Part 4 out of 4
But grievous it is to think that no one said thanks even to her dead body,
though she herself was shy and shrank from all thanks.
May her dear shade pardon this belated blossom, which I make bold to lay
upon her grave!
THE LAST MEETING
We had once been close and warm friends.... But an unlucky moment came ...
and we parted as enemies.
Many years passed by.... And coming to the town where he lived, I learnt
that he was helplessly ill, and wished to see me.
I made my way to him, went into his room.... Our eyes met.
I hardly knew him. God! what sickness had done to him!
Yellow, wrinkled, completely bald, with a scanty grey beard, he sat clothed
in nothing but a shirt purposely slit open.... He could not bear the weight
of even the lightest clothes. Jerkily he stretched out to me his fearfully
thin hand that looked as if it were gnawed away, with an effort muttered
a few indistinct words--whether of welcome or reproach, who can tell? His
emaciated chest heaved, and over the dwindled pupils of his kindling eyes
rolled two hard-wrung tears of suffering.
My heart sank.... I sat down on a chair beside him, and involuntarily
dropping my eyes before the horror and hideousness of it, I too held out my
But it seemed to me that it was not his hand that took hold of me.
It seemed to me that between us is sitting a tall, still, white woman. A
long robe shrouds her from head to foot. Her deep, pale eyes look into
vacancy; no sound is uttered by her pale, stern lips.
This woman has joined our hands.... She has reconciled us for ever.
Yes.... Death has reconciled us....
I was sitting at the open window ... in the morning, the early morning of
the first of May.
The dawn had not yet begun; but already the dark, warm night grew pale and
chill at its approach.
No mist had risen, no breeze was astir, all was colourless and still ...
but the nearness of the awakening could be felt, and the rarer air smelt
keen and moist with dew.
Suddenly, at the open window, with a light whirr and rustle, a great bird
flew into my room.
I started, looked closely at it.... It was not a bird; it was a tiny winged
woman, dressed in a narrow long robe flowing to her feet.
She was grey all over, the colour of mother-of-pearl; only the inner side
of her wings glowed with the tender flush of an opening rose; a wreath of
valley lilies entwined the scattered curls upon her little round head; and,
like a butterfly's feelers, two peacock feathers waved drolly above her
lovely rounded brow.
She fluttered twice about the ceiling; her tiny face was laughing;
laughing, too, were her great, clear, black eyes.
The gay frolic of her sportive flight set them flashing like diamonds.
She held in her hand the long stalk of a flower of the steppes--'the Tsar's
sceptre,' the Russians call it--it is really like a sceptre.
Flying rapidly above me, she touched my head with the flower.
I rushed towards her.... But already she had fluttered out of window, and
In the garden, in a thicket of lilac bushes, a wood-dove greeted her with
its first morning warble ... and where she vanished, the milk-white sky
flushed a soft pink.
I know thee, Goddess of Fantasy! Thou didst pay me a random visit by the
way; thou hast flown on to the young poets.
O Poesy! Youth! Virginal beauty of woman! Thou couldst shine for me but for
a moment, in the early dawn of early spring!
A tall, bony old woman, with iron face and dull, fixed look, moves with
long strides, and, with an arm dry as a stick, pushes before her another
This woman--of huge stature, powerful, thick-set, with the muscles of a
Hercules, with a tiny head set on a bull neck, and blind--in her turn
pushes before her a small, thin girl.
This girl alone has eyes that see; she resists, turns round, lifts fair,
delicate hands; her face, full of life, shows impatience and daring.... She
wants not to obey, she wants not to go, where they are driving her ... but,
still, she has to yield and go.
Who will, may translate.
Near a large town, along the broad highroad walked an old sick man.
He tottered as he went; his old wasted legs, halting, dragging, stumbling,
moved painfully and feebly, as though they did not belong to him; his
clothes hung in rags about him; his uncovered head drooped on his
breast.... He was utterly worn-out.
He sat down on a stone by the wayside, bent forward, leant his elbows on
his knees, hid his face in his hands; and through the knotted fingers the
tears dropped down on to the grey, dry dust.
Remembered how he too had been strong and rich, and how he had wasted his
health, and had lavished his riches upon others, friends and enemies....
And here, he had not now a crust of bread; and all had forsaken him,
friends even before foes.... Must he sink to begging alms? There was
bitterness in his heart, and shame.
The tears still dropped and dropped, spotting the grey dust.
Suddenly he heard some one call him by his name; he lifted his weary head,
and saw standing before him a stranger.
A face calm and grave, but not stern; eyes not beaming, but clear; a look
penetrating, but not unkind.
'Thou hast given away all thy riches,' said a tranquil voice.... 'But thou
dost not regret having done good, surely?'
'I regret it not,' answered the old man with a sigh; 'but here I am dying
'And had there been no beggars who held out their hands to thee,' the
stranger went on, 'thou wouldst have had none on whom to prove thy
goodness; thou couldst not have done thy good works.'
The old man answered nothing, and pondered.
'So be thou also now not proud, poor man,' the stranger began again. 'Go
thou, hold out thy hand; do thou too give to other good men a chance to
prove in deeds that they are good.'
