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Knock, Knock, Knock and Other Stories by Ivan Turgenev

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The Novels Of Ivan Turgenev

And Other Stories

Translated From The Russian by Constance Garnett

* * * * *







* * * * *




We all settled down in a circle and our good friend Alexandr
Vassilyevitch Ridel (his surname was German but he was Russian to the
marrow of his bones) began as follows:

I am going to tell you a story, friends, of something that happened to
me in the 'thirties ... forty years ago as you see. I will be
brief--and don't you interrupt me.

I was living at the time in Petersburg and had only just left the
University. My brother was a lieutenant in the horse-guard artillery.
His battery was stationed at Krasnoe Selo--it was summer time. My
brother lodged not at Krasnoe Selo itself but in one of the
neighbouring villages; I stayed with him more than once and made the
acquaintance of all his comrades. He was living in a fairly decent
cottage, together with another officer of his battery, whose name was
Ilya Stepanitch Tyeglev. I became particularly friendly with him.

Marlinsky is out of date now--no one reads him--and even his name is
jeered at; but in the 'thirties his fame was above everyone's--and in
the opinion of the young people of the day Pushkin could not hold
candle to him. He not only enjoyed the reputation of being the
foremost Russian writer; but--something much more difficult and more
rarely met with--he did to some extent leave his mark on his
generation. One came across heroes _ la_ Marlinsky everywhere,
especially in the provinces and especially among infantry and
artillery men; they talked and corresponded in his language; behaved
with gloomy reserve in society--"with tempest in the soul and flame in
the blood" like Lieutenant Byelosov in the "_Frigate Hope_."
Women's hearts were "devoured" by them. The adjective applied to them
in those days was "fatal." The type, as we all know, survived for many
years, to the days of Petchorin. [Footnote: The leading character in
Lermontov's _A Hero of Our Time_.--_Translator's Note_.] All
sorts of elements were mingled in that type. Byronism, romanticism,
reminiscences of the French Revolution, of the Dekabrists--and the
worship of Napoleon; faith in destiny, in one's star, in strength of
will; pose and fine phrases--and a miserable sense of the emptiness of
life; uneasy pangs of petty vanity--and genuine strength and daring;
generous impulses--and defective education, ignorance; aristocratic
airs--and delight in trivial foppery.... But enough of these general
reflections. I promised to tell you the story.


Lieutenant Tyeglev belonged precisely to the class of those "fatal"
individuals, though he did not possess the exterior commonly
associated with them; he was not, for instance, in the least like
Lermontov's "fatalist." He was a man of medium height, fairly solid
and round-shouldered, with fair, almost white eyebrows and eyelashes;
he had a round, fresh, rosy-cheeked face, a turn-up nose, a low
forehead with the hair growing thick over the temples, and full,
well-shaped, always immobile lips: he never laughed, never even smiled.
Only when he was tired and out of heart he showed his square teeth,
white as sugar. The same artificial immobility was imprinted on all his
features: had it not been for that, they would have had a good-natured
expression. His small green eyes with yellow lashes were the
only thing not quite ordinary in his face: his right eye was very
slightly higher than his left and the left eyelid drooped a little,
which made his eyes look different, strange and drowsy. Tyeglev's
countenance, which was not, however, without a certain attractiveness,
almost always wore an expression of discontent mingled with
perplexity, as though he were chasing within himself a gloomy thought
which he was never able to catch. At the same time he did not give one
the impression of being stuck up: he might rather have been taken for
an aggrieved than a haughty man. He spoke very little, hesitatingly,
in a husky voice, with unnecessary repetitions. Unlike most
"fatalists," he did not use particularly elaborate expressions in
speaking and only had recourse to them in writing; his handwriting was
quite like a child's. His superiors regarded him as an officer of no
great merit--not particularly capable and not over-zealous. The
brigadier-general, a man of German extraction, used to say of him: "He
has punctuality but not precision." With the soldiers, too, Tyeglev
had the character of being neither one thing nor the other. He lived
modestly, in accordance with his means. He had been left an orphan at
nine years old: his father and mother were drowned when they were
being ferried across the Oka in the spring floods. He had been
educated at a private school, where he had the reputation of being one
of the slowest and quietest of the boys, and at his own earnest desire
and through the good offices of a cousin who was a man of influence,
he obtained a commission in the horse-guards artillery; and, though
with some difficulty, passed his examination first as an ensign and
then as a second lieutenant. His relations with other officers were
somewhat strained. He was not liked, was rarely visited--and he
hardly went to see anyone. He felt the presence of strangers a
constraint; he instantly became awkward and unnatural ... he had no
instinct for comradeship and was not on really intimate terms with
anyone. But he was respected, and respected not for his character nor
for his intelligence and education--but because the stamp which
distinguishes "fatal" people was discerned in him. No one of his
fellow officers expected that Tyeglev would make a career or
distinguish himself in any way; but that Tyeglev might do something
extraordinary or that Tyeglev might become a Napoleon was not
considered impossible. For that is a matter of a man's "star"--and he
was regarded as a "man of destiny," just as there are "men of sighs"
and "of tears."


Two incidents that marked the first steps in his career did a great
deal to strengthen his "fatal" reputation. On the very first day after
receiving his commission--about the middle of March--he was walking
with other newly promoted officers in full dress uniform along the
embankment. The spring had come early that year, the Neva was melting;
the bigger blocks of ice had gone but the whole river was choked up
with a dense mass of thawing icicles. The young men were talking and
laughing ... suddenly one of them stopped: he saw a little dog some
twenty paces from the bank on the slowly moving surface of the river.
Perched on a projecting piece of ice it was whining and trembling all
over. "It will be drowned," said the officer through his teeth. The
dog was slowly being carried past one of the sloping gangways that led
down to the river. All at once Tyeglev without saying a word ran down
this gangway and over the thin ice, sinking in and leaping out again,
reached the dog, seized it by the scruff of the neck and getting
safely back to the bank, put it down on the pavement. The danger to
which Tyeglev had exposed himself was so great, his action was so
unexpected, that his companions were dumbfoundered--and only spoke all
at once, when he had called a cab to drive home: his uniform was wet
all over. In response to their exclamations, Tyeglev replied coolly
that there was no escaping one's destiny--and told the cabman to drive

"You might at least take the dog with you as a souvenir," cried one of
the officers. But Tyeglev merely waved his hand, and his comrades
looked at each other in silent amazement.

The second incident occurred a few days later, at a card party at the
battery commander's. Tyeglev sat in the corner and took no part in the
play. "Oh, if only I had a grandmother to tell me beforehand what
cards will win, as in Pushkin's _Queen of Spades_," cried a
lieutenant whose losses had nearly reached three thousand. Tyeglev
approached the table in silence, took up a pack, cut it, and saying
"the six of diamonds," turned the pack up: the six of diamonds was the
bottom card. "The ace of clubs!" he said and cut again: the bottom
card turned out to be the ace of clubs. "The king of diamonds!" he
said for the third time in an angry whisper through his clenched
teeth--and he was right the third time, too ... and he suddenly turned
crimson. He probably had not expected it himself. "A capital trick! Do
it again," observed the commanding officer of the battery. "I don't go
in for tricks," Tyeglev answered drily and walked into the other room.
How it happened that he guessed the card right, I can't pretend to
explain: but I saw it with my own eyes. Many of the players present
tried to do the same--and not one of them succeeded: one or two did
guess _one_ card but never two in succession. And Tyeglev had
guessed three! This incident strengthened still further his reputation
as a mysterious, fatal character. It has often occurred to me since
that if he had not succeeded in the trick with the cards, there is no
knowing what turn it would have taken and how he would have looked at
himself; but this unexpected success clinched the matter.


It may well be understood that Tyeglev clutched at this reputation. It
gave him a special significance, a special colour ... "_Cela le
posait_," as the French express it--and with his limited
intelligence, scanty education and immense vanity, such a reputation
just suited him. It was difficult to acquire it but to keep it up cost
nothing: he had only to remain silent and hold himself aloof. But it
was not owing to this reputation that I made friends with Tyeglev and,
I may say, grew fond of him. I liked him in the first place because I
was rather an unsociable creature myself--and saw in him one of my own
sort, and secondly, because he was a very good-natured fellow and in
reality, very simple-hearted. He aroused in me a feeling of something
like compassion; it seemed to me that apart from his affected
"fatality," he really was weighed down by a tragic fate which he did
not himself suspect. I need hardly say I did not express this feeling
to him: could anything be more insulting to a "fatal" hero than to be
an object of pity? And Tyeglev, on his side, was well-disposed to me;
with me he felt at ease, with me he used to talk--in my presence he
ventured to leave the strange pedestal on which he had been placed
either by his own efforts or by chance. Agonisingly, morbidly vain as
he was, yet he was probably aware in the depths of his soul that there
was nothing to justify his vanity, and that others might perhaps look
down on him ... but I, a boy of nineteen, put no constraint on him;
the dread of saying something stupid, inappropriate, did not oppress
his ever-apprehensive heart in my presence. He sometimes even
chattered freely; and well it was for him that no one heard his
chatter except me! His reputation would not have lasted long. He not
only knew very little, but read hardly anything and confined himself
to picking up stories and anecdotes of a certain kind. He believed in
presentiments, predictions, omens, meetings, lucky and unlucky days,
in the persecution and benevolence of destiny, in the mysterious
significance of life, in fact. He even believed in certain
"climacteric" years which someone had mentioned in his presence and
the meaning of which he did not himself very well understand. "Fatal"
men of the true stamp ought not to betray such beliefs: they ought to
inspire them in others.... But I was the only one who knew Tyeglev on
that side.


