Part 2 out of 4
Here he suddenly stopped in his story and looked at me.
'You're not married, I suppose?'
'There, of course, I could see it. I couldn't stand it. "But, upon my
word, ma'am, what on earth are you talking about? How does marriage come
in? I simply want to know from you whether you will part with your
serf-girl Matrona or not?" The old lady began sighing and groaning. "Ah,
he's worrying me! ah, send him away! ah!" The relation flew to her, and
began scolding me, while the lady kept on moaning: "What have I done to
deserve it?... I suppose I'm not mistress in my own house? Ah! ah!" I
snatched my hat, and ran out of the house like a madman.
'Perhaps,' he continued, 'you will blame me for being so warmly attached
to a girl of low position; I don't mean to justify myself exactly,
either... but so it came to pass!... Would you believe it, I had no
rest by day or by night.... I was in torment! Besides, I thought, "I
have ruined the poor girl!" At times I thought that she was herding
geese in a smock, and being ill-treated by her mistress's orders, and
the bailiff, a peasant in tarred boots, reviling her with foul abuse. I
positively fell into a cold sweat. Well, I could not stand it. I found
out what village she had been sent to, mounted my horse, and set off. I
only got there the evening of the next day. Evidently they hadn't
expected such a proceeding on my part, and had given no order in regard
to me. I went straight to the bailiff as though I were a neighbour; I go
into the yard and look around; there was Matrona sitting on the steps
leaning on her elbow. She was on the point of crying out, but I held up
my finger and pointed outside, towards the open country. I went into the
hut; I chatted away a bit to the bailiff, told him ten thousand lies,
seized the right moment, and went out to Matrona. She, poor girl, fairly
hung round my neck. She was pale and thin, my poor darling! I kept
saying to her, do you know: "There, it's all right, Matrona; it's all
right, don't cry," and my own tears simply flowed and flowed.... Well,
at last though, I was ashamed, I said to her: "Matrona, tears are no
help in trouble, but we must act, as they say, resolutely; you must run
away with me; that's how we must act." Matrona fairly swooned away....
"How can it be! I shall be ruined; they will be the death of me
altogether." "You silly! who will find you?" "They will find me; they
will be sure to find me. Thank you, Piotr Petrovitch--I shall never
forget your kindness; but now you must leave me; such is my fate, it
seems." "Ah, Matrona, Matrona, I thought you were a girl of character!"
And, indeed, she had a great deal of character.... She had a heart, a
heart of gold! "Why should you be left here? It makes no difference;
things can't be worse. Come, tell me--you've felt the bailiff's fists,
eh?" Matrona fairly crimsoned, and her lips trembled. "But there'll be
no living for my family on my account." "Why, your family now--will they
send them for soldiers?" "Yes; they'll send my brother for a soldier."
"And your father?" "Oh, they won't send father; he's the only good
tailor among us."
'"There, you see; and it won't kill your brother." Would you believe it,
I'd hard work to persuade her; she even brought forward a notion that I
might have to answer for it. "But that's not your affair," said I....
However, I did carry her off... not that time, but another; one night I
came with a light cart, and carried her off.'
'You carried her off?'
'Yes... Well, so she lived in my house. It was a little house, and I'd
few servants. My people, I will tell you frankly, respected me; they
wouldn't have betrayed me for any reward. I began to be as happy as a
prince. Matrona rested and recovered, and I grew devoted to her....
And what a girl she was! It seemed to come by nature! She could sing,
and dance, and play the guitar!... I didn't show her to my neighbours;
I was afraid they'd gossip! But there was one fellow, my bosom friend,
Gornostaev, Panteley--you don't know him? He was simply crazy about her;
he'd kiss her hand as though she were a lady; he would, really. And I
must tell you, Gornostaev was not like me; he was a cultivated man,
had read all Pushkin; sometimes, he'd talk to Matrona and me so that
we pricked up our ears to listen. He taught her to write; such a queer
chap he was! And how I dressed her--better than the governor's wife,
really; I had a pelisse made her of crimson velvet, edged with fur...
Ah! how that pelisse suited her! It was made by a Moscow madame in a
new fashion, with a waist. And what a wonderful creature Matrona was!
Sometimes she'd fall to musing, and sit for hours together looking at
the ground, without stirring a muscle; and I'd sit too, and look at her,
and could never gaze enough, just as if I were seeing her for the first
time.... Then she would smile, and my heart would give a jump as though
someone were tickling me. Or else she'd suddenly fall to laughing,
joking, dancing; she would embrace me so warmly, so passionately, that
my head went round. From morning to evening I thought of nothing but
how I could please her. And would you believe it? I gave her presents
simply to see how pleased she would be, the darling! all blushing with
delight! How she would try on my present; how she would come back with
her new possession on, and kiss me! Her father, Kulik, got wind of it,
somehow; the old man came to see us, and how he wept.... In that way
we lived for five months, and I should have been glad to live with her
for ever, but for my cursed ill-luck!'
Piotr Petrovitch stopped.
'What was it happened?' I asked him sympathetically. He waved his hand.
'Everything went to the devil. I was the ruin of her too. My little
Matrona was passionately fond of driving in sledges, and she used to
drive herself; she used to put on her pelisse and her embroidered
Torzhok gloves, and cry out with delight all the way. We used to go out
sledging always in the evening, so as not to meet any one, you know. So,
once it was such a splendid day, you know, frosty and clear, and no wind...
we drove out. Matrona had the reins. I looked where she was driving.
Could it be to Kukuyevka, her mistress's village? Yes, it was to
Kukuyevka. I said to her, "You mad girl, where are you going?" She gave
me a look over her shoulder and laughed. "Let me," she said, "for a
lark." "Well," thought I, "come what may!..." To drive past her
mistress's house was nice, wasn't it? Tell me yourself--wasn't it nice?
So we drove on. The shaft-horse seemed to float through the air, and the
trace-horses went, I can tell you, like a regular whirlwind. We were
already in sight of Kukuyevka; when suddenly I see an old green coach
crawling along with a groom on the footboard up behind.... It was the
mistress--the mistress driving towards us! My heart failed me; but
Matrona--how she lashed the horses with the reins, and flew straight
towards the coach! The coachman, he, you understand, sees us flying to
meet him, meant, you know, to move on one side, turned too sharp, and
upset the coach in a snowdrift. The window was broken; the mistress
shrieked, "Ai! ai! ai! ai! ai! ai!" The companion wailed, "Help! help!"
while we flew by at the best speed we might. We galloped on, but I
thought, "Evil will come of it. I did wrong to let her drive to
Kukuyevka." And what do you think? Why, the mistress had recognised
Matrona, and me too, the old wretch, and made a complaint against me.
"My runaway serf-girl," said she, "is living at Mr. Karataev's"; and
thereupon she made a suitable present. Lo and behold! the captain of
police comes to me; and he was a man I knew, Stepan Sergyeitch Kuzovkin,
a good fellow; that's to say, really a regular bad lot. So he came up
and said this and that, and "How could you do so, Piotr Petrovitch?...
The liability is serious, and the laws very distinct on the subject." I
tell him, "Well, we'll have a talk about that, of course; but come,
you'll take a little something after your drive." He agreed to take
something, but he said, "Justice has claims, Piotr Petrovitch; think for
yourself." "Justice, to be sure," said I, "of course... but, I have
heard say you've a little black horse. Would you be willing to exchange
it for my Lampurdos?... But there's no girl called Matrona Fedorovna in
my keeping." "Come," says he, "Piotr Petrovitch, the girl's with you,
we're not living in Switzerland, you know... though my little horse
might be exchanged for Lampurdos; I might, to be sure, accept it in that
way." However, I managed to get rid of him somehow that time. But the
old lady made a greater fuss than ever; ten thousand roubles, she said,
she wouldn't grudge over the business. You see, when she saw me, she
suddenly took an idea into her head to marry me to her young lady
companion in green; that I found out later; that was why she was so
spiteful. What ideas won't these great ladies take into their heads!...
It comes through being dull, I suppose. Things went badly with me: I
didn't spare money, and I kept Matrona in hiding. No, they harassed me,
and turned me this way and that: I got into debt; I lost my health....
So one night, as I lay in my bed, thinking, "My God, why should I suffer
so? What am I to do, since I can't get over loving her?... There, I
can't, and that's all about it!" into the room walked Matrona. I had
hidden her for the time at a farmhouse a mile and a half from my house.
I was frightened. "What? have they discovered you even there?" "No,
Piotr Petrovitch," said she, "no one disturbs me at Bubnova; but will
that last long? My heart," she said, "is torn, Piotr Petrovitch; I am
sorry for you, my dear one; never shall I forget your goodness, Piotr
Petrovitch, but now I've come to say good-bye to you." "What do you
mean, what do you mean, you mad girl?... Good-bye, how good-bye?"...
"Yes... I am going to give myself up." "But I'll lock you up in a
garret, mad girl!... Do you mean to destroy me? Do you want to kill me,
or what?" The girl was silent; she looked on the floor. "Come, speak,
speak!" "I can't bear to cause you any more trouble, Piotr Petrovitch."
Well, one might talk to her as one pleased... "But do you know, little
fool, do you know, mad..."
And Piotr Petrovitch sobbed bitterly.
'Well, what do you think?' he went on, striking the table with his fist
and trying to frown, while the tears still coursed down his flushed
cheeks; 'the girl gave herself up.... She went and gave herself up...'
'The horses are ready,' the overseer cried triumphantly, entering the
We both stood up.
'What became of Matrona?' I asked.
Karataev waved his hand.
* * * * *
A year after my meeting with Karataev, I happened to go to Moscow. One
day, before dinner, for some reason or other I went into a _cafe_
in the Ohotny row--an original Moscow _cafe_. In the billiard-room,
across clouds of smoke, I caught glimpses of flushed faces, whiskers,
old-fashioned Hungarian coats, and new-fangled Slavonic costumes.
Thin little old men in sober surtouts were reading the Russian papers.
The waiters flitted airily about with trays, treading softly on the
green carpets. Merchants, with painful concentration, were drinking tea.
Suddenly a man came out of the billiard-room, rather dishevelled, and
not quite steady on his legs. He put his hands in his pockets, bent his
head, and looked aimlessly about.
'Ba, ba, ba! Piotr Petrovitch!... How are you?'
Piotr Petrovitch almost fell on my neck, and, slightly staggering, drew
me into a small private room.
'Come here,' he said, carefully seating me in an easy-chair; 'here you
will be comfortable. Waiter, beer! No, I mean champagne! There, I'll
confess, I didn't expect; I didn't expect... Have you been here long?
Are you staying much longer? Well, God has brought us, as they say,
'Yes, do you remember...'
'To be sure, I remember; to be sure, I remember!' he interrupted me
hurriedly; 'it's a thing of the past...'
'Well, what are you doing here, my dear Piotr Petrovitch?'
'I'm living, as you can see. Life's first-rate here; they're a merry lot
here. Here I've found peace.'
And he sighed, and raised his eyes towards heaven.
'Are you in the service?'
'No, I'm not in the service yet, but I think I shall enter. But what's
the service?... People are the chief thing. What people I have got to
A boy came in with a bottle of champagne on a black tray.
'There, and this is a good fellow.... Isn't that true, Vasya, that
you're a good fellow? To your health!'
The boy stood a minute, shook his head, decorously smiled, and went out.
'Yes, there are capital people here,' pursued Piotr Petrovitch; 'people
of soul, of feeling.... Would you like me to introduce you?--such jolly
chaps.... They'll all be glad to know you. I say... Bobrov is dead;
that's a sad thing.'
'Sergay Bobrov; he was a capital fellow; he took me under his wing as an
ignoramus from the wilds. And Panteley Gornostaev is dead. All dead,
'Have you been living all the time in Moscow? You haven't been away to
'To the country!... My country place is sold.'
'By auction.... There! what a pity you didn't buy it.'