The old man started, raised his eyes ... but already the stranger had
vanished, and in the distance a man came into sight walking along the road.
The old man went up to him, and held out his hand. This man turned away
with a surly face, and gave him nothing.
But after him another passed, and he gave the old man some trifling alms.
And the old man bought himself bread with the coppers given him, and sweet
to him seemed the morsel gained by begging, and there was no shame in his
heart, but the contrary: peace and joy came as a blessing upon him.
I dreamed that we were sitting, a party of twenty, in a big room with open
Among us were women, children, old men.... We were all talking of some very
well-known subject, talking noisily and indistinctly.
Suddenly, with a sharp, whirring sound, there flew into the room a big
insect, two inches long ... it flew in, circled round, and settled on the
It was like a fly or a wasp. Its body dirt-coloured; of the same colour
too its flat, stiff wings; outspread feathered claws, and a head thick
and angular, like a dragon-fly's; both head and claws were bright red, as
though steeped in blood.
This strange insect incessantly turned its head up and down, to right and
to left, moved its claws ... then suddenly darted from the wall, flew with
a whirring sound about the room, and again settled, again hatefully and
loathsomely wriggling all over, without stirring from the spot.
In all of us it excited a sensation of loathing, dread, even terror....
No one of us had ever seen anything like it. We all cried: 'Drive that
monstrous thing away!' and waved our handkerchiefs at it from a distance
... but no one ventured to go up to it ... and when the insect began
flying, every one instinctively moved away.
Only one of our party, a pale-faced young man, stared at us all in
amazement He shrugged his shoulders; he smiled, and positively could not
conceive what had happened to us, and why we were in such a state of
excitement. He himself did not see an insect at all, did not hear the
ill-omened whirr of its wings.
All at once the insect seemed to stare at him, darted off, and dropping
on his head, stung him on the forehead, above the eyes.... The young man
feebly groaned, and fell dead.
The fearful fly flew out at once.... Only then we guessed what it was had
A peasant woman, a widow, had an only son, a young man of twenty, the best
workman in the village, and he died.
The lady who was the owner of the village, hearing of the woman's trouble,
went to visit her on the very day of the burial.
She found her at home.
Standing in the middle of her hut, before the table, she was, without
haste, with a regular movement of the right arm (the left hung listless at
her side), scooping up weak cabbage soup from the bottom of a blackened
pot, and swallowing it spoonful by spoonful.
The woman's face was sunken and dark; her eyes were red and swollen ... but
she held herself as rigid and upright as in church.
'Heavens!' thought the lady, 'she can eat at such a moment ... what coarse
feelings they have really, all of them!'
And at that point the lady recollected that when, a few years before, she
had lost her little daughter, nine months old, she had refused, in her
grief, a lovely country villa near Petersburg, and had spent the whole
summer in town! Meanwhile the woman went on swallowing cabbage soup.
The lady could not contain herself, at last. 'Tatiana!' she said ...
'Really! I'm surprised! Is it possible you didn't care for your son? How is
it you've not lost your appetite? How can you eat that soup!'
'My Vasia's dead,' said the woman quietly, and tears of anguish ran once
more down her hollow cheeks. 'It's the end of me too, of course; it's
tearing the heart out of me alive. But the soup's not to be wasted; there's
salt in it.'
The lady only shrugged her shoulders and went away. Salt did not cost her
THE REALM OF AZURE
O realm of azure! O realm of light and colour, of youth and happiness! I
have beheld thee in dream. We were together, a few, in a beautiful little
boat, gaily decked out. Like a swan's breast the white sail swelled below
the streamers frolicking in the wind.
I knew not who were with me; but in all my soul I felt that they were
young, light-hearted, happy as I!
But I looked not indeed on them. I beheld all round the boundless blue of
the sea, dimpled with scales of gold, and overhead the same boundless sea
of blue, and in it, triumphant and mirthful, it seemed, moved the sun.
And among us, ever and anon, rose laughter, ringing and gleeful as the
laughter of the gods!
And on a sudden, from one man's lips or another's, would flow words, songs
of divine beauty and inspiration, and power ... it seemed the sky itself
echoed back a greeting to them, and the sea quivered in unison.... Then
followed again the blissful stillness.
Riding lightly over the soft waves, swiftly our little boat sped on. No
wind drove it along; our own lightly beating hearts guided it. At our will
it floated, obedient as a living thing.
We came on islands, enchanted islands, half-transparent with the prismatic
lights of precious stones, of amethysts and emeralds. Odours of bewildering
fragrance rose from the rounded shores; some of these islands showered on
us a rain of roses and valley lilies; from others birds darted up, with
long wings of rainbow hues.
The birds flew circling above us; the lilies and roses melted away in the
pearly foam that glided by the smooth sides of our boat.
And, with the flowers and the birds, sounds floated to us, sounds sweet as
honey ... women's voices, one fancied, in them.... And all about us, sky,
sea, the heaving sail aloft, the gurgling water at the rudder--all spoke of
love, of happy love!
