Part 4 out of 5
'Has she been dead long?'
'Well, let's think--twenty years about.'
'Was she a friend of his, or what?'
'Her whole life, you may say, she passed with him ... really. I
myself, I must own, never knew the lady, but they do say ... what
there was between them ... well, well, well! Sir,' the deacon added
hurriedly, seeing I had turned away, 'wouldn't you like to give me
something for another drop, for it's time I was home in my hut and
rolled up in my blanket?'
I thought it useless to question Cucumber further, so gave him a few
coppers, and set off homewards.
At home I betook myself for further information to Narkiz. He, as I
might have anticipated, was somewhat unapproachable, stood a little on
his dignity, expressed his surprise that such paltry matters could
'interest' me, and, finally, told me what he knew. I heard the
Vassily Fomitch Guskov had become acquainted with Agrafena Ivanovna
Teliegin at Moscow soon after the suppression of the Polish
insurrection; her husband had had a post under the governor-general, and
Vassily Fomitch was on furlough. He fell in love with her there and
then, but did not leave the army at once; he was a man of forty with no
family, with a fortune. Her husband soon after died. She was left
without children, poor, and in debt.... Vassily Fomitch heard of her
position, threw up the service (he received the rank of brigadier on his
retirement) and sought out his charming widow, who was not more than
five-and-twenty, paid all her debts, redeemed her estate.... From that
time he had never parted from her, and finished by living altogether in
her house. She, too, seems to have cared for him, but would not marry
him. 'She was froward, the deceased lady,' was Narkiz's comment on this:
'My liberty,' she would say, 'is dearer to me than anything.' But as for
making use of him--she made use of him 'in every possible way,' and
whatever money he had, he dragged to her like an ant. But the
frowardness of Agrafena Ivanovna at times assumed extreme proportions;
she was not of a mild temper, and somewhat too ready with her hands....
Once she pushed her page-boy down the stairs, and he went and broke two
of his ribs and one leg.... Agrafena Ivanovna was frightened ... she
promptly ordered the page to be shut up in the lumber-room, and she did
not leave the house nor give up the key of the room to any one, till the
moans within had ceased.... The page was secretly buried.... 'And had it
been in the Empress Catherine's time,' Narkiz added in a whisper,
bending down, 'maybe the affair would have ended there--many such deeds
were hidden under a bushel in those days, but as ...' here Narkiz drew
himself up and raised his voice:' as our righteous Tsar Alexander the
Blessed was reigning then ... well, a fuss was made.... A trial
followed, the body was dug up ... signs of violence were found on it ...
and a great to-do there was. And what do you think? Vassily Fomitch took
it all on himself. "I," said he, "am responsible for it all; it was I
pushed him down, and I too shut him up." Well, of course, all the judges
then, and the lawyers and the police ... fell on him directly ... fell
on him and never let him go ... I can assure you ... till the last
farthing was out of his purse. They'd leave him in peace for a while,
and then attack him again. Down to the very time when the French came
into Russia they were worrying at him, and only dropped him then. Well,
he managed to provide for Agrafena Ivanovna--to be sure, he saved
her--that one must say. Well, and afterwards, up to her death, indeed,
he lived with her, and they do say she led him a pretty dance--the
brigadier, that is; sent him on foot from Moscow into the country--by
God, she did--to get her rents in, I suppose. It was on her account, on
account of this same Agrafena Ivanovna--he fought a duel with the
English milord Hugh Hughes; and the English milord was forced to make a
formal apology too. But later on the brigadier went down hill more and
more.... Well, and now he can't be reckoned a man at all.'
'Who was that Alexey Ivanitch the Jew,' I asked, 'through whom he was
brought to ruin?'
'Oh, the brother of Agrafena Ivanovna. A grasping creature, Jewish
indeed. He lent his sister money at interest, and Vassily Fomitch was
her security. He had to pay for it too ... pretty heavily!'
'And Fedulia Ivanovna the plunderer--who was she?'
'Her sister too ... and a sharp one too, as sharp as a lance. A
'What a place to find a Werter!' I thought next day, as I set off again
towards the brigadier's dwelling. I was at that time very young, and
that was possibly why I thought it my duty not to believe in the lasting
nature of love. Still, I was impressed and somewhat puzzled by the story
I had heard, and felt an intense desire to stir up the old man, to make
him talk freely. 'I'll first refer to Suvorov again,' so I resolved
within myself; 'there must be some spark of his former fire hidden
within him still ... and then, when he's warmed up, I'll turn the
conversation on that ... what's her name? ... Agrafena Ivanovna. A queer
name for a "Charlotte"--Agrafena!'
I found my Werter-Guskov in the middle of a tiny kitchen-garden, a few
steps from the lodge, near the old framework of a never-finished hut,
overgrown with nettles. On the mildewed upper beams of this skeleton hut
some miserable-looking turkey poults were scrambling, incessantly
slipping and flapping their wings and cackling. There was some poor sort
of green stuff growing in two or three borders. The brigadier had just
pulled a young carrot out of the ground, and rubbing it under his arm
'to clean it,' proceeded to chew its thin tail.... I bowed to him, and
inquired after his health.
He obviously did not recognise me, though he returned my greeting--that
is to say, touched his cap with his hand, though without leaving off
munching the carrot.
'You didn't go fishing to-day?' I began, in the hope of recalling myself
to his memory by this question.
'To-day?' he repeated and pondered ... while the carrot, stuck into his
mouth, grew shorter and shorter. 'Why, I suppose it's Cucumber
fishing! ... But I'm allowed to, too.'
'Of course, of course, most honoured Vassily Fomitch.... I didn't mean
that.... But aren't you hot ... like this in the sun.'
The brigadier was wearing a thick wadded dressing-gown.
'Eh? Hot?' he repeated again, as though puzzled over the question, and,
having finally swallowed the carrot, he gazed absently upwards.
'Would you care to step into my apartement?' he said suddenly. The
poor old man had, it seemed, only this phrase still left him always at
We went out of the kitchen-garden ... but there involuntarily I stopped
short. Between us and the lodge stood a huge bull. With his head down to
the ground, and a malignant gleam in his eyes, he was snorting heavily
and furiously, and with a rapid movement of one fore-leg, he tossed the
dust up in the air with his broad cleft hoof, lashed his sides with his
tail, and suddenly backing a little, shook his shaggy neck stubbornly,
and bellowed--not loud, but plaintively, and at the same time
menacingly. I was, I confess, alarmed; but Vassily Fomitch stepped
forward with perfect composure, and saying in a stern voice, 'Now then,
country bumpkin,' shook his handkerchief at him. The bull backed again,
bowed his horns ... suddenly rushed to one side and ran away, wagging
his head from side to side.
'There's no doubt he took Prague,' I thought.
We went into the room. The brigadier pulled his cap off his hair, which
was soaked with perspiration, ejaculated, 'Fa!' ... squatted down on the
edge of a chair ... bowed his head gloomily....
'I have come to you, Vassily Fomitch,' I began my diplomatic approaches,
'because, as you have served under the leadership of the great
Suvorov--have taken part altogether in such important events--it would
be very interesting for me to hear some particulars of your past.'
The brigadier stared at me.... His face kindled strangely--I began to
expect, if not a story, at least some word of approval, of sympathy....
'But I, sir, must be going to die soon,' he said in an undertone.
I was utterly nonplussed.
'Why, Vassily Fomitch, 'I brought out at last, 'what makes you ...
The brigadier suddenly flung his arms violently up and down.
'Because, sir ... I, as maybe you know ... often in my dreams see
Agrippina Ivanovna--Heaven's peace be with her!--and never can I catch
her; I am always running after her--but cannot catch her. But last
night--I dreamed--she was standing, as it were, before me, half-turned
away, and laughing.... I ran up to her at once and caught her ... and she
seemed to turn round quite and said to me: "Well, Vassinka, now you
have caught me."'
'What do you conclude from that, Vassily Fomitch?'
'Why, sir, I conclude: it has come, that we shall be together. And glory
to God for it, I tell you; glory be to God Almighty, the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost (the brigadier fell into a chant): as it was in
the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Amen!'
The brigadier began crossing himself. I could get nothing more out of
him, so I went away.
The next day my friend arrived.... I mentioned the brigadier, and my
visits to him....
'Oh yes! of course! I know his story,' answered my friend; 'I know
Madame Lomov very well, the privy councillor's widow, by whose favour he
obtained a home here. Oh, wait a minute; I believe there must be
preserved here his letter to the privy councillor's widow; it was on the
strength of that letter that she assigned him his little cot.' My friend
rummaged among his papers and actually found the brigadier's letter.
Here it is word for word, with the omission of the mistakes in spelling.
The brigadier, like every one of his epoch, was a little hazy in that
respect. But to preserve these errors seemed unnecessary; his letter
bears the stamp of his age without them.
