A Lear of the Steppes and Other Stories
by Ivan Turgenev
Translated by Constance Black Garnett
Introduction by Edward Garnett
Table of Contents
Introduction, by Edward Garnett, 1898
A Lear of the Steppes
AN examination of A Lear of the Steppes is of especial interest to authors,
as the story is so exquisite in its structure, so overwhelming in its effects,
that it exposes the artificiality of the great majority of the clever works
of art in fiction. A Lear of the Steppes is great in art because it is a living
organic whole, springing from the deep roots of life itself; and the innumerable
works of art that are fabricated and pasted together from an ingenious plan--works
that do not grow from the inevitability of things--appear at once insignificant
or false in comparison.
In examining the art, the artist will note that Turgenev's method of introducing
his story is a lesson in sincerity. Harlov, the Lear of the story, is brought
forward with such force on the threshold that all eyes resting on his figure
cannot but follow his after movements. And absolute conviction gained, all
the artist's artful after-devices and subtle presentations and side-lights
on the story are not apparent under the straightforward ease and the seeming
carelessness with which the narrator describes his boyish memories. Then,
Harlov's household, his two daughters, and a crowd of minor characters, are
brought before us as persons in the tragedy, and we see that all these people
are living each from the innate laws of his being, apparently independently
of the author's scheme. This conviction, that the author has no pre-arranged
plan, convinces us that in the story we are living a piece of life: here we
are verily plunging into life itself.
And the story goes on flowing easily and naturally till the people of the
neighbourhood, the peasants, the woods and fields around, are known by us
as intimately as is any neighbourhood in life. Suddenly a break--the tragedy
is upon us. Suddenly the terrific forces that underlie human life, even the
meanest of human lives, burst on us astonished and breathless, precisely as
a tragedy comes up to the surface and bursts on us in real life: everybody
runs about dazed, annoyed, futile; we watch the other people sustaining their
own individuality inadequately in the face of the monstrous new events which
go their fatal way logically, events which leave the people huddled and useless
and gasping. And destruction having burst out of life, life slowly returns
to its old grooves--with a difference to us, the difference in the relation
of people one to another that a death or a tragedy always leaves to the survivors.
Marvellous in its truth is Turgenev's analysis of the situation after Harlov's
death, marvellous is the simple description of the neighbourhood's attitude
to the Harlov family, and marvellous is the lifting of the scene on the after-life
of Harlov's daughters. In the pages (pages 140, 141, 146, 147) on these women,
Turgenev flashes into the reader's mind an extraordinary sense of the inevitability
of these women's natures, of their innate growth fashioning their after-lives
as logically as a beech puts out beech-leaves and an oak oak-leaves. Through
Turgenev's single glimpse at their fortunes one knows the whole intervening
fifteen years; he has carried us into a new world: yet it is the old world;
one needs to know no more. It is life arbitrary but inevitable, life so clarified
by art that it is absolutely interpreted; but life with all the sense of mystery
that nature breathes around it in its ceaseless growth.
This sense of inevitability and of the mystery of life which Turgenev gives
us in A Lear of the Steppes is the highest demand we can make from art. Acia,
the last story in the present volume, though it gives us a sense of mystery,
is not inevitable: the end is faked to suit the artist's purpose, and thus,
as in other ways, it is far inferior to Lear. Faust, the second story, has
consummate charm in its strange atmosphere of the supernatural mingling with
things earthly, but it is not, as is Lear, life seen from the surface to the
revealed depths; it is a revelation of the strange forces in life, presented
beautifully; but it is rather an idea, a problem to be worked out by certain
characters, than a piece of life inevitable and growing. When an artist creates
in us the sense of inevitability, then his work is at its highest, and is
obeying nature's law of growth, unfolding from out itself as inevitably as
a tree or a flower or a human being unfolds from out itself. Turgenev at his
highest never quits nature, yet he always uses the surface, and what is apparent,
to disclose her most secret principles, her deepest potentialities, her inmost
laws of being, and whatever he presents he presents clearly and simply. This
combination of powers marks only the few supreme artists. Even great masters
often fail in perfect naturalness: Tolstoi's The Death of Ivan Ilytch, for
example, one of the most powerful stories ever written, has too little that
is typical of the whole of life, too much that is strained towards the general
purpose of the story, to be really natural. Turgenev's special feat in fiction
is that his characters reveal themselves by the most ordinary details of their
every-day life; and while these details are always giving us the whole life
of the people, and their inner life as well, the novel's significance is being
built up simply out of these details, built up by the same process, in fact,
as nature creates for us a single strong impression out of a multitude of
little details. The Impressionists, it is true, often give us amazingly clever
pictures of life, seen subtly and drawn naturally; but, in general, their
able pictures of the way men think and act do not reveal more than the actual
thinking and acting that men betray to one another,--they do not betray the
whole significance of their lives more than does the daily life itself. And
so the Impressionists give pictures of life's surface, and not interpretations
of its eternal depths: they pass away as portraits of the time, amazingly
felicitous artistic portraits. But Turgenev's power as a poet comes in, whenever
he draws a commonplace figure, to make it bring with it a sense of the mystery
of its existence. In Lear the steward Kvitsinsky plays a subsidiary part;
he has apparently no significance in the story, and very little is told about
him. But who does not perceive that Turgenev looks at and presents the figure
of this man in a manner totally different from the way any clever novelist
of the second rank would look at and use him? Kvitsinsky, in Turgenev's hands,
is an individual with all the individual's mystery in his glance, his coming
and going, his way of taking things; but he is a part of the household's breath,
of its very existence; he breathes the atmosphere naturally and creates an
atmosphere of his own. If Hugo had created him he would have been out of focus
immediately; Balzac would have described the household minutely, and then
let Kvitsinsky appear as a separate entity in it; the Impressionists would
sketch him as a living picture, a part of the household, but he would remain
as first created, he would always repeat the first impression he makes on
us, a certain man in a certain aspect; and they would not give us the steward
revealing his character imperceptibly from day to day in his minute actions,
naturally, and little by little, as this man reveals his.
It is then in his marvellous sense of the growth of life that Turgenev is
superior to most of his rivals. Not only did he observe life minutely and
comprehensively, but he reproduces it as a constantly growing phenomenon,
growing naturally, not accidentally or arbitrarily. For example, in A House
of Gentlefolk, take Lavretsky's and Liza's changes of mood when they are falling
in love one with another: it is nature herself in them changing very delicately
and insensibly; we feel that the whole picture is alive, not an effect cut
out from life, and cut off from it at the same time, like a bunch of cut flowers,
an effect which many clever novelists often give us. And in Lear we feel that
the life in Harlov's village is still going on, growing yonder, still growing
with all its mysterious sameness and changes, when, in Turgenev's last words,
"The story-teller ceased, and we talked a little longer, and then parted,
each to his home."
Turgenev's sympathy with women and his unequalled power of drawing them, not
merely as they appear to men, but as they appear to each other, has been dwelt
on by many writers. And in truth, of the three leading qualities into which
his artistic powers may be arbitrarily analysed, the most apparent is precisely
that delicate feminine intuition and sensitive emotional consciousness into
all the nuances of personal relations that women possess in life and are never
able to put into books. This fluid sympathetic perception is instinctive in
Turgenev: it is his temperament to be sympathetic or receptive to all types,
except, perhaps, to purely masculine men of action, whom he never draws with
success. His temperament is bathed in a delicate emotional atmosphere quivering
with light, which discloses all the infinite riches of the created world,
the relation of each character to its particular universe, and the significance
of its human fate. And this state of soul or flow of mood in Turgenev is creative,
as when music floats from a distance to the listener, immediately the darkening
fields, the rough coarse earth of cheap human life, with all the grind and
petty monotony of existence, melt into harmony, and life is seen as a mysterious
whole, not merely as a puzzling discrepancy of gaps and contradictions and
days of little import. This fluid emotional consciousness of Turgenev is feminine,
inasmuch as it is a receptive, sympathising, and harmonising attitude; but
just where the woman's faculty of receptiveness ends, where her perception
fails to go beyond the facts she is alive to, Turgenev's consciousness flashes
out into the great poet's creative world, with its immense breadth of vision,
force, and imagination. Thus in laying down A Lear of the Steppes the reader
is conscious that he is seeing past the human life of the tragedy on to the
limitless seas of existence beyond,--he is looking beyond the heads of the
moving human figures out on to the infinite horizon. Just where the woman's
interest would stop and rest satisfied with the near personal elements in
the drama, Turgenev's constructive poetic force sees the universal, and in
turn interprets these figures in relation to the far wider field of the race,
the age, and makes them symbolical of the deep forces of all human existence.
And thus Turgenev becomes a creator, originating a world greater than he received.
His creation of Bazarov in Fathers and Children from a three hours' accidental
meeting with a man while on a journey, is an extraordinary instance of how
unerringly his vision created in forethought a world that was to come. He
accepted the man, he was penetrated with the new and strange conceptions of
life offered, and as a poet he saw in a flash the immense significance to
society of this man's appearance in the age. He saw a new and formidable type
had arisen in the nation, negating its traditions, its beliefs, its conceptions;
and from this solitary meeting with an individual, Turgenev laid bare and
predicted the progress of the most formidable social and political movement
in modern Russia, predicted it and set it forth in art, a decade before its
In truth, Turgenev's art at its highest may well be the despair of artists
who have sufficient insight to understand wherein he excels. He is rich in
all the gifts, so he penetrates into everything; but it is the perfect harmony
existing between his gifts that makes him see everything in proportion. Thus
he never caricatures; he is never too forcible, and never too clever. He is
a great realist, and his realism carries along with it the natural breath
of poetry. His art is highly complex, but its expression is so pellucid, so
simple, that we can see only its body, never the mechanism of its body. His
thought and his emotion are blended in one; he interprets life, but always
preserves the atmosphere, the glamour, the mystery of the living thing in
his interpretation. His creative world arises spontaneously from his own depths--the
mark of the world's great masters. Never thinking of himself, he inspires
his readers with a secret delight for the beauty that he found everywhere
in life. And he never shuts his eyes against the true.
A Lear Of The Steppes
WE were a party of six, gathered together one winter evening at the house
of an old college friend. The conversation turned on Shakespeare, on his types,
and how profoundly and truly they were taken from the very heart of humanity.
We admired particularly their truth to life, their actuality. Each of us spoke
of the Hamlets, the Othellos, the Falstaffs, even the Richard the Thirds and
Macbeths--the two last only potentially, it is true, resembling their prototypes--whom
he had happened to come across.
"And I, gentlemen," cried our host, a man well past middle age,
"used to know a King Lear!"
"How was that?" we questioned him.
"Oh, would you like me to tell you about him?"
And our friend promptly began his narrative.
"ALL my childhood," he began, "and early youth, up to the age
of fifteen, I spent in the country, on the estate of my mother, a wealthy
landowner in X---- province. Almost the most vivid impression, that has remained
in my memory of that far-off time, is the figure of our nearest neighbour,
Martin Petrovitch Harlov. Indeed it would be difficult for such an impression
to be obliterated: I never in my life afterwards met anything in the least
like Harlov. Picture to yourselves a man of gigantic stature. On his huge
carcase was set, a little askew, and without the least trace of a neck, a
prodigious head. A perfect haystack of tangled yellowish-grey hair stood up
all over it, growing almost down to the bushy eyebrows. On the broad expanse
of his purple face, that looked as though it had been peeled, there protruded
a sturdy knobby nose; diminutive little blue eyes stared out haughtily, and
a mouth gaped open that was diminutive too, but crooked, chapped, and of the
same colour as the rest of the face. The voice that proceeded from this mouth,
though hoarse, was exceedingly strong and resonant. . . . Its sound recalled
the clank of iron bars, carried in a cart over a badly paved road; and when
Harlov spoke, it was as though some one were shouting in a high wind across
a wide ravine. It was difficult to tell just what Harlov's face expressed,
it was such an expanse. . . . One felt one could hardly take it all in at
one glance. But it was not disagreeable--a certain grandeur indeed could be
discerned in it, only it was exceedingly astounding and unusual. And what
hands he had--positive cushions! What fingers, what feet! I remember I could
never gaze without a certain respectful awe at the four-foot span of Martin
Petrovitch's back, at his shoulders, like millstones. But what especially
struck me was his ears! They were just like great twists of bread, full of
bends and curves; his cheeks seemed to support them on both sides. Martin
Petrovitch used to wear--winter and summer alike--a Cossack dress of green
cloth, girt about with a small Tcherkess strap, and tarred boots. I never
saw a cravat on him; and indeed what could he have tied a cravat round? He
breathed slowly and heavily, like a bull, but walked without a sound. One
might have imagined that having got into a room, he was in constant fear of
upsetting and overturning everything, and so moved cautiously from place to
place, sideways for the most part, as though slinking by. He was possessed
of a strength truly Herculean, and in consequence enjoyed great renown in
the neighbourhood. Our common people retain to this day their reverence for
Titanic heroes. Legends were invented about him. They used to recount that
he had one day met a bear in the forest and had almost vanquished him; that
having once caught a thief in his beehouse, he had flung him, horse and cart
and all, over the hedge, and so on. Harlov himself never boasted of his strength.
'If my right hand is blessed,' he used to say, 'so it is God's will it should
be!' He was proud, only he did not take pride in his strength, but in his
rank, his descent, his common sense.
"Our family's descended from the Swede Harlus," he used to maintain.
"In the princely reign of Ivan Vassilievitch the Dark (fancy how long
ago!) he came to Russia, and that Swede Harlus did not wish to be a Finnish
count--but he wished to be a Russian nobleman, and he was inscribed in the
golden book. It's from him we Harlovs are sprung! . . . And by the same token,
all of us Harlovs are born flaxen-haired, with light eyes and clean faces,
because we're children of the snow!"
"But, Martin Petrovitch," I once tried to object, "there never
was an Ivan Vassilievitch the Dark. Then was an Ivan Vassilievitch the Terrible.
The Dark was the name given to the great prince Vassily Vassilievitch."
"What nonsense will you talk next!" Harlov answered serenely; "since
I say so, so it was!"
One day my mother took it into her head to commend him to his face for his
really remarkable incorruptibility.
"Ah, Natalia Nikolaevna!" he protested almost angrily; "what
a thing to praise me for, really! We gentlefolk can't be otherwise; so that
no churl, no low-born, servile creature dare even imagine evil of us! I am
a Harlov, my family has come down from'--here he pointed up somewhere very
high aloft in the ceiling--'and me not be honest! How is it possible?"
Another time a high official, who had come into the neighbourhood and was
staying with my mother, fancied he could make fun of Martin Petrovitch. The
latter had again referred to the Swede Harlus, who came to Russia . . .
"In the days of King Solomon?" the official interrupted.
"No, not of King Solomon, but of the great Prince Ivan Vassilievitch
"But I imagine," the official pursued, "that your family is
much more ancient, and goes back to antediluvian days, when there were still
mastodons and megatheriums about."
These scientific names were absolutely meaningless to Martin Petrovitch; but
he realised that the dignitary was laughing at him.
"May be so," he boomed, "our family is, no doubt, very ancient;
in those days when my ancestor was in Moscow, they do say there was as great
a fool as your excellency living there, and such fools are not seen twice
in a thousand years."
The high official was in a furious rage, while Harlov threw his head back,
stuck out his chin, snorted and disappeared. Two days later, he came in again.
My mother began reproaching him. "It's a lesson for him, ma'am,"
interposed Harlov, "not to fly off without knowing what he's about, to
find out whom he has to deal with first. He's young yet, he must be taught."
The dignitary was almost of the same age as Harlov; but this Titan was in
the habit of regarding every one as not fully grown up. He had the greatest
confidence in himself and was afraid of absolutely no one. "Can they
do anything to me? Where on earth is the man that can?" he would ask,
and suddenly he would go off into a short but deafening guffaw.
MY mother was exceedingly particular in her choice of acquaintances, but she
made Harlov welcome with special cordiality and allowed him many privileges.
Twenty-five years before, he had saved her life by holding up her carriage
on the edge of a deep precipice, down which the horses had already fallen.
The traces and straps of the harness broke, but Martin Petrovitch did not
let go his hold of the wheel he had grasped, though the blood spurted out
under his nails. My mother had arranged his marriage. She chose for his wife
an orphan girl of seventeen, who had been brought up in her house; he was
over forty at the time. Martin Petrovitch's wife was a frail creature--they
said he carried her into his house in the palms of his hands--and she did
not live long with him. She bore him two daughters, however. After her death,
my mother continued her good offices to Martin Petrovitch. She placed his
elder daughter in the district school, and afterwards found her a husband,
and already had another in her eye for the second. Harlov was a fairly good
manager. He had a little estate of nearly eight hundred acres, and had built
on to his place a little, and the way the peasants obeyed him is indescribable.
Owing to his stoutness, Harlov scarcely ever went anywhere on foot: the earth
did not bear him. He used to go everywhere in a low racing droshky, himself
driving a rawboned mare, thirty years old, with a scar on her shoulder, from
a wound which she had received in the battle of Borodino, under the quartermaster
of a cavalry regiment. This mare was always somehow lame in all four legs;
she could not go at a walking pace, but could only change from a trot to a
canter. She used to eat mugwort and wormwood along the hedges, which I have
never noticed any other horse do. I remember I always used to wonder how such
a broken-down nag could draw such a fearful weight. I won't venture to repeat
how many hundredweight were attributed to our neighbour. In the droshky behind
Martin Petrovitch's back perched his swarthy page, Maximka. With his face
and whole person squeezed close up to his master, and his bare feet propped
on the hind axle bar of the droshky, he looked like a little leaf or worm
which had clung by chance to the gigantic carcase before him. This same page
boy used once a week to shave Martin Petrovitch. He used, so they said, to
stand on a table to perform this operation. Some jocose persons averred that
he had to run round his master's chin. Harlov did not like staying long at
home, and so one might often see him driving about in his invariable equipage,
with the reins in one hand (the other he held smartly on his knee with the
elbow crooked upwards), with a diminutive old cap on the very top of his head.
He looked boldly about him with his little bear-like eyes, shouted in a voice
of thunder to all the peasants, artisans, and tradespeople he met. Priests
he greatly disliked, and he would send vigorous abjurations after them when
he met them. One day on overtaking me (I was out for a stroll with my gun),
he hallooed at a hare that lay near the road in such a way that I could not
get the roar and ring of it out of my ears all day.
MY mother, as I have already stated, made Martin Petrovitch very welcome.
She knew what a profound respect he entertained for her person. "She
is a real gentlewoman, one of our sort," was the way he used to refer
to her. He used to style her his benefactress, while she saw in him a devoted
giant, who would not have hesitated to face a whole mob of peasants in defence
of her; and although no one foresaw the barest possibility of such a contingency,
still, to my mother's notions, in the absence of a husband--she had early
been left a widow--such a champion as Martin Petrovitch was not to be despised.
And besides, he was a man of upright character, who curried favour with no
one, never borrowed money or drank spirits; and no fool either, though he
had received no sort of education. My mother trusted Martin Petrovitch: when
she took it into her head to make her will, she asked him to witness it, and
he drove home expressly to fetch his round iron-rimmed spectacles, without
which he could not write. And with spectacles on nose, he succeeded, in a
quarter of an hour, with many gasps and groans and great effort, in inscribing
his Christian name, father's name, and surname and his rank and designation,
tracing enormous quadrangular letters, with tails and flourishes. Having completed
this task, he declared he was tired out, and that writing for him was as hard
work as catching fleas. Yes, my mother had a respect for him. . . he was not,
however, admitted beyond the dining-room in our house. He carried a very strong
odour about with him; there was a smell of the earth, of decaying forest,
of marsh mud about him. "He's a forest-demon!" my old nurse would
declare. At dinner a special table used to be laid apart in a corner for Martin
Petrovitch, and he was not offended at that, he knew other people were ill
at ease sitting beside him, and he too had greater freedom in eating. And
he did eat too, as no one, I imagine, has eaten since the days of Polyphemus.
At the very beginning of dinner, by way of a precautionary measure, they always
served him a pot of some four pounds of porridge, "else you'd eat me
out of house and home," my mother used to say. "That I should, ma'am,"
Martin Petrovitch would respond, grinning.
My mother liked to hear his reflections on any topic connected with the land.
But she could not support the sound of his voice for long together. "What's
the meaning of it, my good sir!" she would exclaim; "you might take
something to cure yourself of it, really! You simply deafen me. Such a trumpet-blast!"
"Natalia Nikolaevna! benefactress!" Martin Petrovitch would rejoin,
as a rule, "I'm not responsible for my throat. And what medicine could
have any effect on me--kindly tell me that? I'd better hold my tongue for
In reality, I imagine, no medicine could have affected Martin Petrovitch.
He was never ill.
He was not good at telling stories, and did not care for it. "Much talking
gives me asthma," he used to remark reproachfully. It was only when one
got him on to the year 1812--he had served in the militia, and had received
a bronze medal, which he used to wear on festive occasions attached to a Vladimir
ribbon--when one questioned him about the French, that he would relate some
few anecdotes. He used, however, to maintain stoutly all the while that there
never had been any Frenchmen, real ones, in Russia, only some poor marauders,
who had straggled over from hunger, and that he had given many a good drubbing
to such rabble in the forests.
AND yet even this self-confident, unflinching giant had his moments of melancholy
and depression. Without any visible cause he would suddenly begin to be sad;
he would lock himself up alone in his room, and hum--positively hum--like
a whole hive of bees; or he would call his page Maximka, and tell him to read
aloud to him out of the solitary book which had somehow found its way into
his house, an odd volume of Novikovsky's The Worker at Leisure, or else to
sing to him. And Maximka, who by some strange freak of chance, could spell
out print, syllable by syllable, would set to work with the usual chopping
up of the words and transference of the accent, bawling out phrases of the
following description: "but man in his wilfulness draws from this empty
hypothesis, which he applies to the animal kingdom, utterly opposite conclusions.
Every animal separately," he says, "is not capable of making me
happy!" and so on. Or he would chant in a shrill little voice a mournful
song, of which nothing could be distinguished but: "Ee . . . eee . .
. ee. . . a. . . ee. . . a. . . ee. . . Aaa. . . ska! O. . . oo. . . oo. .
. bee. . . ee. . . ee. . . ee. . . la!" While Martin Petrovitch would
shake his head, make allusions to the mutability of life, how all things turn
to ashes, fade away like grass, pass--and will return no more! A picture had
somehow come into his hands, representing a burning candle, which the winds,
with puffed-out cheeks, were blowing upon from all sides; below was the inscription:
"Such is the life of man." He was very fond of this picture; he
had hung it up in his own room, but at ordinary, not melancholy, times he
used to keep it turned face to the wall, so that it might not depress him.
Harlov, that colossus, was afraid of death! To the consolations of religion,
to prayer, however, he rarely had recourse in his fits of melancholy. Even
then he chiefly relied on his own intelligence. He had no particular religious
feeling; he was not often seen in church; he used to say, it is true, that
he did not go on the ground that, owing to his corporeal dimensions, he was
afraid of squeezing other people out. The fit of depression commonly ended
in Martin Petrovitch's beginning to whistle, and suddenly, in a voice of thunder,
ordering out his droshky, and dashing off about the neighbourhood, vigorously
brandishing his disengaged hand over the peak of his cap, as though he would
say, "For all that, I don't care a straw!" He was a regular Russian.
STRONG men, like Martin Petrovitch, are for the most part of a phlegmatic
disposition; but he, on the contrary, was rather easily irritated. He was
specially short-tempered with a certain Bitchkov, who had found a refuge in
our house, where he occupied a position between that of a buffoon and a dependant.
He was the brother of Harlov's deceased wife, had been nicknamed Souvenir
as a little boy, and Souvenir he had remained for every one, even the servants,
who addressed him, it is true, as Souvenir Timofeitch. His real name he seemed
hardly to know himself. He was a pitiful creature, looked down upon by every
one; a toady, in fact. He had no teeth on one side of his mouth, which gave
his little wrinkled face a crooked appearance. He was in a perpetual fuss
and fidget; he used to poke himself into the maids' room, or into the counting-house,
or into the priest's quarters, or else into the bailiff's hut. He was repelled
from everywhere, but he only shrugged himself up, and screwed up his little
eyes, and laughed a pitiful mawkish laugh, like the sound of rinsing a bottle.
It always seemed to me that had Souvenir had money, he would have turned into
the basest person, unprincipled, spiteful, even cruel. Poverty kept him within
bounds. He was only allowed drink on holidays. He was decently dressed, by
my mother's orders, since in the evenings he took a hand in her game of picquet
or boston. Souvenir was constantly repeating, "Certainly, d'rectly, d'rectly."
"D'rectly what?" my mother would ask, with annoyance. He instantly
drew back his hands, in a scare, and lisped, "At your service, ma'am!"
Listening at doors, backbiting, and, above all, quizzing, teasing, were his
sole interest, and he used to quiz as though he had a right to, as though
he were avenging himself for something. He used to call Martin Petrovitch
brother, and tormented him beyond endurance. "What made you kill my sister,
Margarita Timofeevna?" he used to persist, wriggling about before him
and sniggering. One day Martin Petrovitch was sitting in the billiard-room,
a cool apartment, in which no one had ever seen a single fly, and which our
neighbour, disliking heat and sunshine, greatly favoured on this account.
He was sitting between the wall and the billiard-table. Souvenir was fidgeting
before his bulky person, mocking him, grimacing. . . . Martin Petrovitch wanted
to get rid of him, and thrust both hands out in front of him. Luckily for
Souvenir he managed to get away, his brother-in law's open hands came into
collision with the edge of the billiard-table, and the billiard-board went
flying off all its six screws. . . . What a mass of batter Souvenir would
have been turned into under those mighty hands!
I HAD long been curious to see how Martin Petrovitch arranged his household,
what sort of a home he had. One day I invited myself to accompany him on horseback
as far as Eskovo (that was the name of his estate). "Upon my word, you
want to have a look at my dominion," was Martin Petrovitch's comment.
"By all means! I'll show you the garden, and the house, and the threshing-floor,
and everything. I have plenty of everything." We set off. It was reckoned
hardly more than a couple of miles from our place to Eskovo. "Here it
is--my dominion!" Martin Petrovitch roared suddenly, trying to turn his
immovable neck, and waving his arm to right and left. "It's all mine!"
Harlov's homestead lay on the top of a sloping hill. At the bottom, a few
wretched-looking peasants' huts clustered close to a small pond. At the pond,
on a washing platform, an old peasant woman in a check petticoat was beating
some soaked linen with a bat.
"Axinia!" boomed Martin Petrovitch, but in such a note that the
rooks flew up in a flock from an oat-field near. . . . "Washing your
The peasant woman turned at once and bowed very low.
"Yes, sir," sounded her weak voice.
"Ay, ay! Yonder, look," Martin Petrovitch continued, proceeding
at a trot alongside a half-rotting wattle fence, "that is my hemp-patch;
and that yonder's the peasants'; see the difference? And this here is my garden;
the apple-trees I planted, and the willows I planted too. Else there was no
timber of any sort here. Look at that, and learn a lesson!"
We turned into the courtyard, shut in by a fence; right opposite the gate,
rose an old tumbledown lodge, with a thatch roof, and steps up to it, raised
on posts. On one side stood another, rather newer, and with a tiny attic;
but it too was a ramshackly affair. "Here you may learn a lesson again,"
observed Harlov; "see what a little manor-house our fathers lived in;
but now see what a mansion I have built myself." This "mansion"
was like a house of cards. Five or six dogs, one more ragged and hideous than
another, welcomed us with barking. "Sheep-dogs!" observed Martin
Petrovitch. "Pure-bred Crimeans! Sh, damned brutes! I'll come and strangle
you one after another!" On the steps of the new building, there came
out a young man, in a long full nankeen overall, the husband of Martin Petrovitch's
elder daughter. Skipping quickly up to the droshky, he respectfully supported
his father-in-law under the elbow as he got up, and even made as though he
would hold the gigantic feet, which the latter, bending his bulky person forward,
lifted with a sweeping movement across the seat; then he assisted me to dismount
from my horse.
"Anna!" cried Harlov, "Natalia Nikolaevna's son has come to
pay us a visit; you must find some good cheer for him. But where's Evlampia?"
(Anna was the name of the elder daughter, Evlampia of the younger.)
"She's not at home; she's gone into the fields to get cornflowers,"
responded Anna, appearing at a little window near the door.
"Is there any junket?" queried Harlov.
"And cream too?"
"Well, set them on the table, and I'll show the young gentleman my own
room meanwhile. This way, please, this way," he added, addressing me,
and beckoning with his forefinger. In his own house he treated me less familiarly;
as a host he felt obliged to be more formally respectful. He led me along
a corridor. "Here is where I abide," he observed, stepping sideways
over the threshold of a wide doorway, "this is my room. Pray walk in!"
His room turned out to be a big unplastered apartment, almost empty; on the
walls, on nails driven in askew, hung two riding-whips, a three-cornered hat,
reddish with wear, a single-barrelled gun, a sabre, a sort of curious horse-collar
inlaid with metal plates, and the picture representing a burning candle blown
on by the winds. In one corner stood a wooden settle covered with a parti-coloured
rug. Hundreds of flies swarmed thickly about the ceiling; yet the room was
cool. But there was a very strong smell of that peculiar odour of the forest
which always accompanied Martin Petrovitch.
"Well, is it a nice room?" Harlov questioned me.
"Look-ye, there hangs my Dutch horse-collar," Harlov went on, dropping
into his familiar tone again. "A splendid horse-collar! got it by barter
off a Jew. Just you look at it!"
"It's a good horse-collar."
"It's most practical. And just sniff it . . . what leather!" I smelt
the horse-collar. It smelt of rancid oil and nothing else.
"Now, be seated,--there on the stool; make yourself at home," observed
Harlov, while he himself sank on to the settle, and seemed to fall into a
doze, shutting his eyes and even beginning to snore. I gazed at him without
speaking, with ever fresh wonder; he was a perfect mountain--there was no
other word! Suddenly he started.
"Anna!" he shouted, while his huge stomach rose and fell like a
wave on the sea; "what are you about? Look sharp! Didn't you hear me?"
"Everything's ready, father; come in," I heard his daughter's voice.
I inwardly marvelled at the rapidity with which Martin Petrovitch's behests
had been carried out; and followed him into the drawing-room, where, on a
table covered with a red cloth with white flowers on it, lunch was already
prepared: junket, cream, wheaten bread, even powdered sugar and ginger. While
I set to work on the junket, Martin Petrovitch growled affectionately, "Eat,
my friend, eat, my dear boy; don't despise our country cheer," and sitting
down again in a corner, again seemed to fall into a doze. Before me, perfectly
motionless, with downcast eyes, stood Anna Martinovna, while I saw through
the window her husband walking my cob up and down the yard, and rubbing the
chain of the snaffle with his own hands.
MY mother did not like Harlov's elder daughter; she called her a stuck-up
thing. Anna Martinovna scarcely ever came to pay us her respects, and behaved
with chilly decorum in my mother's presence, though it was by her good offices
she had been well educated at a boarding-school, and had been married, and
on her wedding-day had received a thousand roubles and a yellow Turkish shawl,
the latter, it is true, a trifle the worse for wear. She was a woman of medium
height, thin, very brisk and rapid in her movements, with thick fair hair
and a handsome dark face, on which the pale-blue narrow eyes showed up in
a rather strange but pleasing way. She had a straight thin nose, her lips
were thin too, and her chin was like the loop-end of a hair-pin. No one looking
at her could fail to think: "Well, you are a clever creature--and a spiteful
one, too!" And for all that, there was something attractive about her
too. Even the dark moles, scattered "like buck-wheat" over her face,
suited her and increased the feeling she inspired. Her hands thrust into her
kerchief, she was slily watching me, looking downwards (I was seated, while
she was standing). A wicked little smile strayed about her lips and her cheeks
and in the shadow of her long eyelashes. "Ugh, you pampered little fine
gentleman!" this smile seemed to express. Every time she drew a breath,
her nostrils slightly distended--this, too, was rather strange. But all the
same, it seemed to me that were Anna Martinovna to love me, or even to care
to kiss me with her thin cruel lips, I should simply bound up to the ceiling
with delight. I knew she was very severe and exacting, that the peasant women
and girls went in terror of her--but what of that? Anna Martinovna secretly
excited my imagination . . . though after all, I was only fifteen then,--and
at that age! . . .
Martin Petrovitch roused himself again. "Anna!" he shouted, "you
ought to strum something on the pianoforte . . . young gentlemen are fond
I looked round; there was a pitiful semblance of a piano in the room.
"Yes, father," responded Anna Martinovna. "Only what am I to
play the young gentleman? He won't find it interesting."
"Why, what did they teach you at your young ladies' seminary?"
"I've forgotten everything--besides, the notes are broken."
Anna Martinovna' s voice was very pleasant, resonant and rather plaintive--like
the note of some birds of prey.
"Very well," said Martin Petrovitch, and he lapsed into dreaminess
again. "Well," he began once more, "wouldn't you like, then,
to see the threshing-floor, and have a look round? Volodka will escort you.--Hi,
Volodka!" he shouted to his son-in-law, who was still pacing up and down
the yard with my horse, "take the young gentleman to the threshing-floor.
. . and show him my farming generally. But I must have a nap! So! good-bye!"
He went out and I after him. Anna Martinovna at once set to work rapidly,
and, as it were, angrily, clearing the table. In the doorway, I turned and
bowed to her. But she seemed not to notice my bow, and only smiled again,
more maliciously than before.
I took my horse from Harlov's son-in-law and led him by the bridle. We went
together to the threshing-floor, but as we discovered nothing very remarkable
about it, and as he could not suppose any great interest in farming in a young
lad like me, we returned through the garden to the main road.
I WAS well acquainted with Harlov's son-in-law. His name was Vladimir Vassilievitch
Sletkin. He was an orphan, brought up by my mother, and the son of a petty
official, to whom she had intrusted some business. He had first been placed
in the district school, then he had entered the "seignorial counting-house,"
then he had been put into the service of the government stores, and, finally,
married to the daughter of Martin Petrovitch. My mother used to call him a
little Jew, and certainly, with his curly hair, his black eyes always moist,
like damson jam, his hook nose, and wide red mouth, he did suggest the Jewish
type. But the colour of his skin was white and he was altogether very good-looking.
He was of a most obliging temper, so long as his personal advantage was not
involved. Then he promptly lost all self-control from greediness, and was
moved even to tears. He was ready to whine the whole day long to gain the
paltriest trifle; he would remind one a hundred times over of a promise, and
be hurt and complain if it were not carried out at once. He liked sauntering
about the fields with a gun; and when he happened to get a hare or a wild
duck, he would thrust his booty into his game-bag with peculiar zest, saying,
"Now, you may be as tricky as you like, you won't escape me! Now you're
"You've a good horse," he began in his lisping voice, as he assisted
me to get into the saddle; "I ought to have a horse like that! But where
can I get one? I've no such luck. If you'd ask your mamma, now--remind her."
"Why, has she promised you one?"
"Promised? No; but I thought that in her great kindness----"
"You should apply to Martin Petrovitch."
"To Martin Petrovitch?" Sletkin repeated, dwelling on each syllable.
"To him I'm no better than a worthless page, like Maximka, He keeps a
tight hand on us, that he does, and you get nothing from him for all your
"Yes, by God. He'll say, 'My word's sacred!'--and there, it's as though
he's chopped it off with an axe. You may beg or not, it's all one. Besides,
Anna Martinovna, my wife, is not in such favour with him as Evlampia Martinovna.
O merciful God, bless us and save us!" he suddenly interrupted himself,
flinging up his hands in despair. "Look! what's that? A whole half-rood
of oats, our oats, some wretch has gone and cut. The villain! Just see! Thieves!
thieves! It's a true saying, to be sure, don't trust Eskovo, Beskovo, Erino,
and Byelino! (these were the names of four villages near). Ah, ah, what a
thing! A rouble and a half's worth, or, maybe, two roubles, loss!"
In Sletkin's voice, one could almost hear sobs. I gave my horse a poke in
the ribs and rode away from him.
Sletkin's ejaculations still reached my hearing, when suddenly at a turn in
the road, I came upon the second daughter of Harlov, Evlampia, who had, in
the words of Anna Martinovna, gone into the fields to get cornflowers. A thick
wreath of those flowers was twined about her head. We exchanged bows in silence.
Evlampia, too, was very good-looking; as much so as her sister, though in
a different style. She was tall and stoutly built; everything about her was
on a large scale: her head, and her feet and hands, and her snow-white teeth,
and especially her eyes, prominent, languishing eyes, of the dark blue of
glass beads. Everything about her, while still beautiful, had positively a
monumental character (she was a true daughter of Martin Petrovitch). She did
not, it seemed, know what to do with her massive fair mane, and she had twisted
it in three plaits round her head. Her mouth was charming, crimson and fresh
as a rose, and as she talked her upper lip was lifted in the middle in a very
fascinating way. But there was something wild and almost fierce in the glance
of her huge eyes. "A free bird, wild Cossack breed," so Martin Petrovitch
used to speak of her. I was in awe of her. . . This stately beauty reminded
one of her father.
I rode on a little farther and heard her singing in a strong, even, rather
harsh voice, a regular peasant voice; suddenly she ceased. I looked round
and from the crest of the hill saw her standing beside Harlov's son-in-law
facing the rood of oats. The latter was gesticulating and pointing, but she
stood without stirring. The sun lighted up her tall figure, and the wreath
of cornflowers shone brilliantly blue on her head.
I BELIEVE I have already mentioned that, for this second daughter of Harlov's
too, my mother had already prepared a match. This was one of the poorest of
our neighbours, a retired army major, Gavrila Fedulitch Zhitkov, a man no
longer young, and, as he himself expressed it, not without a certain complacency,
however, as though recommending himself, "battered and broken down."