And she, the beloved of each of us--she was there ... unseen and close.
One moment more, and behold, her eyes will shine upon thee, her smile will
blossom on thee.... Her hand will take thy hand and guide thee to the land
of joy that fades not!
O realm of azure! In dream have I beheld thee.
TWO RICH MEN
When I hear the praises of the rich man Rothschild, who out of his immense
revenues devotes whole thousands to the education of children, the care of
the sick, the support of the aged, I admire and am touched.
But even while I admire it and am touched by it, I cannot help recalling a
poor peasant family who took an orphan niece into their little tumble-down
'If we take Katka,' said the woman, 'our last farthing will go on her,
there won't be enough to get us salt to salt us a bit of bread.'
'Well,... we'll do without salt,' answered the peasant, her husband.
Rothschild is a long way behind that peasant!
THE OLD MAN
Days of darkness, of dreariness, have come.... Thy own infirmities, the
sufferings of those dear to thee, the chill and gloom of old age. All that
thou hast loved, to which thou hast given thyself irrevocably, is falling,
going to pieces. The way is all down-hill.
What canst thou do? Grieve? Complain? Thou wilt aid not thyself nor others
On the bowed and withering tree the leaves are smaller and fewer, but its
green is yet the same.
Do thou too shrink within, withdraw into thyself, into thy memories, and
there, deep down, in the very depths of the soul turned inwards on itself,
thy old life, to which thou alone hast the key, will be bright again for
thee, in all the fragrance, all the fresh green, and the grace and power of
But beware ... look not forward, poor old man!
Two friends were sitting at a table drinking tea.
A sudden hubbub arose in the street. They heard pitiable groans, furious
abuse, bursts of malignant laughter.
'They're beating some one,' observed one of the friends, looking out of
'A criminal? A murderer?' inquired the other. 'I say, whatever he may be,
we can't allow this illegal chastisement. Let's go and take his part.'
'But it's not a murderer they're beating.'
'Not a murderer? Is it a thief then? It makes no difference, let's go and
get him away from the crowd.'
'It's not a thief either.'
'Not a thief? Is it an absconding cashier then, a railway director, an army
contractor, a Russian art patron, a lawyer, a Conservative editor, a social
reformer?... Any way, let's go and help him!'
'No ... it's a newspaper reporter they're beating.'
'A reporter? Oh, I tell you what: we'll finish our glasses of tea first
THE TWO BROTHERS
It was a vision ...
Two angels appeared to me ... two genii.
I say angels, genii, because both had no clothes on their naked bodies, and
behind their shoulders rose long powerful wings.
Both were youths. One was rather plump, with soft smooth skin and dark
curls. His eyes were brown and full, with thick eyelashes; his look
was sly, merry, and eager. His face was charming, bewitching, a little
insolent, a little wicked. His full soft crimson lips were faintly
quivering. The youth smiled as one possessing power--self-confidently and
languidly; a magnificent wreath of flowers rested lightly on his shining
tresses, almost touching his velvety eyebrows. A spotted leopard's skin,
pinned up with a golden arrow, hung lightly from his curved shoulder to
his rounded thigh. The feathers of his wings were tinged with rose colour;
the ends of them were bright red, as though dipped in fresh-spilt scarlet
blood. From time to time they quivered rapidly with a sweet silvery sound,
the sound of rain in spring.
The other was thin, and his skin yellowish. At every breath his ribs could
be seen faintly heaving. His hair was fair, thin, and straight; his eyes
big, round, pale grey ... his glance uneasy and strangely bright. All his
features were sharp; the little half-open mouth, with pointed fish-like
teeth; the pinched eagle nose, the projecting chin, covered with whitish
down. The parched lips never once smiled.
It was a well-cut face, but terrible and pitiless! (Though the face of the
first, the beautiful youth, sweet and lovely as it was, showed no trace of
pity either.) About the head of the second youth were twisted a few broken
and empty ears of corn, entwined with faded grass-stalks. A coarse grey
cloth girt his loins; the wings behind, a dull dark grey colour, moved
slowly and menacingly.
The two youths seemed inseparable companions. Each of them leaned upon the
other's shoulder. The soft hand of the first lay like a cluster of grapes
upon the bony neck of the second; the slender wrist of the second, with its
long delicate fingers, coiled like a snake about the girlish bosom of the
And I heard a voice. This is what it said: 'Love and Hunger stand before
thee--twin brothers, the two foundation-stones of all things living.
'All that lives moves to get food, and feeds to bring forth young.
'Love and Hunger--their aim is one; that life should cease not, the life of
the individual and the life of others--the same universal life.'
He had every qualification for becoming the scourge of his family.
He was born healthy, was born wealthy, and throughout the whole of his long
life, continuing to be wealthy and healthy, he never committed a single
sin, never fell into a single error, never once made a slip or a blunder.
He was irreproachably conscientious!... And complacent in the sense of
his own conscientiousness, he crushed every one with it, his family, his
friends and his acquaintances.
His conscientiousness was his capital ... and he exacted an exorbitant
interest for it.