One day--I remember it was St. Elijah's day, July 20th--I came to stay
with my brother and did not find him at home: he had been ordered off
for a whole week somewhere. I did not want to go back to Petersburg; I
sauntered about the neighbouring marshes, killed a brace of snipe and
spent the evening with Tyeglev under the shelter of an empty barn
where he had, as he expressed it, set up his summer residence. We had
a little conversation but for the most part drank tea, smoked pipes
and talked sometimes to our host, a Russianised Finn or to the pedlar
who used to hang about the battery selling "fi-ine oranges and
lemons," a charming and lively person who in addition to other talents
could play the guitar and used to tell us of the unhappy love which he
cherished in his young days for the daughter of a policeman. Now that
he was older, this Don Juan in a gay cotton shirt had no experience of
unsuccessful love affairs. Before the doors of our barn stretched a
wide plain gradually sloping away in the distance; a little river
gleamed here and there in the winding hollows; low growing woods could
be seen further on the horizon. Night was coming on and we were left
alone. As night fell a fine damp mist descended upon the earth, and,
growing thicker and thicker, passed into a dense fog. The moon rose up
into the sky; the fog was soaked through and through and, as it were,
shimmering with golden light. Everything was strangely shifting,
veiled and confused; the faraway looked near, the near looked far
away, what was big looked small and what was small looked big ...
everything became dim and full of light. We seemed to be in fairyland,
in a world of whitish-golden mist, deep stillness, delicate sleep....
And how mysteriously, like sparks of silver, the stars filtered
through the mist! We were both silent. The fantastic beauty of the
night worked upon us: it put us into the mood for the fantastic.


Tyeglev was the first to speak and talked with his usual hesitating
incompleted sentences and repetitions about presentiments ... about
ghosts. On exactly such a night, according to him, one of his friends,
a student who had just taken the place of tutor to two orphans and was
sleeping with them in a lodge in the garden, saw a woman's figure
bending over their beds and next day recognised the figure in a
portrait of the mother of the orphans which he had not previously
noticed. Then Tyeglev told me that his parents had heard for several
days before their death the sound of rushing water; that his
grandfather had been saved from death in the battle of Borodino
through suddenly stooping down to pick up a simple grey pebble at the
very instant when a volley of grape-shot flew over his head and broke
his long black plume. Tyeglev even promised to show me the very pebble
which had saved his grandfather and which he had mounted into a
medallion. Then he talked of the lofty destination of every man and of
his own in particular and added that he still believed in it and that
if he ever had any doubts on that subject he would know how to be rid
of them and of his life, as life would then lose all significance for
him. "You imagine perhaps," he brought out, glancing askance at me,
"that I shouldn't have the spirit to do it? You don't know me ... I
have a will of iron."

"Well said," I thought to myself.

Tyeglev pondered, heaved a deep sigh and dropping his chibouk out of
his hand, informed me that that day was a very important one for him.
"This is the prophet Elijah's day--my name day.... It is ... it is
always for me a difficult time."

I made no answer and only looked at him as he sat facing me, bent,
round-shouldered, and clumsy, with his drowsy, lustreless eyes fixed
on the ground.

"An old beggar woman" (Tyeglev never let a single beggar pass without
giving alms) "told me to-day," he went on, "that she would pray for my
soul.... Isn't that strange?"

"Why does the man want to be always bothering about himself!" I
thought again. I must add, however, that of late I had begun noticing
an unusual expression of anxiety and uneasiness on Tyeglev's face, and
it was not a "fatal" melancholy: something really was fretting and
worrying him. On this occasion, too, I was struck by the dejected
expression of his face. Were not those very doubts of which he had
spoken to me beginning to assail him? Tyeglev's comrades had told me
that not long before he had sent to the authorities a project for some
reforms in the artillery department and that the project had been
returned to him "with a comment," that is, a reprimand. Knowing his
character, I had no doubt that such contemptuous treatment by his
superior officers had deeply mortified him. But the change that I
fancied I saw in Tyeglev was more like sadness and there was a more
personal note about it.

"It's getting damp, though," he brought out at last and he shrugged
his shoulders. "Let us go into the hut--and it's bed-time, too." He
had the habit of shrugging his shoulders and turning his head from
side to side, putting his right hand to his throat as he did so, as
though his cravat were constricting it. Tyeglev's character was
expressed, so at least it seemed to me, in this uneasy and nervous
movement. He, too, felt constricted in the world.

We went back into the hut, and both lay down on benches, he in the
corner facing the door and I on the opposite side.


Tyeglev was for a long time turning from side to side on his bench and
I could not get to sleep, either. Whether his stories had excited my
nerves or the strange night had fevered my blood--anyway, I could not
go to sleep. All inclination for sleep disappeared at last and I lay
with my eyes open and thought, thought intensely, goodness knows of
what; of most senseless trifles--as always happens when one is
sleepless. Turning from side to side I stretched out my hands.... My
finger hit one of the beams of the wall. It emitted a faint but
resounding, and as it were, prolonged note.... I must have struck a
hollow place.

I tapped again ... this time on purpose. The same sound was repeated.
I knocked again.... All at once Tyeglev raised his head.

"Ridel!" he said, "do you hear? Someone is knocking under the window."

I pretended to be asleep. The fancy suddenly took me to play a trick
at the expense of my "fatal" friend. I could not sleep, anyway.

He let his head sink on the pillow. I waited for a little and again
knocked three times in succession.

Tyeglev sat up again and listened. I tapped again. I was lying facing
him but he could not see my hand.... I put it behind me under the

"Ridel!" cried Tyeglev.

I did not answer.

"Ridel!" he repeated loudly. "Ridel!"

"Eh? What is it?" I said as though just waking up.

"Don't you hear, someone keeps knocking under the window, wants to
come in, I suppose."

"Some passer-by," I muttered.

"Then we must let him in or find out who it is."

But I made no answer, pretending to be asleep.

Several minutes passed.... I tapped again. Tyeglev sat up at once and

"Knock ... knock ... knock! Knock ... knock ... knock!"

Through my half-closed eyelids in the whitish light of the night I
could distinctly see every movement he made. He turned his face first
to the window then to the door. It certainly was difficult to make out
where the sound came from: it seemed to float round the room, to glide
along the walls. I had accidentally hit upon a kind of sounding board.

"Ridel!" cried Tyeglev at last, "Ridel! Ridel!"

"Why, what is it?" I asked, yawning.

"Do you mean to say you don't hear anything? There is someone

"Well, what if there is?" I answered and again pretended to be asleep
and even snored.

Tyeglev subsided.

"Knock ... knock ... knock!"

"Who is there?" Tyeglev shouted. "Come in!"

No one answered, of course.

"Knock ... knock ... knock!"

Tyeglev jumped out of bed, opened the window and thrusting out his
head, cried wildly, "Who is there? Who is knocking?" Then he
opened the door and repeated his question. A horse neighed in the
distance--that was all.

He went back towards his bed.

"Knock ... knock ... knock!"

Tyeglev instantly turned round and sat down.

"Knock ... knock ... knock!"

He rapidly put on his boots, threw his overcoat over his shoulders and
unhooking his sword from the wall, went out of the hut. I heard him
walk round it twice, asking all the time, "Who is there? Who goes
there? Who is knocking?" Then he was suddenly silent, stood still
outside near the corner where I was lying and without uttering another
word, came back into the hut and lay down without taking off his boots
and overcoat.

"Knock ... knock ... knock!" I began again. "Knock ... knock ...

But Tyeglev did not stir, did not ask who was knocking, and merely
propped his head on his hand.

Seeing that this no longer acted, after an interval I pretended to
wake up and, looking at Tyeglev, assumed an air of astonishment.

"Have you been out?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered unconcernedly.

"Did you still hear the knocking?"


"And you met no one?"


"And did the knocking stop?"

"I don't know. I don't care now."

"Now? Why now?"

Tyeglev did not answer.

I felt a little ashamed and a little vexed with him. I could not bring
myself to acknowledge my prank, however.

"Do you know what?" I began, "I am convinced that it was all your

Tyeglev frowned. "Ah, you think so!"

"You say you heard a knocking?"

"It was not only knocking I heard."

"Why, what else?"

Tyeglev bent forward and bit his lips. He was evidently hesitating.

"I was called!" he brought out at last in a low voice and turned away
his face.

"You were called? Who called you?"

"Someone...." Tyeglev still looked away. "A woman whom I had hitherto
only believed to be dead ... but now I know it for certain."

"I swear, Ilya Stepanitch," I cried, "this is all your imagination!"

"Imagination?" he repeated. "Would you like to hear it for yourself?"


"Then come outside."


I hurriedly dressed and went out of the hut with Tyeglev. On the side
opposite to it there were no houses, nothing but a low hurdle fence
broken down in places, beyond which there was a rather sharp slope
down to the plain. Everything was still shrouded in mist and one could
scarcely see anything twenty paces away. Tyeglev and I went up to the
hurdle and stood still.

"Here," he said and bowed his head. "Stand still, keep quiet and

Like him I strained my ears, and I heard nothing except the ordinary,
extremely faint but universal murmur, the breathing of the night.
Looking at each other in silence from time to time we stood motionless
for several minutes and were just on the point of going on.

"Ilyusha ..." I fancied I heard a whisper from behind the hurdle.

I glanced at Tyeglev but he seemed to have heard nothing--and still
held his head bowed.

"Ilyusha ... ah, Ilyusha," sounded more distinctly than before--so
distinctly that one could tell that the words were uttered by a woman.

We both started and stared at each other.

"Well?" Tyeglev asked me in a whisper. "You won't doubt it now, will

"Wait a minute," I answered as quietly. "It proves nothing. We must
look whether there isn't anyone. Some practical joker...."

I jumped over the fence--and went in the direction from which, as far
as I could judge, the voice came.