He could barely read and write, and was exceedingly stupid, but secretly aspired
to become my mother's steward, as he felt himself to be a "man of action."
"I can warm the peasant's hides for them, if I can do anything,"
he used to say, almost gnashing his own teeth, "because I was used to
it," he used to explain, "in my former duties, I mean." Had
Zhitkov been less of a fool, he would have realised that he had not the slightest
chance of being steward to my mother, seeing that, for that, it would have
been necessary to get rid of the present steward, one Kvitsinsky, a very capable
Pole of great character, in whom my mother had the fullest confidence. Zhitkov
had a long face, like a horse's; it was all overgrown with hair of a dusty
whitish colour; his cheeks were covered with it right up to the eyes; and
even in the severest frosts, it was sprinkled with an abundant sweat, like
drops of dew. At the sight of my mother, he drew himself upright as a post,
his head positively quivered with zeal, his huge hands slapped a little against
his thighs, and his whole person seemed to express: "Command! . . . and
I will strive my utmost!" My mother was under no illusion on the score
of his abilities, which did not, however, hinder her from taking steps to
marry him to Evlampia.
"Only, will you be able to manage her, my good sir?" she asked him
Zhitkov smiled complacently.
"Upon my word, Natalia Nikolaevna! I used to keep a whole regiment in
order; they were tame enough in my hands; and what's this? A trumpery business!"
"A regiment's one thing, sir, but a well-bred girl, a wife, is a very
different matter," my mother observed with displeasure.
"Upon my word, ma'am! Natalia Nikolaevna!" Zhitkov cried again,
"that we're quite able to understand. In one word: a young lady, a delicate
"Well!" my mother decided at length, "Evlampia won't let herself
be trampled upon."
ONE day--it was the month of June, and evening was coming on--a servant announced
the arrival of Martin Petrovitch. My mother was surprised: we had not seen
him for over a week, but he had never visited us so late before. "Something
has happened!" she exclaimed in an undertone. The face of Martin Petrovitch,
when he rolled into the room and at once sank into a chair near the door,
wore such an unusual expression, it was so preoccupied and positively pale,
that my mother involuntarily repeated her exclamation aloud. Martin Petrovitch
fixed his little eyes upon her, was silent for a space, sighed heavily, was
silent again, and articulated at last that he had come about something. .
. which. . . was of a kind, that on account of. . .
Muttering these disconnected words, he suddenly got up and went out.
My mother rang, ordered the footman, who appeared, to overtake Martin Petrovitch
at once and bring him back without fail, but the latter had already had time
to get into his droshky and drive away.
Next morning my mother, who was astonished and even alarmed, as much by Martin
Petrovitch's strange behaviour as by the extraordinary expression of his face,
was on the point of sending a special messenger to him, when he made his appearance.
This time he seemed more composed.
"Tell me, my good friend, tell me," cried my mother, directly she
saw him, "what ever has happened to you? I thought yesterday, upon my
word I did Mercy on us! I thought, 'Hasn't our old friend gone right off his
"I've not gone off my head, madam," answered Martin Petrovitch;
"I'm not that sort of man. But I want to consult with you."
"I'm only in doubt, whether it will be agreeable to you in this same
"Speak away, speak away, my good sir, but more simply. Don't alarm me!
What's this same contingency? Speak more plainly. Or is it your melancholy
come upon you again?"
Harlov scowled. "No, it's not melancholy--that comes upon me in the new
moon; but allow me to ask you, madam, what do you think about death?"
My mother was taken aback. "About what?"
"About death. Can death spare any one whatever in this world?"
"What have you got in your head, my good friend? Who of us is immortal?
For all you're born a giant, even to you there'll be an end in time."
"There will! oh, there will!" Harlov assented and he looked downcast.
"I've had a vision come to me in my dreams," he brought out at last.
"What are you saying?" my mother interrupted him.
"A vision in my dreams," he repeated--"I'm a seer of visions,
"I. Didn't you know it?" Harlov sighed. "Well, so. . . . Over
a week ago, madam, I lay down, on the very last day of eating meat before
St. Peter's fast-day; I lay down after dinner to rest a bit, well, and so
I fell asleep, and dreamed a raven colt ran into the room to me. And this
colt began sporting about and grinning. Black as a beetle was the raven colt."
"Well?" said my mother.
"And all of a sudden this same colt turns round, and gives me a kick
in the left elbow, right in the funny bone. . . . I waked up; my arm would
not move nor my leg either. Well, thinks I, it's paralysis; however, I worked
them up and down, and got them to move again; only there were shooting pains
in the joints a long time, and there are still. When I open my hand, the pains
shoot through the joints."
"Why, Martin Petrovitch, you must have lain upon your arm somehow and
"No, madam; pray, don't talk like that! It was an intimation . . . referring
to my death, I mean."
"Well, upon my word," my mother was beginning.
"An intimation. Prepare thyself man, as 'twere to say. And therefore,
madam, here is what I have to announce to you, without a moment's delay. Not
wishing," Harlov suddenly began shouting, "that the same death should
come upon me, the servant of God, unawares, I have planned in my own mind
this: to divide--now during my lifetime--my estate between my two daughters,
Anna and Evlampia, according as God Almighty directs me--" Martin Petrovitch
stopped, groaned, and added, "without a moment's delay."
"Well, that would be a good idea," observed my mother; "though
I think you have no need to be in a hurry."
"And seeing that herein I desire," Harlov continued, raising his
voice still higher, "to be observant of all due order and legality, so
humbly beg your young son, Dmitri Semyonovitch--I would not venture, madam,
to trouble you--I beg the said Dmitri Semyonovitch, your son, and I claim
of my kinsman, Bitchkov, as a plain duty, to assist at the ratification of
the formal act and transference of possession to my two daughters--Anna, married,
and Evlampia, spinster. Which act will be drawn up in readiness the day after
to-morrow at twelve o'clock, at my own place, Eskovo, also called Kozulkino,
in the presence of the ruling authorities and functionaries, who are thereto
Martin Petrovitch with difficulty reached the end of this speech, which he
had obviously learnt by heart, and which was interspersed with frequent sighs.
. . . He seemed to have no breath left in his chest; his pale face was crimson
again, and he several times wiped the sweat off it.
"So you've already composed the deed dividing your property?" my
mother queried. "When did you manage that?"
"I managed it . . . oh! Neither eating, nor drinking----"
"Did you write it yourself?"
"Volodka . . . oh! helped."
"And have you forwarded a petition?"
"I have, and the chamber has sanctioned it, and notice has been given
to the district court, and the temporary division of the local court has .
. . oh! . . . been notified to be present."
My mother laughed. "I see, Martin Petrovitch, you've made every arrangement
already--and how quickly. You've not spared money, I should say?"
"No, indeed, madam."
"Well, well. And you say you want to consult with me. Well, my little
Dmitri can go; and I'll send Souvenir with him, and speak to Kvitsinsky. .
. . But you haven't invited Gavrila Fedulitch?"
"Gavrila Fedulitch--Mr. Zhitkov--has had notice . . . from me also. As
a betrothed, it was only fitting."
Martin Petrovitch had obviously exhausted all the resources of his eloquence.
Besides, it always seemed to me that he did not look altogether favourably
on the match my mother had made for his daughter; possibly, he had expected
a more advantageous marriage for his darling Evlampia.
He got up from his chair, and made a scrape with his foot. "Thank you
for your consent."
"Where are you off to?" asked my mother. "Stay a bit; I'll
order some lunch to be served you."
"Much obliged," responded Harlov. "But I cannot. . . . Oh!
I must get home."
He backed and was about to move sideways, as his habit was, through the door.
"Stop, stop a minute," my mother went on. "Can you possibly
mean to make over the whole of your property without reserve to your daughters?"
"Certainly, without reserve."
"Well, but how about yourself--where are you going to live?"
Harlov positively flung up his hands in amazement. "You ask where? In
my house, at home, as I've lived hitherto . . . so hence-forward. Whatever
difference could there be?"
"You have such confidence in your daughters and your son-in-law, then?"
"Were you pleased to speak of Volodka? A poor stick like him? Why, I
can do as I like with him, whatever it is . . . what authority has he? As
for them, my daughters, that is, to care for me till I'm in the grave, to
give me meat and drink, and clothe me. . . . Merciful heavens! it's their
first duty. I shall not long be an eyesore to them. Death's not over the hills--it's
upon my shoulders."
"Death is in God's hands," observed my mother; "though that
is their duty, to be sure. Only pardon me, Martin Petrovitch; your elder girl,
Anna, is well known to be proud and imperious, and--well--the second has a
fierce look. . . ."
"Natalia Nikolaevna!" Harlov broke in, "why do you say that?
. . . Why, as though they . . . My daughters . . . Why, as though I . . .
Forget their duty? Never in their wildest dreams . . . Offer opposition? To
whom? Their parent . . . Dare to do such a thing? Have they not my curse to
fear? They've passed their life long in fear and in submission--and all of
a sudden . . . Good Lord!"
Harlov choked, there was a rattle in his throat.
"Very well, very well," my mother made haste to soothe him; "only
I don't understand all the same what has put it into your head to divide the
property up now. It would have come to them afterwards, in any case. I imagine
it's your melancholy that's at the bottom of it all."
"Eh, ma'am," Harlov rejoined, not without vexation, "you will
keep coming back to that. There is, maybe, a higher power at work in this,
and you talk of melancholy. I thought to do this, madam, because in my own
person, while still in life, I wish to decide in my presence, who is to possess
what, and with what I will reward each, so that they may possess, and feel
thankfulness, and carry out my wishes, and what their father and benefactor
has resolved upon, they may accept as a bountiful gift."
Harlov's voice broke again.
"Come, that's enough, that's enough, my good friend," my mother
cut him short; "or your raven colt will be putting in an appearance in
"O Natalia Nikolaevna, don't talk to me of it," groaned Harlov.
"That's my death come after me. Forgive my intrusion. And you, my little
sir, I shall have the honour of expecting you the day after to-morrow."
Martin Petrovitch went out; my mother looked after him, and shook her head
significantly. "This is a bad business," she murmured, "a bad
business. You noticed"--she addressed herself to me--"he talked,
and all the while seemed blinking, as though the sun were in his eyes; that's
a bad sign. When a man's like that, his heart's sure to be heavy, and misfortune
threatens him. You must go over the day after to-morrow with Vikenty Osipovitch
ON the day appointed, our big family coach, with seats for four, harnessed
with six bay horses, and with the head coachman, the grey-bearded and portly
Alexeitch, on the box, rolled smoothly up to the steps of our house. The importance
of the act upon which Harlov was about to enter, and the solemnity with which
he had invited us, had had their effect on my mother. She had herself given
orders for this extraordinary state equipage to be brought out, and had directed
Souvenir and me to put on our best clothes. She obviously wished to show respect
to her protege. As for Kvitsinsky, he always wore a frockcoat and white tie.
Souvenir chattered like a magpie all the way, giggled, wondered whether his
brother would apportion him anything, and thereupon called him a dummy and
an old fogey. Kvitsinsky, a man of severe and bilious temperament, could not
put up with it at last. "What can induce you," he observed, in his
distinct Polish accent, "to keep up such a continual unseemly chatter?
Can you really be incapable of sitting quiet without these 'wholly superfluous'
(his favourite phrase) inanities?" "All right, d'rectly," Souvenir
muttered discontentedly, and he fixed his squinting eyes on the carriage window.
A quarter of an hour had not passed, the smoothly trotting horses had scarcely
begun to get warm under the straps of their new harness, when Harlov's homestead
came into sight. Through the widely open gate, our coach rolled into the yard.
The diminutive postillion, whose legs hardly reached halfway down his horses'
body, for the last time leaped up with a babyish shriek into the soft saddle,
old Alexeitch at once spread out and raised his elbows, a slight "wo-o"
was heard, and we stopped. The dogs did not bark to greet us, and the serf
boys, in long smocks that gaped open over their big stomachs, had all hidden
themselves. Harlov's son-in-law was awaiting us in the doorway. I remember
I was particularly struck by the birch boughs stuck in on both sides of the
steps, as though it were Trinity Sunday. "Grandeur upon grandeur,"
Souvenir, who was the first to alight, squeaked through his nose. And certainly
there was a solemn air about everything. Harlov's son-in-law was wearing a
plush cravat with a satin bow, and an extraordinarily tight tail-coat; while
Maximka, who popped out behind his back, had his hair so saturated with kvas,
that it positively dripped. We went into the parlour, and saw Martin Petrovitch
towering--yes, positively towering--motionless, in the middle of the room.
I don't know what Souvenir's and Kvitsinsky's feelings were at the sight of
his colossal figure; but I felt something akin to awe. Martin Petrovitch was
attired in a grey Cossack coat--his militia uniform of 1812 it must have been--with
a black stand-up collar. A bronze medal was to be seen on his breast, a sabre
hung at his side; he laid his left hand on the hilt, with his right he was
leaning on the table, which was covered with a red cloth. Two sheets of paper,
full of writing, lay on the table. Harlov stood motionless, not even gasping;
and what dignity was expressed in his attitude, what confidence in himself,
in his unlimited and unquestionable power! He barely greeted us with a motion
of the head, and barely articulating "Be seated!" pointed the forefinger
of his left hand in the direction of some chairs set in a row. Against the
right-hand wall of the parlour were standing Harlov's daughters wearing their
Sunday clothes: Anna, in a shot lilac-green dress, with a yellow silk sash;
Evlampia, in pink, with crimson ribbons. Near them stood Zhitkov, in a new
uniform, with the habitual expression of dull and greedy expectation in his
eyes, and with a greater profusion of sweat than usual over his hirsute countenance.
On the left side of the room sat the priest, in a threadbare snuff-coloured
cassock, an old man, with rough brown hair. This head of hair, and the dejected
lack-lustre eyes, and the big wrinkled hands, which seemed a burden even to
himself, and lay like two rocks on his knees, and the tarred boots which peeped
out beneath his cassock, all seemed to tell of a joyless laborious life. His
parish was a very poor one. Beside him was the local police captain, a fattish,
palish, dirty-looking little gentleman, with soft puffy little hands and feet,
black eyes, black short-clipped moustaches, a continual cheerful but yet sickly
little smile on his face. He had the reputation of being a great taker of
bribes, and even a tyrant, as the expression was in those days. But not only
the gentry, even the peasants were used to him, and liked him. He bent very
free and easy and rather ironical looks around him; it was clear that all
this "procedure" amused him. In reality, the only part that had
any interest for him was the light lunch and spirits in store for us. But
the attorney sitting near him, a lean man with a long face, narrow whiskers
from his ears to his nose, as they were worn in the days of Alexander the
First, was absorbed with his whole soul in Martin Petrovitch's proceedings,
and never took his big serious eyes off him. In his concentrated attention
and sympathy, he kept moving and twisting his lips, though without opening
his mouth. Souvenir stationed himself next him, and began talking to him in
a whisper, after first informing me that he was the chief freemason in the
province. The temporary division of the local court consists, as every one
knows, of the police captain, the attorney, and the rural police commissioner;
but the latter was either absent or kept himself in the background, so that
I did not notice him. He bore, however, the nickname "the non-existent"
among us in the district, just as there are tramps called "the non-identified."
I sat next Souvenir, Kvitsinsky next me. The face of the practical Pole showed
unmistakeable annoyance at our "wholly superfluous" expedition,
and unnecessary waste of time. . . . "A grand lady's caprices! these
Russian grandees' fancies!" he seemed to be murmuring to himself. . .
. "Ugh, these Russians!"
WHEN we were all seated, Martin Petrovitch hunched his shoulders, cleared
his throat, scanned us all with his bear-like little eyes, and with a noisy
sigh began as follows:
"Gentlemen, I have called you together for the following purpose. I am
grown old, gentlemen, and overcome by infirmities. . . . Already I have had
an intimation, the hour of death steals on, like a thief in the night. . .
. Isn't that so, father?" he addressed the priest.
The priest started. "Quite so, quite so," he mumbled, his beard
"And therefore," continued Martin Petrovitch, suddenly raising his
voice, "not wishing the said death to come upon me unawares, I purposed"
. . . Martin Petrovitch proceeded to repeat, word for word, the speech he
had made to my mother two days before. "In accordance with this my determination,"
he shouted louder than ever, "this deed" (he struck his hand on
the papers lying on the table) "has been drawn up by me, and the presiding
authorities have been invited by me, and wherein my will consists the following
points will treat. I have ruled, my day is over!"
Martin Petrovitch put his round iron spectacles on his nose, took one of the
written sheets from the table, and began:
"Deed of partition of the estate of the retired non-commissioned officer
and nobleman, Martin Harlov, drawn up by himself in his full and right understanding,
and by his own good judgment, and wherein is precisely defined what benefits
are assigned to his two daughters, Anna and Evlampia--bow!"--(they bowed),
"and in what way the serfs and other property, and live stock, be apportioned
between the said daughters! Under my hand!"
"This is their document!" the police-captain whispered to Kvitsinsky,
with his invariable smile, "they want to read it for the beauty of the
style, but the legal deed is made out formally, without all these flourishes."
Souvenir was beginning to snigger. . . .
"In accordance with my will," put in Harlov, who had caught the
police captain's remark.
"In accordance in every point," the latter hastened to respond cheerfully;
"only, as you're aware, Martin Petrovitch, there's no dispensing with
formality. And unnecessary details have been removed. For the chamber can't
enter into the question of spotted cows and fancy drakes."
"Come here!" boomed Harlov to his son-in-law, who had come into
the room behind us, and remained standing with an obsequious air near the
door. He skipped up to his father-in-law at once.
"There, take it and read! It's hard for me. Only mind and don't mumble
it! Let all the gentlemen present be able to understand it."
Sletkin took the paper in both hands, and began timidly, but distinctly, and
with taste and feeling, to read the deed of partition. There was set forth
in it with the greatest accuracy just what was assigned to Anna and what to
Evlampia, and how the division was to be made. Harlov from time to time interspersed
the reading with phrases. "Do you hear, that's for you, Anna, for your
zeal!" or, "That I give you, Evlampia!" and both the sisters
bowed, Anna from the waist, Evlampia simply with a motion of the head. Harlov
looked at them with stern dignity. "The farm house" (the little
new building) was assigned by him to Evlampia, as the younger daughter, "by
the well-known custom." The reader's voice quivered and resounded at
these words, unfavourable for himself; while Zhitkov licked his lips. Evlampia
gave him a sidelong glance; had I been in Zhitkov's shoes, I should not have
liked that glance. The scornful expression, characteristic of Evlampia, as
of every genuine Russian beauty, had a peculiar shade at that moment. For
himself, Martin Petrovitch reserved the right to go on living in the rooms
he occupied, and assigned to himself, under the name of "rations,"
a full allowance "of normal provisions," and ten roubles a month
for clothes. The last phrase of the deed Harlov wished to read himself. "And
this my parental will," it ran, "to carry out and observe is a sacred
and binding duty on my daughters, seeing it is a command; seeing that I am,
after God, their father and head, and am not bounden to render an account
to any, nor have so rendered. And do they carry out my will, so will my fatherly
blessing be with them, but should they not so do, which God forbid, then will
they be overtaken by my paternal curse that cannot be averted, now and for
ever, amen!" Harlov raised the deed high above his head. Anna at once
dropped on her knees and touched the ground with her forehead; her husband,
too, doubled up after her. "Well, and you?" Harlov turned to Evlampia.
She crimsoned all over, and she too bowed to the earth; Zhitkov bent his whole
"Sign!" cried Harlov, pointing his forefinger to the bottom of the
deed. "Here: 'I thank and accept, Anna. I thank and accept, Evlampia!'"
Both daughters rose, and signed one after another. Sletkin rose too, and was
feeling after the pen, but Harlov moved him aside, sticking his middle finger
into his cravat, so that he gasped. The silence lasted a moment. Suddenly
Martin Petrovitch gave a sort of sob, and muttering, "Well, now it's
all yours!" moved away. His daughters and son-in-law looked at one another,
went up to him and began kissing him just above his elbow. His shoulder they
could not reach.
THE police captain read the real formal document, the deed of gift, drawn
up by Martin Petrovitch. Then he went out on to the steps with the attorney
and explained what had taken place to the crowd assembled at the gates, consisting
of the witnesses required by law and other people from the neighbourhood,
Harlov's peasants, and a few house-serfs. Then began the ceremony of the new
owners entering into possession. They came out, too, upon the steps, and the
police captain pointed to them when, slightly scowling with one eyebrow, while
his careless face assumed for an instant a threatening air, he exhorted the
crowd to "subordination." He might well have dispensed with these
exhortations: a less unruly set of countenances than those of the Harlov peasants,
I imagine, have never existed in creation. Clothed in thin smocks and torn
sheepskins, but very tightly girt round their waists, as is always the peasants'
way on solemn occasions, they stood motionless as though cut out of stone,
and whenever the police captain uttered any exclamation such as, "D'ye
hear, you brutes? d'ye understand, you devils?" they suddenly bowed all
at once, as though at the word of command. Each of these "brutes and
devils" held his cap tight in both hands, and never took his eyes off
the window, where Martin Petrovitch's figure was visible. The witnesses themselves
were hardly less awed. "Is any impediment known to you," the police
captain roared at them, "against the entrance into possession of these
the sole and legitimate heirs and daughters of Martin Petrovitch Harlov?"
All the witnesses seemed to huddle together at once.
"Do you know any, you devils?" the police captain shouted again.
"We know nothing, your excellency," responded sturdily a little
old man, marked with small-pox, with a clipped beard and whiskers, an old
"I say! Eremeitch's a bold fellow!" the witnesses said of him as
In spite of the police captain's entreaties, Harlov would not come out with
his daughters on to the steps. "My subjects will obey my will without
that!" he answered. Something like sadness had come over him on the completion
of the conveyance. His face had grown pale. This new unprecedented expression
of sadness looked so out of place on Martin Petrovitch's broad and kindly
features that I positively was at a loss what to think. Was an attack of melancholy
coming over him? The peasants, on their side, too, were obviously puzzled.
And no wonder! "The master's alive,--there he stands, and such a master,
too; Martin Petrovitch! And all of a sudden he won't be their owner. . . .
A queer thing!" I don't know whether Harlov had an inkling of the notions
that were straying through his "subjects'" heads, or whether he
wanted to display his power for the last time, but he suddenly opened the
little window, stuck his head out, and shouted in a voice of thunder, "obedience!"
Then he slammed-to the window. The peasants' bewilderment was certainly not
dispelled nor decreased by this proceeding. They became stonier than ever,
and even seemed to cease looking at anything. The group of house-serfs (among
them were two sturdy wenches, in short chintz gowns, with muscles such as
one might perhaps match in Michael Angelo's "Last Judgment," and
one utterly decrepit old man, hoary with age and half blind, in a threadbare
frieze cloak, rumoured to have been "cornet-player" in the days
of Potemkin,--the page Maximka, Harlov had reserved for himself) this group
showed more life than the peasants; at least, it moved restlessly about. The
new mistresses themselves were very dignified in their attitude, especially
Anna. Her thin lips tightly compressed, she looked obstinately down . . .
her stern figure augured little good to the house-serfs. Evlampia, too, did
not raise her eyes; only once she turned round and deliberately, as it were
with surprise, scanned her betrothed, Zhitkov, who had thought fit, following
Sletkin, to come out, too, on to the steps. "What business have you here?"
those handsome prominent eyes seemed to demand. Sletkin was the most changed
of all. A bustling cheeriness showed itself in his whole bearing, as though
he were overtaken by hunger; the movements of his head and his legs were as
obsequious as ever, but how gleefully he kept working his arms, how fussily
he twitched his shoulder-blades. "Arrived at last!" he seemed to
say. Having finished the ceremony of the entrance into possession, the police
captain, whose mouth was literally watering at the prospect of lunch, rubbed
his hands in that peculiar manner which usually precedes the tossing-off of
the first glass of spirits. But it appeared that Martin Petrovitch wished
first to have a service performed with sprinklings of holy water. The priest
put on an ancient and decrepit chasuble; a decrepit deacon came out of the
kitchen, with difficulty kindling the incense in an old brazen church-vessel.
The service began. Harlov sighed continually; he was unable, owing to his
corpulence, to bow to the ground, but crossing himself with his right hand
and bending his head, he pointed with the forefinger of his left hand to the
floor. Sletkin positively beamed and even shed tears. Zhitkov, with dignity,
in martial fashion, flourished his fingers only slightly between the third
and fourth button of his uniform. Kvitsinsky, as a Catholic, remained in the
next room. But the attorney prayed so fervently, sighed so sympathetically
after Martin Petrovitch, and so persistently muttered and chewed his lips,
turning his eyes upwards, that I felt moved, as I looked at him, and began
to pray fervently too. At the conclusion of the service and the sprinkling
with holy water, during which every one present, even the blind cornet-player,
the contemporary of Potemkin, even Kvitsinsky, moistened their eyes with holy
water, Anna and Evlampia once more, at Martin Petrovitch's bidding, prostrated
themselves to the ground to thank him. Then at last came the moment of lunch.
There were a great many dishes and all very nice; we all ate terribly much.
The inevitable bottle of Don wine made its appearance. The police captain,
who was of all of us the most familiar with the usages of the world, and besides,
the representative of government, was the first to propose the toast to the
health "of the fair proprietresses!" Then he proposed we should
drink to the health of our most honoured and most generous-hearted friend,
Martin Petrovitch. At the words "most generous-hearted," Sletkin
uttered a shrill little cry and ran to kiss his benefactor. . . . "There,
that'll do, that'll do," muttered Harlov, as it were with annoyance,
keeping him off with his elbow . . . But at this point a not quite pleasant,
as they say, incident took place.
SOUVENIR, who had been drinking continuously ever since the beginning of luncheon,
suddenly got up from his chair as red as a beetroot, and pointing his finger
at Martin Petrovitch, went off into his mawkish, paltry laugh.
"Generous-hearted! Generous-hearted!" he began croaking; "but
we shall see whether this generosity will be much to his taste when he's stripped
naked, the servant of God . . . and out in the snow, too!"
"What rot are you talking, fool?" said Harlov contemptuously.
"Fool! fool!" repeated Souvenir. "God Almighty alone knows
which of us is the real fool. But you, brother, did my sister, your wife,
to her death, and now you've done for yourself . . . ha-ha-ha!"
"How dare you insult our honoured benefactor?" Sletkin began shrilly,
and, tearing himself away from Martin Petrovitch, whose shoulder he had clutched,
he flew at Souvenir. "But let me tell you, if our benefactor desires
it, we can cancel the deed this very minute!"
"And yet, you'll strip him naked, and turn him out into the snow . .
." returned Souvenir, retreating behind Kvitsinsky.
"Silence!" thundered Harlov. "I'll pound you into a jelly!
And you hold your tongue too, puppy!" he turned to Sletkin; "don't
put in your word where you're not wanted! If I, Martin Petrovitch Harlov,
have decided to make a deed of partition, who can cancel the same act against
my will? Why, in the whole world there is no power." . . .
"Martin Petrovitch!" the attorney began in a mellow bass--he too
had drunk a good deal, but his dignity was only increased thereby--"but
how if the gentleman has spoken the truth? You have done a generous action;
to be sure, but how if--God forbid--in reality in place of fitting gratitude,
some affront come of it?"
I stole a glance at both Martin Petrovitch's daughters. Anna's eyes were simply
pinned upon the speaker, and a face more spiteful, more snake-like, and more
beautiful in its very spite I had certainly never seen! Evlampia sat turned
away, with her arms folded. A smile more scornful than ever curved her full,
Harlov got up from his chair, opened his mouth, but apparently his tongue
failed him. . . . He suddenly brought his fist down on the table, so that
everything in the room danced and rang.
"Father," Anna said hurriedly, "they do not know us, and that
is why they judge of us so. But don't, please, make yourself ill. You are
angered for nothing, indeed; see, your face is, as it were, twisted awry."
Harlov looked towards Evlampia; she did not stir, though Zhitkov, sitting
beside her, gave her a poke in the side.
"Thank you, my daughter Anna," said Harlov huskily; "you are
a sensible girl; I rely upon you and on your husband too." Sletkin once
more gave vent to a shrill little sound; Zhitkov expanded his chest and gave
a little scrape with his foot; but Harlov did not observe his efforts. "This
dolt," he went on, with a motion of his chin in the direction of Souvenir,
"is pleased to get a chance to tease me; but you, my dear sir,"
he addressed himself to the attorney, "it is not for you to pass judgment
on Martin Harlov; that is something beyond you. Though you are a man in official
position, your words are most foolish. Besides, the deed is done, there will
be no going back from my determination. . . . Now, I will wish you good-day,
I am going away. I am no longer the master of this house, but a guest in it.
Anna, do you do your best; but I will go to my own room. Enough!"
Martin Petrovitch turned his back on us, and, without adding another word,
walked deliberately out of the room.
This sudden withdrawal on the part of our host could not but break up the
party, especially as the two hostesses also vanished not long after. Sletkin
vainly tried to keep us. The police captain did not fail to blame the attorney
for his uncalled-for candour. "Couldn't help it!" the latter responded.
. . . "My conscience spoke."
"There, you see that he's a mason," Souvenir whispered to me.
"Conscience!" retorted the police captain. "We know all about
your conscience! I suppose it's in your pocket, just the same as it is with
The priest, meanwhile, even though already on his feet, foreseeing the speedy
termination of the repast, lifted mouthful after mouthful to his mouth without
"You've got a fine appetite, I see," Sletkin observed to him sharply.
"Storing up for the future," the priest responded with a meek grimace;
years of hunger were expressed in that reply.
The carriages rattled up . . . and we separated. On the way home, no one hindered
Souvenir's chatter and silly tricks, as Kvitsinsky had announced that he was
sick of all this "wholly superfluous" unpleasantness, and had set
off home before us on foot. In his place, Zhitkov took a seat in our coach.
The retired major wore a most dissatisfied expression, and kept twitching
his moustaches like a spider.
"Well, your noble Excellency," lisped Souvenir, "is subordination
exploded, eh? Wait a bit and see what will happen! They'll give you the sack
too. Ah, a poor bridegroom you are, a poor bridegroom, an unlucky bridegroom!"
Souvenir was positively beside himself; while poor Zhitkov could do nothing
but twitch his moustaches.
When I got home I told my mother all I had seen. She heard me to the end,
and shook her head several times. "It's a bad business," was her
comment. "I don't like all these innovations!"
NEXT day Martin Petrovitch came to dinner. My mother congratulated him on
the successful conclusion of his project. "You are now a free man,"
she said, "and ought to feel more at ease."
"More at ease, to be sure, madam," answered Martin Petrovitch, by
no means, however, showing in the expression of his face that he really was
more at ease. "Now I can meditate upon my soul, and make ready for my
last hour, as I ought."
"Well," queried my mother, "and do the shooting pains still
tingle in your arms?"
Harlov twice clenched and unclenched his left arm. "They do, madam; and
I've something else to tell you. As I begin to drop asleep, some one cries
in my head, 'Take care!' 'Take care!'"
"That's nerves," observed my mother, and she began speaking of the
previous day, and referred to certain circumstances which had attended the
completion of the deed of partition. . . .
"To be sure, to be sure," Harlov interrupted her, "there was
something of the sort . . . of no consequence. Only there's something I would
tell you," he added, hesitating--"I was not disturbed yesterday
by Souvenir's silly words--even Mr. Attorney, though he's no fool--even he
did not trouble me; no, it was quite another person disturbed me----"
Here Harlov faltered.
"Who?" asked my mother.
Harlov fastened his eyes upon her: "Evlampia!"
"Evlampia? Your daughter? How was that?"
"Upon my word, madam, she was like a stone! nothing but a statue! Can
it be she has no feeling? Her sister, Anna--well, she was all she should be.
She's a keen-witted creature! But Evlampia--why, I'd shown her--I must own--so
much partiality! Can it be she's no feeling for me! It's clear I'm in a bad
way; it's clear I've a feeling that I'm not long for this world, since I make
over everything to them; and yet she's like a stone! she might at least utter
a sound! Bows--yes, she bows, but there's no thankfulness to be seen."
"There, give over," observed my mother, "we'll marry her to
Gavrila Fedulitch . . . she'll soon get softer in his hands."
Martin Petrovitch once more looked from under his brows at my mother. "Well,
there's Gavrila Fedulitch, to be sure! You have confidence in him, then, madam?"
"I've confidence in him."
"Very well; you should know best, to be sure. But Evlampia, let me tell
you, is like me. The character is just the same. She has the wild Cossack
blood, and her heart's like a burning coal!"
"Why, do you mean to tell me you've a heart like that, my dear sir?"
Harlov made no answer. A brief silence followed.
"What are you going to do, Martin Petrovitch," my mother began,
"in what way do you mean to set about saving your soul now? Will you
set off to Mitrophan or to Kiev, or may be you'll go to the Optin desert,
as it's in the neighbourhood? There, they do say, there's a holy monk appeared
. . . Father Makary they call him, no one remembers any one like him! He sees
right through all sins."
"If she really turns out an ungrateful daughter," Harlov enunciated
in a husky voice, "then it would be better for me, I believe, to kill
her with my own hands!"
"What are you saying! Lord, have mercy on you!" cried my mother.
"Think what you're saying! There, see, what a pretty pass it's come to.
You should have listened to me the other day when you came to consult me!
Now, here, you'll go tormenting yourself, instead of thinking of your soul!
You'll be tormenting yourself, and all to no purpose! Yes! Here you're complaining
now, and fainthearted . . ."
This reproach seemed to stab Harlov to the heart. All his old pride came back
to him with a rush. He shook himself and thrust out his chin. "I am not
a man, madam, Natalia Nikolaevna, to complain or be faint-hearted," he
began sullenly. "I simply wished to reveal my feelings to you as my benefactress
and a person I respect. But the Lord God knows (here he raised his hand high
above his head) that this globe of earth may crumble to pieces before I will
go back from my word, or . . . (here he positively snorted) show a faint heart,
or regret what I have done! I had good reasons, be sure! My daughters will
never forget their duty, for ever and ever, amen!"
My mother stopped her ears. "What's this for, my good sir, like a trumpet-blast!
If you really have such faith in your family, well, praise the Lord for it!
You've quite put my brains in a whirl!"
Martin Petrovitch begged pardon, sighed twice, and was silent. My mother once
more referred to Kiev, the Optin desert, and Father Makary. . . . Harlov assented,
said that "he must . . . he must . . . he would have to . . . his soul"
. . . and that was all. He did not regain his cheerfulness before he went
away. From time to time he clenched and unclenched his fist, looked at his
open hand, said that what he feared above everything was dying without repentance,
from a stroke, and that he had made a vow to himself not to get angry, as
anger vitiated his blood and drove it to his head. . . . Besides, he had now
withdrawn from everything. What grounds could he have for getting angry? Let
other people trouble themselves now and vitiate their blood!
As he took leave of my mother he looked at her in a strange way, mournfully
and questioningly. . . and suddenly, with a rapid movement, drew out of his
pocket the volume of The Worker's Leisure-Hour, and thrust it into my mother's
"What's that?" she inquired.
"Read . . . here," he said hurriedly, "where the corner's turned
down, about death. It seems to me, it's terribly well said, but I can't make
it out at all. Can't you explain it to me, my benefactress? I'll come back
again and you explain it me."
With these words Martin Petrovitch went away.
"He's in a bad way, he's in a bad way," observed my mother, directly
he had disappeared through the doorway, and she set to work upon the Leisure-Hour.
On the page turned down by Harlov were the following words:
"Death is a grand and solemn work of nature. It is nothing else than
that the spirit, inasmuch as it is lighter, finer, and infinitely more penetrating
than those elements under whose sway it has been subject, nay, even than the
force of electricity itself, so is chemically purified and striveth upward
till what time it attaineth an equally spiritual abiding-place for itself
. . ." and so on.
My mother read this passage through twice, and exclaiming, "Pooh!"
she flung the book away.
Three days later, she received the news that her sister's husband was dead,
and set off to her sister's country-seat, taking me with her. My mother proposed
to spend a month with her, but she stayed on till late in the autumn, and
it was only at the end of September that we returned to our own estate.
THE first news with which my valet, Prokofy, greeted me (he regarded himself
as the seignorial huntsman) was that there was an immense number of wild snipe
on the wing, and that in the birch-copse near Eskovo (Harlov's property),
especially, they were simply swarming. I had three hours before me till dinner-time.
I promptly seized my gun and my game-bag, and with Prokofy and a setter-dog,
hastened to the Eskovo copse. We certainly did find a great many wild snipe
there, and, firing about thirty charges, killed five. As I hurried homewards
with my booty, I saw a peasant ploughing near the road-side. His horse had
stopped, and with tearful and angry abuse he was mercilessly tugging with
the cord reins at the animal's head, which was bent on one side. I looked
attentively at the luckless beast, whose ribs were all but through its skin,
and, bathed in sweat, heaved up and down with convulsive, irregular movements
like a blacksmith's bellows. I recognised it at once as the decrepit old mare,
with the scar on her shoulder, who had served Martin Petrovitch so many years.
"Is Mr. Harlov living?" I asked Prokofy. The chase had so completely
absorbed us, that up to that instant we had not talked of anything.
"Yes, he's alive. Why?"
"But that's his mare, isn't it? Do you mean to say he's sold her?"
"His mare it is, to be sure; but as to selling, he never sold her. But
they took her away from him, and handed her over to that peasant."
"How, took it? And he consented?"
"They never asked his consent. Things have changed here in your absence,"
Prokofy observed, with a faint smile in response to my look of amazement;
"worse luck! My goodness, yes! Now Sletkin's master, and orders every
"But Martin Petrovitch?"
"Why, Martin Petrovitch has become the very last person here, you may
say. He's on bread and water,--what more can one say? They've crushed him
altogether. Mark my words; they'll drive him out of the house."
The idea that it was possible to drive such a giant had never entered my head.
