Part 6 out of 7
"God knows!" replied Ivanoff. "He was always a bit queer."
At that moment Riasantzeff drove up, and meeting Sina Karsavina on the
doorstep, they came upstairs together. Her voice, high-pitched and
anxious, could be heard, and also his jovial, bantering tones that talk
with pretty girls always evoked.
"Anatole Pavlovitch has just come from there," said Sina excitedly.
Riasantzeff followed her, laughing as usual, and endeavouring to light
a cigarette as he entered.
"A nice state of things!" he said gaily. "If this goes on we soon
shan't have any young people left."
Sina sat down without speaking. Her pretty face looked sad and
"Now then, tell us all about it," said Ivanoff.
"As I came out of the club last night," began Riasantzeff, "a soldier
rushed up to me and stammered out, 'His Excellency's shot himself!' I
jumped into a _droschky_ and got there as fast as I could. I found
nearly the whole regiment at the house. Sarudine was lying on the bed,
and his tunic was unbuttoned."
"And where did he shoot himself?" asked Lialia, clinging to her lover's
"In the temple. The bullet went right through his head and hit the
"Was it a Browning?" Yourii asked this.
"Yes. It was an awful sight. The wall was splashed with blood and
brains, and his face was utterly disfigured. Sanine must have given him
a teaser." He laughed. "A tough customer is that lad!"
Ivanoff nodded approvingly.
"He's strong enough, I warrant you."
"Coarse brute!" said Yourii, in disgust.
Sina glanced timidly at him.
"In my opinion it was not his fault," she said. "He couldn't possibly
"Yes, yes," replied Riasantzeff, "but to hit a fellow like that!
Sarudine had challenged him."
"There you go!" exclaimed Ivanoff irritably, as he shrugged his
"If you come to think of it, duelling is absurd!" said Yourii.
"Of course it is!" chimed in Sina.
To his surprise, Yourii noticed that Sina seemed pleased to take
"At any rate, it's...." The right phrase failed him wherewith to
"A brutal thing," suggested Riasantzeff.
Though Yourii thought Riasantzeff was little better than a brute to
himself, he was glad to hear the latter abuse Sanine to Sina when she
defended him. However, as she noticed Yourii's look of annoyance, she
said no more. Secretly, she was much pleased by Sanine's strength and
pluck, and was quite unwilling to accept Riasantzeff's denouncement of
duelling as just. Like Yourii, she did not consider that he was
qualified to lay down the law like that.
"Wonderfully civilized, certainly," sneered Ivanoff, "to shoot a man's
nose off, or run him through the body."
"Is a blow in the face any better?"
"I certainly think that it is. What harm can a fist do? A bruise is
soon healed. You won't find that a blow with the fist ever hurt anybody
"That's not the point."
"Then, what is, pray?" said Ivanoff, his thin lips curled with scorn.
"I don't believe in fighting at all, myself, but, if it must be, then
one ought to draw the line at severe bodily injuries. That's quite
"He almost knocked the other's eye out. I suppose you don't call that
severe bodily injury?" retorted Riasantzeff sarcastically.
"Well, of course, to lose an eye is a bad job, but it's not the same as
getting a bullet through your body. The loss of an eye is not a fatal
"But Sarudine is dead?"
"Ah! that's because he wished to die."
Yourii nervously plucked at his moustache.
"I must frankly confess," he said, quite pleased at his own sincerity,
"that personally, I have not made up my mind as regards this question.
I cannot say how I should have behaved in Sanine's place. Of course,
duelling's stupid, and to fight with fists is not much better."
"But what is a man to do if he's compelled to fight?" said Sina.
Yourii shrugged his shoulders.
"It's for Soloveitchik that we ought to be sorry," said Riasantzeff,
after a pause. The words contrasted strangely with his cheerful
countenance. Then all at once, they remembered that not one of them had
asked about Soloveitchik.
"Where did he hang himself? Do you know?"
"In the shed next to the dog's kennel. He let the dog loose, and then
Sina and Yourii simultaneously seemed to hear a shrill voice exclaim:
"Lie down, Sultan!"
"Yes, and he left a note behind," continued Riasantzeff, unable to
conceal the merry twinkle in his eyes. "I made a copy of it. In a way,
it's really a human document." Taking out his pocket-book he read as
"Why should I live, since I do not know how I ought to live? Men such
as I cannot make their fellow-creatures happy."
He stopped suddenly, as if somewhat embarrassed. Dead silence ensued. A
sad spirit seemed to pass noiselessly through the room. Tears rose to
Sina's eyes, and Lialia's face grew red with emotion. Yourii smiled
mournfully as he turned towards the window.
"That's all," said Riasantzeff meditatively.
"What more would you have?" asked Sina with quivering lips.
Ivanoff rose and reached across for the matches that were on the table.
"It's nothing more than tomfoolery," he muttered.
"For shame!" was Sina's indignant protest.
Yourii glanced in disgust at Ivanoff's long, smooth hair and turned
"To take the case of Soloveitchik," resumed Riasantzeff, and again his
eyes twinkled. "I always thought him a nincompoop--a silly Jew boy. And
now, see what he has shown himself to be! There is no love more sublime
than the love which bids one sacrifice one's life for humanity."
"But he didn't sacrifice his life for humanity," replied Ivanoff, as he
looked askance at Riasantzeff's portly face and figure, and observed
how tightly his waistcoat fitted him.
"Yes, but it's the same thing, for if ..."
"It's not the same thing at all," was Ivanoff's stubborn retort, and
his eyes flashed angrily. "It's the act of an idiot, that's what it
His strange hatred of Soloveitchik made a most unpleasant impression
upon the others.
Sina Karsavina, as she got up to go, whispered to Yourii, "I am going.
He is simply detestable."
Yourii nodded. "Utterly brutal," he murmured.
Immediately after Sina's departure, Lialia and Riasantzeff went out.
Ivanoff sat pensively smoking his cigarette for a while, as he stared
sulkily at a corner of the room. Then he also departed.
In the street as he walked along, swinging his arms in the usual way,
he thought to himself, in his wrath:
"These fools imagine that I am not capable of understanding what _they_
understand! I like that! I know exactly what they think and feel,
better than they do themselves. I also know that there is no love more
sublime than the love which bids a man lay down his life for others.
