Part 2 out of 5
* * * * *
I went out on to the steps, and got a view of the crazy pilgrim. He was
sitting on a bench at the gate, and, bent down with both his open hands
pressed on it, he was shaking his drooping head from right to left, for
all the world like a wild beast in a cage. The thick mane of curly hair
covered his eyes, and shook from side to side, and so did his pendulous
lips.... A strange, almost unhuman muttering came from them. His
companion had only just finished washing from a pitcher that was hanging
on a pole, and without having yet replaced her kerchief on her head, was
making her way back to the gate along a narrow plank laid across the
dark puddles of the filthy yard. I glanced at her head, which was now
entirely uncovered, and positively threw up my hands with astonishment:
before me stood Sophie B.!
She turned quickly round and fixed upon me her blue eyes, immovable as
ever. She was much thinner, her skin looked coarser and had the
yellowish-ruddy tinge of sunburn, her nose was sharper, and her lips
were harder in their lines. But she was not less good-looking; only
besides her old expression of dreamy amazement there was now a different
look--resolute, almost bold, intense and exalted. There was not a trace
of childishness left in the face now.
I went up to her. 'Sophia Vladimirovna,' I cried, 'can it be you? In
such a dress ... in such company....'
She started, looked still more intently at me, as though anxious to find
out who was speaking to her, and, without saying a word to me, fairly
rushed to her companion.
'Akulinushka,' he faltered, with a heavy sigh, 'our sins, sins ...'
'Vassily Nikititch, let us go at once! Do you hear, at once, at once,'
she said, pulling her kerchief on to her forehead with one hand, while
with the other she supported the pilgrim under the elbow; 'let us go,
Vassily Nikititch: there is danger here.'
'I'm coming, my good girl, I'm coming,' the crazy pilgrim responded
obediently, and, bending his whole body forward, he got up from the
seat. 'Here's only this chain to fasten....'
I once more approached Sophia, and told her my name. I began beseeching
her to listen to me, to say one word to me. I pointed to the rain,
which was coming down in bucketsful. I begged her to have some care for
her health, the health of her companion. I mentioned her father.... But
she seemed possessed by a sort of wrathful, a sort of vindictive
excitement: without paying the slightest attention to me, setting her
teeth and breathing hard, she urged on the distracted vagrant in an
undertone, in soft insistent words, girt him up, fastened on his
chains, pulled on to his hair a child's cloth cap with a broken peak,
stuck his staff in his hand, slung a wallet on her own shoulder, and
went with him out at the gate into the street.... To stop her actually
I had not the right, and it would have been of no use; and at my last
despairing call she did not even turn round. Supporting the 'man of
God' under his arm, she stepped rapidly over the black mud of the
street; and in a few moments, across the dim dusk of the foggy morning,
through the thick network of falling raindrops, I saw the last glimpse
of the two figures, the crazy pilgrim and Sophie.... They turned the
corner of a projecting hut, and vanished for ever.
* * * * *
I went back to my room. I fell to pondering. I could not understand it;
I could not understand how such a girl, well brought up, young, and
wealthy, could throw up everything and every one, her own home, her
family, her friends, break with all her habits, with all the comforts of
life, and for what? To follow a half-insane vagrant, to become his
servant! I could not for an instant entertain the idea that the
explanation of such a step was to be found in any prompting, however
depraved, of the heart, in love or passion.... One had but to glance at
the repulsive figure of the 'man of God' to dismiss such a notion
entirely! No, Sophie had remained pure; and to her all things were pure;
I could not understand what Sophie had done; but I did not blame her,
as, later on, I have not blamed other girls who too have sacrificed
everything for what they thought the truth, for what they held to be
their vocation. I could not help regretting that Sophie had chosen just
_that_ path; but also I could not refuse her admiration, respect even.
In good earnest she had talked of self-sacrifice, of abasement ... in
_her_, words were not opposed to acts. She had sought a leader, a guide,
and had found him, ... and, my God, what a guide!
Yes, she had lain down to be trampled, trodden under foot.... In the
process of time, a rumour reached me that her family had succeeded at
last in finding out the lost sheep, and bringing her home. But at home
she did not live long, and died, like a 'Sister of Silence,' without
having spoken a word to any one.
Peace to your heart, poor, enigmatic creature! Vassily Nikititch is
probably on his crazy wanderings still; the iron health of such
people is truly marvellous. Perhaps, though, his epilepsy may have
done for him.
PUNIN AND BABURIN
PIOTR PETROVITCH'S STORY
... I am old and ill now, and my thoughts brood oftenest upon death,
every day coming nearer; rarely I think of the past, rarely I turn the
eyes of my soul behind me. Only from time to time--in winter, as I sit
motionless before the glowing fire, in summer, as I pace with slow tread
along the shady avenue--I recall past years, events, faces; but it is
not on my mature years nor on my youth that my thoughts rest at such
times. They either carry me back to my earliest childhood, or to the
first years of boyhood. Now, for instance, I see myself in the country
with my stern and wrathful grandmother--I was only twelve--and two
figures rise up before my imagination....
But I will begin my story consecutively, and in proper order.
The old footman Filippitch came in, on tiptoe, as usual, with a cravat
tied up in a rosette, with tightly compressed lips, 'lest his breath
should be smelt,' with a grey tuft of hair standing up in the very
middle of his forehead. He came in, bowed, and handed my grandmother on
an iron tray a large letter with an heraldic seal. My grandmother put on
her spectacles, read the letter through....
'Is he here?' she asked.
'What is my lady pleased ...' Filippitch began timidly.
'Imbecile! The man who brought the letter--is he here?'
'He is here, to be sure he is.... He is sitting in the counting-house.'
My grandmother rattled her amber rosary beads....
'Tell him to come to me.... And you, sir,' she turned to me, 'sit
As it was, I was sitting perfectly still in my corner, on the stool
assigned to me.
My grandmother kept me well in hand!
* * * * *
Five minutes later there came into the room a man of five-and-thirty,
black-haired and swarthy, with broad cheek-bones, a face marked with
smallpox, a hook nose, and thick eyebrows, from under which the small
grey eyes looked out with mournful composure. The colour of the eyes and
their expression were out of keeping with the Oriental cast of the rest
of the face. The man was dressed in a decent, long-skirted coat. He
stopped in the doorway, and bowed--only with his head.
'So your name's Baburin?' queried my grandmother, and she added to
herself: '_Il a l'air d'un armenien._'
'Yes, it is,' the man answered in a deep and even voice. At the first
brusque sound of my grandmother's voice his eyebrows faintly quivered.
Surely he had not expected her to address him as an equal?
'Are you a Russian? orthodox?'
My grandmother took off her spectacles, and scanned Baburin from head
to foot deliberately. He did not drop his eyes, he merely folded his
hands behind his back. What particularly struck my fancy was his beard;
it was very smoothly shaven, but such blue cheeks and chin I had never
seen in my life!
'Yakov Petrovitch,' began my grandmother, 'recommends you strongly
in his letter as sober and industrious; why, then, did you leave
'He needs a different sort of person to manage his estate, madam.'
'A different ... sort? That I don't quite understand.'
My grandmother rattled her beads again. 'Yakov Petrovitch writes to me
that there are two peculiarities about you. What peculiarities?'
Baburin shrugged his shoulders slightly.
'I can't tell what he sees fit to call peculiarities. Possibly that
I ... don't allow corporal punishment.'
My grandmother was surprised. 'Do you mean to say Yakov Petrovitch
wanted to flog you?'
Baburin's swarthy face grew red to the roots of his hair.
'You have not understood me right, madam. I make it a rule not to employ
corporal punishment ... with the peasants.'
My grandmother was more surprised than ever; she positively threw up
'Ah!' she pronounced at last, and putting her head a little on one side,
once more she scrutinised Baburin attentively. 'So that's your rule, is
it? Well, that's of no consequence whatever to me; I don't want an
overseer, but a counting-house clerk, a secretary. What sort of a hand
do you write?'
'I write well, without mistakes in spelling.'
'That too is of no consequence to me. The great thing for me is for it
to be clear, and without any of those new copybook letters with tails,
that I don't like. And what's your other peculiarity?'
Baburin moved uneasily, coughed....
'Perhaps ... the gentleman has referred to the fact that I am not
'You are married?'
'Oh no ... but ...'
My grandmother knit her brows.
'There is a person living with me ... of the male sex ... a comrade, a
poor friend, from whom I have never parted ... for ... let me see ...
ten years now.'
'A relation of yours?'
'No, not a relation--a friend. As to work, there can be no possible
hindrance occasioned by him,' Baburin made haste to add, as though
foreseeing objections. 'He lives at my cost, occupies the same room with
me; he is more likely to be of use, as he is well educated--speaking
without flattery, extremely so, in fact--and his morals are exemplary.'
My grandmother heard Baburin out, chewing her lips and half
closing her eyes.
'He lives at your expense?'
'You keep him out of charity?'
'As an act of justice ... as it's the duty of one poor man to help
another poor man.'
'Indeed! It's the first time I've heard that. I had supposed till now
that that was rather the duty of rich people.'
'For the rich, if I may venture to say so, it is an entertainment ... but
for such as we ...'
'Well, well, that's enough, that's enough,' my grandmother cut him
short; and after a moment's thought she queried, speaking through her
nose, which was always a bad sign, 'And what age is he, your protege?'
'About my own age.'
'Really, I imagined that you were bringing him up.'
'Not so; he is my comrade--and besides ...'
'That's enough,' my grandmother cut him short a second time. 'You're a
philanthropist, it seems. Yakov Petrovitch is right; for a man in your
position it's something very peculiar. But now let's get to business.
I'll explain to you what your duties will be. And as regards wages....
_Que faites vous ici?_' added my grandmother suddenly, turning her dry,
yellow face to me:--'Allez etudier votre devoir de mythologie._'
I jumped up, went up to kiss my grandmother's hand, and went out,--not
to study mythology, but simply into the garden.