"And what does Zhitkov say to it?" I asked at last. "I suppose
he's married to the second daughter?"
"Married?" repeated Prokofy, and this time he grinned all over his
face. "They won't let him into the house. 'We don't want you,' they say;
'get along home with you.' It's as I said; Sletkin directs every one."
"But what does the young lady say?"
"Evlampia Martinovna? Ah, master, I could tell you . . . but you're young--one
must think of that. Things are going on here that are . . . oh! . . . oh!
. . . oh! Hey! why Dianka's setting, I do believe!"
My dog actually had stopped short, before a thick oak bush which bordered
a narrow ravine by the roadside. Prokofy and I ran up to the dog; a snipe
flew up out of the bush, we both fired at it and missed; the snipe settled
in another place; we followed it.
The soup was already on the table when I got back. My mother scolded me. "What's
the meaning of it?" she said with displeasure; "the very first day,
and you keep us waiting for dinner." I brought her the wild snipe I had
killed; she did not even look at them. There were also in the room Souvenir,
Kvitsinsky, and Zhitkov. The retired major was huddled in a corner, for all
the world like a schoolboy in disgrace. His face wore an expression of mingled
confusion and annoyance; his eyes were red . . . One might positively have
imagined he had recently been in tears. My mother remained in an ill humour.
I was at no great pains to surmise that my late arrival did not count for
much in it. During dinner-time she hardly talked at all. The major turned
beseeching glances upon her from time to time, but ate a good dinner nevertheless.
Souvenir was all of a shake. Kvitsinsky preserved his habitual self-confidence
"Vikenty Osipitch," my mother addressed him, "I beg you to
send a carriage to-morrow for Martin Petrovitch, since it has come to my knowledge
that he has none of his own. And bid them tell him to come without fail, that
I desire to see him."
Kvitsinsky was about to make some rejoinder, but he restrained himself.
"And let Sletkin know," continued my mother, "that I command
him to present himself before me . . . Do you hear? I com . . . mand!"
"Yes, just so . . . that scoundrel ought----" Zhitkov was beginning
in a subdued voice; but my mother gave him such a contemptuous look, that
he promptly turned away and was silent.
"Do you hear? I command!" repeated my mother.
"Certainly, madam," Kvitsinsky replied submissively but with dignity.
"Martin Petrovitch won't come!" Souvenir whispered to me, as he
came out of the dining-room with me after dinner. "You should just see
what's happened to him! It's past comprehension! It's come to this, that whatever
they say to him, he doesn't understand a word! Yes! They've got the snake
under the pitchfork!"
And Souvenir went off into his revolting laugh.
SOUVENIR'S prediction turned out correct. Martin Petrovitch would not come
to my mother. She was not at all pleased with this, and despatched a letter
to him. He sent her a square bit of paper, on which the following words were
written in big letters: "Indeed I can't. I should die of shame. Let me
go to my ruin. Thanks. Don't torture me--Martin Harlov." Sletkin did
come, but not on the day on which my mother had "commanded" his
attendance, but twenty-four hours later. My mother gave orders that he should
be shown into her boudoir. . . . God knows what their interview was about,
but it did not last long; a quarter of an hour, not more. Sletkin came out
of my mother's room, crimson all over, and with such a viciously spiteful
and insolent expression of face, that, meeting him in the drawing-room I was
simply petrified, while Souvenir, who was hanging about there, stopped short
in the middle of a snigger. My mother came out of her boudoir, also very red
in the face, and announced, in the hearing of all, that Mr. Sletkin was never,
upon any pretext, to be admitted to her presence again, and that if Martin
Petrovitch's daughters were to make bold--they've impudence enough, said she--to
present themselves, they, too, were to be refused admittance. At dinner-time
she suddenly exclaimed, "The vile little Jew! I picked him out of the
gutter, I made him a career, he owes everything, everything to me,--and he
dares to tell me I've no business to meddle in their affairs! that Martin
Petrovitch is full of whims and fancies, and it's impossible to humour him!
Humour him, indeed! What a thing to say! Ah, he's an ungrateful wretch! An
insolent little Jew!"
Major Zhitkov, who happened to be one of the company at dinner, imagined that
now it was no less than the will of the Almighty for him to seize the opportunity
and put in his word . . . but my mother promptly settled him. "Well,
and you're a fine one, too, my man!" she commented. "Couldn't get
the upper hand of a girl, and he an officer! In command of a squadron! I can
fancy how it obeyed you! He take a steward's place indeed! a fine steward
Kvitsinsky, who was sitting at the end of the table, smiled to himself a little
malignantly, while poor Zhitkov could do nothing but twitch his moustaches,
lift his eyebrows, and bury the whole of his hirsute countenance in his napkin.
After dinner, he went out on to the steps to smoke his pipe as usual, and
he struck me as so miserable and forlorn, that, although I had never liked
him, I joined myself on to him at once.
"How was it, Gavrila Fedulitch," I began without further beating
about the bush, "that your affair with Evlampia Martinovna was broken
off? I'd expected you to be married long ago."
The retired major looked at me dejectedly.
"A snake in the grass," he began, uttering each letter of each syllable
with bitter distinctness, "has poisoned me with his fang, and turned
all my hopes in life to ashes. And I could tell you, Dmitri Semyonovitch,
all his hellish wiles, but I'm afraid of angering your mamma." ('You're
young yet'--Prokofy's expression flashed across my mind.) "Even as it
"Patience . . . patience . . . nothing else is left me." (He struck
his fist upon his chest.) "Patience, old soldier, patience. I served
the Tsar faithfully . . . honourably . . . yes. I spared neither blood nor
sweat, and now see what I am brought to. Had it been in the regiment--and
the matter depending upon me," he continued after a short silence, spent
in convulsively sucking at his cherrywood pipe, "I'd have . . . I'd have
given it him with the flat side of my sword . . . three times over till he'd
had enough . . ."
Zhitkov took the pipe out of his mouth, and fixed his eyes on vacancy, as
though admiring the picture he had conjured up.
Souvenir ran up, and began quizzing the major. I turned away from them, and
determined, come what may, I would see Martin Petrovitch with my own eyes.
. . . My boyish curiosity was greatly stirred.
NEXT day I set out with my gun and dog, but without Prokofy, to the Eskovo
copse. It was an exquisite day; I fancy there are no days like that in September
anywhere but in Russia. The stillness was such that one could hear, a hundred
paces off, the squirrel hopping over the dry leaves, and the broken twig just
feebly catching at the other branches, and falling, at last, on the soft grass--to
lie there for ever, not to stir again till it rotted away. The air, neither
warm nor chill, but only fragrant, and as it were keen, was faintly, deliciously
stinging in my eyes and on my cheeks. A long spider-web, delicate as a silken
thread, with a white ball in the middle, floated smoothly in the air, and
sticking to the butt-end of my gun, stretched straight out in the air--a sign
of settled and warm weather. The sun shone with a brightness as soft as moonlight.
Wild snipe were to be met with pretty often; but I did not pay special attention
to them. I knew that the copse went on almost to Harlov's homestead, right
up to the hedge of his garden, and I turned my steps in that direction, though
I could not even imagine how I should get into the place itself, and was even
doubtful whether I ought to try to do so, as my mother was so angry with its
new owners. Sounds of life and humanity reached me from no great distance.
I listened. . . . Some one was coming through the copse . . . straight towards
"You should have said so straight out, dear," I heard a woman's
"Be reasonable," another voice broke in, the voice of a man. "Can
one do it all at once?"
I knew the voices. There was the gleam of a woman's blue gown through the
reddening nut bushes. Beside it stood a dark full coat. Another instant--and
there stepped out into the glade, five paces from me, Sletkin and Evlampia.
They were disconcerted at once. Evlampia promptly stepped back, away into
the bushes. Sletkin thought a little, and came up to me. There was not a trace
to be seen in his face of the obsequious meekness, with which he had paced
up and down Harlov's courtyard, four months before, rubbing up my horse's
snaffle. But neither could I perceive in it the insolent defiance, which had
so struck me on the previous day, on the threshold of my mother's boudoir.
It was still as white and pretty as ever, but seemed broader and more solid.
"Well, have you shot many snipe?" he asked me, raising his cap,
smiling, and passing his hand over his black curls; "you are shooting
in our copse. . . . You are very welcome. We would not hinder you. . . . Quite
"I have killed nothing to-day," I rejoined, answering his first
question; "and I will go out of your copse this instant."
Sletkin hurriedly put on his cap. "Indeed, why so? We would not drive
you out--indeed, we're delighted. . . . Here's Evlampia Martinovna will say
the same. Evlampia Martinovna, come here. Where have you hidden yourself?"
Evlampia's head appeared behind the bushes. But she did not come up to us.
She had grown prettier, and seemed taller and bigger than ever.
"I'm very glad, to tell the truth," Sletkin went on, "that
I have met you. Though you are still young in years, you have plenty of good
sense already. Your mother was pleased to be very angry with me yesterday--she
would not listen to reason of any sort from me, but I declare, as before God,
so before you now, I am not to blame in any way. We can't treat Martin Petrovitch
otherwise than we do; he's fallen into complete dotage. One can't humour all
his whims, really. But we show him all due respect. Only ask Evlampia Martinovna."
Evlampia did not stir; her habitual scornful smile flickered about her lips,
and her large eyes watched us with no friendly expression.
"But why, Vladimir Vassilievitch, have you sold Martin Petrovitch's mare?"
(I was particularly impressed by that mare being in the possession of a peasant.)
"His mare, why did we sell it? Why, Lord have mercy on us--what use was
she? She was simply eating her head off. But with the peasant she can work
at the plough anyway. As for Martin Petrovitch, if he takes a fancy to drive
out anywhere, he's only to ask us. We wouldn't refuse him a conveyance. On
a holiday, we should be pleased."
"Vladimir Vassilievitch," said Evlampia huskily, as though calling
him away, and she still did not stir from her place. She was twisting some
stalks of ripple grass round her fingers and snapping off their heads, slapping
them against each other.
"About the page Maximka again," Sletkin went on, "Martin Petrovitch
complains because we've taken him away and apprenticed him. But kindly consider
the matter for yourself. Why, what had he to do waiting on Martin Petrovitch?
Kick up his heels; nothing more. And he couldn't even wait on him properly;
on account of his stupidity and his youth. Now we have sent him away to a
harness-maker's. He'll be turned into a first-rate handicraftsman--and make
a good thing of it for himself--and pay us ransom-money too. And, living in
a small way as we do, that's a matter of importance. On a little farm like
ours, one can't afford to let anything slip."
"And this is the man Martin Petrovitch called a 'poor stick,'" I
thought. "But who reads to Martin Petrovitch now?" I asked.
"Why, what is there to read? He had one book--but, luckily, that's been
mislaid somewhere. . . . And what use is reading at his age."
"And who shaves him?" I asked again.
Sletkin gave an approving laugh, as though in response to an amusing joke.
"Why, nobody. At first he used to singe his beard in the candle--but
now he lets it be altogether. And it's lovely!"
"Vladimir Vassilievitch!" Evlampia repeated insistently: "Vladimir
Sletkin made her a sign with his hand.
"Martin Petrovitch is clothed and cared for, and eats what we do. What
more does he want? He declared himself that he wanted nothing more in this
world but to think of his soul. If only he would realise that everything now,
however you look at it, is ours. He says too that we don't pay him his allowance.
But we've not always got money ourselves; and what does he want with it, when
he has everything provided him? And we treat him as one of the family too.
I'm telling you the truth. The rooms, for instance, which he occupies--how
we need them! there's simply not room to turn round without them; but we don't
say a word--we put up with it. We even think how to provide amusement for
him. There, on St. Peter's Day, I bought him some excellent hooks in the town--real
English ones, expensive hooks, to catch fish. There are lots of carp in our
pond. Let him sit and fish; in an hour or two, there'd be a nice little fish
soup provided. The most suitable occupation for old men."
"Vladimir Vassilitch!" Evlampia called for the third time in an
incisive tone, and she flung far away from her the grass she had been twisting
in her fingers, "I am going!" Her eyes met mine. "I am going,
Vladimir Vassilievitch!" she repeated, and vanished behind a bush.
"I'm coming, Evlampia Martinovna, directly!" shouted Sletkin. "Martin
Petrovitch himself agrees with us now," he went on, turning again to
me. "At first he was offended, certainly, and even grumbled, until, you
know, he realised; he was, you remember, a hot-tempered violent man--more
s the pity! but there, he's grown quite meek now. Because he sees his own
interest. Your mamma--mercy on us! how she pitched into me! . . . To be sure:
she's a lady that sets as much store by her own authority as Martin Petrovitch
used to do. But you come in and see for yourself. And you might put in a word
when there's an opportunity. I feel Natalia Nikolaevna's bounty to me deeply.
But we've got to live too."
"And how was it Zhitkov was refused?" I asked.
"Fedulitch? That dolt?" Sletkin shrugged his shoulders. "Why,
upon my word, what use could he have been? His whole life spent among soldiers--and
now he has a fancy to take up farming. He can keep the peasants up to the
mark, says he, because he's been used to knocking men about. He can do nothing;
even knocking men about wants some sense. Evlampia Martinovna refused him
herself. He was a quite unsuitable person. All our farming would have gone
to ruin with him!"
"Coo--y!" sounded Evlampia's musical voice.
"Coming! coming!" Sletkin called back. He held out his hand to me.
Though unwillingly, I took it.
"I beg to take leave, Dmitri Semyonovitch," said Sletkin, showing
all his white teeth, "Shoot wild snipe as much as you like. It's wild
game, belonging to no one. But if you come across a hare--you spare it; that
game is ours. Oh, and something else! won't you be having pups from your bitch?
I should be obliged for one!"
"Coo--y!" Evlampia's voice rang out again.
"Coo--y!" Sletkin responded, and rushed into the bushes.
I REMEMBER, when I was left alone, I was absorbed in wondering how it was
Harlov had not pounded Sletkin "into a jelly," as he said, and how
it was Sletkin had not been afraid of such a fate. It was clear Martin Petrovitch
really had grown "meek," I thought, and I had a still stronger desire
to make my way into Eskovo, and get at least a glance at that colossus, whom
I could never picture to myself subdued and tractable. I had reached the edge
of the copse, when suddenly a big snipe, with a great rush of wings, darted
up at my very feet, and flew off into the depths of the wood. I took aim;
my gun missed fire. I was greatly annoyed; it had been such a fine bird, and
I made up my mind to try if I couldn't make it rise a second time. I set off
in the direction of its flight, and going some two hundred paces off into
the wood I caught sight--in a little glade, under an overhanging birch-tree--not
of the snipe, but of the same Sletkin once more. He was lying on his back,
with both hands under his head, and with a smile of contentment gazing upwards
at the sky, swinging his left leg, which was crossed over his right knee.
He did not notice my approach. A few paces from him, Evlampia was walking
slowly up and down the little glade, with downcast eyes. It seemed as though
she were looking for something in the grass--mushrooms or something; now and
then, she stooped and stretched out her hand. She was singing in a low voice.
I stopped at once, and fell to listening. At first I could not make out what
it was she was singing, but afterwards I recognised clearly the following
well-known lines of the old ballad:
"Hither, hither, threatening storm-cloud,
Slay for me the father-in-law,
Strike for me the mother-in-law,
The young wife I will kill myself!"
Evlampia sang louder and louder; the last words she delivered with peculiar
energy. Sletkin still lay on his back and laughed to himself, while she seemed
all the time to be moving round and round him.
"Oh, indeed!" he commented at last. "The things that come into
some people's heads!"
"What?" queried Evlampia.
Sletkin raised his head a little. "What? Why, what words were those you
"Why, you know, Volodya, one can't leave the words out of a song,"
answered Evlampia, and she turned and saw me. We both cried out aloud at once,
and both rushed away in opposite directions.
I made my way hurriedly out of the copse, and crossing a narrow clearing,
found myself facing Harlov's garden.
I HAD no time, nor would it have been of any use, to deliberate over what
I had seen. Only an expression kept recurring to my mind, "love spell,"
which I had lately heard, and over the signification of which I had pondered
a good deal. I walked alongside the garden fence, and in a few moments, behind
the silver poplars (they had not yet lost a single leaf, and the foliage was
luxuriantly thick and brilliantly glistening), I saw the yard and two little
lodges of Martin Petrovitch's homestead. The whole place struck me as having
been tidied up and pulled into shape. On every side one could perceive traces
of unflagging and severe supervision. Anna Martinovna came out on to the steps,
and screwing up her blue-grey eyes, gazed for a long while in the direction
of the copse.
"Have you seen the master?" she asked a peasant, who was walking
across the yard.
"Vladimir Vassilitch?" responded the latter, taking his cap off.
"He went into the copse, surely."
"I know, he went to the copse. Hasn't he come back? Haven't you seen
"I've not seen him . . . nay."
The peasant continued standing bareheaded before Anna Martinovna.
"Well, you can go," she said. "Or no----wait a bit----where's
Martin Petrovitch? Do you know?"
"Oh, Martin Petrovitch," answered the peasant, in a sing-song voice,
alternately lifting his right and then his left hand, as though pointing away
somewhere, "is sitting yonder, at the pond, with a fishing-rod. He's
sitting in the reeds, with a rod. Catching fish, maybe, God knows."
"Very well . . . you can go," repeated Anna Martinovna; "and
put away that wheel, it's lying about."
The peasant ran to carry out her command, while she remained standing a few
minutes longer on the steps, still gazing in the direction of the copse. Then
she clenched one fist menacingly, and went slowly back into the house. "Axiutka!"
I heard her imperious voice calling within.
Anna Martinovna looked angry, and tightened her lips, thin enough at all times,
with a sort of special energy. She was carelessly dressed, and a coil of loose
hair had fallen down on to her shoulder. But in spite of the negligence of
her attire, and her irritable humour, she struck me, just as before, as attractive,
and I should have been delighted to kiss the narrow hand which looked malignant
too, as she twice irritably pushed back the loose tress.
"CAN Martin Petrovitch have really taken to fishing?" I asked myself,
as I turned towards the pond, which was on one side of the garden. I got on
to the dam, looked in all directions. . . . Martin Petrovitch was nowhere
to be seen. I bent my steps along one of the banks of the pond, and at last,
at the very top of it, in a little creek, in the midst of flat broken-down
stalks of reddish reed, I caught sight of a huge greyish mass. . . . I looked
intently: it was Harlov. Bareheaded, unkempt, in a cotton smock torn at the
seams, with his legs crossed under him, he was sitting motionless on the bare
earth. So motionless was he that a sandpiper, at my approach, darted up from
the dry mud a couple of paces from him, and flew with a flash of its little
wings and a whistle over the surface of the water, showing that no one had
moved to frighten him for a long while. Harlov's whole appearance was so extraordinary
that my dog stopped short directly it saw him, lifted its tail, and growled.
He turned his head a very little, and fixed his wild-looking eyes on me and
my dog. He was greatly changed by his beard, though it was short, but thick
and curly, in white tufts, like Astrachan fur. In his right hand lay the end
of a rod, while the other end hovered feebly over the water. I felt an involuntary
pang at my heart. I plucked up my spirits, however, went up to him, and wished
him good morning. He slowly blinked as though just awake.
"What are you doing, Martin Petrovitch," I began, "catching
"Yes . . . fish," he answered huskily, and pulled up the rod, on
which there fluttered a piece of line, a fathom length, with no hook on it.
"Your tackle is broken off," I observed, and noticed the same moment
that there was no sign of bait-tin nor worms near Martin Petrovitch. . . .
And what sort of fishing could there be in September?
"Broken off?" he said, and he passed his hand over his face. "But
it's all the same!"
He dropped the rod in again.
"Natalia Nikolaevna's son?" he asked me, after the lapse of two
minutes, during which I had been gazing at him with secret bewilderment. Though
he had grown terribly thinner, still he seemed a giant. But what rags he was
dressed in, and how utterly he had gone to pieces altogether!
"Yes," I answered, "I'm the son of Natalia Nikolaevna B."
"Is she well?"
"My mother is quite well. She was very much hurt at your refusal,"
I added; "she did not at all expect you would not wish to come and see
Martin Petrovitch's head sank on his breast. "Have you been there?"
he asked, with a motion of his head.
"There, at the house. Haven't you? Go! What is there for you to do here?
Go! It's useless talking to me. I don't like it."
He was silent for a while.
"You'd like to be always idling about with a gun! In my young days I
used to be inclined the same way too. Only my father was strict and made me
respect him too. Mind you, very different from fathers now-a-days. My father
flogged me with a horsewhip, and that was the end of it! I'd to give up idling
about! And so I respected him. . . . Oo! . . . Yes! . . ."
Harlov paused again.
"Don't you stop here," he began again. "You go along to the
house. Things are managed there now--it's first-rate. Volodka". . . Here
he faltered for a second. "Our Volodka's a good hand at everything. He's
a fine fellow! yes, indeed, and a fine scoundrel too!"
I did not know what to say; Martin Petrovitch spoke very tranquilly.
"And you go and see my daughters. You remember, I daresay, I had daughters.
They're managers too . . . clever ones. But I'm growing old, my lad; I'm on
the shelf. Time to repose, you know. . . ."
"Nice sort of repose!" I thought, glancing round. "Martin Petrovitch!"
I uttered aloud, "you really must come and see us."
Harlov looked at me. "Go along, my lad, I tell you."
"Don't hurt mamma's feelings; come and see us."
"Go away, my lad, go away," persisted Harlov. "What do you
want to talk to me for?"
"If you have no carriage, mamma will send you hers."
"But, really and truly, Martin Petrovitch!"
Harlov looked down again, and I fancied that his cheeks, dingy as though covered
with earth, faintly flushed.
"Really, do come," I went on. "What's the use of your sitting
here? of your making yourself miserable?"
"Making myself miserable?" he commented hesitatingly.
"Yes, to be sure--making yourself miserable!" I repeated.
Harlov said nothing, and seemed lost in musing. Emboldened by his silence,
I determined to be open, to act straightforwardly, bluntly. (Do not forget,
I was only fifteen then.)
"Martin Petrovitch!" I began, seating myself beside him. "I
know everything, you see, positively everything. I know how your son-in-law
is treating you--doubtless with the consent of your daughters. And now you
are in such a position . . . But why lose heart?"
Harlov still remained silent, and simply dropped in his line; while I--what
a sensible fellow, what a sage I felt!
"Doubtless," I began again, "you acted imprudently in giving
up everything to your daughters. It was most generous on your part, and I
am not going to blame you. In our days it is a quality only too rare! But
since your daughters are so ungrateful, you ought to show a contempt--yes,
a contempt--for them . . . and not fret----"
"Stop!" muttered Harlov suddenly, gnashing his teeth, and his eyes,
staring at the pond, glittered wrathfully . . . "Go away!"
"But, Martin Petrovitch----"
"Go away, I tell you, . . . or I'll kill you!"
I had come quite close to him; but at the last words I instinctively jumped
up. "What did you say, Martin Petrovitch?"
"I'll kill you, I tell you; go away!" With a wild moan, a roar,
the words broke from Harlov's breast, but he did not turn his head, and still
stared wrathfully straight in front of him. "I'll take you and fling
you and your fool's counsel into the water. You shall learn to pester the
old, little milksop!"
"He's gone mad!" flashed through my mind.
I looked at him more attentively, and was completely petrified; Martin Petrovitch
was weeping!! Tear after tear rolled from his eyelashes down his cheeks .
. . while his face had assumed an expression utterly savage. . . .
"Go away!" he roared once more, "or I'll kill you, by God!
for an example to others!"
He was shaking all over from side to side, and showing his teeth like a wild
boar. I snatched up my gun and took to my heels. My dog flew after me, barking.
He, too, was frightened.
When I got home, I naturally did not, by so much as a word, to my mother,
hint at what I had seen; but coming across Souvenir, I told him--the devil
knows why--all about it. That loathsome person was so delighted at my story,
shrieking with laughter, and even dancing with pleasure, that I could hardly
forbear striking him.
"Ah! I should like," he kept repeating breathless with laughter,
"to see that fiend, the Swede, Harlov, crawling into the mud and sitting
in it. . . ."
"Go over to the pond if you're so curious."
"Yes; but how if he kills me?"
I felt horribly sick at Souvenir, and regretted my ill-timed confidence. .
. . Zhitkov, to whom he repeated my tale, looked at the matter somewhat differently.
"We shall have to call in the police," he concluded, "or, may
be, we may have to send for a battalion of military."
His forebodings with regard to the military battalion did not come true; but
something extraordinary really did happen.
IN the middle of October, three weeks after my interview with Martin Petrovitch,
I was standing at the window of my own room in the second storey of our house,
and thinking of nothing at all, I looked disconsolately into the yard and
the road that lay beyond it. The weather had been disgusting for the last
five days. Shooting was not even to be thought of. All things living had hidden
themselves; even the sparrows made no sound, and the rooks had long ago disappeared
from sight. The wind howled drearily, then whistled spasmodically. The low-hanging
sky, unbroken by one streak of light, had changed from an unpleasant whitish
to a leaden and still more sinister hue; and the rain, which had been pouring
and pouring, mercilessly and unceasingly, had suddenly become still more violent
and more driving, and streamed with a rushing sound over the panes. The trees
had been stripped utterly bare, and turned a sort of grey. It seemed they
had nothing left to plunder; yet the wind would not be denied, but set to
harassing them once more. Puddles, clogged with dead leaves, stood everywhere.
Big bubbles, continually bursting and rising up again, leaped and glided over
them. Along the roads, the mud lay thick and impassable. The cold pierced
its way indoors through one's clothes to the very bones. An involuntary shiver
passed over the body, and how sick one felt at heart! Sick, precisely, not
sad. It seemed there would never again in the world be sunshine, nor brightness,
nor colour, but this rain and mire and grey damp, and raw fog would last for
ever, and for ever would the wind whine and moan! Well, I was standing moodily
at my window, and I remember a sudden darkness came on--a bluish darkness--though
the clock only pointed to twelve. Suddenly I fancied I saw a bear dash across
our yard from the gates to the steps! Not on all-fours, certainly, but as
he is depicted when he gets up on his hind-paws. I could not believe my eyes.
If it were not a bear I had seen, it was, any way, something enormous, black,
shaggy. . . . I was still lost in wonder as to what it could be, when suddenly
I heard below a furious knocking. It seemed something utterly unlooked for,
something terrible was stumbling headlong into our house. Then began a commotion,
a hurrying to and fro. . . .
I quickly went down the stairs, ran into the dining-room. . . .
At the drawing-room door facing me stood my mother, as though rooted to the
spot. Behind her, peered several scared female faces. The butler, two footmen,
and a page, with his mouth wide open with astonishment, were packed together
in the doorway of the hall. In the middle of the dining-room, covered with
mire, dishevelled, tattered, and soaking wet--so wet that steam rose all round
and water was running in little streams over the floor--knelt, shaking ponderously,
as it were, at the last gasp . . . the very monster I had seen dashing across
the yard! And who was this monster? Harlov! I came up on one side, and saw,
not his face, but his head, which he was clutching, with both hands in the
hair that blinded him with filth. He was breathing heavily, brokenly; some
thing positively rattled in his throat--and in all the bespattered dark mass,
the only thing that could be clearly distinguished was the tiny whites of
the eyes, straying wildly about. He was awful! The dignitary came into my
mind whom he had once crushed for comparing him to a mastodon. Truly, so might
have looked some antediluvian creature that had just escaped another more
powerful monster, attacking it in the eternal slime of the primeval swamps.
"Martin Petrovitch!" my mother cried at last, and she clasped her
hands. "Is that you? Good God! Merciful heavens!"
"I . . . I . . ." we heard a broken voice, which seemed with effort
and painfully to dwell on each sound. "Alas! It is I!"
"But what has happened to you? Mercy upon us!"
"Natalia Nikolaev . . . na . . . I have . . . run straight . . . to you
. . . from home . . . on foot." . . .
"Through such mud! But you don't look like a man. Get up; sit down, anyway.
. . . And you," she turned to the maid-servants, "run quick for
clothes. And haven't you some dry clothes?" she asked the butler.
The butler gesticulated as though to say, Is it likely for such a size? .
. . "But we could get a coverlet," he replied, "or, there's
a new horse-rug."
"But get up, get up, Martin Petrovitch, sit down," repeated my mother.
"They've turned me out, madam," Harlov moaned suddenly, and he flung
his head back and stretched his hands out before him. "They've turned
me out, Natalia Nikolaevna! My own daughters, out of my own home. . ."
My mother sighed and groaned.
"What are you saying? Turned you out! What wickedness! what wickedness!"
(She crossed herself.) "But do get up, Martin Petrovitch, I beg you!"
Two maid-servants came in with cloths and stood still before Harlov. It was
clear they did not know how to attack this mountain of filth. "They have
turned me out, madam, they have turned me out!" Harlov kept repeating
meanwhile. The butler returned with a large woollen coverlet, and he, too,
stood still in perplexity. Souvenir's little head was thrust in at a door
and vanished again.
"Martin Petrovitch! get up! Sit down! and tell me everything properly,"
my mother commanded in a tone of determination.
Harlov rose. . . . The butler tried to assist him but only dirtied his hand,
and, shaking his fingers, retreated to the door. Staggering and faltering,
Harlov got to a chair and sat down. The maids again approached him with their
cloths, but he waved them off with his hand, and refused the coverlet. My
mother did not herself, indeed, insist; to dry Harlov was obviously out of
the question; they contented themselves with hastily wiping up his traces
on the floor.
"HOW have they turned you out?" my mother asked, as soon as he had
a little time to recover himself.
"Madam! Natalia Nikolaevna!" he began, in a strained voice,--and
again I was struck by the uneasy straying of his eyes; "I will tell you
the truth; I am myself most of all to blame."
"Ay, to be sure; you would not listen to me at the time," assented
my mother, sinking into an arm-chair and slightly moving a scented handkerchief
before her nose; very strong was the smell that came from Harlov . . . the
odour in a forest bog is not so strong.
"Alas! that's not where I erred, madam, but through pride. Pride has
been my ruin, as it ruined the Tsar Navuhodonosor. I fancied God had given
me my full share of sense, and if I resolved on anything, it followed it was
right; so . . . and then the fear of death came . . . I was utterly confounded!
'I'll show,' said I, 'to the last, my power and my strength! I'll bestow all
on them,--and they must feel it all their lives. . . .'" (Harlov suddenly
was shaking all over. . . .) "Like a mangy dog they have driven me out
of the house! This is their gratitude!"
"In what way----," my mother was beginning. . . .
"They took my page, Maximka, from me," Harlov interrupted her (his
eyes were still wandering, he held both hands--the fingers interlaced--under
his chin), "my carriage they took away, my monthly allowance they cut
down, did not pay me the sum specified, cut me short all round, in fact; still
I said nothing, bore it all! And I bore it by reason. . . alas! of my pride
again. That my cruel enemies might not say, 'See, the old fool's sorry for
it now'; and you too, do you remember, madam, had warned me; 'mind you, it's
all to no purpose,' you said! and so I bore it. . . . Only, to-day I came
into my room, and it was occupied already, and my bed they'd thrown out into
the lumber-room! 'You can sleep there; we put up with you there even only
out of charity; we've need of your room for the household.' And this was said
to me by whom? Volodka Sletkin! the vile hound, the base cur!"
Harlov's voice broke.
"But your daughters? What did they do?" asked my mother.
"But I bore it all," Harlov went on again; "bitterness, bitterness
was in my heart, let me tell you, and shame. . . . I could not bear to look
upon the light of day! That was why I was unwilling to come and see you, ma'am,
from this same feeling, from shame for my disgrace! I have tried everything,
my good friend; kindness, affection, and threats, and I reasoned with them,
and more besides! I bowed down before them . . . like this." (Harlov
showed how he had bowed down.) "And all in vain. And all of it I bore!
At the beginning, at first, I'd very different thoughts; I'll up, I thought,
and kill them. I'll crush them all, so that not a trace remains of them! .
. . I'll let them know! Well, but after, I submitted! It's a cross, I thought,
laid upon me; it's to bid me make ready for death. And all at once, to-day,
driven out, like a cur! And by whom? Volodka! And you asked about my daughters;
they've no will of their own at all. They're Volodka's slaves! Yes!"
My mother wondered. "In Anna's case I can understand that; she's a wife.
. . . But how comes it your second . . ."
"Evlampia? She's worse than Anna! She's altogether given herself up into
Volodka's hands. That's the reason she refused your soldier, too. At his,
at Volodka's bidding. Anna, to be sure, ought to resent it, and she can't
bear her sister, but she submits! He's bewitched them, the cursed scoundrel!
Though she, Anna, I daresay, is pleased to think that Evlampia, who was always
so proud,--and now see what she's come to! . . . O . . alas . . . alas! God,
My mother looked uneasily towards me. I moved a little away as a precautionary
measure, for fear I should be sent away altogether. . . .
"I am very sorry indeed, Martin Petrovitch," she began, "that
my former protege has caused you so much sorrow, and has turned out so badly.
But I, too, was mistaken in him. . . . Who could have expected this of him?"
"Madam," Harlov moaned out, and he struck himself a blow on the
chest, "I cannot bear the ingratitude of my daughters! I cannot, madam!
You know I gave them everything, everything! And besides, my conscience has
been tormenting me. Many things . . . alas! many things I have thought over,
sitting by the pond, fishing. 'If you'd only done good to any one in your
life!' was what I pondered upon, 'succoured the poor, set the peasants free,
or something, to atone for having wrung their lives out of them. You must
answer for them before God! Now their tears are revenged.' And what sort of
life have they now? It was a deep pit even in my time--why disguise my sins?--but
now there's no seeing the bottom! All these sins I have taken upon my soul;
I have sacrificed my conscience for my children, and for this I'm laughed
to scorn! Kicked out of the house, like a cur!"
"Don't think about that, Martin Petrovitch," observed my mother.
"And when he told me, your Volodka," Harlov went on with fresh force,
"when he told me I was not to live in my room any more,--I laid every
plank in that room with my own hands,--when he said that to me,--God only
knows what passed within me! It was all confusion in my head, and like a knife
in my heart. . . . Either to cut his throat or get away out of the house!
. . . So, I have run to you, my benefactress, Natalia Nikolaevna . . . where
had I to lay my head? And then the rain, the filth . . . I fell down twenty
times, maybe! And now . . . in such unseemly. . ."
Harlov scanned himself and moved restlessly in his chair, as though intending
to get up.
"Say no more, Martin Petrovitch," my mother interposed hurriedly;
"what does that signify? That you've made the floor dirty? That's no
great matter! Come, I want to make you a proposition. Listen! They shall take
you now to a special room, and make you up a clean bed,--you undress, wash,
and lie down and sleep a little. . . ."
"Natalia Nikolaevna! There's no sleeping for me!" Harlov responded
drearily. "It's as though there were hammers beating in my brain! Me!
like some good-for-nothing beast! . . ."
"Lie down and sleep," my mother repeated insistently. "And
then we'll give you some tea,--yes, and we'll have a talk. Don't lose heart,
old friend! If they've driven you out of your house, in my house you will
always find a home. . . . I have not forgotten, you know, that you saved my
"Benefactress!" moaned Harlov, and he covered his face with his
hand. "You must save me now!"
This appeal touched my mother almost to tears. "I am ready and eager
to help you, Martin Petrovitch, in everything I am able. But you must promise
me that you will listen to me in future and dismiss every evil thought from
Harlov took his hands from his face. "If need be," he said, "I
can forgive them, even!"
My mother nodded her head approvingly. "I am very glad to see you in
such a truly Christian frame of mind, Martin Petrovitch; but we will talk
of that later. Meanwhile, you put yourself to rights, and, most of all, sleep.
Take Martin Petrovitch to what was the master's room, the green room,"
said my mother, addressing the butler, "and whatever he asks for, let
him have it on the spot! Give orders for his clothes to be dried and washed,
and ask the housekeeper for what linen is needed. Do you hear?"
"Yes, madam," responded the butler.
"And as soon as he's asleep, tell the tailor to take his measure; and
his beard will have to be shaved. Not at once, but after."
"Yes, madam," repeated the butler. "Martin Petrovitch, kindly
come." Harlov got up, looked at my mother, was about to go up to her,
but stopped, swinging a bow from the waist, crossed himself three times to
the image, and followed the steward. Behind him, I, too, slipped out of the
THE butler conducted Harlov to the green room, and at once ran off for the
wardroom maid, as it turned out there were no sheets on the bed. Souvenir,
who met us in the passage, and popped into the green room with us, promptly
proceeded to dance, grinning and chuckling, round Harlov, who stood, his arms
held a little away from him, and his legs apart, in the middle of the room,
seeming lost in thought. The water was still dripping from him.
"The Swede! The Swede, Harlus!" piped Souvenir, doubling up and
holding his sides. "Mighty founder of the illustrious race of Harlovs,
look down on thy descendant! What does he look like? Dost thou recognise him?
Ha, ha, ha! Your excellency, your hand, I beg; why, have you got on black
I tried to restrain Souvenir, to put him to shame . . . but it was too late
for that now.
"He called me parasite, toady! 'You've no roof,' said he, 'to call your
own.' But now, no doubt about it, he's become as dependent as poor little
me. Martin Petrovitch and Souvenir, the poor toady, are equal now. He'll have
to live on charity too. They'll toss him the stale and dirty crust, that the
dog has sniffed at and refused. . . . And they'll tell him to eat it, too.
Ha, ha, ha!"
Harlov still stood motionless, his head drawn in, his legs and arms held a
"Martin Harlov, a nobleman born!" Souvenir went on shrieking. "What
airs he used to give himself. Just look at me! Don't come near, or I'll knock
you down! . . . And when he was so clever as to give away and divide his property,
didn't he crow! 'Gratitude! . . .' he cackled, 'gratitude!' But why were you
so mean to me? Why didn't you make me a present? May be, I should have felt
it more. And you see I was right when I said they'd strip you bare, and .