But for a man to go and hang himself simply because he is of no good to
anybody--that's absolute nonsense!"
When to the sound of martial music Sarudine's remains were borne to the
churchyard, Yourii from his window watched the sad, imposing
procession. He saw the horses draped in black, and the deceased
officer's cap that lay on the coffin-lid. There were flowers in
profusion, and many female mourners, Yourii was deeply grieved at the
That evening he walked for a long while with Sina Karsavina; yet her
beautiful eyes and gentle caressing manner did not enable him to shake
off his depression.
"How awful it is to think," he said, his eyes fixed on the ground, "to
think that Sarudine no longer exists. A handsome, merry, careless young
officer like that! One would have thought that he would live for ever,
and that the horrible things of life, such as pain and doubt and
suffering, were unknown to him, would never touch him. Yet one fine day
this very man is swept away like dust, after passing through a terrible
ordeal known to none but himself. Now he's gone, and will never, never
return. All that's left of him is the cap on the coffin-lid."
Yourii was silent, and he still gazed at the ground. Swaying slightly
as she walked beside him, Sina listened attentively, while with her
pretty, dimpled hands she kept twisting the lace of her parasol. She
was not thinking about Sarudine. It was a keen pleasure for her to be
near Yourii, yet unconsciously she shared his melancholy mood, and her
face assumed a mournful expression. "Yes! wasn't it sad? That music,
"I don't blame Sanine," said Yourii with emphasis.
"He could not have acted otherwise. The horrible part of it all is that
the paths of these two men crossed, so that one or the other was
obliged to give way. It is also horrible that the victor does not
realize that his triumph is an appalling one. He calmly sweeps a man
off the face of the earth, and yet is in the right."
"Yes, he's in the right, and--" exclaimed Sina, who had not heard all
that Yourii had said. Her bosom heaved with excitement.
"But I call it horrible!" cried Yourii, hastily interrupting her, as he
glanced at her shapely form and eager face.
"Why is it so?" asked Sina in a timid voice. She blushed suddenly, and
her eyes lost their brightness.
"Anyone else would have felt remorse, or have suffered some kind of
spiritual anguish," said Yourii. "But he showed not the slightest sign
of it. 'I'm very sorry,' says he, 'but it's not my fault.' Fault,
indeed! As if the question were one of fault or of blame!"
"Then of what is it?" asked Sina. Her voice faltered, and she looked
downwards, fearing to offend her companion.
"That I don't know; but a man has no right to behave like a brute," was
the indignant rejoinder.
For some time they walked along without speaking. Sina was grieved at
what seemed their momentary estrangement, at this breaking of their
spiritual bond which to her was so sweet, while Yourii felt that he had
not expressed himself clearly, and this wounded his self-respect.
Soon afterwards they parted, she being sad and somewhat hurt. Yourii
noticed her dejection, and was morbidly pleased thereat, as if he had
revenged himself on some one he loved for a gross personal insult.
At home his ill-humour was increased. During dinner Lialia repeated
what Riasantzeff had told her about Soloveitchik. As the men were
removing the corpse, several urchins had called out:
"Ikey's hanged himself! Ikey's hanged himself!"
Nicolai Yegorovitch laughed loudly, and made her say:
"Ikey's hanged himself," over and over again.
Yourii shut himself up in his room, and, while correcting his pupil's
exercises, he thought:
"How much of the brute there is in every man! For such dull-witted
beasts is it worth while to suffer and to die?"
Then, ashamed of his intolerance, he said to himself.
"They are not to blame. They don't know what they are doing. Well,
whether they know or not, they're brutes, and nothing else!"
His thoughts reverted to Soloveitchik.
"How lonely is each of us in this world! There was poor Soloveitchik,
great of heart, living in our midst ready to make any sacrifice, and to
suffer for others. Yet nobody, any more than I did, noticed him or
appreciated him. In fact, we despised him. That was because he could
not express himself, and his anxiety to please only had an irritating
effect, though, in reality he was striving to get into closer touch
with all of us, and to be helpful and kind. He was a saint, and we
looked upon him as a fool!"
So keen was his sense of remorse that he left his work, and restlessly
paced the room. At last he sat down at the table, and, opening the
Bible, read as follows:
"As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to
the grave shall come up no more."
"He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him
"How true that is! How terrible and inevitable!" he thought.
"Here I sit, alive, thirsting for life and joy, and read my death-
warrant. Yet I cannot even protest against it!"
As in a frenzy of despair, he clasped his forehead and with ineffectual
fury appealed to some Power invisible and supreme.
"What has man done to thee that thou shouldst mock him thus? If thou
dost exist, why dost thou hide thyself from him? Why hast thou made me
thus, that even though I would believe in thee I yet have no belief in
my own faith? And, if thou shouldst answer me, how can I tell if it is
thou or I myself that makes reply? If I am right in wishing to live,
why dost thou rob me of this right which thou thyself gavest to me? If
thou hast need of our sufferings, well, these let us bear for love of
thee. Yet we know not even if a tree be not of greater worth than a
"For a tree there is always hope. Even when felled it can put forth
fresh shoots, and regain new verdure and new life. But man dies, and
vanishes for ever. I lie down never to rise again. If I knew for
certain that after milliards of years I should come to life again,
patient and uncomplaining I would wait through all those centuries in
Once more he read from the book:
"What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the
"One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the
earth abideth for ever."
"The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down and hasteth to his place
where he arose."
"The wind goeth toward the south and turneth about unto the north: it
whirleth about continually; and the wind returneth again according to
"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; there is nothing
new under the sun."
"There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any
remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come
"I, the Preacher, was King over Israel in Jerusalem."
"I, the Preacher, was King!" He shouted out these last words, as in
vehement anger and despair, and then looked round in alarm, fearing
lest some one should have heard him. Then he took a sheet of paper and
began to write."
"I here begin this document which will end with my decease."
"Bah! how absurd it sounds!" he exclaimed as he pushed the paper from
him with such violence that it fell to the floor."
"But that miserable little fellow, Soloveitchik, didn't think it absurd
that he could not understand the meaning of life!"
Yourii failed to perceive that he was taking as his model a man whom he
had described as a miserable little fellow.
