugs were dashing to and fro
in the street; merchants, ladies, officers were walking along the
pavement together with the humbler folk. . . . But Fyodor did not
envy them nor repine at his lot. It seemed to him now that rich
and poor were equally badly off. Some were able to drive in a
carriage, and others to sing songs at the top of their voice and
to play the concertina, but one and the same thing, the same
grave, was awaiting all alike, and there was nothing in life for
which one would give the devil even a tiny scrap of one's soul.