"Souvenir!" I screamed; but Souvenir was in nowise daunted. Harlov
still did not stir. It seemed as though he were only now beginning to be aware
how soaking wet everything was that he had on, and was waiting to be helped
off with his clothes. But the butler had not come back.
"And a military man too!" Souvenir began again. "In the year
twelve, he saved his country; he showed proofs of his valour. I see how it
is. Stripping the frozen marauders of their breeches is work he's quite equal
to, but when the hussies stamp their feet at him he's frightened out of his
"Souvenir!" I screamed a second time.
Harlov looked askance at Souvenir. Till that instant he seemed not to have
noticed his presence, and only my exclamation aroused his attention.
"Look out, brother," he growled huskily, "don't dance yourself
Souvenir fairly rolled about with laughter. "Ah, how you frighten me,
most honoured brother. You're a formidable person, to be sure. You must comb
your hair, at any rate, or, God forbid, it'll get dry, and you'll never wash
it clean again; you'll have to mow it with a sickle." Souvenir all of
a sudden got into a fury. "And you give yourself airs still. A poor outcast,
and he gives himself airs. Where's your home now? you'd better tell me that,
you were always boasting of it. 'I have a home of my own,' he used to say,
but you're homeless. 'My ancestral roof,' he would say." Souvenir pounced
on this phrase as an inspiration.
"Mr. Bitchkov," I protested. "What are you about? you forget
But he still persisted in chattering, and still danced and pranced up and
down quite close to Harlov. And still the butler and the wardroom maid did
I felt alarmed. I began to notice that Harlov, who had, during his conversation
with my mother, gradually grown quieter, and even towards the end apparently
resigned himself to his fate, was beginning to get worked up again. He breathed
more hurriedly, it seemed as though his face were suddenly swollen under his
ears, his fingers twitched, his eyes again began moving restlessly in the
dark mask of his grim face. . . .
"Souvenir, Souvenir!" I cried. "Stop it, I'll tell mamma."
But Souvenir seemed possessed by frenzy. "Yes, yes, most honoured brother,"
he began again, "here we find ourselves, you and I, in the most delicate
position. While your daughters, with your son-in-law, Vladimir Vassilievitch,
are having a fine laugh at you under your roof. And you should at least curse
them, as you promised. Even that you're not equal to. To be sure, how could
you hold your own with Vladimir Vassilievitch? Why, you used to call him Volodka,
too. You call him Volodka. He is Vladimir Vassilievitch, Mr. Sletkin, a landowner,
a gentleman, while--what are you, pray?"
A furious roar drowned Souvenir's words. . . . Harlov was aroused. His fists
were clenched and lifted, his face was purple, there was foam on his drawn
lips, he was shaking with rage. "Roof, you say!" he thundered in
his iron voice, "curse, you say. . . . No! I will not curse them. . .
. They don't care for that . . . But the roof . . . I will tear the roof off
them, and they shall have no roof over their heads, like me. They shall learn
to know Martin Harlov. My strength is not all gone yet; they shall learn to
laugh at me! . . . They shall have no roof over their heads!"
I was stupefied; never in my life had I witnessed such boundless anger. Not
a man--a wild beast--paced to and fro before me. I was stupefied . . . as
for Souvenir, he had hidden under the table in his fright.
"They shall not!" Harlov shouted for the last time, and almost knocking
over the butler and the wardroom maid, he rushed away out of the house. .
. . He dashed headlong across the yard, and vanished through the gates.
MY mother was terribly angry when the butler came with an abashed countenance
to report Martin Petrovitch's sudden and unexpected retreat. He did not dare
to conceal the cause of this retreat; I was obliged to confirm his story.
"Then it was all your doing!" my mother cried, at the sight of Souvenir,
who had run in like a hare, and was even approaching to kiss her hand: "Your
vile tongue is to blame for it all!" "Excuse me, d'rectly, d'rectly
. . ." faltered Souvenir, stuttering and drawing back his elbows behind
him. "D'rectly, . . . d'rectly . . . I know your 'd'rectly,'" my
mother repeated reprovingly, and she sent him out of the room. Then she rang
the bell, sent for Kvitsinsky, and gave him orders to set off on the spot
to Eskovo, with a carriage, to find Martin Petrovitch at all costs, and to
bring him back. "Do not let me see you without him," she concluded.
The gloomy Pole bowed his head without a word, and went away.
I went back to my own room, sat down again at the window, and I pondered a
long while, I remember, on what had taken place before my eyes. I was puzzled;
I could not understand how it was that Harlov, who had endured the insults
of his own family almost without a murmur, had lost all self-control, and
been unable to put up with the jeers and pin-pricks of such an abject creature
as Souvenir. I did not understand in those days what insufferable bitterness
there may sometimes be in a foolish taunt, even when it comes from lips one
scorns. . . . The hated name of Sletkin, uttered by Souvenir, had been like
a spark thrown into powder. The sore spot could not endure this final prick.
About an hour passed by. Our coach drove into the yard; but our steward sat
in it alone. And my mother had said to him--"don't let me see you without
him." Kvitsinsky jumped hurriedly out of the carriage, and ran up the
steps. His face had a perturbed look--something very unusual with him. I promptly
rushed downstairs, and followed at his heels into the drawing-room. "Well?
have you brought him?" asked my mother.
"I have not brought him," answered Kvitsinsky--"and I could
not bring him."
"How's that? Have you seen him?"
"What has happened to him? A fit?"
"No; nothing has happened."
"How is it you didn't bring him?"
"He's pulling his house to pieces."
"He's standing on the roof of the new building, and pulling it to pieces.
Forty boards or more, I should guess, must have come down by now, and some
five of the rafters too." ("They shall not have a roof over their
heads." Harlov's words came back to me.) My mother stared at Kvitsinsky.
"Alone . . . he's standing on the roof, and pulling the roof down?"
"Exactly so. He is walking about on the flooring of the garret in the
roof, and smashing right and left of him. His strength, you are aware, madam,
is superhuman. And the roof too, one must say, is a poor affair; half-inch
deal battens, laid wide apart, one inch nails."
My mother looked at me, as though wishing to make sure whether she had heard
aright. "Half-inches wide apart," she repeated, obviously not understanding
the meaning of one word. "Well, what then?" she said at last.
"I have come for instructions. There's no doing anything without men
to help. The peasants there are all limp with fright."
"And his daughters--what of them?"
"His daughters are doing nothing. They're running to and fro, shouting
. . . this and that . . . all to no purpose."
"And is Sletkin there?"
"He's there too. He's making more outcry than all of them--but he can't
"And Martin Petrovitch is standing on the roof?"
"On the roof . . . that is, in the garret--and pulling the roof to pieces."
"Yes, yes," said my mother, "half-inches wide apart."
The position was obviously a serious one. What steps were to be taken? Send
to the town for the police captain? Get together the peasants? My mother was
quite at her wits' end. Zhitkov, who had come in to dinner, was nonplussed
too. It is true, he made another reference to a battalion of military; he
offered no advice, however, but confined himself to looking submissive and
devoted. Kvitsinsky, seeing he would not get at any instructions, suggested
to my mother--with the contemptuous respectfulness peculiar to him--that if
she would authorise him to take a few of the stable-boys, gardeners, and other
house-serfs, he would make an effort . . .
"Yes, yes," my mother cut him short, "do make an effort, dear
Vikenty Osipitch! Only make haste, please, and I will take all responsibility
Kvitsinsky smiled coldly. "One thing let me make clear, madam, beforehand;
it s impossible to reckon on any result, seeing that Mr. Harlov's strength
is so great, and he is so desperate too; he feels himself to have been very
"Yes, yes," my mother assented; "and it's all that vile Souvenir's
fault! Never will I forgive him for it. Go and take the servants and set off,
"You'd better take plenty of cord, Mr. Steward, and some fire-escape
tackle," Zhitkov brought out in his bass--"and if there is such
a thing as a net, it would be as well to take that along too. We once had
in our regiment . . ."
"Kindly refrain from instructing me, sir," Kvitsinsky cut him short,
with an air of vexation; "I know what is needed without your aid."
Zhitkov was offended, and protested that as he imagined he, too, was called
upon . . .
"No, no!" interposed my mother; "you'd better stop where you
are . . . Let Vikenty Osipitch act alone . . . Make haste, Vikenty Osipitch!"
Zhitkov was still more offended, while Kvitsinsky bowed and went out.
I rushed off to the stable, hurriedly saddled my horse myself, and set off
at a gallop along the road to Eskovo.
THE rain had ceased, but the wind was blowing with redoubled force--straight
into my face. Half-way there, the saddle almost slipped round under me; the
girth had got loose; I got off and tried to tighten the straps with my teeth.
. . . All at once I heard someone calling me by my name . . . Souvenir was
running towards me across the green fields. "What!" he shouted to
me from some way off, "was your curiosity too much for you? But it's
no use . . . I went over there, straight, at Harlov's heels . . . Such a state
of things you never saw in your life!"
"You want to enjoy what you have done," I said indignantly, and,
jumping on my horse, I set off again at a gallop. But the indefatigable Souvenir
did not give me up, and chuckled and grinned, even as he ran. At last, Eskovo
was reached--there was the dam, and there the long hedge and willow-tree of
the homestead . . . I rode up to the gate, dismounted, tied up my horse, and
stood still in amazement.
Of one third of the roof of the newer house, of the front part, nothing was
left but the skeleton; boards and litter lay in disorderly heaps on the ground
on both sides of the building. Even supposing the roof to be, as Kvitsinsky
had said, a poor affair, even so, it was something incredible! On the floor
of the garret, in a whirl of dust and rubbish, a blackish grey mass was moving
to and fro with rapid ungainly action, at one moment shaking the remaining
chimney, built of brick, (the other had fallen already) then tearing up the
boarding and flinging it down below, then clutching at the very rafters. It
was Harlov. He struck me as being exactly like a bear at this moment too;
the head, and back, and shoulders were a bear's, and he put his feet down
wide apart without bending the insteps--also like a bear. The bitter wind
was blowing upon him from every side, lifting his matted locks. It was horrible
to see, here and there, red patches of bare flesh through the rents in his
tattered clothes; it was horrible to hear his wild husky muttering. There
were a lot of people in the yard; peasant-women, boys, and servant-girls stood
close along the hedge. A few peasants huddled together in a separate group,
a little way off. The old village priest, whom I knew, was standing, bareheaded,
on the steps of the other house, and holding a brazen cross in both hands,
from time to time, silently and hopelessly, raised it, and, as it were, showed
it to Harlov. Beside the priest, stood Evlampia with her back against the
wall, gazing fixedly at her father. Anna, at one moment, pushed her head out
of the little window, then vanished, then hurried into the yard, then went
back into the house. Sletkin--pale all over, livid--in an old dressing-gown
and smoking-cap, with a single-barrelled rifle in his hands, kept running
to and fro with little steps. He had completely gone Jewish, as it is called.
He was gasping, threatening, shaking, pointing the gun at Harlov, then letting
it drop back on his shoulder--pointing it again, shrieking, weeping. . . .
On seeing Souvenir and me he simply flew to us.
"Look, look, what is going on here!" he wailed--"look! He's
gone out of his mind, he's raving mad . . . and see what he's doing! I've
sent for the police already--but no one comes! No one comes! If I do fire
at him, the law couldn't touch me, for every man has a right to defend his
own property! And I will fire! . . . . By God, I'll fire!"
He ran off toward the house.
"Martin Petrovitch, look out! If you don't get down, I'll fire!"
"Fire away!" came a husky voice from the roof. "Fire away!
And meanwhile here's a little present for you!"
A long plank flew up, and, turning over twice in the air, came violently to
the earth, just at Sletkin's feet. He positively jumped into the air, while
"Merciful Jesus!" faltered some one behind me. I looked round: Souvenir.
"Ah!" I thought, "he's left off laughing now!"
Sletkin clutched a peasant, who was standing near, by the collar.
"Climb up now, climb up, climb up, all of you, you devils," he wailed,
shaking the man with all his force, "save my property!"
The peasant took a couple of steps forward, threw his head back, waved his
arms, shouted--"Hi! here master!" shifted from one foot to the other
uneasily, and then turned back.
"A ladder! bring a ladder!" Sletkin addressed the other peasants.
"Where are we to get it?" was heard in answer.
"And if we had a ladder," one voice pronounced deliberately, "who'd
care to climb up? Not such fools! He'd wring your neck for you--in a twinkling!"
"He'd kill one in no time," said one young lad with flaxen hair
and a half-idiotic face.
"To be sure he would," the others confirmed. It struck me that,
even if there had been no obvious danger, the peasants would yet have been
loath to carry out their new owner's orders. They almost approved of Harlov,
though they were amazed at him.
"Ugh, you robbers!" moaned Sletkin; "you shall all catch it
. . ."
But at this moment, with a heavy rumble, the last chimney came crashing down,
and, in the midst of the cloud of yellow dust that flew up instantly, Harlov--uttering
a piercing shriek and lifting his bleeding hands high in the air--turned facing
us. Sletkin pointed the gun at him again.
Evlampia pulled him back by the elbow.
"Don't interfere!" he snarled savagely at her.
"And you--don't you dare!" she answered; and her blue eyes flashed
menacingly under her scowling brows. "Father's pulling his house down.
It's his own."
"You lie: it's ours!"
"You say ours; but I say it's his."
Sletkin hissed with fury; Evlampia's eyes seemed stabbing him in the face.
"Ah, how d'ye do! my delightful daughter!" Harlov thundered from
above. "How d'ye do! Evlampia Martinovna! How are you getting on with
your sweetheart? Are your kisses sweet, and your fondling?"
"Father!" rang out Evlampia's musical voice.
"Eh, daughter?" answered Harlov; and he came down to the very edge
of the wall. His face, as far as I could make it out, wore a strange smile,
a bright, mirthful--and for that very reason peculiarly strange and evil--smile.
. . . Many years later I saw just the same smile on the face of a man condemned
"Stop, father; come down. We are in fault; we give everything back to
you. Come down."
"What do you mean by disposing of what's ours?" put in Sletkin.
Evlampia merely scowled more angrily.
"I give you back my share. I give up everything. Give over, come down,
father! Forgive us; forgive me."
Harlov still went on smiling. "It's too late, my darling," he said,
and each of his words rang out like brass. "Too late your stony heart
is touched! The rock's started rolling downhill--there's no holding it back
now! And don't look to me now; I'm a doomed man! You'd do better to look to
your Volodka; see what a pretty fellow you've picked out! And look to your
hellish sister; there's her foxy nose yonder thrust out of the window; she's
peering yonder after that husband of hers! No, my good friends; you would
rob me of a roof over my head, so I will leave you not one beam upon another!
With my own hands I built it, with my own hands I destroy it,--yes, with my
hands alone! See, I've taken no axe to help me!"
He snorted at his two open hands, and clutched at the centre beam again.
"Enough, father," Evlampia was saying meanwhile, and her voice had
grown marvellously caressing, "let bygones be bygones. Come, trust me;
you always trusted me. Come, get down; come to me to my little room, to my
soft bed. I will dry you and warm you; I will bind up your wounds; see, you
have torn your hands. You shall live with me as in Christ's bosom; food shall
be sweet to you--and sleep sweeter yet. Come, we have done wrong! yes, we
were puffed up, we have sinned; come, forgive!"
Harlov shook his head. "Talk away! Me believe you! Never again! You've
murdered all trust in my heart! You've murdered everything! I was an eagle,
and became a worm for you . . . and you,--would you even crush the worm? Have
done! I loved you, you know very well,--but now you are no daughter to me,
and I'm no father to you . . . I'm a doomed man! Don't meddle! As for you,
fire away, coward, mighty man of valour!" Harlov bellowed suddenly at
Sletkin. "Why is it you keep aiming and don't shoot? Are you mindful
of the law; if the recipient of a gift commits an attempt upon the life of
the giver," Harlov enunciated distinctly, "then the giver is empowered
to claim everything back again? Ha, ha! don't be afraid, law-abiding man!
I'd make no claims. I'll make an end of everything myself. . . . Here goes!"
"Father!" for the last time Evlampia besought him.
"Martin Petrovitch! brother, be generous and forgive!" faltered
"Father! dear father!"
"Silence, bitch!" shouted Harlov. At Souvenir he did not even glance,--he
merely spat in his direction.
AT that instant, Kvitsinsky, with all his retinue--in three carts--appeared
at the gates. The tired horses panted, the men jumped out, one after another,
into the mud.
"Aha!" Harlov shouted at the top of his voice. "An army . .
. here it comes, an army! A whole army they're sending against me! Capital!
Only I give warning--if any one comes up here to me on the roof, I'll send
him flying down, head over heels! I'm an inhospitable master; I don't like
visitors at wrong times! No indeed!"
He was hanging with both hands on to the front rafters of the roof, the so-called
standards of the gable, and beginning to shake them violently. Balancing on
the edge of the garret flooring, he dragged them, as it were, after him, chanting
rhythmically like a bargeman, "One more pull! one more! o-oh!"
Sletkin ran up to Kvitsinsky and was beginning to whimper and pour out complaints.
. . . The latter begged him "not to interfere," and proceeded to
carry out the plan he had evolved. He took up his position in front of the
house, and began, by way of diversion, to explain to Harlov that what he was
about was unworthy of his rank. . . .
"One more pull! one more!" chanted Harlov. . . . "That Natalia
Nikolaevna was greatly displeased at his proceedings, and had not expected
it of him." . . .
"One more pull! one more! o-oh!" Harlov chanted . . . while, meantime,
Kvitsinsky had despatched the four sturdiest and boldest of the stable-boys
to the other side of the house to clamber up the roof from behind. Harlov,
however, detected the plan of attack; he suddenly left the standards and ran
quickly to the back part of the roof. His appearance was so alarming that
the two stable-boys who had already got up to the garret, dropped instantly
back again to the ground by the water-pipe, to the great glee of the serf
boys, who positively roared with laughter. Harlov shook his fist after them
and, going back to the front part of the house, again clutched at the standards
and began once more loosening them, singing again, like a bargeman.
Suddenly he stopped, stared. . . .
"Maximushka, my dear! my friend!" he cried; "is it you?"
I looked round. . . . There, actually, was Maximka, stepping out from the
crowd of peasants. Grinning and showing his teeth, he walked forward. His
master, the tailor, had probably let him come home for a holiday.
"Climb up to me, Maximushka, my faithful servant," Harlov went on;
"together let us rid ourselves of evil Tartar folk, of Lithuanian thieves!"
Maximka, still grinning, promptly began climbing up the roof. . . . But they
seized him and pulled him back--goodness knows why; possibly as an example
to the rest; he could hardly have been much aid to Martin Petrovitch.
"Oh, all right! Good!" Harlov pronounced, in a voice of menace,
and again he took hold of the standards.
"Vikenty Osipovitch! with your permission, I'll shoot," Sletkin
turned to Kvitsinsky; "more to frighten him, see, than anything; my gun's
only charged with snipe-shot." But Kvitsinsky had not time to answer
him, when the front couple of standards, viciously shaken in Harlov's iron
hands, heeled over with a loud crack and crashed into the yard; and with it,
not able to stop himself, came Harlov too, and fell with a heavy thud on the
earth. Every one shuddered and drew a deep breath. . . . Harlov lay without
stirring on his breast, and on his back lay the top central beam of the roof,
which had come down with the falling gable's timbers.
THEY ran up to Harlov, rolled the beam off him, turned him over on his back.
His face was lifeless, there was blood about his mouth; he did not seem to
breathe. "The breath is gone out of him," muttered the peasants,
standing about him. They ran to the well for water, brought a whole bucketful,
and drenched Harlov's head. The mud and dust ran off his face, but he looked
as lifeless as ever. They dragged up a bench, set it in the house itself,
and with difficulty raising the huge body of Martin Petrovitch, laid it there
with the head to the wall. The page Maximka approached, fell on one knee,
and, his other leg stretched far behind him, in a theatrical way, supported
his former master's arm. Evlampia, pale as death, stood directly facing her
father, her great eyes fastened immovably upon him. Anna and Sletkin did not
come near him. All were silent, all, as it were, waited for something. At
last we heard broken, smacking noises in Harlov's throat, as though he were
swallowing. . . Then he feebly moved one, his right, hand (Maximka supported
the left), opened one, the right eye, and slowly gazing about him, as though
drunken with some fearful drunkenness, groaned, articulated, stammering, "I'm
sma-ashed" . . and as though after a moment's thought, added, "here
it is, the ra. . . aven co. . . olt!" The blood suddenly gushed thickly
from his mouth . . . his whole body began to quiver. . . .
"The end!" I thought. . . . But once more Harlov opened the same
eye (the left eyelid lay as motionless as on a dead man's face), and fixing
it on Evlampia, he articulated, hardly above a breath, "Well, daugh.
. . ter . . . you, I do not . . ."
Kvitsinsky, with a sharp motion of his hand, beckoned to the priest, who was
still standing on the step. . . . The old man came up, his narrow cassock
clinging about his feeble knees. But suddenly there was a sort of horrible
twitching in Harlov's legs and in his stomach too; an irregular contraction
passed upwards over his face. Evlampia's face seemed quivering and working
in the same way. Maximka began crossing himself . . . I was seized with horror;
I ran out to the gates, squeezed myself close to them, not looking round.
A minute later a soft murmur ran through the crowd, behind my back, and I
understood that Martin Petrovitch was no more.
His skull had been fractured by the beam and his ribs injured, as it appeared
at the post-mortem examination.
WHAT had he wanted to say to her as he lay dying? I asked myself as I went
home on my cob: "I do not . . . forgive," or "do not . . .
pardon." The rain had come on again, but I rode at a walking pace. I
wanted to be alone as long as possible; I wanted to give myself up to my reflections,
unchecked. Souvenir had gone back in one of the carts that had come with Kvitsinsky.
Young and frivolous as I was at that time, the sudden sweeping change (not
in mere details only) that is invariably called forth in all hearts by the
coming of death--expected or unexpected, it makes no difference!--its majesty,
its gravity, and its truthfulness could not fail to impress me. I was impressed
too, . . . but for all that, my troubled, childish eyes noted many things
at once; they noted how Sletkin, hurriedly and furtively, as though it were
something stolen, popped the gun out of sight; how he and his wife became,
both of them, instantly the object of a sort of unspoken but universal aloofness.
To Evlampia, though her fault was probably no less than her sister's, this
aloofness did not extend. She even aroused a certain sympathy, when she fell
at her dead father's feet. But that she too was guilty, that was none the
less felt by all. "The old man was wronged," said a grey-haired
peasant with a big head, leaning, like some ancient judge, with both hands
and his beard on a long staff; "on your soul lies the sin! You wronged
him!" That saying was at once accepted by every one as the final judgment.
The peasants' sense of justice found expression in it, I felt that at once.
I noticed too that, at the first, Sletkin did not dare to give directions.
Without him, they lifted up the body and carried it into the other house.
Without asking him, the priest went for everything needful to the church,
while the village elder ran to the village to send off a cart and horse to
the town. Even Anna Martinovna did not venture to use her ordinary imperious
tone in ordering the samovar to be brought, "for hot water, to wash the
deceased." Her orders were more like an entreaty, and she was answered
rudely. . . .
I was absorbed all the while by the question, What was it exactly he wanted
to say to his daughter? Did he want to forgive her or to curse her? Finally
I decided that it was--forgiveness.
Three days later, the funeral of Martin Petrovitch took place. The cost of
the ceremony was undertaken by my mother, who was deeply grieved at his death,
and gave orders that no expense was to he spared. She did not herself go to
the church, because she was unwilling, as she said, to set eyes on those two
vile hussies and that nasty little Jew. But she sent Kvitsinsky, me, and Zhitkov,
though from that time forward she always spoke of the latter as a regular
old woman. Souvenir she did not admit to her presence, and was furious with
him for long after, saying that he was the murderer of her friend. He felt
his disgrace acutely; he was continually running, on tiptoe, up and down the
room, next to the one where my mother was; he gave himself up to a sort of
scared and abject melancholy, shuddering and muttering, "d'rectly!"
In church, and during the procession, Sletkin struck me as having recovered
his self-possession. He gave directions and bustled about in his old way,
and kept a greedy look-out that not a superfluous farthing should be spent,
though his own pocket was not in question. Maximka, in a new Cossack dress,
also a present from my mother, gave vent to such tenor notes in the choir,
that certainly no one could have any doubts as to the sincerity of his devotion
to the deceased. Both the sisters were duly attired in mourning, but they
seemed more stupefied than grieved, especially Evlampia. Anna wore a meek,
Lenten air, but made no attempt to weep, and was continually passing her handsome,
thin hand over her hair and cheek. Evlampia seemed deep in thought all the
time. The universal, unbending alienation, condemnation, which I had noticed
on the day of Harlov's death, I detected now too on the faces of all the people
in the church, in their actions and their glances, but still more grave and,
as it were, impersonal. It seemed as though all those people felt that the
sin into which the Harlov family had fallen--this great sin--had gone now
before the presence of the one righteous Judge, and that for that reason,
there was no need now for them to trouble themselves and be indignant. They
prayed devoutly for the soul of the dead man, whom in life they had not specially
liked, whom they had feared indeed. Very abruptly had death overtaken him.
"And it's not as though he had been drinking heavily, brother,"
said one peasant to another, in the porch.
"Nay, without drink he was drunken indeed," responded the other.
"He was cruelly wronged," the first peasant repeated the phrase
that summed it up.
"Cruelly wronged," the others murmured after him.
"The deceased was a hard master to you, wasn't he?" I asked a peasant,
whom I recognised as one of Harlov's serfs.
"He was a master, certainly," answered the peasant, "but still
. . he was cruelly wronged!"
"Cruelly wronged,". . . I heard again in the crowd.
At the grave, too, Evlampia stood, as it were, lost. Thoughts were torturing
her . . . bitter thoughts. I noticed that Sletkin, who several times addressed
some remark to her, she treated as she had once treated Zhitkov, and worse
Some days later, there was a rumour all over our neighbourhood, that Evlampia
Martinovna had left the home of her fathers for ever, leaving all the property
that came to her to her sister and brother-in-law, and only taking some hundreds
of roubles. . . . "So Anna's bought her out, it seems!" remarked
my mother; "but you and I, certainly," she added, addressing Zhitkov,
with whom she was playing picquet--he took Souvenir's place, "are not
skilful hands!" Zhitkov looked dejectedly at his mighty palms. . . .
"Hands like that! Not skilful!" he seemed to be saying to himself.
. . .
Soon after, my mother and I went to live in Moscow, and many years passed
before it was my lot to behold Martin Petrovitch's daughters again.
BUT I did see them again. Anna Martinovna I came across in the most ordinary
After my mother's death I paid a visit to our village, where I had not been
for over fifteen years, and there I received an invitation from the mediator
(at that time the process of settling the boundaries between the peasants
and their former owners was taking place over the whole of Russia with a slowness
not yet forgotten) to a meeting of the other landowners of our neighbourhood,
to be held on the estate of the widow Anna Sletkin. The news that my mother's
"nasty little Jew," with the prune-coloured eyes, no longer existed
in this world, caused me, I confess, no regret whatever. But it was interesting
to get a glimpse of his widow. She had the reputation in the neighbourhood
of a first-rate manager. And so it proved; her estate and homestead and the
house itself (I could not help glancing at the roof; it was an iron one) all
turned out to be in excellent order; everything was neat, clean, tidied-up,
where needful--painted, as though its mistress were a German. Anna Martinovna
herself, of course, looked older. But the peculiar, cold, and, as it were,
wicked charm which had once so fascinated me had not altogether left her.
She was dressed in rustic fashion, but elegantly. She received us, not cordially--that
word was not applicable to her--but courteously, and on seeing me, a witness
of that fearful scene, not an eyelash quivered. She made not the slightest
reference to my mother, nor her father, nor her sister, nor her husband.
She had two daughters, both very pretty, slim young things, with charming
little faces, and a bright and friendly expression in their black eyes. There
was a son, too, a little like his father, but still a boy to he proud of!
During the discussions between the landowners, Anna Martinovna's attitude
was composed and dignified, she showed no sign of being specially obstinate,
nor specially grasping. But none had a truer perception of their own interests
than she of hers; none could more convincingly expound and defend their rights.
All the laws "pertinent to the case," even the Minister's circulars,
she had thoroughly mastered. She spoke little, and in a quiet voice, but every
word she uttered was to the point. It ended in our all signifying our agreement
to all her demands, and making concessions, which we could only marvel at
ourselves. On our way home, some of the worthy landowners even used harsh
words of themselves; they all hummed and hawed, and shook their heads.
"Ah, she's got brains that woman!" said one. "A tricky baggage!"
put in another less delicate proprietor. "Smooth in word, but cruel in
"And a screw into the bargain!" added a third; "not a glass
of vodka nor a morsel of caviare for us--what do you think of that?"
"What can one expect of her?" suddenly croaked a gentleman who had
been silent till then, "every one knows she poisoned her husband!"
To my astonishment, nobody thought fit to controvert this awful and certainly
unfounded charge! I was the more surprised at this, as, in spite of the slighting
expressions I have reported, all of them felt respect for Anna Martinovna,
not excluding the indelicate landowner. As for the mediator, he waxed positively
"Put her on a throne," he exclaimed, "she'd be another Semiramis
or Catherine the Second! The discipline among her peasants is a perfect model.
. . . The education of her children is model! What a head! What brains!"
Without going into the question of Semiramis and Catherine, there was no doubt
Anna Martinovna was living a very happy life. Ease, inward and external, the
pleasant serenity of spiritual health, seemed the very atmosphere about herself,
her family, all her surroundings. How far she had deserved such happiness.
. . that is another question. Such questions, though, are only propounded
in youth. Everything in the world, good and bad, comes to man, not through
his deserts, but in consequence of some as yet unknown but logical laws which
I will not take upon myself to indicate, though I sometimes fancy I have a
dim perception of them.
I QUESTIONED the mediator about Evlampia Martinovna, and learnt that she had
been lost sight of completely ever since she left home, and probably "had
departed this life long ago."
So our worthy mediator expressed himself but I am convinced that I have seen
Evlampia, that I have come across her. This was how it was.
Four years after my interview with Anna Martinovna, I was spending the summer
at Murino, a little hamlet near Petersburg, a well-known resort of summer
visitors of the middle class. The shooting was pretty decent about Murino
at that time, and I used to go out with my gun almost every day. I had a companion
on my expeditions, a man of the tradesman class, called Vikulov, a very sensible
and good-natured fellow; but, as he said of himself, of no position whatever.
This man had been simply everywhere, and everything! Nothing could astonish
him, he knew everything--but he cared for nothing but shooting and wine. Well,
one day we were on our way home to Murino, and we chanced to pass a solitary
house, standing at the cross-roads, and enclosed by a high, close paling.
It was not the first time I had seen the house, and every time it excited
my curiosity. There was something about it mysterious, locked-up, grimly-dumb,
something suggestive of a prison or a hospital. Nothing of it could be seen
from the road but its steep, dark, red-painted roof. There was only one pair
of gates in the whole fence; and these seemed fastened and never opened. No
sound came from the other side of them. For all that, we felt that some one
was certainly living in the house; it had not at all the air of a deserted
dwelling. On the I contrary, everything about it was stout, and tight, and
strong, as if it would stand a siege!
"What is that fortress?" I asked my companion. "Don't you know?"
Vikulov gave a sly wink. "A fine building, eh? The police-captain of
these parts gets a nice little income out of it!"
"I'll tell you. You've heard, I daresay, of the Flagellant dissenters--that
do without priests, you know?"
"Well, it's there that their chief mother lives."
"Yes--the mother; a mother of God, they say."
"I tell you, it is so. She is a strict one, they say. . . . A regular
commander-in-chief! She rules over thousands! I'd take her, and all these
mothers of God . . . But what's the use of talking?"
He called his Pegashka, a marvellous dog, with an excellent scent, but with
no notion of setting. Vikulov was obliged to tie her hind paws to keep her
from running so furiously.
His words sank into my memory. I sometimes went out of my way to pass by the
mysterious house. One day I had just got up to it, when suddenly--wonderful
to relate!--a bolt grated in the gates, a key creaked in the lock, then the
gates themselves slowly parted, there appeared a large horse's head, with
a plaited forelock under a decorated yoke, and slowly there rolled into the
road a small cart, like those driven by horse-dealers, and higglers. On the
leather cushion of the cart, near to me, sat a peasant of about thirty, of
a remarkably handsome and attractive appearance, in a neat black smock, and
a black cap, pulled down low on his forehead. He was carefully driving the
well-fed horse, whose sides were as broad as a stove. Beside the peasant,
on the far side of the cart, sat a tall woman, as straight as an arrow. Her
head was covered by a costly-looking black shawl. She was dressed in a short
jerkin of dove-coloured velvet, and a dark blue merino skirt; her white hands
she held discreetly clasped on her bosom. The cart turned on the road to the
left, and brought the woman within two paces of me; she turned her head a
little, and I recognised Evlampia Harlov. I knew her at once, I did not doubt
for one instant, and indeed no doubt was possible; eyes like hers, and above
all that cut of the lips--haughty and sensual--I had never seen in any one
else. Her face had grown longer and thinner, the skin was darker, here and
there lines could be discerned; but, above all, the expression of the face
was changed! It is difficult to do justice in words to the self-confidence,
the sternness, the pride it had gained! Not simply the serenity of power--the
satiety of power was visible in every feature. The careless glance she cast
at me told of long years of habitually meeting nothing but reverent, unquestioning
obedience. That woman clearly lived surrounded, not by worshippers, but by
slaves. She had clearly forgotten even the time when any command, any desire
of hers, was not carried out at the instant! I called her loudly by her name
and her father's; she gave a faint start, looked at me a second time, not
with alarm, but with contemptuous wrath, as though asking--"Who dares
to disturb me?" and barely parting her lips, uttered a word of command.
The peasant sitting beside her started forward, with a wave of his arm struck
the horse with the reins--the horse set off at a strong rapid trot, and the
Since then I have not seen Evlampia again. In what way Martin Petrovitch's
daughter came to be a Holy Virgin in the Flagellant sect I cannot imagine.
But, who knows, very likely she has founded a sect which will be called--or
even now is called--after her name, the Evlampieshtchin sect? Anything may
be, anything may come to pass.
And so this is what I had to tell you of my Lear of the Steppes, of his family
and his doings.
The story-teller ceased, and we talked a little longer, and then parted, each
to his home.
AT that time I was five-and-twenty, began N. N.,--it was in days long past,
as you perceive. I had only just gained my freedom and gone abroad, not to
"finish my education," as the phrase was in those days; I simply
wanted to have a look at God's world. I was young, and in good health and
spirits, and had plenty of money. Troubles had not yet had time to gather
about me. I existed without thought, did as I liked, lived like the lilies
of the field, in fact. It never occurred to me in those days that man is not
a plant, and cannot go on living like one for long. Youth will eat gilt gingerbread
and fancy it's daily bread too; but the time comes when you're in want of
dry bread even. There's no need to go into that, though.
I travelled without any sort of aim, without a plan; I stopped wherever I
liked the place, and went on again directly I felt a desire to see new faces--faces,
nothing else. I was interested in people exclusively; I hated famous monuments
and museums of curiosities, the very sight of a guide produced in me a sense
of weariness and anger; I was almost driven crazy in the Dresden "Grune-Gewolbe."
Nature affected me extremely, but I did not care for the so-called beauties
of nature, extraordinary mountains, precipices, and waterfalls; I did not
like nature to obtrude, to force itself upon me. But faces, living human faces--people's
talk, and gesture, and laughter--that was what was absolutely necessary to
me. In a crowd I always had a special feeling of ease and comfort. I enjoyed
going where others went, shouting when others shouted, and at the same time
I liked to look at the others shouting. It amused me to watch people. . .
though I didn't even watch them--I simply stared at them with a sort of delighted,
ever-eager curiosity. But I am diverging again.
And so twenty years ago I was staying in the little German town Z., on the
left bank of the Rhine. I was seeking solitude; I had just been stabbed to
the heart by a young widow, with whom I had made acquaintance at a watering-place.
She was very pretty and clever, and flirted with every one--with me, too,
poor sinner. At first she had positively encouraged me, but later on she cruelly
wounded my feelings, sacrificing me for a red-faced Bavarian lieutenant. It
must be owned, the wound to my heart was not a very deep one; but I thought
it my duty to give myself up for a time to gloom and solitude--youth will
find amusement in anything!--and so I settled at Z.
I liked the little town for its situation on the slope of two high hills,
its ruined walls and towers, its ancient lime-trees, its steep bridge over
the little clear stream that falls into the Rhine, and, most of all, for its
excellent wine. In the evening, directly after sunset (it was June), very
pretty flaxen-haired German girls used to walk about its narrow streets and
articulate "Guten Abend" in agreeable voices on meeting a stranger,--some
of them did not go home even when the moon had risen behind the pointed roofs
of the old houses, and the tiny stones that paved the street could be distinctly
seen in its still beams. I liked wandering about the town at that time; the
moon seemed to keep a steady watch on it from the clear sky; and the town
was aware of this steady gaze, and stood quiet and attentive, bathed in the
moonlight, that peaceful light which is yet softly exciting to the soul. The
cock on the tall Gothic bell-tower gleamed a pale gold, the same gold sheen
glimmered in waves over the black surface of the stream; slender candles (the
German is a thrifty soul!) twinkled modestly in the narrow windows under the
slate roofs; branches of vine thrust out their twining tendrils mysteriously
from behind stone walls; something flitted into the shade by the old-fashioned
well in the three-cornered market place; the drowsy whistle of the night watchman
broke suddenly on the silence, a good-natured dog gave a subdued growl, while
the air simply caressed the face, and the lime-trees smelt so sweet that unconsciously
the lungs drew in deeper and deeper breaths of it, and the name "Gretchen"
hung, half exclamation, half question, on the lips.