"Anyhow, sooner or later, my end will be like that. There is no other
way out. Why is there not? Because..."
Yourii paused. He believed that he had got an exact reply to this
question, yet the words he wanted could not be found. His brain was
over-wrought, and his thoughts confused.
"It's rubbish, all rubbish!" he exclaimed bitterly.
The lamp burned low, and its faint light illumined Yourii's bowed head,
as he leant across the table.
"Why didn't I die when I was a boy and had inflammation of the lungs? I
should now be happy, and at rest."
He shivered at the thought.
"In that case I should not have seen or known all that now I know. That
would have been just as dreadful."
Yourii tossed back his head, and rose.
"It's enough to drive one mad!"
He went to the window and tried to open it, but the shutters were
firmly fastened from the outside. By using a pencil, Yourii was able at
last to unhook them, and with a creaking sound they swung back,
admitting the cool, pure night air, Yourii looked up at the heavens and
saw the roseate light of the dawn.
The morning was bright and clear. The seven stars of the Great Bear
shone faintly, while large and lustrous in the crimson east flamed the
morning star. A fresh breeze stirred the leaves, and dispersed the grey
mists that floated above the lawn and veiled the smooth surface of the
stream beside whose margin water-lilies and myosotis and white clover
grew in abundance. The sky was flecked with little pink clouds, while
here and there a last star trembled in the blue. All was so beautiful,
so calm, as if the awestruck earth awaited the splendid approach of
Yourii at last went back to bed, but the garish daylight prevented him
from getting sleep, as he lay there with aching brow and jaded eyes.
Early that morning, soon after sunrise, Ivanoff and Sanine walked forth
from the town. The dew sparkled in the sunlight, and the damp grass
seen in shadow appeared grey. Along the side of the road flanked by
gnarled willows, pilgrims were slowly wending their way to the
monastery. The red and white kerchiefs covering their heads and their
bright-hued coats and shirts gave colour and picturesqueness to the
scene. The monastery bells rang out in the cool morning air, and the
sound floated across the steppe, away to the dreaming woods in the dim
blue distance. A _troika_ came jingling along the highroad, and the
rough voices of the pilgrims as they talked could be distinctly heard.
"We've come out a little too early," said Ivanoff.
Sanine looked round about him, contented and happy.
"Well, let us wait a while," he replied.
They sat down on the sand, close to the hedge, and lit their
Peasants walking along behind their carts turned to look at them, and
market-women and girls as they rattled past in rickety traps pointed at
the wayfarers amid bursts of merry, mocking laughter. Ivanoff took not
the slightest notice of them, but Sanine smiled and nodded in response.
At last there appeared on the steps of a little white house with a
bright green roof the proprietor of the "Crown" tavern, a tall man in
his shirt-sleeves who noisily unlocked the door, while yawning
incessantly. A woman wearing a red kerchief on her head slipped in
"The very thing!" cried Ivanoff. "Let's go there."
So they went to the little inn and bought vodka and fresh gherkins from
the woman with the red kerchief.
"Aha! you seem to be pretty flush of money, my friend," said Ivanoff,
as Sanine produced his purse.
"I've had an advance," replied the latter, smiling. "Much to my
mother's annoyance, I have accepted the secretaryship of an assurance
agency. In this way I was able to get a little cash as well as maternal
When they regained the high-road, Ivanoff exclaimed:
"Oh! I feel ever so much better now!"
"So do I. Suppose we take off our boots?"
Having taken off their boots and socks, they walked barefoot through
the warm, moist sand, which was a delightful experience after trudging
along in heavy boots.
"Jolly, isn't it?" said Sanine, as he drew a deep breath.
The sun's rays had now become far hotter. The town lay well in their
rear as the two wayfarers plodded bravely on towards the blue, nebulous
horizon. Swallows sat in rows on the telegraph-wires. A passenger-train
with its blue, yellow and green carriages rolled past on the adjacent
line, and the faces of drowsy travellers could be seen at the windows.
Two saucy-looking girls in white hats stood on the platform at the end
of the train and watched the two bare-footed men with astonishment.
Sanine laughed at them, and executed a wild impromptu dance.
Before them lay a meadow where walking barefoot in the long lush grass
was an agreeable relief.
"How delightful!" cried Ivanoff.
"Life's worth living to-day," rejoined his companion. Ivanoff glanced
at Sanine; he thought those words must surely remind him of Sarudine
and the recent tragedy. Yet seemingly it was far from Sanine's
thoughts, which surprised Ivanoff somewhat, yet did not displease him.
After crossing the meadow, they again got on to the main road which was
thronged as before with peasants in their carts, and giggling girls.
Then they came to trees, and reeds, and glittering water, while above
them, at no great distance on the hill-side, stood the monastery,
topped by a cross that shone like some golden star.
Painted rowing-boats lined the shore, where peasants in bright-coloured
shirts and vests lounged. After much haggling and good-humoured banter,
Sanine hired one of the little boats. Ivanoff was a deft and powerful
oarsman, and the boat shot forward across the water like a living
thing. Sometimes the oars touched reeds or low-hanging branches which
for a long while after such contact trembled above the deep, dark
stream. Sanine steered with so much erratic energy that the water
foamed and gurgled round the rudder. They reached a narrow backwater
where it was shady and cool. So transparent was the stream that one
could see the bottom covered with yellow pebbles, where shoals of
little pink fish darted backwards and forwards.
"Here's a good place to land," said Ivanoff, and his voice sounded
cheery beneath the dark branches of the overhanging trees. As the boat
with a grating sound touched the bank, he sprang lightly ashore.
Sanine, laughing, did likewise.
"You won't find a better," he cried, plunging knee-deep through the
"Anywhere's good in the sun, I say," replied Ivanoff, as from the boat
he fetched the vodka, the bread, the cucumbers, and a little packet of
_hors d'oeuvres._ All these he placed on a mossy slope in the shade of
the trees, and here he lay down at full length.
"Lucullus dines with Lucullus," he said.
"Lucky man!" replied Sanine.
"Not entirely," added Ivanoff, with a droll expression of discontent,
"for he's forgotten the glasses."
"Never mind! We can manage, somehow."