'HONOURED MADAM, RAISSA PAVLOVNA!--On the decease of my friend, and your
aunt, I had the happiness of addressing to you two letters, the first on
the first of June, the second on the sixth of July of the year 1815,
while she expired on the sixth of May in that year; in them I discovered
to you the feelings of my soul and of my heart, which were crushed under
deadly wrongs, and they reflected in full my bitter despair, in truth
deserving of commiseration; both letters were despatched by the imperial
mail registered, and hence I cannot conceive that they have not been
perused by your eye. By the genuine candour of my letters, I had counted
upon winning your benevolent attention; but the compassionate feelings
of your heart were far removed from me in my woe! Left on the loss of my
one only friend, Agrippina Ivanovna, in the most distressed and
poverty-stricken circumstances, I rested, by her instructions, all my
hopes on your bounty; she, aware of her end approaching, said to me in
these words, as it were from the grave, and never can I forget them: "My
friend, I have been your serpent, and am guilty of all your unhappiness.
I feel how much you have sacrificed for me, and in return I leave you in
a disastrous and truly destitute situation; on my death have recourse to
Raissa Pavlovna"--that is, to you--"and implore her aid, invite her
succour! She has a feeling heart, and I have confidence in her, that she
will not leave you forlorn." Honoured madam, let me call to witness the
all-high Creator of the world that those were her words, and I am
speaking with her tongue; and, therefore, trusting firmly in your
goodness, to you first of all I addressed myself with my open-hearted
and candid letters; but after protracted expectation, receiving no reply
to them, I could not conceive otherwise than that your benevolent heart
had left me without attention! Such your unfavourable disposition
towards me, reduced me to the depths of despair--whither, and to whom,
was I to turn in my misfortune I knew not; my soul was troubled, my
intellect went astray; at last, for the completion of my ruin, it
pleased Providence to chastise me in a still more cruel manner, and to
turn my thoughts to your deceased aunt, Fedulia Ivanovna, sister of
Agrippina Ivanovna, one in blood, but not one in heart! Having present
to myself, before my mind's eye, that I had been for twenty years
devoted to the whole family of your kindred, the Lomovs, especially to
Fedulia Ivanovna, who never called Agrippina Ivanovna otherwise than "my
heart's precious treasure," and me "the most honoured and zealous friend
of our family"; picturing all the above, among abundant tears and sighs
in the stillness of sorrowful night watches, I thought: "Come,
brigadier! so, it seems, it is to be!" and, addressing myself by letter
to the said Fedulia Ivanovna, I received a positive assurance that she
would share her last crumb with me! The presents sent on by me, more
than five hundred roubles' worth in value, were accepted with supreme
satisfaction; and afterwards the money too which I brought with me for
my maintenance, Fedulia Ivanovna was pleased, on the pretext of guarding
it, to take into her care, to the which, to gratify her, I offered no
If you ask me whence, and on what ground I conceived such confidence--to
the above, madam, there is but one reply: she was sister of Agrippina
Ivanovna, and a member of the Lomov family! But alas and alas! all the
money aforesaid I was very soon deprived of, and the hopes which I had
rested on Fedulia Ivanovna--that she would share her last crumb with
me--turned out to be empty and vain; on the contrary, the said Fedulia
Ivanovna enriched herself with my property. To wit, on her saint's day,
the fifth of February, I brought her fifty roubles' worth of green
French material, at five roubles the yard; I myself received of all that
was promised five roubles' worth of white pique for a waistcoat and a
muslin handkerchief for my neck, which gifts were purchased in my
presence, as I was aware, with my own money--and that was all that I
profited by Fedulia Ivanovna's bounty! So much for the last crumb! And I
could further, in all sincerity, disclose the malignant doings of
Fedulia Ivanovna to me; and also my expenses, exceeding all reason, as,
among the rest, for sweetmeats and fruits, of which Fedulia Ivanovna was
exceedingly fond;--but upon all this I am silent, that you may not take
such disclosures against the dead in bad part; and also, seeing that God
has called her before His judgment seat--and all that I suffered at her
hands is blotted out from my heart--and I, as a Christian, forgave her
long ago, and pray to God to forgive her!
'But, honoured madam, Raissa Pavlovna! Surely you will not blame me for
that I was a true and loyal friend of your family, and that I loved
Agrippina Ivanovna with a love so great and so insurmountable that I
sacrificed to her my life, my honour, and all my fortune! that I was
utterly in her hands, and hence could not dispose of myself nor of my
property, and she disposed at her will of me and also of my estate! It
is known to you also that, owing to her action with her servant, I
suffer, though innocent, a deadly wrong--this affair I brought after her
death before the senate, before the sixth department--it is still
unsettled now--in consequence of which I was made accomplice with her,
my estate put under guardianship, and I am still lying under a criminal
charge! In my position, at my age, such disgrace is intolerable to me;
and it is only left me to console my heart with the mournful reflection
that thus, even after Agrippina Ivanovna's death, I suffer for her sake,
and so prove my immutable love and loyal gratitude to her!
'In my letters, above mentioned, to you, I gave you an account with
every detail of Agrippina Ivanovna's funeral, and what masses were read
for her--my affection and love for her spared no outlay! For all the
aforesaid, and for the forty days' requiems, and the reading of the
psalter six weeks after for her (in addition to above, fifty roubles
of mine were lost, which were given as security for payment for
the stone, of which I sent you a description)--on all the aforesaid
was spent of my money seven hundred and fifty roubles, in which is
included, by way of donation to the church, a hundred and fifty roubles.
'In the goodness of your heart, hear the cry of a desperate man, crushed
beneath a load of the crudest calamities! Only your commiseration and
humanity can restore the life of a ruined man! Though living--in the
suffering of my heart and soul I am as one dead; dead when I think what
I was, and what I am; I was a soldier, and served my country in all
fidelity and uprightness, as is the bounden duty of a loyal Russian and
faithful subject, and was rewarded with the highest honours, and had a
fortune befitting my birth and station; and now I must cringe and beg
for a morsel of dry bread; dead above all I am when I think what a
friend I have lost ... and what is life to me after that? But there is
no hastening one's end, and the earth will not open, but rather seems
turned to stone! And so I call upon you, in the benevolence of your
heart, hush the talk of the people, do not expose yourself to universal
censure, that for all my unbounded devotion I have not where to lay my
head; confound them by your bounty to me, turn the tongues of the evil
speakers and slanderers to glorifying your good works--and I make bold
in all humility to add, comfort in the grave your most precious aunt,
Agrippina Ivanovna, who can never be forgotten, and who for your speedy
succour, in answer to my sinful prayers, will spread her protecting
wings about your head, and comfort in his declining days a lonely old
man, who had every reason to expect a different fate! ... And, with the
most profound respect, I have the honour to be, dear madam, your most
_Brigadier and cavalier._'
Several years later I paid another visit to my friend's little place....
Vassily Fomitch had long been dead; he died soon after I made his
acquaintance. Cucumber was still flourishing. He conducted me to the
tomb of Agrafena Ivanovna. An iron railing enclosed a large slab with a
detailed and enthusiastically laudatory epitaph on the deceased woman;
and there, beside it, as it were at her feet, could be seen a little
mound with a slanting cross on it; the servant of God, the brigadier and
cavalier, Vassily Guskov, lay under this mound.... His ashes found rest
at last beside the ashes of the creature he had loved with such
unbounded, almost undying, love.
In the year 182- ... there was living in the town of O---- the
lieutenant Ivan Afanasiitch Pyetushkov. He was born of poor parents, was
left an orphan at five years old, and came into the charge of a
guardian. Thanks to this guardian, he found himself with no property
whatever; he had a hard struggle to make both ends meet. He was of
medium height, and stooped a little; he had a thin face, covered with
freckles, but rather pleasing; light brown hair, grey eyes, and a timid
expression; his low forehead was furrowed with fine wrinkles.
Pyetushkov's whole life had been uneventful in the extreme; at close
upon forty he was still youthful and inexperienced as a child. He was
shy with acquaintances, and exceedingly mild in his manner with persons
over whose lot he could have exerted control....
People condemned by fate to a monotonous and cheerless existence often
acquire all sorts of little habits and preferences. Pyetushkov liked to
have a new white roll with his tea every morning. He could not do
without this dainty. But behold one morning his servant, Onisim, handed
him, on a blue-sprigged plate, instead of a roll, three dark red rusks.
Pyetushkov at once asked his servant, with some indignation, what he
meant by it.
'The rolls have all been sold out,' answered Onisim, a native of
Petersburg, who had been flung by some queer freak of destiny into the
very wilds of south Russia.
'Impossible!' exclaimed Ivan Afanasiitch.
'Sold out,' repeated Onisim; 'there's a breakfast at the Marshal's, so
they've all gone there, you know.'
Onisim waved his hand in the air, and thrust his right foot forward.