The little town of Z. lies a mile and a half from the Rhine. I used often
to walk to look at the majestic river, and would spend long hours on a stone-seat
under a huge solitary ash-tree, musing, not without some mental effort, on
the faithless widow. A little statue of a Madonna, with an almost childish
face and a red heart, pierced with swords, on her bosom, peeped mournfully
out of the branches of the ash-tree. On the opposite bank of the river was
the little town L., somewhat larger than that in which I had taken up my quarters.
One evening I was sitting on my favourite seat, gazing at the sky, the river,
and the vineyards. In front of me flaxen-headed boys were scrambling up the
sides of a boat that had been pulled ashore, and turned with its tarred bottom
upwards. Sailing-boats moved slowly by with slightly dimpling sails; the greenish
waters glided by, swelling and faintly rumbling. All of a sudden sounds of
music drifted across to me; I listened. A waltz was being played in the town
of L. The double bass boomed spasmodically, the sound of the fiddle floated
across indistinctly now and then, the flute was tootling briskly.
"What's that?" I inquired of an old man who came up to me, in a
plush waistcoat, blue stockings, and shoes with buckles.
"That," he replied, after first shifting his pipe from one corner
of his mouth to the other, "is the students come over from B. to a commersh."
"I'll have a look at this commersh," I thought. "I've never
been over to L. either." I sought out a ferryman, and went over to the
EVERY one, perhaps, may not know what such a commersh is. It is a solemn festival
of a special sort, at which students meet together who are of one district
or brotherhood (Landsmannschaft). Almost all who take part in the commersh
wear the time-honoured costume of German students: Hungarian jackets, big
boots, and little caps, with bands round them of certain colours. The students
generally assemble to a dinner, presided over by their senior member, and
they keep up the festivities till morning--drinking, singing songs, "Landesvater,"
"Gaudeamus," etc., smoking, and reviling the Philistines. Sometimes
they hire an orchestra.
Just such a commersh was going on in L., in front of a little inn, with the
sign of the Sun, in the garden looking on to the street. Flags were flying
over the inn and over the garden; the students were sitting at tables under
the pollard lime-trees; a huge bull-dog was lying under one of the tables;
on one side, in an ivy-covered arbour, were the musicians, playing away zealously,
and continually invigorating themselves with beer. A good many people had
collected in the street, before the low garden wall; the worthy citizens of
L. could not let slip a chance of staring at visitors. I too mingled in the
crowd of spectators. I enjoyed watching the students' faces; their embraces,
exclamations, the innocent affectations of youth, the fiery glances, the laughter
without cause--the sweetest laughter in the world--all this joyous effervescence
of young, fresh life, this eager pushing forward--anywhere, so long as it's
forward--the simple-hearted freedom moved me and stirred me.
"Couldn't I join them?" I was wondering. . . .
"Acia, have you had enough of it?" I heard a man's voice say suddenly,
in Russian, just behind me.
"Let's stay a little longer," answered another voice, a woman's,
in the same language.
I turned quickly round. . . . My eyes fell on a handsome young man in a peaked
cap and a loose short jacket. He had on his arm a young girl, not very tall,
wearing a straw hat, which concealed all the upper part of her face.
"You are Russians," fell involuntarily from my lips.
The young man smiled and answered--
"Yes, we are Russians."
"I never expected . . . in such an out of the way place," I was
"Nor did we," he interrupted me. "Well, so much the better.
Let me introduce myself. My name's Gagin, and this is my----" he hesitated
for an instant, "my sister. What is your name, may I ask?"
I told him my name, and we got into conversation. I found out that Gagin was
travelling, like me, for his amusement; that he had arrived a week before
at L., and was staying on there. To tell the truth, I was not eager to make
friends with Russians abroad. I used to recognise them a long way off by their
walk, the cut of their clothes, and, most of all, by the expression of their
faces which was self-complacent and supercilious, often imperious, but would
all of a sudden change, and give place to an expression of shyness and cautiousness.
. . . The whole man would suddenly be on his guard, his eyes would shift uneasily.
. . .
"Mercy upon us! Haven't I said something silly; aren't they laughing
at me?" those restless eyes seem to ask. . . . An instant later and haughtiness
has regained its sway over the physiognomy, varied at times by a look of dull
blankness. Yes, I avoided Russians; but I liked Gagin at once. There are faces
in the world of that happy sort; every one is glad to look at them, as though
they warmed or soothed one in some way. Gagin had just such a face--sweet
and kind, with large soft eyes and soft curly hair. He spoke in such a way
that even if you did not see his face, you could tell by the mere sound of
his voice that he was smiling!
The girl, whom he had called his sister, struck me at the first glance as
very charming. There was something individual, characteristic in the lines
of her dark, round face, with its small, fine nose, almost childish cheeks,
and clear black eyes. She was gracefully built, but hardly seemed to have
reached her full development yet. She was not in the least like her brother.
"Will you come home with us?" Gagin said to me; "I think we've
stared enough at the Germans. Our fellows, to be sure, would have broken the
windows, and smashed up the chairs, but these chaps are very sedate. What
do you say, Acia, shall we go home?"
The girl nodded her head in assent.
"We live outside the town," Gagin continued, "in a vineyard,
in a lonely little house, high up. It's delightful there, you'll see. Our
landlady promised to make us some junket. It will soon be dark now, and you
had much better cross the Rhine by moonlight."
We set off. Through the low gates of the town (it was enclosed on all sides
by an ancient wall of cobble-stones, even the barbicans had not all fallen
into ruins at that time), we came out into the open country, and after walking
a hundred paces beside a stone wall, we came to a standstill before a little
narrow gate. Gagin opened it, and led us along a steep path up the mountain-side.
On the slopes on both sides was the vineyard; the sun had just set, and a
delicate rosy flush lay on the green vines, on the tall poles, on the dry
earth, which was dotted with big and little stones, and on the white wall
of the little cottage, with sloping black beams, and four bright little windows,
which stood at the very top of the mountain we had climbed up.
"Here is our house!" cried Gagin, directly we began to approach
the cottage, "and here's the landlady bringing in the junket. Guten Abend,
Madame! . . . We'll come in to supper directly; but first," he added,
"look round . . . isn't it a view?"
The view certainly was marvellous. The Rhine lay at our feet, all silvery
between its green banks; in one place it glowed with the purple and gold of
the sunset. The little town, nestling close to the river-bank, displayed all
its streets and houses; sloping hills and meadows ran in wide stretches in
all directions. Below it was fine, but above was finer still; I was specially
impressed by the depth and purity of the sky, the radiant transparency of
the atmosphere. The fresh, light air seemed softly quivering and undulating,
as though it too were more free and at ease on the heights.
"You have chosen delightful lodgings," I observed.
"It was Acia found it," answered Gagin; "come, Acia,"
he went on, "see after the supper. Let everything be brought out here.
We will have supper in the open air. We can hear the music better here. Have
you ever noticed," he added, turning to me, "a waltz is often poor
stuff close by--vulgar, coarse music--but in the distance, it's exquisite!
it fairly stirs every romantic chord within one."
Acia (her real name was Anna, but Gagin called her Acia, and you must let
me do the same), went into the house, and soon came back with the landlady.
They were carrying together a big tray, with a bowl of junkets plates, spoons,
sugar, fruit, and bread. We sat down and began supper. Acia took off her hat;
her black hair cropped short and combed, like a boy's, fell in thick curls
on her neck and ears. At first she was shy of me; but Gagin said to her--
"Come, Acia, come out of your shell! he won't bite."
She smiled, and a little while after she began talking to me of her own accord.
I had never seen such a restless creature. She did not sit still for a single
instant; she got up, ran off into the house, and ran back again, hummed in
an undertone, often laughed, and in a very strange way; she seemed to laugh,
not at what she heard, but at the different ideas that crossed her mind. Her
big eyes looked out boldly, brightly, directly, but sometimes her eyelids
faintly drooped, and then their expression instantaneously became deep and
We chatted away for a couple of hours. The daylight had long died away, and
the evening glow, at first fiery, then clear and red, then pale and dim, had
slowly melted away and passed into night, but our conversation still went
on, as quiet and peaceful as the air around us. Gagin ordered a bottle of
Rhine wine; we drank it between us, slowly and deliberately. The music floated
across to us as before, its strains seemed sweeter and tenderer; lights were
burning in the town and on the river. Acia suddenly let her head fall, so
that her curls dropped into her eyes, ceased speaking, and sighed. Then she
said she was sleepy, and went indoors. I saw, though, that she stood a long
while at the unopened window without lighting a candle. At last the moon rose
and began shining upon the Rhine; everything turned to light and darkness,
everything was transformed, even the wine in our cut-glass tumblers gleamed
with a mysterious light. The wind drooped, as it were, folded its wings and
sank to rest; the fragrant warmth of night rose in whiffs from the earth.
"It's time I was going!" I cried, "or else perhaps, there'll
be no getting a ferryman."
"Yes, it's time to start," Gagin assented.
We went down the path. Suddenly we heard the rolling of the stones behind
us; it was Acia coming after us.
"Aren't you asleep?" asked her brother; but, without answering a
word, she ran by us. The last, smouldering lamps, lighted by the students
in the garden of the inn, threw a light on the leaves of the trees from below,
giving them a fantastic and festive look. We found Acia at the river's edge;
she was talking to a ferryman. I jumped into the boat, and said good-bye to
my new friends. Gagin promised to pay me a visit next day; I pressed his hand,
and held out my hand to Acia; but she only looked at me and shook her head.
The boat pushed off and floated on the rapid river. The ferryman, a sturdy
old man, buried his oars in the dark water, and pulled with great effort.
"You are in the streak of moonlight, you have broken it up," Acia
shouted to me.
I dropped my eyes; the waters eddied round the boat, blacker than ever.
"Good-bye!" I heard her voice.
"Till to-morrow," Gagin said after her.
The boat reached the other side. I got out and looked about me. No one could
be seen now on the opposite bank. The streak of moonlight stretched once more
like a bridge of gold right across the river. Like a farewell, the air of
the old-fashioned Lanner waltz drifted across. Gagin was right; I felt every
chord in my heart vibrating in response to its seductive melody. I started
homewards across the darkening fields, drinking in slowly the fragrant air,
and reached my room, deeply stirred by the voluptuous languor of vague, endless
anticipation. I felt happy. . . . But why was I happy? I desired nothing,
I thought of nothing. . . . I was happy.
Almost laughing from excess of sweet, light-hearted emotions, I dived into
my bed, and was just closing my eyes, when all at once it struck me that I
had not once all the evening remembered my cruel charmer. . . . "What's
the meaning of it?" I wondered to myself; "is it possible I'm not
in love?" But though I asked myself this question, I fell asleep, I think,
at once, like a baby in its cradle.
NEXT morning (I was awake, but had not yet begun to get up), I heard the tap
of a stick on my window, and a voice I knew at once for Gagin's hummed--
"Art thou asleep? with the guitar Will I awaken thee . . ."
I made haste to open the door to him.
"Good-morning," said Gagin, coming in; "I'm disturbing you
rather early, but only see what a morning it is. Fresh, dewy, larks singing."
With his curly, shining hair, his open neck and rosy cheeks, he was fresh
as the morning himself.
I dressed; we went out into the garden, sat down on a bench, ordered coffee,
and proceeded to talk. Gagin told me his plans for the future; he possessed
a moderate fortune, was not dependent on any one, and wanted to devote himself
to painting. He only regretted that he had not had more sense sooner, but
had wasted so much time doing nothing. I too referred to my projects, and
incidentally confided to him the secret of my unhappy love. He listened to
me amiably, but, so far as I could observe, I did not arouse in him any very
strong sympathy with my passion. Sighing once or twice after me, for civility's
sake, Gagin suggested that I should go home with him and look at his sketches.
I agreed at once.
We did not find Acia. She had, the landlady told us, gone to the "ruin."
A mile and a half from L. were the remains of a feudal castle. Gagin showed
me all his canvases. In his sketches there was a good deal of life and truth,
a certain breadth and freedom; but not one of them was finished, and the drawing
struck me as careless and incorrect. I gave candid expression to my opinion.
"Yes, yes," he assented, with a sigh; "you're right; it's all
very poor and crude; what's to be done? I haven't had the training I ought
to have had; besides, one's cursed Slavonic slackness gets the better of one.
While one dreams of work, one soars away in eagle flight; one fancies one's
going to shake the earth out of its place--but when it comes to doing anything,
one's weak and weary directly."
I began trying to cheer him up, but he waved me off, and bundling his sketches
up together, threw them on the sofa.
"If I've patience, something may be made of me," he muttered; "if
I haven't, I shall remain a half-baked noble amateur. Come, we'd better be
looking for Acia."
We went out.
THE road to the ruin went twisting down the steep incline into a narrow wooded
valley; at the bottom ran a stream, noisily threading its way through the
pebbles, as though in haste to flow into the great river, peacefully shining
beyond the dark ridge of the deep indented mountain crest. Gagin called my
attention to some places where the light fell specially finely; one could
see in his words that, even if not a painter, he was undoubtedly an artist.
The ruin soon came into sight. On the very summit of the naked rock rose a
square tower, black all over, still strong, but, as it were, cleft in two
by a longitudinal crack. Mossy walls adjoined the tower; here and there ivy
clung about it; wind-twisted bushes hung down from the grey battlements and
crumbling arches. A stray path led up to the gates, still standing entire.
We had just reached them, when suddenly a girl's figure darted up in front
of us, ran swiftly over a heap of debris, and stood on the projecting part
of the wall, right over the precipice.
"Why, it's Acia!" cried Gagin; "the mad thing." We went
through the gates and found ourselves in a small courtyard, half overgrown
with crab-apple trees and nettles. On the projecting ledge, Acia actually
was sitting. She turned and faced us, laughing, but did not move. Gagin shook
his finger at her, while I loudly reproached her for her recklessness.
"That's enough," Gagin said to me in a whisper; "don't tease
her; you don't know what she is; she'd very likely climb right up on to the
tower. Look, you'd better be admiring the intelligence of the people of these
I looked round. In a corner, ensconced in a tiny, wooden hut, an old woman
was knitting a stocking, and looking at us through her spectacles. She sold
beer, gingerbread, and seltzer water to tourists. We seated ourselves on a
bench, and began drinking some fairly cold beer out of heavy pewter pots.
Acia still sat without moving, with her feet tucked under her, and a muslin
scarf wrapped round her head; her graceful figure stood out distinctly and
finely against the clear sky; but I looked at her with a feeling of hostility.
The evening before I had detected something forced, something not quite natural
about her. . . . "She's trying to impress us," I thought; "whatever
for? What a childish trick." As though guessing my thoughts, she suddenly
turned a rapid, searching glance upon me, laughed again, leaped in two bounds
from the wall, and going up to the old woman, asked her for a glass of water.
"Do you think I am thirsty?" she said, addressing her brother; "no;
there are some flowers on the walls, which must be watered."
Gagin made her no reply; and with the glass in her hand, she began scrambling
over the ruins, now and then stopping, bending down, and with comic solemnity
pouring a few drops of water, which sparkled brightly in the sun. Her movements
were very charming, but I felt, as before, angry with her, even while I could
not help admiring her lightness and agility. At one dangerous place she purposely
screamed, and then laughed. . . . I felt still more annoyed with her.
"Why, she climbs like a goat," the old woman mumbled, turning for
an instant from her stocking.
At last, Acia had emptied the glass, and with a saucy swing she walked back
to us. A queer smile was faintly twitching at her eyebrows, nostrils, and
lips; her dark eyes were screwed up with a half insolent, half merry look.
"You consider my behaviour improper," her face seemed to say; "all
the same, I know you're admiring me."
"Well done, Acia, well done," Gagin said in a low voice.
She seemed all at once overcome with shame, she dropped her long eyelashes,
and sat down beside us with a guilty air. At that moment I got for the first
time a good look at her face, the most changeable face I had ever seen. A
few instants later it had turned quite pale, and wore an intense, almost mournful
expression, its very features seemed larger, sterner, simpler. She completely
subsided. We walked round the ruins (Acia followed us), and admired the views.
Meanwhile it was getting near dinner-time. As he paid the old woman, Gagin
asked for another mug of beer, and turning to me, cried with a sly face--
"To the health of the lady of your heart."
"Why, has he--have you such a lady?" Acia asked suddenly.
"Why, who hasn't?" retorted Gagin.
Acia seemed pensive for an instant; then her face changed, the challenging,
almost insolent smile came back once more.
On the way home she kept laughing, and was more mischievous again. She broke
off a long branch, put it on her shoulder, like a gun, and tied her scarf
round her head. I remember we met a numerous family of light-haired affected
English people; they all, as though at a word of command, looked Acia up and
down with their glassy eyes in chilly amazement, while she started singing
aloud, as though in defiance of them. When she reached home, she went straight
to her own room, and only appeared when dinner was on the table. She was dressed
in her best clothes, had carefully arranged her hair, laced herself in at
the waist, and put on gloves. At dinner she behaved very decorously, almost
affectedly, hardly tasting anything, and drinking water out of a wine- glass.
She obviously wanted to show herself in a new character before me--the character
of a well-bred, refined young lady. Gagin did not check her; one could see
that it was his habit to humour her in everything. He merely glanced at me
good-humouredly now and then and slightly shrugged his shoulders, as though
he would say--"She's a baby; don't be hard on her." Directly dinner
was over, Acia got up, made us a curtsey, and putting on her hat, asked Gagin
if she might go to see Frau Luise.
"Since when do you ask leave," he answered with his invariable smile,
a rather embarrassed smile this time; "are you bored with us?"
"No; but I promised Frau Luise yesterday to go and see her; besides,
I thought you would like better being alone. Mr. N. (she indicated me) will
tell you something more about himself."
She went out.
"Frau Luise," Gagin began, trying to avoid meeting my eyes, "is
the widow of a former burgomaster here, a good-natured, but silly old woman.
She has taken a great fancy to Acia. Acia has a passion for making friends
with people of a lower class; I've noticed, it's always pride that's at the
root of that. She's pretty well spoilt with me, as you see," he went
on after a brief pause: "but what would you have me do? I can't be exacting
with any one, and with her less than any one else. I am bound not to be hard
I was silent. Gagin changed the conversation. The more I saw of him, the more
strongly was I attracted by him. I soon understood him. His was a typically
Russian nature, truthful, honest, simple; but, unhappily, without energy,
lacking tenacity and inward fire. Youth was not boiling over within him, but
shone with a subdued light. He was very sweet and clever, but I could not
picture to myself what he would become in ripe manhood. An artist . . . without
intense, incessant toil, there is no being an artist . and as for toil, I
mused, watching his soft features, listening to his slow deliberate talk,
"no, you'll never toil, you don't know how to put pressure on yourself."
But not to love him was an impossibility; one's heart was simply drawn to
him. We spent four hours together, sometimes sitting on the sofa, sometimes
walking slowly up and down before the house; and in those four hours we became
The sun was setting, and it was time for me to go home. Acia had not yet come
"What a reckless thing she is," said Gagin. "Shall I come along
with you? We'll turn in at Frau Luise's on the way. I'll ask whether she's
there. It's not far out of the way."
We went down into the town, and turning off into a narrow, crooked little
by-street, stopped before a house four storeys high, and with two windows
abreast in each storey. The second storey projected beyond the first, the
third and fourth stood out still further than the second; the whole house,
with its crumbling carving, its two stout columns below, its pointed brick
roof, and the projecting piece on the attic poking out like a beak, looked
like a huge, crouching bird.
"Acia," shouted Gagin, "are you here?"
A window, with a light in it in the third storey, rattled and opened, and
we saw Acia's dark head. Behind her peered out the toothless and dim-sighted
face of an old German woman.
"I'm here," said Acia, leaning roguishly out with her elbows on
the window-sill; "I'm quite contented here. Hullo there, catch,"
she added flinging Gagin a twig of geranium; "imagine I'm the lady of
Frau Luise laughed.
"N. is going," said Gagin; "he wants to say good-bye to you."
"Really," said Acia; "in that case give him my geranium, and
I'll come back directly."
She slammed-to the window and seemed to be kissing Frau Luise. Gagin offered
me the twig without a word. I put it in my pocket in silence, went on to the
ferry, and crossed over to the other side of the river.
I remember I went home thinking of nothing in particular, but with a strange
load at my heart, when I was suddenly struck by a strong familiar scent, rare
in Germany. I stood still, and saw near the road a small bed of hemp. Its
fragrance of the steppes instantaneously brought my own country to my mind,
and stirred a passionate longing for it in my heart. I longed to breathe Russian
air, to tread on Russian soil. "What am I doing here, why am I trailing
about in foreign countries among strangers?" I cried, and the dead weight
I had felt at my heart suddenly passed into a bitter, stinging emotion. I
reached home in quite a different frame of mind from the evening before. I
felt almost enraged, and it was a long while before I could recover my equanimity.
I was beset by a feeling of anger I could not explain. At last I sat down,
and bethinking myself of my faithless widow (I wound up every day regularly
by dreaming, as in duty bound, of this lady), I pulled out one of her letters.
But I did not even open it; my thoughts promptly took another turn. I began
dreaming--dreaming of Acia. I recollected that Gagin had, in the course of
conversation, hinted at certain difficulties, obstacles in the way of his
returning to Russia. . . . "Come, is she his sister?" I said aloud.
I undressed, got into bed, and tried to get to sleep; but an hour later I
was sitting up again in bed, propped up with my elbow on the pillow, and was
once more thinking about this "whimsical chit of a girl with the affected
laugh." . . . "She's the figure of the little Galatea of Raphael
in the Farnesino," I murmured: "yes; and she's not his sister----"
The widow's letter lay tranquil and undisturbed on the floor, a white patch
in the moonlight.
NEXT morning I went again to L----. I persuaded myself I wanted to see Gagin,
but secretly I was tempted to go and see what Acia would do, whether she would
be as whimsical as on the previous day. I found them both in their sitting-room,
and strange to say--possibly because I had been thinking so much that night
and morning of Russia-- Acia struck me as a typically Russian girl, and a
girl of the humbler class, almost like a Russian servant-girl. She wore an
old gown, she had combed her hair back behind her ears, and was sitting still
as a mouse at the window, working at some embroidery in a frame, quietly,
demurely, as though she had never done anything else all her life. She said
scarcely anything, looked quietly at her work, and her features wore such
an ordinary, commonplace expression, that I could not help thinking of our
Katias and Mashas at home in Russia. To complete the resemblance she started
singing in a low voice, "Little mother, little dove." I looked at
her little face, which was rather yellow and listless, I thought of my dreams
of the previous night, and I felt a pang of regret for something.
It was exquisite weather. Gagin announced that he was going to make a sketch
to-day from nature; I asked him if he would let me go with him, whether I
shouldn't be in his way.
"On the contrary," he assured me; "you may give me some good
He put on a hat a la Vandyck, and a blouse, took a canvas under his arm, and
set out; I sauntered after him. Acia stayed at home. Gagin, as he went out,
asked her to see that the soup wasn't too thin; Acia promised to look into
the kitchen. Gagin went as far as the valley I knew already, sat down on a
stone, and began to sketch a hollow oak with spreading branches. I lay on
the grass and took out a book; but I didn't read two pages, and he simply
spoiled a sheet of paper; we did little else but talk, and as far as I am
competent to judge, we talked rather cleverly and subtly of the right method
of working, of what we must avoid, and what one must cling to, and wherein
lay the significance of the artist in our age. Gagin, at last, decided that
he was not in the mood to-day, and lay down beside me on the grass. And then
our youthful eloquence flowed freely; fervent, pensive, enthusiastic by turns,
but consisting almost always of those vague generalities into which a Russian
is so ready to expand. When we had talked to our hearts' content, and were
full of a feeling of satisfaction as though we had got something done, achieved
some sort of success, we returned home. I found Acia just as I had left her;
however assiduously I watched her I could not detect a shade of coquetry,
nor a sign of an intentionally assumed role in her; this time it was impossible
to reproach her for artificiality.
"Aha!" said Gagin; "she has imposed fasting and penance on
Towards evening she yawned several times with obvious genuineness, and went
early to her room. I myself soon said good-bye to Gagin, and as I went home,
I had no dreams of any kind; that day was spent in sober sensations. I remember,
however, as I lay down to sleep, I involuntarily exclaimed aloud-- "What
a chameleon the girl is!" and after a moment's thought I added; "anyway,
she's not his sister."
A WHOLE fortnight passed by. I visited the Gagins every day. Acia seemed to
avoid me, but she did not permit herself one of the mischievous tricks which
had so surprised me the first two days of our acquaintance. She seemed secretly
wounded or embarrassed; she even laughed less than at first. I watched her
She spoke French and German fairly well; but one could easily see, in everything
she did, that she had not from childhood been brought up under a woman's care,
and that she had had a curious, irregular education that had nothing in common
with Gagin's bringing up. He was, in spite of the Vandyck hat and the blouse,
so thoroughly every inch of him the soft, half-effeminate Great Russian nobleman,
while she was not like the young girl of the same class. In all her movements
there was a certain restlessness. The wild stock had not long been grafted,
the new wine was still fermenting. By nature modest and timid, she was exasperated
by her own shyness, and in her exasperation tried to force herself to be bold
and free and easy, in which she was not always successful. I sometimes began
to talk to her about her life in Russia, about her past; she answered my questions
reluctantly. I found out, however, that before going abroad she had lived
a long while in the country. I came upon her once, intent on a book, alone.
With her head on her hands and her fingers thrust into her hair, she was eagerly
devouring the lines.
"Bravo!" I said, going up to her; "how studious you are!"
She raised her head, and looked gravely and severely at me. "You think
I can do nothing but laugh," she said, and was about to go away. . .
I glanced at the title of the book; it was some French novel.
"I can't commend your choice, though," I observed.
"What am I to read then?" she cried; and flinging the book on the
table, she added--"so I'd better go and play the fool," and ran
out into the garden.
That same day, in the evening, I was reading Gagin Hermann und Dorothea. Acia
at first kept fidgeting about us, then all at once she stopped, listened,
softly sat down by me, and heard the reading through to the end. The next
day I hardly knew her again, till I guessed it had suddenly occurred to her
to be as domestic and discreet as Dorothea. In fact I saw her as a half-enigmatic
creature. Vain, self-conscious to the last degree, she attracted me even when
I was irritated by her. Of one thing only I felt more and more convinced;
and that was, that she was not Gagin's sister. His manner with her was not
like a brother's, it was too affectionate, too considerate, and at the same
time a little constrained.
A curious incident apparently confirmed my suspicions.
One evening, when I reached the vineyard where the Gagins lived, I found the
gate fastened. Without losing much time in deliberation, I made my way to
a broken-down place I had noticed before in the hedge and jumped over it.
Not far from this spot there was a little arbour of acacias on one side of
the path. I got up to it and was just about to pass it. . . . Suddenly I was
struck by Acia's voice passionately and tearfully uttering the following words:
"No, I"ll love no one but you, no, no, I will love you only, for
"Come, Acia, calm yourself," said Gagin; "you know I believe
Their voices came from the arbour. I could see them both through the thin
net-work of leaves. They did not notice me.
"You, you only," she repeated, and she flung herself on his neck,
and with broken sobs began kissing him and clinging to his breast.
"Come, come," he repeated, lightly passing his hand over her hair.
For a few instants I stood motionless . . . Suddenly I started--should I go
up to them?--"On no consideration," flashed through my head. With
rapid footsteps I turned back to the hedge, leaped over it into the road,
and almost running, went home. I smiled, rubbed my hands, wondered at the
chance which had so suddenly confirmed my surmises (I did not for one instant
doubt their accuracy) and yet there was a great bitterness in my heart. What
accomplished hypocrites they are, though, I thought. And what for? Why should
he try to take me in? I shouldn't have expected it of him . . . And what a
touching scene of reconciliation!
I SLEPT badly, and next morning got up early, fastened a knapsack on my back,
and telling my landlady not to expect me back for the night, set off walking
to the mountains, along the upper part of the stream on which Z. is situated.
These mountains, offsets of the ridge known as the Hundsruck, are very interesting
from a geological point of view. They are especially remarkable for the purity
and regularity of the strata of basalt; but I was in no mood for geological
observations. I did not take stock of what was passing within me. One feeling
was clear to me; a disinclination to see the Gagins. I assured myself that
the sole reason of my sudden distaste for their society was anger at their
duplicity. Who forced them to pass themselves off as brother and sister? However,
I tried not to think about them; I sauntered in leisurely fashion about the
mountains and valleys, sat in the village inns, talking peacefully to the
innkeepers and people drinking in them, or lay on a flat stone warmed by the
sun, and watched the clouds floating by. Luckily it was exquisite weather.
In such pursuits I passed three days, and not without pleasure, though my
heart did ache at times. My own mood was in perfect harmony with the peaceful
nature of that quiet countryside.
I gave myself up entirely to the play of circumstances, of fleeting impressions;
in slow succession they flowed through my soul, and left on it at last one
general sensation, in which all I had seen, felt, and heard in those three
days was mingled--all; the delicate fragrance of resin in the forest, the
call and tap of the woodpeckers, the never-ceasing chatter of the clear brooks,
with spotted trout lying in the sand at the bottom, the somewhat softened
outlines of the mountains, the surly rocks, the little clean villages, with
respectable old churches and trees, the storks in the meadows, the neat mills
with swiftly turning wheels, the beaming faces of the villagers, their blue
smocks and grey stockings, the creaking, deliberately-moving wagons, drawn
by sleek horses, and sometimes cows, the long-haired young men, wandering
on the clean roads, planted with apple and pear trees. . . .
Even now I like to recall my impressions of those days. Good luck go with
thee, modest nook of Germany, with thy simple plenty, with traces everywhere
of busy hands, of patient though leisurely toil. . . . Good luck and peace
I came home at the end of the third day: I forgot to say that in my anger
with the Gagins I tried to revive the image of my cruel-hearted widow, but
my efforts were fruitless. I remember when I applied myself to musing upon
her, I saw a little peasant girl of five years old, with a round little face
and innocently staring eyes. She gazed with such childish directness at me.
. . . I felt ashamed before her innocent stare, I could not lie in her presence,
and at once, and once for all, said a last good-bye to my former flame.
At home I found a note from Gagin. He wondered at the suddenness of my plan,
reproached me, asked why I had not taken him with me, and pressed me to go
and see him directly I was back. I read this note with dissatisfaction; but
the next day I set off to the Gagins.
GAGIN met me in friendly fashion, and overwhelmed me with affectionate reproaches;
but Acia, as though intentionally, burst out laughing for no reason whatever,
directly she saw me, and promptly ran away, as she so often did. Gagin was
disconcerted; he muttered after her that she must be crazy, and begged me
to excuse her. I confess I was very much annoyed with Acia; already, apart
from that, I was not at my ease; and now again this unnatural laughter, these
strange grimaces. I pretended, however, not to notice anything, and began
telling Gagin some of the incidents of my short tour. He told me what he had
been doing in my absence. But our talk did not flow easily; Acia came into
the room and ran out again; I declared at last that I had urgent work to do,
and must get back home. Gagin at first tried to keep me, then, looking intently
at me, offered to see me on my way. In the passage, Acia suddenly came up
to me and held out her hand; I shook her fingers very slightly, and barely
bowed to her. Gagin and I crossed the Rhine together, and when we reached
my favourite ash-tree with the statuette of the Madonna, we sat down on the
bench to admire the view. A remarkable conversation took place between us.
At first we exchanged a few words, then we were silent, watching the clear
"Tell me," began Gagin all at once, with his habitual smile, "what
do you think of Acia? I suppose she must strike you as rather strange, doesn't
"Yes," I answered, in some perplexity. I had not expected he would
begin to speak of her.
"One has to know her well to judge of her," he observed; "she
has a very good heart, but she's wilful. She's difficult to get on with. But
you couldn't blame her if you knew her story. . . ."
"Her story?" I broke in. . . . "Why, isn't she your----"
Gagin glanced at me.
"Do you really think she isn't my sister? . . . No," he went on,
paying no attention to my confusion, "she really is my sister, she's
my father's daughter. Let me tell you about her, I feel I can trust you, and
I'll tell you all about it.
"My father was very kind, clever, cultivated, and unhappy. Fate treated
him no worse than others; but he could not get over her first blow. He married
early, for love; his wife, my mother, died very soon after; I was only six
months old then. My father took me away with him to his country place, and
for twelve years he never went out anywhere. He looked after my education
himself and would never have parted with me, if his brother, my uncle, had
not come to see us in the country. This uncle always lived in Petersburg,
where he held a very important post. He persuaded my father to put me in his
charge, as my father would not on any consideration agree to leave the country.
My uncle represented to him that it was bad for a boy of my age to live in
complete solitude, that with such a constantly depressed and taciturn instructor
as my father I should infallibly be much behind other boys of my age in education,
and that my character even might very possibly suffer. My father resisted
his brother's counsels a long while, but he gave way at last. I cried at parting
from my father; I loved him, though I had never seen a smile on his face .
. . but when I got to Petersburg, I soon forgot our dark and cheerless home.
I entered a cadet's school, and from school passed on into a regiment of the
Guards. Every year I used to go home to the country for a few weeks, and every
year I found my father more and more low-spirited, absorbed in himself, depressed,
and even timorous. He used to go to church every day, and had quite got out
of the way of talking. On one of my visits--I was about twenty then--I saw
for the first time in our house a thin, dark-eyed little girl of ten years
old--Acia. My father told me she was an orphan whom he had kept out of charity--that
was his very expression. I paid no particular attention to her; she was shy,
quick in her movements, and silent as a little wild animal, and directly I
went into my father's favourite room--an immense gloomy apartment, where my
mother had died, and where candles were kept burning even in the daytime--she
would hide at once behind his big arm-chair, or behind the book-case. It so
happened that for three or four years after that visit the duties of the service
prevented my going home to the country. I used to get a short letter from
my father every month; Acia he rarely mentioned, and only incidentally. He
was over fifty, but he seemed still young. Imagine my horror; all of a sudden,
suspecting nothing, I received a letter from the steward, in which he informed
me my father was dangerously ill, and begged me to come as soon as possible
if I wanted to take leave of him. I galloped off post-haste, and found my
father still alive, but almost at his last gasp. He was greatly relieved to
see me, clasped me in his wasted arms, and gazed at me with a long, half-scrutinising,
half-imploring look, and making me promise I would carry out his last request,
he told his old valet to bring Acia. The old man brought her in; she could
scarcely stand upright, and was shaking all over.
"'Here,' said my father with an effort, 'I confide to you my daughter--your
sister. You will hear all about her from Yakov,' he added, pointing to the
"Acia sobbed, and fell with her face on the bed. . . . Half-an-hour later
my father died.
"This was what I learned. Acia was the daughter of my father by a former
maid-servant of my mother's, Tatiana. I have a vivid recollection of this
Tatiana, I remember her tall, slender figure, her handsome, stern, clever
face, with big dark eyes. She had the character of being a proud, unapproachable
girl. As far as I could find out from Yakov's respectful, unfinished sentences,
my father had become attached to her some years after my mother's death. Tatiana
was not living then in my father's house, but in the hut of a married sister,
who had charge of the cows. My father became exceedingly fond of her, and
after my departure from the country he even wanted to marry her, but she herself
would not consent to be his wife, in spite of his entreaties.
"'The deceased Tatiana Vassilievna,' Yakov informed me, standing in the
doorway with his hands behind him, 'had good sense in everything, and she
didn't want to do harm to your father. "A poor wife I should be for you,
a poor sort of lady I should make," so she was pleased to say, she said
so before me." Tatiana would not even move into the house, and went on
living at her sister's with Acia. In my childhood I used to see Tatiana only
on saints' days in church. With her head tied up in a dark kerchief, and a
yellow shawl on her shoulders, she used to stand in the crowd, near a window--
her stern profile used to stand out sharply against the transparent window-pane--and
she used to pray sedately and gravely, bowing low to the ground in the old-fashioned
way. When my uncle carried me off, Acia was only two years old, and she lost
her mother when she was nine.
"Directly Tatiana died, my father took Acia into his house. He had before
then expressed a wish to have her with him, but that too Tatiana had refused
him. Imagine what must have passed in Acia's mind when she was taken into
the master's house. To this day she cannot forget the moment when they first
put her on a silk dress and kissed her hand. Her mother, as long as she lived,
had brought her up very strictly; with my father she enjoyed absolute freedom.
He was her tutor; she saw no one except him. He did not spoil her, that is
to say, he didn't fondle and pet her; but he loved her passionately, and never
checked her in anything; in his heart he considered he had wronged her. Acia
soon realised that she was the chief personage in the house; she knew the
master was her father; but just as quickly she was aware of her false position;
self-consciousness was strongly developed in her, mistrustfulness too; bad
habits took root, simplicity was lost. She wanted (she confessed this to me
once herself), to force the whole world to forget her origin; she was ashamed
of her mother, and at the same time ashamed of being ashamed, and was proud
of her too. You see she knew and knows a lot that she oughtn't to have known
at her age. . . . But was it her fault? The forces of youth were at work in
her, her heart was in a ferment, and not a guiding hand near her. Absolute
independence in everything! And wasn't it hard for her to put up with? She
wanted to be as good as other young ladies; she flew to books. But what good
could she get from that? Her life went on as irregularly as it had begun,
but her heart was not spoiled, her intellect was uninjured.
"And there was I left, a boy of twenty, with a girl of thirteen on my
hands! For the first few days after my father's death the very sound of my
voice threw her into a fever, my caresses caused her anguish, and it was only
slowly and gradually that she got used to me. It is true that later, when
she fully realised that I really did acknowledge her as my sister, and cared
for her, she became passionately attached to me; she can feel nothing by halves.