* * * * *
The garden on my grandmother's estate was very old and large, and was
bounded on one side by a flowing pond, in which there were not only
plenty of carp and eels, but even loach were caught, those renowned
loach, that have nowadays disappeared almost everywhere. At the head
of this pond was a thick clump of willows; further and higher, on both
sides of a rising slope, were dense bushes of hazel, elder,
honeysuckle, and sloe-thorn, with an undergrowth of heather and clover
flowers. Here and there between the bushes were tiny clearings,
covered with emerald-green, silky, fine grass, in the midst of which
squat funguses peeped out with their comical, variegated pink, lilac,
and straw-coloured caps, and golden balls of 'hen-dazzle' blazed in
light patches. Here in spring-time the nightingales sang, the
blackbirds whistled, the cuckoos called; here in the heat of summer it
was always cool--and I loved to make my way into the wilderness and
thicket, where I had favourite secret spots, known--so, at least, I
imagined--only to me.
On coming out of my grandmother's room I made straight for one of these
spots, which I had named 'Switzerland.' But what was my astonishment
when, before I had reached 'Switzerland,' I perceived through the
delicate network of half-dry twigs and green branches that some one
besides me had found it out! A long, long figure in a long, loose coat
of yellow frieze and a tall cap was standing in the very spot I loved
best of all! I stole up a little nearer, and made out the face, which
was utterly unknown to me, also very long and soft, with small reddish
eyes, and a very funny nose; drawn out as long as a pod of peas, it
positively over-hung the full lips; and these lips, quivering and
forming a round O, were giving vent to a shrill little whistle, while
the long fingers of the bony hands, placed facing one another on the
upper part of the chest, were rapidly moving with a rotatory action.
From time to time the motion of the hands subsided, the lips ceased
whistling and quivering, the head was bent forward as though listening.
I came still nearer, examined him still more closely.... The stranger
held in each hand a small flat cup, such as people use to tease
canaries and make them sing. A twig snapped under my feet; the stranger
started, turned his dim little eyes towards the copse, and was
staggering away ... but he stumbled against a tree, uttered an
exclamation, and stood still.
I came out into the open space. The stranger smiled.
'Good morning,' said I.
'Good morning, little master!'
I did not like his calling me little master. Such familiarity!
'What are you doing here?' I asked sternly.
'Why, look here,' he responded, never leaving off smiling, 'I'm calling
the little birds to sing.' He showed me his little cups. 'The
chaffinches answer splendidly! You, at your tender years, take delight,
no doubt, in the feathered songsters' notes! Listen, I beg; I will begin
chirping, and they'll answer me directly--it's so delightful!'
He began rubbing his little cups. A chaffinch actually did chirp in
response from a mountain ash near. The stranger laughed without a sound,
and winked at me.
The laugh and the wink--every gesture of the stranger, his weak,
lisping voice, his bent knees and thin hands, his very cap and long
frieze coat--everything about him suggested good-nature, something
innocent and droll.
'Have you been here long?' I asked.
'I came to-day.'
'Why, aren't you the person of whom ...'
'Mr. Baburin spoke to the lady here. The same, the same.'
'Your friend's name's Baburin, and what's yours?'
'I'm Punin. Punin's my name; Punin. He's Baburin and I'm Punin.' He set
the little cups humming again. 'Listen, listen to the chaffinch.... How
This queer creature took my fancy 'awfully' all at once. Like almost all
boys, I was either timid or consequential with strangers, but I felt
with this man as if I had known him for ages.
'Come along with me,' I said to him; 'I know a place better than
this; there's a seat there; we can sit down, and we can see the dam
'By all means let us go,' my new friend responded in his singing voice.
I let him pass before me. As he walked he rolled from side to side,
tripped over his own feet, and his head fell back.
I noticed on the back of his coat, under the collar, there hung a small
tassel. 'What's that you've got hanging there?' I asked.
'Where?' he questioned, and he put his hand up to the collar to feel.
'Ah, the tassel? Let it be! I suppose it was sewn there for ornament!
It's not in the way.'
I led him to the seat, and sat down; he settled himself beside me. 'It's
lovely here!' he commented, and he drew a deep, deep sigh. 'Oh, how
lovely! You have a most splendid garden! Oh, o--oh!'
I looked at him from one side. 'What a queer cap you've got!' I couldn't
help exclaiming. 'Show it me here!'
'By all means, little master, by all means.' He took off the cap; I was
holding out my hand, but I raised my eyes, and--simply burst out
laughing. Punin was completely bald; not a single hair was to be seen on
the high conical skull, covered with smooth white skin. He passed his
open hand over it, and he too laughed. When he laughed he seemed, as it
were, to gulp, he opened his mouth wide, closed his eyes--and vertical
wrinkles flitted across his forehead in three rows, like waves. 'Eh,'
said he at last, 'isn't it quite like an egg?'
'Yes, yes, exactly like an egg!' I agreed with enthusiasm. 'And have you
been like that long?'
'Yes, a long while; but what hair I used to have!--A golden fleece like
that for which the Argonauts sailed over the watery deeps.'
Though I was only twelve, yet, thanks to my mythological studies, I knew
who the Argonauts were; I was the more surprised at hearing the name on
the lips of a man dressed almost in rags.
'You must have learned mythology, then?' I queried, as I twisted his cap
over and over in my hands. It turned out to be wadded, with a
mangy-looking fur trimming, and a broken cardboard peak.
'I have studied that subject, my dear little master; I've had time
enough for everything in my life! But now restore to me my covering, it
is a protection to the nakedness of my head.'
He put on the cap, and, with a downward slope of his whitish eyebrows,
asked me who I was, and who were my parents.
'I'm the grandson of the lady who owns this place,' I answered. 'I live
alone with her. Papa and mamma are dead.'
Punin crossed himself. 'May the kingdom of heaven be theirs! So then,
you're an orphan; and the heir, too. The noble blood in you is visible
at once; it fairly sparkles in your eyes, and plays like this ... sh ...
sh ... sh ...' He represented with his fingers the play of the blood.
'Well, and do you know, your noble honour, whether my friend has come to
terms with your grandmamma, whether he has obtained the situation he was
'I don't know.'
Punin cleared his throat. 'Ah! if one could be settled here, if only for
a while! Or else one may wander and wander far, and find not a place to
rest one's head; the disquieting alarms of life are unceasing, the soul
'Tell me,' I interrupted: 'are you of the clerical profession?'
Punin turned to me and half closed his eyelids. 'And what may be the
cause of that question, gentle youth?'
'Why, you talk so--well, as they read in church.'
'Because I use the old scriptural forms of expression? But that ought
not to surprise you. Admitting that in ordinary conversation such forms
of expression are not always in place; but when one soars on the wings
of inspiration, at once the language too grows more exalted. Surely your
teacher--the professor of Russian literature--you do have lessons in
that, I suppose?--surely he teaches you that, doesn't he?'
'No, he doesn't,' I responded. 'When we stay in the country I have no
teacher. In Moscow I have a great many teachers.'
'And will you be staying long in the country?'
'Two months, not longer; grandmother says that I'm spoilt in the
country, though I have a governess even here.'
'A French governess?'
Punin scratched behind his ear. 'A mamselle, that's to say?'
'Yes; she's called Mademoiselle Friquet.' I suddenly felt it
disgraceful for me, a boy of twelve, to have not a tutor, but a
governess, like a little girl! 'But I don't mind her,' I added
contemptuously. 'What do I care!'
Punin shook his head. 'Ah, you gentlefolk, you gentlefolk! you're too
fond of foreigners! You have turned away from what is Russian,--towards
all that's strange. You've turned your hearts to those that come from
'Hullo! Are you talking in verse?' I asked.
'Well, and why not? I can do that always, as much as you please; for it
comes natural to me....'
But at that very instant there sounded in the garden behind us a loud
and shrill whistle. My new acquaintance hurriedly got up from the bench.
'Good-bye, little sir; that's my friend calling me, looking for me....
What has he to tell me? Good-bye--excuse me....'
He plunged into the bushes and vanished, while I sat on some time longer
on the seat. I felt perplexity and another feeling, rather an agreeable
one ... I had never met nor spoken to any one like this before.
Gradually I fell to dreaming, but recollected my mythology and sauntered
towards the house.
* * * * *
At home, I learned that my grandmother had arranged to take Baburin; he
had been assigned a small room in the servants' quarters, overlooking
the stable-yard. He had at once settled in there with his friend.
When I had drunk my tea, next morning, without asking leave of
Mademoiselle Friquet, I set off to the servants' quarters. I wanted to
have another chat with the queer fellow I had seen the day before.
Without knocking at the door--the very idea of doing so would never have
occurred to us--I walked straight into the room. I found in it not the
man I was looking for, not Punin, but his protector--the philanthropist,
Baburin. He was standing before the window, without his outer garment,
his legs wide apart. He was busily engaged in rubbing his head and neck
with a long towel.
'What do you want?' he observed, keeping his hands still raised, and
knitting his brows.
'Punin's not at home, then?' I queried in the most free-and-easy manner,
without taking off my cap.
'Mr. Punin, Nikander Vavilitch, at this moment, is not at home, truly,'
Baburin responded deliberately; 'but allow me to make an observation,
young man: it's not the proper thing to come into another person's room
like this, without asking leave.'
I! ... young man! ... how dared he! ... I grew crimson with fury.
'You cannot be aware who I am,' I rejoined, in a manner no longer
free-and-easy, but haughty. 'I am the grandson of the mistress here.'
'That's all the same to me,' retorted Baburin, setting to work with his
towel again. 'Though you are the seignorial grandson, you have no right
to come into other people's rooms.'
'Other people's? What do you mean? I'm--at home here--everywhere.'
'No, excuse me: here--I'm at home; since this room has been assigned to
me, by agreement, in exchange for my work.'
'Don't teach me, if you please,' I interrupted: 'I know better than
you what ...'
'You must be taught,' he interrupted in his turn, 'for you're at an age
when you ... I know my duties, but I know my rights too very well, and
if you continue to speak to me in that way, I shall have to ask you to
go out of the room....'
There is no knowing how our dispute would have ended if Punin had not at
that instant entered, shuffling and shambling from side to side. He most
likely guessed from the expression of our faces that some unpleasantness
had passed between us, and at once turned to me with the warmest
expressions of delight.
'Ah! little master! little master!' he cried, waving his hands wildly,
and going off into his noiseless laugh: 'the little dear! come to pay me
a visit! here he's come, the little dear!' (What's the meaning of it? I
thought: can he be speaking in this familiar way to me?) 'There, come
along, come with me into the garden. I've found something there.... Why
stay in this stuffiness here! let's go!'
I followed Punin, but in the doorway I thought it as well to turn round
and fling a glance of defiance at Baburin, as though to say, I'm not
afraid of you!