His conscientiousness gave him the right to be merciless, and to do no good
deeds beyond what it dictated to him; and he was merciless, and did no good
... for good that is dictated is no good at all.
He took no interest in any one except his own exemplary self, and was
genuinely indignant if others did not take as studious an interest in it!
At the same time he did not consider himself an egoist, and was
particularly severe in censuring, and keen in detecting egoists and egoism.
To be sure he was. The egoism of another was a check on his own.
Not recognising the smallest weakness in himself he did not understand, did
not tolerate any weakness in any one. He did not, in fact, understand any
one or any thing, since he was all, on all sides, above and below, before
and behind, encircled by himself.
He did not even understand the meaning of forgiveness. He had never had to
forgive himself.... What inducement could he have to forgive others?
Before the tribunal of his own conscience, before the face of his own God,
he, this marvel, this monster of virtue, raised his eyes heavenwards, and
with clear unfaltering voice declared, 'Yes, I am an exemplary, a truly
He will repeat these words on his deathbed, and there will be no throb even
then in his heart of stone--in that heart without stain or blemish!
Oh, hideousness of self-complacent, unbending, cheaply bought virtue; thou
art almost more revolting than the frank hideousness of vice!
THE BANQUET OF THE SUPREME BEING
One day the Supreme Being took it into his head to give a great banquet in
his palace of azure.
All the virtues were invited. Only the virtues ... men he did not ask ...
There were a great many of them, great and small. The lesser virtues were
more agreeable and genial than the great ones; but they all appeared in
good humour, and chatted amiably together, as was only becoming for near
relations and friends.
But the Supreme Being noticed two charming ladies who seemed to be totally
The Host gave one of the ladies his arm and led her up to the other.
'Beneficence!' he said, indicating the first.
'Gratitude!' he added, indicating the second.
Both the virtues were amazed beyond expression; ever since the world had
stood, and it had been standing a long time, this was the first time they
Yellowish-grey sand, soft at the top, hard, grating below ... sand without
end, where-ever one looks.
And above this sandy desert, above this sea of dead dust, rises the immense
head of the Egyptian sphinx.
What would they say, those thick, projecting lips, those immutable,
distended, upturned nostrils, and those eyes, those long, half-drowsy,
half-watchful eyes under the double arch of the high brows?
Something they would say. They are speaking, truly, but only Oedipus can
solve the riddle and comprehend their mute speech.
Stay, but I know those features ... in them there is nothing Egyptian.
White, low brow, prominent cheek-bones, nose short and straight, handsome
mouth and white teeth, soft moustache and curly beard, and those wide-set,
not large eyes ... and on the head the cap of hair parted down the
middle.... But it is thou, Karp, Sidor, Semyon, peasant of Yaroslav, of
Ryazan, my countryman, flesh and blood, Russian! Art thou, too, among the
Wouldst thou, too, say somewhat? Yes, and thou, too, art a sphinx.
And thy eyes, those colourless, deep eyes, are speaking too ... and as mute
and enigmatic is their speech.
But where is thy Oedipus?
Alas! it's not enough to don the peasant smock to become thy Oedipus, oh
Sphinx of all the Russias!
I stood before a chain of beautiful mountains forming a semicircle. A
young, green forest covered them from summit to base.
Limpidly blue above them was the southern sky; on the heights the sunbeams
rioted; below, half-hidden in the grass, swift brooks were babbling.
And the old fable came to my mind, how in the first century after Christ's
birth, a Greek ship was sailing on the Aegean Sea.
The hour was mid-day.... It was still weather. And suddenly up aloft, above
the pilot's head, some one called distinctly, 'When thou sailest by the
island, shout in a loud voice, "Great Pan is dead!"'
The pilot was amazed ... afraid. But when the ship passed the island, he
obeyed, he called, 'Great Pan is dead!'
And, at once, in response to his shout, all along the coast (though
the island was uninhabited), sounded loud sobs, moans, long-drawn-out,
plaintive wailings. 'Dead! dead is great Pan!' I recalled this story ...
and a strange thought came to. 'What if I call an invocation?'
But in the sight of the exultant beauty around me, I could not think of
death, and with all my might I shouted, 'Great Pan is arisen! arisen!'
And at once, wonder of wonders, in answer to my call, from all the wide
half-circle of green mountains came peals of joyous laughter, rose the
murmur of glad voices and the clapping of hands. 'He is arisen! Pan is
arisen!' clamoured fresh young voices. Everything before me burst into
sudden laughter, brighter than the sun on high, merrier than the brooks
that babbled among the grass. I heard the hurried thud of light steps,
among the green undergrowth there were gleams of the marble white of
flowing tunics, the living flush of bare limbs.... It was the nymphs,
nymphs, dryads, Bacchantes, hastening from the heights down to the
All at once they appear at every opening in the woods. Their curls float
about their god-like heads, their slender hands hold aloft wreaths and
cymbals, and laughter, sparkling, Olympian laughter, comes leaping, dancing
Before them moves a goddess. She is taller and fairer than the rest; a
quiver on her shoulder, a bow in her hands, a silvery crescent moon on her
'Diana, is it thou?'