I felt the earth soft and crumbling under my feet; long ridges
stretched before me vanishing into the mist. I was in the kitchen
garden. But nothing was stirring around me or before me. Everything
seemed spellbound in the numbness of sleep. I went a few steps

"Who is there?" I cried as wildly as Tyeglev had.

"Prrr-r-r!" a startled corn-crake flew up almost under my feet and
flew away as straight as a bullet. Involuntarily I started.... What

I looked back. Tyeglev was in sight at the spot where I left him. I
went towards him.

"You will call in vain," he said. "That voice has come to us--to
me--from far away."

He passed his hand over his face and with slow steps crossed the road
towards the hut. But I did not want to give in so quickly and went
back into the kitchen garden. That someone really had three times
called "Ilyusha" I could not doubt; that there was something plaintive
and mysterious in the call, I was forced to own to myself.... But who
knows, perhaps all this only appeared to be unaccountable and in
reality could be explained as simply as the knocking which had
agitated Tyeglev so much.

I walked along beside the fence, stopping from time to time and
looking about me. Close to the fence, at no great distance from our
hut, there stood an old leafy willow tree; it stood out, a big dark
patch, against the whiteness of the mist all round, that dim whiteness
which perplexes and deadens the sight more than darkness itself. All
at once it seemed to me that something alive, fairly big, stirred on
the ground near the willow. Exclaiming "Stop! Who is there?" I rushed
forward. I heard scurrying footsteps, like a hare's; a crouching
figure whisked by me, whether man or woman I could not tell.... I
tried to clutch at it but did not succeed; I stumbled, fell down and
stung my face against a nettle. As I was getting up, leaning on the
ground, I felt something rough under my hand: it was a chased brass
comb on a cord, such as peasants wear on their belt.

Further search led to nothing--and I went back to the hut with the
comb in my hand, and my cheeks tingling.


I found Tyeglev sitting on the bench. A candle was burning on the
table before him and he was writing something in a little album which
he always had with him. Seeing me, he quickly put the album in his
pocket and began filling his pipe.

"Look here, my friend," I began, "what a trophy I have brought back
from my expedition!" I showed him the comb and told him what had
happened to me near the willow. "I must have startled a thief," I
added. "You heard a horse was stolen from our neighbour yesterday?"

Tyeglev smiled frigidly and lighted his pipe. I sat down beside him.

"And do you still believe, Ilya Stepanitch," I said, "that the voice
we heard came from those unknown realms...."

He stopped me with a peremptory gesture.

"Ridel," he began, "I am in no mood for jesting, and so I beg you not
to jest."

He certainly was in no mood for jesting. His face was changed. It
looked paler, longer and more expressive. His strange, "different"
eyes kept shifting from one object to another.

"I never thought," he began again, "that I should reveal to
another ... another man what you are about to hear and what ought
to have died ... yes, died, hidden in my breast; but it seems it is
to be--and indeed I have no choice. It is destiny! Listen."

And he told me a long story.

I have mentioned already that he was a poor hand at telling stories,
but it was not only his lack of skill in describing events that had
happened to him that impressed me that night; the very sound of his
voice, his glances, the movements which he made with his fingers and
his hands--everything about him, indeed, seemed unnatural,
unnecessary, false, in fact. I was very young and inexperienced in
those days and did not know that the habit of high-flown language and
falsity of intonation and manner may become so ingrained in a man that
he is incapable of shaking it off: it is a sort of curse. Later in
life I came across a lady who described to me the effect on her of her
son's death, of her "boundless" grief, of her fears for her reason, in
such exaggerated language, with such theatrical gestures, such
melodramatic movements of her head and rolling of her eyes, that I
thought to myself, "How false and affected that lady is! She did not
love her son at all!" And a week afterwards I heard that the poor
woman had really gone out of her mind. Since then I have become much
more careful in my judgments and have had far less confidence in my
own impressions.


The story which Tyeglev told me was, briefly, as follows. He had
living in Petersburg, besides his influential uncle, an aunt, not
influential but wealthy. As she had no children of her own she had
adopted a little girl, an orphan, of the working class, given her a
liberal education and treated her like a daughter. She was called
Masha. Tyeglev saw her almost every day. It ended in their falling in
love with one another and Masha's giving herself to him. This was
discovered. Tyeglev's aunt was fearfully incensed, she turned the
luckless girl out of her house in disgrace, and moved to Moscow where
she adopted a young lady of noble birth and made her her heiress. On
her return to her own relations, poor and drunken people, Masha's lot
was a bitter one. Tyeglev had promised to marry her and did not keep
his promise. At his last interview with her, he was forced to speak
out: she wanted to know the truth and wrung it out of him. "Well," she
said, "if I am not to be your wife, I know what there is left for me
to do." More than a fortnight had passed since that last interview.

"I never for a moment deceived myself as to the meaning of her last
words," added Tyeglev. "I am certain that she has put an end to her
life and ... and that it was _her_ voice, that it was _she_
calling me ... to follow her there ... I _recognised_ her
voice.... Well, there is but one end to it."

"But why didn't you marry her, Ilya Stepanitch?" I asked. "You ceased
to love her?"

"No; I still love her passionately."

At this point I stared at Tyeglev. I remembered another friend of
mine, a very intelligent man, who had a very plain wife, neither
intelligent nor rich and was very unhappy in his marriage. When
someone in my presence asked him why he had married and suggested that
it was probably for love, he answered, "Not for love at all. It simply
happened." And in this case Tyeglev loved a girl passionately and did
not marry her. Was it for the same reason, then?

"Why don't you marry her, then?" I asked again.

Tyeglev's strange, drowsy eyes strayed over the table.

"There is ... no answering that ... in a few words," he began,
hesitating. "There were reasons.... And besides, she was ... a
working-class girl. And then there is my uncle.... I was obliged to
consider him, too."

"Your uncle?" I cried. "But what the devil do you want with your uncle
whom you never see except at the New Year when you go to congratulate
him? Are you reckoning on his money? But he has got a dozen children
of his own!"

I spoke with heat.... Tyeglev winced and flushed ... flushed unevenly,
in patches.

"Don't lecture me, if you please," he said dully. "I don't justify
myself, however. I have ruined her life and now I must pay the

His head sank and he was silent. I found nothing to say, either.


So we sat for a quarter of an hour. He looked away--I looked at
him--and I noticed that the hair stood up and curled above his
forehead in a peculiar way, which, so I have heard from an army doctor
who had had a great many wounded pass through his hands, is always a
symptom of intense overheating of the brain.... The thought struck me
again that fate really had laid a heavy hand on this man and that his
comrades were right in seeing something "fatal" in him. And yet
inwardly I blamed him. "A working-class girl!" I thought, "a fine sort
of aristocrat you are yourself!"

"Perhaps you blame me, Ridel," Tyeglev began suddenly, as though
guessing what I was thinking. "I am very ... unhappy myself. But what
to do? What to do?"

He leaned his chin on his hand and began biting the broad flat nails
of his short, red fingers, hard as iron.

"What I think, Ilya Stepanitch, is that you ought first to make
certain whether your suppositions are correct.... Perhaps your lady
love is alive and well." ("Shall I tell him the real explanation of
the taps?" flashed through my mind. "No--later.")

"She has not written to me since we have been in camp," observed

"That proves nothing, Ilya Stepanitch."

Tyeglev waved me off. "No! she is certainly not in this world. She
called me."

He suddenly turned to the window. "Someone is knocking again!"

I could not help laughing. "No, excuse me, Ilya Stepanitch! This time
it is your nerves. You see, it is getting light. In ten minutes the
sun will be up--it is past three o'clock--and ghosts have no power in
the day."

Tyeglev cast a gloomy glance at me and muttering through his teeth
"good-bye," lay down on the bench and turned his back on me.

I lay down, too, and before I fell asleep I remember I wondered why
Tyeglev was always hinting at ... suicide. What nonsense! What humbug!
Of his own free will he had refused to marry her, had cast her off ...
and now he wanted to kill himself! There was no sense in it! He could
not resist posing!

With these thoughts I fell into a sound sleep and when I opened my
eyes the sun was already high in the sky--and Tyeglev was not in the

He had, so his servant said, gone to the town.


I spent a very dull and wearisome day. Tyeglev did not return to
dinner nor to supper; I did not expect my brother. Towards evening a
thick fog came on again, thicker even than the day before. I went to
bed rather early. I was awakened by a knocking under the window.

It was _my_ turn to be startled!

The knock was repeated and so insistently distinct that one could have
no doubt of its reality. I got up, opened the window and saw Tyeglev.
Wrapped in his great-coat, with his cap pulled over his eyes, he stood

"Ilya Stepanitch!" I cried, "is that you? I gave up expecting you.
Come in. Is the door locked?"

Tyeglev shook his head. "I do not intend to come in," he pronounced in
a hollow tone. "I only want to ask you to give this letter to the
commanding officer to-morrow."

He gave me a big envelope sealed with five seals. I was
astonished--however, I took the envelope mechanically. Tyeglev at once
walked away into the middle of the road.

"Stop! stop!" I began. "Where are you going? Have you only just come?
And what is the letter?"

"Do you promise to deliver it?" said Tyeglev, and moved away a few
steps further. The fog blurred the outlines of his figure. "Do you

"I promise ... but first--"

Tyeglev moved still further away and became a long dark blur.
"Good-bye," I heard his voice. "Farewell, Ridel, don't remember evil
against me.... And don't forget Semyon...."

And the blur itself vanished.

This was too much. "Oh, the damned _poseur_," I thought. "You
must always be straining after effect!" I felt uneasy, however; an
involuntary fear clutched at my heart. I flung on my great-coat and
ran out into the road.