He responded in the same way, and positively snorted into the
towel--probably to make me thoroughly aware how utterly he despised me!
What an insolent fellow your friend is!' I said to Punin, directly the
door had closed behind me.
Almost with horror, Punin turned his plump face to me.
'To whom did you apply that expression?' he asked me, with round eyes.
'Why, to him, of course.... What's his name? that ... Baburin.'
'Why, yes; that ... blackfaced fellow.'
'Eh ... eh ... eh ...!' Punin protested, with caressing reproachfulness.
'How can you talk like that, little master! Paramon Semyonevitch is the
most estimable man, of the strictest principles, an extraordinary
person! To be sure, he won't allow any disrespect to him, because--he
knows his own value. That man possesses a vast amount of knowledge--and
it's not a place like this he ought to be filling! You must, my dear,
behave very courteously to him; do you know, he's ...' here Punin bent
down quite to my ear,--'a republican!'
I stared at Punin. This I had not at all expected. From Keidanov's
manual and other historical works I had gathered the fact that at some
period or other, in ancient times, there had existed republicans, Greeks
and Romans. For some unknown reason I had always pictured them all in
helmets, with round shields on their arms, and big bare legs; but that
in real life, in the actual present, above all, in Russia, in the
province of X----, one could come across republicans--that upset all my
notions, and utterly confounded them!
'Yes, my dear, yes; Paramon Semyonitch is a republican,' repeated Punin;
'there, so you'll know for the future how one should speak of a man like
that! But now let's go into the garden. Fancy what I've found there! A
cuckoo's egg in a redstart's nest! a lovely thing!'
I went into the garden with Punin; but mentally I kept repeating:
'republican! re ... pub ... lican!'
'So,' I decided at last--'that's why he has such a blue chin!'
* * * * *
My attitude to these two persons--Punin and Baburin--took definite shape
from that very day. Baburin aroused in me a feeling of hostility with
which there was, however, in a short time, mingled something akin to
respect. And wasn't I afraid of him! I never got over being afraid of
him even when the sharp severity of his manner with me at first had
quite disappeared. It is needless to say that of Punin I had no fear; I
did not even respect him; I looked upon him--not to put too fine a point
on it--as a buffoon; but I loved him with my whole soul! To spend hours
at a time in his company, to be alone with him, to listen to his
stories, became a genuine delight to me. My grandmother was anything but
pleased at this _intimite_ with a person of the 'lower classes'--_du
commun_; but, whenever I could break away, I flew at once to my queer,
amusing, beloved friend. Our meetings became more frequent after the
departure of Mademoiselle Friquet, whom my grandmother sent back to
Moscow in disgrace because, in conversation with a military staff
captain, visiting in the neighbourhood, she had had the insolence to
complain of the dulness which reigned in our household. And Punin, for
his part, was not bored by long conversations with a boy of twelve; he
seemed to seek them of himself. How often have I listened to his
stories, sitting with him in the fragrant shade, on the dry, smooth
grass, under the canopy of the silver poplars, or among the reeds above
the pond, on the coarse, damp sand of the hollow bank, from which the
knotted roots protruded, queerly interlaced, like great black veins,
like snakes, like creatures emerging from some subterranean region!
Punin told me the whole story of his life in minute detail, describing
all his happy adventures, and all his misfortunes, with which I always
felt the sincerest sympathy! His father had been a deacon;--'a splendid
man--but, under the influence of drink, stern to the last extreme.'
Punin himself had received his education in a seminary; but, unable to
stand the severe thrashings, and feeling no inclination for the priestly
calling, he had become a layman, and in consequence had experienced all
sorts of hardships; and, finally, had become a vagrant. 'And had I not
met with my benefactor, Paramon Semyonitch,' Punin commonly added (he
never spoke of Baburin except in this way), 'I should have sunk into the
miry abysses of poverty and vice.' Punin was fond of high-sounding
expressions, and had a great propensity, if not for lying, for romancing
and exaggeration; he admired everything, fell into ecstasies over
everything.... And I, in imitation of him, began to exaggerate and be
ecstatic, too. 'What a crazy fellow you've grown! God have mercy on
you!' my old nurse used to say to me. Punin's narratives used to
interest me extremely; but even better than his stories I loved the
readings we used to have together.
It is impossible to describe the feeling I experienced when, snatching
a favourable moment, suddenly, like a hermit in a tale or a good fairy,
he appeared before me with a ponderous volume under his arm, and
stealthily beckoning with his long crooked finger, and winking
mysteriously, he pointed with his head, his eyebrows, his shoulders,
his whole person, toward the deepest recesses of the garden, whither no
one could penetrate after us, and where it was impossible to find us
out. And when we had succeeded in getting away unnoticed; when we had
satisfactorily reached one of our secret nooks, and were sitting side
by side, and, at last, the book was slowly opened, emitting a pungent
odour, inexpressibly sweet to me then, of mildew and age;--with what a
thrill, with what a wave of dumb expectancy, I gazed at the face, at
the lips of Punin, those lips from which in a moment a stream of such
delicious eloquence was to flow! At last the first sounds of the
reading were heard. Everything around me vanished ... no, not vanished,
but grew far away, passed into clouds of mist, leaving behind only an
impression of something friendly and protecting. Those trees, those
green leaves, those high grasses screen us, hide us from all the rest
of the world; no one knows where we are, what we are about--while with
us is poetry, we are saturated in it, intoxicated with it, something
solemn, grand, mysterious is happening to us.... Punin, by preference,
kept to poetry, musical, sonorous poetry; he was ready to lay down his
life for poetry. He did not read, he declaimed the verse majestically,
in a torrent of rhythm, in a rolling outpour through his nose, like a
man intoxicated, lifted out of himself, like the Pythian priestess. And
another habit he had: first he would lisp the verses through softly, in
a whisper, as it were mumbling them to himself.... This he used to call
the rough sketch of the reading; then he would thunder out the same
verse in its 'fair copy,' and would all at once leap up, throw up his
hand, with a half-supplicating, half-imperious gesture.... In this way
we went through not only Lomonosov, Sumarokov, and Kantemir (the older
the poems, the more they were to Punin's taste), but even Heraskov's
_Rossiad_. And, to tell the truth, it was this same _Rossiad_ which
aroused my enthusiasm most. There is in it, among others, a mighty
Tatar woman, a gigantic heroine; I have forgotten even her name now;
but in those days my hands and feet turned cold as soon as it was
mentioned. 'Yes,' Punin would say, nodding his head with great
significance, 'Heraskov, he doesn't let one off easily. At times one
comes upon a line, simply heart-breaking.... One can only stick to it,
and do one's best.... One tries to master it, but he breaks away again
and trumpets, trumpets, with the crash of cymbals. His name's been well
bestowed on him--the very word, Herrraskov!' Lomonosov Punin found
fault with for too simple and free a style; while to Derzhavin he
maintained an attitude almost of hostility, saying that he was more of
a courtier than a poet. In our house it was not merely that no
attention was given to literature, to poetry; but poetry, especially
Russian poetry, was looked upon as something quite undignified and
vulgar; my grandmother did not even call it poetry, but 'doggrel
verses'; every author of such doggrel was, in her opinion, either a
confirmed toper or a perfect idiot. Brought up among such ideas, it was
inevitable that I should either turn from Punin with disgust--he was
untidy and shabby into the bargain, which was an offence to my
seignorial habits--or that, attracted and captivated by him, I should
follow his example, and be infected by his passion for poetry.... And
so it turned out. I, too, began reading poetry, or, as my grandmother
expressed it, poring over doggrel trash.... I even tried my hand at
versifying, and composed a poem, descriptive of a barrel-organ, in
which occurred the following two lines:
'Lo, the barrel turns around,
And the cogs within resound.'
Punin commended in this effort a certain imitative melody, but
disapproved of the subject itself as low and unworthy of lyrical
Alas! all those efforts and emotions and transports, our solitary
readings, our life together, our poetry, all came to an end at once.
Trouble broke upon us suddenly, like a clap of thunder.
* * * * *
My grandmother in everything liked cleanliness and order, quite in the
spirit of the active generals of those days; cleanliness and order were
to be maintained too in our garden. And so from time to time they
'drove' into it poor peasants, who had no families, no land, no beasts
of their own, and those among the house serfs who were out of favour or
superannuated, and set them to clearing the paths, weeding the borders,
breaking up and sifting the earth in the beds, and so on. Well, one day,
in the very heat of these operations, my grandmother went into the
garden, and took me with her. On all sides, among the trees and about
the lawns, we caught glimpses of white, red, and blue smocks; on all
sides we heard the scraping and clanging of spades, the dull thud of
clods of earth on the slanting sieves. As she passed by the labourers,
my grandmother with her eagle eye noticed at once that one of them was
working with less energy than the rest, and that he took off his cap,
too, with no show of eagerness. This was a youth, still quite young,
with a wasted face, and sunken, lustreless eyes. His cotton smock, all
torn and patched, scarcely held together over his narrow shoulders.
'Who's that?' my grandmother inquired of Filippitch, who was walking on
tiptoe behind her.
'Of whom ... you are pleased ...' Filippitch stammered.
'Oh, fool! I mean the one that looked so sullenly at me. There, standing
yonder, not working.'
'Oh, him! Yes ... th ... th ... that's Yermil, son of Pavel Afanasiitch,
Pavel Afanasiitch had been, ten years before, head butler in my
grandmother's house, and stood particularly high in her favour. But
suddenly falling into disgrace, he was as suddenly degraded to being
herdsman, and did not long keep even that position. He sank lower still,
and struggled on for a while on a monthly pittance of flour in a little
hut far away. At last he had died of paralysis, leaving his family in
the most utter destitution.
'Aha!' commented my grandmother; 'it's clear the apple's not fallen far
from the tree. Well, we shall have to make arrangements about this
fellow too. I've no need of people like that, with scowling faces.'
My grandmother went back to the house--and made arrangements. Three
hours later Yermil, completely 'equipped,' was brought under the window
of her room. The unfortunate boy was being transported to a settlement;
the other side of the fence, a few steps from him, was a little cart
loaded with his poor belongings. Such were the times then. Yermil stood
without his cap, with downcast head, barefoot, with his boots tied up
with a string behind his back; his face, turned towards the seignorial
mansion, expressed not despair nor grief, nor even bewilderment; a
stupid smile was frozen on his colourless lips; his eyes, dry and
half-closed, looked stubbornly on the ground. My grandmother was
apprised of his presence. She got up from the sofa, went, with a faint
rustle of her silken skirts, to the window of the study, and, holding
her golden-rimmed double eyeglass on the bridge of her nose, looked at
the new exile. In her room there happened to be at the moment four other
persons, the butler, Baburin, the page who waited on my grandmother in
the daytime, and I.