'What are you going to live on, Piotr Petrovitch?'
'I shan't die of hunger; God will provide when I've no money. I shall
have friends. And what is money.... Dust and ashes! Gold is dust!'
He shut his eyes, felt in his pocket, and held out to me in the palm of
his hand two sixpences and a penny.
'What's that? Isn't it dust and ashes' (and the money flew on the
floor). 'But you had better tell me, have you read Polezhaev?'
'Have you seen Motchalov in Hamlet?'
'No, I haven't.'
'You've not seen him, not seen him!...' (And Karataev's face turned
pale; his eyes strayed uneasily; he turned away; a faint spasm passed
over his lips.) 'Ah, Motchalov, Motchalov! "To die--to sleep!"' he said
in a thick voice:
'No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to; 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die--to sleep!'
'To sleep--to sleep,' he muttered several times.
'Tell me, please,' I began; but he went on with fire:
'Who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Nymph in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.'
And he dropped his head on the table. He began stammering and talking at
random. 'Within a month'! he delivered with fresh fire:
'A little month, or ere those shoes were old,
With which she followed my poor father's body,
Like Niobe--all tears; why she, even she--
O God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourned longer!'
He raised a glass of champagne to his lips, but did not drink off the
wine, and went on:
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?...
But I'm a dull and muddy mettled-rascal,
Who calls me coward? gives me the lie i' the throat?
... Why I should take it; for it cannot be,
But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall
To make oppression bitter.'
Karataev put down the glass and grabbed at his head. I fancied I
'Well, well,' he said at last, 'one must not rake up the past. Isn't
that so?' (and he laughed). 'To your health!'
'Shall you stay in Moscow?' I asked him.
'I shall die in Moscow!'
'Karataev!' called a voice in the next room; 'Karataev, where are you?
Come here, my dear fellow!'
'They're calling me,' he said, getting up heavily from his seat.
'Good-bye; come and see me if you can; I live in....'
But next day, through unforeseen circumstances, I was obliged to leave
Moscow, and I never saw Piotr Petrovitch Karataev again.
I was sitting in a birchwood in autumn, about the middle of September.
From early morning a fine rain had been falling, with intervals from
time to time of warm sunshine; the weather was unsettled. The sky was at
one time overcast with soft white clouds, at another it suddenly cleared
in parts for an instant, and then behind the parting clouds could be
seen a blue, bright and tender as a beautiful eye. I sat looking about
and listening. The leaves faintly rustled over my head; from the sound
of them alone one could tell what time of year it was. It was not the
gay laughing tremor of the spring, nor the subdued whispering, the
prolonged gossip of the summer, nor the chill and timid faltering of
late autumn, but a scarcely audible, drowsy chatter. A slight breeze was
faintly humming in the tree-tops. Wet with the rain, the copse in its
inmost recesses was for ever changing as the sun shone or hid behind a
cloud; at one moment it was all a radiance, as though suddenly
everything were smiling in it; the slender stems of the thinly-growing
birch-trees took all at once the soft lustre of white silk, the tiny
leaves lying on the earth were on a sudden flecked and flaring with
purplish gold, and the graceful stalks of the high, curly bracken,
decked already in their autumn colour, the hue of an over-ripe grape,
seemed interlacing in endless tangling crisscross before one's eyes;
then suddenly again everything around was faintly bluish; the glaring
tints died away instantaneously, the birch-trees stood all white and
lustreless, white as fresh-fallen snow, before the cold rays of the
winter sun have caressed it; and slily, stealthily there began drizzling
and whispering through the wood the finest rain. The leaves on the
birches were still almost all green, though perceptibly paler; only here
and there stood one young leaf, all red or golden, and it was a sight to
see how it flamed in the sunshine when the sunbeams suddenly pierced
with tangled flecks of light through the thick network of delicate
twigs, freshly washed by the sparkling rain. Not one bird could be
heard; all were in hiding and silent, except that at times there rang
out the metallic, bell-like sound of the jeering tomtit. Before halting
in this birch copse I had been through a wood of tall aspen-trees with
my dog. I confess I have no great liking for that tree, the aspen, with
its pale-lilac trunk and the greyish-green metallic leaves which it
flings high as it can, and unfolds in a quivering fan in the air; I do
not care for the eternal shaking of its round, slovenly leaves,
awkwardly hooked on to long stalks. It is only fine on some summer
evenings when, rising singly above low undergrowth, it faces the
reddening beams of the setting sun, and shines and quivers, bathed from
root to top in one unbroken yellow glow, or when, on a clear windy day,
it is all rippling, rustling, and whispering to the blue sky, and every
leaf is, as it were, taken by a longing to break away, to fly off and
soar into the distance. But, as a rule, I don't care for the tree, and
so, not stopping to rest in the aspen wood, I made my way to the
birch-copse, nestled down under one tree whose branches started low down
near the ground, and were consequently capable of shielding me from the
rain, and after admiring the surrounding view a little, I fell into that
sweet untroubled sleep only known to sportsmen.
I cannot say how long I was asleep, but when I opened my eyes, all the
depths of the wood were filled with sunlight, and in all directions
across the joyously rustling leaves there were glimpses and, as it were,
flashes of intense blue sky; the clouds had vanished, driven away by the
blustering wind; the weather had changed to fair, and there was that
feeling of peculiar dry freshness in the air which fills the heart with
a sense of boldness, and is almost always a sure sign of a still bright
evening after a rainy day. I was just about to get up and try my luck
again when suddenly my eyes fell on a motionless human figure. I looked
attentively; it was a young peasant girl. She was sitting twenty paces
off, her head bent in thought, and her hands lying in her lap; one of
them, half-open, held a big nosegay of wild flowers, which softly
stirred on her checked petticoat with every breath. Her clean white
smock, buttoned up at the throat and wrists, lay in short soft folds
about her figure; two rows of big yellow beads fell from her neck to her
bosom. She was very pretty. Her thick fair hair of a lovely, almost
ashen hue, was parted into two carefully combed semicircles, under the
narrow crimson fillet, which was brought down almost on to her forehead,
white as ivory; the rest of her face was faintly tanned that golden hue
which is only taken by a delicate skin. I could not see her eyes--she
did not raise them; but I saw her delicate high eye-brows, her long
lashes; they were wet, and on one of her cheeks there shone in the sun
the traces of quickly drying tears, reaching right down to her rather
pale lips. Her little head was very charming altogether; even her rather
thick and snub nose did not spoil her. I was especially taken with the
expression of her face; it was so simple and gentle, so sad and so full
of childish wonder at its own sadness. She was obviously waiting for
some one; something made a faint crackling in the wood; she raised her
head at once, and looked round; in the transparent shade I caught a
rapid glimpse of her eyes, large, clear, and timorous, like a fawn's.
For a few instants she listened, not moving her wide open eyes from the
spot whence the faint sound had come; she sighed, turned her head
slowly, bent still lower, and began sorting her flowers. Her eyelids
turned red, her lips twitched faintly, and a fresh tear rolled from
under her thick eyelashes, and stood brightly shining on her cheek.
Rather a long while passed thus; the poor girl did not stir, except for
a despairing movement of her hands now and then--and she kept listening,
listening.... Again there was a crackling sound in the wood: she
started. The sound did not cease, grew more distinct, and came closer;
at last one could hear quick resolute footsteps. She drew herself up and
seemed frightened; her intent gaze was all aquiver, all aglow with
expectation. Through the thicket quickly appeared the figure of a man.
She gazed at it, suddenly flushed, gave a radiant, blissful smile, tried
to rise, and sank back again at once, turned white and confused, and
only raised her quivering, almost supplicating eyes to the man
approaching, when the latter stood still beside her.
I looked at him with curiosity from my ambush. I confess he did not make
an agreeable impression on me. He was, to judge by external signs, the
pampered valet of some rich young gentleman. His attire betrayed
pretensions to style and fashionable carelessness; he wore a shortish
coat of a bronze colour, doubtless from his master's wardrobe, buttoned
up to the top, a pink cravat with lilac ends, and a black velvet cap
with a gold ribbon, pulled forward right on to his eyebrows. The
round collar of his white shirt mercilessly propped up his ears and
cut his cheeks, and his starched cuffs hid his whole hand to the red
crooked fingers, adorned by gold and silver rings, with turquoise
forget-me-nots. His red, fresh, impudent-looking face belonged to the
order of faces which, as far as I have observed, are almost always
repulsive to men, and unfortunately are very often attractive to women.
He was obviously trying to give a scornful and bored expression to his
coarse features; he was incessantly screwing up his milky grey
eyes--small enough at all times; he scowled, dropped the corners of his
mouth, affected to yawn, and with careless, though not perfectly natural
nonchalance, pushed back his modishly curled red locks, or pinched the
yellow hairs sprouting on his thick upper lip--in fact, he gave himself
insufferable airs. He began his antics directly he caught sight of the
young peasant girl waiting for him; slowly, with a swaggering step, he
went up to her, stood a moment shrugging his shoulders, stuffed both
hands in his coat pockets, and barely vouchsafing the poor girl a
cursory and indifferent glance, he dropped on to the ground.
'Well,' he began, still gazing away, swinging his leg and yawning, 'have
you been here long?'
The girl could not at once answer.
'Yes, a long while, Viktor Alexandritch,' she said at last, in a voice
'Ah!' (He took off his cap, majestically passed his hand over his thick,
stiffly curled hair, which grew almost down to his eyebrows, and looking
round him with dignity, he carelessly covered his precious head again.)
'And I quite forgot all about it. Besides, it rained!' (He yawned
again.) 'Lots to do; there's no looking after everything; and he's
always scolding. We set off to-morrow....'
'To-morrow?' uttered the young girl. And she fastened her startled eyes
'Yes, to-morrow.... Come, come, come, please!' he added, in a tone of
vexation, seeing she was shaking all over and softly bending her head;
'please, Akulina, don't cry. You know, I can't stand that.' (And he
wrinkled up his snub nose.) 'Else I'll go away at once.... What
'There, I won't, I won't!' cried Akulina, hurriedly gulping down her
tears with an effort. 'You are starting to-morrow?' she added, after a
brief silence: 'when will God grant that we see each other again, Viktor
'We shall see each other, we shall see each other. If not next
year--then later. The master wants to enter the service in Petersburg, I
fancy,' he went on, pronouncing his words with careless condescension
through his nose; 'and perhaps we shall go abroad too.'
'You will forget me, Viktor Alexandritch,' said Akulina mournfully.
'No, why so? I won't forget you; only you be sensible, don't be a fool;
obey your father.... And I won't forget you--no-o.' (And he placidly
stretched and yawned again.)
'Don't forget me, Viktor Alexandritch,' she went on in a supplicating
voice. 'I think none could, love you as I do. I have given you
everything.... You tell me to obey my father, Viktor Alexandritch....
But how can I obey my father?...'
'Why not?' (He uttered these words, as it were, from his stomach, lying
on his back with his hands behind his head.)
'But how can I, Viktor Alexandritch?--you know yourself...'
She broke off. Viktor played with his steel watch-chain.
'You're not a fool, Akulina,' he said at last, 'so don't talk nonsense.
I desire your good--do you understand me? To be sure, you're not a
fool--not altogether a mere rustic, so to say; and your mother, too,
wasn't always a peasant. Still you've no education--so you ought to do
what you're told.'
'But it's fearful, Viktor Alexandritch.'
'O-oh! that's nonsense, my dear; a queer thing to be afraid of! What
have you got there?' he added, moving closer to her; 'flowers?'
'Yes,' Akulina responded dejectedly. 'That's some wild tansy I picked,'
she went on, brightening up a little; 'it's good for calves. And this is
bud-marigold--against the king's evil. Look, what an exquisite flower!
I've never seen such a lovely flower before. These are forget-me-nots,
and that's mother-darling.... And these I picked for you,' she added,
taking from under a yellow tansy a small bunch of blue corn-flowers,
tied up with a thin blade of grass.' Do you like them?'