"I took her to Petersburg. Painful as it was to part with her, we could
not live together. I sent her to one of the best boarding-schools. Acia knew
our separation was inevitable, yet she began by fretting herself ill over
it, and almost died. Later on she plucked up more spirit, and spent four years
at school; but, contrary to my expectations, she was almost exactly the same
as before. The headmistress of the school often made complaints of her, 'And
we can't punish her,' she used to say to me, 'and she's not amenable to kindness.'
Acia was exceedingly quick-witted, and did better at her lessons than any
one; but she never would put herself on a level with the rest; she was perverse,
and held herself aloof. . . . I could not blame her very much for it; in her
position she had either to be subservient, or to hold herself aloof. Of all
her school-fellows she only made friends with one, an ugly girl of poor family,
who was sat upon by the rest. The other girls with whom she was brought up,
mostly of good family, did not like her, teased her and taunted her as far
as they could. Acia would not give way to them an inch. One day at their lesson
on the law of God, the teacher was talking of the vices. 'Servility and cowardice
are the worst vices,' Acia said aloud. She would still go her own way, in
fact; only her manners were improved, though even in that respect I think
she did not gain a great deal.
"At last she reached her seventeenth year. I could not keep her any longer
at school. I found myself in a rather serious difficulty. Suddenly a blessed
idea came to me--to resign my commission and go abroad for a year or two,
taking Acia with me. No sooner thought than done; and here we are on the banks
of the Rhine, where I am trying to take up painting, and she . . . is as naughty
and troublesome as ever. But now I hope you will not judge her too harshly;
for though she pretends she doesn't care, she values the good opinion of every
one, and yours particularly."
And Gagin smiled again his gentle smile. I pressed his hand warmly.
"That's how it is," Gagin began again; "but I have a trying
time with her. She's like gunpowder, always ready to go off So far, she has
never taken a fancy to any one, but woe betide us, if she falls in love! I
sometimes don't know what to do with her. The other day she took some notion
into her head, and suddenly began declaring I was colder to her than I used
to be, that she loved me and no one else, and never would love any one else.
. . . And she cried so, as she said it--"
"So that was it,"--I was beginning, but I bit my tongue.
"Tell me," I questioned Gagin, "we have talked so frankly about
everything, is it possible really, she has never cared for any one yet? Didn't
she see any young men in Petersburg?"
"She didn't like them at all. No, Acia wants a hero--an exceptional individual--or
a picturesque shepherd on a mountain pass. But I've been chattering away,
and keeping you," he added, getting up.
"Do you know----," I began; "let's go back to your place, I
don't want to go home."
"What about your work?"
I made no reply. Gagin smiled good-humouredly, and we went back to L. As I
caught sight of the familiar vineyard and little white house, I felt a certain
sweetness--yes, sweetness in my heart, as though honey was stealthily dropping
thence for me. My heart was light after what Gagin had told me.
ACIA met us in the very doorway of the house. I expected a laugh again; but
she came to meet us, pale and silent, with downcast eyes.
"Here he is again," Gagin began, "and he wanted to come back
of his own accord, observe."
Acia looked at me inquiringly. It was my turn now to hold out my hand, and
this time I pressed her chilly fingers warmly. I felt very sorry for her.
I understood now a great deal in her that had puzzled me before; her inward
restlessness, her want of breeding, her desire to be striking--all became
clear to me. I had had a peep into that soul; a secret scourge was always
tormenting her, her ignorant self-consciousness struggled in confused alarm,
but her whole nature strove towards truth. I understood why this strange little
girl attracted me; it was not only by the half-wild charm of her slender body
that she attracted me; I liked her soul.
Gagin began rummaging among his canvases. I suggested to Acia that she should
take a turn with me in the vineyard. She agreed at once, with cheerful and
almost humble readiness. We went half-way down the mountain, and sat down
on a broad stone.
"And you weren't dull without us?" Acia began.
"And were you dull without me?" I queried.
Acia gave me a sidelong look.
"Yes," she answered. "Was it nice in the mountains?" she
went on at once. "Were they high ones? Higher than the clouds? Tell me
what you saw. You were telling my brother, but I didn't hear anything."
"It was of your own accord you went away," I remarked.
"I went away . . . because . . .--I'm not going away now," she added
with a confiding caress in her voice. "You were angry to-day."
"Upon my word, whatever for?"
"I don't know, but you were angry, and you went away angry. I was very
much vexed that you went away like that, and I'm so glad you came back."
"And I'm glad I came back," I observed.
Acia gave herself a little shrug, as children often do when they are very
"Oh, I'm good at guessing!" she went on. "Sometimes, simply
from the way papa coughed, I could tell in the next room whether he was pleased
with me or not."
Till that day Acia had never once spoken to me of her father. I was struck
"Were you fond of your father?" I said, and suddenly, to my intense
annoyance, I felt I was reddening.
She made no answer, and blushed too. We were both silent. In the distance
a smoking steamer was scudding along on the Rhine. We began watching it.
"Why don't you tell me about your tour?" Acia murmured.
"Why did you laugh to-day directly you saw me?" I asked.
"I don't know really. Sometimes I want to cry, but I laugh. You mustn't
judge me--by what I do. Oh, by-the-bye, what a story that is about the Lorelei!
Is that her rock we can see? They say she used to drown every one, but as
soon as she fell in love she threw herself in the water. I like that story.
Frau Luise tells me all sorts of stories. Frau Luise has a black cat with
yellow eyes. . . ."
Acia raised her head and shook her curls.
"Ah, I am happy," she said.
At that instant there floated across to us broken, monotonous sounds. Hundreds
of voices in unison and at regular intervals were repeating a chanted litany.
The crowd of pilgrims moved slowly along the road below with crosses and banners.
. . .
"I should like to go with them," said Acia, listening to the sounds
of the voices gradually growing fainter.
"Are you so religious?"
"I should like to go far away on a pilgrimage, on some great exploit,"
she went on. "As it is, the days pass by, life passes by, and what have
"You are ambitious," I observed. "You want to live to some
purpose, to leave some trace behind you. . . ."
"Is that impossible, then?"
"Impossible," I was on the point of repeating. . . . But I glanced
at her bright eyes, and only said:
"You can try."
"Tell me," began Acia, after a brief silence during which shadows
passed over her face, which had already turned pale, "did you care much
for that lady? . . . You remember my brother drank her health at the ruins
the day after we first knew you."
"Your brother was joking. I never cared for any lady; at any rate, I
don't care for one now."
"And what do you like in women?" she asked, throwing back her head
with innocent curiosity.
"What a strange question!" I cried.
Acia was a little disconcerted.
"I ought not to ask you such a question, ought I? Forgive me, I'm used
to chattering away about anything that comes into my head. That's why I'm
afraid to speak."
"Speak, for God's sake, don't be afraid," I hastened to intervene;
"I'm so glad you're leaving off being shy at last."
Acia looked down, and laughed a soft light-hearted laugh; I had never heard
such a laugh from her.
"Well, tell me about something," she went on, stroking out the skirt
of her dress, and arranging the folds over her legs, as though she were settling
herself for a long while; "tell me or read me something, just as you
read us, do you remember, from Oniegin. . ."
She suddenly grew pensive--
"Where now is the cross and the branches' shade Over my poor mother's
grave!" She murmured in a low voice.
"That's not as it is in Pushkin," I observed.
"But I should like to have been Tatiana," she went on, in the same
dreamy tone. "Tell me a story," she suddenly added eagerly.
But I was not in a mood for telling stories. I was watching her, all bathed
in the bright sunshine, all peace and gentleness. Everything was joyously
radiant about us, below, and above us--sky, earth, and waters; the very air
seemed saturated with brilliant light.
"Look, how beautiful!" I said, unconsciously sinking my voice.
"Yes, it is beautiful," she answered just as softly, not looking
at me. "If only you and I were birds--how we would soar, how we would
fly. . . . We'd simply plunge into that blue . . . But we're not birds."
"But we may grow wings," I rejoined.
"Live a little longer--and you'll find out. There are feelings that lift
us above the earth. Don't trouble yourself, you will have wings."
"Have you had them?"
"How shall I say . . . I think up till now I never have taken flight."
Acia grew pensive once more. I bent a little towards her.
"Can you waltz?" she asked me suddenly.
"Yes," I answered, rather puzzled.
"Well, come along then, come along . . . I'll ask my brother to play
us a waltz. . . . We'll fancy we are flying, that our wings have grown."
She ran into the house. I ran after her, and in a few minutes, we were turning
round and round the narrow little room, to the sweet strains of Lanner. Acia
waltzed splendidly, with enthusiasm. Something soft and womanly suddenly peeped
through the childish severity of her profile. Long after, my arm kept the
feeling of the contact of her soft waist, long after I heard her quickened
breathing close to my ear, long after I was haunted by dark, immobile, almost
closed eyes in a pale but eager face, framed in by fluttering curls.
ALL that day passed most delightfully. We were as merry as children. Acia
was very sweet and simple. Gagin was delighted, as he watched her. I went
home late. When I had got out into the middle of the Rhine, I asked the ferryman
to let the boat float down with the current. The old man pulled up his oars,
and the majestic river bore us along. As I looked about me, listened, brooded
over recollections, I was suddenly aware of a secret restlessness astir in
my heart . . . I lifted my eyes skywards, but there was no peace even in the
sky; studded with stars, it seemed all moving, quivering, twinkling; I bent
over to the river--but even there, even in those cold dark depths, the stars
were trembling and glimmering; I seemed to feel an exciting quickening of
life on all sides--and a sense of alarm rose up within me too. I leaned my
elbows on the boat's edge . . . The whispering of the wind in my ears, the
soft gurgling of the water at the rudder worked on my nerves, and the fresh
breath of the river did not cool me; a nightingale was singing on the bank,
and stung me with the sweet poison of its notes. Tears rose into my eyes,
but they were not the tears of aimless rapture. . . . What I was feeling was
not the vague sense I had known of late of all-embracing desire when the soul
expands, resounds, when it feels that it grasps all, loves all. . . . No!
it was the thirst for happiness aflame in me. I did not dare yet to call it
by its name--but happiness, happiness full and overflowing--that was what
I wanted, that was what I pined for. . . . The boat floated on, and the old
ferryman sat dozing as he leant on his oars.
AS I set off next day to the Gagins, I did not ask myself whether I was in
love with Acia, but I thought a great deal about her, her fate absorbed me,
I rejoiced at our unexpected intimacy. I felt that it was only yesterday I
had got to know her; till then she had turned away from me. And now, when
she had at last revealed herself to me, in what a seductive light her image
showed itself, how fresh it was for me, what secret fascinations were modestly
peeping out. . . .
I walked boldly up the familiar road, gazing continually at the cottage, a
white spot in the distance. I thought not of the future--not even of the morrow--I
was very happy.
Acia flushed directly I came into the room; I noticed that she had dressed
herself in her best again, but the expression of her face was not in keeping
with her finery; it was mournful. And I had come in such high spirits! I even
fancied that she was on the point of running away as usual, but she controlled
herself and remained. Gagin was in that peculiar condition of artistic heat
and intensity which seizes amateurs all of a sudden, like a fit, when they
imagine they are succeeding in "catching nature and pinning her down."
He was standing with dishevelled locks, and besmeared with paint, before a
stretched canvas, and flourishing the brush over it; he almost savagely nodded
to me, turned away, screwed up his eyes, and bent again over his picture.
I did not hinder him, but went and sat down by Acia. Slowly her dark eyes
turned to me.
"You're not the same to-day as yesterday," I observed, after ineffectual
efforts to call up a smile on her lips.
"No, I'm not," she answered, in a slow and dull voice. "But
that means nothing. I did not sleep well, I was thinking all night."
"Oh, I thought about so many things. It's a way I have had from childhood;
ever since I used to live with mother--"
She uttered the word with an effort, and then repeated again--
"When I used to live with mother . . . I used to think why it was no
one could tell what would happen to him; and sometimes one sees trouble coming--and
one can't escape; and how it is one can never tell all the truth . . . Then
I used to think I knew nothing, and that I ought to learn. I want to be educated
over again; I'm very badly educated. I can't play the piano, I can't draw,
and even sewing I do very badly. I have no talent for anything; I must be
a very dull person to be with."
"You're unjust to yourself," I replied; "you've read a lot,
you're cultivated, and with your cleverness--"
"Why, am I clever?" she asked with such naive interest, that I could
not help laughing; but she did not even smile. "Brother, am I clever?"
she asked Gagin.
He made her no answer, but went on working, continually changing brushes and
raising his arm.
"I don't know myself what is in my head," Acia continued, with the
same dreamy air. "I am sometimes afraid of myself, really . Ah, I should
like . . . Is it true that women ought not to read a great deal?"
"A great deal's not wanted, but . . ."
"Tell me what I ought to read? Tell me what I ought to do. I will do
everything you tell me," she added, turning to me with innocent confidence.
I could not at once find a reply.
"You won't be dull with me, though?"
"What nonsense," I was beginning. . . .
"All right, thanks!" Acia put in; "I was thinking you would
And her little hot hand clasped mine warmly.
"N!" Gagin cried at that instant; "isn't that background too
I went up to him. Acia got up and went away.
SHE came back in an hour, stood in the doorway and beckoned to me.
"Listen," she said; "if I were to die, would you be sorry?"
"What ideas you have to-day!" I exclaimed.
"I fancy I shall die soon; it seems to me sometimes as though everything
about me were saying good-bye. It's better to die than live like this. . .
Ah! don't look at me like that; I'm not pretending, really. Or else I shall
begin to be afraid of you again."
"Why, were you afraid of me?"
"If I am queer, it's really not my fault," she rejoined. "You
see, I can't even laugh now. . . ."
She remained gloomy and preoccupied till evening. Something was taking place
in her; what, I did not understand. Her eyes often rested upon me; my heart
slowly throbbed under her enigmatic gaze. She appeared composed, and yet as
I watched her I kept wanting to tell her not to let herself get excited. I
admired her, found a touching charm in her pale face, her hesitating, slow
movements, but she for some reason fancied I was out of humour.
"Let me tell you something," she said to me not long before parting;
"I am tortured by the idea that you consider me frivolous. . . . For
the future believe what I say to you, only do you, too, be open with me; and
I will always tell you the truth, I give you my word of honour. . . ."
This "word of honour" set me laughing again.
"Oh, don't laugh," she said earnestly, "or I shall say to you
to-day what you said to me yesterday, 'why are you laughing?'" and after
a brief silence she added, "Do you remember you spoke yesterday of 'wings'?
. . . My wings have grown, but I have nowhere to fly."
"Nonsense," I said; "all the ways lie open before you. . .
Acia looked at me steadily, straight in the face.
"You have a bad opinion of me to-day," she said, frowning.
"I? a bad opinion of you! . . ."
"Why is it you are both so low-spirited," Gagin interrupted me--"would
you like me to play a waltz, as I did yesterday?"
"No, no," replied Acia, and she clenched her hands; "not to-day,
not for anything!"
"I'm not going to force you to; don't excite yourself."
"Not for anything!" she repeated, turning pale.
* * * * * * * "Can it be she's in love with me?" I thought, as I
drew near the dark rushing waters of the Rhine.
"CAN it be that she loves me?" I asked myself next morning, directly
I awoke. I did not want to look into myself. I felt that her image, the image
of the "girl with the affected laugh," had crept close into my heart,
and that I should not easily get rid of it. I went to L---- and stayed there
the whole day, but I saw Acia only by glimpses. She was not well; she had
a headache. She came downstairs for a minute, with a bandage round her forehead,
looking white and thin, her eyes half-closed. With a faint smile she said,
"It will soon be over, it's nothing; everything's soon over, isn't it?"
and went away. I felt bored and, as it were, listlessly sad, yet I could not
make up my mind to go for a long while, and went home late, without seeing
The next morning passed in a sort of half slumber of the consciousness. I
tried to set to work, and could not; I tried to do nothing and not to think--and
that was a failure too. I strolled about the town, returned home, went out
"Are you Herr N----?" I heard a childish voice ask suddenly behind
me. I looked round; a little boy was standing before me. "This is for
you from Fraulein Annette," he said, handing me a note.
I opened it and recognised the irregular rapid handwriting of Acia. "I
must see you to-day," she wrote to me; "come to-day at four o'clock
to the stone chapel on the road near the ruin. I have done a most foolish
thing to-day. . . . Come, for God's sake; you shall know all about it. . .
. Tell the messenger, yes."
"Is there an answer?" the boy asked me.
"Say, yes," I replied. The boy ran off.
I WENT home to my own room, sat down, and sank into thought. My heart was
beating violently. I read Acia's note through several times. I looked at my
watch; it was not yet twelve o'clock.
The door opened, Gagin walked in.
His face was overcast. He seized my hand and pressed it warmly. He seemed
very much agitated.
"What is the matter?" I asked.
Gagin took a chair and sat down opposite me. "Three days ago," he
began with a rather forced smile, and hesitating, "I surprised you by
what I told you; to-day I am going to surprise you more. With any other man
I could not, most likely, bring myself . . . so directly. . . . But you're
an honourable man, you're my friend, aren't you? Listen--my sister, Acia,
is in love with you."
I trembled all over and stood up. . . .
"Your sister, you say----"
"Yes, yes," Gagin cut me short. "I tell you, she's mad, and
she'll drive me mad. But happily she can't tell a lie, and she confides in
me. Ah, what a soul there is in that little girl! . . . but she'll be her
own ruin, that's certain."
"But you're making a mistake," I began.
"No, I'm not making a mistake. Yesterday, you know, she was lying down
almost all day, she ate nothing, but she did not complain. She never does
complain. I was not anxious, though towards evening she was in a slight fever.
At two o'clock last night I was wakened by our landlady; 'Go to your sister,'
she said; 'there's something wrong with her.' I ran in to Acia, and found
her not undressed, feverish, and in tears; her head was aching, her teeth
were chattering. 'What's the matter with you?' I said, 'are you ill?' She
threw herself on my neck and began imploring me to take her away as soon as
possible, if I want to keep her alive. . . . I could make out nothing, I tried
to soothe her. . . . Her sobs grew more violent, . . . and suddenly through
her sobs I made out . . . well, in fact, I made out that she loves you. I
assure you, you and I are reasonable people, and we can't imagine how deeply
she feels and with what incredible force her feelings show themselves; it
has come upon her as unexpectedly and irresistibly as a thunderstorm. You're
a very nice person," Gagin pursued, "but why she's so in love with
you, I confess I don't understand. She says she has been drawn to you from
the first moment she saw you. That's why she cried the other day when she
declared she would never love any one but me.--She imagines you despise her,
that you most likely know about her birth; she asked me if I hadn't told you
her story,--I said, of course, that I hadn't; but her intuition's simply terrible.
She has one wish,--to get away, to get away at once. I sat with her till morning;
she made me promise we should not be here to-morrow, and only then, she fell
asleep. I have been thinking and thinking, and at last I made up my mind to
speak to you. To my mind, Acia is right; the best thing is for us both to
go away from here. And I should have taken her away to-day, if I had not been
struck by an idea which made me pause. Perhaps . . . who knows? do you like
my sister? If so, what's the object of my taking her away? And so I decided
to cast aside all reserve. . . . Besides, I noticed something myself. . .
I made up my mind . . . to find out from you . . ." Poor Gagin was completely
out of countenance. "Excuse me, please," he added, "I'm not
used to such bothers."
I took his hand.
"You want to know," I pronounced in a steady voice, "whether
I like your sister? Yes, I do like her--"
Gagin glanced at me. "But," he said, faltering, "you'd hardly
marry her, would you?"
"How would you have me answer such a question? Only think; can I at the
"I know, I know," Gagin cut me short; "I have no right to expect
an answer from you, and my question was the very acme of impropriety. . .
. But what am I to do? One can't play with fire. You don't know Acia; she's
quite capable of falling ill, running away, or asking you to see her alone.
. . . Any other girl might manage to hide it all and wait--but not she. It
is the first time with her, that's the worst of it! If you had seen how she
sobbed at my feet to-day, you would understand my fears."
I was pondering. Gagin's words "asking you to see her alone," had
sent a twinge to my heart. I felt it was shameful not to meet his honest frankness
"Yes," I said at last; "you are right. An hour ago I got a
note from your sister. Here it is."
Gagin took the note, quickly looked it through, and let his hands fall on
his knees. The expression of perplexity on his face was very amusing, but
I was in no mood for laughter.
"I tell you again, you're an honourable man," he said; "but
what's to be done now? What? she herself wants to go away, and she writes
to you and blames herself for acting unwisely . . . and when had she time
to write this? What does she wish of you?"
I pacified him, and we began to discuss as coolly as we could what we ought
The conclusion we reached at last was that, to avoid worse harm befalling,
I was to go and meet Acia, and to have a straight-forward explanation with
her; Gagin pledged himself to stay at home, and not to give a sign of knowing
about her note to me; in the evening we arranged to see each other again.
"I have the greatest confidence in you," said Gagin, and he pressed
my hand; "have mercy on her and on me. But we shall go away to-morrow,
anyway," he added getting up, "for you won't marry Acia, I see."
"Give me time till the evening," I objected.
"All right, but you won't marry her."
He went away, and I threw myself on the sofa, and shut my eyes. My head was
going round; too many impressions had come bursting on it at once. I was vexed
at Gagin's frankness, I was vexed with Acia, her love delighted and disconcerted
me, I could not comprehend what had made her reveal it to her brother; the
absolute necessity of rapid, almost instantaneous decision exasperated me.
"Marry a little girl of seventeen, with her character, how is it possible?"
I said, getting up.
AT the appointed hour I crossed the Rhine, and the first person I met on the
opposite bank was the very boy who had come to me in the morning. He was obviously
waiting for me.
"From Fraulein Annette," he said in a whisper, and he handed me
Acia informed me she had changed the place of our meeting. I was to go in
an hour and a half, not to the chapel, but to Frau Luise's house, to knock
below, and go up to the third storey.
"Is it, yes, again?" asked the boy.
"Yes," I repeated, and I walked along the bank of the Rhine. There
was not time to go home, I didn't want to wander about the streets. Beyond
the town wall there was a little garden, with a skittle ground and tables
for beer drinkers. I went in there. A few middle-aged Germans were playing
skittles; the wooden balls rolled along with a sound of knocking, now and
then cries of approval reached me. A pretty waitress, with her eyes swollen
with weeping, brought me a tankard of beer; I glanced at her face. She turned
quickly and walked away.
"Yes, yes," observed a fat, red-cheeked citizen sitting by, "our
Hannchen is dreadfully upset to-day; her sweetheart's gone for a soldier."
I looked at her; she was sitting huddled up in a corner, her face propped
on her hand; tears were rolling one by one between her fingers. Some one called
for beer; she took him a pot, and went back to her place. Her grief affected
me; I began musing on the interview awaiting me, but my dreams were anxious,
cheerless dreams. It was with no light heart I was going to this interview;
I had no prospect before me of giving myself up to the bliss of love returned;
what lay before me was to keep my word, to do a difficult duty. "One
can't play with her." These words of Gagin's had gone through my heart
like arrows. And three days ago, in that boat borne along by the current,
had I not been pining with the thirst for happiness? It had become possible,
and I was hesitating, I was pushing it away, I was bound to push it from me--its
suddenness bewildered me. Acia herself, with her fiery temperament, her past,
her bringing-up, this fascinating, strange creature, I confess she frightened
me. My feelings were long struggling within me. The appointed hour was drawing
near. "I can't marry her," I decided at last; "she shall not
know I love her."
I got up, and putting a thaler in the hand of poor Hannchen (she did not even
thank me), I directed my steps towards Frau Luise's. The air was already overcast
with the shadows of evening, and the narrow strip of sky, above the dark street,
was red with the glow of sunset. I knocked faintly at the door; it was opened
at once. I stepped through the doorway, and found myself in complete darkness.
"This way." I heard an old woman's voice. "You're expected."
I took two steps, groping my way, a long hand took mine.
"Is that you, Frau Luise?" I asked.
"Yes," answered the same voice, "'Tis I, my fine young man."
The old woman led me up a steep staircase, and stopped on the third floor.
In the feeble light from a tiny window, I saw the wrinkled visage of the burgomaster's
widow. A crafty smile of mawkish sweetness contorted her sunken lips, and
pursed up her dim-sighted eyes. She pointed me to a little door; with an abrupt
movement I opened it and slammed it behind me.
IN the little room into which I stepped, it was rather dark, and I did not
at once see Acia. Wrapped in a big shawl, she was sitting on a chair by the
window, turning away from me and almost hiding her head like a frightened
bird. She was breathing quickly, and trembling all over. I felt unutterably
sorry for her. I went up to her. She averted her head still more. . . .
"Anna Nikolaevna," I said.
She suddenly drew herself up, tried to look at me. and could not. I took her
hand, it was cold, and lay like a dead thing in mine.
"I wished"--Acia began, trying to smile, but unable to control her
pale lips; "I wanted--No, I can't," she said, and ceased. Her voice
broke at every word.
I sat down beside her.
"Anna Nikolaevna," I repeated, and I too could say nothing more.
A silence followed. I still held her hand and looked at her. She sat as before,
shrinking together, breathing with difficulty, and stealthily biting her lower
lip to keep back the rising tears. . . . I looked at her; there was something
touchingly helpless in her timid passivity; it seemed as though she had been
so exhausted she had hardly reached the chair, and had simply fallen on it.
My heart began to melt. . .
"Acia," I said hardly audibly . . .
She slowly lifted her eyes to me. . . . Oh, the eyes of a woman who loves--who
can describe them? They were supplicating, those eyes, they were confiding,
questioning, surrendering. . . I could not resist their fascination. A subtle
flame passed all through me with tingling shocks; I bent down and pressed
my lips to her hand. . . .
I heard a quivering sound, like a broken sigh and I felt on my hair the touch
of a feeble hand shaking like a leaf. I raised my head and looked at her face.
How transformed it was all of a sudden. The expression of terror had vanished
from it, her eyes looked far away and drew me after them, her lips were slightly
parted, her forehead was white as marble, and her curls floated back as though
the wind had stirred them. I forgot everything, I drew her to me, her hand
yielded unresistingly, her whole body followed her hand, the shawl fell from
her shoulders, and her head lay softly on my breast, lay under my burning
lips. . . .
"Yours". . . she murmured, hardly above a breath.
My arms were slipping round her waist. But suddenly the thought of Gagin flashed
like lightning before me. "What are we doing," I cried, abruptly
moving back . . . "Your brother . . . why, he knows everything. . . .
He knows I am with you."
Acia sank back on her chair.
"Yes," I went on, getting up and walking to the other end of the
room. "Your brother knows all about it . . . I had to tell him."
. . .
"You had to?" she articulated thickly. She could not, it seemed,
recover herself, and hardly understood me.
"Yes, yes," I repeated with a sort of exasperation, "and it's
all your fault, your fault. What did you betray your secret for? Who forced
you to tell your brother? He has been with me to-day, and told me what you
said to him." I tried not to look at Acia, and kept walking with long
strides up and down the room. "Now everything is over, everything."
Acia tried to get up from her chair.
"Stay," I cried, "stay, I implore you. You have to do with
an honourable man--yes, an honourable man. But, in Heaven's name, what upset
you? Did you notice any change in me? But I could not hide my feelings from
your brother when he came to me to-day."
"Why am I talking like this?" I was thinking inwardly, and the idea
that I was an immoral liar, that Gagin knew of our interview, that everything
was spoilt, exposed--seemed buzzing persistently in my head.
"I didn't call my brother"--I heard a frightened whisper from Acia:
"he came of himself."
"See what you have done," I persisted. "Now you want to go
away. . . ."
"Yes, I must go away," she murmured in the same soft voice. "I
only asked you to come here to say good-bye."
"And do you suppose," I retorted, "it will be easy for me to
part with you?"
"But what did you tell my brother for?" Acia said, in perplexity.
"I tell you--I could not do otherwise. If you had not yourself betrayed
yourself. . . ."
"I locked myself in my room," she answered simply. "I did not
know the landlady had another key. . . ."
This innocent apology on her lips at such a moment almost infuriated me at
the time . . . and now I cannot think of it without emotion. Poor, honest,
"And now everything's at an end!" I began again, "everything.
Now we shall have to part." I stole a look at Acia. . . . Her face had
quickly flushed crimson. She was, I felt it, both ashamed and afraid. I went
on walking and talking as though in delirium. "You did not let the feeling
develop which had begun to grow; you have broken off our relations yourself;
you had no confidence in me; you doubted me. . . ."
While I was talking, Acia bent more and more forward, and suddenly slid on
her knees, dropped her head on her arms, and began sobbing. I ran up to her
and tried to lift her up, but she would not let me. I can't bear women's tears;
at the sight of them I am at my wits' end at once.
"Anna Nikolaevna, Acia," I kept repeating, "please, I implore
you, for God's sake, stop." . . . I took her hand again. . . .
But, to my immense astonishment, she suddenly jumped up, rushed with lightning
swiftness to the door, and vanished. . . .
When, a few minutes later, Frau Luise came into the room I was still standing
in the very middle of it, as it were, thunderstruck. I could not believe this
interview could possibly have come to such a quick, such a stupid end, when
I had not said a hundredth part of what I wanted to say, and what I ought
to have said, when I did not know myself in what way it would be concluded.
. . .
"Is Fraulein gone?" Frau Luise asked me, raising her yellow eyebrows
right up to her false front.
I stared at her like a fool, and went away.
I MADE my way out of the town and struck out straight into the open country.
I was devoured by anger, frenzied anger. I hurled reproaches at myself. How
was it I had not seen the reason that had forced Acia to change the place
of our meeting; how was it I did not appreciate what it must have cost her
to go to that old woman; how was it I had not kept her? Alone with her, in
that dim half-dark room I had had the force, I had had the heart to repulse
her, even to reproach her. . . . Now her image simply pursued me. I begged
her forgiveness. The thought of that pale face, those wet and timid eyes,
of her loose hair falling on the drooping neck, the light touch of her head
against my breast maddened me. "Yours"--I heard her whisper. "I
acted from conscientious motives," I assured myself. . . . Not true!
Did I really desire such a termination? Was I capable of parting from her?
Could I really do without her?
"Madman! madman!" I repeated with exasperation. . . .
Meanwhile night was coming on. I walked with long strides towards the house
where Acia lived.
GAGIN came out to meet me.
"Have you seen my sister?" he shouted to me while I was still some
"Why, isn't she at home?" I asked.
"She hasn't come back?"
"No. I was in fault," Gagin went on. "I couldn't restrain myself.
Contrary to our agreement, I went to the chapel; she was not there; didn't
she come, then?"
"She hasn't been at the chapel?"
"And you haven't seen her?"
I was obliged to admit I had seen her.
"At Frau Luise's. I parted from her an hour ago," I added. "I
felt sure she had come home."
"We will wait a little," said Gagin.
We went into the house and sat down near each other. We were silent. We both
felt very uncomfortable. We were continually looking round, staring at the
door, listening. At last Gagin got up.
"Oh, this is beyond anything!" he cried. "My heart's in my
mouth. She'll be the death of me, by God! . . . Let's go and look for her."
We went out. It was quite dark by now, outside.
"What did you talk about to her?" Gagin asked me, as he pulled his
hat over his eyes.
"I only saw her for five minutes," I answered. "I talked to
her as we agreed."
"Do you know what?" he replied, "it's better for us to separate.
In that way we are more likely to come across her before long. In any case
come back here within an hour."
I WENT hurriedly down from the vineyard and rushed into the town. I walked
rapidly through all the streets, looked in all directions, even at Frau Luise's
windows, went back to the Rhine, and ran along the bank. . . . From time to
time I was met by women's figures, but Acia was nowhere to be seen. There
was no anger gnawing at my heart now. I was tortured by a secret terror, and
it was not only terror that I felt . . . no, I felt remorse, the most intense
regret, and love,--yes! the tenderest love. I wrung my hands. I called "Acia"
through the falling darkness of the night, first in a low voice, then louder
and louder; I repeated a hundred times over that I loved her. I vowed I would
never part from her. I would have given everything in the world to hold her
cold hand again, to hear again her soft voice, to see her again before me.
. . . She had been so near, she had come to me, her mind perfectly. made up,
in perfect innocence of heart and feelings, she had offered me her unsullied
youth . . . and I had not folded her to my breast, I had robbed myself of
the bliss of watching her sweet face blossom with delight and the peace of
rapture. . . This thought drove me out of my mind.
"Where can she have gone? What can she have done with herself?"
I cried in an agony of helpless despair. . . . I caught a glimpse of something
white on the very edge of the river. I knew the place; there stood there,
over the tomb of a man who had been drowned seventy years ago, a stone cross
half-buried in the ground, bearing an old inscription. My heart sank . . .
I ran up to the cross; the white figure vanished. I shouted "Acia!"
I felt frightened myself by my uncanny voice, but no one called back.
I resolved to go and see whether Gagin had found her.
AS I climbed swiftly up the vineyard path I caught sight of a light in Acia's
room. . . . This reassured me a little.
I went up to the house. Th e door below was fastened. I knocked. A window
on the ground floor was cautiously opened, and Gagin's head appeared.
"Have you found her?" I asked.
"She has come back," he answered in a whisper. "She is in her
own room undressing. Everything is all right."
"Thank God!" I cried, in an indescribable rush of joy. "Thank
God! now everything is right. But you know we must have another talk."
"Another time," he replied, softly drawing the casement towards
him. "Another time; but now good-bye."
"Till to-morrow," I said. "To-morrow everything shall be arranged."
"Good-bye," repeated Gagin. The window was closed. I was on the
point of knocking at the window. I was on the point of telling Gagin there
and then that I wanted to ask him for his sister's hand. But such a proposal
at such a time. . . . "To-morrow," I reflected, "to-morrow
I shall be happy. . . ."
To-morrow I shall be happy! Happiness has no to-morrow, no yesterday; it thinks
not on the past, and dreams not of the future; it has the present--not a day
I don't remember how I got to Z. It was not my legs that carried me, nor a
boat that ferried me across; I felt that I was borne along by great, mighty
wings. I passed a bush where a nightingale was singing. I stopped and listened
long; I fancied it sang my love and happiness.
WHEN next morning I began to approach the little house I knew so well, I was
struck with one circumstance; all the windows in it were open, and the door
too stood open; some bits of paper were lying about in front of the doorway;
a maidservant appeared with a broom at the door.
I went up to her. . . .
"They are gone!" she bawled, before I had time to inquire whether
Gagin was at home.
"Gone?" . . . I repeated. "What do you mean by gone? Where?"
"They went away this morning at six o'clock, and didn't say where. Wait
a minute, I believe you're Mr. N----, aren't you?"
"I'm Mr. N----, yes."
"The mistress has a letter for you." The maid went up-stairs and
returned with a letter. "Here it is, if you please, sir."
"But it's impossible. . . . how can it be?". . . I was beginning.
The servant stared blankly at me, and began sweeping.
I opened the letter. Gagin had written it; there was not one word from Acia.
He began with begging me not to be angry at his sudden departure; he felt
sure that, on mature consideration, I should approve of his decision. He could
find no other way out of a position which might become difficult and dangerous.
"Yesterday evening," he wrote, "while we were both waiting
in silence for Acia, I realised conclusively the necessity of separation.
There are prejudices I respect; I can understand that it's impossible for
you to marry Acia. She has told me everything; for the sake of her peace of
mind, I was bound to yield to her reiterated urgent entreaties." At the
end of the letter he expressed his regret that our acquaintance had come to
such a speedy termination, wished me every happiness, shook my hand in friendship,
and besought me not to try to seek them out.
"What prejudices?" I cried aloud, as though he could hear me; "what
rubbish! What right has he to snatch her from me? . . ." I clutched at
The servant began loudly calling for her mistress; her alarm forced me to
control myself. One idea was aflame within me; to find them, to find them
wherever they might be. To accept this blow, to resign myself to such a calamity
was impossible. I learnt from the landlady that they had got on to a steamer
at six o'clock in the morning, and were going down the Rhine. I went to the
ticket-office; there I was told they had taken tickets for Cologne. I was
going home to pack up at once and follow them. I happened to pass the house
of Frau Luise. . . . Suddenly I heard some one calling me. I raised my head,
and at the window of the very room where I had met Acia the day before, I
saw the burgomaster's widow. She smiled her loathsome smile, and called me.
I turned away, and was going on; but she called after me that she had something
for me. These words brought me to a halt, and I went into her house. How can
I describe my feelings when I saw that room again? . . .
"By rights," began the old woman, showing me a little note; "I
oughtn't to have given you this unless you'd come to me of your own accord,
but you are such a fine young man. Take it."
I took the note.
On a tiny scrap of paper stood the following words, hurriedly scribbled in
"Good-bye, we shall not see each other again. It is not through pride
that I'm going away--no, I can't help it. Yesterday when I was crying before
you, if you had said one word to me, only one word--I should have stayed.
You did not say it. It seems it is better so . . . Good-bye for ever!"
One word . . . Oh, madman that I was! That word . . . I had repeated it the
night before with tears, I had flung it to the wind, I had said it over and
over again among the empty fields . . . but I did not say it to her, I did
not tell her I loved her . . . Indeed, I could not have uttered that word
then. When I met her in that fatal room, I had as yet no clear consciousness
of my love; it had not fully awakened even when I was sitting with her brother
in senseless and burdensome silence . . . it flamed up with irrepressible
force only a few instants later, when, terrified by the possibility of misfortune,
I began to seek and call her . . . but then it was already too late. "But
that's impossible!" I shall be told; I don't know whether it's possible,
I know that it's the truth. Acia would not have gone away if there had been
the faintest shade of coquetry in her, and if her position had not been a
false one. She could not put up with what any other girl would have endured;
I did not realise that. My evil genius had arrested an avowal on my lips at
my last interview with Gagin at the darkened window, and the last thread I
might have caught at, had slipped out of my fingers.