My grandmother nodded her head up and down....
'Madam,' a hoarse almost stifled voice was heard suddenly. I looked
round. Baburin's face was red ... dark red; under his overhanging brows
could be seen little sharp points of light.... There was no doubt about
it; it was he, it was Baburin, who had uttered the word 'Madam.'
My grandmother too looked round, and turned her eyeglass from Yermil
'Who is that ... speaking?' she articulated slowly ... through her nose.
Baburin moved slightly forward.
'Madam,' he began, 'it is I.... I venture ... I imagine ... I make bold
to submit to your honour that you are making a mistake in acting as ...
as you are pleased to act at this moment.'
'That is?' my grandmother said, in the same voice, not removing
'I take the liberty ...' Baburin went on distinctly, uttering every word
though with obvious effort--'I am referring to the case of this lad who
is being sent away to a settlement ... for no fault of his. Such
arrangements, I venture to submit, lead to dissatisfaction, and to
other--which God forbid!--consequences, and are nothing else than a
transgression of the powers allowed to seignorial proprietors.'
'And where have you studied, pray?' my grandmother asked after a short
silence, and she dropped her eyeglass.
Baburin was disconcerted. 'What are you pleased to wish?' he muttered.
'I ask you: where have you studied? You use such learned words.'
'I ... my education ...' Baburin was beginning.
My grandmother shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. 'It seems,' she
interrupted, 'that my arrangements are not to your liking. That is of
absolutely no consequence to me--among my subjects I am sovereign, and
answerable to no one for them, only I am not accustomed to having people
criticising me in my presence, and meddling in what is not their
business. I have no need of learned philanthropists of nondescript
position; I want servants to do my will without question. So I always
lived till you came, and so I shall live after you've gone. You do not
suit me; you are discharged. Nikolai Antonov,' my grandmother turned to
the steward, 'pay this man off; and let him be gone before dinner-time
to-day! D'you hear? Don't put me into a passion. And the other too ...
the fool that lives with him--to be sent off too. What's Yermilka
waiting for?' she added, looking out of window, 'I have seen him. What
more does he want?' My grandmother shook her handkerchief in the
direction of the window, as though to drive away an importunate fly.
Then she sat down in a low chair, and turning towards us, gave the order
grimly: 'Everybody present to leave the room!'
We all withdrew--all, except the day page, to whom my grandmother's
words did not apply, because he was nobody.
My grandmother's decree was carried out to the letter. Before dinner,
both Baburin and my friend Punin were driving away from the place. I
will not undertake to describe my grief, my genuine, truly childish
despair. It was so strong that it stifled even the feeling of
awe-stricken admiration inspired by the bold action of the republican
Baburin. After the conversation with my grandmother, he went at once to
his room and began packing up. He did not vouchsafe me one word, one
look, though I was the whole time hanging about him, or rather, in
reality, about Punin. The latter was utterly distraught, and he too said
nothing; but he was continually glancing at me, and tears stood in his
eyes ... always the same tears; they neither fell nor dried up. He did
not venture to criticise his 'benefactor'--Paramon Semyonitch could not
make a mistake,--but great was his distress and dejection. Punin and I
made an effort to read something out of the _Rossiad_ for the last time;
we even locked ourselves up in the lumber-room--it was useless to dream
of going into the garden--but at the very first line we both broke down,
and I fairly bellowed like a calf, in spite of my twelve years, and my
claims to be grown-up.
When he had taken his seat in the carriage Baburin at last turned to me,
and with a slight softening of the accustomed sternness of his face,
observed: 'It's a lesson for you, young gentleman; remember this
incident, and when you grow up, try to put an end to such acts of
injustice. Your heart is good, your nature is not yet corrupted....
Mind, be careful; things can't go on like this!' Through my tears, which
streamed copiously over my nose, my lips, and my chin, I faltered out
that I would ... I would remember, that I promised ... I would do ... I
would be sure ... quite sure ...
But at this point, Punin, whom I had before this embraced twenty times
(my cheeks were burning from the contact with his unshaven beard, and I
was odoriferous of the smell that always clung to him)--at this point a
sudden frenzy came over Punin. He jumped up on the seat of the cart,
flung both hands up in the air, and began in a voice of thunder (where
he got it from!) to declaim the well-known paraphrase of the Psalm of
David by Derzhavin,--a poet for this occasion--not a courtier.
'God the All-powerful doth arise
And judgeth in the congregation of the mighty! ...
How long, how long, saith the Lord,
Will ye have mercy on the wicked?
"Ye have to keep the laws...."'
'Sit down!' Baburin said to him.
Punin sat down, but continued:
'To save the guiltless and needy,
To give shelter to the afflicted,
To defend the weak from the oppressors.'
Punin at the word 'oppressors' pointed to the seignorial abode, and then
poked the driver in the back.
'To deliver the poor out of bondage!
They know not! neither will they understand! ...'
Nikolai Antonov running out of the seignorial abode, shouted at the top
of his voice to the coachman: 'Get away with you! owl! go along! don't
stay lingering here!' and the cart rolled away. Only in the distance
could still be heard:
'Arise, O Lord God of righteousness! ...
Come forth to judge the unjust--
And be Thou the only Ruler of the nations!'
'What a clown!' remarked Nikolai Antonov.
'He didn't get enough of the rod in his young days,' observed the
deacon, appearing on the steps. He had come to inquire what hour it
would please the mistress to fix for the night service.
The same day, learning that Yermil was still in the village, and would
not till early next morning be despatched to the town for the execution
of certain legal formalities, which were intended to check the
arbitrary proceedings of the landowners, but served only as a source of
additional revenue to the functionaries in superintendence of them, I
sought him out, and, for lack of money of my own, handed him a bundle,
in which I had tied up two pocket-handkerchiefs, a shabby pair of
slippers, a comb, an old night-gown, and a perfectly new silk cravat.
Yermil, whom I had to wake up--he was lying on a heap of straw in the
back yard, near the cart--Yermil took my present rather indifferently,
with some hesitation in fact, did not thank me, promptly poked his head
into the straw and fell asleep again. I went home somewhat
disappointed. I had imagined that he would be astonished and overjoyed
at my visit, would see in it a pledge of my magnanimous intentions for
the future--and instead of that ...
'You may say what you like--these people have no feeling,' was my
reflection on my homeward way.
My grandmother, who had for some reason left me in peace the whole of
that memorable day, looked at me suspiciously when I came after supper
to say good-night to her.
'Your eyes are red,' she observed to me in French; 'and there's a smell
of the peasant's hut about you. I am not going to enter into an
examination of what you've been feeling and doing--I should not like to
be obliged to punish you--but I hope you will get over all your
foolishness, and begin to conduct yourself once more in a manner
befitting a well-bred boy. However, we are soon going back to Moscow,
and I shall get you a tutor--as I see you need a man's hand to manage
you. You can go.'
We did, as a fact, go back soon after to Moscow.
Seven years had passed by. We were living as before at Moscow--but I was
by now a student in my second year--and the authority of my grandmother,
who had aged very perceptibly in the last years, no longer weighed upon
me. Of all my fellow-students the one with whom I was on the friendliest
terms was a light-hearted and good-natured youth called Tarhov. Our
habits and our tastes were similar. Tarhov was a great lover of poetry,
and himself wrote verses; while in me the seeds sown by Punin had not
been without fruit. As is often the case with young people who are very
close friends, we had no secrets from one another. But behold, for
several days together I noticed a certain excitement and agitation in
Tarhov.... He disappeared for hours at a time, and I did not know where
he had got to--a thing which had never happened before. I was on the
point of demanding, in the name of friendship, a full explanation.... He
One day I was sitting in his room.... 'Petya,' he said suddenly,
blushing gaily, and looking me straight in the face, 'I must introduce
you to my muse.'
'Your muse! how queerly you talk! Like a classicist. (Romanticism was at
that time, in 1837, at its full height.) As if I had not known it ever
so long--your muse! Have you written a new poem, or what?'
'You don't understand what I mean,' rejoined Tarhov, still laughing and
blushing. 'I will introduce you to a living muse.'
'Aha! so that's it! But how is she--yours?'
'Why, because ... But hush, I believe it's she coming here.'
There was the light click of hurrying heels, the door opened, and in the
doorway appeared a girl of eighteen, in a chintz cotton gown, with a
black cloth cape on her shoulders, and a black straw hat on her fair,
rather curly hair. On seeing me she was frightened and disconcerted, and
was beating a retreat ... but Tarhov at once rushed to meet her.
'Please, please, Musa Pavlovna, come in! This is my great friend, a
splendid fellow--and the soul of discretion. You've no need to be afraid
of him. Petya,' he turned to me, 'let me introduce my Musa--Musa
Pavlovna Vinogradov, a great friend of mine.'
'How is that ... Musa?' I was beginning.... Tarhov laughed. 'Ah, you
didn't know there was such a name in the calendar? I didn't know it
either, my boy, till I met this dear young lady. Musa! such a charming
name! And suits her so well!'
I bowed again to my comrade's great friend. She left the door, took two
steps forward and stood still. She was very attractive, but I could not
agree with Tarhov's opinion, and inwardly said to myself: 'Well, she's a
strange sort of muse!'
The features of her curved, rosy face were small and delicate; there was
an air of fresh, buoyant youth about all her slender, miniature figure;
but of the muse, of the personification of the muse, I--and not only
I--all the young people of that time had a very different conception!
First of all the muse had infallibly to be dark-haired and pale. An
expression of scornful pride, a bitter smile, a glance of inspiration,
and that 'something'--mysterious, demonic, fateful--that was essential
to our conception of the muse, the muse of Byron, who at that time held
sovereign sway over men's fancies. There was nothing of that kind to be
discerned in the face of the girl who came in. Had I been a little older
and more experienced I should probably have paid more attention to her
eyes, which were small and deep-set, with full lids, but dark as agate,
alert and bright, a thing rare in fair-haired people. Poetical
tendencies I should not have detected in their rapid, as it were
elusive, glance, but hints of a passionate soul, passionate to
self-forgetfulness. But I was very young then.