Viktor languidly held out his hand, took the flowers, carelessly sniffed
at them, and began twirling them in his fingers, looking upwards.
Akulina watched him.... In her mournful eyes there was such tender
devotion, adoring submission and love. She was afraid of him, and did
not dare to cry, and was saying good-bye to him and admiring him for the
last time; while he lay, lolling like a sultan, and with magnanimous
patience and condescension put up with her adoration. I must own, I
glared indignantly at his red face, on which, under the affectation of
scornful indifference, one could discern vanity soothed and satisfied.
Akulina was so sweet at that instant; her whole soul was confidingly and
passionately laid bare before him, full of longing and caressing
tenderness, while he... he dropped the corn-flowers on the grass,
pulled out of the side pocket of his coat a round eye-glass set in a
brass rim, and began sticking it in his eye; but however much he tried
to hold it with his frowning eyebrow, his pursed-up cheek and nose, the
eye-glass kept tumbling out and falling into his hand.
'What is it?' Akulina asked at last in wonder.
'An eye-glass,' he answered with dignity.
'Why, to see better.'
Viktor scowled, but gave her the glass.
'Don't break it; look out.'
'No fear, I won't break it.' (She put it to her eye.) 'I see nothing,'
she said innocently.
'But you must shut your eye,' he retorted in the tones of a displeased
teacher. (She shut the eye before which she held the glass.)
'Not that one, not that one, you fool! the other!' cried Viktor, and he
took away his eye-glass, without allowing her to correct her mistake.
Akulina flushed a little, gave a faint laugh, and turned away.
'It's clear it's not for the likes of us,' she said.
'I should think not, indeed!'
The poor girl was silent and gave a deep sigh.
'Ah, Viktor Alexandritch, what it will be like for me to be without
you!' she said suddenly.
Victor rubbed the glass on the lappet of his coat and put it back in his
'Yes, yes,'he said at last, 'at first it will be hard for you,
certainly.' (He patted her condescendingly on the shoulder; she softly
took his hand from her shoulder and timidly kissed it.) 'There, there,
you're a good girl, certainly,' he went on, with a complacent smile;
'but what's to be done? You can see for yourself! me and the master
could never stay on here; it will soon be winter now, and winter in the
country--you know yourself--is simply disgusting. It's quite another
thing in Petersburg! There there are simply such wonders as a silly girl
like you could never fancy in your dreams! Such horses and streets, and
society, and civilisation--simply marvellous!...' (Akulina listened with
devouring attention, her lips slightly parted, like a child.) 'But
what's the use,' he added, turning over on the ground, 'of my telling
you all this? Of course, you can't understand it!'
'Why so, Viktor Alexandritch! I understand; I understood everything.'
'My eye, what a girl it is!'
Akulina looked down.
'You used not to talk to me like that once, Viktor Alexandritch,' she
said, not lifting her eyes.
'Once?... once!... My goodness!' he remarked, as though in indignation.
They both were silent.
'It's time I was going,' said Viktor, and he was already rising on to
'Wait a little longer,' Akulina besought him in a supplicating voice.
'What for?... Why, I've said good-bye to you.'
'Wait a little,' repeated Akulina.
Viktor lay down again and began whistling. Akulina never took her eyes
off him. I could see that she was gradually being overcome by emotion;
her lips twitched, her pale cheeks faintly glowed.
'Viktor Alexandritch,' she began at last in a broken voice, 'it's too
bad of you... it is too bad of you, Viktor Alexandritch, indeed it is!'
'What's too bad?' he asked frowning, and he slightly raised his head and
turned it towards her.
'It's too bad, Viktor Alexandritch. You might at least say one kind word
to me at parting; you might have said one little word to me, a poor
'But what am I to say to you?'
'I don't know; you know that best, Viktor Alexandritch. Here you are
going away, and one little word.... What have I done to deserve it?'
'You're such a queer creature! What can I do?'
'One word at least.'
'There, she keeps on at the same thing,' he commented with annoyance,
and he got up.
'Don't be angry, Viktor Alexandritch,' she added hurriedly, with
difficulty suppressing her tears.
I'm not angry, only you're silly.... What do you want? You know I can't
marry you, can I? I can't, can I? What is it you want then, eh?' (He
thrust his face forward as though expecting an answer, and spread his
'I want nothing... nothing,' she answered falteringly, and she ventured
to hold out her trembling hands to him; 'but only a word at parting.'
And her tears fell in a torrent.
'There, that means she's gone off into crying,' said Viktor coolly,
pushing down his cap on to his eyes.
'I want nothing,' she went on, sobbing and covering her face with her
hands; 'but what is there before me in my family? what is there before
me? what will happen to me? what will become of me, poor wretch? They
will marry me to a hateful... poor forsaken... Poor me!'
'Sing away, sing away,' muttered Viktor in an undertone, fidgeting with
impatience as he stood.
'And he might say one word, one word.... He might say, "Akulina... I..."'
Sudden heart-breaking sobs prevented her from finishing; she lay with
her face in the grass and bitterly, bitterly she wept.... Her whole body
shook convulsively, her neck fairly heaved.... Her long-suppressed grief
broke out in a torrent at last. Viktor stood over her, stood a moment,
shrugged his shoulders, turned away and strode off.
A few instants passed... she grew calmer, raised her head, jumped up,
looked round and wrung her hands; she tried to run after him, but her
legs gave way under her--she fell on her knees.... I could not refrain
from rushing up to her; but, almost before she had time to look at me,
making a superhuman effort she got up with a faint shriek and vanished
behind the trees, leaving her flowers scattered on the ground.
I stood a minute, picked up the bunch of cornflowers, and went out of
the wood into the open country. The sun had sunk low in the pale clear
sky; its rays too seemed to have grown pale and chill; they did not
shine; they were diffused in an unbroken, watery light. It was within
half-an-hour of sunset, but there was scarcely any of the glow of
evening. A gusty wind scurried to meet me across the yellow parched
stubble; little curled-up leaves, scudding hurriedly before it, flew by
across the road, along the edge of the copse; the side of the copse
facing the fields like a wall, was all shaking and lighted up by tiny
gleams, distinct, but not glowing; on the reddish plants, the blades of
grass, the straws on all sides, were sparkling and stirring innumerable
threads of autumn spider-webs. I stopped... I felt sad at heart: under
the bright but chill smile of fading nature, the dismal dread of coming
winter seemed to steal upon me. High overhead flew a cautious crow,
heavily and sharply cleaving the air with his wings; he turned his head,
looked sideways at me, flapped his wings and, cawing abruptly, vanished
behind the wood; a great flock of pigeons flew up playfully from a
threshing floor, and suddenly eddying round in a column, scattered
busily about the country. Sure sign of autumn! Some one came driving
over the bare hillside, his empty cart rattling loudly....
I turned homewards; but it was long before the figure of poor Akulina
faded out of my mind, and her cornflowers, long since withered, are
still in my keeping.
THE HAMLET OF THE SHTCHIGRI DISTRICT
On one of my excursions I received an invitation to dine at the house of
a rich landowner and sportsman, Alexandr Mihalitch G----. His property
was four miles from the small village where I was staying at the time. I
put on a frock-coat, an article without which I advise no one to travel,
even on a hunting expedition, and betook myself to Alexandr Mihalitch's.
The dinner was fixed for six o'clock; I arrived at five, and found
already a great number of gentlemen in uniforms, in civilian dress, and
other nondescript garments. My host met me cordially, but soon hurried
away to the butler's pantry. He was expecting a great dignitary, and was
in a state of agitation not quite in keeping with his independent
position in society and his wealth. Alexandr Mihalitch had never
married, and did not care for women; his house was the centre of a
bachelor society. He lived in grand style; he had enlarged and
sumptuously redecorated his ancestral mansion, spent fifteen thousand
roubles on wine from Moscow every year, and enjoyed the highest public
consideration. Alexandr Mihalitch had retired from the service ages ago,
and had no ambition to gain official honours of any kind. What could
have induced him to go out of his way to procure a guest of high
official position, and to be in a state of excitement from early morning
on the day of the grand dinner? That remains buried in the obscurity of
the unknown, as a friend of mine, an attorney, is in the habit of saying
when he is asked whether he takes bribes when kindly-disposed persons
On parting from my host, I began walking through the rooms. Almost all
the guests were utterly unknown to me: about twenty persons were already
seated at the card-tables. Among these devotees of preference were two
warriors, with aristocratic but rather battered countenances, a few
civilian officials, with tight high cravats and drooping dyed
moustaches, such as are only to be found in persons of resolute
character and strict conservative opinions: these conservative persons
picked up their cards with dignity, and, without turning their heads,
glared sideways at everyone who approached; and five or six local petty
officials, with fair round bellies, fat, moist little hands, and staid,
immovable little legs. These worthies spoke in a subdued voice, smiled
benignly in all directions, held their cards close up to their very
shirt-fronts, and when they trumped did not flap their cards on the
table, but, on the contrary, shed them with an undulatory motion on the
green cloth, and packed their tricks together with a slight, unassuming,
and decorous swish. The rest of the company were sitting on sofas, or
hanging in groups about the doors or at the windows; one gentleman, no
longer young, though of feminine appearance, stood in a corner,
fidgeting, blushing, and twisting the seal of his watch over his stomach
in his embarrassment, though no one was paying any attention to him;
some others in swallow-tail coats and checked trousers, the handiwork of
the tailor and Perpetual Master of the Tailors Corporation, Firs
Klyuhin, were talking together with extraordinary ease and liveliness,
turning their bald, greasy heads from side to side unconstrainedly as
they talked; a young man of twenty, short-sighted and fair-haired,
dressed from head to foot in black, obviously shy, smiled
I was beginning, however, to feel bored, when suddenly I was joined by a
young man, one Voinitsin by name, a student without a degree, who
resided in the house of Alexandr Mihalitch in the capacity of...it
would be hard to say precisely, of what. He was a first-rate shot, and
could train dogs. I had known him before in Moscow. He was one of those
young men who at every examination 'played at dumb-show,' that is to
say, did not answer a single word to the professor's questions. Such
persons were also designated 'the bearded students.' (You will gather
that this was in long past days.) This was how it used to be: they would
call Voinitsin, for example. Voinitsin, who had sat upright and
motionless in his place, bathed in a hot perspiration from head to foot,
slowly and aimlessly looked about him, got up, hurriedly buttoned up his
undergraduate's uniform, and edged up to the examiner's table. 'Take a
paper, please,' the professor would say to him pleasantly. Voinitsin
would stretch out his hand, and with trembling fingers fumble at the
pile of papers. 'No selecting, if you please,' observed, in a jarring
voice, an assistant-examiner, an irritable old gentleman, a professor in
some other faculty, conceiving a sudden hatred for the unlucky bearded
one. Voinitsin resigned himself to his fate, took a paper, showed the
number on it, and went and sat down by the window, while his predecessor
was answering his question. At the window Voinitsin never took his eyes
off his paper, except that at times he looked slowly round as before,
though he did not move a muscle. But his predecessor would finish at
last, and would be dismissed with, 'Good! you can go,' or even 'Good
indeed, very good!' according to his abilities. Then they call
Voinitsin: Voinitsin gets up, and with resolute step approaches the
table. 'Read your question,' they tell him. Voinitsin raises the paper
in both hands up to his very nose, slowly reads it, and slowly drops his
hands. 'Well, now, your answer, please,' the same professor remarks
languidly, throwing himself backwards, and crossing his arms over his
There reigns the silence of the tomb. 'Why are you silent?' Voinitsin is
mute. The assistant-examiner begins to be restive. 'Well, say
something!' Voinitsin is as still as if he were dead. All his companions
gaze inquisitively at the back of his thick, close-cropped, motionless
head. The assistant-examiner's eyes are almost starting out of his head;
he positively hates Voinitsin. 'Well, this is strange, really,' observes
the other examiner. 'Why do you stand as if you were dumb? Come, don't
you know it? if so, say so.' 'Let me take another question,' the
luckless youth articulates thickly. The professors look at one another.'