Full of the sheer joy of living in this warm sunlight and green shade,
Sanine climbed up a tree and began cutting off a bough with his knife,
while Ivanoff watched him as the little white chips kept falling on to
the turf below. At last the bough fell, too, when Sanine climbed down,
and began to scoop it out, leaving the bark intact.
In a short time he had made a pretty little drinking-cup.
"Let's have a dip afterwards, shall we?" said Ivanoff, who was watching
Sanine's craftsmanship with interest.
"Not a bad idea," replied Sanine, as he tossed the newly-made cup into
the air and caught it.
Then they sat down on the grass and did ample justice to their
appetising little meal.
"I can't wait any longer. I'm going to bathe."
So saying, Ivanoff hastily stripped, and, as he could not swim, he
plunged into shallow water where the even sandy bottom was clearly
"It's lovely!" he cried, jumping about, and splashing wildly.
Sanine watched him and then in leisurely fashion he also undressed, and
took a header into the deeper part of the stream.
"You'll be drowned," cried Ivanoff,
"No fear!" was the laughing rejoinder, when Sanine, gasping, had risen
to the surface.
The sound of their merry voices rang out across the river, and the
green pasture-land. After a time they left the cool water, and lying
down, naked in the grass, rolled over and over in it.
"Jolly, isn't it?" said Ivanoff, as he turned to the sun his broad back
on which little drops of water glistened.
"Here let us build tabernacles!"
"Deuce take your tabernacles," cried Sanine merrily; "No tabernacles
"Hurrah!" shouted Ivanoff, as he began dancing a wild, barbaric dance.
Sanine burst out laughing, and leaped about in the same way. Their nude
bodies gleamed in the sun, every muscle showing beneath the tense skin.
"Ouf!" gasped Ivanoff.
Sanine went on dancing by himself, and finished up by turning a
somersault, head foremost.
"Come along, or I shall drink up all the vodka," cried his companion.
Having dressed, they ate the remainder of their provisions, while
Ivanoff sighed ruefully for a draught of ice-cold beer.
"Let's go, shall we?" he said.
They raced at full speed to the river-bank, jumped into their boat, and
"Doesn't the sun sting!" said Sanine, who was lying at full length in
the bottom of the boat.
"That means rain," replied Ivanoff. "Get up and steer, for God's sake!"
"You can manage quite well by yourself," was the reply.
Ivanoff struck the water with his oars, so that Sanine got thoroughly
"Thank you," said the latter, coolly.
As they passed a green spot they heard laughter and the sound of merry
girlish voices. It being a holiday, townsfolk had come thither to enjoy
"Girls bathing," said Ivanoff.
"Let's go and look at them," suggested Sanine.
"They would see us."
"No they wouldn't. We could land here, and go through the reeds."
"Leave them alone," said Ivanoff, blushing slightly.
"No, I don't like to...."
"Don't like to?"
"Well, but ... they're girls ... young ladies ... I don't think it's
"You're a silly fool!" laughed Sanine, "Do you mean to say that you
wouldn't like to see them?"
"Perhaps I should, but ..."
"Very well, then, let's go. No mock modesty! What man wouldn't do the
same, if he had the chance?"
"Yes, but if you reason like that, you ought to watch them openly. Why
"Because it's so much more exciting," said Sanine gaily.
"I dare say, but I advise you not to--"
"For chastity's sake, I suppose?"
"If you like."
"But chastity is the very thing that we don't possess!"
"If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out!" said Ivanoff.
"Oh! please don't talk nonsense, like Yourii Svarogitsch! God didn't
give us eyes that we might pluck out."
Ivanoff smiled, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Look here, my boy," said Sanine, steering towards the bank, "if the
sight of girls bathing were to rouse in you no carnal desire, then you
would have a right to be called chaste. Indeed, though I should be the
last to imitate it, such chastity on your part would win my admiration.
But, having these natural desires, if you attempt to suppress them,
then I say that your so-called chastity is all humbug."
"That's right enough, but, if no check were placed upon desires, great
harm might result."
"What harm, pray? Sensuality, I grant you, sometimes has evil results,
but it's not the fault of sensuality."
"Perhaps not, but...."
"Very well, then, are you coming?"
"Yes, but I'm--"
"A fool, that's what you are! Gently! Don't make such a noise," said
Sanine, as they crept along through the fragrant grass and rustling
"Look there!" whispered Ivanoff, excitedly.
From the smart frocks, hats and petticoats lying on the grass, it was
evident that the party of bathers had come out from the town. Some were
merrily splashing about in the water which dripped in silver beads from
their round, soft limbs. One stood on the bank, erect and lithe, and
the sunlight enhanced the plastic beauty of her form that quivered as
"Oh! I say!" exclaimed Sanine, fascinated by the sight.
Ivanoff started backwards as in alarm.
"What's the matter?"
"Hush! It's Sina Karsavina!"
"So it is!" said Sanine aloud. "I didn't recognize her. How charming
"Yes, doesn't she?" said the other, chuckling.
At that moment laughter and loud cries told them that they had been
overheard. Karsavina, startled, leaped into the clear water from which
alone her rosy face and shining eyes emerged. Sanine and Ivanoff fled
precipitately, stumbling back through the tall rushes to their boat.
"Oh! how good it is to be alive!" said Sanine, stretching himself.
_Down the river, floating onward,
Ever onward, to the sea_.
So he sang in his clear, resonant voice, while behind the trees the
sound of girlish laughter could still be heard. Ivanoff looked at the
"It's going to rain," he said.
The trees had become darker, and a deep shadow passed swiftly across
"We shall have to run for it!"
"Where? There's no escape, now," cried Sanine cheerfully.
Overhead a leaden-hued cloud floated nearer and nearer. There was no
wind; the stillness and gloom had increased.
"We shall get soaked to the skin," said Ivanoff, "so do give me a
cigarette, to console me."
Faintly the little yellow flame of the match flickered in the gloom. A
sudden gust of wind swept it away. One big drop of rain splashed the
boat, and another fell on to Sanine's brow. Then came the downpour.
Pattering on the leaves, the rain hissed as it touched the surface of
the water. All in a moment from the dark heaven it fell in torrents,
and only the rush and the splash of it could be heard.
"Nice, isn't it?" said Sanine, moving his shoulders to which his wet
shirt was sticking.