I held out my hand to Musa Pavlovna--she did not give me hers--she did
not notice my movement; she sat down on the chair Tarhov placed for her,
but did not take off her hat and cape.
She was, obviously, ill at ease; my presence embarrassed her. She
drew deep breaths, at irregular intervals, as though she were
gasping for air.
'I've only come to you for one minute, Vladimir Nikolaitch,' she
began--her voice was very soft and deep; from her crimson, almost
childish lips, it seemed rather strange;--'but our madame would not let
me out for more than half an hour. You weren't well the day before
yesterday ... and so, I thought ...'
She stammered and hung her head. Under the shade of her thick, low brows
her dark eyes darted--to and fro--elusively. There are dark, swift,
flashing beetles that flit so in the heat of summer among the blades of
'How good you are, Musa, Musotchka!' cried Tarhov. 'But you must stay,
you must stay a little.... We'll have the samovar in directly.'
'Oh no, Vladimir Nikolaevitch! it's impossible! I must go away
'You must rest a little, anyway. You're out of breath.... You're tired.'
'I'm not tired. It's ... not that ... only ... give me another book;
I've finished this one.' She took out of her pocket a tattered grey
volume of a Moscow edition.
'Of course, of course. Well, did you like it? _Roslavlev_,' added
Tarhov, addressing me.
'Yes. Only I think _Yury Miloslavsky_ is much better. Our madame is very
strict about books. She says they hinder our working. For, to her
'But, I say, _Yury Miloslavsky_'s not equal to Pushkin's _Gipsies_? Eh?
Musa Pavlovna?' Tarhov broke in with a smile.
'No, indeed! The _Gipsies_ ...' she murmured slowly. 'Oh yes, another
thing, Vladimir Nikolaitch; don't come to-morrow ... you know where.'
The girl shrugged her shoulders, and all at once, as though she had
received a sudden shove, got up from her chair.
'Why, Musa, Musotchka,' Tarhov expostulated plaintively. 'Stay a
'No, no, I can't.' She went quickly to the door, took hold of the
'Well, at least, take the book!'
Tarhov rushed towards the girl, but at that instant she darted out of
the room. He almost knocked his nose against the door. 'What a girl!
She's a regular little viper!' he declared with some vexation, and then
sank into thought.
I stayed at Tarhov's. I wanted to find out what was the meaning of it
all. Tarhov was not disposed to be reserved. He told me that the girl
was a milliner; that he had seen her for the first time three weeks
before in a fashionable shop, where he had gone on a commission for his
sister, who lived in the provinces, to buy a hat; that he had fallen in
love with her at first sight, and that next day he had succeeded in
speaking to her in the street; that she had herself, it seemed, taken
rather a fancy to him.
'Only, please, don't you suppose,' he added with warmth,--'don't you
imagine any harm of her. So far, at any rate, there's been nothing of
that sort between us.
'Harm!' I caught him up; 'I've no doubt of that; and I've no doubt
either that you sincerely deplore the fact, my dear fellow! Have
patience--everything will come right'
'I hope so,' Tarhov muttered through his teeth, though with a laugh.
'But really, my boy, that girl ... I tell you--it's a new type, you
know. You hadn't time to get a good look at her. She's a shy thing!--oo!
such a shy thing! and what a will of her own! But that very shyness is
what I like in her. It's a sign of independence! I'm simply over head
and ears, my boy!'
Tarhov fell to talking of his 'charmer,' and even read me the beginning
of a poem entitled: 'My Muse.' His emotional outpourings were not quite
to my taste. I felt secretly jealous of him. I soon left him.
* * * * *
A few days after I happened to be passing through one of the arcades of
the Gostinny Dvor. It was Saturday; there were crowds of people
shopping; on all sides, in the midst of the pushing and crushing, the
shopmen kept shouting to people to buy. Having bought what I wanted, I
was thinking of nothing but getting away from their teasing importunity
as soon as possible--when all at once I halted involuntarily: in a fruit
shop I caught sight of my comrade's charmer--Musa, Musa Pavlovna! She
was standing, profile to me, and seemed to be waiting for something.
After a moment's hesitation I made up my mind to go up to her and speak.
But I had hardly passed through the doorway of the shop and taken off my
cap, when she tottered back dismayed, turned quickly to an old man in a
frieze cloak, for whom the shopman was weighing out a pound of raisins,
and clutched at his arm, as though fleeing to put herself under his
protection. The latter, in his turn, wheeled round facing her--and,
imagine my amazement, I recognised him as Punin!
Yes, it was he; there were his inflamed eyes, his full lips, his soft,
overhanging nose. He had, in fact, changed little during the last seven
years; his face was a little flabbier, perhaps.
'Nikander Vavilitch!' I cried. 'Don't you know me?' Punin started,
opened his mouth, stared at me....
'I haven't the honour,' he was beginning--and all at once he piped out
shrilly: 'The little master of Troitsky (my grandmother's property was
called Troitsky)! Can it be the little master of Troitsky?'
The pound of raisins tumbled out of his hands.
'It really is,' I answered, and, picking up Punin's purchase from the
ground, I kissed him.
He was breathless with delight and excitement; he almost cried, removed
his cap--which enabled me to satisfy myself that the last traces of hair
had vanished from his 'egg'--took a handkerchief out of it, blew his
nose, poked the cap into his bosom with the raisins, put it on again,
again dropped the raisins.... I don't know how Musa was behaving all
this time, I tried not to look at her. I don't imagine Punin's agitation
proceeded from any extreme attachment to my person; it was simply that
his nature could not stand the slightest unexpected shock. The nervous
excitability of these poor devils!
'Come and see us, my dear boy,' he faltered at last; 'you won't be too
proud to visit our humble nest? You're a student, I see ...'
'On the contrary, I shall be delighted, really.'
'Are you independent now?'
'That's capital! How pleased Paramon Semyonitch will be! To-day he'll be
home earlier than usual, and madame lets her, too, off for Saturdays.
But, stop, excuse me, I am quite forgetting myself. Of course, you don't
know our niece!'
I hastened to slip in that I had not yet had the pleasure.
'Of course, of course! How could you know her! Musotchka ... Take note,
my dear sir, this girl's name is Musa--and it's not a nickname, but her
real name ... Isn't that a predestination? Musotchka, I want to
introduce you to Mr. ... Mr. ...'
'B.,' I prompted.
'B.,' he repeated. 'Musotchka, listen! You see before you the most
excellent, most delightful of young men. Fate threw us together when he
was still in years of boyhood! I beg you to look on him as a friend!'
I swung off a low bow. Musa, red as a poppy, flashed a look on me from
under her eyelids, and dropped them immediately.
'Ah!' thought I, 'you 're one of those who in difficult moments don't
turn pale, but red; that must be made a note of.'
'You must be indulgent, she's not a fine lady,' observed Punin, and he
went out of the shop into the street; Musa and I followed him.
* * * * *
The house in which Punin lodged was a considerable distance from the
Gostinny Dvor, being, in fact, in Sadovoy Street. On the way my former
preceptor in poetry had time to communicate a good many details of his
mode of existence. Since the time of our parting, both he and Baburin
had been tossed about holy Russia pretty thoroughly, and had not
long--only a year and a half before--found a permanent home in Moscow.
Baburin had succeeded in becoming head-clerk in the office of a rich
merchant and manufacturer. 'Not a lucrative berth,' Punin observed with
a sigh,--'a lot of work, and not much profit ... but what's one to do?
One must be thankful to get that! I, too, am trying to earn something by
copying and lessons; only my efforts have so far not been crowned with
success. My writing, you perhaps recollect, is old-fashioned, not in
accordance with the tastes of the day; and as regards lessons--what has
been a great obstacle is the absence of befitting attire; moreover, I
greatly fear that in the matter of instruction--in the subject of
Russian literature--I am also not in harmony with the tastes of the day;
and so it comes about that I am turned away.' (Punin laughed his sleepy,
subdued laugh. He had retained his old, somewhat high-flown manner of
speech, and his old weakness for falling into rhyme.) 'All run after
novelties, nothing but innovations! I dare say you, too, do not honour
the old divinities, and fall down before new idols?'
'And you, Nikander Vavilitch, do you really still esteem Heraskov?'
Punin stood still and waved both hands at once. 'In the highest degree,
sir! in the high ... est de ... gree, I do!'
'And you don't read Pushkin? You don't like Pushkin?'
Punin again flung his hands up higher than his head.
'Pushkin? Pushkin is the snake, lying hid in the grass, who is endowed
with the note of the nightingale!'
While Punin and I talked like this, cautiously picking our way over the
unevenly laid brick pavement of so-called 'white-stoned' Moscow--in
which there is not one stone, and which is not white at all--Musa walked
silently beside us on the side further from me. In speaking of her, I
called her 'your niece.' Punin was silent for a little, scratched his
head, and informed me in an undertone that he had called her so ...
merely as a manner of speaking; that she was really no relation; that
she was an orphan picked up and cared for by Baburin in the town of
Voronezh; but that he, Punin, might well call her daughter, as he loved
her no less than a real daughter. I had no doubt that, though Punin
intentionally dropped his voice, Musa could hear all he said very well;
and she was at once angry, and shy, and embarrassed; and the lights and
shades chased each other over her face, and everything in it was
slightly quivering, the eyelids and brows and lips and narrow nostrils.
All this was very charming, and amusing, and queer.
* * * * *
But at last we reached the 'modest nest.' And modest it certainly was,
the nest. It consisted of a small, one-storied house, that seemed almost
sunk into the ground, with a slanting wooden roof, and four dingy
windows in the front. The furniture of the rooms was of the poorest, and
not over tidy, indeed. Between the windows and on the walls hung about a
dozen tiny wooden cages containing larks, canaries, and siskins. 'My
subjects!' Punin pronounced triumphantly, pointing his finger at them.
We had hardly time to get in and look about us, Punin had hardly sent
Musa for the samovar, when Baburin himself came in. He seemed to me to
have aged much more than Punin, though his step was as firm as ever, and
the expression of his face altogether was unchanged; but he had grown
thin and bent, his cheeks were sunken, and his thick black shock of hair
was sprinkled with grey. He did not recognise me, and showed no
particular pleasure when Punin mentioned my name; he did not even smile
with his eyes, he barely nodded; he asked--very carelessly and
drily--whether my _granny_ were living--and that was all. 'I'm not
over-delighted at a visit from a nobleman,' he seemed to say; 'I don't
feel flattered by it.' The republican was a republican still.