But suddenly the goddess stopped ... and at once all the nymphs following
her stopped. The ringing laughter died away.
I see the face of the hushed goddess overspread with a deadly pallor; I saw
her feet grew rooted to the ground, her lips parted in unutterable horror;
her eyes grew wide, fixed on the distance ... What had she seen? What was
she gazing upon?
I turned where she was gazing ...
And on the distant sky-line, above the low strip of fields, gleamed, like
a point of fire the golden cross on the white bell-tower of a Christian
church.... That cross the goddess had caught sight of.
I heard behind me a long, broken sigh, like the quiver of a broken string,
and when I turned again, no trace was left of the nymphs.... The broad
forest was green as before, and only here and there among the thick network
of branches, were fading gleams of something white; whether the nymphs'
white robes, or a mist rising from the valley, I know not.
But how I mourned for those vanished goddesses!
FRIEND AND ENEMY
A prisoner, condemned to confinement for life, broke out of his prison and
took to head-long flight.... After him, just on his heels flew his gaolers
He ran with all his might.... His pursuers began to be left behind.
But behold, before him was a river with precipitous banks, a narrow, but
deep river.... And he could not swim!
A thin rotten plank had been thrown across from one bank to the other. The
fugitive already had his foot upon it.... But it so happened that just
there beside the river stood his best friend and his bitterest enemy.
His enemy said nothing, he merely folded his arms; but the friend shrieked
at the top of his voice: 'Heavens! What are you doing? Madman, think what
you're about! Don't you see the plank's utterly rotten? It will break under
your weight, and you will inevitably perish!'
'But there is no other way to cross ... and don't you hear them in
pursuit?' groaned the poor wretch in despair, and he stepped on to the
'I won't allow it!... No, I won't allow you to rush to destruction!' cried
the zealous friend, and he snatched the plank from under the fugitive. The
latter instantly fell into the boiling torrent, and was drowned.
The enemy smiled complacently, and walked away; but the friend sat down on
the bank, and fell to weeping bitterly over his poor ... poor friend!
To blame himself for his destruction did not however occur to him ... not
for an instant.
'He would not listen to me! He would not listen!' he murmured dejectedly.
'Though indeed,' he added at last. 'He would have had, to be sure, to
languish his whole life long in an awful prison! At any rate, he is out
of suffering now! He is better off now! Such was bound to be his fate, I
'And yet I am sorry, from humane feeling!'
And the kind soul continued to sob inconsolably over the fate of his
I saw myself, in dream, a youth, almost a boy, in a low-pitched wooden
church. The slim wax candles gleamed, spots of red, before the old pictures
of the saints.
A ring of coloured light encircled each tiny flame. Dark and dim it was
in the church.... But there stood before me many people. All fair-haired,
peasant heads. From time to time they began swaying, falling, rising
again, like the ripe ears of wheat, when the wind of summer passes in slow
undulation over them.
All at once some man came up from behind and stood beside me.
I did not turn towards him; but at once I felt that this man was Christ.
Emotion, curiosity, awe overmastered me suddenly. I made an effort ... and
looked at my neighbour.
A face like every one's, a face like all men's faces. The eyes looked a
little upwards, quietly and intently. The lips closed, but not compressed;
the upper lip, as it were, resting on the lower; a small beard parted in
two. The hands folded and still. And the clothes on him like every one's.
'What sort of Christ is this?' I thought. 'Such an ordinary, ordinary man!
It can't be!'
I turned away. But I had hardly turned my eyes away from this ordinary man
when I felt again that it really was none other than Christ standing beside
Again I made an effort over myself.... And again the same face, like all
men's faces, the same everyday though unknown features.
And suddenly my heart sank, and I came to myself. Only then I realised that
just such a face--a face like all men's faces--is the face of Christ.
Have you seen an old grey stone on the seashore, when at high tide, on a
sunny day of spring, the living waves break upon it on all sides--break and
frolic and caress it--and sprinkle over its sea-mossed head the scattered
pearls of sparkling foam?
The stone is still the same stone; but its sullen surface blossoms out into
They tell of those far-off days when the molten granite had but begun to
harden, and was all aglow with the hues of fire.
Even so of late was my old heart surrounded, broken in upon by a rush of
fresh girls' souls ... and under their caressing touch it flushed with
long-faded colours, the traces of burnt-out fires!
The waves have ebbed back ... but the colours are not yet dull, though a
cutting wind is drying them.
I stood on the top of a sloping hillside; before me, a gold and silver sea
of shifting colour, stretched the ripe rye.
But no little wavelets ran over that sea; no stir of wind was in the
stifling air; a great storm was gathering.
Near me the sun still shone with dusky fire; but beyond the rye, not very
far away, a dark-blue storm-cloud lay, a menacing mass over full half of
All was hushed ... all things were faint under the malignant glare of
the last sun rays. No sound, no sight of a bird; even the sparrows hid
themselves. Only somewhere close by, persistently a great burdock leaf
flapped and whispered.