"Not so bad," replied Ivanoff, who had crouched at the bottom of the
Very soon the rain ceased, though the clouds had not dispersed, but
were massed behind the woods where flashes of lighting could be seen at
"We ought to be getting back," said Ivanoff.
"All right. I'm ready."
They rowed out into the current. Black, heavy clouds hung overhead, and
the flashes of lightning became incessant; white scimitars that smote
the sullen sky. Though now it did not rain, a feeling of thunder was in
the air. Birds with wet and ruffled plumage skimmed the surface of the
river, while the trees loomed darkly against the blue-grey heavens.
"Ho! ho!" cried Ivanoff.
When they had landed and were plodding through the wet sand, the gloom
became more intense.
"We're in for it, now."
Nearer, ever nearer to earth the huge cloud approached, like some
dreadful grey-bellied monster. There was a sudden gust of wind, and
leaves and dust were whirled round and round. Then, a deafening crash,
as if the heavens were cleft asunder, when the lightning blazed and the
"Oho--ho--ho!" shouted Sanine, trying to outvie the clamour of the
storm. But his voice, even to himself, was inaudible.
When they reached the fields, it was quite dark. Their pathway was lit
by vivid flashes, and the thunder never ceased.
"Oh! Ha! Ho!" shouted Sanine.
"What's that?" cried Ivanoff.
At that moment a vivid flash revealed to him Sanine's radiant face, the
only answer to his question. Then, a second flash showed Sanine, with
arms outstretched, gleefully apostrophizing the tempest.
The sun shone as brightly as in spring, yet in the calm, clear air the
touch of autumn could be felt. Here and there the trees showed brown
and yellow leaves in which the wistful voice of a bird occasionally
broke the silence, while large insects buzzed lazily above their ruined
kingdom of faded grasses and withered flowers where luxuriant weeds now
Yourii sauntered through the garden. Lost in his thoughts, he gazed at
the sky, at the green and yellow leaves, and the shining water, as if
he were looking on them all for the last time, and must fix them in his
memory so as never to forget them. He felt vague sorrow at his heart,
for it seemed as though with every moment something precious was
passing away from him that could never be recalled; his youth that had
brought him no joy; his place as an active sharer in the great and
useful work upon which all his energies had once been concentrated. Yet
why he should have thus lost ground he could not tell. He was firmly
convinced that he possessed latent powers that should revolutionize the
world, and a mind far broader in its outlook than that of anyone else;
but he could not explain why he had this conviction, and he would have
been ashamed to admit the fact even to his most intimate friend.
"Ah! well," he thought, gazing at the red and yellow reflections of the
foliage in the stream, "perhaps what I do is the wisest and the best.
Death ends it all, however one may have lived or tried to live. Oh!
there comes Lialia," he murmured, as he saw his sister approaching.
"Happy Lialia! She lives like a butterfly, from day to day, wanting
nothing, and troubled by nothing. Oh! if I could live as she does."
Yet this was only just a passing thought, for in reality he would on no
account have wished to exchange his own spiritual tortures for the
feather-brain existence of a Lialia.
"Yourii! Yourii!" she exclaimed in a shrill voice though she was not
more than three paces distant from him. Laughing roguishly, she handed
him a little rose-coloured missive.
Yourii suspected something.
"From whom?" he asked, sharply,
"From Sinotschka Karsavina," said Lialia, shaking her finger at him,
Yourii blushed deeply. To receive through his sister a little pink,
scented letter like this seemed utterly silly; in fact ridiculous. It
positively annoyed him. Lialia, as she walked beside him, prattled in
sentimental fashion about his attachment to Sina, just as sisters will,
who are intensely interested in their brothers' love-affairs. She said
how fond she was of Sina, and how delighted she would be if they made a
match of it, and got married.
At the luckless word "married," Yourii's face grew redder still, and in
his eyes there was a malevolent look. He saw before him an entire
romance of the usual provincial type; rose-pink _billets-doux_, sisters
as confidantes, orthodox matrimony, with its inevitable commonplace
sequel, home, wife, and babies--the one thing on earth that he dreaded
"Oh! Enough of all that twaddle, please!" he said in so sharp a tone
that Lialia was amazed.
"Don't make such a fuss!" she exclaimed, pettishly. "If you _are_ in
love, what does it matter? I can't think why you always pose as such an
This last sentence had a touch of feminine spite in it, and the shaft
struck home. Then, with a graceful movement of her dress which
disclosed her dainty open-work stockings, she turned abruptly on her
heel like some petulant princess, and went indoors.
Yourii watched her, with anger in his dark eyes, as he tore open the
"If you have time, and the wish to do so, will you come to the
monastery to-day? I shall be there with my aunt. She is preparing for
the Communion, and will be in church the whole time. It will be
dreadfully dull for me and I want to talk to you about lots of things.
Do come. Perhaps I ought not to have written to you, but, anyhow, I
shall expect you."
In a moment all that had occupied his thoughts vanished, as with a
thrill of pleasure almost physical he read and read the letter. This
pure, charming girl in one short phrase had thus in naive, trusting
fashion revealed to him the secret of her love. It was as though she
had come to him, helpless and pained, unable to resist the love that
made her give herself up to him, yet not knowing what might befall. So
near to him now seemed the goal, that Yourii trembled at the thought of
possession. He strove to smile ironically, but the effort failed. His
whole being was filled with joy, and such was his exhilaration that,
like a bird, he felt ready to soar above the tree-tops, away, afar,
into the blue, sunlit air.
Towards evening he hired a _droschky_ and drove towards the monastery,
smiling on the world timidly, almost in confusion. On reaching the
landing-stage he took a boat, and was rowed by a stalwart peasant to
It was not until the boat got clear of the reeds into the broad, open
stream that he became conscious that his happiness was entirely due to
the little rose-coloured letter.
"After all, it's simple enough," he said to himself, by way of
explanation. "She has always lived in that sort of world. It's just a
provincial romance. Well, what if it is?"