Musa came back; a decrepit little old woman followed her, bringing in a
tarnished samovar. Punin began fussing about, and pressing me to take
things; Baburin sat down to the table, leaned his head on his hands, and
looked with weary eyes about him. At tea, however, he began to talk. He
was dissatisfied with his position. 'A screw--not a man,' so he spoke of
his employer; 'people in a subordinate position are so much dirt to him,
of no consequence whatever; and yet it's not so long since he was under
the yoke himself. Nothing but cruelty and covetousness. It's a bondage
worse than the government's! And all the trade here rests on swindling
and flourishes on nothing else!'
Hearing such dispiriting utterances, Punin sighed expressively,
assented, shook his head up and down, and from side to side; Musa
maintained a stubborn silence.... She was obviously fretted by the
doubt, what I was, whether I was a discreet person or a gossip. And if I
were discreet, whether it was not with some afterthought in my mind. Her
dark, swift, restless eyes fairly flashed to and fro under their
half-drooping lids. Only once she glanced at me, but so inquisitively,
so searchingly, almost viciously ... I positively started. Baburin
scarcely talked to her at all; but whenever he did address her, there
was a note of austere, hardly fatherly, tenderness in his voice.
Punin, on the contrary, was continually joking with Musa; she responded
unwillingly, however. He called her little snow-maiden, little
'Why do you give Musa Pavlovna such names?' I asked.
Punin laughed. 'Because she's such a chilly little thing.'
'Sensible,' put in Baburin: 'as befits a young girl.'
'We may call her the mistress of the house,' cried Punin. 'Hey? Paramon
Semyonitch?' Baburin frowned; Musa turned away ... I did not understand
the hint at the time.
So passed two hours ... in no very lively fashion, though Punin did his
best to 'entertain the honourable company.' For instance, he squatted
down in front of the cage of one of the canaries, opened the door, and
commanded: 'On the cupola! Begin the concert!' The canary fluttered out
at once, perched on the _cupola_, that is to say, on Punin's bald pate,
and turning from side to side, and shaking its little wings, carolled
with all its might. During the whole time the concert lasted, Punin kept
perfectly still, only conducting with his finger, and half closing his
eyes. I could not help roaring with laughter ... but neither Baburin nor
Just as I was leaving, Baburin surprised me by an unexpected question.
He wished to ask me, as a man studying at the university, what sort of
person Zeno was, and what were my ideas about him.
'What Zeno?' I asked, somewhat puzzled.
'Zeno, the sage of antiquity. Surely he cannot be unknown to you?'
I vaguely recalled the name of Zeno, as the founder of the school of
Stoics; but I knew absolutely nothing more about him.
'Yes, he was a philosopher,' I pronounced, at last.
'Zeno,' Baburin resumed in deliberate tones, 'was that wise man, who
declared that suffering was not an evil, since fortitude overcomes all
things, and that the good in this world is one: justice; and virtue
itself is nothing else than justice.'
Punin turned a reverent ear.
'A man living here who has picked up a lot of old books, told me that
saying,' continued Baburin; 'it pleased me much. But I see you are not
interested in such subjects.'
Baburin was right. In such subjects I certainly was not interested.
Since I had entered the university, I had become as much of a republican
as Baburin himself. Of Mirabeau, of Robespierre, I would have talked
with zest. Robespierre, indeed ... why, I had hanging over my
writing-table the lithographed portraits of Fouquier-Tinville and
Chalier! But Zeno! Why drag in Zeno?
As he said good-bye to me, Punin insisted very warmly on my visiting
them next day, Sunday; Baburin did not invite me at all, and even
remarked between his teeth, that talking to plain people of nondescript
position could not give me any great pleasure, and would most likely be
disagreeable to my _granny_. At that word I interrupted him, however,
and gave him to understand that my grandmother had no longer any
authority over me.
'Why, you've not come into possession of the property, have you?'
'No, I haven't,' I answered.
'Well, then, it follows ...' Baburin did not finish his sentence; but I
mentally finished it for him: 'it follows that I'm a boy.'
'Good-bye,' I said aloud, and I retired.
I was just going out of the courtyard into the street ... Musa suddenly
ran out of the house, and slipping a piece of crumpled paper into my
hand, disappeared at once. At the first lamp-post I unfolded the paper.
It turned out to be a note. With difficulty I deciphered the pale
pencil-marks. 'For God's sake,' Musa had written, 'come to-morrow after
matins to the Alexandrovsky garden near the Kutafia tower I shall wait
for you don't refuse me don't make me miserable I simply must see you.'
There were no mistakes in spelling in this note, but neither was there
any punctuation. I returned home in perplexity.
* * * * *
When, a quarter of an hour before the appointed time, next day, I began
to get near the Kutafia tower (it was early in April, the buds were
swelling, the grass was growing greener, and the sparrows were noisily
chirrupping and quarrelling in the bare lilac bushes), considerably to
my surprise, I caught sight of Musa a little to one side, not far from
the fence. She was there before me. I was going towards her; but she
herself came to meet me.
'Let's go to the Kreml wall,' she whispered in a hurried voice, running
her downcast eyes over the ground; 'there are people here.'
We went along the path up the hill.
'Musa Pavlovna,' I was beginning.... But she cut me short at once.
'Please,' she began, speaking in the same jerky and subdued voice,
'don't criticise me, don't think any harm of me. I wrote a letter to
you, I made an appointment to meet you, because ... I was afraid.... It
seemed to me yesterday,--you seemed to be laughing all the time.
Listen,' she added, with sudden energy, and she stopped short and turned
towards me: 'listen; if you tell with whom ... if you mention at whose
room you met me, I'll throw myself in the water, I'll drown myself, I'll
make an end of myself!'
At this point, for the first time, she glanced at me with the
inquisitive, piercing look I had seen before.
'Why, she, perhaps, really ... would do it,' was my thought.
'Really, Musa Pavlovna,' I protested, hurriedly: 'how can you have such
a bad opinion of me? Do you suppose I am capable of betraying my friend
and injuring you? Besides, come to that, there's nothing in your
relations, as far as I'm aware, deserving of censure.... For goodness'
sake, be calm.'
Musa heard me out, without stirring from the spot, or looking at me
'There's something else I ought to tell you,' she began, moving forward
again along the path, 'or else you may think I'm quite mad! I ought to
tell you, that old man wants to marry me!'
'What old man? The bald one? Punin?'
'No--not he! The other ... Paramon Semyonitch.'
'Is it possible? Has he made you an offer?'
'But you didn't consent, of course?'
'Yes, I did consent ... because I didn't understand what I was about
then. Now it's a different matter.'
I flung up my hands. 'Baburin--and you! Why, he must be fifty!'
'He says forty-three. But that makes no difference. If he were
five--and--twenty I wouldn't marry him. Much happiness I should find in
it! A whole week will go by without his smiling once! Paramon Semyonitch
is my benefactor, I am deeply indebted to him; he took care of me,
educated me; I should have been utterly lost but for him; I'm bound to
look on him as a father.... But be his wife! I'd rather die! I'd rather
be in my coffin!'
'Why do you keep talking about death, Musa Pavlovna?'
Musa stopped again.
'Why, is life so sweet, then? Even your friend Vladimir Nikolaitch, I
may say, I've come to love from being wretched and dull: and then
Paramon Semyonitch with his offers of marriage.... Punin, though he
bores me with his verses, he doesn't scare me, anyway; he doesn't make
me read Karamzin in the evenings, when my head's ready to drop off my
shoulders for weariness! And what are these old men to me? They call me
cold, too. With them, is it likely I should be warm? If they try to make
me--I shall go. Paramon Semyonitch himself's always saying: Freedom!
freedom! All right, I want freedom too. Or else it comes to this!
Freedom for every one else, and keeping me in a cage! I'll tell him so
myself. But if you betray me, or drop a hint--remember; they'll never
set eyes on me again!'
Musa stood in the middle of the path.
'They'll never set eyes on me again!' she repeated sharply. This time,
too, she did not raise her eyes to me; she seemed to be aware that she
would infallibly betray herself, would show what was in her heart, if
any one looked her straight in the face.... And that was just why she
did not lift her eyes, except when she was angry or annoyed, and then
she stared straight at the person she was speaking to.... But her small
pretty face was aglow with indomitable resolution.
'Why, Tarhov was right,' flashed through my head; 'this girl is a
'You've no need to be afraid of me,' I declared, at last.
'Truly? Even, if ... You said something about our relations.... But even
if there were ...' she broke off.
'Even in that case, you would have no need to be afraid, Musa Pavlovna.
I am not your judge. Your secret is buried here.' I pointed to my bosom.
'Believe me, I know how to appreciate ...'
'Have you got my letter?' Musa asked suddenly.
'In my pocket.'
'Give it here ... quick, quick!'
I got out the scrap of paper. Musa snatched it in her rough little hand,
stood still a moment facing me, as though she were going to thank me;
but suddenly started, looked round, and without even a word at parting,
ran quickly down the hill.
I looked in the direction she had taken. At no great distance from the
tower I discerned, wrapped in an 'Almaviva' ('Almavivas' were then in
the height of fashion), a figure which I recognised at once as Tarhov.
'Aha, my boy,' thought I, 'you must have had notice, then, since you're
on the look-out.'
And whistling to myself, I started homewards.
* * * * *
Next morning I had only just drunk my morning tea, when Punin made his
appearance. He came into my room with rather an embarrassed face, and
began making bows, looking about him, and apologising for his intrusion,
as he called it. I made haste to reassure him. I, sinful man, imagined
that Punin had come with the intention of borrowing money. But he
confined himself to asking for a glass of tea with rum in it, as,
luckily, the samovar had not been cleared away. 'It's with some
trepidation and sinking of heart that I have come to see you,' he said,
as he nibbled a lump of sugar. 'You I do not fear; but I stand in awe of
your honoured grandmother! I am abashed too by my attire, as I have
already communicated to you.' Punin passed his finger along the frayed
edge of his ancient coat. 'At home it's no matter, and in the street,
too, it's no harm; but when one finds one's self in gilded palaces,
one's poverty stares one in the face, and one feels confused!' I
occupied two small rooms on the ground floor, and certainly it would
never have entered any one's head to call them palaces, still less
gilded; but Punin apparently was referring to the whole of my
grandmother's house, though that too was by no means conspicuously
sumptuous. He reproached me for not having been to see them the previous
day; 'Paramon Semyonitch,' said he, 'expected you, though he did declare
that you would be sure not to come. And Musotchka, too, expected you.'