Ivan Afanasiitch walked up and down the room, dressed, and set off
himself to the baker's shop. This establishment, the only one of the
kind in the town of O----, had been opened ten years before by a German
immigrant, had in a short time begun to flourish, and was still
flourishing under the guidance of his widow, a fat woman.
Pyetushkov tapped at the window. The fat woman stuck her unhealthy,
flabby, sleepy countenance out of the pane that opened.
'A roll, if you please,' Pyetushkov said amiably.
'The rolls are all gone,' piped the fat woman.
'Haven't you any rolls?'
'How's that?--really! I take rolls from you every day, and pay for them
The woman stared at him in silence. 'Take twists,' she said at last,
yawning; 'or a scone.'
'I don't like them,' said Pyetushkov, and he felt positively hurt.
'As you please,' muttered the fat woman, and she slammed to the
Ivan Afanasiitch was quite unhinged by his intense vexation. In his
perturbation he crossed to the other side of the street, and gave
himself up entirely, like a child, to his displeasure.
'Sir!' ... he heard a rather agreeable female voice; 'sir!'
Ivan Afanasiitch raised his eyes. From the open pane of the bakehouse
window peeped a girl of about seventeen, holding a white roll in her
hand. She had a full round face, rosy cheeks, small hazel eyes, rather a
turn-up nose, fair hair, and magnificent shoulders. Her features
suggested good-nature, laziness, and carelessness.
'Here's a roll for you, sir,' she said, laughing, 'I'd taken for myself;
but take it, please, I'll give it up to you.'
'I thank you most sincerely. Allow me ...'
Pyetushkov began fumbling in his pocket.
'No, no! you are welcome to it.'
She closed the window-pane.
Pyetushkov arrived home in a perfectly agreeable frame of mind.
'You couldn't get any rolls,' he said to his Onisim; 'but here, I've got
one, do you see?'
Onisim gave a bitter laugh.
The same day, in the evening, as Ivan Afanasiitch was undressing, he
asked his servant, 'Tell me, please, my lad, what's the girl like at the
Onisim looked away rather gloomily, and responded, 'What do you want to
'Oh, nothing,' said Pyetushkov, taking off his boots with his own hands.
'Well, she's a fine girl!' Onisim observed condescendingly.
'Yes, ... she's not bad-looking,' said Ivan Afanasiitch, also looking
away. 'And what's her name, do you know?'
'And do you know her?'
Onisim did not answer for a minute or two.
'We know her.'
Pyetushkov was on the point of opening his mouth again, but he turned
over on the other side and fell asleep.
Onisim went out into the passage, took a pinch of snuff, and gave his
head a violent shake.
The next day, early in the morning, Pyetushkov called for his clothes.
Onisim brought him his everyday coat--an old grass-coloured coat, with
huge striped epaulettes. Pyetushkov gazed a long while at Onisim without
speaking, then told him to bring him his new coat. Onisim, with some
surprise, obeyed. Pyetushkov dressed, and carefully drew on his
'You needn't go to the baker's to-day,' said he with some hesitation;
'I'm going myself, ... it's on my way.'
'Yes, sir,' responded Onisim, as abruptly as if some one had just given
him a shove from behind.
Pyetushkov set off, reached the baker's shop, tapped at the window. The
fat woman opened the pane.
'Give me a roll, please,' Ivan Afanasiitch articulated slowly.
The fat woman stuck out an arm, bare to the shoulder--a huge arm, more
like a leg than an arm--and thrust the hot bread just under his nose.
Ivan Afanasiitch stood some time under the window, walked once or twice
up and down the street, glanced into the courtyard, and at last, ashamed
of his childishness, returned home with the roll in his hand. He felt
ill at ease the whole day, and even in the evening, contrary to his
habit, did not drop into conversation with Onisim.
The next morning it was Onisim who went
for the roll.
Some weeks went by. Ivan Afanasiitch had completely forgotten
Vassilissa, and chatted in a friendly way with his servant as before.
One fine morning there came to see him a certain Bublitsyn, an
easy-mannered and very agreeable young man. It is true he sometimes
hardly knew himself what he was talking about, and was always, as they
say, a little wild; but all the same he had the reputation of being an
exceedingly agreeable person to talk to. He smoked a great deal with
feverish eagerness, with lifted eyebrows and contracted chest--smoked
with an expression of intense anxiety, or, one might rather say, with an
expression as though, let him have this one more puff at his pipe, and
in a minute he would tell you some quite unexpected piece of news; at
times he would even give a grunt and a wave of the hand, while himself
sucking at his pipe, as though he had suddenly recollected something
extraordinarily amusing or important, then he would open his mouth, let
off a few rings of smoke, and utter the most commonplace remarks, or
even keep silence altogether. After gossiping a little with Ivan
Afanasiitch about the neighbours, about horses, the daughters of the
gentry around, and other such edifying topics, Mr. Bublitsyn suddenly
winked, pulled up his shock of hair, and, with a sly smile, approached
the remarkably dim looking-glass which was the solitary ornament of Ivan
'There's no denying the fact,' he pronounced, stroking his light brown
whiskers, 'we've got girls here that beat any of your Venus of Medicis
hollow.... Have you seen Vassilissa, the baker girl, for instance?' ...
Mr. Bublitsyn sucked at his pipe.
'But why do I ask you?' pursued Bublitsyn, disappearing in a cloud of
smoke,--'you're not the man to notice, don't you know, Ivan Afanasiitch!
Goodness knows what you do to occupy yourself, Ivan Afanasiitch!'
'The same as you do,' Pyetushkov replied with some vexation, in a
'Oh no, Ivan Afanasiitch, not a bit of it.... How can you say so?'
'Well, why not?'
'Why so, why so?'
Bublitsyn stuck his pipe in the corner of his mouth, and began
scrutinising his not very handsome boots. Pyetushkov felt embarrassed.
'Ah, Ivan Afanasiitch, Ivan Afanasiitch!' pursued Bublitsyn, as though
sparing his feelings. 'But as to Vassilissa, the baker girl, I can
assure you: a very, ve-ry fine girl, ... ve-ry.'
Mr. Bublitsyn dilated his nostrils, and slowly plunged his hands into
Strange to relate, Ivan Afanasiitch felt something of the nature of
jealousy. He began moving restlessly in his chair, burst into explosive
laughter at nothing at all, suddenly blushed, yawned, and, as he yawned,
his lower jaw twitched a little. Bublitsyn smoked three more pipes, and
withdrew. Ivan Afanasiitch went to the window, sighed, and called for
something to drink.
Onisim set a glass of kvas on the table, glanced severely at his master,
leaned back against the door, and hung his head dejectedly.
'What are you so thoughtful about?' his master asked him genially, but
with some inward trepidation.
'What am I thinking about?' retorted Onisim; 'what am I thinking
about? ... it's always about you.'
'Of course it's about you.'
'Why, what is it you are thinking?'
'Why, this is what I'm thinking.' (Here Onisim took a pinch of snuff.)
'You ought to be ashamed, sir--you ought to be ashamed of yourself.'
'Yes, ashamed.... Look at Mr. Bublitsyn, Ivan Afanasiitch.... Tell me if
he's not a fine fellow, now.'
'I don't understand you.'
'You don't understand me.... Oh yes, you do understand me.'
'Mr. Bublitsyn's a real gentleman--what a gentleman ought to be. But
what are you, Ivan Afanasiitch, what are you? Tell me that.'
'Why, I'm a gentleman too.'
'A gentleman, indeed!' ... retorted Onisim, growing indignant. 'A pretty
gentleman you are! You're no better, sir, than a hen in a shower of
rain, Ivan Afanasiitch, let me tell you. Here you sit sticking at home
the whole blessed day ... much good it does you, sitting at home like
that! You don't play cards, you don't go and see the gentry, and as
for ... well ...'
Onisim waved his hand expressively.
'Now, come ... you really go ... too far ...' Ivan Afanasiitch said
hesitatingly, clutching his pipe.
'Too far, indeed, Ivan Afanasiitch, too far, you say! Judge for
yourself. Here again, with Vassilissa ... why couldn't you ...'
'But what are you thinking about, Onisim,' Pyetushkov interrupted
'I know what I'm thinking about. But there--I'd better let you alone!
What can you do? Only fancy ... there you ...'
Ivan Afanasiitch got up.
'There, there, if you please, you hold your tongue,' he said quickly,
seeming to be searching for Onisim with his eyes; 'I shall really,
you know ... I ... what do you mean by it, really? You'd better help
Onisim slowly drew off Ivan Afanasiitch's greasy Tartar dressing-gown,
gazed with fatherly commiseration at his master, shook his head, put him
on his coat, and fell to beating him about the back with a brush.
Pyetushkov went out, and after a not very protracted stroll about the
crooked streets of the town, found himself facing the baker's shop. A
queer smile was playing about his lips.