Well, take one,' the head-examiner answers, with a wave of the hand.
Voinitsin again takes a paper, again goes to the window, again returns
to the table, and again is silent as the grave. The assistant-examiner
is capable of devouring him alive. At last they send him away and mark
him a nought. You would think, 'Now, at least, he will go.' Not a bit of
it! He goes back to his place, sits just as immovably to the end of the
examination, and, as he goes out, exclaims: 'I've been on the rack! what
ill-luck!' and the whole of that day he wanders about Moscow, clutching
every now and then at his head, and bitterly cursing his luckless fate.
He never, of course, touched a book, and the next day the same story was
So this was the Voinitsin who joined me. We talked about Moscow, about
'Would you like me,' he whispered to me suddenly, 'to introduce you to
the first wit of these parts?'
'If you will be so kind.'
Voinitsin led me up to a little man, with a high tuft of hair on his
forehead and moustaches, in a cinnamon-coloured frock-coat and striped
cravat. His yellow, mobile features were certainly full of cleverness
and sarcasm. His lips were perpetually curved in a flitting ironical
smile; little black eyes, screwed up with an impudent expression, looked
out from under uneven lashes. Beside him stood a country gentleman,
broad, soft, and sweet--a veritable sugar-and-honey mixture--with one
eye. He laughed in anticipation at the witticisms of the little man, and
seemed positively melting with delight. Voinitsin presented me to the
wit, whose name was Piotr Petrovitch Lupihin. We were introduced and
exchanged the preliminary civilities.
'Allow me to present to you my best friend,' said Lupihin suddenly in a
strident voice, seizing the sugary gentleman by the arm.
'Come, don't resist, Kirila Selifanitch,' he added; 'we're not going to
bite you. I commend him to you,' he went on, while the embarrassed
Kirila Selifanitch bowed with about as much grace as if he were
undergoing a surgical operation; 'he's a most superior gentleman. He
enjoyed excellent health up to the age of fifty, then suddenly conceived
the idea of doctoring his eyes, in consequence of which he has lost one.
Since then he doctors his peasants with similar success.... They, to be
sure, repay with similar devotion...'
'What a fellow it is!' muttered Kirila Selifanitch. And he laughed.
'Speak out, my friend; eh, speak out!' Lupihin rejoined. 'Why, they may
elect you a judge; I shouldn't wonder, and they will, too, you see.
Well, to be sure, the secretaries will do the thinking for you, we may
assume; but you know you'll have to be able to speak, anyhow, even if
only to express the ideas of others. Suppose the governor comes and
asks, "Why is it the judge stammers?" And they'd say, let's assume,
"It's a paralytic stroke." "Then bleed him," he'd say. And it would be
highly indecorous, in your position, you'll admit.'
The sugary gentleman was positively rolling with mirth.
'You see he laughs,' Lupihin pursued with a malignant glance at Kirila
Selifanitch's heaving stomach. 'And why shouldn't he laugh?' he added,
turning to me: 'he has enough to eat, good health, and no children; his
peasants aren't mortgaged--to be sure, he doctors them--and his wife is
cracked.' (Kirila Selifanitch turned a little away as though he were not
listening, but he still continued to chuckle.) 'I laugh too, while my
wife has eloped with a land-surveyor.' (He grinned.) 'Didn't you know
that? What! Why, one fine day she ran away with him and left me a
"Dear Piotr Petrovitch," she said, "forgive me: carried away by passion,
I am leaving with the friend of my heart."... And the land-surveyor only
took her fancy through not cutting his nails and wearing tight trousers.
You're surprised at that? "Why, this," she said, "is a man with no
dissimulation about him."... But mercy on us! Rustic fellows like us
speak the truth too plainly. But let us move away a bit.... It's not for
us to stand beside a future judge.'...
He took me by the arm, and we moved away to a window.
'I've the reputation of a wit here,' he said to me, in the course of
conversation. 'You need not believe that. I'm simply an embittered man,
and I do my railing aloud: that's how it is I'm so free and easy in my
speech. And why should I mince matters, if you come to that; I don't
care a straw for anyone's opinion, and I've nothing to gain; I'm
spiteful--what of that? A spiteful man, at least, needs no wit. And,
however enlightening it may be, you won't believe it.... I say, now, I
say, look at our host! There! what is he running to and fro like that
for? Upon my word, he keeps looking at his watch, smiling, perspiring,
putting on a solemn face, keeping us all starving for our dinner! Such a
prodigy! a real court grandee! Look, look, he's running again--bounding,
And Lupihin laughed shrilly.
'The only pity is, there are no ladies,' he resumed with a deep sigh;
'it's a bachelor party, else that's when your humble servant gets on.
Look, look,' he cried suddenly: 'Prince Kozelsky's come--that tall man
there, with a beard, in yellow gloves. You can see at once he's been
abroad... and he always arrives as late. He's as heavy, I tell you, by
himself, as a pair of merchant's horses, and you should see how
condescendingly he talks with your humble servant, how graciously he
deigns to smile at the civilities of our starving mothers and
daughters!... And he sometimes sets up for a wit, but he is only here
for a little time; and oh, his witticisms! It's for all the world like
hacking at a ship's cable with a blunt knife. He can't bear me.... I'm
going to bow to him.'
And Lupihin ran off to meet the prince.
'And here comes my special enemy,' he observed, turning all at once to
me. 'Do you see that fat man with the brown face and the bristles on his
head, over there, that's got his cap clutched in his hand, and is
creeping along by the wall and glaring in all directions like a wolf? I
sold him for 400 roubles a horse worth 1000, and that stupid animal has
a perfect right now to despise me; though all the while he is so
destitute of all faculty of imagination, especially in the morning
before his tea, or after dinner, that if you say "Good morning!" to him,
he'll answer, "Is it?" 'And here comes the general,' pursued Lupihin,
'the civilian general, a retired, destitute general. He has a daughter
of beetroot-sugar, and a manufactory with scrofula.... Beg pardon, I've
got it wrong... but there, you understand. Ah! and the architect's
turned up here! A German, and wears moustaches, and does not understand
his business--a natural phenomenon!... though what need for him to
understand his business so long as he takes bribes and sticks in pillars
everywhere to suit the tastes of our pillars of society!'
Lupihin chuckled again.... But suddenly a wave of excitement passed over
the whole house. The grandee had arrived. The host positively rushed
into the hall. After him ran a few devoted members of the household and
eager guests.... The noisy talk was transformed into a subdued pleasant
chat, like the buzzing of bees in spring within their hives. Only the
turbulent wasp, Lupihin, and the splendid drone, Kozelsky, did not
subdue their voices.... And behold, at last, the queen!--the great
dignitary entered. Hearts bounded to meet him, sitting bodies rose; even
the gentleman who had bought a horse from Lupihin poked his chin into
his chest. The great personage kept up his dignity in an inimitable
manner; throwing his head back, as though he were bowing, he uttered a
few words of approbation, of which each was prefaced by the syllable
_er_, drawled through his nose; with a sort of devouring indignation
he looked at Prince Kozelsky's democratic beard, and gave the destitute
general with the factory and the daughter the forefinger of his right
hand. After a few minutes, in the course of which the dignitary had had
time to observe twice that he was very glad he was not late for dinner,
the whole company trooped into the dining-room, the swells first.
There is no need to describe to the reader how they put the great man in
the most important place, between the civilian general and the marshal
of the province, a man of an independent and dignified expression of
face, in perfect keeping with his starched shirt-front, his expanse of
waistcoat, and his round snuff-box full of French snuff; how our host
bustled about, and ran up and down, fussing and pressing the guests to
eat, smiling at the great man's back in passing, and hurriedly snatching
a plate of soup or a bit of bread in a corner like a schoolboy; how the
butler brought in a fish more than a yard long, with a nosegay in its
mouth; how the surly-looking foot-men in livery sullenly plied every
gentleman, now with Malaga, now dry Madeira; and how almost all the
gentlemen, particularly the more elderly ones, drank off glass after
glass with an air of reluctantly resigning themselves to a sense of
duty; and finally, how they began popping champagne bottles and
proposing toasts: all that is probably only too well known to the
reader. But what struck me as especially noteworthy was the anecdote
told us by the great man himself amid a general delighted silence.
Someone--I fancy it was the destitute general, a man familiar with
modern literature--referred to the influence of women in general, and
especially on young men. 'Yes, yes,' chimed in the great man, 'that's
true; but young men ought to be kept in strict subjection, or else, very
likely, they'll go out of their senses over every petticoat.' (A smile
of child-like delight flitted over the faces of all the guests; positive
gratitude could be seen in one gentleman's eyes.) 'For young men are
idiots.' (The great man, I suppose for the sake of greater
impressiveness, sometimes changed the accepted accentuation of words.)
'My son, Ivan, for instance,' he went on; 'the fool's only just
twenty--and all at once he comes to me and says: "Let me be married,
father." I told him he was a fool; told him he must go into the service
first.... Well, there was despair--tears... but with me... no
nonsense.' (The words 'no nonsense' the great man seemed to enunciate
more with his stomach than his lips; he paused and glanced majestically
at his neighbour, the general, while he raised his eyebrows higher than
any one could have expected. The civilian general nodded agreeably a
little on one side, and with extraordinary rapidity winked with the eye
turned to the great man.) 'And what do you think?' the great man began
again: 'now he writes to me himself, and thanks me for looking after him
when he was a fool.... So that's the way to act.' All the guests, of
course, were in complete agreement with the speaker, and seemed quite
cheered up by the pleasure and instruction they derived from him....
After dinner, the whole party rose and moved into the drawing-room with
a great deal of noise--decorous, however; and, as it were, licensed for
the occasion.... They sat down to cards.
I got through the evening somehow, and charging my coachman to have my
carriage ready at five o'clock next morning, I went to my room. But I
was destined, in the course of that same day, to make the acquaintance
of a remarkable man.
In consequence of the great number of guests staying in the house, no
one had a bedroom to himself. In the small, greenish, damp room to which
I was conducted by Alexandr Mihalitch's butler, there was already
another guest, quite undressed. On seeing me, he quickly ducked under
the bed-clothes, covered himself up to the nose, turned a little on the
soft feather-bed, and lay quiet, keeping a sharp look-out from under the
round frill of his cotton night-cap. I went up to the other bed (there
were only two in the room), undressed, and lay down in the damp sheets.
My neighbour turned over in bed.... I wished him good-night.
Half-an-hour went by. In spite of all my efforts, I could not get to
sleep: aimless and vague thoughts kept persistently and monotonously
dragging one after another on an endless chain, like the buckets of a
'You're not asleep, I fancy?' observed my neighbour.
'No, as you see,' I answered. 'And you're not sleepy either, are you?'
'I'm never sleepy.'
'Oh! I go to sleep--I don't know what for. I lie in bed, and lie in bed,
and so get to sleep.'
'Why do you go to bed before you feel sleepy?'
'Why, what would you have me do?'
I made no answer to my neighbour's question.
'I wonder,' he went on, after a brief silence, 'how it is there are no
fleas here? Where should there be fleas if not here, one wonders?'
'You seem to regret them,' I remarked.
'No, I don't regret them; but I like everything to be consecutive.'
'O-ho!' thought I; 'what words he uses.'
My neighbour was silent again.
'Would you like to make a bet with me?' he said again, rather loudly.
I began to be amused by him.
'Hm... what about? Why, about this: I'm certain you take me for a
'Really,' I muttered, astounded.
'For an ignoramus, for a rustic of the steppes.... Confess....'
'I haven't the pleasure of knowing you,' I responded. 'What can make you
'Why, the sound of your voice is enough; you answer me so carelessly....
But I'm not at all what you suppose....'