'What? Musa Pavlovna too?' I queried.
'She too. She's a charming girl we have got with us, isn't she? What
do you say?'
'Very charming,' I assented. Punin rubbed his bare head with
'She's a beauty, sir, a pearl or even a diamond--it's the truth I am
telling you.' He bent down quite to my ear. 'Noble blood, too,' he
whispered to me, 'only--you understand--left-handed; the forbidden fruit
was eaten. Well, the parents died, the relations would do nothing for
her, and flung her to the hazards of destiny, that's to say, despair,
dying of hunger! But at that point Paramon Semyonitch steps forward,
known as a deliverer from of old! He took her, clothed her and cared for
her, brought up the poor nestling; and she has blossomed into our
darling! I tell you, a man of the rarest qualities!'
Punin subsided against the back of the armchair, lifted his hands, and
again bending forward, began whispering again, but still more
mysteriously: 'You see Paramon Semyonitch himself too.... Didn't you
know? he too is of exalted extraction--and on the left side, too. They
do say--his father was a powerful Georgian prince, of the line of King
David.... What do you make of that? A few words--but how much is said?
The blood of King David! What do you think of that? And according to
other accounts, the founder of the family of Paramon Semyonitch was an
Indian Shah, Babur. Blue blood! That's fine too, isn't it? Eh?'
'Well?' I queried, 'and was he too, Baburin, flung to the hazards
Punin rubbed his pate again. 'To be sure he was! And with even greater
cruelty than our little lady! From his earliest childhood nothing but
struggling! And, in fact, I will confess that, inspired by Ruban, I
composed in allusion to this fact a stanza for the portrait of Paramon
Semyonitch. Wait a bit ... how was it? Yes!
'E'en from the cradle fate's remorseless blows
Baburin drove towards the abyss of woes!
But as in darkness gleams the light, so now
The conqueror's laurel wreathes his noble brow!'
Punin delivered these lines in a rhythmic, sing-song voice, with full
rounded vowels, as verses should be read.
'So that's how it is he's a republican!' I exclaimed.
'No, that's not why,' Punin answered simply. 'He forgave his father long
ago; but he cannot endure injustice of any sort; it's the sorrows of
others that trouble him!'
I wanted to turn the conversation on what I had learned from Musa the
day before, that is to say, on Baburin's matrimonial project,--but I did
not know how to proceed. Punin himself got me out of the difficulty.
'Did you notice nothing?' he asked me suddenly, slily screwing up his
eyes, 'while you were with us? nothing special?'
'Why, was there anything to notice?' I asked in my turn.
Punin looked over his shoulder, as though anxious to satisfy himself
that no one was listening. 'Our little beauty, Musotchka, is shortly to
be a married lady!'
'Madame Baburin,' Punin announced with an effort, and slapping his
knees several times with his open hands, he nodded his head, like a
'Impossible!' I cried, with assumed astonishment. Punin's head
slowly came to rest, and his hands dropped down. 'Why impossible,
allow me to ask?'
'Because Paramon Semyonitch is more fit to be your young lady's father;
because such a difference in age excludes all likelihood of love--on the
'Excludes?' Punin repeated excitedly. 'But what about gratitude? and
pure affection? and tenderness of feeling? Excludes! You must consider
this: admitting that Musa's a splendid girl; but then to gain Paramon
Semyonitch's affection, to be his comfort, his prop--his spouse, in
short! is that not the loftiest possible happiness even for such a girl?
And she realises it! You should look, turn an attentive eye! In Paramon
Semyonitch's presence Musotchka is all veneration, all tremor and
'That's just what's wrong, Nikander Vavilitch, that she is, as you say,
all tremor. If you love any one you don't feel tremors in their
'But with that I can't agree! Here am I, for instance; no one, I
suppose, could love Paramon Semyonitch more than I, but I ... tremble
'Oh, you--that's a different matter.'
'How is it a different matter? how? how?' interrupted Punin. I simply
did not know him; he got hot, and serious, almost angry, and quite
dropped his rhythmic sing-song in speaking. 'No,' he declared; 'I notice
that you have not a good eye for character! No; you can't read people's
hearts!' I gave up contradicting him ... and to give another turn to the
conversation, proposed, for the sake of old times, that we should read
Punin was silent for a while.
'One of the old poets? The real ones?' he asked at last.
'No; a new one.'
'A new one?' Punin repeated mistrustfully.
'Pushkin,' I answered. I suddenly thought of the _Gypsies_ which Tarhov
had mentioned not long before. There, by the way, is the ballad about
the old husband. Punin grumbled a little, but I sat him down on the
sofa, so that he could listen more comfortably, and began to read
Pushkin's poem. The passage came at last, 'old husband, cruel husband';
Punin heard the ballad through to the end, and all at once he got up
'I can't,' he pronounced, with an intense emotion, which impressed even
me;--'excuse me; I cannot hear more of that author. He is an immoral
slanderer; he is a liar ... he upsets me. I cannot! Permit me to cut
short my visit to-day.'
I began trying to persuade Punin to remain; but he insisted on having
his own way with a sort of stupid, scared obstinacy: he repeated several
times that he felt upset, and wished to get a breath of fresh air--and
all the while his lips were faintly quivering and his eyes avoided mine,
as though I had wounded him. So he went away. A little while after, I
too went out of the house and set off to see Tarhov.
* * * * *
Without inquiring of any one, with a student's usual lack of ceremony,
I walked straight into his lodgings. In the first room there was no
one. I called Tarhov by name, and receiving no answer, was just going
to retreat; but the door of the adjoining room opened, and my friend
appeared. He looked at me rather queerly, and shook hands without
speaking. I had come to him to repeat all I had heard from Punin; and
though I felt at once that I had called on Tarhov at the wrong moment,
still, after talking a little about extraneous matters, I ended by
informing him of Baburin's intentions in regard to Musa. This piece of
news did not, apparently, surprise him much; he quietly sat down at the
table, and fixing his eyes intently upon me, and keeping silent as
before, gave to his features an expression ... an expression, as though
he would say: 'Well, what more have you to tell? Come, out with your
ideas!' I looked more attentively into his face.... It struck me as
eager, a little ironical, a little arrogant even. But that did not
hinder me from bringing out my ideas. On the contrary. 'You're showing
off,' was my thought; 'so I am not going to spare you!' And there and
then I proceeded straightway to enlarge upon the mischief of yielding
to impulsive feelings, upon the duty of every man to respect the
freedom and personal life of another man--in short, I proceeded to
enunciate useful and appropriate counsel. Holding forth in this manner,
I walked up and down the room, to be more at ease. Tarhov did not
interrupt me, and did not stir from his seat; he only played with his
fingers on his chin.
'I know,' said I ... (Exactly what was my motive in speaking so, I have
no clear idea myself--envy, most likely; it was not devotion to
morality, anyway!) 'I know,' said I, 'that it's no easy matter, no
joking matter; I am sure you love Musa, and that Musa loves you--that it
is not a passing fancy on your part.... But, see, let us suppose! (Here
I folded my arms on my breast.) ... Let us suppose you gratify your
passion--what is to follow? You won't marry her, you know. And at the
same time you are wrecking the happiness of an excellent, honest man,
her benefactor--and--who knows? (here my face expressed at the same time
penetration and sorrow)--possibly her own happiness too....'
And so on, and so on!
For about a quarter of an hour my discourse flowed on. Tarhov was still
silent. I began to be disconcerted by this silence. I glanced at him
from time to time, not so much to satisfy myself as to the impression my
words were making on him, as to find out why he neither objected nor
agreed, but sat like a deaf mute. At last I fancied that there was ...
yes, there certainly was a change in his face. It began to show signs of
uneasiness, agitation, painful agitation.... Yet, strange to say, the
eager, bright, laughing something, which had struck me at my first
glance at Tarhov, still did not leave that agitated, that troubled face!
I could not make up my mind whether or no to congratulate myself on the
success of my sermon, when Tarhov suddenly got up, and pressing both my
hands, said, speaking very quickly, 'Thank you, thank you. You're right,
of course, ... though, on the other side, one might observe ... What is
your Baburin you make so much of, after all? An honest fool--and nothing
more! You call him a republican--and he's simply a fool! Oo! That's what
he is! All his republicanism simply means that he can never get on
'Ah! so that's your idea! A fool! can never get on!--but let me tell
you,' I pursued, with sudden heat, 'let me tell you, my dear Vladimir
Nikolaitch, that in these days to get on nowhere is a sign of a fine, a
noble nature! None but worthless people--bad people--get on anywhere and
accommodate themselves to everything. You say Baburin is an honest fool!
Why, is it better, then, to your mind, to be dishonest and clever?'
'You distort my words!' cried Tarhov. 'I only wanted to explain how I
understand that person. Do you think he's such a rare specimen? Not a
bit of it! I've met other people like him in my time. A man sits with an
air of importance, silent, obstinate, angular.... O-ho-ho! say you. It
shows that there's a great deal in him! But there's nothing in him, not
one idea in his head--nothing but a sense of his own dignity.'
'Even if there is nothing else, that's an honourable thing,' I broke
in. 'But let me ask where you have managed to study him like this? You
don't know him, do you? Or are you describing him ... from what Musa
Tarhov shrugged his shoulders. 'Musa and I ... have other things to talk
of. I tell you what,' he added, his whole body quivering with
impatience,--'I tell you what: if Baburin has such a noble and honest
nature, how is it he doesn't see that Musa is not a fit match for him?
It's one of two things: either he knows that what he's doing to her is
something of the nature of an outrage, all in the name of gratitude ...
and if so, what about his honesty?--or he doesn't realise it ... and in
that case, what can one call him but a fool?'
I was about to reply, but Tarhov again clutched my hands, and again
began talking in a hurried voice. 'Though ... of course ... I confess
you are right, a thousand times right.... You are a true friend ... but
now leave me alone, please.'
I was puzzled. 'Leave you alone?'
'Yes. I must, don't you see, think over all you've just said,
thoroughly.... I have no doubt you are right ... but now leave me
'You 're in such a state of excitement ...' I was beginning.