How strong was the smell of the wormwood in the hedges! I looked at the
dark-blue mass ... there was a vague uneasiness at my heart. 'Come then,
quickly, quickly!' was my thought, 'flash, golden snake, and roll thunder!
move, hasten, break into floods, evil storm-cloud; cut short this agony of
But the storm-cloud did not move. It lay as before, a stifling weight upon
the hushed earth ... and only seemed to swell and darken.
And lo, over its dead dusky-blue, something darted in smooth, even flight,
like a white handkerchief or a handful of snow. It was a white dove flying
from the direction of the village.
It flew, flew on straight ... and plunged into the forest. Some instants
passed by--still the same cruel hush.... But, look! Two handkerchiefs gleam
in the air, two handfuls of snow are floating back, two white doves are
winging their way homewards with even flight.
And now at last the storm has broken, and the tumult has begun!
I could hardly get home. The wind howled, tossing hither and thither in
frenzy; before it scudded low red clouds, torn, it seemed, into shreds;
everything was whirled round in confusion; the lashing rain streamed
in furious torrents down the upright trunks, flashes of lightning were
blinding with greenish light, sudden peals of thunder boomed like
cannon-shots, the air was full of the smell of sulphur....
But under the overhanging roof, on the sill of the dormer window, side by
side sat two white doves, the one who flew after his mate, and the mate he
brought back, saved, perhaps, from destruction.
They sit ruffling up their feathers, and each feels his mate's wing against
They are happy! And I am happy, seeing them.... Though I am alone ...
alone, as always.
How empty, dull, and useless is almost every day when it is spent! How few
the traces it leaves behind it! How meaningless, how foolish those hours as
they coursed by one after another!
And yet it is man's wish to exist; he prizes life, he rests hopes on it, on
himself, on the future.... Oh, what blessings he looks for from the future!
But why does he imagine that other coming days will not be like this day he
has just lived through?
Nay, he does not even imagine it. He likes not to think at all, and he does
'Ah, to-morrow, to-morrow!' he comforts himself, till 'to-morrow' pitches
him into the grave.
Well, and once in the grave, thou hast no choice, thou doest no more
I dreamed I had come into an immense underground temple with lofty arched
roof. It was filled with a sort of underground uniform light.
In the very middle of the temple sat a majestic woman in a flowing robe
of green colour. Her head propped on her hand, she seemed buried in deep
At once I was aware that this woman was Nature herself; and a thrill of
reverent awe sent an instantaneous shiver through my inmost soul.
I approached the sitting figure, and making a respectful bow, 'O common
Mother of us all!' I cried, 'of what is thy meditation? Is it of the future
destinies of man thou ponderest? or how he may attain the highest possible
perfection and happiness?'
The woman slowly turned upon me her dark menacing eyes. Her lips moved, and
I heard a ringing voice like the clang of iron.
'I am thinking how to give greater power to the leg-muscles of the flea,
that he may more easily escape from his enemies. The balance of attack and
defence is broken.... It must be restored.'
'What,' I faltered in reply, 'what is it thou art thinking upon? But are
not we, men, thy favourite children?'
The woman frowned slightly. 'All creatures are my children,' she
pronounced, 'and I care for them alike, and all alike I destroy.'
'But right ... reason ... justice ...' I faltered again.
'Those are men's words,' I heard the iron voice saying. 'I know not right
nor wrong.... Reason is no law for me--and what is justice?--I have given
thee life, I shall take it away and give to others, worms or men ... I care
not.... Do thou meanwhile look out for thyself, and hinder me not!'
I would have retorted ... but the earth uttered a hollow groan and
shuddered, and I awoke.
'It happened in 1803,' began my old acquaintance, 'not long before
Austerlitz. The regiment in which I was an officer was quartered in
'We had strict orders not to molest or annoy the inhabitants; as it was,
they regarded us very dubiously, though we were supposed to be allies.
'I had a servant, formerly a serf of my mother's, Yegor, by name. He was a
quiet, honest fellow; I had known him from a child, and treated him as a
'Well, one day, in the house where I was living, I heard screams of abuse,
cries, and lamentations; the woman of the house had had two hens stolen,
and she laid the theft at my servant's door. He defended himself, called me
to witness.... "Likely he'd turn thief, he, Yegor Avtamonov!" I assured the
woman of Yegor's honesty, but she would not listen to me.
'All at once the thud of horses' hoofs was heard along the street; the
commander-in-chief was riding by with his staff. He was riding at a walking
pace, a stout, corpulent man, with drooping head, and epaulettes hanging on
'The woman saw him, and rushing before his horse, flung herself on her
knees, and, bare-headed and all in disorder, she began loudly complaining
of my servant, pointing at him.
'"General!" she screamed; "your Excellency! make an inquiry! help me! save
me! this soldier has robbed me!"
'Yegor stood at the door of the house, bolt upright, his cap in his hand,
he even arched his chest and brought his heels together like a sentry, and
not a word! Whether he was abashed at all the general's suite halting there
in the middle of the street, or stupefied by the calamity facing him, I
can't say, but there stood my poor Yegor, blinking and white as chalk!