Yes; but where was I to go? The fog enveloped me on all sides. For
five or six steps all round it was a little transparent--but further
away it stood up like a wall, thick and white like cotton wool. I
turned to the right along the village street; our house was the last
but one in the village and beyond it came waste land overgrown here
and there with bushes; beyond the waste land, a quarter of a mile from
the village, there was a birch copse through which flowed the same
little stream that lower down encircled our village. The moon stood, a
pale blur in the sky--but its light was not, as on the evening before,
strong enough to penetrate the smoky density of the fog and hung, a
broad opaque canopy, overhead. I made my way out on to the open ground
and listened.... Not a sound from any direction, except the calling of
the marsh birds.

"Tyeglev!" I cried. "Ilya Stepanitch!! Tyeglev!!"

My voice died away near me without an answer; it seemed as though the
fog would not let it go further. "Tyeglev!" I repeated.

No one answered.

I went forward at random. Twice I struck against a fence, once I
nearly fell into a ditch, and almost stumbled against a peasant's
horse lying on the ground. "Tyeglev! Tyeglev!" I cried.

All at once, almost behind me, I heard a low voice, "Well, here I am.
What do you want of me?"

I turned round quickly.

Before me stood Tyeglev with his hands hanging at his sides and with
no cap on his head. His face was pale; but his eyes looked animated
and bigger than usual. His breathing came in deep, prolonged gasps
through his parted lips.

"Thank God!" I cried in an outburst of joy, and I gripped him by both
hands. "Thank God! I was beginning to despair of finding you. Aren't
you ashamed of frightening me like this? Upon my word, Ilya

"What do you want of me?" repeated Tyeglev.

"I want ... I want you, in the first place, to come back home with me.
And secondly, I want, I insist, I insist as a friend, that you explain
to me at once the meaning of your actions--and of this letter to the
colonel. Can something unexpected have happened to you in Petersburg?"

"I found in Petersburg exactly what I expected," answered Tyeglev,
without moving from the spot.

"That is ... you mean to say ... your friend ... this Masha...."

"She has taken her life," Tyeglev answered hurriedly and as it were
angrily. "She was buried the day before yesterday. She did not even
leave a note for me. She poisoned herself."

Tyeglev hurriedly uttered these terrible words and still stood
motionless as a stone.

I clasped my hands. "Is it possible? How dreadful! Your presentiment
has come true.... That is awful!"

I stopped in confusion. Slowly and with a sort of triumph Tyeglev
folded his arms.

"But why are we standing here?" I began. "Let us go home."

"Let us," said Tyeglev. "But how can we find the way in this fog?"

"There is a light in our windows, and we will make for it. Come

"You go ahead," answered Tyeglev. "I will follow you." We set off. We
walked for five minutes and our beacon light still did not appear; at
last it gleamed before us in two red points. Tyeglev stepped evenly
behind me. I was desperately anxious to get home as quickly as
possible and to learn from him all the details of his unhappy
expedition to Petersburg. Before we reached the hut, impressed by what
he had said, I confessed to him in an access of remorse and a sort of
superstitious fear, that the mysterious knocking of the previous
evening had been my doing ... and what a tragic turn my jest had

Tyeglev confined himself to observing that I had nothing to do with
it--that something else had guided my hand--and this only showed how
little I knew him. His voice, strangely calm and even, sounded close
to my ear. "But you do not know me," he added. "I saw you smile
yesterday when I spoke of the strength of my will. You will come to
know me--and you will remember my words."

The first hut of the village sprang out of the fog before us like some
dark monster ... then the second, our hut, emerged--and my setter dog
began barking, probably scenting me.

I knocked at the window. "Semyon!" I shouted to Tyeglev's servant,
"hey, Semyon! Make haste and open the gate for us."

The gate creaked and opened; Semyon crossed the threshold.

"Ilya Stepanitch, come in," I said, and I looked round. But no Ilya
Stepanitch was with me. Tyeglev had vanished as though he had sunk
into the earth.

I went into the hut feeling dazed.


Vexation with Tyeglev and with myself succeeded the amazement with
which I was overcome at first.

"Your master is mad!" I blurted out to Semyon, "raving mad! He
galloped off to Petersburg, then came back and is running about all
over the place! I did get hold of him and brought him right up to the
gate--and here he has given me the slip again! To go out of doors on a
night like this! He has chosen a nice time for a walk!"

"And why did I let go of his hand?" I reproached myself. Semyon looked
at me in silence, as though intending to say something--but after the
fashion of servants in those days he simply shifted from one foot to
the other and said nothing.

"What time did he set off for town?" I asked sternly.

"At six o'clock in the morning."

"And how was he--did he seem anxious, depressed?" Semyon looked down.
"Our master is a deep one," he began. "Who can make him out? He told
me to get out his new uniform when he was going out to town--and then
he curled himself."

"Curled himself?"

"Curled his hair. I got the curling tongs ready for him."

That, I confess, I had not expected. "Do you know a young lady," I
asked Semyon, "a friend of Ilya Stepanitch's. Her name is Masha."

"To be sure I know Marya Anempodistovna! A nice young lady."

"Is your master in love with this Marya ... et cetera?"

Semyon heaved a sigh. "That young lady is Ilya Stepanitch's undoing.
For he is desperately in love with her--and can't bring himself to
marry her--and sorry to give her up, too. It's all his honour's
faintheartedness. He is very fond of her."

"What is she like then, pretty?" I inquired.

Semyon assumed a grave air. "She is the sort that the gentry like."

"And you?"

"She is not the right sort for us at all."

"How so?"

"Very thin in the body."

"If she died," I began, "do you think Ilya Stepanitch would not
survive her?"

Semyon heaved a sigh again. "I can't venture to say that--there's no
knowing with gentlemen ... but our master is a deep one."

I took up from the table the big, rather thick letter that Tyeglev had
given me and turned it over in my hands.... The address to "his honour
the Commanding Officer of the Battery, Colonel So and So" (the name,
patronymic, and surname) was clearly and distinctly written. The word
_urgent_, twice underlined, was written in the top left-hand
corner of the envelope.

"Listen, Semyon," I began. "I feel uneasy about your master. I fancy
he has some mischief in his mind. We must find him."

"Yes, sir," answered Semyon.

"It is true there is such a fog that one cannot see a couple of yards
ahead; but all the same we must do our best. We will each take a
lantern and light a candle in each window--in case of need."

"Yes, sir," repeated Semyon. He lighted the lanterns and the candles
and we set off.


I can't describe how we wandered and lost our way! The lanterns were
of no help to us; they did not in the least dissipate the white,
almost luminous mist which surrounded us. Several times Semyon and I
lost each other, in spite of the fact that we kept calling to each
other and hallooing and at frequent intervals shouted--I: "Tyeglev!
Ilya Stepanitch!" and Semyon: "Mr. Tyeglev! Your honour!" The fog so
bewildered us that we wandered about as though in a dream; soon we
were both hoarse; the fog penetrated right into one's chest. We
succeeded somehow by help of the candles in the windows in reaching
the hut again. Our combined action had been of no use--we merely
handicapped each other--and so we made up our minds not to trouble
ourselves about getting separated but to go each our own way. He went
to the left, I to the right and I soon ceased to hear his voice. The
fog seemed to have found its way into my brain and I wandered like one
dazed, simply shouting from time to time, "Tyeglev! Tyeglev!"

"Here!" I heard suddenly in answer.

Holy saints, how relieved I was! How I rushed in the direction from
which the voice came.... A human figure loomed dark before me.... I
made for it. At last!

But instead of Tyeglev I saw another officer of the same battery,
whose name was Tyelepnev.

"Was it you answered me?" I asked him.

"Was it you calling me?" he asked in his turn.

"No; I was calling Tyeglev."

"Tyeglev? Why, I met him a minute ago. What a fool of a night! One
can't find the way home."

"You saw Tyeglev? Which way did he go?"

"That way, I fancy," said the officer, waving his hand in the air.
"But one can't be sure of anything now. Do you know, for instance,
where the village is? The only hope is the dogs barking. It is a fool
of a night! Let me light a cigarette ... it will seem like a light on
the way."

The officer was, so I fancied, a little exhilarated.

"Did Tyeglev say anything to you?" I asked.

"To be sure he did! I said to him, 'good evening, brother,' and he
said, 'good-bye.' 'How good-bye? Why good-bye.' 'I mean to shoot
myself directly with a pistol.' He is a queer fish!"

My heart stood still. "You say he told you ..."

"He is a queer fish!" repeated the officer, and sauntered off.

I hardly had time to recover from what the officer had told me, when
my own name, shouted several times as it seemed with effort, caught my
ear. I recognised Semyon's voice.

I called back ... he came to me.


"Well?" I asked him. "Have you found Ilya Stepanitch?"

"Yes, sir."


"Here, not far away."

"How ... have you found him? Is he alive?"

"To be sure. I have been talking to him." (A load was lifted from
my heart.) "His honour was sitting in his great-coat under a birch
tree ... and he was all right. I put it to him, 'Won't you come home,
Ilya Stepanitch; Alexandr Vassilitch is very much worried about you.'
And he said to me, 'What does he want to worry for! I want to be in the
fresh air. My head aches. Go home,' he said, 'and I will come later.'"

"And you left him?" I cried, clasping my hands.

"What else could I do? He told me to go ... how could I stay?"

All my fears came back to me at once.

"Take me to him this minute--do you hear? This minute! O Semyon,
Semyon, I did not expect this of you! You say he is not far off?"

"He is quite close, here, where the copse begins--he is sitting there.
It is not more than five yards from the river bank. I found him as I
came alongside the river."

"Well, take me to him, take me to him."

Semyon set off ahead of me. "This way, sir.... We have only to get
down to the river and it is close there."