He had hardly time to look twice at the too well-known 'establishment,'
when suddenly the little gate opened, and Vassilissa ran out with a
yellow kerchief on her head and a jacket flung after the Russian fashion
on her shoulders. Ivan Afanasiitch at once overtook her.
'Where are you going, my dear?'
Vassilissa glanced swiftly at him, laughed, turned away, and put her
hand over her lips.
'Going shopping, I suppose?' queried Ivan Afanasiitch, fidgeting
with his feet.
'How inquisitive we are!' retorted Vassilissa.
'Why inquisitive?' said Pyetushkov, hurriedly gesticulating with his
hands. 'Quite the contrary.... Oh yes, you know,' he added hastily, as
though these last words completely conveyed his meaning.
'Did you eat my roll?'
'To be sure I did,' replied Pyetushkov: 'with special enjoyment.'
Vassilissa continued to walk on and to laugh.
'It's pleasant weather to-day,' pursued Ivan Afanasiitch: 'do you often
go out walking?'
'Ah, how I should like....'
The girls in our district utter those words in a very queer way, with a
peculiar sharpness and rapidity.... Partridges call at sunset with just
'To go out walking, don't you know, with you ... into the
country, or ...'
'How can you?'
'Ah, upon my word, how you do go on!'
'But allow me....'
At this point they were overtaken by a dapper little shopman, with a
little goat's beard, and with his fingers held apart like antlers, so as
to keep his sleeves from slipping over his hands, in a long-skirted
bluish coat, and a warm cap that resembled a bloated water-melon.
Pyetushkov, for propriety's sake, fell back a little behind Vassilissa,
but quickly came up with her again.
'Well, then, what about our walk?'
Vassilissa looked slily at him and giggled again.
'Do you belong to these parts?'
Vassilissa passed her hand over her hair and walked a little more
slowly. Ivan Afanasiitch smiled, and, his heart inwardly sinking with
timidity, he stooped a little on one side and put a trembling arm about
the beauty's waist.
Vassilissa uttered a shriek.
'Give over, do, for shame, in the street.'
'Come now, there, there,' muttered Ivan Afanasiitch.
'Give over, I tell you, in the street.... Don't be rude.'
'A ... a ... ah, what a girl you are!' said Pyetushkov reproachfully,
while he blushed up to his ears.
Vassilissa stood still.
'Now go along with you, sir--go along, do.'
Pyetushkov obeyed. He got home, and sat for a whole hour without moving
from his chair, without even smoking his pipe. At last he took out a
sheet of greyish paper, mended a pen, and after long deliberation wrote
the following letter.
'DEAR MADAM, VASSILISSA TIMOFYEVNA!--Being naturally a most inoffensive
person, how could I have occasioned you annoyance? If I have really been
to blame in my conduct to you, then I must tell you: the hints of Mr.
Bublitsyn were responsible for this, which was what I never expected.
Anyway, I must humbly beg you not to be angry with me. I am a sensitive
man, and any kindness I am most sensible of and grateful for. Do not be
angry with me, Vassilissa Timofyevna, I beg you most humbly.--I remain
respectfully your obedient servant,
Onisim carried this letter to its address.
A fortnight passed. Onisim went every morning as usual to the baker's
shop. One day Vassilissa ran out to meet him.
'Good morning, Onisim Sergeitch.'
Onisim put on a gloomy expression, and responded crossly, ''Morning.'
'How is it you never come to see us, Onisim Sergeitch?'
Onisim glanced morosely at her.
'What should I come for? you wouldn't give me a cup of tea, no fear.'
'Yes, I would, Onisim Sergeitch, I would. You come and see. Rum
in it, too.'
Onisim slowly relaxed into a smile.
'Well, I don't mind if I do, then.'
'When ... well, you are ...'
'To-day--this evening, if you like. Drop in.
'All right, I'll come along,' replied Onisim, and he sauntered home with
his slow, rolling step.
The same evening in a little room, beside a bed covered with a striped
eider-down, Onisim was sitting at a clumsy little table, facing
Vassilissa. A huge, dingy yellow samovar was hissing and bubbling on the
table; a pot of geranium stood in the window; in the other corner near
the door there stood aslant an ugly chest with a tiny hanging lock; on
the chest lay a shapeless heap of all sorts of old rags; on the walls
were black, greasy prints. Onisim and Vassilissa drank their tea in
silence, looking straight at each other, turning the lumps of sugar over
and over in their hands, as it were reluctantly nibbling them, blinking,
screwing up their eyes, and with a hissing sound sucking in the
yellowish boiling liquid through their teeth. At last they had emptied
the whole samovar, turned upside down the round cups--one with the
inscription, 'Take your fill'; the other with the words, 'Cupid's dart
hath pierced my heart'--then they cleared their throats, wiped their
perspiring brows, and gradually dropped into conversation.
'Onisim Sergeitch, how about your master ...' began Vassilissa, and did
not finish her sentence.
'What about my master?' replied Onisim, and he leaned on his hand. 'He's
all right. But why do you ask?'
'Oh, I only asked,' answered Vassilissa.
'But I say'--(here Onisim grinned)--'I say, he wrote you a letter,
'Yes, he did.'
Onisim shook his head with an extraordinarily self-satisfied air.
'So he did, did he?' he said huskily, with a smile. 'Well, and what did
he say in his letter to you?'
'Oh, all sorts of things. "I didn't mean anything, Madam, Vassilissa
Timofyevna," says he, "don't you think anything of it; don't you be
offended, madam," and a lot more like that he wrote.... But I say,' she
added after a brief silence: 'what's he like?'
'He's all right,' Onisim responded indifferently.
'Does he get angry?'
'He get angry! Not he. Why, do you like him?'
Vassilissa looked down and giggled in her sleeve.
'Come,' grumbled Onisim.
'Oh, what's that to you, Onisim Sergeitch?'
'Oh, come, I tell you.'
'Well,' Vassilissa brought out at last, 'he's ... a gentleman. Of
course ... I ... and besides; he ... you know yourself ...'
'Of course I do,' Onisim observed solemnly.
'Of course you're aware, to be sure, Onisim Sergeitch.' ... Vassilissa
was obviously becoming agitated.
'You tell him, your master, that I'm ...; say, not angry with him,
but that ...'
'We understand,' responded Onisim, and he got up from his seat. 'We
understand. Thanks for the entertainment.'
'Come in again some day.'
'All right, all right.'
Onisim approached the door. The fat woman came into the room.
'Good evening to you, Onisim Sergeitch,' she said in a peculiar chant.
'Good evening to you, Praskovia Ivanovna,' he said in the same
Both stood still for a little while facing each other.
'Well, good day to you, Praskovia Ivanovna,' Onisim chanted out again.
'Well, good day to you, Onisim Sergeitch,' she responded in the same
Onisim arrived home. His master was lying on his bed, gazing at
'Where have you been?'
'Where have I been?' ... (Onisim had the habit of repeating reproachfully
the last words of every question.) 'I've been about your business.'
'Why, don't you know? ... I've been to see Vassilissa.'
Pyetushkov blinked and turned over on his bed.
'So that's how it is,' observed Onisim, and he coolly took a pinch of
snuff. 'So that's how it is. You're always like that. Vassilissa sends
you her duty.'
'Really? So that's all about it. Really! ... She told me to say, Why is
it, says she, one never sees him? Why is it, says she, he never comes?'
'Well, and what did you say?'
'What did I say? I told her: You're a silly girl--I told her--as if
folks like that are coming to see you! No, you come yourself, I
'Well, and what did she say?'
'What did she say? ... She said nothing.'
'That is, how do you mean, nothing?'
'Why, nothing, to be sure.'
Pyetushkov said nothing for a little while.
'Well, and is she coming?'
Onisim shook his head.
'She coming! You're in too great a hurry, sir. She coming, indeed! No,
you go too fast.' ...
'But you said yourself that ...'
'Oh, well, it's easy to talk.'
Pyetushkov was silent again.
'Well, but how's it to be, then, my lad?'
'How? ... You ought to know best; you 're a gentleman.'
'Oh, nonsense! come now!'
Onisim swayed complacently backwards and forwards.
'Do you know Praskovia Ivanovna?' he asked at last.
'No. What Praskovia Ivanovna?'
'Why, the baker woman!'
'Oh yes, the baker woman. I've seen her; she's very fat.'
'She's a worthy woman. She's own aunt to the other, to your girl.'
'Why, didn't you know?'
'No, I didn't know.'
Onisim was restrained by respect for his master from giving full
expression to his feelings.
'That's whom it is you should make friends with.'
'Well, I've no objection.'
Onisim looked approvingly at Ivan Afanasiitch.
'But with what object precisely am I to make friends with her?' inquired
'What for, indeed!' answered Onisim serenely.
Ivan Afanasiitch got up, paced up and down the room, stood still before
the window, and without turning his head, with some hesitation he
'Won't it be, you know, a little awkward for me with the old woman, eh?'