'The commander-in-chief cast an abstracted and sullen glance at him,
growled angrily, "Well?" ... Yegor stood like a statue, showing his teeth
as if he were grinning! Looking at him from the side, you'd say the fellow
'Then the commander-in-chief jerked out: "Hang him!" spurred his horse, and
moved on, first at a walking-pace, then at a quick trot. The whole staff
hurried after him; only one adjutant turned round on his saddle and took a
passing glance at Yegor.
'To disobey was impossible.... Yegor was seized at once and led off to
'Then he broke down altogether, and simply gasped out twice, "Gracious
heavens! gracious heavens!" and then in a whisper, "God knows, it wasn't
'Bitterly, bitterly he cried, saying good-bye to me. I was in despair.
"Yegor! Yegor!" I cried, "how came it you said nothing to the general?"
'"God knows, it wasn't me!" the poor fellow repeated, sobbing. The woman
herself was horrified. She had never expected such a dreadful termination,
and she started howling on her own account! She fell to imploring all and
each for mercy, swore the hens had been found, that she was ready to clear
it all up....
'Of course, all that was no sort of use. Those were war-times, sir!
Discipline! The woman sobbed louder and louder.
'Yegor, who had received absolution from the priest, turned to me.
'"Tell her, your honour, not to upset herself.... I've forgiven her."'
My acquaintance, as he repeated this, his servant's last words, murmured,
'My poor Yegor, dear fellow, a real saint!' and the tears trickled down his
WHAT SHALL I THINK?...
What shall I think when I come to die, if only I am in a condition to think
Shall I think how little use I have made of my life, how I have slumbered,
dozed through it, how little I have known how to enjoy its gifts?
'What? is this death? So soon? Impossible! Why, I have had no time to do
anything yet.... I have only been making ready to begin!'
Shall I recall the past, and dwell in thought on the few bright moments I
have lived through--on precious images and faces?
Will my ill deeds come back to my mind, and will my soul be stung by the
burning pain of remorse too late?
Shall I think of what awaits me beyond the grave ... and in truth does
anything await me there?
No.... I fancy I shall try not to think, and shall force myself to take
interest in some trifle simply to distract my own attention from the
menacing darkness, which is black before me.
I once saw a dying man who kept complaining they would not let him have
hazel-nuts to munch!... and only in the depths of his fast-dimming eyes,
something quivered and struggled like the torn wing of a bird wounded to
'HOW FAIR, HOW FRESH WERE THE ROSES ...'
Somewhere, sometime, long, long ago, I read a poem. It was soon forgotten
... but the first line has stuck in my memory--
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
Now is winter; the frost has iced over the window-panes; in the dark room
burns a solitary candle. I sit huddled up in a corner; and in my head the
line keeps echoing and echoing--
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
And I see myself before the low window of a Russian country house. The
summer evening is slowly melting into night, the warm air is fragrant of
mignonette and lime-blossom; and at the window, leaning on her arm, her
head bent on her shoulder, sits a young girl, and silently, intently gazes
into the sky, as though looking for new stars to come out. What candour,
what inspiration in the dreamy eyes, what moving innocence in the parted
questioning lips, how calmly breathes that still-growing, still-untroubled
bosom, how pure and tender the profile of the young face! I dare not speak
to her; but how dear she is to me, how my heart beats!
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
But here in the room it gets darker and darker.... The candle burns dim and
gutters, dancing shadows quiver on the low ceiling, the cruel crunch of the
frost is heard outside, and within the dreary murmur of old age....
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
There rise up before me other images. I hear the merry hubbub of home life
in the country. Two flaxen heads, bending close together, look saucily at
me with their bright eyes, rosy cheeks shake with suppressed laughter,
hands are clasped in warm affection, young kind voices ring one above the
other; while a little farther, at the end of the snug room, other hands,
young too, fly with unskilled fingers over the keys of the old piano, and
the Lanner waltz cannot drown the hissing of the patriarchal samovar ...
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
The candle flickers and goes out.... Whose is that hoarse and hollow cough?
Curled up, my old dog lies, shuddering at my feet, my only companion....
I'm cold ... I'm frozen ... and all of them are dead ... dead ...
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
ON THE SEA
I was going from Hamburg to London in a small steamer. We were two
passengers; I and a little female monkey, whom a Hamburg merchant was
sending as a present to his English partner.
She was fastened by a light chain to one of the seats on deck, and was
moving restlessly and whining in a little plaintive pipe like a bird's.
Every time I passed by her she stretched out her little, black, cold hand,
and peeped up at me out of her little mournful, almost human eyes. I took
her hand, and she ceased whining and moving restlessly about.
There was a dead calm. The sea stretched on all sides like a motionless
sheet of leaden colour. It seemed narrowed and small; a thick fog overhung
it, hiding the very mast-tops in cloud, and dazing and wearying the eyes
with its soft obscurity. The sun hung, a dull red blur in this obscurity;
but before evening it glowed with strange, mysterious, lurid light.