'No, you allow me. In the first place, I speak French as well as you,
and German even better; secondly, I have spent three years abroad--in
Berlin alone I lived eight months. I've studied Hegel, honoured sir; I
know Goethe by heart: add to that, I was a long while in love with a
German professor's daughter, and was married at home to a consumptive
lady, who was bald, but a remarkable personality. So I'm a bird of your
feather; I'm not a barbarian of the steppes, as you imagine.... I too
have been bitten by reflection, and there's nothing obvious about me.'
I raised my head and looked with redoubled attention at the queer
fellow. By the dim light of the night-lamp I could hardly distinguish
'There, you're looking at me now,' he went on, setting his night-cap
straight, 'and probably you're asking yourself, "How is it I didn't
notice him to-day?" I'll tell you why you didn't notice me: because I
didn't raise my voice; because I get behind other people, hang about
doorways, and talk to no one; because, when the butler passes me with a
tray, he raises his elbow to the level of my shoulder.... And how is it
all that comes about? From two causes: first, I'm poor; and secondly,
I've grown humble.... Tell the truth, you didn't notice me, did you?'
'Certainly, I've not had the pleasure....'
'There, there,' he interrupted me, 'I knew that.'
He raised himself and folded his arms; the long shadow of his cap was
bent from the wall to the ceiling.
'And confess, now,' he added, with a sudden sideway glance at me; 'I
must strike you as a queer fellow, an original, as they say, or possibly
as something worse: perhaps you think I affect to be original!'
'I must repeat again that I don't know you....'
He looked down an instant.
'Why have I begun talking so unexpectedly to you, a man utterly a
stranger?--the Lord, the Lord only knows!' (He sighed.) 'Not through the
natural affinity of our souls! Both you and I are respectable people,
that's to say, egoists: neither of us has the least concern with the
other; isn't it so? But we are neither of us sleepy... so why not chat?
I'm in the mood, and that's rare with me. I'm shy, do you see? and not
shy because I'm a provincial, of no rank and poor, but because I'm a
fearfully vain person. But at times, under favourable circumstances,
occasions which I could not, however, particularise nor foresee, my
shyness vanishes completely, as at this moment, for instance. At this
moment you might set me face to face with the Grand Lama, and I'd ask
him for a pinch of snuff. But perhaps you want to go to sleep?'
'Quite the contrary,' I hastened to respond; 'it is a pleasure for me to
talk to you.'
'That is, I amuse you, you mean to say.... All the better.... And so, I
tell you, they call me here an original; that's what they call me when
my name is casually mentioned, among other gossip. No one is much
concerned about my fate.... They think it wounds me.... Oh, good Lord!
if they only knew... it's just what's my ruin, that there is absolutely
nothing original in me--nothing, except such freaks as, for instance, my
conversation at this moment with you; but such freaks are not worth a
brass farthing. That's the cheapest and lowest sort of originality.'
He turned facing me, and waved his hands.
'Honoured sir!' he cried, 'I am of the opinion that life on earth's only
worth living, as a rule, for original people; it's only they who have a
right to live. _Man verre n'est pas grand, maisje bois dans mon
verre,_ said someone. Do you see,' he added in an undertone, 'how
well I pronounce French? What is it to one if one's a capacious brain,
and understands everything, and knows a lot, and keeps pace with the
age, if one's nothing of one's own, of oneself! One more storehouse for
hackneyed commonplaces in the world; and what good does that do to
anyone? No, better be stupid even, but in one's own way! One should have
a flavour of one's own, one's individual flavour; that's the thing! And
don't suppose that I am very exacting as to that flavour.... God forbid!
There are no end of original people of the sort I mean: look where you
will--there's an original: every live man is an original; but I am not
to be reckoned among them!'
'And yet,' he went on, after a brief silence, 'in my youth what
expectations I aroused! What a high opinion I cherished of my own
individuality before I went abroad, and even, at first, after my return!
Well, abroad I kept my ears open, held aloof from everyone, as befits a
man like me, who is always seeing through things by himself, and at the
end has not understood the A B C!'
'An original, an original!' he hurried on, shaking his head
reproachfully....' They call me an original.... In reality, it turns out
that there's not a man in the world less original than your humble
servant. I must have been born even in imitation of someone else.... Oh,
dear! It seems I am living, too, in imitation of the various authors
studied by me; in the sweat of my brow I live: and I've studied, and
fallen in love, and married, in fact, as it were, not through my own
will--as it were, fulfilling some sort of duty, or sort of fate--who's
to make it out?'
He tore the nightcap off his head and flung it on the bed.
'Would you like me to tell you the story of my life?' he asked me in an
abrupt voice; 'or, rather, a few incidents of my life?'
'Please do me the favour.'
'Or, no, I'd better tell you how I got married. You see marriage is an
important thing, the touchstone that tests the whole man: in it, as in a
glass, is reflected.... But that sounds too hackneyed.... If you'll
allow me, I'll take a pinch of snuff.'
He pulled a snuff-box from under his pillow, opened it, and began again,
waving the open snuff-box about.
'Put yourself, honoured sir, in my place.... Judge for yourself, what,
now what, tell me as a favour: what benefit could I derive from the
encyclopaedia of Hegel? What is there in common, tell me, between that
encyclopaedia and Russian life? and how would you advise me to apply it
to our life, and not it, the encyclopaedia only, but German philosophy in
general.... I will say more--science itself?'
He gave a bound on the bed and muttered to himself, gnashing his teeth
'Ah, that's it, that's it!... Then why did you go trailing off abroad?
Why didn't you stay at home and study the life surrounding you on the
spot? You might have found out its needs and its future, and have come
to a clear comprehension of your vocation, so to say.... But, upon my
word,' he went on, changing his tone again as though timidly justifying
himself, 'where is one to study what no sage has yet inscribed in any
book? I should have been glad indeed to take lessons of her--of Russian
life, I mean--but she's dumb, the poor dear. You must take her as she
is; but that's beyond my power: you must give me the inference; you must
present me with a conclusion. Here you have a conclusion too: listen to
our wise men of Moscow--they're a set of nightingales worth listening
to, aren't they? Yes, that's the pity of it, that they pipe away like
Kursk nightingales, instead of talking as the people talk.... Well, I
thought, and thought--"Science, to be sure," I thought, "is everywhere
the same, and truth is the same"--so I was up and off, in God's name, to
foreign parts, to the heathen.... What would you have? I was infatuated
with youth and conceit; I didn't want, you know, to get fat before my
time, though they say it's healthy. Though, indeed, if nature doesn't
put the flesh on your bones, you won't see much fat on your body!'
'But I fancy,' he added, after a moment's thought, 'I promised to tell
you how I got married--listen. First, I must tell you that my wife is no
longer living; secondly... secondly, I see I must give you some account
of my youth, or else you won't be able to make anything out of it....
But don't you want to go to sleep?'
'No, I'm not sleepy.'
'That's good news. Hark!... how vulgarly Mr. Kantagryuhin is snoring in
the next room! I was the son of parents of small property--I say
parents, because, according to tradition, I had once had a father as
well as a mother, I don't remember him: he was a narrow-minded man, I've
been told, with a big nose, freckles, and red hair; he used to take
snuff on one side of his nose only; his portrait used to hang in my
mother's bedroom, and very hideous he was in a red uniform with a black
collar up to his ears. They used to take me to be whipped before him,
and my mother used always on such occasions to point to him, saying, "He
would give it to you much more if he were here." You can imagine what an
encouraging effect that had on me. I had no brother nor sister--that's
to say, speaking accurately, I had once had a brother knocking about,
with the English disease in his neck, but he soon died.... And why ever,
one wonders, should the English disease make its way to the Shtchigri
district of the province of Kursk? But that's neither here nor there. My
mother undertook my education with all the vigorous zeal of a country
lady of the steppes: she undertook it from the solemn day of my birth
till the time when my sixteenth year had come.... You are following my
'Yes, please go on.'
'All right. Well, when I was sixteen, my mother promptly dismissed my
teacher of French, a German, Filipovitch, from the Greek settlement of
Nyezhin. She conducted me to Moscow, put down my name for the
university, and gave up her soul to the Almighty, leaving me in the
hands of my uncle, the attorney Koltun-Babur, one of a sort well-known
not only in the Shtchigri district. My uncle, the attorney Koltun-Babur,
plundered me to the last half-penny, after the custom of guardians....
But again that's neither here nor there. I entered the university--I
must do so much justice to my mother--rather well grounded; but my lack
of originality was even then apparent. My childhood was in no way
distinguished from the childhood of other boys; I grew up just as
languidly and dully--much as if I were under a feather-bed--just as
early I began repeating poetry by heart and moping under the pretence of
a dreamy inclination... for what?--why, for the beautiful... and so
on. In the university I went on in the same way; I promptly got into a
"circle." Times were different then.... But you don't know, perhaps,
what sort of thing a student's "circle" is? I remember Schiller said
_Gefaehrlich ist's den Leu zu wecken
Und schrecklich ist des Tigers Zahn,
Doch das schrecklichste der Schrecken
Das ist der Mensch in seinem Wahn!_
He didn't mean that, I can assure you; he meant to say: _Das ist
ein_ circle _in der Stadt Moskau_!'
'But what do you find so awful in the circle?' I asked.
My neighbour snatched his cap and pulled it down on to his nose.
'What do I find so awful?' he shouted. 'Why, this: the circle is the
destruction of all independent development; the circle is a hideous
substitute for society, woman, life; the circle... oh, wait a bit, I'll
tell you what a circle is! A circle is a slothful, dull living side by
side in common, to which is attached a serious significance and a show
of rational activity; the circle replaces conversation by debate, trains
you in fruitless discussion, draws you away from solitary, useful
labour, develops in you the itch for authorship--deprives you, in fact,
of all freshness and virgin vigour of soul. The circle--why, it's
vulgarity and boredom under the name of brotherhood and friendship! a
concatenation of misunderstandings and cavillings under the pretence of
openness and sympathy: in the circle--thanks to the right of every
friend, at all hours and seasons, to poke his unwashed fingers into the
very inmost soul of his comrade--no one has a single spot in his soul
pure and undefiled; in the circle they fall down before the shallow,
vain, smart talker and the premature wise-acre, and worship the
rhymester with no poetic gift, but full of "subtle" ideas; in the circle
young lads of seventeen talk glibly and learnedly of women and of love,
while in the presence of women they are dumb or talk to them like a
book--and what do they talk about? The circle is the hot-bed of glib
fluency; in the circle they spy on one another like so many police
officials.... Oh, circle! thou'rt not a circle, but an enchanted ring,
which has been the ruin of many a decent fellow!'
'Come, you're exaggerating, allow me to observe,' I broke in.
My neighbour looked at me in silence.
'Perhaps, God knows, perhaps. But, you see, there's only one pleasure
left your humble servant, and that's exaggeration--well, that was the
way I spent four years in Moscow. I can't tell you, my dear sir, how
quickly, how fearfully quickly, that time passed; it's positively
painful and vexatious to remember. Some mornings one gets up, and it's
like sliding downhill on little sledges.... Before one can look round,
one's flown to the bottom; it's evening already, and already the sleepy
servant is pulling on one's coat; one dresses, and trails off to a
friend, and may be smokes a pipe, drinks weak tea in glasses, and
discusses German philosophy, love, the eternal sunshine of the spirit,
and other far-fetched topics. But even there I met original, independent
people: however some men stultify themselves and warp themselves out of
shape, still nature asserts itself; I alone, poor wretch, moulded myself
like soft wax, and my pitiful little nature never made the faintest
resistance! Meantime I had reached my twenty-first year. I came into
possession of my inheritance, or, more correctly speaking, that part of
my inheritance which my guardian had thought fit to leave me, gave a
freed house-serf Vassily Kudryashev a warranty to superintend all my
patrimony, and set off abroad to Berlin. I was abroad, as I have already
had the pleasure of telling you, three years. Well. There too, abroad
too, I remained the same unoriginal creature. In the first place, I need
not say that of Europe, of European life, I really learnt nothing. I
listened to German professors and read German books on their birthplace:
that was all the difference. I led as solitary a life as any monk; I got
on good terms with a retired lieutenant, weighed down, like myself, by a
thirst for knowledge but always dull of comprehension, and not gifted
with a flow of words; I made friends with slow-witted families from
Penza and other agricultural provinces, hung about _cafes_, read
the papers, in the evening went to the theatre. With the natives I
associated very little; I talked to them with constraint, and never had
one of them to see me at my own place, except two or three intrusive
fellows of Jewish extraction, who were constantly running in upon me and
borrowing money--thanks to _der Russe's_ gullibility. A strange
freak of chance brought me at last to the house of one of my professors.