'Oh, that's as you like.'
'Oh, well, I only thought it might, perhaps. My comrades might
notice it; it's a little ... But I'll think it over. Give me my
pipe.... So she,' he went on after a short silence--Vassilissa, I
mean, says then ...'
But Onisim had no desire to continue the conversation, and he assumed
his habitual morose expression.
Ivan Afanasiitch's acquaintance with Praskovia Ivanovna began in the
following manner. Five days after his conversation with Onisim,
Pyetushkov set off in the evening to the baker's shop. 'Well,' thought
he, as he unlatched the creaking gate, 'I don't know how it's to be.' ...
He mounted the steps, opened the door. A huge, crested hen rushed, with
a deafening cackle, straight under his feet, and long after was still
running about the yard in wild excitement. From a room close by peeped
the astonished countenance of the fat woman. Ivan Afanasiitch smiled and
nodded. The fat woman bowed to him. Tightly grasping his hat, Pyetushkov
approached her. Praskovia Ivanovna was apparently anticipating an
honoured guest; her dress was fastened up at every hook. Pyetushkov sat
down on a chair; Praskovia Ivanovna seated herself opposite him.
'I have come to you, Praskovia Ivanovna, more on account of....' Ivan
Afanasiitch began at last--and then ceased. His lips were twitching
'You are kindly welcome, sir,' responded Praskovia Ivanovna in the
proper sing-song, and with a bow. 'Always delighted to see a guest.'
Pyetushkov took courage a little.
'I have long wished, you know, to have the pleasure of making your
acquaintance, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
'Much obliged to you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
Followed a silence. Praskovia Ivanovna wiped her face with a
parti-coloured handkerchief; Ivan Afanasiitch continued with intense
attention to gaze away to one side. Both were rather uncomfortable. But
in merchant and petty shopkeeper society, where even old friends never
step outside special angular forms of etiquette, a certain constraint in
the behaviour of guests and host to one another not only strikes no one
as strange, but, on the contrary, is regarded as perfectly correct and
indispensable, particularly on a first visit. Praskovia Ivanovna was
agreeably impressed by Pyetushkov. He was formal and decorous in his
manners, and moreover, wasn't he a man of some rank, too?
'Praskovia Ivanovna, ma'am, I like your rolls very much,' he said to
'Really now, really now.'
'Very good they are, you know, very, indeed.'
'May they do you good, sir, may they do you good. Delighted, to be
'I've never eaten any like them in Moscow.'
'You don't say so now, you don't say so.'
Again a silence followed.
'Tell me, Praskovia Ivanovna,' began Ivan Afanasiitch; 'that's your
niece, I fancy, isn't it, living with you?'
'My own niece, sir.'
'How comes it ... she's with you?'....
'She's an orphan, so I keep her.'
'And is she a good worker?'
'Such a girl to work ... such a girl, sir ... ay ... ay ... to be
sure she is.'
Ivan Afanasiitch thought it discreet not to pursue the subject of the
'What bird is that you have in the cage, Praskovia Ivanovna?'
'God knows. A bird of some sort.'
'H'm! Well, so, good day to you, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
'A very good day to your honour. Pray walk in another time, and take a
cup of tea.'
'With the greatest pleasure, Praskovia Ivanovna.'
Pyetushkov walked out. On the steps he met Vassilissa. She giggled.
'Where are you going, my darling?' said Pyetushkov with reckless daring.
'Come, give over, do, you are a one for joking.'
'He, he! And did you get my letter?'
Vassilissa hid the lower part of her face in her sleeve and made
'And you're not angry with me?'
'Vassilissa!' came the jarring voice of the aunt; 'hey, Vassilissa!'
Vassilissa ran into the house. Pyetushkov returned home. But from that
day he began going often to the baker's shop, and his visits were not
for nothing. Ivan Afanasiitch's hopes, to use the lofty phraseology
suitable, were crowned with success. Usually, the attainment of the goal
has a cooling effect on people, but Pyetushkov, on the contrary, grew
every day more and more ardent. Love is a thing of accident, it exists
in itself, like art, and, like nature, needs no reasons to justify it,
as some clever man has said who never loved, himself, but made excellent
observations upon love.
Pyetushkov became passionately attached to Vassilissa. He was completely
happy. His soul was aglow with bliss. Little by little he carried all
his belongings, at any rate all his pipes, to Praskovia Ivanovna's, and
for whole days together he sat in her back room. Praskovia Ivanovna
charged him something for his dinner and drank his tea, consequently she
did not complain of his presence. Vassilissa had grown used to him. She
would work, sing, or spin before him, sometimes exchanging a couple of
words with him; Pyetushkov watched her, smoked his pipe, swayed to and
fro in his chair, laughed, and in leisure hours played 'Fools' with her
and Praskovia Ivanovna. Ivan Afanasiitch was happy....
But in this world nothing is perfect, and, small as a man's
requirements may be, destiny never quite fulfils them, and positively
spoils the whole thing, if possible.... The spoonful of pitch is sure
to find its way into the barrel of honey! Ivan Afanasiitch experienced
this in his case.
In the first place, from the time of his establishing himself at
Vassilissa's, Pyetushkov dropped more than ever out of all intercourse
with his comrades. He saw them only when absolutely necessary, and then,
to avoid allusions and jeers (in which, however, he was not always
successful), he put on the desperately sullen and intensely scared look
of a hare in a display of fireworks.
Secondly, Onisim gave him no peace; he had lost every trace of respect
for him, he mercilessly persecuted him, put him to shame.
And ... thirdly.... Alas! read further, kindly reader.
One day Pyetushkov (who for the reasons given above found little comfort
outside Praskovia Ivanovna's doors) was sitting in Vassilissa's room at
the back, and was busying himself over some home-brewed concoction,
something in the way of jam or syrup. The mistress of the house was not
at home. Vassilissa was sitting in the shop singing.
There came a knock at the little pane. Vassilissa got up, went to the
window, uttered a little shriek, giggled, and began whispering with some
one. On going back to her place, she sighed, and then fell to singing
louder than ever.
'Who was that you were talking to?' Pyetushkov asked her.
Vassilissa went on singing carelessly.
'Vassilissa, do you hear? Vassilissa!'
'What do you want?'
'Whom were you talking to?'
'What's that to you?'
'I only asked.'
Pyetushkov came out of the back room in a parti-coloured smoking-jacket
with tucked-up sleeves, and a strainer in his hand.
'Oh, a friend of mine,' answered Vassilissa.
'Oh, Piotr Petrovitch.'
'Piotr Petrovitch? ... what Piotr Petrovitch?'
'He's one of your lot. He's got such a difficult name.'
'Yes, yes ... Piotr Petrovitch.'
'And do you know him?'
'Rather!' responded Vassilissa, with a wag of her head.
Pyetushkov, without a word, paced ten times up and down the room.
'I say, Vassilissa,' he said at last, 'that is, how do you know him?'
'How do I know him? ... I know him ... He's such a nice gentleman.'
'How do you mean nice, though? how nice? how nice?'
Vassilissa gazed at Ivan Afanasiitch.
'Nice,' she said slowly and in perplexity. 'You know what I mean.'
Pyetushkov bit his lips and began again pacing the room.
'What were you talking about with him, eh?'
Vassilissa smiled and looked down.
'Speak, speak, speak, I tell you, speak!'
'How cross you are to-day!' observed Vassilissa.
Pyetushkov was silent.
'Come now, Vassilissa,' he began at last; 'no, I won't be cross....
Come, tell me, what were you talking about?'
'He is a one to joke, really, that Piotr Petrovitch!'
'Well, what did he say?'
'He is a fellow!'
Pyetushkov was silent again for a little.
'Vassilissa, you love me, don't you?' he asked her.
'Oh, so that's what you're after, too!'
Poor Pyetushkov felt a pang at his heart. Praskovia Ivanovna came in.
They sat down to dinner. After dinner Praskovia Ivanovna betook herself
to the shelf bed. Ivan Afanasiitch himself lay down on the stove, turned
over and dropped asleep. A cautious creak waked him. Ivan Afanasiitch
sat up, leaned on his elbow, looked: the door was open. He jumped up--no
Vassilissa. He ran into the yard--she was not in the yard; into the
street, looked up and down--Vassilissa was nowhere to be seen. He ran
without his cap as far as the market--no, Vassilissa was not in sight.
Slowly he returned to the baker's shop, clambered on to the stove, and
turned with his face to the wall. He felt miserable. Bublitsyn ...
Bublitsyn ... the name was positively ringing in his ears.
'What's the matter, my good sir?' Praskovia Ivanovna asked him in a
drowsy voice. 'Why are you groaning?'
'Oh, nothing, ma'am. Nothing. I feel a weight oppressing me.'
'It's the mushrooms,' murmured Praskovia Ivanovna--'it's all those
O Lord, have mercy on us sinners!
