On Official Duty by Anton Chekov
Translated by Constance Garrett
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.