'Excitement? I?' Tarhov laughed, but instantly pulled himself up. 'Yes,
of course I am. How could I help being? You say yourself it's no joking
matter. Yes; I must think about it ... alone.' He was still squeezing my
hands. 'Good-bye, my dear fellow, good-bye!'
'Good-bye,' I repeated. 'Good-bye, old boy!' As I was going away I flung
a last glance at Tarhov. He seemed pleased. At what? At the fact that I,
like a true friend and comrade, had pointed out the danger of the way
upon which he had set his foot--or that I was going? Ideas of the most
diverse kind were floating in my head the whole day till evening--till
the very instant when I entered the house occupied by Punin and Baburin,
for I went to see them the same day. I am bound to confess that some of
Tarhov's phrases had sunk deep into my soul ... and were ringing in my
ears.... In truth, was it possible Baburin ... was it possible he did
not see she was not a fit match for him?
But could this possibly be: Baburin, the self-sacrificing Baburin--an
* * * * *
Punin had said, when he came to see me, that I had been expected there
the day before. That may have been so, but on this day, it is certain,
no one expected me.... I found every one at home, and every one was
surprised at my visit. Baburin and Punin were both unwell: Punin had a
headache, and he was lying curled up on the sofa, with his head tied up
in a spotted handkerchief, and strips of cucumber applied to his
temples. Baburin was suffering from a bilious attack; all yellow,
almost dusky, with dark rings round his eyes, with scowling brow and
unshaven chin--he did not look much like a bridegroom! I tried to go
away.... But they would not let me go, and even made tea. I spent
anything but a cheerful evening. Musa, it is true, had no ailment, and
was less shy than usual too, but she was obviously vexed, angry.... At
last she could not restrain herself, and, as she handed me a cup of
tea, she whispered hurriedly: 'You can say what you like, you may try
your utmost, you won't make any difference.... So there!' I looked at
her in astonishment, and, seizing a favourable moment, asked her, also
in a whisper, 'What's the meaning of your words?' 'I'll tell you,' she
answered, and her black eyes, gleaming angrily under her frowning
brows, were fastened for an instant on my face, and turned away at
once: 'the meaning is that I heard all you said there to-day, and thank
you for nothing, and things won't be as you 'd have them, anyway.' 'You
were there,' broke from me unconsciously.... But at this point
Baburin's attention was caught, and he glanced in our direction. Musa
walked away from me.
Ten minutes later she managed to come near me again. She seemed to enjoy
saying bold and dangerous things to me, and saying them in the presence
of her protector, under his vigilant eye, only exercising barely enough
caution not to arouse his suspicions. It is well known that walking on
the brink, on the very edge, of the precipice is woman's favourite
pastime. 'Yes, I was there,' whispered Musa, without any change of
countenance, except that her nostrils were faintly quivering and her
lips twitching. 'Yes, and if Paramon Semyonitch asks me what I am
whispering about with you, I'd tell him this minute. What do I care?'
'Be more careful,' I besought her. 'I really believe they are noticing.'
'I tell you, I'm quite ready to tell them everything. And who's
noticing? One's stretching his neck off the pillow, like a sick duck,
and hears nothing; and the other's deep in philosophy. Don't you be
afraid!' Musa's voice rose a little, and her cheeks gradually flushed a
sort of malignant, dusky red; and this suited her marvellously, and
never had she been so pretty. As she cleared the table, and set the cups
and saucers in their places, she moved swiftly about the room; there was
something challenging about her light, free and easy movement. 'You may
criticise me as you like,' she seemed to say; 'but I'm going my own way,
and I'm not afraid of you.'
I cannot disguise the fact that I found Musa bewitching just that
evening. 'Yes,' I mused; 'she's a little spitfire--she's a new type....
She's--exquisite. Those hands know how to deal a blow, I dare say....
What of it! No matter!'
'Paramon Semyonitch,' she cried suddenly, 'isn't a republic an empire in
which every one does as he chooses?'
'A republic is not an empire,' answered Baburin, raising his head, and
contracting his brows; 'it is a ... form of society in which everything
rests on law and justice.'
'Then,' Musa pursued, 'in a republic no one can oppress any one else?'
'And every one is free to dispose of himself?'
'Ah! that's all I wanted to know.'
'Why do you want to know?'
'Oh, I wanted to--I wanted _you_ to tell me that.'
'Our young lady is anxious to learn,' Punin observed from the sofa.
When I went out into the passage Musa accompanied me, not, of course,
from politeness, but with the same malicious intent. I asked her, as I
took leave, 'Can you really love him so much?'
'Whether I love him, or whether I don't, that's _my_ affair,' she
answered. 'What is to be, will be.'
'Mind what you're about; don't play with fire ... you'll get burnt.'
'Better be burnt than frozen. You ... with your good advice! And how can
you tell he won't marry me? How do you know I so particularly want to
get married? If I am ruined ... what business is it of yours?'
She slammed the door after me.
I remember that on the way home I reflected with some pleasure that my
friend Vladimir Tarhov might find things rather hot for him with his new
type.... He ought to have to pay something for his happiness!
That he would be happy, I was--regretfully--unable to doubt.
Three days passed by. I was sitting in my room at my writing-table, and
not so much working as getting myself ready for lunch.... I heard a
rustle, lifted my head, and I was stupefied. Before me--rigid, terrible,
white as chalk, stood an apparition ... Punin. His half-closed eyes were
looking at me, blinking slowly; they expressed a senseless terror, the
terror of a frightened hare, and his arms hung at his sides like sticks.
'Nikander Vavilitch! what is the matter with you? How did you come here?
Did no one see you? What has happened? Do speak!'
'She has run away,' Punin articulated in a hoarse, hardly audible voice.
'What do you say?'
'She has run away,' he repeated.
'Musa. She went away in the night, and left a note.'
'Yes. "I thank you," she said, "but I am not coming back again. Don't
look for me." We ran up and down; we questioned the cook; she knew
nothing. I can't speak loud; you must excuse me. I've lost my voice.'
'Musa Pavlovna has left you!' I exclaimed. 'Nonsense! Mr. Baburin must
be in despair. What does he intend to do now?'
'He has no intention of doing anything. I wanted to run to the
Governor-general: he forbade it. I wanted to give information to the
police; he forbade that too, and got very angry. He says, "She's free."
He says, "I don't want to constrain her." He has even gone to work, to
his office. But he looks more dead than alive. He loved her
terribly....Oh, oh, we both loved her!'
Here Punin for the first time showed that he was not a wooden image, but
a live man; he lifted both his fists in the air, and brought them down
on his pate, which shone like ivory.
'Ungrateful girl!' he groaned; 'who was it gave you food and drink,
clothed you, and brought you up? who cared for you, would have given all
his life, all his soul ... And you have forgotten it all? To cast me
off, truly, were no great matter, but Paramon Semyonitch, Paramon ...'
I begged him to sit down, to rest.
Punin shook his head. 'No, I won't. I have come to you ... I don't know
what for. I'm like one distraught; to stay at home alone is fearful;
what am I to do with myself? I stand in the middle of the room, shut my
eyes, and call, "Musa! Musotchka!" That's the way to go out of one's
mind. But no, why am I talking nonsense? I know why I have come to you.
You know, the other day you read me that thrice-accursed poem ... you
remember, where there is talk of an old husband. What did you do that
for? Did you know something then ... or guessed something?' Punin
glanced at me. 'Piotr Petrovitch,' he cried suddenly, and he began
trembling all over, 'you know, perhaps, where she is. Kind friend, tell
me whom she has gone to!'
I was disconcerted, and could not help dropping my eyes....
'Perhaps she said something in her letter,' I began....
'She said she was leaving us because she loved some one else! Dear, good
friend, you know, surely, where she is? Save her, let us go to her; we
will persuade her. Only think what a man she's bringing to ruin.'
Punin all at once flushed crimson, the blood seemed to rush to his
head, he plumped heavily down on his knees. 'Save us, friend, let us
go to her.'
My servant appeared in the doorway, and stood still in amazement.
I had no little trouble to get Punin on to his feet again, to convince
him that, even if I did suspect something, still it would not do to act
like that, on the spur of the moment, especially both together--that
would only spoil all our efforts--that I was ready to do my best, but
would not answer for anything. Punin did not oppose me, nor did he
indeed hear me; he only repeated from time to time in his broken voice,
'Save her, save her and Paramon Semyonitch.' At last he began to cry.
'Tell me at least one thing,' he asked ... 'is _he_ handsome, young?'
'Yes, he is young,' I answered.
'He is young,' repeated Punin, smearing the tears over his cheeks; 'and
she is young.... It's from that that all the trouble's sprung!'
This rhyme came by chance; poor Punin was in no mood for versifying. I
would have given a good deal to hear his rhapsodical eloquence again, or
even his almost noiseless laugh.... Alas! his eloquence was quenched for
ever, and I never heard his laugh again.
I promised to let him know, as soon as I should find out anything
positive.... Tarhov's name I did not, however, mention. Punin suddenly
collapsed completely. 'Very good, very good, sir, thank you,' he said
with a pitiful face, using the word 'sir,' which he had never done
before; 'only mind, sir, do not say anything to Paramon Semyonitch ...
or he'll be angry. In one word, he has forbidden it. Good-bye, sir.'
As he got up and turned his back to me, Punin struck me as such a poor
feeble creature, that I positively marvelled; he limped with both legs,
and doubled up at each step....
'It's a bad look-out. It's the end of him, that's what it means,'
* * * * *
Though I had promised Punin to trace Musa, yet as I set off the same day
to Tarhov's, I had not the slightest expectation of learning anything,
as I considered it certain that either I should not find him at home, or
that he would refuse to see me. My supposition turned out to be a
mistaken one. I found Tarhov at home; he received me, and I found out
indeed all I wanted to know; but there was nothing gained by that.
Directly I crossed the threshold of his door, Tarhov came resolutely,
rapidly, to meet me, and his eyes sparkling and glowing, his face grown
handsomer and radiant, he said firmly and briskly: 'Listen, Petya, my
boy; I guess what you've come for, and what you want to talk about; but
I give you warning, if you say a single word about her, or about her
action, or about what, according to you, is the course dictated to me by
common sense, we're friends no longer, we're not even acquainted, and I
shall beg you to treat me as a stranger.'
I looked at Tarhov; he was quivering all over inwardly, like a tightly
drawn harpstring; he was tingling all over, hardly could he hold back