An hour passed, a second--still no Vassilissa. Twenty times Pyetushkov
was on the point of getting up, and twenty times he huddled miserably
under the sheepskin.... At last he really did get down from the stove
and determined to go home, and positively went out into the yard, but
came back. Praskovia Ivanovna got up. The hired man, Luka, black as a
beetle, though he was a baker, put the bread into the oven. Pyetushkov
went again out on to the steps and pondered. The goat that lived in the
yard went up to him, and gave him a little friendly poke with his horns.
Pyetushkov looked at him, and for some unknown reason said 'Kss, Kss.'
Suddenly the low wicket-gate slowly opened and Vassilissa appeared. Ivan
Afanasiitch went straight to meet her, took her by the hand, and rather
coolly, but resolutely, said to her:
'Come along with me.'
'But, excuse me, Ivan Afanasiitch ... I ...'
'Come with me,' he repeated.
Pyetushkov led her to his lodgings. Onisim, as usual, was lying at full
length asleep. Ivan Afanasiitch waked him, told him to light a candle.
Vassilissa went to the window and sat down in silence. While Onisim was
busy getting a light in the anteroom, Pyetushkov stood motionless at the
other window, staring into the street. Onisim came in, with the candle
in his hands, was beginning to grumble ... Ivan Afanasiitch turned
quickly round: 'Go along,' he said to him.
Onisim stood still in the middle of the room.
'Go away at once,' Pyetushkov repeated threateningly.
Onisim looked at his master and went out.
Ivan Afanasiitch shouted after him:
'Away, quite away. Out of the house. You can come back in two
Onisim slouched off.
Pyetushkov waited till he heard the gate bang, and at once went up to
'Where have you been?'
Vassilissa was confused.
'Where have you been? I tell you,' he repeated.
Vassilissa looked round ...
'I am speaking to you ... where have you been?' And Pyetushkov raised
his arm ...
'Don't beat me, Ivan Afanasiitch, don't beat me,' Vassilissa whispered
Pyetushkov turned away.
'Beat you ... No! I'm not going to beat you. Beat you? I beg your
pardon, my darling. God bless you! While I supposed you loved me, while
I ... I ... '
Ivan Afanasiitch broke off. He gasped for breath.
'Listen, Vassilissa,' he said at last. 'You know I'm a kind-hearted man,
you know it, don't you, Vassilissa, don't you?'
'Yes, I do,' she said faltering.
'I do nobody any harm, nobody, nobody in the world. And I deceive
nobody. Why are you deceiving me?'
'But I'm not deceiving you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'You aren't deceiving me? Oh, very well! Oh, very well! Then tell me
where you've been.'
'I went to see Matrona.'
'That's a lie!'
'Really, I've been at Matrona's. You ask her, if you don't believe me.'
'And Bub--what's his name ... have you seen that devil?'
'Yes, I did see him.'
'You did see him! you did see him! Oh! you did see him!'
Pyetushkov turned pale.
'So you were making an appointment with him in the morning at the
'He asked me to come.'
'And so you went.... Thanks very much, my girl, thanks very much!'
Pyetushkov made Vassilissa a low bow.
'But, Ivan Afanasiitch, you're maybe fancying ...'
'You'd better not talk to me! And a pretty fool I am! There's nothing to
make an outcry for! You may make friends with any one you like. I've
nothing to do with you. So there! I don't want to know you even.'
Vassilissa got up.
'That's for you to say, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Where are you going?'
'Why, you yourself ...'
'I'm not sending you away,' Pyetushkov interrupted her.
'Oh no, Ivan Afanasiitch.... What's the use of my stopping here?'
Pyetushkov let her get as far as the door.
'So you're going, Vassilissa?'
'You keep on abusing me.'
'I abuse you! You've no fear of God, Vassilissa! When have I abused you?
Come, come, say when?'
'Why! Just this minute weren't you all but beating me?'
'Vassilissa, it's wicked of you. Really, it's downright wicked.'
'And then you threw it in my face, that you don't want to know me. "I'm
a gentleman," say you.'
Ivan Afanasiitch began wringing his hands speechlessly. Vassilissa got
back as far as the middle of the room.
'Well, God be with you, Ivan Afanasiitch. I'll keep myself to myself,
and you keep yourself to yourself.'
'Nonsense, Vassilissa, nonsense,' Pyetushkov cut her short. 'You think
again; look at me. You see I'm not myself. You see I don't know what I'm
saying.... You might have some feeling for me.'
'You keep on abusing me, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Ah, Vassilissa! Let bygones be bygones. Isn't that right? Come, you're
not angry with me, are you?'
'You keep abusing me,' Vassilissa repeated.
'I won't, my love, I won't. Forgive an old man like me. I'll never do it
in future. Come, you've forgiven me, eh?'
'God be with you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Come, laugh then, laugh.'
Vassilissa turned away.
'You laughed, you laughed, my love!' cried Pyetushkov, and he capered
about like a child.
The next day Pyetushkov went to the baker's shop as usual. Everything
went on as before. But there was a settled ache at his heart. He did not
laugh now as often, and sometimes he fell to musing. Sunday came.
Praskovia Ivanovna had an attack of lumbago; she did not get down from
the shelf bed, except with much difficulty to go to mass. After mass
Pyetushkov called Vassilissa into the back room. She had been
complaining all the morning of feeling dull. To judge by the expression
of Ivan Afanasiitch's countenance, he was revolving in his brain some
extraordinary idea, unforeseen even by him.
'You sit down here, Vassilissa,' he said to her, 'and I'll sit here. I
want to have a little talk with you.'
Vassilissa sat down.
'Tell me, Vassilissa, can you write?'
'No, I can't.'
'What about reading?'
'I can't read either.'
'Then who read you my letter?'
'But would you like to learn to read and write?'
'Why, what use would reading and writing be to us, Ivan Afanasiitch?'
'What use? You could read books.'
'But what good is there in books?'
'All sorts of good ... I tell you what, if you like, I'll bring
you a book.'
'But I can't read, you see, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'I'll read to you.'
'But, I say, won't it be dull?'
'Nonsense! dull! On the contrary, it's the best thing to get rid
'Maybe you'll read stories, then.'
'You shall see to-morrow.'
In the evening Pyetushkov returned home, and began rummaging in his
boxes. He found several odd numbers of the Library of Good Reading, five
grey Moscow novels, Nazarov's arithmetic, a child's geography with a
globe on the title-page, the second part of Keydanov's history, two
dream-books, an almanack for the year 1819, two numbers of Galatea,
Kozlov's _Natalia Dolgorukaia_, and the first part of _Roslavlev_. He
pondered a long while which to choose, and finally made up his mind to
take Kozlov's poem, and _Roslavlev_.
Next day Pyetushkov dressed in haste, put both the books under the lapel
of his coat, went to the baker's shop, and began reading aloud
Zagoskin's novel. Vassilissa sat without moving; at first she smiled,
then seemed to become absorbed in thought ... then she bent a little
forward; her eyes closed, her mouth slightly opened, her hands fell on
her knees; she was dozing. Pyetushkov read quickly, inarticulately, in a
thick voice; he raised his eyes ...
'Vassilissa, are you asleep?'
She started, rubbed her face, and stretched. Pyetushkov felt angry with
her and with himself....
'It's dull,' said Vassilissa lazily.
'I tell you what, would you like me to read you poetry?'
'Poetry ... good poetry.'
'No, that's enough, really.'
Pyetushkov hurriedly picked up Kozlov's poem, jumped up, crossed the
room, ran impulsively up to Vassilissa, and began reading. Vassilissa
let her head drop backwards, spread out her hands, stared into Ivan
Afanasiitch's face, and suddenly went off into a loud harsh guffaw ...
she fairly rolled about with laughing.
Ivan Afanasiitch flung the book on the floor in his annoyance.
Vassilissa went on laughing.
'Why, what are you laughing at, silly?'
Vassilissa roared more than ever.
'Laugh away, laugh away,' Pyetushkov muttered between his teeth.
Vassilissa held her sides, gasping.
'But what is it, idiot?' But Vassilissa could only wave her hands.