It was like this: I came to him to enter my name for a course of
lectures, and he, all of a sudden, invited me to an evening party at his
house. This professor had two daughters, of twenty-seven, such stumpy
little things--God bless them!--with such majestic noses, frizzed curls
and pale-blue eyes, and red hands with white nails. One was called
Linchen and the other Minchen. I began to go to the professor's. I ought
to tell you that the professor was not exactly stupid, but seemed, as it
were, dazed: in his professorial desk he spoke fairly consecutively, but
at home he lisped, and always had his spectacles on his forehead--he was
a very learned man, though. Well, suddenly it seemed to me that I was in
love with Linchen, and for six whole months this impression remained. I
talked to her, it's true, very little--it was more that I looked at her;
but I used to read various touching passages aloud to her, to press her
hand on the sly, and to dream beside her in the evenings, gazing
persistently at the moon, or else simply up aloft. Besides, she made
such delicious coffee! One asks oneself--what more could one desire?
Only one thing troubled me: at the very moments of ineffable bliss, as
it's called, I always had a sort of sinking in the pit of the stomach,
and a cold shudder ran down my back. At last I could not stand such
happiness, and ran away. Two whole years after that I was abroad: I went
to Italy, stood before the Transfiguration in Rome, and before the Venus
in Florence, and suddenly fell into exaggerated raptures, as though an
attack of delirium had come upon me; in the evenings I wrote verses,
began a diary; in fact, there too I behaved just like everyone else. And
just mark how easy it is to be original! I take no interest, for
instance, in painting and sculpture.... But simply saying so aloud...
no, it was impossible! I must needs take a cicerone, and run to gaze at
He looked down again, and again pulled off his nightcap.
'Well, I came back to my own country at last,' he went on in a weary
voice. 'I went to Moscow. In Moscow a marvellous transformation took
place in me. Abroad I was mostly silent, but now suddenly I began to
talk with unexpected smartness, and at the same time I began to conceive
all sorts of ideas of myself. There were kindly disposed persons to be
found, to whom I seemed all but a genius; ladies listened
sympathetically to my diatribes; but I was not able to keep on the
summit of my glory. One fine morning a slander sprang up about me (who
had originated it, I don't know; it must have been some old maid of the
male sex--there are any number of such old maids in Moscow); it sprang
up and began to throw off outshoots and tendrils like a strawberry
plant. I was abashed, tried to get out of it, to break through its
clinging toils--that was no good.... I went away. Well, in that too I
showed that I was an absurd person; I ought to have calmly waited for
the storm to blow over, just as one waits for the end of nettle-rash,
and the same kindly-disposed persons would have opened their arms to me
again, the same ladies would have smiled approvingly again at my
remarks.... But what's wrong is just that I'm not an original person.
Conscientious scruples, please to observe, had been stirred up in me; I
was somehow ashamed of talk, talk without ceasing, nothing but
talk--yesterday in Arbat, to-day in Truba, to-morrow in
Sivtsevy-Vrazhky, and all about the same thing.... But if that is what
people want of me? Look at the really successful men in that line: they
don't ask its use; on the contrary, it's all they need; some will keep
their tongues wagging twenty years together, and always in one
direction.... That's what comes of self-confidence and conceit! I had
that too, conceit--indeed, even now it's not altogether stifled.... But
what was wrong was that--I say again, I'm not an original person--I
stopped midway: nature ought to have given me far more conceit or none
at all. But at first I felt the change a very hard one; moreover, my
stay abroad too had utterly drained my resources, while I was not
disposed to marry a merchant's daughter, young, but flabby as a jelly,
so I retired to my country place. I fancy,' added my neighbour, with
another glance sideways at me, 'I may pass over in silence the first
impressions of country life, references to the beauty of nature, the
gentle charm of solitude, etc.'
'You can, indeed,' I put in.
'All the more,' he continued, 'as all that's nonsense; at least, as far
as I'm concerned. I was as bored in the country as a puppy locked up,
though I will own that on my journey home, when I passed through the
familiar birchwood in spring for the first time, my head was in a whirl
and my heart beat with a vague, sweet expectation. But these vague
expectations, as you're well aware, never come to pass; on the other
hand, very different things do come to pass, which you don't at all
expect, such as cattle disease, arrears, sales by auction, and so on,
and so on. I managed to make a shift from day to day with the aid of my
agent, Yakov, who replaced the former superintendent, and turned out in
the course of time to be as great, if not a greater robber, and over and
above that poisoned my existence by the smell of his tarred boots;
suddenly one day I remembered a family I knew in the neighbourhood,
consisting of the widow of a retired colonel and her two daughters,
ordered out my droshky, and set off to see them. That day must always be
a memorable one for me; six months later I was married to the retired
colonel's second daughter!...'
The speaker dropped his head, and lifted his hands to heaven.
'And now,' he went on warmly, 'I couldn't bear to give you an
unfavourable opinion of my late wife. Heaven forbid! She was the most
generous, sweetest creature, a loving nature capable of any sacrifice,
though I must between ourselves confess that if I had not had the
misfortune to lose her, I should probably not be in a position to be
talking to you to-day; since the beam is still there in my barn, to
which I repeatedly made up my mind to hang myself!'
'Some pears,' he began again, after a brief pause, 'need to lie in an
underground cellar for a time, to come, as they say, to their real
flavour; my wife, it seems, belonged to a similar order of nature's
works. It's only now that I do her complete justice. It's only now, for
instance, that memories of some evenings I spent with her before
marriage no longer awaken the slightest bitterness, but move me almost
to tears. They were not rich people; their house was very old-fashioned
and built of wood, but comfortable; it stood on a hill between an
overgrown courtyard and a garden run wild. At the bottom of the hill ran
a river, which could just be seen through the thick leaves. A wide
terrace led from the house to the garden; before the terrace flaunted a
long flower-bed, covered with roses; at each end of the flower-bed grew
two acacias, which had been trained to grow into the shape of a screw by
its late owner. A little farther, in the very midst of a thicket of
neglected and overgrown raspberries, stood an arbour, smartly painted
within, but so old and tumble-down outside that it was depressing to
look at it. A glass door led from the terrace into the drawing-room; in
the drawing-room this was what met the eye of the inquisitive spectator:
in the various corners stoves of Dutch tiles, a squeaky piano to the
right, piled with manuscript music, a sofa, covered with faded blue
material with a whitish pattern, a round table, two what-nots of china
and glass, knicknacks of the Catherine period; on the wall the
well-known picture of a flaxen-haired girl with a dove on her breast and
eyes turned upwards; on the table a vase of fresh roses. You see how
minutely I describe it. In that drawing-room, on that terrace, was
rehearsed all the tragi-comedy of my love. The colonel's wife herself
was an ill-natured old dame, whose voice was always hoarse with spite--a
petty, snappish creature. Of the daughters, one, Vera, did not differ in
any respect from the common run of young ladies of the provinces; the
other, Sofya, I fell in love with. The two sisters had another little
room too, their common bedroom, with two innocent little wooden
bedsteads, yellowish albums, mignonette, portraits of friends sketched
in pencil rather badly (among them was one gentleman with an
exceptionally vigorous expression of face and a still more vigorous
signature, who had in his youth raised disproportionate expectations,
but had come, like all of us, to nothing), with busts of Goethe and
Schiller, German books, dried wreaths, and other objects, kept as
souvenirs. But that room I rarely and reluctantly entered; I felt
stifled there somehow. And, too, strange to say, I liked Sofya best of
all when I was sitting with my back to her, or still more, perhaps, when
I was thinking or dreaming about her in the evening on the terrace. At
such times I used to gaze at the sunset, at the trees, at the tiny
leaves, already in darkness, but standing out sharply against the rosy
sky; in the drawing-room Sofya sat at the piano continually playing over
and over again some favourite, passionately pathetic phrase from
Beethoven; the ill-natured old lady snored peacefully, sitting on the
sofa; in the dining-room, which was flooded by a glow of lurid light,
Vera was bustling about getting tea; the samovar hissed merrily as
though it were pleased at something; the cracknels snapped with a
pleasant crispness, and the spoons tinkled against the cups; the canary,
which trilled mercilessly all day, was suddenly still, and only
chirruped from time to time, as though asking for something; from a
light transparent cloud there fell a few passing drops of rain.... And I
would sit and sit, listen, listen, and look, my heart would expand, and
again it seemed to me that I was in love. Well, under the influence of
such an evening, I one day asked the old lady for her daughter's hand,
and two months later I was married. It seemed to me that I loved her....
By now, indeed, it's time I should know, but, by God, even now I don't
know whether I loved Sofya. She was a sweet creature, clever, silent,
and warm-hearted, but God only knows from what cause, whether from
living too long in the country, or for some other reason, there was at
the bottom of her heart (if only there is a bottom to the heart) a
secret wound, or, to put it better, a little open sore which nothing
could heal, to which neither she nor I could give a name. Of the
existence of this sore, of course, I only guessed after marriage. The
struggles I had over it... nothing availed! When I was a child I had a
little bird, which had once been caught by the cat in its claws; it was
saved and tended, but the poor bird never got right; it moped, it pined,
it ceased to sing.... It ended by a cat getting into its open cage one
night and biting off its beak, after which it made up its mind at last
to die. I don't know what cat had caught my wife in its claws, but she
too moped and pined just like my unlucky bird. Sometimes she obviously
made an effort to shake herself, to rejoice in the open air, in the
sunshine and freedom; she would try, and shrink up into herself again.
And, you know she loved me; how many times has she assured me that she
had nothing left to wish for?--oof! damn my soul! and the light was
fading out of her eyes all the while. I wondered whether there hadn't
been something in her past. I made investigations: there was nothing
forthcoming. Well, you may form your own judgment; an original man would
have shrugged his shoulders and heaved a sigh or two, perhaps, and would
have proceeded to live his own life; but I, not being an original
creature, began to contemplate a beam and halter. My wife was so
thoroughly permeated by all the habits of an old maid--Beethoven,
evening walks, mignonette, corresponding with her friends, albums, et
cetera--that she never could accustom herself to any other mode of life,
especially to the life of the mistress of a house; and yet it seemed
absurd for a married woman to be pining in vague melancholy and singing
in the evening: "Waken her not at the dawn!"
'Well, we were blissful after that fashion for three years; in the
fourth, Sofya died in her first confinement, and, strange to say, I had
felt, as it were, beforehand that she would not be capable of giving me
a daughter or a son--of giving the earth a new inhabitant. I remember
how they buried her. It was in the spring. Our parish church was small
and old, the screen was blackened, the walls bare, the brick floor worn
into hollows in parts; there was a big, old-fashioned holy picture in
each half of the choir. They brought in the coffin, placed it in the
middle before the holy gates, covered it with a faded pall, set three
candlesticks about it. The service commenced. A decrepit deacon, with a
little shock of hair behind, belted low down with a green kerchief, was
mournfully mumbling before a reading-desk; a priest, also an old man,
with a kindly, purblind face, in a lilac cassock with yellow flowers on
it, served the mass for himself and the deacon. At all the open windows
the fresh young leaves were stirring and whispering, and the smell of
the grass rose from the churchyard outside; the red flame of the
wax-candles paled in the bright light of the spring day; the sparrows
were twittering all over the church, and every now and then there came
the ringing cry of a swallow flying in under the cupola. In the golden
motes of the sunbeams the brown heads of the few peasants kept rising
and dropping down again as they prayed earnestly for the dead; in a thin
bluish stream the smoke issued from the holes of the censer. I looked at
the dead face of my wife.... My God! even death--death itself--had not
set her free, had not healed her wound: the same sickly, timid, dumb
look, as though, even in her coffin, she were ill at ease.... My heart
was filled with bitterness. A sweet, sweet creature she was, and she did
well for herself to die!'