But instead of getting down to the river we got into a hollow and
found ourselves before an empty shed.

"Hey, stop!" Semyon cried suddenly. "I must have come too far to the
right.... We must go that way, more to the left...."

We turned to the left--and found ourselves among such high, rank weeds
that we could scarcely get out.... I could not remember such a tangled
growth of weeds anywhere near our village. And then all at once a marsh
was squelching under our feet, and we saw little round moss-covered
hillocks which I had never noticed before either.... We turned
back--a small hill was sharply before us and on the top of it stood a
shanty--and in it someone was snoring. Semyon and I shouted several
times into the shanty; something stirred at the further end of it, the
straw rustled--and a hoarse voice shouted, "I am on guard."

We turned back again ... fields and fields, endless fields.... I felt
ready to cry.... I remembered the words of the fool in _King
Lear_: "This night will turn us all to fools or madmen."

"Where are we to go?" I said in despair to Semyon.

"The devil must have led us astray, sir," answered the distracted
servant. "It's not natural ... there's mischief at the bottom of it!"

I would have checked him but at that instant my ear caught a sound,
distinct but not loud, that engrossed my whole attention. There was a
faint "pop" as though someone had drawn a stiff cork from a narrow
bottle-neck. The sound came from somewhere not far off. Why the sound
seemed to me strange and peculiar I could not say, but at once I went
towards it.

Semyon followed me. Within a few minutes something tall and broad
loomed in the fog.

"The copse! here is the copse!" Semyon cried, delighted. "Yes,
here ... and there is the master sitting under the birch-tree....
There he is, sitting where I left him. That's he, surely enough!"

I looked intently. A man really was sitting with his back towards us,
awkwardly huddled up under the birch-tree. I hurriedly approached and
recognised Tyeglev's great-coat, recognised his figure, his head bowed
on his breast. "Tyeglev!" I cried ... but he did not answer.

"Tyeglev!" I repeated, and laid my hand on his shoulder. Then he
suddenly lurched forward, quickly and obediently, as though he were
waiting for my touch, and fell onto the grass. Semyon and I raised him
at once and turned him face upwards. It was not pale, but was lifeless
and motionless; his clenched teeth gleamed white--and his eyes,
motionless, too, and wide open, kept their habitual, drowsy and
"different" look.

"Good God!" Semyon said suddenly and showed me his hand stained
crimson with blood.... The blood was coming from under Tyeglev's
great-coat, from the left side of his chest.

He had shot himself from a small, single-barreled pistol which was
lying beside him. The faint pop I had heard was the sound made by the
fatal shot.


Tyeglev's suicide did not surprise his comrades very much. I have told
you already that, according to their ideas, as a "fatal" man he was
bound to do something extraordinary, though perhaps they had not
expected that from him. In the letter to the colonel he asked him, in
the first place, to have the name of Ilya Tyeglev removed from the
list of officers, as he had died by his own act, adding that in his
cash-box there would be found more than sufficient money to pay his
debts,--and, secondly, to forward to the important personage at that
time commanding the whole corps of guards, an unsealed letter which
was in the same envelope. This second letter, of course, we all read;
some of us took a copy of it. Tyeglev had evidently taken pains over
the composition of this letter.

"You know, Your Excellency" (so I remember the letter began), "you are
so stern and severe over the slightest negligence in uniform when a
pale, trembling officer presents himself before you; and here am I now
going to meet our universal, righteous, incorruptible Judge, the
Supreme Being, the Being of infinitely greater consequence even than
Your Excellency, and I am going to meet him in undress, in my
great-coat, and even without a cravat round my neck."

Oh, what a painful and unpleasant impression that phrase made upon me,
with every word, every letter of it, carefully written in the dead
man's childish handwriting! Was it worth while, I asked myself, to
invent such rubbish at such a moment? But Tyeglev had evidently been
pleased with the phrase: he had made use in it of the accumulation of
epithets and amplifications _ la_ Marlinsky, at that time in
fashion. Further on he had alluded to destiny, to persecution, to his
vocation which had remained unfulfilled, to a mystery which he would
bear with him to the grave, to people who had not cared to understand
him; he had even quoted lines from some poet who had said of the crowd
that it wore life "like a dog-collar" and clung to vice "like a
burdock"--and it was not free from mistakes in spelling. To tell the
truth, this last letter of poor Tyeglev was somewhat vulgar; and I can
fancy the contemptuous surprise of the great personage to whom it was
addressed--I can imagine the tone in which he would pronounce "a
worthless officer! ill weeds are cleared out of the field!"

Only at the very end of the letter there was a sincere note from
Tyeglev's heart. "Ah, Your Excellency," he concluded his epistle, "I
am an orphan, I had no one to love me as a child--and all held aloof
from me ... and I myself destroyed the only heart that gave itself to

Semyon found in the pocket of Tyeglev's great-coat a little album from
which his master was never separated. But almost all the pages had
been torn out; only one was left on which there was the following

Napoleon was born Ilya Tyeglev was born
on August 15th, 1769. on January 7th, 1811.
1769 1811
15 7
8* 1+
----- -----
Total 1792 Total 1819

* August--the 8th month + January--the 1st month
of the year. of the year.

1 1
7 8
9 1
2 9
--- ---
Total 19! Total 19!

Napoleon died on May Ilya Tyeglev died on
5th, 1825. April 21st, 1834.

1825 1834
5 21
5* 7+
----- -----
Total 1835 Total 1862

* May--the 5th month + July--the 7th month
of the year. of the year.

1 1
8 8
3 6
5 23
-- --
Total 17! Total 17!

Poor fellow! Was not this perhaps why he became an artillery officer?

As a suicide he was buried outside the cemetery--and he was
immediately forgotten.


The day after Tyeglev's burial (I was still in the village waiting for
my brother) Semyon came into the hut and announced that Ilya wanted to
see me.

"What Ilya?" I asked.

"Our pedlar."

I told Semyon to call him.

He made his appearance. He expressed some regret at the death of the
lieutenant; wondered what could have possessed him....

"Was he in debt to you?" I asked.

"No, sir. He always paid punctually for everything he had. But I tell
you what," here the pedlar grinned, "you have got something of mine."

"What is it?"

"Why, that," he pointed to the brass comb lying on the little toilet
table. "A thing of little value," the fellow went on, "but as it was a
present ..."

All at once I raised my head. Something dawned upon me.

"Your name is Ilya?"

"Yes, sir."

"Was it you, then, I saw under the willow tree the other night?"

The pedlar winked, and grinned more broadly than ever.

"Yes, sir."

"And it was _your_ name that was called?"

"Yes, sir," the pedlar repeated with playful modesty. "There is a
young girl here," he went on in a high falsetto, "who, owing to the
great strictness of her parents----"

"Very good, very good," I interrupted him, handed him the comb and
dismissed him.

"So that was the 'Ilyusha,'" I thought, and I sank into philosophic
reflections which I will not, however, intrude upon you as I don't
want to prevent anyone from believing in fate, predestination and such

When I was back in Petersburg I made inquiries about Masha. I even
discovered the doctor who had treated her. To my amazement I heard
from him that she had died not through poisoning but of cholera! I
told him what I had heard from Tyeglev.

"Eh! Eh!" cried the doctor all at once. "Is that Tyeglev an artillery
officer, a man of middle height and with a stoop, speaks with a lisp?"


"Well, I thought so. That gentleman came to me--I had never seen him
before--and began insisting that the girl had poisoned herself. 'It
was cholera,' I told him. 'Poison,' he said. 'It was cholera, I tell
you,' I said. 'No, it was poison,' he declared. I saw that the fellow
was a sort of lunatic, with a broad base to his head--a sign of
obstinacy, he would not give over easily.... Well, it doesn't matter,
I thought, the patient is dead.... 'Very well,' I said, 'she poisoned
herself if you prefer it.' He thanked me, even shook hands with
me--and departed."

I told the doctor how the officer had shot himself the same day.

The doctor did not turn a hair--and only observed that there were all
sorts of queer fellows in the world.

"There are indeed," I assented.

Yes, someone has said truly of suicides: until they carry out their
design, no one believes them; and when they do, no one regrets them.

Baden, 1870.

* * * * *


On the high road to B., at an equal distance from the two towns
through which it runs, there stood not long ago a roomy inn, very well
known to the drivers of troikas, peasants with trains of waggons,
merchants, clerks, pedlars and the numerous travellers of all sorts
who journey upon our roads at all times of the year. Everyone used to
call at the inn; only perhaps a landowner's coach, drawn by six
home-bred horses, would roll majestically by, which did not prevent
either the coachman or the groom on the footboard from looking with
peculiar feeling and attention at the little porch so familiar to them;
or some poor devil in a wretched little cart and with three five-kopeck
pieces in the bag in his bosom would urge on his weary nag when he
reached the prosperous inn, and would hasten on to some night's lodging
in the hamlets that lie by the high road in a peasant's hut, where he
would find nothing but bread and hay, but, on the other hand, would not
have to pay an extra kopeck. Apart from its favourable situation, the
inn with which our story deals had many attractions: excellent water in
two deep wells with creaking wheels and iron buckets on a chain; a
spacious yard with a tiled roof on posts; abundant stores of oats in
the cellar; a warm outer room with a very huge Russian stove with long
horizontal flues attached that looked like titanic shoulders, and
lastly two fairly clean rooms with the walls covered with reddish
lilac paper somewhat frayed at the lower edge with a painted wooden
sofa, chairs to match and two pots of geraniums in the windows, which
were, however, never cleaned--and were dingy with the dust of years.
The inn had other advantages: the blacksmith's was close by, the mill
was just at hand; and, lastly, one could get a good meal in it, thanks
to the cook, a fat and red-faced peasant woman, who prepared rich and
appetizing dishes and dealt out provisions without stint; the nearest
tavern was reckoned not half a mile away; the host kept snuff which
though mixed with wood-ash, was extremely pungent and pleasantly
irritated the nose; in fact there were many reasons why visitors of
all sorts were never lacking in that inn. It was liked by those who
used it--and that is the chief thing; without which nothing, of course,
would succeed and it was liked principally as it was said in the
district, because the host himself was very fortunate and successful
in all his undertakings, though he did not much deserve his good
fortune; but it seems if a man is lucky, he is lucky.