The water rippled gently on each side of the boat that brought him
nearer and nearer to the green hill. On reaching the shore, Yourii in
his excitement gave the boatman half a rouble and began to climb the
slopes. Signs of approaching dusk were already perceptible. Long
shadows lay at the foot of the hill, and heavy mists rose from the
earth, hiding the yellow tint of the foliage, so that the forest looked
as green and dense as in summer. The court-yard of the monastery was
silent and solemn as the interior of a church. The grave, tall poplars
looked as if they were praying, and like shadows the dark forms of
monks moved hither and thither. At the church-porch lamps glimmered,
and in the air there was a faint odour either of incense or of faded
"Hullo, Svarogitsch!" shouted some one behind him.
Yourii turned round, and saw Schafroff, Sanine, Ivanoff and Peter
Ilitch, who came across the court-yard, talking loudly and merrily. The
monks glanced apprehensively in their direction and even the poplars
seemed to lose something of their devotional calm.
"We've all come here, too," said Schafroff, approaching Yourii whom he
"So I see," muttered Yourii irritably.
"You'll join our party, won't you?" asked Schafroff as he came nearer.
"No, thank you, I am engaged," said Yourii, with some impatience.
"Oh! that's all right! You'll come along with us, I know," exclaimed
Ivanoff, as he good-humouredly caught hold of his arm. Yourii
endeavoured to free himself, and for a while a droll struggle took
"No, no, damn it all, I can't!" cried Yourii, almost angry now.
"Perhaps I'll join you later." Such rough pleasantry on Ivanoff's part
was not at all to his liking.
"All right," said Ivanoff, as he released him, not noticing his
irritation. "We will wait for you, so mind you come."
Thus, laughing and gesticulating, they departed. The court-yard became
silent and solemn as before. Yourii took off his cap, and in a mood
half-mocking, half shy, he entered the church. He at once perceived
Sina, close to one of the dark pillars. In her grey jacket and round
straw-hat she looked like a school-girl. His heart beat faster. She
seemed so sweet, so charming, with her black hair in a neat coil at the
back of her pretty white neck. It was this _air de pensioner_ while
being a tall, well-grown, shapely young woman, that to him was so
intensely alluring. Conscious of his gaze, she looked round, and in her
dark eyes there was an expression of shy pleasure.
"How do you do?" said Yourii, speaking in a low voice that yet was not
low enough. He was not sure if he ought to shake hands in a church.
Several members of the congregation looked round, and their swart,
parchment-like faces made him feel more uncomfortable. He actually
blushed, but Sina, seeing his confusion, smiled at him, as a mother
might, with love in her eyes, and Yourii stood there, blissful and
Sina gave no further glances, but kept crossing herself with great
zeal. Yet Yourii knew that she was only thinking of him, and it was
this consciousness that established a secret bond between them. The
blood throbbed in his veins, and all seemed full of mystery and wonder.
The dark interior of the church, the chanting, the dim lights, the
sighs of worshippers, the echoing of feet of those who entered or went
out--of all this Yourii took careful note, as in such solemn silence he
could plainly hear the beating of his heart. He stood there,
motionless, his eyes fixed on Sina's white neck and graceful figure,
feeling a joy that bordered on emotion. He wanted to show every one
that, although faith he had none in prayers, or chants, or lights, he
yet was not opposed to them. This led him to contrast his present happy
frame of mind with the distressful thoughts of the morning.
"So that one really can be happy, eh?" he asked himself, answering the
question at once. "Of course one can. All my thoughts regarding death
and the aimlessness of life are correct and logical, yet in spite of it
all, a man can sometimes be happy. If I am happy, it is all due to this
beautiful creature that only a short time ago I had never seen."
Suddenly the droll thought came to him that, long ago, as little
children, perhaps they had met and parted, never dreaming that some day
they would fall violently in love with each other, and that she would
give herself to him in all her ripe, radiant nudity. It was this last
thought that brought a flush to his cheeks and for a while he felt
afraid to look at her. Meanwhile she who his wanton fancy had thus
unclothed stood there in front of him, pure and sweet, in her little
grey jacket and round hat, praying silently that his love for her might
be as tender and deep as her own. In some way her virginal modesty must
have influenced Yourii, for the lustful thoughts vanished, and tears of
emotion filled his eyes. Looking upwards, he saw the gleaming gold
above the altar, and the sacred cross round which the yellow tapers
shone, and with a fervour long since forgotten he mentally ejaculated:
"O God, if thou dost exist, let this maiden love me, and let my love
for her be always as great as at this moment."
He felt slightly ashamed at his own emotion, and sought to dismiss it
with a smile.
"It's all nonsense, after all," he thought.
"Come," said Sina in a whisper that sounded like a sigh.
Solemnly, as if in their souls they bore away with them all the
chanting, and the prayers, the sighs and mystic lights, they went out
across the court-yard, side by side, and passed through the little door
leading to the mountain-slope. Here there was no living soul. The high
white wall and time-worn turrets seemed to shut them out from the world
of men. At their feet lay the oak forest; far below shone the river
like a mirror of silver, while in the distance fields and meadows were
merged in the dim horizon-line.
In silence they advanced to the edge of the slope, aware that they
ought to do something, to say something, yet feeling all the while that
they had not sufficient courage. Then Sina raised her head, when,
unexpectedly yet quite simply and naturally, her lips met Yourii's. She
trembled and grew pale as he gently embraced her, and for the first
time felt her warm, supple body in his arms. A bell chimed in that
silence. To Yourii it seemed to celebrate the moment in which each had
found the other. Sina, laughing, broke away from him and ran back.
"Auntie will wonder what has become of me! Wait here, and I'll be back
Afterwards Yourii could never remember if she had said this to him in a
loud, clear voice that echoed through the woodland, or if the words had
floated to him like a soft whisper on the evening breeze. He sat down
on the grass and smoothed his hair with his hand.
"How silly, and yet how delightful it all is!" he thought, smiling. In
the distance he heard Sina's voice.
"I'm coming, auntie, I'm coming."
First the horizon grew dark; then the river vanished in a mist, and
from the pasture-lands a sound came up of neighing horses, while, here
and there, faint lights flickered. As he sat there waiting, Yourii
began to count these.
"One, two, three--oh! there's another, right on the edge of the
horizon, just like a tiny star. Peasants are seated round it, keeping
their night-watch, cooking potatoes and chatting. The fire yonder is
blazing up and crackling merrily, while the horses stand, snorting,
beside it. But at this distance it's only a little spark that at any
moment might vanish."