The speaker's cheeks flushed, and his eyes grew dim.
'When at last,' he began again, 'I emerged from the deep depression
which overwhelmed me after my wife's death, I resolved to devote myself,
as it is called, to work. I went into a government office in the capital
of the province; but in the great apartments of the government
institution my head ached, and my eyesight too began to fail: other
incidental causes came in.... I retired. I had thought of going on a
visit to Moscow, but, in the first place, I hadn't the money, and
secondly... I've told you already: I'm resigned. This resignation came
upon me both suddenly and not suddenly. In spirit I had long ago
resigned myself, but my brain was still unwilling to accept the yoke. I
ascribed my humble temper and ideas to the influence of country life and
happiness!... On the other side, I had long observed that all my
neighbours, young and old alike, who had been frightened at first by my
learning, my residence abroad, and my other advantages of education, had
not only had time to get completely used to me, but had even begun to
treat me half-rudely, half-contemptuously, did not listen to my
observations, and, in talking to me, no longer made use of superfluous
signs of respect. I forgot to tell you, too, that during the first year
after my marriage, I had tried to launch into literature, and even sent
a thing to a journal--a story, if I'm not mistaken; but in a little time
I received a polite letter from the editor, in which, among other
things, I was told that he could not deny I had intelligence, but he was
obliged to say I had no talent, and talent alone was what was needed in
literature. To add to this, it came to my knowledge that a young man, on
a visit from Moscow--a most good-natured youth too--had referred to me
at an evening party at the governor's as a shallow person, antiquated
and behind the times. But my half-wilful blindness still persisted: I
was unwilling to give myself a slap in the face, you know; at last, one
fine morning, my eyes were opened. This was how it happened. The
district captain of police came to see me, with the object of calling my
attention to a tumble-down bridge on my property, which I had absolutely
no money to repair. After consuming a glass of vodka and a snack of
dried fish, this condescending guardian of order reproached me in a
paternal way for my heedlessness, sympathising, however, with my
position, and only advising me to order my peasants to patch up the
bridge with some rubbish; he lighted a pipe, and began talking of the
coming elections. A candidate for the honourable post of marshal of the
province was at that time one Orbassanov, a noisy, shallow fellow, who
took bribes into the bargain. Besides, he was not distinguished either
for wealth or for family. I expressed my opinion with regard to him, and
rather casually too: I regarded Mr. Orbassanov, I must own, as beneath
my level. The police-captain looked at me, patted me amicably on the
shoulder, and said good-naturedly: "Come, come, Vassily Vassilyevitch,
it's not for you and me to criticise men like that--how are we qualified
to? Let the shoemaker stick to his last." "But, upon my word," I
retorted with annoyance, "whatever difference is there between me and
Mr. Orbassanov?" The police-captain took his pipe out of his mouth,
opened his eyes wide, and fairly roared. "Well, you're an amusing chap,"
he observed at last, while the tears ran down his cheeks: "what a joke
to make!... Ah! you are a funny fellow!" And till his departure he never
ceased jeering at me, now and then giving me a poke in the ribs with his
elbow, and addressing me by my Christian name. He went away at last.
This was enough: it was the last drop, and my cup was overflowing. I
paced several times up and down the room, stood still before the
looking-glass and gazed a long, long while at my embarrassed
countenance, and deliberately putting out my tongue, I shook my head
with a bitter smile. The scales fell from my eyes: I saw clearly, more
clearly than I saw my face in the glass, what a shallow, insignificant,
worthless, unoriginal person I was!'
'In one of Voltaire's tragedies,' he went on wearily, 'there is some
worthy who rejoices that he has reached the furthest limit of
unhappiness. Though there is nothing tragic in my fate, I will admit I
have experienced something of that sort. I have known the bitter
transports of cold despair; I have felt how sweet it is, lying in bed,
to curse deliberately for a whole morning together the hour and day of
my birth. I could not resign myself all at once. And indeed, think of it
yourself: I was kept by impecuniosity in the country, which I hated; I
was not fitted for managing my land, nor for the public service, nor for
literature, nor anything; my neighbours I didn't care for, and books I
loathed; as for the mawkish and morbidly sentimental young ladies who
shake their curls and feverishly harp on the word "life," I had ceased
to have any attraction for them ever since I gave up ranting and
gushing; complete solitude I could not face.... I began--what do you
suppose?--I began hanging about, visiting my neighbours. As though drunk
with self-contempt, I purposely exposed myself to all sorts of petty
slights. I was missed over in serving at table; I was met with
supercilious coldness, and at last was not noticed at all; I was not
even allowed to take part in general conversation, and from my corner I
myself used purposely to back up some stupid talker who in those days at
Moscow would have ecstatically licked the dust off my feet, and kissed
the hem of my cloak.... I did not even allow myself to believe that I
was enjoying the bitter satisfaction of irony.... What sort of irony,
indeed, can a man enjoy in solitude? Well, so I have behaved for some
years on end, and so I behave now.'
'Really, this is beyond everything,' grumbled the sleepy voice of Mr.
Kantagryuhin from the next room: 'what fool is it that has taken a fancy
to talk all night?'
The speaker promptly ducked under the clothes and peeping out timidly,
held up his finger to me warningly,
'Sh--sh--!' he whispered; and, as it were, bowing apologetically in the
direction of Kantagryuhin's voice, he said respectfully: 'I obey, sir, I
obey; I beg your pardon.... It's permissible for him to sleep; he ought
to sleep,' he went on again in a whisper: 'he must recruit his
energies--well, if only to eat his dinner with the same relish
to-morrow. We have no right to disturb him. Besides, I think I've told
you all I wanted to; probably you're sleepy too. I wish you good-night.'
He turned away with feverish rapidity and buried his head in the pillow.
'Let me at least know,' I asked, 'with whom I have had the pleasure....'
He raised his head quickly.
'No, for mercy's sake!' he cut me short, 'don't inquire my name either
of me or of others. Let me remain to you an unknown being, crushed by
fate, Vassily Vassilyevitch. Besides, as an unoriginal person, I don't
deserve an individual name.... But if you really want to give me some
title, call me... call me the Hamlet of the Shtchigri district. There
are many such Hamlets in every district, but perhaps you haven't come
across others.... After which, good-bye.'
He buried himself again in his feather-bed, and the next morning, when
they came to wake me, he was no longer in the room. He had left before
TCHERTOP-HANOV AND NEDOPYUSKIN
One hot summer day I was coming home from hunting in a light cart;
Yermolai sat beside me dozing and scratching his nose. The sleeping dogs
were jolted up and down like lifeless bodies under our feet. The
coachman kept flicking gadflies off the horses with his whip. The white
dust rose in a light cloud behind the cart. We drove in between bushes.
The road here was full of ruts, and the wheels began catching in the
twigs. Yermolai started up and looked round.... 'Hullo!' he said; 'there
ought to be grouse here. Let's get out.' We stopped and went into the
thicket. My dog hit upon a covey. I took a shot and was beginning to
reload, when suddenly there was a loud crackling behind me, and a man on
horseback came towards me, pushing the bushes apart with his hands.
'Sir... pe-ermit me to ask,' he began in a haughty voice, 'by what right
you are--er--shooting here, sir?' The stranger spoke extraordinarily
quickly, jerkily and condescendingly. I looked at his face; never in my
life have I seen anything like it. Picture to yourselves, gentle
readers, a little flaxen-haired man, with a little turn-up red nose and
long red moustaches. A pointed Persian cap with a crimson cloth crown
covered his forehead right down to his eyebrows. He was dressed in a
shabby yellow Caucasian overcoat, with black velveteen cartridge pockets
on the breast, and tarnish silver braid on all the seams; over his
shoulder was slung a horn; in his sash was sticking a dagger. A
raw-boned, hook-nosed chestnut horse shambled unsteadily under his
weight; two lean, crook-pawed greyhounds kept turning round just under
the horse's legs. The face, the glance, the voice, every action, the
whole being of the stranger, was expressive of a wild daring and an
unbounded, incredible pride; his pale-blue glassy eyes strayed about
with a sideway squint like a drunkard's; he flung back his head, puffed
out his cheeks, snorted and quivered all over, as though bursting with
dignity--for all the world like a turkey-cock. He repeated his question.
'I didn't know it was forbidden to shoot here,' I replied.
'You are here, sir,' he continued, 'on my land.'
'With your permission, I will go off it.'
'But pe-ermit me to ask,' he rejoined, 'is it a nobleman I have the
honour of addressing?'
I mentioned my name.
'In that case, oblige me by hunting here. I am a nobleman myself, and am
very pleased to do any service to a nobleman.... And my name is Panteley
Tchertop-hanov.' He bowed, hallooed, gave his horse a lash on the neck;
the horse shook its head, reared, shied, and trampled on a dog's paws.
The dog gave a piercing squeal. Tchertop-hanov boiled over with rage;
foaming at the mouth, he struck the horse with his fist on the head
between the ears, leaped to the ground quicker than lightning, looked at
the dog's paw, spat on the wound, gave it a kick in the ribs to stop its
whining, caught on to the horse's forelock, and put his foot in the
stirrup. The horse flung up its head, and with its tail in the air edged
away into the bushes; he followed it, hopping on one leg; he got into
the saddle at last, however, flourished his whip in a sort of frenzy,
blew his horn, and galloped off. I had not time to recover from the
unexpected appearance of Tchertop-hanov, when suddenly, almost without
any noise, there came out of the bushes a stoutish man of forty on a
little black nag. He stopped, took off his green leather cap, and in a
thin, subdued voice he asked me whether I hadn't seen a horseman riding
a chestnut? I answered that I had.
'Which way did the gentleman go?' he went on in the same tone, without
putting on his cap.
'I humbly thank you, sir.'
He made a kissing sound with his lips, swung his legs against his
horse's sides, and fell into a jog-trot in the direction indicated. I
looked after him till his peaked cap was hidden behind the branches.
This second stranger was not in the least like his predecessor in
exterior. His face, plump and round as a ball, expressed bashfulness,
good-nature, and humble meekness; his nose, also plump and round and
streaked with blue veins, betokened a sensualist. On the front of his
head there was not a single hair left, some thin brown tufts stuck out
behind; there was an ingratiating twinkle in his little eyes, set in
long slits, and a sweet smile on his red, juicy lips. He had on a coat
with a stand-up collar and brass buttons, very worn but clean; his cloth
trousers were hitched up high, his fat calves were visible above the
yellow tops of his boots.
'Who's that?' I inquired of Yermolai.
'That? Nedopyuskin, Tihon Ivanitch. He lives at Tchertop-hanov's.'
'What is he, a poor man?'
'He's not rich; but, to be sure, Tchertop-hanov's not got a brass
'Then why does he live with him?'
'Oh, they made friends. One's never seen without the other.... It's a
fact, indeed--where the horse puts its hoof, there the crab sticks its
We got out of the bushes; suddenly two hounds 'gave tongue' close to us,
and a big hare bounded through the oats, which were fairly high by now.