The same day I went back with my portmanteau packed, to L., and started for
Cologne. I remember the steamer was already off, and I was taking a mental
farewell of those streets, all those spots which I was never to forget--when
I caught sight of Hannchen. She was sitting on a seat near the river. Her
face was pale but not sad; a handsome young fellow was standing beside her,
laughing and telling her some story; while on the other side of the Rhine
my little Madonna peeped out of the green of the old ash-tree as mournfully
IN Cologne I came upon traces of the Gagins; I found out they had gone to
London; I pushed on in pursuit of them; but in London all my researches were
in vain. It was long before I would resign myself, for a long while I persevered,
but I was obliged, at last, to give up all hope of coming across them.
And I never saw them again--I never saw Acia. Vague rumours reached me about
him, but she had vanished for ever for me. I don't even know whether she is
alive. One day, a few years later, in a railway carriage abroad, I caught
a glimpse of a woman, whose face vividly recalled those features I could never
forget . . . but I was most likely deceived by a chance resemblance. Acia
remained in my memory a little girl such as I had known her at the best time
of my life, as I saw her the last time, leaning against the back of a low
But I must own I did not grieve over-long for her; I even came to the conclusion
that fate had done all for the best, in not uniting me to Acia; I consoled
myself with the reflection that I should probably not have been happy with
such a wife. I was young then--and the future, the brief, swiftly-passing
future seemed boundless to me then. Could not what had been be repeated, I
thought, and better, fairer still? . . . I got to know other women--but the
feeling Acia had aroused in me, that intense, tender, deep feeling has never
come again. No! no eyes have for me taken the place of those that were once
turned with love upon my eyes, to no heart, pressed to my breast, has my heart
responded with such joyous sweet emotion! Condemned as I have been to a solitary
life, without ties or family, I have led a dreary existence; but I keep as
sacred relics, her little notes and the dry geranium, the flower she threw
me once out of the window. It still retains a faint scent. while the hand
that gave it, the hand I only once pressed to my lips, has perhaps long since
decayed in the grave . . . And I myself, what has become of me? What is left
of me, of those blissful, heart-stirring days, of those winged hopes and aspirations?
The faint fragrance of an insignificant plant outlives all man's joys and
sorrows--outlives man himself.
A Story In Nine Letters
By Ivan Turgenev
Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren
(Faust, Part I.)
From Pavel Alexandrovitch B. . . . To
Semyon Nikolaevitch V. . . .
M---- Village, 6th June 1850.
I HAVE been here for three days, my dear fellow, and, as I promised, I take
up my pen to write to you. It has been drizzling with fine rain ever since
the morning; I can't go out; and I want a little chat with you, too. Here
I am again in my old home, where--it's a dreadful thing to say--I have not
been for nine long years. Really, as you may fancy, I have become quite a
different man. Yes, utterly different, indeed; do you remember, in the drawing-room,
the little tarnished looking-glass of my great-grandmother's, with the queer
little curly scrolls in the corners---you always used to be speculating on
what it had seen a hundred years ago--directly I arrived, I went up to it,
and I could not help feeling disconcerted. I suddenly saw how old and changed
I had become in these last years. But I am not alone in that respect. My little
house, which was old and tottering long ago, will hardly hold together now,
it is all on the slant, and seems sunk into the ground. My dear Vassilievna,
the housekeeper (you can't have forgotten her; she used to regale you with
such capital jam), is quite shrivelled up and bent; when she saw me, she could
not call out, and did not start crying, but only moaned and choked, sank helplessly
into a chair, and waved her hand. Old Terenty has some spirit left in him
still; he holds himself up as much as ever, and turns out his feet as he walks.
He still wears the same yellow nankeen breeches, and the same creaking goatskin
slippers, with high heels and ribbons, which touched you so much sometimes,
. . . but, mercy on us!--how the breeches flap about his thin legs nowadays!
how white his hair has grown! and his face has shrunk up into a sort of little
fist. When he speaks to me, when he begins directing the servants, and giving
orders in the next room, it makes me laugh, and feel sorry for him. All his
teeth are gone, and he mumbles with a whistling, hissing sound. On the other
hand, the garden has got on wonderfully. The modest little plants of lilac,
acacia, and honeysuckle (do you remember, we planted them together?) have
grown into splendid, thick bushes. The birches, the maples--all that has spread
out and grown tall; the avenues of lime-trees are particularly fine. I love
those avenues, I love the tender grey, green colour, and the delicate fragrance
of the air under their arching boughs; I love the changing network of rings
of light on the dark earth--there is no sand here, you know. My favourite
oak sapling has grown into a young oak tree. Yesterday I spent more than an
hour in the middle of the day on a garden bench in its shade. I felt very
happy. All about me the grass was deliciously luxuriant; a rich, soft, golden
light lay upon everything; it made its way even into the shade . . . and the
birds one could hear! You've not forgotten, I expect, that birds are a passion
of mine? The turtle-doves cooed unceasingly; from time to time there came
the whistle of the oriole; the chaffinch uttered its sweet little refrain;
the blackbirds quarrelled and twittered; the cuckoo called far away; suddenly,
like a mad thing, the woodpecker uttered its shrill cry. I listened and listened
to this subdued, mingled sound, and did not want to move, while my heart was
full of something between languor and tenderness.
And it's not only the garden that has grown up: I am continually coming across
sturdy, thick-set lads, whom I cannot recognise as the little boys I used
to know in old days. Your favourite, Timosha, has turned into a Timofay, such
as you could never imagine. You had fears in those days for his health, and
predicted consumption; but now you should just see his huge, red hands, as
they stick out from the narrow sleeves of his nankeen coat, and the stout
rounded muscles that stand out all over him! He has a neck like a bull's,
and a head all over tight, fair curls--a regular Farnese Hercules. His face,
though, has changed less than the others'; it is not even much larger in circumference,
and the good-humoured, "gaping"--as you used to say--smile has remained
the same. I have taken him to be my valet; I got rid of my Petersburg fellow
at Moscow; he was really too fond of putting me to shame, and making me feel
the superiority of his Petersburg manners. Of my dogs I have not found one;
they have all passed away. Nefka lived longer than any of them--and she did
not live till my return, as Argos lived till the return of Ulysses; she was
not fated to look once more with her lustreless eyes on her master and companion
in the chase. But Shavka is all right, and barks as hoarsely as ever, and
has one ear torn just the same, and burrs sticking to his tail,--all just
as it should be. I have taken up my abode in what was your room. It is true
the sun beats down upon it, and there are a lot of flies in it; but there
is less of the smell of the old house in it than in the other rooms. It's
a queer thing; that musty, rather sour, faint smell has a powerful effect
on my imagination; I don't mean that it's disagreeable to me, quite the contrary,
but it produces melancholy, and, at last, depression. I am very fond, just
as you are, of podgy old chests with brass plates, white armchairs with oval
backs, and crooked legs, fly-blown glass lustres, with a big egg of lilac
tinsel in the centre--of all sorts of ancestral furniture, in fact. But I
can't stand seeing it all continually; a sort of agitated dejection (it is
just that) takes possession of me. In the room where I have established myself,
the furniture is of the most ordinary, home-made description. I have left,
though, in the corner, a long narrow set of shelves, on which there is an
old-fashioned set of blown green and blue glasses, just discernible through
the dust. And I have had hung on the wall that portrait of a woman--you remember,
in the black frame?--that you used to call the portrait of Manon Lescaut.
It has got rather darker in these nine years; but the eyes have the same pensive,
sly, and tender look, the lips have the same capricious, melancholy smile,
and the half-plucked rose falls as softly as ever from her slender fingers.
I am greatly amused by the blinds in my room. They were once green, but have
been turned yellow by the sun; on them are depicted, in dark colours, scenes
from d'Arlencourt's Hermit. On one curtain the hermit, with an immense beard,
goggle-eyes, and sandals on his feet, is carrying off a young lady with dishevelled
locks to the mountains. On another one, there is a terrific combat going on
between four knights wearing birettas, and with puffs on their shoulders;
one, much foreshortened, lies slain--in fact, there are pictures of all sorts
of horrors, while all about there is such unbroken peace, and the blinds themselves
throw such soft light on the ceiling. . . . A sort of inward calm has come
upon me since I have been settled here; one wants to do nothing, one wants
to see no one, one looks forward to nothing, one is too lazy for thought,
but not too lazy for musing; two different things, as you know well. Memories
of childhood, at first, came flooding upon me-- wherever I went, whatever
I looked at, they surged up on all sides, distinct, to the smallest detail,
and, as it were, immovable, in their clearly defined outlines. . . . Then
these memories were succeeded by others, then . . . then I gradually turned
away from the past, and all that was left was a sort of drowsy heaviness in
my heart. Fancy! as I was sitting on the dike, under a willow, I suddenly
and unexpectedly burst out crying, and should have gone on crying a long while,
in spite of my advanced years, if I had not been put to shame by a passing
peasant woman, who stared at me with curiosity, then, without turning her
face towards me, gave a low bow from the waist, and passed on. I should be
very glad to remain in the same mood (I shan't do any more crying, of course)
till I go away from here, that is, till September, and should be very sorry
if any of my neighbours should take it into his head to call on me. However
there is no danger, I fancy, of that; I have no near neighbours here. You
will understand me, I'm sure; you know yourself, by experience, how often
solitude is beneficial . . . I need it now after wanderings of all sorts.
But I shan't be dull. I have brought a few books with me, and I have a pretty
fair library here. Yesterday, I opened all the bookcases, and was a long while
rummaging about among the musty books. I found many curious things I had not
noticed before: Candide, in a manuscript translation of somewhere about 1770;
newspapers and magazines of the same period; the Triumphant Chameleon (that
is, Mirabeau), le Paysan Perverti, etc. I came across children's books, my
own, and my father's, and my grandmother's, and even, fancy, my great grandmother's;
in one dilapidated French grammar in a particoloured binding, was written
in fat letters: "Ce livre appartient a Mile Eudoxie de Lavrine,"
and it was dated 1741. I saw books I had brought at different times from abroad,
among others, Goethe's Faust. You're not aware, perhaps, that there was a
time when I knew Faust by heart (the first part, of course) word for word;
I was never tired of reading it. . . But other days, other dreams, and for
the last nine years, it has so happened, that I have scarcely had a Goethe
in my hand. It was with an indescribable emotion that I saw the little book
I knew so well, again (a poor edition of 1828). I brought it away with me,
lay down on the bed, and began to read. How all that splendid first scene
affected me! The entrance of the Spirit of the Earth, the words, you remember--"on
the tide of life, in the whirl of creation," stirred a long unfamiliar
tremor and shiver of ecstasy. I recalled everything: Berlin, and student days,
and Fraulein Clara Stick, and Zeidelmann in the role of Mephistopheles, and
the music of Radzivil, and all and everything. . . . It was a long while before
I could get to sleep: my youth rose up and stood before me like a phantom;
it ran like fire, like poison through my veins, my heart leaped and would
not be still, something plucked at its chords, and yearnings began surging
up. . . .
You see what fantasies your friend gives himself up to, at almost forty, when
he sits in solitude in his solitary little house! What if any one could have
peeped at me! Well, what? I shouldn't have been a bit ashamed of myself. To
be ashamed is a sign of youth, too; and I have begun (do you know how?) to
notice that I'm getting old. I'll tell you how. I try in these days to make
as much as I can of my happy sensations, and to make little of my sad ones,
and in the days of my youth I did just the opposite. At times, one used to
carry about one's melancholy as if it were a treasure, and be ashamed of a
cheerful mood . . . But for all that, it strikes me, that in spite of all
my experience of life, there is something in the world, friend Horatio, which
I have not experienced, and that "something" almost the most important.
Oh, what have I worked myself up to! Farewell for the present! What are you
about in Petersburg? By the way; Savely, my country cook, wishes to send his
duty to you. He too is older, but not very much so, he is grown rather corpulent,
stouter all over. He is as good as ever at chicken-soup, with stewed onions,
cheesecakes with goffered edges, and peagoose--peagoose is the famous dish
of the steppes, which makes your tongue white and rough for twenty-four hours
after. On the other hand, he roasts the meat as he always did, so that you
can hammer on the plate with it--hard as a board. But I must really say, good-bye!
From the Same to the Same
M---- Village, June 12, 1850.
I HAVE rather an important piece of news to tell you, my dear friend. Listen!
Yesterday I felt disposed for a walk before dinner--only not in the garden;
I walked along the road towards the town. Walking rapidly, quite aimlessly,
along a straight, long road is very pleasant. You feel as if you're doing
something, hurrying somewhere. I look up; a coach is coming towards me. Surely
not some one to see me, I wondered with secret terror . . . No: there was
a gentleman with moustaches in the carriage, a stranger to me. I felt reassured.
But all of a sudden, when he got abreast with me, this gentleman told the
coachman to stop the horses, politely raised his cap, and still more politely
asked me, "was not I" . . . mentioning my name. I too came to a
standstill, and with the fortitude of a prisoner brought up for trial, replied
that I was myself; while I stared like a sheep at the gentleman with the moustaches
and said to myself--"I do believe I've seen him somewhere!"
"You don't recognise me?" he observed, as he got out of the coach.
"No, I don't."
"But I knew you directly."
Explanations followed; it appeared that it was Priemkov--do you remember?--a
fellow we used to know at the university. "Why, is that an important
piece of news?" you are asking yourself at this instant, my dear Semyon
Nikolaitch. "Priemkov, to the best of my recollection, was rather a dull
chap; no harm in him though, and not a fool." Just so, my dear boy; but
hear the rest of our conversation.
"I was delighted," says he, "when I heard you had come to your
country-place, into our neighbourhood. But I was not alone in that feeling."
"Allow me to ask," I questioned: "who was so kind. . ."
"Yes, my wife; she is an old acquaintance of yours."
"May I ask what was your wife's name?"
"Vera Nikolaevna; she was an Eltsov . . ."
"Vera Nikolaevna!" I could not help exclaiming . . .
This it is, which is the important piece of news I spoke of at the beginning
of my letter.
But perhaps you don't see anything important even in this . . . I shall have
to tell you something of my past . . . long past, life.
When we both left the university in 183-- I was three-and-twenty. You went
into the service; I decided, as you know, to go to Berlin. But there was nothing
to be done in Berlin before October. I wanted to spend the summer in Russia--in
the country--to have a good lazy holiday for the last time; and then to set
to work in earnest. How far this last project was carried out, there is no
need to enlarge upon here . . . "But where am I to spend the summer?"
I asked myself. I did not want to go to my own place; my father had died not
long before, I had no near relations, I was afraid of the solitude and dreariness
. . . And so I was delighted to receive an invitation from a distant cousin
to stay at his country-place in T . . . province. He was a well-to-do, good-natured,
simple-hearted man; he lived in style as a country magnate, and had a palatial
country house. I went to stay there. My cousin had a large family; two sons
and five daughters. Besides them, there was always a crowd of people in his
house. Guests were for ever arriving; and yet it wasn't jolly at all. The
days were spent in noisy entertainments, there was no chance of being by oneself.
Everything was done in common, every one tried to be entertaining, to invent
some amusement, and at the end of the day every one was fearfully exhausted.
There was something vulgar about the way we lived. I was already beginning
to look forward to getting away, and was only waiting till my cousin's birthday
festivities were over, when on the very day of those festivities, at the ball,
I saw Vera Nikolaevna Eltsov--and I stayed on.
She was at that time sixteen. She was living with her mother on a little estate
four miles from my cousin's place. Her father--a remarkable man, I have been
told--had risen rapidly to the grade of colonel, and would have attained further
distinctions, but he died young, accidentally shot by a friend when out shooting.
Vera Nikolaevna was a baby at the time of his death. Her mother too was an
exceptional woman; she spoke several languages, and was very well informed.
She was seven or eight years older than her husband whom she had married for
love; he had run away with her in secret from her father's house. She never
got over his loss, and, till the day of her death (I heard from Priemkov that
she had died soon after her daughter's marriage), she never wore anything
but black. I have a vivid recollection of her face: it was expressive, dark,
with thick hair beginning to turn grey; large, severe, lustreless eyes, and
a straight, fine nose. Her father--his surname was Ladanov--had lived for
fifteen years in Italy. Vera Nikolaevna's mother was the daughter of a simple
Albanian peasant girl, who, the day after giving birth to her child, was killed
by her betrothed lover--a Transteverino peasant-- from whom Ladanov had enticed
her away. . . . The story made a great sensation at the time. On his return
to Russia, Ladanov never left his house, nor even his study; he devoted himself
to chemistry, anatomy, and magical arts; tried to discover means to prolong
human life, fancied he could hold intercourse with spirits, and call up the
dead. . . . The neighbours looked upon him as a sorcerer. He was extremely
fond of his daughter, and taught her everything himself: but he never forgave
her elopement with Eltsov, never allowed either of them to come into his presence,
predicted a life of sorrow for both of them, and died in solitude. When Madame
Eltsov was left a widow, she devoted her whole time to the education of her
daughter, and scarcely saw any friends. When I first met Vera Nikolaevna,
she had--just fancy--never been in a town in her life, not even in the town
of her district.
Vera Nikolaevna was not like the common run of Russian girls; there was the
stamp of something special upon her. I was struck from the first minute by
the extraordinary repose of all her movements and remarks. She seemed free
from any sort of disturbance or agitation; she answered simply and intelligently,
and listened attentively. The expression of her face was sincere and truthful
as a child's, but a little cold and immobile, though not dreamy. She was rarely
gay, and not in the way other girls are; the serenity of an innocent heart
shone out in everything about her, and cheered one more than any gaiety. She
was not tall, and had a very good figure, rather slender; she had soft, regular
features, a lovely smooth brow, light golden hair, a straight nose, like her
mother's, and rather full lips; her dark grey eyes looked out somewhat too
directly from under soft, upward-turned eyelashes. Her hands were small, and
not very pretty; one never sees hands like hers on people of talent . . .
and, as a fact, Vera Nikolaevna had no special talents. Her voice rang out
clear as a child of seven's. I was presented to her mother at my cousin's
ball, and a few days later I called on them for the first time.
Madame Eltsov was a very strange woman, a woman of character, of strong will
and concentration. She had a great influence on me; I at once respected her
and feared her. Everything with her was done on a principle, and she had educated
her daughter too on a principle, though she did not interfere with her freedom.
Her daughter loved her and trusted her blindly. Madame Eltsov had only to
give her a book, and say--"Don't read that page," she would prefer
to skip the preceding page as well, and would certainly never glance at the
page interdicted. But Madame Eltsov too had her idees fixes, her fads. She
was mortally afraid, for instance, of anything that might work upon the imagination.
And so her daughter reached the age of seventeen without ever having read
a novel or a poem, while in Geography, History, and even Natural History,
she would often put me to shame, graduate as I was, and a graduate, as you
know, not by any means low down on the list either. I used to try and argue
with Madame Eltsov about her fad, though it was difficult to draw her into
conversation; she was very silent. She simply shook her head.
"You tell me," she said at last, "that reading poetry is both
useful and pleasant. . . . I consider one must make one's choice early in
life; either the useful or the pleasant, and abide by it once for all. I,
too, tried at one time to unite the two. . . . That's impossible, and leads
to ruin or vulgarity."
Yes, a wonderful being she was, that woman, an upright, proud nature, not
without a certain fanaticism and superstition of her own. "I am afraid
of life," she said to me one day. And really she was afraid of it, afraid
of those secret forces on which life rests and which rarely, but so suddenly,
break out. Woe to him who is their sport! These forces had shown themselves
in fearful shape for Madame Eltsov; think of her mother's death, her husband's,
her father's. . . . Any one would have been panic-stricken. I never saw her
smile. She had, as it were, locked herself up and thrown the key into the
water. She must have suffered great grief in her time, and had never shared
it with any one; she had hidden it all away within herself. She had so thoroughly
trained herself not to give way to her feelings that she was even ashamed
to express her passionate love for her daughter; she never once kissed her
in my presence, and never used any endearing names, always Vera. I remember
one saying of hers; I happened to say to her that all of us modern people
were half broken by life. "It's no good being half broken," she
observed; "one must be broken in thoroughly or let it alone. . . ."
Very few people visited Madame Eltsov; but I went often to see her. I was
secretly aware that she looked on me with favour; and I liked Vera Nikolaevna
very much indeed. We used to talk and walk together. . . . Her mother was
no check upon us; the daughter did not like to be away from her mother, and
I, for my part, felt no craving for solitary talks with her. . . . Vera Nikolaevna
had a strange habit of thinking aloud; she used at night in her sleep to talk
loudly and distinctly about what had impressed her during the day. One day,
looking at me attentively, leaning softly, as her way was, on her hand, she
said, "It seems to me that B. is a good person, but there's no relying
on him." The relations existing between us were of the friendliest and
most tranquil; only once I fancied I detected somewhere far off in the very
depths of her clear eyes something strange, a sort of softness and tenderness.
. . . But perhaps I was mistaken.
Meanwhile the time was slipping by, and it was already time for me to prepare
for departure. But still I put it off. At times, when I thought, when I realised
that soon I should see no more of this sweet girl I had grown so fond of,
I felt sick at heart. . . . Berlin began to lose its attractive force. I had
not the courage to acknowledge to myself what was going on within me, and,
indeed, I didn't understand what was taking place,--it was as though a cloud
were overhanging my soul. At last one morning everything suddenly became clear
to me. "Why seek further, what is there to strive towards? Why, I shall
not attain to truth in any case. Isn't it better to stay here, to be married?"
And, imagine, the idea of marriage had no terrors for me in those days. On
the contrary, I rejoiced in it. More than that; that day I declared my intentions;
only not to Vera Nikolaevna, as one would naturally suppose, but to Madame
Eltsov. The old lady looked at me.
"No," she said; "my dear boy, go to Berlin, get broken in thoroughly.
You're a good fellow; but it's not a husband like you that's needed for Vera."
I hung my head, blushed, and, what will very likely surprise you still more,
inwardly agreed with Madame Eltsov on the spot. A week later I went away,
and since then I have not seen her nor Vera Nikolaevna.
I have related this episode briefly because I know you don't care for anything
"meandering." When I got to Berlin I very quickly forgot Vera Nikolaevna.
. . . But I will own that hearing of her so unexpectedly has excited me. I
am impressed by the idea that she is so close, that she is my neighbour, that
I shall see her in a day or two. The past seems suddenly to have sprung up
out of the earth before my eyes, and to have rushed down upon me. Priemkov
informed me that he was coming to call upon me with the very object of renewing
our old acquaintance, and that he should look forward to seeing me at his
house as soon as I could possibly come. He told me he had been in the cavalry,
had retired with the rank of lieutenant, had bought an estate about six miles
from me, and was intending to devote himself to its management, that he had
had three children, but that two had died, and he had only a little girl of
"And does your wife remember me?" I inquired.
"Yes, she remembers you," he replied, with some slight hesitation.
"Of course, she was a child, one may say, in those days; but her mother
always spoke very highly of you, and you know how precious every word of her
poor mother's is to her."
I recalled Madame Eltsov's words, that I was not suitable for her Vera. .
. . "I suppose you were suitable," I thought, with a sidelong look
at Priemkov. He spent some hours with me. He is a very nice, dear, good fellow,
speaks so modestly, and looks at me so good-naturedly. One can't help liking
him . . . but his intellectual powers have not developed since we used to
know him. I shall certainly go and see him, possibly to-morrow. I am exceedingly
curious to see how Vera Nikolaevna has turned out.
You, spiteful fellow, are most likely laughing at me as you read this, sitting
at your directors' table. But I shall write and tell you, all the same, the
impression she makes on me. Goodbye--till my next.--Yours,
From the Same to the Same
M---- Village, June 16, 1850.
WELL, my dear boy, I have been to her house; I have seen her. First of all
I must tell you one astonishing fact: you may believe me or not as you like,
but she has scarcely changed at all either in face or in figure. When she
came to meet me, I almost cried out in amazement; it was simply a little girl
of seventeen! Only her eyes are not a little girl's; but then her eyes were
never like a child's, even in her young days,--they were too clear. But the
same composure, the same serenity, the same voice, not one line on her brow,
as though she had been laid in the snow all these years. And she's twenty-eight
now, and has had three children. . . . It's incomprehensible! Don't imagine,
please, that I had some preconceived preference, and so am exaggerating; quite
the other way; I don't like this absence of change in her a bit.
A woman of eight-and-twenty, a wife and a mother, ought not to be like a little
girl; she should have gained something from life. She gave me a very cordial
welcome; but Priemkov was simply overjoyed at my arrival; the dear fellow
seems on the look-out for some one to make much of. Their house is very cosy
and clean. Vera Nikolaevna was dressed, too, like a girl; all in white, with
a blue sash, and a slender gold chain on her neck. Her daughter is very sweet
and not at all like her. She reminds one of her grandmother. In the drawing-room,
just over a sofa, there hangs a portrait of that strange woman, a striking
likeness. It caught my eye directly I went into the room. It seemed as though
she were gazing sternly and earnestly at me. We sat down, spoke of old times,
and by degrees got into conversation. I could not help continually glancing
at the gloomy portrait of Madame Eltsov. Vera Nikolaevna was sitting just
under it; it is her favourite place. Imagine my amazement: Vera Nikolaevna
has never yet read a single novel, a single poem--in fact, not a single invented
work, as she expresses it! This incomprehensible indifference to the highest
pleasures of the intellect irritated me. In a woman of intelligence, and as
far as I can judge, of sensibility, it's simply unpardonable.
"What? do you make it a principle," I asked, "never to read
books of that sort?"
"I have never happened to," she answered; "I haven't had time!"
"Not time! You surprise me! I should have thought," I went on, addressing
Priemkov, "you would have interested your wife in poetry."
"I should have been delighted----" Priemkov was beginning, but Vera
Nikolaevna interrupted him-- "Don't pretend; you've no great love for
"Poetry; well, no," he began; "I'm not very fond of it; but
novels, now. . . ."
"But what do you do, how do you spend your evenings?" I queried;
"do you play cards?"
"We sometimes play," she answered; "but there's always plenty
to do. We read, too; there are good books to read besides poetry."
"Why are you so set against poetry?"
"I'm not set against it; I have been used to not reading these invented
works from a child. That was my mother's wish, and the longer I live the more
I am convinced that everything my mother did, everything she said, was right,
"Well, as you will, but I can't agree with you; I am certain you are
depriving yourself quite needlessly of the purest, the most legitimate pleasure.
Why, you're not opposed to music and painting, I suppose; why be opposed to
"I'm not opposed to it; I have never got to know anything of it--that's
"Well, then, I will see to that! Your mother did not, I suppose, wish
to prevent your knowing anything of the works of creative, poetic art all
"No; when I was married, my mother removed every restriction; it never
occurred to me to read--what did you call them? well, anyway, to read novels."
I listened to Vera Nikolaevna in astonishment. I had not expected this.
She looked at me with her serene glance. Birds look so when they are not frightened.
"I'll bring you a book!" I cried. (I thought of Faust, which I had
just been reading.)
Vera Nikolaevna gave a gentle sigh.
"It----it won't be Georges--Sand?" she questioned with some timidity.
"Ah! then you've heard of her? Well, if it were, where's the harm? .
. . No, I'll bring you another author. You've not forgotten German, have you?"
"She speaks it like a German," put in Priemkov.
"Well, that's splendid! I will bring you-- but there, you shall see what
a wonderful thing I will bring you."
"Very good, we shall see. But now let us go into the garden, or there'll
be no keeping Natasha still."
She put on a round straw hat, a child's hat, just such a one as her daughter
was wearing, only a little larger, and we went into the garden. I walked beside
her. In the fresh air, in the shade of the tall limes, I thought her face
looked sweeter than ever, especially when she turned a little and threw back
her head so as to look up at me from under the brim of her hat. If it had
not been for Priemkov walking behind us, and the little girl skipping about
in front of us, I could really have fancied I was three-and-twenty, instead
of thirty-five; and that I was just on the point of starting for Berlin, especially
as the garden we were walking in was very much like the garden in Madame Eltsov's
estate. I could not help expressing my feelings to Vera Nikolaevna.
"Every one tells me that I am very little changed externally," she
answered, "though indeed I have remained just the same inwardly too."
We came up to a little Chinese summer-house.
"We had no summer-house like this at Osinovka," she said; "but
you mustn't mind its being so tumbledown and discoloured: it's very nice and
We went into the house. I looked round.
"I tell you what,Vera Nikolaevna," I observed, "you let them
bring a table and some chairs in here. Here it is really delicious. I will
read you here Goethe's Faust--that's the thing I am going to read you."
"Yes, there are no flies here," she observed simply. "When
will you come?"
"The day after to-morrow."
"Very well," she answered. "I will arrange it."
Natasha, who had come into the summer-house with us, suddenly gave a shriek
and jumped back, quite pale.
"What is it?" inquired Vera Nikolaevna.
"O mammy," said the little girl, pointing into the corner, "look,
what a dreadful spider!"
Vera Nikolaevna looked into the corner: a fat mottled spider was crawling
slowly along the wall.
"What is there to fear in that?" she said. "It won't bite,
And before I had time to stop her, she took up the hideous insect, let it
run over her hand, and threw it away.
"Well, you are brave!" I cried.
"Where is the bravery in that? It wasn't a venomous spider."
"One can see you are as well up in Natural History as ever, but I couldn't
have held it in my hand."
"There's nothing to be afraid of!" repeated Vera Nikolaevna.
Natasha looked at us both in silence, and laughed.
"How like your mother she is!" I remarked.
"Yes," rejoined Vera Nikolaevna with a smile of pleasure, "it
is a great happiness to me. God grant she may be like her, not in face only!"
We were called in to dinner, and after dinner I went away.
N.B.--The dinner was very good and well-cooked, an observation in parenthesis
for you, you gourmand!
To-morrow I shall take them Faust. I'm afraid old Goethe and I may not come
off very well. I will write and tell you all about it most exactly.
Well, and what do you think of all these proceedings? No doubt, that she has
made a great impression on me, that I'm on the point of falling in love, and
all the rest of it? Rubbish, my dear boy! There's a limit to everything. I've
been fool enough. No more! One can't begin life over again at my age. Besides,
I never did care for women of that sort. . . . Nice sort of women I did care
for, if you come to that!!
"I shudder--my heart is sick--
I am ashamed of my idols."
Any way, I am very glad of such neighbours, glad of the opportunity of seeing
something of an intelligent, simple, bright creature. And as to what comes
of it later on, you shall hear in due time--Yours,
From the Same to the Same
M---- Village, June 20, 1850.
THE reading took place yesterday, dear friend, and here follows the manner
thereof. First of all, I hasten to tell you: a success quite beyond all expectation--success,
in fact, is not the word. . . . Well, I'll tell you. I arrived to dinner.
We sat down a party of six to dinner: she, Priemkov, their little girl, the
governess (an uninteresting colourless figure), I, and an old German in a
short cinnamon-coloured frock-coat, very clean, well-shaved and brushed; he
had the meekest, most honest face, and a toothless smile, and smelled of coffee
mixed with chicory . . . all old Germans have that peculiar odour about them.
I was introduced to him; he was one Schimmel, a German tutor, living with
the princes H., neighbours of the Priemkovs. Vera Nikolaevna, it appeared,
had a liking for him, and had invited him to be present at the reading. We
dined late, and sat a long while at table, and afterwards went a walk. The
weather was exquisite. In the morning there had been rain and a blustering
wind, but towards evening all was calm again. We came out on to an open meadow.
Directly over the meadow a great rosy cloud poised lightly, high up in the
sky; streaks of grey stretched like smoke over it; on its very edge, continually
peeping out and vanishing again, quivered a little star, while a little further
off the crescent of the moon shone white upon a background of azure, faintly
flushed with red. I drew Vera Nikolaevna's attention to the cloud.
"Yes," she said, "that is lovely; but look in this direction."
I looked round. An immense dark-blue storm-cloud rose up, hiding the setting
sun; it reared a crest like a thick sheaf flung upwards against the sky; it
was surrounded by a bright rim of menacing purple, which in one place, in
the very middle, broke right through its mighty mass, like fire from a burning
crater. . . .
"There'll be a storm," remarked Priemkov.
But I am wandering from the main point.
I forgot to tell you in my last letter that when I got home from the Priemkovs'
I felt sorry I had mentioned Faust; Schiller would have been a great deal
better for the first time, if it was to be something German. I felt especially
afraid of the first scenes, before the meeting with Gretchen. I was not quite
easy about Mephistopheles either. But I was under the spell of Faust, and
there was nothing else I could have read with zest. It was quite dark when
we went into the summer-house; it had been made ready for us the day before.
Just opposite the door, before a little sofa, stood a round table covered
with a cloth; easy-chairs and seats were placed round it; there was a lamp
alight on the table. I sat down on the little sofa, and took out the book.
Vera Nikolaevna settled herself in an easy-chair, a little way off, close
to the door. In the darkness, through the door, a green branch of acacia stood
out in the lamplight, swaying lightly; from time to time a flood of night
air flowed into the room. Priemkov sat near me at the table, the German beside
him. The governess had remained in the house with Natasha. I made a brief,
introductory speech. I touched on the old legend of doctor Faust, the significance
of Mephistopheles, and Goethe himself, and asked them to stop me if anything
struck them as obscure. Then I cleared my throat. . . . Priemkov asked me
if I wouldn't have some sugar water, and one could perceive that he was very
well satisfied with himself for having put this question to me. I refused.
Profound silence reigned. I began to read, without raising my eyes. I felt
ill at ease; my heart beat, and my voice shook. The first exclamation of sympathy
came from the German, and he was the only one to break the silence all the
while I was reading. . . . "Wonderful! sublime!" he repeated, adding
now and then, "Ah! that's profound." Priemkov, as far as I could
observe, was bored; he did not know German very well, and had himself admitted
he did not care for poetry! . . . Well, it was his own doing! I had wanted
to hint at dinner that his company could be dispensed with at the reading,
but I felt a delicacy about saying so. Vera Nikolaevna did not stir; twice
I stole a glance at her. Her eyes were fixed directly and intently upon me;
her face struck me as pale. After the first meeting of Faust with Gretchen
she bent forward in her low chair, clasped her hands, and remained motionless
in that position till the end. I felt that Priemkov was thoroughly sick of
it, and at first that depressed me, but gradually I forgot him, warmed up,
and read with fire, with enthusiasm. . . . I was reading for Vera Nikolaevna
alone; an inner voice told me that Faust was affecting her. When I finished
(the intermezzo I omitted: that bit belongs in style to the second part, and
I skipped part, too, of the "Night on the Brocken") . . . when I
finished, when that last "Heinrich!" was heard, the German with
much feeling commented--"My God! how splendid!" Priemkov, apparently
overjoyed (poor chap!), leaped up, gave a sigh, and began thanking me for
the treat I had given them. . . . But I made him no reply; I looked towards
Vera Nikolaevna. . . . I wanted to hear what she would say. She got up, walked
irresolutely towards the door, stood a moment in the doorway, and softly went
out into the garden. I rushed after her. She was already some paces off; her
dress was just visible, a white patch in the thick shadow.
"Well?" I called--"didn't you like it?"
"Can you leave me that book?" I heard her voice saying.
"I will present it you, Vera Nikolaevna, if you care to have it."
"Thank you!" she answered, and disappeared.
Priemkov and the German came up to me.
"How wonderfully warm it is!" observed Priemkov; "it's positively
stifling. But where has my wife gone?"
"Home, I think," I answered.
"I suppose it will soon be time for supper," he rejoined. "You
read splendidly," he added, after a short pause.
"Vera Nikolaevna liked Faust, I think," said I.
"No doubt of it!" cried Priemkov.
"Oh, of course!" chimed in Schimmel.
We went into the house.
"Where's your mistress?" Priemkov inquired of a maid who happened
to meet us.
"She has gone to her bedroom."
Priemkov went off to her bedroom.
I went out on to the terrace with Schimmel. The old man raised his eyes towards
"How many stars!" he said slowly, taking a pinch of snuff; "and
all are worlds," he added, and he took another pinch.
I did not feel it necessary to answer him, and simply gazed upwards in silence.
A secret uncertainty weighed upon my heart. . . . The stars, I fancied, looked
down seriously at us. Five minutes later Priemkov appeared and called us into
the dining-room. Vera Nikolaevna came in soon after. We sat down.
"Look at Verotchka," Priemkov said to me.
I glanced at her.
"Well? don't you notice anything?"
I certainly did notice a change in her face, but I answered, I don't know
"Her eyes are red," Priemkov went on.
I was silent.
"Only fancy! I went upstairs to her and found her crying. It's a long
while since such a thing has happened to her. I can tell you the last time
she cried; it was when our Sasha died. You see what you have done with your
Faust!" he added, with a smile.
"So you see now, Vera Nikolaevna," I began, "that I was right
"I did not expect this," she interrupted me; "but God knows
whether you are right. Perhaps that was the very reason my mother forbade
my reading such books,--she knew----"
Vera Nikolaevna stopped.
"What did she know?" I asked. "Tell me."
"What for? I'm ashamed of myself as it is; what did I cry for? But we'll
talk about it another time. There was a great deal I did not quite understand."
"Why didn't you stop me?"
"I understood all the words, and the meaning of them, but----"
She did not finish her sentence, and looked away dreamily. At that instant
there came from the garden the sound of rustling leaves, suddenly fluttering
in the rising wind. Vera Nikolaevna started and looked round towards the open
"I told you there would be a storm!" cried Priemkov. "But what
made you start like that, Verotchka?"
She glanced at him without speaking. A faint, far-off flash of lightning threw
a mysterious light on her motionless face.
"It's all due to your Faust," Priemkov went on. "After supper
we must all go to by-by. . . . Mustn't we, Herr Schimmel?"
"After intellectual enjoyment physical repose is as grateful as it is
beneficial," responded the kind-hearted German, and he drank a wine-glass
Immediately after supper we separated. As I said good-night to Vera Nikolaevna
I pressed her hand; her hand was cold. I went up to the room assigned to me,
and stood a long while at the window before I undressed and got into bed.
