Part 3 out of 3
the same simplicity and conviction as though she were relating
common things which she herself had witnessed, and to doubt which
could never enter into any one's head. I listened almost
breathlessly, and though I did not understand all she said, I
never for a moment doubted her word.
"Yes, my darling, she is here now, and perhaps looking at us and
listening to what we are saying," concluded Natalia. Raising her
head, she remained silent for a while. At length she wiped away
the tears which were streaming from her eyes, looked me straight
in the face, and said in a voice trembling with emotion:
"Ah, it is through many trials that God is leading me to Him.
Why, indeed, am I still here? Whom have I to live for? Whom have
I to love?"
"Do you not love US, then?" I asked sadly, and half-choking
with my tears.
"Yes, God knows that I love you, my darling; but to love any one
as I loved HER--that I cannot do."
She could say no more, but turned her head aside and wept
bitterly. As for me, I no longer thought of going to sleep, but
sat silently with her and mingled my tears with hers.
Presently Foka entered the room, but, on seeing our emotion and
not wishing to disturb us, stopped short at the door.
"Do you want anything, my good Foka?" asked Natalia as she
wiped away her tears.
"If you please, half-a-pound of currants, four pounds of sugar,
and three pounds of rice for the kutia." [Cakes partaken of by
the mourners at a Russian funeral.]
"Yes, in one moment," said Natalia as she took a pinch of snuff
and hastened to her drawers. All traces of the grief, aroused by
our conversation disappeared on, the instant that she had duties
to fulfil, for she looked upon those duties as of paramount
"But why FOUR pounds?" she objected as she weighed the sugar on
a steelyard. "Three and a half would be sufficient," and she
withdrew a few lumps. "How is it, too, that, though I weighed
out eight pounds of rice yesterday, more is wanted now? No
offence to you, Foka, but I am not going to waste rice like that.
I suppose Vanka is glad that there is confusion in the house just
now, for he thinks that nothing will be looked after, but I am
not going to have any careless extravagance with my master's
goods. Did one ever hear of such a thing? Eight pounds!"
"Well, I have nothing to do with it. He says it is all gone,
"Hm, hm! Well, there it is. Let him take it."
I was struck by the sudden transition from the touching
sensibility with which she had just been speaking to me to this
petty reckoning and captiousness. Yet, thinking it over
afterwards, I recognised that it was merely because, in spite of
what was lying on her heart, she retained the habit of duty, and
that it was the strength of that habit which enabled her to
pursue her functions as of old. Her grief was too strong and too
true to require any pretence of being unable to fulfil trivial
tasks, nor would she have understood that any one could so
pretend. Vanity is a sentiment so entirely at variance with
genuine grief, yet a sentiment so inherent in human nature, that
even the most poignant sorrow does not always drive it wholly
forth. Vanity mingled with grief shows itself in a desire to be
recognised as unhappy or resigned; and this ignoble desire--an
aspiration which, for all that we may not acknowledge it is
rarely absent, even in cases of the utmost affliction--takes off
greatly from the force, the dignity, and the sincerity of grief.
Natalia Savishna had been so sorely smitten by her misfortune
that not a single wish of her own remained in her soul--she went
on living purely by habit.
Having handed over the provisions to Foka, and reminded him of
the refreshments which must be ready for the priests, she took up
her knitting and seated herself by my side again. The
conversation reverted to the old topic, and we once more mourned
and shed tears together. These talks with Natalia I repeated
every day, for her quiet tears and words of devotion brought me
relief and comfort. Soon, however, a parting came. Three days
after the funeral we returned to Moscow, and I never saw her
Grandmamma received the sad tidings only on our return to her
house, and her grief was extraordinary. At first we were not
allowed to see her, since for a whole week she was out of her
mind, and the doctors were afraid for her life. Not only did she
decline all medicine whatsoever, but she refused to speak to
anybody or to take nourishment, and never closed her eyes m
sleep. Sometimes, as she sat alone in the arm-chair in her room,
she would begin laughing and crying at the same time, with a sort
of tearless grief, or else relapse into convulsions, and scream
out dreadful, incoherent words in a horrible voice. It was the
first dire sorrow which she had known in her life, and it reduced
her almost to distraction. She would begin accusing first one
person, and then another, of bringing this misfortune upon her,
and rail at and blame them with the most extraordinary virulence,
Finally she would rise from her arm-chair, pace the room for a
while, and end by falling senseless to the floor.
Once, when I went to her room, she appeared to be sitting quietly
in her chair, yet with an air which struck me as curious. Though
her eyes were wide open, their glance was vacant and meaningless,
and she seemed to gaze in my direction without seeing me.
Suddenly her lips parted slowly in a smile, and she said in a
touchingly, tender voice: "Come here, then, my dearest one; come
here, my angel." Thinking that it was myself she was addressing,
I moved towards her, but it was not I whom she was beholding at
that moment. "Oh, my love," she went on. "if only you could
know how distracted I have been, and how delighted I am to see
you once more!" I understood then that she believed herself to
be looking upon Mamma, and halted where I was. "They told me you
were gone," she concluded with a frown; "but what nonsense! As
if you could die before ME!" and she laughed a terrible,
Only those who can love strongly can experience an overwhelming
grief. Yet their very need of loving sometimes serves to throw
off their grief from them and to save them. The moral nature of
man is more tenacious of life than the physical, and grief never
After a time Grandmamma's power of weeping came back to her, and
she began to recover. Her first thought when her reason returned
was for us children, and her love for us was greater than ever.
We never left her arm-chair, and she would talk of Mamma, and
weep softly, and caress us.