The innkeeper was a man of the working class called Naum Ivanov. He
was a man of middle height with broad, stooping shoulders; he had a
big round head and curly hair already grey, though he did not look
more than forty; a full and fresh face, a low but white and smooth
forehead and little bright blue eyes, out of which he looked in a very
queer way from under his brows and yet with an insolent expression, a
combination not often met with. He always held his head down and
seemed to turn it with difficulty, perhaps because his neck was very
short. He walked at a trot and did not swing his arms, but slowly
moved them with his fists clenched as he walked. When he smiled, and
he smiled often without laughing, as it were smiling to himself, his
thick lips parted unpleasantly and displayed a row of close-set,
brilliant teeth. He spoke jerkily and with a surly note in his voice.
He shaved his beard, but dressed in Russian style. His costume
consisted of a long, always threadbare, full coat, full breeches and
shoes on his bare feet. He was often away from home on business and he
had a great deal of business--he was a horse-dealer, he rented land,
had a market garden, bought up orchards and traded in various ways--but
his absences never lasted long; like a kite, to which he had
considerable resemblance, especially in the expression of his eyes, he
used to return to his nest. He knew how to keep that nest in order. He
was everywhere, he listened to everything and gave orders, served out
stores, sent things out and made up his accounts himself, and never
knocked off a farthing from anyone's account, but never asked more
than his due.

The visitors did not talk to him, and, indeed, he did not care to
waste words. "I want your money and you want my victuals," he used to
say, as it were, jerking out each word: "We have not met for a
christening; the traveller has eaten, has fed his beasts, no need to
sit on. If he is tired, let him sleep without chattering." The
labourers he kept were healthy grown-up men, but docile and well
broken in; they were very much afraid of him. He never touched
intoxicating liquor and he used to give his men ten kopecks for vodka
on the great holidays; they did not dare to drink on other days.
People like Naum quickly get rich ... but to the magnificent position
in which he found himself--and he was believed to be worth forty or
fifty thousand roubles--Naum Ivanov had not arrived by the strait

The inn had existed on the same spot on the high road twenty years
before the time from which we date the beginning of our story. It is
true that it had not then the dark red shingle roof which made Naum
Ivanov's inn look like a gentleman's house; it was inferior in
construction and had thatched roofs in the courtyard, and a humble
fence instead of a wall of logs; nor had it been distinguished by the
triangular Greek pediment on carved posts; but all the same it had
been a capital inn--roomy, solid and warm--and travellers were glad to
frequent it. The innkeeper at that time was not Naum Ivanov, but a
certain Akim Semyonitch, a serf belonging to a neighbouring lady,
Lizaveta Prohorovna Kuntse, the widow of a staff officer. This Akim
was a shrewd trading peasant who, having left home in his youth with
two wretched nags to work as a carrier, had returned a year later with
three decent horses and had spent almost all the rest of his life on
the high roads; he used to go to Kazan and Odessa, to Orenburg and to
Warsaw and abroad to Leipsic and used in the end to travel with two
teams, each of three stout, sturdy stallions, harnessed to two huge
carts. Whether it was that he was sick of his life of homeless
wandering, whether it was that he wanted to rear a family (his wife
had died in one of his absences and what children she had borne him
were dead also), anyway, he made up his mind at last to abandon his
old calling and to open an inn. With the permission of his mistress,
he settled on the high road, bought in her name about an acre and a
half of land and built an inn upon it. The undertaking prospered. He
had more than enough money to furnish and stock it. The experience he
had gained in the course of his years of travelling from one end of
Russia to another was of great advantage to him; he knew how to please
his visitors, especially his former mates, the drivers of troikas,
many of whom he knew personally and whose good-will is particularly
valued by innkeepers, as they need so much food for themselves and
their powerful beasts. Akim's inn became celebrated for hundreds of
miles round. People were even readier to stay with him than with his
successor, Naum, though Akim could not be compared with Naum as a
manager. Under Akim everything was in the old-fashioned style, snug,
but not over clean; and his oats were apt to be light, or musty; the
cooking, too, was somewhat indifferent: dishes were sometimes put on
the table which would better have been left in the oven and it was not
that he was stingy with the provisions, but just that the cook had not
looked after them. On the other hand, he was ready to knock off
something from the price and did not refuse to trust a man's word for
payment--he was a good man and a genial host. In talking, in
entertaining, he was lavish, too; he would sometimes chatter away over
the samovar till his listeners pricked up their ears, especially when
he began telling them about Petersburg, about the Circassian steppes,
or even about foreign parts; and he liked getting a little drunk with
a good companion, but not disgracefully so, more for the sake of
company, as his guests used to say of him. He was a great favourite
with merchants and with all people of what is called the old school,
who do not set off for a journey without tightening up their belts and
never go into a room without making the sign of the cross, and never
enter into conversation with a man without first wishing him good
health. Even Akim's appearance disposed people in his favour: he was
tall, rather thin, but graceful even at his advanced years; he had a
long face, with fine-looking regular features, a high and open brow, a
straight and delicate nose and a small mouth. His brown and prominent
eyes positively shone with friendly gentleness, his soft, scanty hair
curled in little rings about his neck; he had very little left on the
top of his head. Akim's voice was very pleasant, though weak; in his
youth he had been a good singer, but continual travelling in the open
air in the winter had affected his chest. But he talked very smoothly
and sweetly. When he laughed wrinkles like rays that were very
charming came round his eyes:--such wrinkles are only to be seen in
kind-hearted people. Akim's movements were for the most part
deliberate and not without a certain confidence and dignified courtesy
befitting a man of experience who had seen a great deal in his day.

In fact, Akim--or Akim Semyonitch as he was called even in his
mistress's house, to which he often went and invariably on Sundays
after mass--would have been excellent in all respects--if he had not
had one weakness which has been the ruin of many men on earth, and was
in the end the ruin of him, too--a weakness for the fair sex. Akim's
susceptibility was extreme, his heart could never resist a woman's
glance: he melted before it like the first snow of autumn in the
sun ... and dearly he had to pay for his excessive sensibility.

For the first year after he had set up on the high road Akim was so
busy with building his yard, stocking the place, and all the business
inseparable from moving into a new house that he had absolutely no
time to think of women and if any sinful thought came into his mind he
immediately drove it away by reading various devotional works for
which he cherished a profound respect (he had learned to read when
first he left home), singing the psalms in a low voice or some other
pious occupation. Besides, he was then in his forty-sixth year and at
that time of life every passion grows perceptibly calmer and cooler
and the time for marrying was past. Akim himself began to think that,
as he expressed it, this foolishness was over and done with ... But
evidently there is no escaping one's fate.

Akim's former mistress, Lizaveta Prohorovna Kuntse, the widow of an
officer of German extraction, was herself a native of Mittau, where
she had spent the first years of her childhood and where she had
numerous poor relations, about whom she concerned herself very little,
especially after a casual visit from one of her brothers, an infantry
officer of the line. On the day after his arrival he had made a great
disturbance and almost beaten the lady of the house, calling her "du
lumpenmamselle," though only the evening before he had called her in
broken Russian: "sister and benefactor." Lizaveta Prohorovna lived
almost permanently on her pretty estate which had been won by the
labours of her husband who had been an architect. She managed it
herself and managed it very well. Lizaveta Prohorovna never let slip
the slightest advantage; she turned everything into profit for
herself; and this, as well as her extraordinary capacity for making a
farthing do the work of a halfpenny, betrayed her German origin; in
everything else she had become very Russian. She kept a considerable
number of house serfs, especially many maids, who earned their salt,
however: from morning to night their backs were bent over their work.
She liked driving out in her carriage with grooms in livery on the
footboard. She liked listening to gossip and scandal and was a clever
scandal-monger herself; she liked to lavish favours upon someone, then
suddenly crush him with her displeasure, in fact, Lizaveta Prohorovna
behaved exactly like a lady. Akim was in her good graces; he paid her
punctually every year a very considerable sum in lieu of service; she
talked graciously to him and even, in jest, invited him as a guest ...
but it was precisely in his mistress's house that trouble was in store
for Akim.

Among Lizaveta Prohorovna's maidservants was an orphan girl of twenty
called Dunyasha. She was good-looking, graceful and neat-handed;
though her features were irregular, they were pleasing; her fresh
complexion, her thick flaxen hair, her lively grey eyes, her
little round nose, her rosy lips and above all her half-mocking,
half-provocative expression--were all rather charming in their way. At
the same time, in spite of her forlorn position, she was strict, almost
haughty in her deportment. She came of a long line of house serfs. Her
father, Arefy, had been a butler for thirty years, while her
grandfather, Stepan had been valet to a prince and officer of the
Guards long since dead. She dressed neatly and was vain over her
hands, which were certainly very beautiful. Dunyasha made a show of
great disdain for all her admirers; she listened to their compliments
with a self-complacent little smile and if she answered them at all it
was usually some exclamation such as: "Yes! Likely! As though I
should! What next!" These exclamations were always on her lips.
Dunyasha had spent about three years being trained in Moscow where she
had picked up the peculiar airs and graces which distinguish
maidservants who have been in Moscow or Petersburg. She was spoken of
as a girl of self-respect (high praise on the lips of house serfs)
who, though she had seen something of life, had not let herself down.
She was rather clever with her needle, too, yet with all this Lizaveta
Prohorovna was not very warmly disposed toward her, thanks to the
headmaid, Kirillovna, a sly and intriguing woman, no longer young.
Kirillovna exercised great influence over her mistress and very
skilfully succeeded in getting rid of all rivals.