He found it hard to think about anything at all. This sense of supreme
happiness utterly absorbed him. As if in alarm, he murmured at
"She will come back again, directly."
Thus he waited there, on the height, listening to horses whinnying in
the distance, to the cries of wild duck beyond the river, and to a
thousand other elusive, indefinite sounds from the woods at evening
which floated mysteriously through the air. Then as behind him he heard
steps rapidly approaching, and the rustling of a dress, he knew,
without looking round, that it was she, and in an ecstasy of passionate
desire he trembled at the thought of the coming crisis. Sina stood
still beside him, breathing hard. Delighted at his own audacity, Yourii
caught her in his strong arms, and carried her down to the grassy slope
beneath. In doing this, he nearly slipped, when she murmured:
"We shall fall!" feeling bashful, and yet full of joy.
As Yourii pressed her limbs closer to his, it appeared to him that she
had at once the sumptuous proportions of a woman and the soft, slight
figure of a child.
Down below, under the trees, it was dark, and here Yourii placed the
girl, seating himself next to her. As the ground was sloping, they
seemed to be lying side by side. In the dim light Yourii's lips
fastened on hers with wild passionate longing. She did not struggle,
but only trembled violently.
"Do you love me?" she murmured, breathlessly. Her voice sounded like
some mysterious whisper from the woods.
Then in amazement, Yourii asked himself:
"What am I doing?"
The thought was like ice to his burning brain. In a moment everything
seemed grey and void as a day in winter, lacking force and life. Her
eyelids half-closed, she turned to him with a questioning look. Then,
suddenly she saw his face, and overwhelmed with shame, shrank from his
embrace. Yourii was beset by countless conflicting sensations. He felt
that to stop now would be ridiculous. In a feeble, awkward way he again
commenced to caress her, while she as feebly, and awkwardly resisted
him. To Yourii the situation now seemed so absolutely absurd, that he
released Sina, who was panting like some hunted wild animal.
There was a painful silence, suddenly, he said:
"Forgive me ... I must be mad."
Her breath came quicker, and he felt that he should not have spoken
thus, as it must have hurt her. Involuntarily he stammered out all
sorts of excuses which he knew were false, his one wish being to get
away from her, as the situation had become intolerable.
She must have perceived this, too, for she murmured:
"I ought ... to go."
They got up, without looking at each other, and Yourii made a final
effort to revive his previous ardour by embracing her feebly. Then, in
her a motherly feeling was roused. As if she felt that she was stronger
than he, she nestled closer to him, and looking into his eyes, smiled
"Good-bye! Come and see me to-morrow!" So saying she kissed him with
such passion that Yourii felt dazed. At that moment he almost revered
her. When she had gone, he listened for a long while to the sound of
her retreating footsteps, and then picked up his cap from which he
shook dead leaves and mould before thrusting it on his head, and going
down the hill to the hospice. He made a long detour so as to avoid
"Ah!" thought he, as he descended the slope, "must I needs bring so
pure and innocent a girl to shame? Had it all to end in my doing what
any other average man would have done? God bless her! It would have
been too vile.... I am glad that I wasn't as bad as all that. How
utterly revolting ... all in a moment ... without a word ... like some
animal!" Thus he thought with disgust of what a little while before had
made him glad and strong. Yet he felt secretly ashamed and
dissatisfied. Even his arms and legs seemed to dangle in senseless
fashion, and his cap to fit him as might a fool's.
"After all, am I really capable of living?" he asked himself, in
In the large corridor of the hospice there was an odour of samovars,
and bread, and incense. A strong, active monk was hurrying along,
carrying a huge tea-urn.
"Father," exclaimed Yourii, confused somewhat at addressing him thus,
and imagining that the monk would be equally embarrassed.
"What is it, pray?" asked the other politely, through clouds of steam
from the samovar.
"Is there not a party of visitors here, from the town?"
"Yes, in number seven," replied the monk promptly, as if he had
anticipated such a question. "This way, please, on the balcony."
Yourii opened the door. The spacious room was darkened by dense clouds
of tobacco-smoke. Near the balcony there was more light, and one could
hear the jingling of bottles and glasses above the noisy talk and
"Life is an incurable malady." It was Schafroff who spoke.
"And you are an incurable fool!" shouted Ivanoff, in reply, "Can't you
stop your eternal phrase-making?"
On entering, Yourii received a boisterous welcome. Schafroff jumped up,
nearly dragging the cloth off the table as he seized Yourii's hand, and
"How awfully good of you to come! I am so glad! Really, it's most kind
of you! Thank you ever so much!"
Yourii as he took a seat between Sanine and Peter Ilitsch, proceeded to
look about him. The balcony was brightly lighted by two lamps and a
lantern, and outside this circle of light there seemed to be a black,
impenetrable wall. Yet Yourii could still perceive the greenish lights
in the sky. the silhouette of the mountain, the tops of the nearest
trees, and, far below, the glimmering surface of the river. From the
wood moths and chafers flew to the lamp, and, fluttering round it, fell
on to the table, slowly dying there a fiery death. Yourii, as he pitied
their fate, thought to himself:
"We, too, like insects, rush to the flame, and flutter round every
luminous idea only to perish miserably at the last. We imagine that the
idea is the expression of the world's will, whereas it is nothing but
the consuming fire within our brain."
"Now then, drink up!" said Sanine, as in friendly fashion he passed the
bottle to Yourii.
"With pleasure," replied the latter, dejectedly, and it immediately
occurred to him that this was about the best thing, in fact the only
thing that remained to be done.
So they all drank and touched glasses. To Yourii vodka tasted horrible.
It was burning and bitter as poison. He helped himself to the _hors
d'oeuvres,_ but these, too, had a disagreeable flavour, and he could
not swallow them.
"No!" he thought. "It doesn't matter if it's death, or Siberia, but get
away from here I must! Yet, where shall I go? Everywhere it's the same
thing, and there's no escaping from one's self. When once a man sets
himself above life, then life in any form can never satisfy him,
whether he lives in a hole like this, or in St. Petersburg."