Long, straight folds, like the folds in some heavy silken stuff, passed one
after another over the sea from the ship's prow, and broadening as they
passed, and wrinkling and widening, were smoothed out again with a shake,
and vanished. The foam flew up, churned by the tediously thudding wheels;
white as milk, with a faint hiss it broke up into serpentine eddies, and
then melted together again and vanished too, swallowed up by the mist.
Persistent and plaintive as the monkey's whine rang the small bell at the
From time to time a porpoise swam up, and with a sudden roll disappeared
below the scarcely ruffled surface.
And the captain, a silent man with a gloomy, sunburnt face, smoked a short
pipe and angrily spat into the dull, stagnant sea.
To all my inquiries he responded by a disconnected grumble. I was obliged
to turn to my sole companion, the monkey.
I sat down beside her; she ceased whining, and again held out her hand to
The clinging fog oppressed us both with its drowsy dampness; and buried
in the same unconscious dreaminess, we sat side by side like brother and
I smile now ... but then I had another feeling.
We are all children of one mother, and I was glad that the poor little
beast was soothed and nestled so confidingly up to me, as to a brother.
Calmly and gracefully thou movest along the path of life, tearless and
smileless, and scarce a heedless glance of indifferent attention ruffles
Thou art good and wise ... and all things are remote from thee, and of no
one hast thou need.
Thou art fair, and no one can say, whether thou prizest thy beauty or not.
No sympathy hast thou to give; none dost thou desire.
Thy glance is deep, and no thought is in it; in that clear depth is
So in the Elysian field, to the solemn strains of Gluck's melodies, move
without grief or bliss the graceful shades.
Stay! as I see thee now, abide for ever in my memory!
From thy lips the last inspired note has broken. No light, no flash is
in thy eyes; they are dim, weighed down by the load of happiness, of the
blissful sense of the beauty, it has been thy glad lot to express--the
beauty, groping for which thou hast stretched out thy yearning hands, thy
triumphant, exhausted hands!
What is the radiance--purer and higher than the sun's radiance--all about
thy limbs, the least fold of thy raiment?
What god's caressing breath has set thy scattered tresses floating?
His kiss burns on thy brow, white now as marble.
This is it, the mystery revealed, the mystery of poesy, of life, of love!
This, this is immortality! Other immortality there is none, nor need be.
For this instant thou art immortal.
It passes, and once more thou art a grain of dust, a woman, a child.... But
why need'st thou care! For this instant, thou art above, thou art outside
all that is passing, temporary. This thy instant will never end. Stay!
and let me share in thy immortality; shed into my soul the light of thy
I used to know a monk, a hermit, a saint. He lived only for the sweetness
of prayer; and steeping himself in it, he would stand so long on the cold
floor of the church that his legs below the knees grew numb and senseless
as blocks of wood. He did not feel them; he stood on and prayed.
I understood him, and perhaps envied him; but let him too understand me and
not condemn me; me, for whom his joys are inaccessible.
He has attained to annihilating himself, his hateful _ego_; but I too; it's
not from egoism, I pray not.
My _ego_, may be, is even more burdensome and more odious to me, than his
He has found wherein to forget himself ... but I, too, find the same,
though not so continuously.
He does not lie ... but neither do I lie.
WE WILL STILL FIGHT ON
What an insignificant trifle may sometimes transform the whole man!
Full of melancholy thought, I walked one day along the highroad.
My heart was oppressed by a weight of gloomy apprehension; I was
overwhelmed by dejection. I raised my head.... Before me, between two rows
of tall poplars, the road darted like an arrow into the distance.
And across it, across this road, ten paces from me, in the golden light of
the dazzling summer sunshine, a whole family of sparrows hopped one after
another, hopped saucily, drolly, self-reliantly!
One of them, in particular, skipped along sideways with desperate energy,
puffing out his little bosom and chirping impudently, as though to say he
was not afraid of any one! A gallant little warrior, really!
And, meanwhile, high overhead in the heavens hovered a hawk, destined,
perhaps, to devour that little warrior.
I looked, laughed, shook myself, and the mournful thoughts flew right away:
pluck, daring, zeal for life I felt anew. Let him, too, hover over me, _my_
hawk.... We will fight on, and damn it all!
Whatever a man pray for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces
to this: 'Great God, grant that twice two be not four.'
Only such a prayer is a real prayer from person to person. To pray
to the Cosmic Spirit, to the Higher Being, to the Kantian, Hegelian,
quintessential, formless God is impossible and unthinkable.
But can even a personal, living, imaged God make twice two not be four?
Every believer is bound to answer, _he can_, and is bound to persuade
himself of it.
But if reason sets him revolting against this senselessness?
Then Shakespeare comes to his aid: 'There are more things in heaven and
earth, Horatio,' etc.
And if they set about confuting him in the name of truth, he has but to
repeat the famous question, 'What is truth?' And so, let us drink and be
merry, and say our prayers.
THE RUSSIAN TONGUE
In days of doubt, in days of dreary musings on my country's fate, thou
alone art my stay and support, mighty, true, free Russian speech! But for
thee, how not fall into despair, seeing all that is done at home? But who
can think that such a tongue is not the gift of a great people!