With this Dunyasha Akim must needs fall in love! And he fell in love
as he had never fallen in love before. He saw her first at church: she
had only just come back from Moscow.... Afterwards, he met her several
times in his mistress's house; finally he spent a whole evening with
her at the steward's, where he had been invited to tea in company with
other highly respected persons. The house serfs did not disdain him,
though he was not of their class and wore a beard; he was a man of
education, could read and write and, what was more, had money; and he
did not dress like a peasant but wore a long full coat of black cloth,
high boots of calf leather and a kerchief on his neck. It is true that
some of the house serfs did say among themselves that: "One can see
that he is not one of us," but to his face they almost flattered him.
On that evening at the steward's Dunyasha made a complete conquest of
Akim's susceptible heart, though she said not a single word in answer
to his ingratiating speeches and only looked sideways at him from time
to time as though wondering why that peasant was there. All that only
added fuel to the flames. He went home, pondered and pondered and made
up his mind to win her hand.... She had somehow "bewitched" him. But
how can I describe the wrath and indignation of Dunyasha when five
days later Kirillovna with a friendly air invited her into her room
and told her that Akim (and evidently he knew how to set to work) that
bearded peasant Akim, to sit by whose side she considered almost an
indignity, was courting her.

Dunyasha first flushed crimson, then she gave a forced laugh, then she
burst into tears; but Kirillovna made her attack so artfully, made the
girl feel her own position in the house so clearly, so tactfully
hinted at the presentable appearance, the wealth and blind devotion of
Akim and finally mentioned so significantly the wishes of their
mistress that Dunyasha went out of the room with a look of hesitation
on her face and meeting Akim only gazed intently into his face and did
not turn away. The indescribably lavish presents of the love-sick man
dissipated her last doubts. Lizaveta Prohorovna, to whom Akim in his
joy took a hundred peaches on a large silver dish, gave her consent to
the marriage, and the marriage took place. Akim spared no expense--and
the bride, who on the eve of her wedding at her farewell party to her
girl friends sat looking a figure of misery, and who cried all the
next morning while Kirillovna was dressing her for the wedding, was
soon comforted.... Her mistress gave her her own shawl to wear in the
church and Akim presented her the same day with one like it, almost

And so Akim was married, and took his young bride home.... They began
their life together.... Dunyasha turned out to be a poor housewife, a
poor helpmate to her husband. She took no interest in anything, was
melancholy and depressed unless some officer sitting by the big
samovar noticed her and paid her compliments; she was often absent,
sometimes in the town shopping, sometimes at the mistress's house,
which was only three miles from the inn. There she felt at home, there
she was surrounded by her own people; the girls envied her finery.
Kirillovna regaled her with tea; Lizaveta Prohorovna herself talked to
her. But even these visits did not pass without some bitter
experiences for Dunyasha.... As an innkeeper's wife, for instance, she
could not wear a hat and was obliged to tie up her head in a kerchief,
"like a merchant's lady," said sly Kirillovna, "like a working woman,"
thought Dunyasha to herself.

More than once Akim recalled the words of his only relation, an uncle
who had lived in solitude without a family for years: "Well,
Akimushka, my lad," he had said, meeting him in the street, "I hear
you are getting married."

"Why, yes, what of it?"

"Ech, Akim, Akim. You are above us peasants now, there's no denying
that; but you are not on her level either."

"In what way not on her level?"

"Why, in that way, for instance," his uncle had answered, pointing to
Akim's beard, which he had begun to clip in order to please his
betrothed, though he had refused to shave it completely.... Akim
looked down; while the old man turned away, wrapped his tattered
sheepskin about him and walked away, shaking his head.

Yes, more than once Akim sank into thought, cleared his throat and
sighed.... But his love for his pretty wife was no less; he was proud
of her, especially when he compared her not merely with peasant women,
or with his first wife, to whom he had been married at sixteen, but
with other serf girls; "look what a fine bird we have caught," he
thought to himself.... Her slightest caress gave him immense pleasure.
"Maybe," he thought, "she will get used to it; maybe she will get into
the way of it." Meanwhile her behaviour was irreproachable and no one
could say anything against her.

Several years passed like this. Dunyasha really did end by growing
used to her way of life. Akim's love for her and confidence in her
only increased as he grew older; her girl friends, who had been
married not to peasants, were suffering cruel hardships, either from
poverty or from having fallen into bad hands.... Akim went on getting
richer and richer. Everything succeeded with him--he was always lucky;
only one thing was a grief: God had not given him children. Dunyasha
was by now over five and twenty; everyone addressed her as Avdotya
Arefyevna. She never became a real housewife, however--but she grew
fond of her house, looked after the stores and superintended the woman
who worked in the house. It is true that she did all this only after a
fashion; she did not keep up a high standard of cleanliness and order;
on the other hand, her portrait painted in oils and ordered by herself
from a local artist, the son of the parish deacon, hung on the wall of
the chief room beside that of Akim. She was depicted in a white dress
with a yellow shawl with six strings of big pearls round her neck,
long earrings, and a ring on every finger. The portrait was
recognisable though the artist had painted her excessively stout and
rosy--and had made her eyes not grey but black and even slightly
squinting.... Akim's was a complete failure, the portrait had come out
dark--_ la_ Rembrandt--so that sometimes a visitor would go up
to it, look at it and merely give an inarticulate murmur. Avdotya had
taken to being rather careless in her dress; she would fling a big
shawl over her shoulders, while the dress under it was put on anyhow:
she was overcome by laziness, that sighing apathetic drowsy laziness
to which the Russian is only too liable, especially when his
livelihood is secure....

With all that, the fortunes of Akim and his wife prospered
exceedingly; they lived in harmony and had the reputation of an
exemplary pair. But just as a squirrel will wash its face at the very
instant when the sportsman is aiming at it, man has no presentiment of
his troubles, till all of a sudden the ground gives way under him like

One autumn evening a merchant in the drapery line put up at Akim's
inn. He was journeying by various cross-country roads from Moscow to
Harkov with two loaded tilt carts; he was one of those travelling
traders whose arrival is sometimes awaited with such impatience by
country gentlemen and still more by their wives and daughters. This
travelling merchant, an elderly man, had with him two companions, or,
speaking more correctly, two workmen, one thin, pale and hunchbacked,
the other a fine, handsome young fellow of twenty. They asked for
supper, then sat down to tea; the merchant invited the innkeeper and
his wife to take a cup with him, they did not refuse. A conversation
quickly sprang up between the two old men (Akim was fifty-six); the
merchant inquired about the gentry of the neighbourhood and no one
could give him more useful information about them than Akim; the
hunchbacked workman spent his time looking after the carts and finally
went off to bed; it fell to Avdotya to talk to the other one.... She
sat by him and said little, rather listening to what he told her, but
it was evident that his talk pleased her; her face grew more animated,
the colour came into her cheeks and she laughed readily and often. The
young workman sat almost motionless with his curly head bent over the
table; he spoke quietly, without haste and without raising his voice;
but his eyes, not large but saucily bright and blue, were rivetted on
Avdotya; at first she turned away from them, then she, too, began
looking him in the face. The young fellow's face was fresh and smooth
as a Crimean apple; he often smiled and tapped with his white fingers
on his chin covered with soft dark down. He spoke like a merchant, but
very freely and with a sort of careless self-confidence and went on
looking at her with the same intent, impudent stare.... All at once he
moved a little closer to her and without the slightest change of
countenance said to her: "Avdotya Arefyevna, there's no one like you
in the world; I am ready to die for you."

Avdotya laughed aloud.

"What is it?" asked Akim.

"Why, he keeps saying such funny things," she said, without any
particular embarrassment.

The old merchant grinned.

"Ha, ha, yes, my Naum is such a funny fellow, don't listen to him."

"Oh! Really! As though I should," she answered, and shook her head.

"Ha, ha, of course not," observed the old man. "But, however," he went
on in a singsong voice, "we will take our leave; we are thoroughly
satisfied, it is time for bed, ..." and he got up.

"We are well satisfied, too," Akim brought out and he got up, "for
your entertainment, that is, but we wish you a good night.
Avdotyushka, come along."

Avdotya got up as it were unwillingly. Naum, too, got up after her ...
the party broke up. The innkeeper and his wife went off to the little
lobby partitioned off, which served them as a bedroom. Akim was
snoring immediately. It was a long time before Avdotya could get to
sleep.... At first she lay still, turning her face to the wall, then
she began tossing from side to side on the hot feather bed, throwing
off and pulling up the quilt alternately ... then she sank into a light
doze. Suddenly she heard from the yard a loud masculine voice: it was
singing a song of which it was impossible to distinguish the words,
prolonging each note, though not with a melancholy effect. Avdotya
opened her eyes, propped herself on her elbows and listened.... The
song went on.... It rang out musically in the autumn air.

Akim raised his head.

"Who's that singing?" he asked.

"I don't know," she answered.

"He sings well," he added, after a brief pause. "Very well. What a
strong voice. I used to sing in my day," he went on. "And I sang well,
too, but my voice has gone. That's a fine voice. It must be that young
fellow singing, Naum is his name, isn't it?" And he turned over on the
other side, gave a sigh and fell asleep again.