Priemkov's prediction was fulfilled; the storm came close, and broke. I listened
to the roar of the wind, the patter and splash of the rain, and watched how
the church, built close by, above the lake, at each flash of lightning stood
out, at one moment black against a background of white, at the next white
against a background of black, and then was swallowed up in the darkness again.
. . But my thoughts were far away. I kept thinking of Vera Nikolaevna, of
what she would say to me when she had read Faust herself, I thought of her
tears, remembered how she had listened. . . .
The storm had long passed away, the stars came out, all was hushed around.
Some bird I did not know sang different notes, several times in succession
repeating the same phrase. Its clear, solitary voice rang out strangely in
the deep stillness; and still I did not go to bed. . . .
Next morning, earlier than all the rest, I was down in the drawing-room. I
stood before the portrait of Madame Eltsov. "Aha," I thought, with
a secret feeling of ironical triumph, "after all, I have read your daughter
a forbidden book!" All at once I fancied--you have most likely noticed
that eyes en face always seem fixed straight on any one looking at a picture--but
this time I positively fancied the old lady moved them with a reproachful
look on me.
I turned round, went to the window, and caught sight of Vera Nikolaevna. With
a parasol on her shoulder and a light white kerchief on her head, she was
walking about the garden. I went out at once and said good-morning to her.
"I didn't sleep all night," she said; "my head aches; I came
out into the air--it may go off."
"Can that be the result of yesterday's reading?" I asked.
"Of course; I am not used to it. There are things in your book I can't
get out of my mind; I feel as though they were simply turning my head,"
she added, putting her hand to her forehead.
"That's splendid," I commented; "but I tell you what I don't
like--I'm afraid this sleeplessness and headache may turn you against reading
"You think so?" she responded, and she picked a sprig of wild jasmine
as she passed. "God knows! I fancy if one has once entered on that path,
there is no turning back."
She suddenly flung away the spray.
"Come, let us sit down in this arbour," she went on; "and please,
until I talk of it of my own accord, don't remind me--of that book."
(She seemed afraid to utter the name Faust.)
We went into the arbour and sat down.
"I won't talk to you about Faust," I began; "but you will let
me congratulate you and tell you that I envy you."
"You envy me?"
"Yes; you, as I know you now, with your soul, have such delights awaiting
you! There are great poets besides Goethe; Shakespeare, Schiller--and, indeed,
our own Pushkin, and you must get to know him too."
She did not speak, and drew in the sand with her parasol.
O, my friend, Semyon Nikolaitch! if you could have seen how sweet she was
at that instant; pale almost to transparency, stooping forward a little, weary,
inwardly perturbed--and yet serene as the sky! I talked, talked a long while,
then ceased, and sat in silence watching her. . . . She did not raise her
eyes, and went on drawing with her parasol and rubbing it out again. Suddenly
we heard quick, childish steps; Natasha ran into the arbour. Vera Nikolaevna
drew herself up, rose, and to my surprise she embraced her daughter with a
sort of passionate tenderness. . . . That was not one of her ways. Then Priemkov
made his appearance. Schimmel, that grey-haired but punctual innocent, had
left before daybreak so as not to miss a lesson. We went in to morning tea.
But I am tired; it's high time to finish this letter. It's sure to strike
you as foolish and confused. I feel confused myself. I'm not myself. I don't
know what's the matter with me. I am continually haunted by a little room
with bare walls, a lamp, an open door, the fragrance and freshness of the
night, and there, near the door, an intent youthful face, light white garments.
. . . I understand now why I wanted to marry her: I was not so stupid, it
seems, before my stay in Berlin as I had hitherto supposed. Yes, Semyon Nikolaitch,
your friend is in a curious frame of mind. All this I know will pass off.
. . and if it doesn't pass off--well, what then? it won't pass off and that's
all. But any way I am well satisfied with myself; in the first place, I have
spent an exquisite evening; and secondly, if I have awakened that soul, who
can blame me? Old Madame Eltsov is nailed up on the wall, and must hold her
peace. The old thing! . . . I don't know all the details of her life; but
I know she ran away from her father's house; she was not half Italian for
nothing, it seems. She wanted to keep her daughter secure . . . we shall see.
I must put down my pen. You, jeering person, pray think what you like of me,
only don't jeer at me in writing. You and I are old friends, and ought to
spare each other. Good-bye!--Yours
From the Same to the Same
M---- Village, July 26, 1850.
IT'S a long time since I wrote to you, dear Semyon Nicolaitch; more than a
month, I think. I had enough to write about but I was overcome by laziness.
To tell the truth, I have hardly thought of you all this time. But from your
last letter to me I gather that you are drawing conclusions in regard to me,
which are unjust, that is to say, not altogether just. You imagine I have
fallen in love with Vera (I feel it awkward, somehow, to call her Vera Nikolaevna);
you are wrong. Of course I see her often, I like her extremely . . . indeed,
who wouldn't like her? I should like to see you in my place. She's an exquisite
creature! Rapid intuition, together with the inexperience of a child, clear
common-sense, and an innate feeling for beauty, a continual striving towards
the true and the lofty, and a comprehension of everything, even of the vicious,
even of the ridiculous, a soft womanly charm brooding over all this like an
angel's white wings But what's the use of words! We have read a great deal,
we have talked a great deal together during this month. Reading with her is
a delight such as I had never experienced before. You seem to be discovering
new worlds. She never goes into ecstasies over anything; anything boisterous
is distasteful to her; she is softly radiant all over when she likes anything,
and her face wears such a noble and good--yes, good expression. From her earliest
childhood Vera has not known what deceit was; she is accustomed to truth,
it is the breath of her being, and so in poetry too, only what is true strikes
her as natural; at once, without effort or difficulty, she recognises it as
a familiar face . . . a great privilege and happiness. One must give her mother
credit for it. How many times have I thought, as I watched Vera--yes, Goethe
was right, "the good even in their obscure striving feel always where
the true path lies." There is only one thing annoying--her husband is
always about the place. (Please don't laugh a senseless guffaw, don't sully
our pure friendship, even in thought). He is about as capable of understanding
poetry as I am of playing the flute, but he does not like to lag behind his
wife, he wants to improve himself too. Sometimes she puts me out of patience
herself; all of a sudden a mood comes over her; she won't read or talk, she
works at her embroidery frame, busies herself with Natasha, or with the housekeeper,
runs off all at once into the kitchen, or simply sits with her hands folded
looking out of the window, or sets to playing "fools" with the nurse
. . . I have noticed at these times it doesn't do to bother her; it's better
to bide one's time till she comes up, begins to talk or takes up a book. She
has a great deal of independence, and I am very glad of it. In the days of
our youth, do you remember, young girls would sometimes repeat one's own words
to one, as they so well knew how, and one would be in ecstasies over the echo,
and possibly quite impressed by it, till one realised what it meant? but this
woman's . . . not so; she thinks for herself. She takes nothing on trust;
there's no overawing her with authority; she won't begin arguing; but she
won't give in either. We have discussed Faust more than once; but, strange
to say, Gretchen she never speaks of, herself, she only listens to what I
say of her. Mephistopheles terrifies her, not as the devil, but as "something
which may exist in every man." . . . These are her own words. I began
trying to convince her that this "something" is what we call reflection;
but she does not understand the word reflection in its German sense; she only
knows the French "reflection," and is accustomed to regarding it
as useful. Our relations are marvellous! From a certain point of view I can
say that I have a great influence over her, and am, as it were, educating
her; but she too, though she is unaware of it herself is changing me for the
better in many ways. It's only lately, for instance--thanks to her--that I
have discovered what an immense amount of conventional, rhetorical stuff there
is in many fine and celebrated poetical works. What leaves her cold is at
once suspect in my eyes. Yes, I have grown better, serener. One can't be near
her, see her, and remain the man one was.
What will come of all this? you ask. I really believe--nothing. I shall pass
my time very delightfully till September and then go away. Life will seem
dark and dreary to me for the first months . . . I shall get used to it. I
know how full of danger is any tie whatever between a man and a young woman,
how imperceptibly one feeling passes into another . . . I should have had
the strength to break it off, if I had not been sure that we were both perfectly
undisturbed. It is true one day something queer passed between us. I don't
know how or from what--I remember we had been reading Oniegin--I kissed her
hand. She turned a little away, bent her eyes upon me (I have never seen such
a look, except in her; there is dreaminess and intent attention in it, and
a sort of sternness), . . . suddenly flushed, got up and went away. I did
not succeed in being alone with her that day. She avoided me, and for four
mortal hours she played cards with her husband, the nurse, and the governess!
Next morning she proposed a walk in the garden to me. We walked all through
it, down to the lake. Suddenly without turning towards me, she softly whispered--"Please
don't do that again!" and instantly began telling me about something
else. . . . I was very much ashamed.
I must admit that her image is never out of my mind, and indeed I may almost
say I have begun writing a letter to you with the object of having a reason
for thinking and talking about her. I hear the tramp and neighing of horses;
it's my carriage being got ready. I am going to see them. My coachman has
given up asking me where to drive to, when I get into my carriage--he takes
me straight off to the Priemkovs'. A mile and a half from their village, at
an abrupt turn in the road, their house suddenly peeps out from behind a birch
copse . . . Each time I feel a thrill of joy in my heart directly I catch
the glimmer of its windows in the distance. Schimmel (the harmless old man
comes to see them from time to time; the princes H----, thank God, have only
called once) . . . Schimmel, with the modest solemnity characteristic of him,
said very aptly, pointing to the house where Vera lives: "That is the
abode of peace!" In that house dwells an angel of peace. . . .
Cover me with thy wing,
Still the throbbing of my heart,
And grateful will be the shade
To the enraptured soul. . . .
But enough of this; or you'll be fancying all sorts of things. Till next time
. . . What shall I write to you next time, I wonder?-- Good-bye! By the way,
she never says "Goodbye," but always, "So, good-bye!"--I
like that tremendously.--Yours, P. B.
P.S.--I can't recollect whether I told you that she knows I wanted to marry
From the Same to the Same
M---- Village, August 10, 1850.
CONFESS you are expecting a letter from me of despair or of rapture! . . .
Nothing of the sort. My letter will be like any other letter. Nothing new
has happened, and nothing, I imagine, possibly can happen. The other day we
went out in a boat on the lake. I will tell you about this boating expedition.
We were three: she, Schimmel, and I. I don't know what induces her to invite
the old fellow so often. The H----s, I hear, are annoyed with him for neglecting
his lessons. This time, though, he was entertaining. Priemkov did not come
with us; he had a headache. The weather was splendid, brilliant; great white
clouds that seemed torn to shreds over a blue sky, everywhere glitter, a rustle
in the trees, the plash and lapping of water on the bank, running coils of
gold on the waves, freshness and sunlight! At first the German and I rowed;
then we hoisted a sail and flew before the wind. The boat's bow almost dipped
in the water, and a constant hissing and foaming followed the helm. She sat
at the rudder and steered; she tied a kerchief over her head; she could not
have kept a hat on; her curls strayed from under it and fluttered in the air.
She held the rudder firmly in her little sunburnt hand, and smiled at the
spray which flew at times in her face. I was curled up at the bottom of the
boat; not far from her feet. The German brought out a pipe, smoked his shag,
and, only fancy, began singing in a rather pleasing bass. First he sang the
old-fashioned song: "Freut euch des Lebens," then an air from the
"Magic Flute," then a song called the "A B C of Love."
In this song all the letters of the alphabet--with additions of course--are
sung through in order, beginning with "A B C D--Wenn ich dich seh!"
and ending with "U V W X--Mach einen Knicks!" He sang all the couplets
with much expression; but you should have seen how slily he winked with his
left eye at the word "Knicks!" Vera laughed and shook her finger
at him. I observed that, as far as I could judge, Mr. Schimmel had been a
redoubtable fellow in his day. "Oh yes, I could take my own part!"
he rejoined with dignity; and he knocked the ash out of his pipe on to his
open hand, and, with a knowing air, held the mouth-piece on one side in his
teeth, while he felt in the tobacco-pouch. "When I was a student,"
he added, "o-oh-oh!" He said nothing more. But what an o-oh-oh!
it was! Vera begged him to sing some students' song, and he sang her: "Knaster,
den gelben," but broke down on the last note. Altogether he was quite
jovial and expansive. Meanwhile the wind had blown up, the waves began to
be rather large, and the boat heeled a little over on one side; swallows began
flitting above the water all about us. We made the sail loose and began to
tack about. The wind suddenly blew a cross squall, we had not time to right
the sail, a wave splashed over the boat's edge and flung a lot of water into
the boat. And now the German proved himself a man of spirit; he snatched the
cord from me, and set the sail right, saying as he did so-- "So macht
man ins Kuxhaven!"
Vera was most likely frightened, for she turned pale, but as her way is, she
did not utter a word, but picked up her skirt, and put her feet upon the crosspiece
of the boat. I was suddenly reminded of the poem of Goethe's (I have been
simply steeped in him for some time past) . . . you remember?--"On the
waves glitter a thousand dancing stars," and I repeated it aloud. When
I reached the line: "My eyes, why do you look down?" she slightly
raised her eyes (I was sitting lower than she; her gaze had rested on me from
above) and looked a long while away into the distance, screwing up her eyes
from the wind. . . . A light rain came on in an instant, and pattered, making
bubbles on the water. I offered her my overcoat; she put it over her shoulders.
We got to the bank--not at the landing-place--and walked home. I gave her
my arm. I kept feeling that I wanted to tell her something; but I did not
speak. I asked her, though, I remember, why she always sat, when she was at
home, under the portrait of Madame Eltsov, like a little bird under its mother's
wing. "Your comparison is a very true one," she responded, "I
never want to come out from under her wing." "Shouldn't you like
to come out into freedom?" I asked again. She made no answer.
I don't know why I have described this expedition--perhaps, because it has
remained in my memory as one of the brightest events of the past days, though,
in reality, how can one call it an event? I had such a sense of comfort and
unspeakable gladness of heart, and tears, light, happy tears were on the point
of bursting from my eyes.
Oh! fancy, the next day, as I was walking in the garden by the arbour, I suddenly
heard a pleasing, musical, woman's voice singing-- "Freut euch des Lebens!"
. . . I glanced into the arbour: it was Vera. "Bravo!" I cried;
"I didn't know you had such a splendid voice." She was rather abashed,
and did not speak. Joking apart, she has a fine, strong soprano. And I do
believe she has never even suspected that she has a good voice. What treasures
of untouched wealth lie hid in her! She does not know herself. But am I not
right in saying such a woman is a rarity in our time?
We had a very strange conversation yesterday. We touched first upon apparitions.
Fancy, she believes in them, and says she has her own reasons for it. Priemkov,
who was sitting there, dropped his eyes, and shook his head, as though in
confirmation of her words. I began questioning her, but soon noticed that
this conversation was disagreeable to her. We began talking of imagination,
of the power of imagination. I told them that in my youth I used to dream
a great deal about happiness (the common occupation of people, who have not
had or are not having good luck in life). Among other dreams, I used to brood
over the bliss it would be to spend a few weeks, with the woman I loved, in
Venice. I so often mused over this, especially at night, that gradually there
grew up in my head a whole picture, which I could call up at will: I had only
to close my eyes. This is what I imagined--night, a moon, the moonlight white
and soft, a scent--of lemon, do you suppose? no, of vanilla, a scent of cactus,
a wide expanse of water, a flat island overgrown with olives; on the island,
at the edge of the shore, a small marble house, with open windows; music audible,
coming from I know not where; in the house trees with dark leaves, and the
light of a half-shaded lamp; from one window, a heavy velvet cloak, with gold
fringe, hangs out with one end falling in the water; and with their arms on
the cloak, sit he and she, gazing into the distance where Venice can be seen.
All this rose as clearly before my mind as though I had seen it all with my
own eyes. She listened to my nonsense, and said that she too often dreamed,
but that her day-dreams were of a different sort: she fancied herself in the
deserts of Africa, with some explorer, or seeking the traces of Franklin in
the frozen Arctic Ocean. She vividly imagined all the hardships she had to
endure, all the difficulties she had to contend with. . . .
"You have read a lot of travels," observed her husband.
"Perhaps," she responded; "but if one must dream, why need
one dream of the unattainable?"
"And why not?" I retorted. "Why is the poor unattainable to
"I did not say that," she said; "I meant to say, what need
is there to dream of oneself, of one's own happiness? It's useless thinking
of that; it does not come--why pursue it? It is like health; when you don't
think of it, it means that it's there."
These words astonished me. There's a great soul in this woman, believe me.
. . . From Venice the conversation passed to Italy, to the Italians. Priemkov
went away, Vera and I were left alone.
"You have Italian blood in your veins too," I observed.
"Yes," she responded; "shall I show you the portrait of my
She went to her own sitting-room, and brought out a rather large gold locket.
Opening this locket, I saw excellently painted miniature portraits of Madame
Eltsov's father and his wife--the peasant woman from Albano. Vera's grandfather
struck me by his likeness to his daughter. Only his features, set in a white
cloud of powder, seemed even more severe, sharp, and hard, and in his little
yellow eyes there was a gleam of a sort of sullen obstinacy. But what a face
the Italian woman had, voluptuous, open like a full-blown rose, with prominent,
large, liquid eyes, and complacently smiling red lips! Her delicate sensual
nostrils seemed dilating and quivering as after recent kisses. The dark cheeks
seemed fragrant of glowing heat and health, the luxuriance of youth and womanly
power . . . That brow had never done any thinking, and, thank God, she had
been depicted in her Albanian dress! The artist (a master) had put a vine
in her hair, which was black as pitch with bright grey high lights; this Bacchic
ornament was in marvellous keeping with the expression of her face. And do
you know of whom the face reminded me? My Manon Lescaut in the black frame.
And what is most wonderful of all, as I looked at the portrait, I recalled
that in Vera too, in spite of the utter dissimilarity of the features, there
is at times a gleam of something like that smile, that look. . . .
Yes, I tell you again; neither she herself nor any one else in the world knows
as yet all that is latent in her. . . .
By the way--Madame Eltsov, before her daughter's marriage, told he r all her
life, her mother's death, and so on, probably with a view to her edification.
What specially affected Vera was what she heard about her grandfather, the
mysterious Ladanov. Isn't it owing to that that she believes in apparitions?
It's strange! She is so pure and bright herself, and yet is afraid of everything
dark and underground, and believes in it. . . .
But enough. Why write all this? However, as it is written, it may be sent
off to you.--Yours,
From the Same to the Same
M---- Village, August 22, 1850.
I TAKE up my pen ten days after my last letter . . . Oh my dear fellow, I
can't hide my feelings any longer! . . . How wretched I am! How I love her!
You can imagine with what a thrill of bitterness I write that fatal word.
I am not a boy, not a young man even; I am no longer at that stage when to
deceive another is almost impossible, but to deceive oneself costs no effort.
I know all, and see clearly. I know that I am just on forty, that she's another
man's wife, that she loves her husband; I know very well that the unhappy
feeling which has gained possession of me can lead to nothing but secret torture
and an utter waste of vital energy--I know all that, I expect nothing, and
I wish for nothing; but I am not the better off for that. As long as a month
ago I began to notice that the attraction she has for me was growing stronger
and stronger. This partly troubled me, and partly even delighted me . . .
But how could I dream that everything would be repeated with me, which you
would have thought could no more come again than youth can? What am I saying!
I never loved like this, no, never! Manon Lescauts, Fritilions, these were
my idols--such idols can easily be broken; but now . . . only now, I have
found out what it is to love a woman. I feel ashamed even to speak of it;
but it's so. I'm ashamed . . . Love is egoism any way; and at my years it's
not permissible to be an egoist; at thirty-seven one cannot live for oneself;
one must live to some purpose, with the aim of doing one's duty, one's work
on earth. And I had begun to set to work. . . . And here everything is scattered
to the winds again, as by a hurricane! Now I understand what I wrote to you
in my first letter; I understand now what was the experience I had missed.
How suddenly this blow has fallen upon me! I stand and look senselessly forward;
a black veil hangs before my eyes; my heart is full of heaviness and dread!
I can control myself, I am outwardly calm not only before others, but even
in solitude. I can't really rave like a boy! But the worm has crept into my
heart, and gnaws it night and day. How will it end? Hitherto I have fretted
and suffered when away from her, and in her presence was at peace again at
once-- now I have no rest even when I am with her, that is what alarms me.
Oh my friend, how hard it is to be ashamed of one's tears, to hide them! Only
youth may weep; tears are only fitting for the young. . . .
I cannot read over this letter; it has been wrung from me involuntarily, like
a groan. I can add nothing, tell you nothing . . . Give me time; I will come
to myself, and possess my soul again; I will talk to you like a man, but now
I am longing to lay my head on your breast and----
Oh Mephistopheles! you too are no help to me! I stopped short of set purpose,
of set purpose I called up what irony is in me, I told myself how ludicrous
and mawkish these laments, these outbursts will seem to me in a year, in half
a year . . . No, Mephistopheles is powerless, his tooth has lost its edge.
. . . Farewell.--Yours,
From the Same to the Same
M---- Village, September 8, 1850.
MY DEAR SEMYON NIKOLAITCH,--You have taken my last letter too much to heart.
You know I have always been given to exaggerating my sensations. It's done
as it were unconsciously in me; a womanish nature! In the process of years
this will pass away of course; but I admit with a sigh I have not corrected
the failing so far. So set your mind at rest. I am not going to deny the impression
made on me by Vera, but I say again, in all this there is nothing out of the
way. For you to come here, as you write of doing, would be out of the question,
quite. Post over a thousand versts, God knows with what object--why, it would
be madness! But I am very grateful for this fresh proof of your affection,
and believe me, I shall never forget it. Your journey here would be the more
out of place as I mean to come to Petersburg shortly myself. When I am sitting
on your sofa, I shall have a great deal to tell you, but now I really don't
want to; what's the use? I shall only talk nonsense, I dare say, and muddle
things up. I will write to you again before I start. And so good-bye for a
little while. Be well and happy, and don't worry yourself too much about the
fate of--your devoted,
From the Same to the Same
P---- Village, March 10, 1853.
I HAVE been a long while without answering your letter; I have been all these
days thinking about it. I felt that it was not idle curiosity but real friendship
that prompted you, and yet I hesitated whether to follow your advice, whether
to act on your desire. I have made up my mind at last; I will tell you everything.
Whether my confession will ease my heart as you suppose, I don't know; but
it seems to me I have no right to hide from you what has changed my life for
ever; it seems to me, indeed, that I should be wronging--alas! even more wronging--the
dear being ever in my thoughts, if I did not confide our mournful secret to
the one heart still dear to me. You alone, perhaps, on earth, remember Vera,
and you judge of her lightly and falsely; that I cannot endure. You shall
know all. Alas! it can all be told in a couple of words. All there was between
us flashed by in an instant, like lightning, and like lightning, brought death
and ruin. . . . Over two years have passed since she died; since I took up
my abode in this remote spot, which I shall not leave till the end of my days,
and everything is still as vivid in my memory, my wounds are still as fresh,
my grief as bitter . . . I will not complain. Complaints rouse up sorrow and
so ease it, but not mine. I will begin my story.
Do you remember my last letter--the letter in which I tried to allay your
fears and dissuaded you from coming from Petersburg? You suspected its assumed
lightness of tone, you put no faith in our seeing each other soon; you were
right. On the day before I wrote to you, I had learnt that I was loved. As
I write these words, I realise how hard it would be for me to tell my story
to the end. The ever insistent thought of her death will torture me with redoubled
force, I shall be consumed by these memories. . . . But I will try to master
myself, and will either throw aside the pen, or will say not a word more than
is necessary. This is how I learnt that Vera loved me. First of all I must
tell you (and you will believe me) that up to that day I had absolutely no
suspicion. It is true she had grown pensive at times, which had never been
the way with her before; but I did not know why this change had come upon
her. At last, one day, the seventh of September--a day memorable for me--this
is what happened. You know how I loved her and how wretched I was. I wandered
about like an uneasy spirit, and could find no rest. I tried to keep at home,
but I could not control myself, and went off to her. I found her alone in
her own sitting-room. Priemkov was not at home, he had gone out shooting.
When I went in to Vera, she looked intently at me and did not respond to my
bow. She was sitting at the window; on her knees lay a book I recognised at
once; it was my Faust. Her face showed traces of weariness. I sat down opposite
her. She asked me to read aloud the scene of Faust with Gretchen, when she
asks him if he believes in God. I took the book and began reading. When I
had finished, I glanced at her. Her head leaning on the back of her low chair
and her arms crossed on her bosom, she was still looking as intently at me.
I don't know why, my heart suddenly began to throb.
"What have you done to me?" she said in a slow voice.
"What?" I articulated in confusion.
"Yes, what have you done to me?" she repeated.
"You mean to say," I began; "why did I persuade you to read
She rose without speaking, and went out of the room. I looked after her.
On the doorway she stopped and turned to me.
"I love you," she said; "that's what you have done to me."
The blood rushed to my head. . . .
"I love you, I am in love with you," repeated Vera.
She went out and shut the door after her. I will not try to describe what
passed within me then. I remember I went out into the garden, made my way
into a thicket, leaned against a tree, and how long I stood there, I could
not say. I felt faint and numb; a feeling of bliss came over my heart with
a rush from time to time. . . . No, I cannot speak of that. Priemkov's voice
roused me from my stupor; they had sent to tell him I had come: he had come
home from shooting and was looking for me. He was surprised at finding me
alone in the garden, without a hat on, and he led me into the house. "My
wife's in the drawing-room," he observed; "let's go to her!"
You can imagine my sensations as I stepped through the doorway of the drawing-room.
Vera was sitting in the corner, at her embroidery frame; I stole a glance
at her, and it was a long while before I raised my eyes again. To my amazement,
she seemed composed; there was no trace of agitation in what she said, nor
in the sound of her voice. At last I brought myself to look at her. Our eyes
met . . . She faintly blushed, and bent over her canvas. I began to watch
her. She seemed, as it were, perplexed; a cheerless smile hung about her lips
now and then.
Priemkov went out. She suddenly raised her head and in a rather loud voice
asked me-- "What do you intend to do now?"
I was taken aback, and hurriedly, in a subdued voice, answered, that I intended
to do the duty of an honest man--to go away, "for," I added, "I
love you, Vera Nikolaevna, you have probably seen that long ago." She
bent over her canvas again and seemed to ponder.
"I must talk with you," she said; "come this evening after
tea to our little house . . . you know, where you read Faust."
She said this so distinctly that I can't to this day conceive how it was Priemkov,
who came into the room at that instant, heard nothing. Slowly, terribly slowly,
passed that day. Vera sometimes looked about her with an expression as though
she were asking herself if she were not dreaming. And at the same time there
was a look of determination in her face; while I . . . I could not recover
myself. Vera loves me! These words were continually going round and round
in my head; but I did not understand them--I neither understood myself nor
her. I could not believe in such unhoped-for, such overwhelming happiness;
with an effort I recalled the past, and I too looked and talked as in a dream.
. . .
After evening tea, when I had already begun to think how I could steal out
of the house unobserved, she suddenly announced of her own accord that she
wanted a walk, and asked me to accompany her. I got up, took my hat, and followed
her. I did not dare begin to speak, I could scarcely breathe, I awaited her
first word, I awaited explanations; but she did not speak. In silence we reached
the summer-house, in silence we went into it, and then--I don't know to this
day, I can't understand how it happened--we suddenly found ourselves in each
other's arms. Some unseen force flung me to her and her to me. In the fading
daylight, her face, with the curls tossed back, lighted up for an instant
with a smile of self-surrender and tenderness, and our lips met in a kiss.
. . .
That kiss was the first and last.
Vera suddenly broke from my arms and with an expression of horror in her wide
open eyes staggered back----
"Look round," she said in a shaking voice; "do you see nothing?"
I turned round quickly.
"Nothing. Why, do you see something?"
"Not now, but I did."
She drew deep, gasping breaths.
"My mother," she said slowly, and she began trembling all over.
I shivered too, as though with cold. I suddenly felt ashamed, as though I
were guilty. And indeed, wasn't I guilty at that instant?
"Nonsense!" I began; "what do you mean? Tell me rather----"
"No, for God's sake, no!" she interposed, clutching her head. "This
is madness--I'm going out of my mind. . . . One can't play with this--it's
death. . . . Good-bye. . . ."
I held out my hands to her.
"Stay, for God's sake, for an instant," I cried in an involuntary
outburst. I didn't know what I was saying and could scarcely stand upright.
"For God's sake . . . it is too cruel!"
She glanced at me.
"To-morrow, to-morrow evening," she said, "not to-day, I beseech
you--go away today . . . to-morrow evening come to the garden gate, near the
lake. I will be there, I will come. . . . I swear to you I will come,"
she added with passion, and her eyes shone; "whoever may hinder me, I
swear! I will tell you everything, only let me go to-day."
And before I could utter a word she was gone. Utterly distraught, I stayed
where I was. My head was in a whirl. Across the mad rapture, which filled
my whole being, there began to steal a feeling of apprehension. . . . I looked
round. The dim, damp room in which I was standing oppressed me with its low
roof and dark walls.
I went out and walked with dejected steps towards the house. Vera was waiting
for me on the terrace; she went into the house directly I drew near, and at
once retreated to her bedroom.
I went away.
How I spent the night and the next day till the evening I can't tell you.
I only remember that I lay, my face hid in my hands, I recalled her smile
before our kiss, I whispered--"At last, she . . ."
I recalled, too, Madame Eltsov's words, which Vera had repeated to me. She
had said to her once, "You are like ice; until you melt as strong as
stone, but directly you melt there's nothing of you left."
Another thing recurred to my mind; Vera and I had once been talking of talent,
"There's only one thing I can do," she said; "keep silent till
the last minute."
I did not understand it in the least at the time.
"But what is the meaning of her fright?" I wondered--"Can she
really have seen Madame Eltsov? Imagination!" I thought, and again I
gave myself up to the emotions of expectation.
It was on that day I wrote you,--with what thoughts in my head it hurts me
to recall--that deceitful letter.
In the evening--the sun had not yet set--I took up my stand about fifty paces
from the garden gate in a tall thicket on the edge of the lake. I had come
from home on foot. I will confess to my shame; fear, fear of the most cowardly
kind, filled my heart; I was incessantly starting . . . but I had no feeling
of remorse. Hiding among the twigs, I kept continual watch on the little gate.
It did not open. The sun set, the evening drew on; then the stars came out,
and the sky turned black. No one appeared. I was in a fever. Night came on.
I could bear it no longer; I came cautiously out of the thicket and stole
down to the gate. Everything was still in the garden. I called Vera, in a
whisper, called a second time, a third. . . . No voice called back. Half-an-hour
more passed by, and an hour; it became quite dark. I was worn out by suspense;
I drew the gate towards me, opened it at once, and on tip-toe, like a thief,
walked towards the house. I stopped in the shadow of a lime-tree.
Almost all the windows in the house had lights in them; people were moving
to and fro in the house. This surprised me; my watch, as far as I could make
out in the dim starlight, said half-past eleven. Suddenly I heard a noise
near the house; a carriage drove out of the courtyard.
"Visitors, it seems," I thought. Losing every hope of seeing Vera,
I made my way out of the garden and walked with rapid steps homewards. It
was a dark September night, but warm and windless. The feeling, not so much
of annoyance as of sadness, which had taken possession of me, gradually disappeared,
and I got home, rather tired from my rapid walk, but soothed by the peacefulness
of the night, happy and almost light-hearted. I went to my room, dismissed
Timofay, and without undressing, flung myself on my bed and plunged into reverie.
At first my day-dreams were sweet, but soon I noticed a curious change in
myself. I began to feel a sort of secret gnawing anxiety, a sort of deep,
inward uneasiness. I could not understand what it arose from, but I began
to feel sick and sad, as though I were menaced by some approaching trouble,
as though some one dear to me were suffering at that instant and calling on
me for help. A wax candle on the table burnt with a small, steady flame, the
pendulum swung with a heavy, regular tick. I leant my head on my hand and
fell to gazing into the empty half-dark of my lonely room. I thought of Vera,
and my heart failed me; all, at which I had so rejoiced, struck me, as it
ought to have done, as unhappiness, as hopeless ruin. The feeling of apprehension
grew and grew; I could not lie still any longer; I suddenly fancied again
that some one was calling me in a voice of entreaty. . . . I raised my head
and shuddered; I had not been mistaken; a pitiful cry floated out of the distance
and rang faintly resounding on the dark window-panes. I was frightened; I
jumped off the bed; I opened the window. A distinct moan broke into the room
and, as it were hovered about me. Chilled with terror, I drank in its last
dying echoes. It seemed as though some one were being killed in the distance
and the luckless wretch were beseeching in vain for mercy. Whether it was
an owl hooting in the wood or some other creature that uttered this wail,
I did not think to consider at the time, but, like Mazeppa, I called back
in answer to the ill-omened sound.
"Vera, Vera!" I cried; "is it you calling me?" Timofay,
sleepy and amazed, appeared before me.
I came to my senses, drank a glass of water and went into another room; but
sleep did not come to me. My heart throbbed painfully though not rapidly.
I could not abandon myself to dreams of happiness again; I dared not believe
Next day, before dinner, I went to the Priemkovs'. Priemkov met me with a
"My wife is ill," he began; "she is in bed; I sent for a doctor."
"What is the matter with her?"
"I can't make out. Yesterday evening she went into the garden and suddenly
came back quite beside herself, panic-stricken. Her maid ran for me. I went
in, and asked my wife what was wrong. She made no answer, and so she has lain;
by night delirium set in. In her delirium she said all sorts of things; she
mentioned you. The maid told me an extraordinary thing; that Vera's mother
appeared to her in the garden; she fancied she was coming to meet her with
You can imagine what I felt at these words.
"Of course that's nonsense," Priemkov went on; "though I must
admit that extraordinary things have happened to my wife in that way."
"And you say Vera Nikolaevna is very unwell?"
"Yes: she was very bad in the night; now she is wandering."
"What did the doctor say?"
"The doctor said that the disease was undefined as yet. . . ."
I cannot go on as I began, dear friend; it costs me too much effort and re-opens
my wounds too cruelly. The disease, to use the doctor's words, became defined,
and Vera died of it. She did not live a fortnight after the fatal day of our
momentary interview. I saw her once more before her death. I have no memory
more heart-rending. I had already learned from the doctor that there was no
hope. Late in the evening, when every one in the house was in bed, I stole
to the door of her room and looked in at her. Vera lay in her bed, with closed
eyes, thin and small, with a feverish flush on her cheeks. I gazed at her
as though turned to stone. All at once she opened her eyes, fastened them
upon me, scrutinised me, and stretching out a wasted hand--
"Was will er an dem heiligen Ort
Der da . . . der dort . . . ."
[Faust, Part I., Last Scene.]
she articulated, in a voice so terrible that I rushed headlong away. Almost
all through her illness, she raved about Faust and her mother, whom she sometimes
called Martha, sometimes Gretchen's mother.
Vera died. I was at her burying. Ever since then I have given up everything
and am settled here for ever.
Think now of what I have told you; think of her, of that being so quickly
brought to destruction. How it came to pass, how explain this incomprehensible
intervention of the dead in the affairs of the living, I don't know and never
shall know. But you must admit that it is not a fit of whimsical spleen, as
you express it, which has driven me to retire from the world. I am not what
I was, as you knew me; I believe in a great deal now which I did not believe
formerly. All this time I have thought so much of that unhappy woman (I had
almost said, girl), of her origin, of the secret play of fate, which we in
our blindness call blind chance. Who knows what seeds each man living on earth
leaves behind him, which are only destined to come up after his death? Who
can say by what mysterious bond a man's fate is bound up with his children's,
his descendants'; how his yearnings are reflected in them, and how they are
punished for his errors? We must all submit and bow our heads before the Unknown.
Yes, Vera perished, while I was untouched. I remember, when I was a child,
we had in my home a lovely vase of transparent alabaster. Not a spot sullied
its virgin whiteness. One day when I was left alone, I began shaking the stand
on which it stood . . . the vase suddenly fell down and broke to shivers.
I was numb with horror, and stood motionless before the fragments. My father
came in, saw me, and said, "There, see what you have done; we shall never
have our lovely vase again; now there is no mending it!" I sobbed. I
felt I had committed a crime.
I grew into a man--and thoughtlessly broke a vessel a thousand times more
precious. . . .
In vain I tell myself that I could not have dreamed of such a sudden catastrophe,
that it struck me too with its suddenness, that I did not even suspect what
sort of nature Vera was. She certainly knew how to be silent till the last
minute. I ought to have run away directly I felt that I loved her, that I
loved a married woman. But I stayed, and that fair being was shattered, and
with despair I gaze at the work of my own hands.
Yes, Madame Eltsov took jealous care of her daughter. She guarded her to the
end, and at the first incautious step bore her away with her to the grave!
It is time to make an end. . . . I have not told one hundredth part of what
I ought to have; but this has been enough for me. Let all that has flamed
up fall back again into the depths of my heart. . . . In conclusion, I say
to you--one conviction I have gained from the experience of the last years--life
is not jest and not amusement; life is not even enjoyment . . . life is hard
labour. Renunciation, continual renunciation--that is its secret meaning,
its solution. Not the fulfilment of cherished dreams and aspirations, however
lofty they may be--the fulfilment of duty, that is what must be the care of
man. Without laying on himself chains, the iron chains of duty, he cannot
reach without a fall the end of his career. But in youth we think--the freer
the better, the further one will get. Youth may be excused for thinking so.
But it is shameful to delude oneself when the stern face of truth has looked
one in the eyes at last.
Good-bye! In old days I would have added, be happy; now I say to you, try
to live, it is not so easy as it seems. Think of me, not in hours of sorrow,
but in hours of contemplation, and keep in your heart the image of Vera in
all its pure stainlessness. . . . Once more, good-bye!--Yours,