Nobody who saw her grief could say that it was consciously
exaggerated, for its expression was too strong and touching; yet
for some reason or another my sympathy went out more to Natalia
Savishna, and to this day I am convinced that nobody loved and
regretted Mamma so purely and sincerely as did that simple-
hearted, affectionate being.
With Mamma's death the happy time of my childhood came to an end,
and a new epoch--the epoch of my boyhood--began; but since my
memories of Natalia Savishna (who exercised such a strong and
beneficial influence upon the bent of my mind and the development
of my sensibility) belong rather to the first period, I will add
a few words about her and her death before closing this portion
of my life.
I heard later from people in the village that, after our return
to Moscow, she found time hang very heavy on her hands. Although
the drawers and shelves were still under her charge, and she
never ceased to arrange and rearrange them--to take things out and
to dispose of them afresh--she sadly missed the din and bustle of
the seignorial mansion to which she had been accustomed from her
childhood up. Consequently grief, the alteration in her mode of
life, and her lack of activity soon combined to develop in her a
malady to which she had always been more or less subject.
Scarcely more than a year after Mamma's death dropsy showed
itself, and she took to her bed. I can imagine how sad it must
have been for her to go on living--still more, to die--alone in
that great empty house at Petrovskoe, with no relations or any
one near her. Every one there esteemed and loved her, but she had
formed no intimate friendships in the place, and was rather proud
of the fact. That was because, enjoying her master's confidence
as she did, and having so much property under her care, she
considered that intimacies would lead to culpable indulgence and
condescension, Consequently (and perhaps, also, because she had
nothing really in common with the other servants) she kept them
all at a distance, and used to say that she "recognised neither
kinsman nor godfather in the house, and would permit of no
exceptions with regard to her master's property."
Instead, she sought and found consolation in fervent prayers to
God. Yet sometimes, in those moments of weakness to which all of
us are subject, and when man's best solace is the tears and
compassion of his fellow-creatures, she would take her old dog
Moska on to her bed, and talk to it, and weep softly over it as
it answered her caresses by licking her hands, with its yellow
eyes fixed upon her. When Moska began to whine she would say as
she quieted it: "Enough, enough! I know without thy telling me
that my time is near." A month before her death she took out of
her chest of drawers some fine white calico, white cambric, and
pink ribbon, and, with the help of the maidservants, fashioned
the garments in which she wished to be buried. Next she put
everything on her shelves in order and handed the bailiff an
inventory which she had made out with scrupulous accuracy. All
that she kept back was a couple of silk gowns, an old shawl, and
Grandpapa's military uniform--things which had been presented to
her absolutely, and which, thanks to her care and orderliness,
were in an excellent state of preservation--particularly the
handsome gold embroidery on the uniform.
Just before her death, again, she expressed a wish that one of
the gowns (a pink one) should be made into a robe de chambre for
Woloda; that the other one (a many-coloured gown) should be made
into a similar garment for myself; and that the shawl should go
to Lubotshka. As for the uniform, it was to devolve either to
Woloda or to myself, according as the one or the other of us
should first become an officer. All the rest of her property
(save only forty roubles, which she set aside for her
commemorative rites and to defray the costs of her burial) was to
pass to her brother, a person with whom, since he lived a
dissipated life in a distant province, she had had no intercourse
during her lifetime. When, eventually, he arrived to claim the
inheritance, and found that its sum-total only amounted to
twenty-five roubles in notes, he refused to believe it, and
declared that it was impossible that his sister-a woman who for
sixty years had had sole charge in a wealthy house, as well as
all her life had been penurious and averse to giving away even
the smallest thing should have left no more: yet it was a fact.
Though Natalia's last illness lasted for two months, she bore her
sufferings with truly Christian fortitude. Never did she fret or
complain, but, as usual, appealed continually to God. An hour
before the end came she made her final confession, received the
Sacrament with quiet joy, and was accorded extreme unction. Then
she begged forgiveness of every one in the house for any wrong
she might have done them, and requested the priest to send us
word of the number of times she had blessed us for our love of
her, as well as of how in her last moments she had implored our
forgiveness if, in her ignorance, she had ever at any time given
us offence. "Yet a thief have I never been. Never have I used so
much as a piece of thread that was not my own." Such was the one
quality which she valued in herself.
Dressed in the cap and gown prepared so long beforehand, and with
her head resting, upon the cushion made for the purpose, she
conversed with the priest up to the very last moment, until,
suddenly, recollecting that she had left him nothing for the
poor, she took out ten roubles, and asked him to distribute them
in the parish. Lastly she made the sign of the cross, lay down,
and expired--pronouncing with a smile of joy the name of the
She quitted life without a pang, and, so far from fearing death,
welcomed it as a blessing. How often do we hear that said, and
how seldom is it a reality! Natalia Savishna had no reason to
fear death for the simple reason that she died in a sure and
certain faith and in strict obedience to the commands of the
Gospel. Her whole life had been one of pure, disinterested love,
of utter self-negation. Had her convictions been of a more
enlightened order, her life directed to a higher aim, would that
pure soul have been the more worthy of love and reverence? She
accomplished the highest and best achievement in this world: she
died without fear and without repining.
They buried her where she had wished to lie--near the little
mausoleum which still covers Mamma's tomb. The little mound
beneath which she sleeps is overgrown with nettles and burdock,
and surrounded by a black railing, but I never forget, when
leaving the mausoleum, to approach that railing, and to salute
the, plot of earth within by bowing reverently to the ground.
Sometimes, too, I stand thoughtfully between the railing and the
mausoleum, and sad memories pass through my mind. Once the idea
came to me as I stood there: "Did Providence unite me to those
two beings solely in order to make me regret them my life long?"