It was a long time before the voice was still ... Avdotya listened and
listened; all at once it seemed to break off, rang out boldly once
more and slowly died away.... Avdotya crossed herself and laid her
head on the pillow.... Half an hour passed.... She sat up and softly
got out of bed.

"Where are you going, wife?" Akim asked in his sleep.

She stopped.

"To see to the little lamp," she said, "I can't get to sleep."

"You should say a prayer," Akim mumbled, falling asleep.

Avdotya went up to the lamp before the ikon, began trimming it and
accidentally put it out; she went back and lay down. Everything was

Early next morning the merchant set off again on his journey with his
companions. Avdotya was asleep. Akim went half a mile with them: he
had to call at the mill. When he got home he found his wife dressed
and not alone. Naum, the young man who had been there the night
before, was with her. They were standing by the table in the window
talking. When Avdotya saw Akim, she went out of the room without a
word, and Naum said that he had come for his master's gloves which the
latter, he said, had left behind on the bench; and he, too, went away.

We will now tell the reader what he has probably guessed already:
Avdotya had fallen passionately in love with Naum. It is hard to say
how it could have happened so quickly, especially as she had hitherto
been irreproachable in her behaviour in spite of many opportunities
and temptations to deceive her husband. Later on, when her intrigue
with Naum became known, many people in the neighbourhood declared that
he had on the very first evening put a magic potion that was a love
spell in her tea (the efficacy of such spells is still firmly believed
in among us), and that this could be clearly seen from the appearance
of Avdotya who, so they said, soon after began to pine away and look

However that may have been, Naum began to be frequently seen in Akim's
yard. At first he came again with the same merchant and three months
later arrived alone, with wares of his own; then the report spread
that he had settled in one of the neighbouring district towns, and
from that time forward not a week passed without his appearing on the
high road with his strong, painted cart drawn by two sleek horses
which he drove himself. There was no particular friendship between
Akim and him, nor was there any hostility noticed between them; Akim
did not take much notice of him and only thought of him as a sharp
young fellow who was rapidly making his way in the world. He did not
suspect Avdotya's real feelings and went on believing in her as

Two years passed like this.

One summer day it happened that Lizaveta Prohorovna--who had somehow
suddenly grown yellow and wrinkled during those two years in spite of
all sorts of unguents, rouge and powder--about two o'clock in the
afternoon went out with her lap dog and her folding parasol for a
stroll before dinner in her neat little German garden. With a faint
rustle of her starched petticoats, she walked with tiny steps along
the sandy path between two rows of erect, stiffly tied-up dahlias,
when she was suddenly overtaken by our old acquaintance Kirillovna,
who announced respectfully that a merchant desired to speak to her on
important business. Kirillovna was still high in her mistress's favour
(in reality it was she who managed Madame Kuntse's estate) and she had
some time before obtained permission to wear a white cap, which gave
still more acerbity to the sharp features of her swarthy face.

"A merchant?" said her mistress; "what does he want?"

"I don't know what he wants," answered Kirillovna in an insinuating
voice, "only I think he wants to buy something from you."

Lizaveta Prohorovna went back into the drawing-room, sat down in her
usual seat--an armchair with a canopy over it, upon which a climbing
plant twined gracefully--and gave orders that the merchant should be

Naum appeared, bowed, and stood still by the door.

"I hear that you want to buy something of me," said Lizaveta
Prohorovna, and thought to herself, "What a handsome man this merchant

"Just so, madam."

"What is it?"

"Would you be willing to sell your inn?"

"What inn?"

"Why, the one on the high road not far from here."

"But that inn is not mine, it is Akim's."

"Not yours? Why, it stands on your land."

"Yes, the land is mine ... bought in my name; but the inn is his."

"To be sure. But wouldn't you be willing to sell it to me?"

"How could I sell it to you?"

"Well, I would give you a good price for it."

Lizaveta Prohorovna was silent for a space.

"It is really very queer what you are saying," she said. "And what
would you give?" she added. "I don't ask that for myself but for

"For all the buildings and the appurtenances, together with the land
that goes with it, of course, I would give two thousand roubles."

"Two thousand roubles! That is not enough," replied Lizaveta

"It's a good price."

"But have you spoken to Akim?"

"What should I speak to him for? The inn is yours, so here I am
talking to you about it."

"But I have told you.... It really is astonishing that you don't
understand me."

"Not understand, madam? But I do understand."

Lizaveta Prohorovna looked at Naum and Naum looked at Lizaveta

"Well, then," he began, "what do you propose?"

"I propose ..." Lizaveta Prohorovna moved in her chair. "In the first
place I tell you that two thousand is too little and in the second

"I'll add another hundred, then."

Lizaveta Prohorovna got up.

"I see that you are talking quite off the point. I have told you
already that I cannot sell that inn--am not going to sell it. I
cannot ... that is, I will not."

Naum smiled and said nothing for a space.

"Well, as you please, madam," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I beg
to take leave." He bowed and took hold of the door handle.

Lizaveta Prohorovna turned round to him.

"You need not go away yet, however," she said, with hardly perceptible
agitation. She rang the bell and Kirillovna came in from the study.
"Kirillovna, tell them to give this gentleman some tea. I will see you
again," she added, with a slight inclination of her head.

Naum bowed again and went out with Kirillovna. Lizaveta Prohorovna
walked up and down the room once or twice and rang the bell again.
This time a page appeared. She told him to fetch Kirillovna. A few
moments later Kirillovna came in with a faint creak of her new
goatskin shoes.

"Have you heard," Lizaveta Prohorovna began with a forced laugh, "what
this merchant has been proposing to me? He is a queer fellow, really!"

"No, I haven't heard. What is it, madam?" and Kirillovna faintly
screwed up her black Kalmuck eyes.

"He wants to buy Akim's inn."

"Well, why not?"

"But how could he? What about Akim? I gave it to Akim."

"Upon my word, madam, what are you saying? Isn't the inn yours? Don't
we all belong to you? And isn't all our property yours, our

"Good gracious, Kirillovna, what are you saying?" Lizaveta Prohorovna
pulled out a batiste handkerchief and nervously blew her nose. "Akim
bought the inn with his own money."

"His own money? But where did he get the money? Wasn't it through your
kindness? He has had the use of the land all this time as it is. It
was all through your gracious permission. And do you suppose, madam,
that he would have no money left? Why, he is richer than you are, upon
my word, he is!"

"That's all true, of course, but still I can't do it.... How could I
sell the inn?"

"And why not sell it," Kirillovna went on, "since a purchaser has
luckily turned up? May I ask, madam, how much he offers you?"

"More than two thousand roubles," said Lizaveta Prohorovna softly.

"He will give more, madam, if he offers two thousand straight off. And
you will arrange things with Akim afterwards; take a little off his
yearly duty or something. He will be thankful, too."

"Of course, I must remit part of his duty. But no, Kirillovna, how can
I sell it?" and Lizaveta Prohorovna walked up and down the room. "No,
that's out of the question, that won't do ... no, please don't speak
of it again ... or I shall be angry."

But in spite of her agitated mistress's warning, Kirillovna did
continue speaking of it and half an hour later she went back to Naum,
whom she had left in the butler's pantry at the samovar.

"What have you to tell me, good madam?" said Naum, jauntily turning
his tea-cup wrong side upwards in the saucer.

"What I have to tell you is that you are to go in to the mistress; she
wants you."

"Certainly," said Naum, and he got up and followed Kirillovna into the

The door closed behind them.... When the door opened again and Naum
walked out backwards, bowing, the matter was settled: Akim's inn
belonged to him. He had bought it for 2800 paper roubles. It was
arranged that the legal formalities should take place as quickly as
possible and that till then the matter should not be made public.
Lizaveta Prohorovna received a deposit of a hundred roubles and two
hundred went to Kirillovna for her assistance. "It has not cost me
much," thought Naum as he got into his coat, "it was a lucky chance."

While the transaction we have described was going forward in the
mistress's house, Akim was sitting at home alone on the bench by the
window, stroking his beard with a discontented expression. We have
said already that he did not suspect his wife's feeling for Naum,
although kind friends had more than once hinted to him that it was
time he opened his eyes; it is true that he had noticed himself that
of late his wife had become rather difficult, but we all know that the
female sex is capricious and changeable. Even when it really did
strike him that things were not going well in his house, he merely
dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand; he did not like the
idea of a squabble; his good nature had not lessened with years and
indolence was asserting itself, too. But on that day he was very much
out of humour; the day before he had overheard quite by chance in the
street a conversation between their servant and a neighbouring peasant

The peasant woman asked the servant why she had not come to see her on
the holiday the day before. "I was expecting you," she said.

"I did set off," replied the servant, "but as ill-luck would have it,
I ran into the mistress ... botheration take her."

"Ran into her?" repeated the peasant woman in a sing-song voice and
she leaned her cheek on her hand. "And where did you run into her, my
good girl?"

"Beyond the priest's hemp-patch. She must have gone to the hemp-patch
to meet her Naum, but I could not see them in the dusk, owing to the
moon, maybe, I don't know; I simply dashed into them."

"Dashed into them?" the other woman repeated. "Well, and was she
standing with him, my good girl?"

"Yes, she was. He was standing there and so was she. She saw me and
said, 'Where are you running to? Go home.' So I went home."

"You went home?" The peasant woman was silent. "Well, good-bye,
Fetinyushka," she brought out at last, and trudged off.

This conversation had an unpleasant effect on Akim. His love for
Avdotya had cooled, but still he did not like what the servant had
said. And she had told the truth: Avdotya really had gone out that
evening to meet Naum, who had been waiting for her in the patch of
dense shade thrown on the road by the high motionless hemp. The dew
bathed every stalk of it from top to bottom; the strong, almost
overpowering fragrance hung all about it. A huge crimson moon had just

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