Ivan Afanasiitch snatched up his cap, and ran out of the house. With
rapid, unsteady steps, he walked about the town, walked on and on, and
found himself at the city gates. Suddenly there was the rattle of
wheels, the tramp of horses along the street.... Some one called him by
name. He raised his head and saw a big, old-fashioned wagonette. In the
wagonette facing him sat Mr. Bublitsyn between two young ladies, the
daughters of Mr. Tiutiurov. Both the girls were dressed exactly alike,
as though in outward sign of their immutable affection; both smiled
pensively, and carried their heads on one side with a languid grace. On
the other side of the carriage appeared the wide straw hat of their
excellent papa; and from time to time his round, plump neck presented
itself to the gaze of spectators. Beside his straw hat rose the mob-cap
of his spouse. The very attitude of both the parents was a sufficient
proof of their sincere goodwill towards the young man and their
confidence in him. And Bublitsyn obviously was aware of their flattering
confidence and appreciated it. He was, of course, sitting in an
unconstrained position, and talking and laughing without constraint; but
in the very freedom of his manner there could be discerned a shade of
tender, touching respectfulness. And the Tiutiurov girls? It is hard to
convey in words all that an attentive observer could trace in the faces
of the two sisters. Goodwill and gentleness, and discreet gaiety, a
melancholy comprehension of life, and a faith, not to be shaken, in
themselves, in the lofty and noble destiny of man on earth, courteous
attention to their young companion, in intellectual endowments perhaps
not fully their equal, but still by the qualities of his heart quite
deserving of their indulgence ... such were the characteristics and the
feelings reflected at that moment on the faces of the young ladies.
Bublitsyn called to Ivan Afanasiitch for no special reason, simply in
the fulness of his inner satisfaction; he bowed to him with excessive
friendliness and cordiality. The young ladies even looked at him with
gentle amiability, as at a man whose acquaintance they would not object
to.... The good, sleek, quiet horses went by Ivan Afanasiitch at a
gentle trot; the carriage rolled smoothly along the broad road, carrying
with it good-humoured, girlish laughter; he caught a final glimpse of
Mr. Tiutiurov's hat; the two outer horses turned their heads on each
side, jauntily stepping over the short, green grass ... the coachman gave
a whistle of approbation and warning, the carriage disappeared behind
A long while poor Pyetushkov remained standing still.
'I'm a poor lonely creature,' he whispered at last ... 'alone in
A little boy in tatters stopped before him, looked timidly at him, held
out his hand ...
'For Christ's sake, good gentleman.'
Pyetushkov pulled out a copper.
'For your loneliness, poor orphan,' he said with effort, and he walked
back to the baker's shop. On the threshold of Vassilissa's room Ivan
'Yes,' he thought, 'these are my friends. Here is my family, this is
it.... And here Bublitsyn and there Bublitsyn.'
Vassilissa was sitting with her back to him, winding worsted, and
carelessly singing to herself; she was wearing a striped cotton gown;
her hair was done up anyhow.... The room, insufferably hot, smelt of
feather beds and old rags; jaunty, reddish-brown 'Prussians' scurried
rapidly here and there across the walls; on the decrepit chest of
drawers, with holes in it where the locks should have been, beside a
broken jar, lay a woman's shabby slipper.... Kozlov's poem was still
where it had fallen on the floor.... Pyetushkov shook his head, folded
his arms, and went away. He was hurt.
At home he called for his things to dress. Onisim slouched off after his
better coat. Pyetushkov had a great desire to draw Onisim into
conversation, but Onisim preserved a sullen silence. At last Ivan
Afanasiitch could hold out no longer.
'Why don't you ask me where I'm going?'
'Why, what do I want to know where you're going for?'
'What for? Why, suppose some one comes on urgent business, and asks,
"Where's Ivan Afanasiitch?" And then you can tell him, "Ivan Afanasiitch
has gone here or there."'
'Urgent business.... But who ever does come to you on urgent business?'
'Why, are you beginning to be rude again? Again, hey?'
Onisim turned away, and fell to brushing the coat.
'Really, Onisim, you are a most disagreeable person.'
Onisim looked up from under his brows at his master.
'And you 're always like this. Yes, positively always.'
'But what's the good of my asking you where you're going, Ivan
Afanasiitch? As though I didn't know! To the girl at the baker's shop!'
'There, that's just where you're wrong! that's just where you're
mistaken! Not to her at all. I don't intend going to see the girl at the
baker's shop any more.'
Onisim dropped his eyelids and brandished the brush. Pyetushkov waited
for his approbation; but his servant remained speechless.
'It's not the proper thing,' Pyetushkov went on in a severe voice--'it's
unseemly.... Come, tell me what you think?'
'What am I to think? It's for you to say. What business have I to
Pyetushkov put on his coat. 'He doesn't believe me, the beast,' he
thought to himself.
He went out of the house, but he did not go to see any one. He walked
about the streets. He directed his attention to the sunset. At last a
little after eight o'clock he returned home. He wore a smile; he
repeatedly shrugged his shoulders, as though marvelling at his own
folly. 'Yes,' thought he, 'this is what comes of a strong will....'
Next day Pyetushkov got up rather late. He had not passed a very good
night, did not go out all day, and was fearfully bored. Pyetushkov read
through all his poor books, and praised aloud one story in the Library
of Good Reading. As he went to bed, he told Onisim to give him his pipe.
Onisim handed him a wretched pipe. Pyetushkov began smoking; the pipe
wheezed like a broken-winded horse.
'How disgusting!' cried Ivan Afanasiitch; 'where's my cherry wood pipe?'
'At the baker's shop,' Onisim responded tranquilly.
Pyetushkov blinked spasmodically.
'Well, you wish me to go for it?'
'No, you needn't; don't go ... no need, don't go, do you hear?'
The night passed somehow. In the morning Onisim, as usual, gave
Pyetushkov on the blue sprigged plate a new white roll. Ivan Afanasiitch
looked out of window and asked Onisim:
'You've been to the baker's shop?'
'Who's to go, if I don't?'
Pyetushkov became plunged in meditation.
'Tell me, please, did you see any one there?'
'Of course I did.'
'Whom did you see there, now, for instance?'
'Why, of course, Vassilissa.'
Ivan Afanasiitch was silent. Onisim cleared the table, and was just
going out of the room....
'Onisim,' Pyetushkov cried faintly.
'What is it?'
'Er ... did she ask after me?'
'Of course she didn't.'
Pyetushkov set his teeth. 'Yes,' he thought, 'that's all it's worth, her
love, indeed....' His head dropped. 'Absurd I was, to be sure,' he
thought again. 'A fine idea to read her poetry. A girl like that! Why,
she's a fool! Why, she's good for nothing but to lie on the stove and
eat pancakes. Why, she's a post, a perfect post; an uneducated
'She's never come,' he whispered, two hours later, still sitting in the
same place, 'she's never come. To think of it; why, she could see that I
left her out of temper; why, she might know that I was hurt. There's
love for you! And she did not even ask if I were well. Never even said,
"Is Ivan Afanasiitch quite well?" She hasn't seen me for two whole
days--and not a sign.... She's even again, maybe, thought fit to meet
that Bub--Lucky fellow. Ouf, devil take it, what a fool I am!'
Pyetushkov got up, paced up and down the room in silence, stood still,
knitted his brows slightly and scratched his neck. 'However,' he said
aloud, 'I'll go to see her. I must see what she's about there. I must
make her feel ashamed. Most certainly ... I'll go. Onisim! my clothes.'
'Well,' he mused as he dressed, 'we shall see what comes of it. She may,
I dare say, be angry with me. And after all, a man keeps coming and
coming, and all of a sudden, for no rhyme or reason, goes and gives up
coming. Well, we shall see.'
Ivan Afanasiitch went out of the house, and made his way to the baker's
shop. He stopped at the little gate, he wanted to straighten himself out
and set himself to rights.... Pyetushkov clutched at the folds of his
coat with both hands, and almost pulled them out altogether....
Convulsively he twisted his tightly compressed neck, fastened the top
hook of his collar, drew a deep breath....
'Why are you standing there?' Praskovia Ivanovna bawled to him from the
little window. 'Come in.'
Pyetushkov started, and went in. Praskovia Ivanovna met him in
'Why didn't you come to see us yesterday, my good sir? Was it, maybe,
some ailment prevented you?'
'Yes, I had something of a headache yesterday....'
'Ah, you should have put cucumber on your temples, my good sir. It would
have taken it away in a twinkling. Is your head aching now?'
'No, it's not.'
'Ah well, and thank Thee, O Lord, for it.'
Ivan Afanasiitch went off into the back room. Vassilissa saw him.
'Ah! good day, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'Good day, Vassilissa Ivanovna.'
'Where have you put the tap, Ivan Afanasiitch?'
'Tap? what tap?'
'The wine-tap ... our tap. You must have taken it home with you. You are
such a one ... Lord, forgive us....'
Pyetushkov put on a dignified and chilly air.
'I will direct my man to look. Seeing that I was not here yesterday,' he
'Ah, why, to be sure, you weren't here yesterday.' Vassilissa squatted
down on her heels, and began rummaging in the chest....
'Aunt, hi! aunt!'
'Have you taken my neckerchief?'
'Why, the yellow one.'
'The yellow one?'
'Yes, the yellow, figured one.'
'No, I've not taken it.'
Pyetushkov bent down to Vassilissa.
'Listen to me, Vassilissa; listen to what I am saying to you. It is not
a matter of taps or of neckerchiefs just now; you can attend to such
trifles another time.'
Vassilissa did not budge from her position; she only lifted her head.