The dogs, hounds and harriers, leaped out of the thicket after him, and
after the dogs flew out Tchertop-hanov himself. He did not shout, nor
urge the dogs on, nor halloo; he was breathless and gasping; broken,
senseless sounds were jerked out of his gaping mouth now and then; he
dashed on, his eyes starting out of his head, and furiously lashed at
his luckless horse with the whip. The harriers were gaining on the
hare... it squatted for a moment, doubled sharply back, and darted past
Yermolai into the bushes.... The harriers rushed in pursuit. 'Lo-ok out!
lo-ok out!' the exhausted horseman articulated with effort, in a sort of
stutter: 'lo-ok out, friend!' Yermolai shot... the wounded hare rolled
head over heels on the smooth dry grass, leaped into the air, and
squealed piteously in the teeth of a worrying dog. The hounds crowded
about her. Like an arrow, Tchertop-hanov flew off his horse, clutched
his dagger, ran straddling among the dogs with furious imprecations,
snatched the mangled hare from them, and, creasing up his whole face, he
buried the dagger in its throat up to the very hilt... buried it, and
began hallooing. Tihon Ivanitch made his appearance on the edge of the
thicket 'Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!' vociferated Tchertop-hanov a second
time. 'Ho-ho-ho-ho,' his companion repeated placidly.
'But really, you know, one ought not to hunt in summer, 'I observed to
Tchertop-hanov, pointing to the trampled-down oats.
'It's my field,' answered Tchertop-hanov, gasping.
He pulled the hare into shape, hung it on to his saddle, and flung the
paws among the dogs.
'I owe you a charge, my friend, by the rules of hunting,' he said,
addressing Yermolai. 'And you, dear sir,' he added in the same jerky,
abrupt voice, 'my thanks.'
He mounted his horse.
'Pe-ermit me to ask... I've forgotten your name and your father's.'
Again I told him my name.
'Delighted to make your acquaintance. When you have an opportunity, hope
you'll come and see me.... But where is that Fomka, Tihon Ivanitch?' he
went on with heat; 'the hare was run down without him.'
'His horse fell down under him,' replied Tihon Ivanitch with a smile.
'Fell down! Orbassan fell down? Pugh! tut!... Where is he?'
'Over there, behind the copse.'
Tchertop-hanov struck his horse on the muzzle with his whip, and
galloped off at a breakneck pace. Tihon Ivanitch bowed to me twice, once
for himself and once for his companion, and again set off at a trot into
These two gentlemen aroused my curiosity keenly. What could unite two
creatures so different in the bonds of an inseparable friendship? I
began to make inquiries. This was what I learned.
Panteley Eremyitch Tchertop-hanov had the reputation in the whole
surrounding vicinity of a dangerous, crack-brained fellow, haughty and
quarrelsome in the extreme. He had served a very short time in the army,
and had retired from the service through 'difficulties' with his
superiors, with that rank which is generally regarded as equivalent to
no rank at all. He came of an old family, once rich; his forefathers
lived sumptuously, after the manner of the steppes--that is, they
welcomed all, invited or uninvited, fed them to exhaustion, gave out
oats by the quarter to their guests' coachmen for their teams, kept
musicians, singers, jesters, and dogs; on festive days regaled their
people with spirits and beer, drove to Moscow in the winter with their
own horses, in heavy old coaches, and sometimes were for whole months
without a farthing, living on home-grown produce. The estate came into
Panteley Eremyitch's father's hands in a crippled condition; he, in his
turn, 'played ducks and drakes' with it, and when he died, left his sole
heir, Panteley, the small mortgaged village of Bezsonovo, with
thirty-five souls of the male, and seventy-six of the female sex, and
twenty-eight acres and a half of useless land on the waste of
Kolobrodova, no record of serfs for which could be found among the
deceased's deeds. The deceased had, it must be confessed, ruined himself
in a very strange way: 'provident management' had been his destruction.
According to his notions, a nobleman ought not to depend on merchants,
townsmen, and 'brigands' of that sort, as he called them; he set up all
possible trades and crafts on his estate; 'it's both seemlier and
cheaper,' he used to say: 'it's provident management'! He never
relinquished this fatal idea to the end of his days; indeed, it was his
ruin. But, then, what entertainment it gave him! He never denied himself
the satisfaction of a single whim. Among other freaks, he once began
building, after his own fancy, so immense a family coach that, in spite
of the united efforts of the peasants' horses, drawn together from the
whole village, as well as their owners, it came to grief and fell to
pieces on the first hillside. Eremey Lukitch (the name of Panteley's
father was Eremey Lukitch), ordered a memorial to be put up on the
hillside, but was not, however, at all abashed over the affair. He
conceived the happy thought, too, of building a church--by himself, of
course--without the assistance of an architect. He burnt a whole forest
in making the bricks, laid an immense foundation, as though for a
provincial hall, raised the walls, and began putting on the cupola; the
cupola fell down. He tried again--the cupola again broke down; he tried
the third time---the cupola fell to pieces a third time. Good Eremey
Lukitch grew thoughtful; there was something uncanny about it, he
reflected... some accursed witchcraft must have a hand in it... and at
once he gave orders to flog all the old women in the village. They
flogged the old women; but they didn't get the cupola on, for all that.
He began reconstructing the peasants' huts on a new plan, and all on a
system of 'provident management'; he set them three homesteads together
in a triangle, and in the middle stuck up a post with a painted
bird-cage and flag. Every day he invented some new freak; at one time he
was making soup of burdocks, at another cutting his horses' tails off to
make caps for his servants; at another, proposing to substitute nettles
for flax, to feed pigs on mushrooms.... He had once read in the
_Moscow Gazette_ an article by a Harkov landowner, Hryak-Hrupyorsky,
on the importance of morality to the well-being of the peasant, and the
next day he gave forth a decree to all his peasants to learn off the
Harkov landowner's article by heart at once. The peasants learnt the
article; the master asked them whether they understood what was said
in it? The bailiff replied--that to be sure they understood it! About the
same time he ordered all his subjects, with a view to the maintenance
of order and provident management, to be numbered, and each to have his
number sewn on his collar. On meeting the master, each was to shout,
'Number so-and-so is here!' and the master would answer affably:
'Go on, in God's name!'
In spite, however, of order and provident management, Eremey Lukitch got
by degrees into a very difficult position; he began at first by
mortgaging his villages, and then was brought to the sale of them; the
last ancestral home, the village with the unfinished church, was sold at
last for arrears to the Crown, luckily not in the lifetime of Eremey
Lukitch--he could never have supported such a blow--but a fortnight
after his death. He succeeded in dying at home in his own bed,
surrounded by his own people, and under the care of his own doctor; but
nothing was left to poor Panteley but Bezsonovo.
Panteley heard of his father's illness while he was still in the
service, in the very heat of the 'difficulties' mentioned above. He was
only just nineteen. From his earliest childhood he had not left his
father's house, and under the guidance of his mother, a very
good-natured but perfectly stupid woman, Vassilissa Vassilyevna, he grew
up spoilt and conceited. She undertook his education alone; Eremey
Lukitch, buried in his economical fancies, had no thoughts to spare for
it. It is true, he once punished his son with his own hand for
mispronouncing a letter of the alphabet; but Eremey Lukitch had received
a cruel and secret blow that day: his best dog had been crushed by a
tree. Vassilissa Vassilyevna's efforts in regard Panteley's education
did not, however, get beyond one terrific exertion; in the sweat of her
brow she engaged him a tutor, one Birkopf, a retired Alsatian soldier,
and to the day of her death she trembled like a leaf before him. 'Oh,'
she thought, 'if he throws us up--I'm lost! Where could I turn? Where
could I find another teacher? Why, with what pains, what pains I enticed
this one away from our neighbours!' And Birkopf, like a shrewd man,
promptly took advantage of his unique position; he drank like a fish,
and slept from morning till night. On the completion of his 'course of
science,' Panteley entered the army. Vassilissa Vassilyevna was no more;
she had died six months before that important event, of fright. She had
had a dream of a white figure riding on a bear. Eremey Lukitch soon
followed his better half.
At the first news of his illness, Panteley galloped home at breakneck
speed, but he did not find his father alive. What was the amazement of
the dutiful son when he found himself, utterly unexpectedly, transformed
from a rich heir to a poor man! Few men are capable of bearing so sharp
a reverse well. Panteley was embittered, made misanthropical by it. From
an honest, generous, good-natured fellow, though spoilt and
hot-tempered, he became haughty and quarrelsome; he gave up associating
with the neighbours--he was too proud to visit the rich, and he
disdained the poor--and behaved with unheard of arrogance to everyone,
even to the established authorities. 'I am of the ancient hereditary
nobility,' he would say. Once he had been on the point of shooting the
police-commissioner for coming into the room with his cap on his head.
Of course the authorities, on their side, had their revenge, and took
every opportunity to make him feel their power; but still, they were
rather afraid of him, because he had a desperate temper, and would
propose a duel with knives at the second word. At the slightest retort
Tchertop-hanov's eyes blazed, his voice broke.... Ah, er--er--er,' he
stammered, 'damn my soul!'... and nothing could stop him. And,
moreover, he was a man of stainless character, who had never had a hand
in anything the least shady. No one, of course, visited him... and with
all this he was a good-hearted, even a great-hearted man in his own way;
acts of injustice, of oppression, he would not brook even against
strangers; he stood up for his own peasants like a rock. 'What?' he
would say, with a violent blow on his own head: 'touch my people, mine?
My name's not Tchertop-hanov, if I...'
Tihon Ivanitch Nedopyuskin could not, like Panteley Eremyitch, pride
himself on his origin. His father came of the peasant proprietor class,
and only after forty years of service attained the rank of a noble. Mr.
Nedopyuskin, the father, belonged to the number of those people who are
pursued by misfortune with an obduracy akin to personal hatred. For
sixty whole years, from his very birth to his very death, the poor man
was struggling with all the hardships, calamities, and privations,
incidental to people of small means; he struggled like a fish under the
ice, never having enough food and sleep--cringing, worrying, wearing
himself to exhaustion, fretting over every farthing, with genuine
'innocence' suffering in the service, and dying at last in either a
garret or a cellar, in the unsuccessful struggle to gain for himself or
his children a crust of dry bread. Fate had hunted him down like a hare.
He was a good-natured and honest man, though he did take bribes--from a
threepenny bit up to a crown piece inclusive. Nedopyuskin had a wife,
thin and consumptive; he had children too; luckily they all died young
except Tihon and a daughter, Mitrodora, nicknamed 'the merchants'
belle,' who, after many painful and ludicrous adventures, was married to
a retired attorney. Mr. Nedopyuskin had succeeded before his death in
getting Tihon a place as supernumerary clerk in some office; but
directly after his father's death Tihon resigned his situation. Their
perpetual anxieties, their heartrending struggle with cold and hunger,
his mother's careworn depression, his father's toiling despair, the
coarse aggressiveness of landladies and shopkeepers--all the unending
daily suffering of their life had developed an exaggerated timidity in
Tihon: at the mere sight of his chief he was faint and trembling like a
captured bird. He threw up his office. Nature, in her indifference, or
perhaps her irony, implants in people all sorts of faculties and
tendencies utterly inconsistent with their means and their position in
society; with her characteristic care and love she had moulded of Tihon,
the son of a poor clerk, a sensuous, indolent, soft, impressionable
creature--a creature fitted exclusively for enjoyment, gifted with an
excessively delicate sense of smell and of taste...she had moulded him,
finished him off most carefully, and set her creation to struggle up on
sour cabbage and putrid fish! And, behold! the creation did struggle up
somehow, and began what is called 'life.' Then the fun began. Fate,
which had so ruthlessly tormented Nedopyuskin the father, took to the
son too; she had a taste for them, one must suppose. But she treated
Tihon on a different plan: she did not torture him; she played with him.
She did not once drive him to desperation, she did not set him to suffer
the degrading agonies of hunger, but she led him a dance through the
whole of Russia from one end to the other, from one degrading and
ludicrous position to another; at one time Fate made him 'majordomo' to