'You just tell me, on your conscience, do you love me or not? That's
what I want to know, once for all.'
'Ah, what a one you are, Ivan Afanasiitch.... Well, then, of course.'
'If you love me, how was it you didn't come to see me yesterday? Had you
no time? Well, you might have sent to find out if I were ill, as I
didn't turn up. But it's little you cared. I might die, I dare say, you
'Ah, Ivan Afanasiitch, one can't be always thinking of one thing, one's
got one's work to do.'
'To be sure,' responded Pyetushkov; 'but all the same ... And it's
improper to laugh at your elders.... It's not right. Moreover, it's as
well in certain cases ... But where's my pipe?'
'Here's your pipe.'
Pyetushkov began smoking.
Several days slipped by again, apparently rather tranquilly. But a storm
was getting nearer. Pyetushkov suffered tortures, was jealous, never
took his eyes off Vassilissa, kept an alarmed watch over her, annoyed
her horribly. Behold, one evening, Vassilissa dressed herself with more
care than usual, and, seizing a favourable instant, sallied off to make
a visit somewhere. Night came on, she had not returned. Pyetushkov at
sunset went home to his lodgings, and at eight o'clock in the morning
ran to the baker's shop.... Vassilissa had not come in. With an
inexpressible sinking at his heart, he waited for her right up to
dinner-time.... They sat down to the table without her....
'Whatever can have become of her?' Praskovia Ivanovna observed
'You spoil her, you simply spoil her utterly!' Pyetushkov repeated,
'Eh! my good sir, there's no looking after a girl!' responded Praskovia
Ivanovna. 'Let her go her way! So long as she does her work.... Why
shouldn't folks enjoy themselves? ...'
A cold shudder ran over Pyetushkov. At last, towards evening, Vassilissa
made her appearance. This was all he was waiting for. Majestically
Pyetushkov rose from his seat, folded his arms, scowled menacingly....
But Vassilissa looked him boldly in the face, laughed impudently, and
before he could utter a single word she went quickly into her own room,
and locked herself in. Ivan Afanasiitch opened his mouth, looked in
amazement at Praskovia Ivanovna.... Praskovia Ivanovna cast down her
eyes. Ivan Afanasiitch stood still a moment, groped after his cap, put
it on askew, and went out without closing his mouth.
He reached home, took up a leather cushion, and with it flung himself on
the sofa, with his face to the wall. Onisim looked in out of the
passage, went into the room, leaned his back against the door, took a
pinch of snuff, and crossed his legs.
'Are you unwell, Ivan Afanasiitch?' he asked Pyetushkov.
Pyetushkov made no answer.
'Shall I go for the doctor?' Onisim continued, after a brief pause.
'I'm quite well.... Go away,' Ivan Afanasiitch articulated huskily.
'Well? ... no, you're not well, Ivan Afanasiitch.... Is this what you
call being well?'
Pyetushkov did not speak.
'Just look at yourself. You've grown so thin, that you're simply not
like yourself. And what's it all about? It's enough to turn one's brain
to think of it. And you a gentleman born, too!'
Onisim paused. Pyetushkov did not stir.
'Is that the way gentlemen go on? They'd amuse themselves a bit, to be
sure ... why shouldn't they ... they'd amuse themselves, and then drop
it.... They may well say, Fall in love with Old Nick, and you'll think
him a beauty.'
Ivan Afanasiitch merely writhed.
'Well, it's really like this, Ivan Afanasiitch. If any one had said this
and that of you, and your goings on, why, I would have said, "Get along
with you, you fool, what do you take me for?" Do you suppose I'd have
believed it? Why, as it is, I see it with my own eyes, and I can't
believe it. Worse than this nothing can be. Has she put some spell over
you or what? Why, what is there in her? If you come to consider, she's
below contempt, really. She can't even speak as she ought.... She's
simply a baggage! Worse, even!'
'Go away,' Ivan Afanasiitch moaned into the cushion.
'No, I'm not going away, Ivan Afanasiitch. Who's to speak, if I don't?
Why, upon my word! Here, you 're breaking your heart now ... and over
what? Eh, over what? tell me that!'
'Oh, go away, Onisim,' Pyetushkov moaned again. Onisim, for propriety's
sake, was silent for a little while.
'And another thing,' he began again, 'she's no feeling of gratitude
whatever. Any other girl wouldn't know how to do enough to please you;
while she! ... she doesn't even think of you. Why, it's simply a
disgrace. Why, the things people are saying about you, one cannot repeat
them, they positively cry shame on me. If I could have known beforehand,
'Oh, go away, do, devil!' shrieked Pyetushkov, not stirring from his
place, however, nor raising his head.
'Ivan Afanasiitch, for mercy's sake,' pursued the ruthless Onisim. 'I'm
speaking for your good. Despise her, Ivan Afanasiitch; you simply break
it off. Listen to me, or else I'll fetch a wise woman; she'll break the
spell in no time. You'll laugh at it yourself, later on; you'll say to
me, "Onisim, why, it's marvellous how such things happen sometimes!" You
just consider yourself: girls like her, they're like dogs ... you've
only to whistle to them....'
Like one frantic, Pyetushkov jumped up from the sofa ... but, to the
amazement of Onisim, who was already lifting both hands to the level of
his cheeks, he sat down again, as though some one had cut away his legs
from under him.... Tears were rolling down his pale face, a tuft of hair
stood up straight on the top of his head, his eyes looked dimmed ... his
drawn lips were quivering ... his head sank on his breast.
Onisim looked at Pyetushkov and plumped heavily down on his knees.
'Dear master, Ivan Afanasiitch,' he cried, 'your honour! Be pleased to
punish me. I'm a fool. I've troubled you, Ivan Afanasiitch.... How did I
dare! Be pleased to punish me, your honour.... It's not worth your while
to weep over my silly words ... dear master. Ivan Afanasiitch....'
But Pyetushkov did not even look at his servant; he turned away and
buried himself in the corner of the sofa again.
Onisim got up, went up to his master, stood over him, and twice he
tugged at his own hair.
'Wouldn't you like to undress, sir ... you should go to bed ... you
should take some raspberry tea ... don't grieve, please your honour....
It's only half a trouble, it's all nothing ... it'll be all right in the
end,' he said to him every two minutes....
But Pyetushkov did not get up from the sofa, and only twitched his
shoulders now and then, and drew up his knees to his stomach....
Onisim did not leave his side all night. Towards morning Pyetushkov fell
asleep, but he did not sleep long. At seven o'clock he got up from the
sofa, pale, dishevelled, and exhausted, and asked for tea.
Onisim with amazing eagerness and speed brought the samovar.
'Ivan Afanasiitch,' he began at last, in a timid voice, 'your honour is
not angry with me?'
'Why should I be angry with you, Onisim?' answered poor Pyetushkov. 'You
were perfectly right yesterday, and I quite agreed with you in
'I only spoke through my devotion to you, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
'I know that.'
Pyetushkov was silent and hung his head.
Onisim saw that things were in a bad way.
'Ivan Afanasiitch,' he said suddenly.
'Would you like me to fetch Vassilissa here?'
Pyetushkov flushed red.
'No, Onisim, I don't wish it. ('Yes, indeed! as if she would come!' he
thought to himself.) One must be firm. It is all nonsense. Yesterday,
I ... It's a disgrace. You are right. One must cut it all short, once for
all, as they say. Isn't that true?'
'It's the gospel truth your honour speaks, Ivan Afanasiitch.'
Pyetushkov sank again into reverie. He wondered at himself, he did not
seem to know himself. He sat without stirring and stared at the floor.
Thoughts whirled round within him, like smoke or fog, while his heart
felt empty and heavy at once.
'But what's the meaning of it, after all,' he thought sometimes, and
again he grew calmer. 'It's nonsense, silliness!' he said aloud, and
passed his hand over his face, shook himself, and his hand dropped again
on his knee, his eyes again rested on the floor.
Intently and mournfully Onisim kept watch on his master.
Pyetushkov lifted his head.
'Tell me, Onisim,' he began, 'is it true, are there really such
'There are, to be sure there are,' answered Onisim, as he thrust one
foot forward. 'Does your honour know the non-commissioned officer,
Krupovaty? ... His brother was ruined by witchcraft. He was bewitched
to love an old woman, a cook, if your honour only can explain that! They
gave him nothing but a morsel of rye bread, with a muttered spell, of
course. And Krupovaty's brother simply lost his heart to the cook, he
fairly ran after the cook, he positively adored her--couldn't keep his
eyes off her. She might tell him to do anything, he'd obey her on the
spot. She'd even make a joke of him before other people, before
strangers. Well, she drove him into a decline, at last. And so it was
Krupovaty's brother died. And you know, she was a cook, and an old woman
too, very old. (Onisim took a pinch of snuff.) Confound the lot of them,
these girls and women-folk!'