"As I take it," cried Schafroff, "man, individually, is a mere
Yourii looked at the speaker's dull, unintelligent countenance, with
its tired little eyes behind their glasses, and thought that such a man
as that was in truth nothing.
"The individual is a cypher. It is only they who emerge from the
masses, yet are never out of touch with them, and who do not oppose the
crowd, as _bourgeois_ heroes usually do--it is only they who have real
"And in what does such strength consist, pray?" asked Ivanoff
aggressively, as he leant across the table. "Is it in fighting against
the actual government? Very likely. But in their struggle for personal
happiness, how can the masses help them?"
"Ah! there you go! You're a super-man, and want happiness of a special
kind to suit yourself. But, we men of the masses, we think that in
fighting for the welfare of others our own happiness lies. The triumph
of the idea--that is happiness!"
"Yet, suppose the idea is a false one?"
"That doesn't matter. Belief's the thing!" Schafroff tossed his head
"Bah!" said Ivanoff in a contemptuous tone, "every man believes that
his own occupation is the most important and most indispensable thing
in the whole world. Even a ladies' tailor thinks so. You know that
perfectly well, but apparently you have forgotten it; therefore, as a
friend I am bound to remind you of the fact."
With involuntary hatred Yourii regarded Ivanoff's flabby, perspiring
face, and grey, lustreless eyes.
"And, in your opinion, what constitutes happiness, pray?" he asked, as
his lips curled in contempt.
"Well, most assuredly not in perpetual sighing and groaning, or
incessant questionings such as, 'I sneezed just now. Was that the right
thing to do? Will it not cause harm to some one? Have I, in sneezing,
fulfilled my destiny?'"
Yourii could read hatred in the speaker's cold eyes, and it infuriated
him to think that Ivanoff considered himself his superior
intellectually, and was laughing at him.
"We'll soon see," he thought.
"That's not a programme," he retorted, striving to let his face express
intense disdain, as well as reluctance to pursue the discussion.
"Do you really need one? If I desire, and am able, to do something, I
do it. That's my programme!"
"A fine one indeed!" exclaimed Schafroff hotly, Yourii merely shrugged
his shoulders and made no reply.
For a while they all went on drinking in silence. Then Yourii turned to
Sanine and proceeded to expound his views concerning the Supreme Good.
He intended Ivanoff to hear what he said, though he did not look at
him. Schafroff listened with reverence and enthusiasm. While Ivanoff
who had partly turned his back to Yourii received each new statement
with a mocking "We've heard all that before!"
At last Sanine languidly interposed.
"Oh! do stop all this," he said. "Don't you find it terribly boring?
Every man is entitled to his own opinion, surely?"
He slowly lit a cigarette and went out into the courtyard. To his
heated body the calm, blue night was deliciously soothing. Behind the
wood the moon rose upward, like a globe of gold, shedding soft, strange
light over the dark world. At the back of the orchard with its odour of
apples and plums the other white-walled hospice could be dimly seen,
and one of the lighted windows seemed to peer down at Sanine through
its fence of tender leaves. Suddenly a sound was heard of naked feet
pattering on the grass, and Sanine saw the figure of a boy emerge from
"What do you want?" he asked.
"I want to see Mademoiselle Karsavina, the schoolteacher," replied the
bare-footed urchin, in a shrill voice.
To Sanine the name instantly recalled a vision of Sina, standing at the
water's edge in all her nude, sunlit loveliness.
"I have got a letter for her," said the boy.
"Aha! She must be at the hospice over the way, as she is not here. You
had better go there."
The lad crept away, barefoot, like some little animal, disappearing so
quickly in the darkness that it seemed as if he had hidden himself
behind a bush.
Sanine slowly followed, breathing to the full the soft, honey-sweet air
of the garden.
He went close up to the other hospice, so that the light from the
window as he stood under it fell full upon his calm, pensive face, and
illuminated large, heavy pears hanging on the dark orchard trees. By
standing on tip-toe Sanine was able to pluck one, and, just as he did
so he caught sight of Sina at the window.
He saw her in profile, clad in her night-dress. The light on her soft,
round shoulders gave them a lustre as of satin. She was lost in her
thoughts, that seemingly made her joyous yet ashamed, for her eyelids
quivered, and on her lips there was a smile. To Sanine it was like the
ecstatic smile of a maiden ripe and ready for a long, entrancing kiss.
Riveted to the spot, he stood there and gazed.
She was musing on all that had just happened, and her experiences, if
they had caused delight, had yet provoked shame. "Good heavens!"
thought she, "am I really so depraved?" Then for the hundredth time she
blissfully recalled the rapture that was hers as she first lay in
Yourii's arms. "My darling! My darling!" she murmured, and again Sanine
watched her eyelids tremble, and her smiling lips. Of the subsequent
scene, distressful in its unbridled passion, she preferred not to
think, instinctively aware that the memory of it would only bring
There was a knock at the door.
"Who is there?" asked Sina, looking up. Sanine plainly saw her white,
"Here's a letter for you," cried the boy outside.
Sina rose and opened the door. Splashed with wet mud to the knees, the
boy entered, and snatching his cap from his head, said:
"The young lady sent me."
"Sinotschka," wrote Dubova, "if possible, do come back to town this
evening. The Inspector of Schools has arrived, and will visit our
school to-morrow morning. It won't look well if you are not there."
"What is it?" asked Sina's old aunt.
"Olga has sent for me. The school-inspector has come," replied Sina,
The boy rubbed one foot against another.
"She wished me to tell you to come back without fail," he said.
"Are you going?" asked the aunt.
"How can I? Alone, in the dark?"
"The moon is up," said the boy. "It's quite light out-of-doors."
"I shall have to go," said Sina, still hesitating.
"Yes, yes, go, my child. Otherwise there might be trouble."
"Very well, then, I'll go," said Sina, nodding her head resolutely.
She dressed quickly, put on her hat and took leave of her aunt.
"Good-bye, my dear. God be with you."
Sina turned to the boy. "Are you coming with me?" The urchin looked shy
and confused, as, again rubbing his feet together, he muttered, "I came
to be with mother. She does washing here, for the monks."
"But how am I to go alone, Grischka?"
"All right! Let's go," replied the lad, in a tone of vigorous assent.
They went out into the dark-blue, fragrant night.
"What a delightful scent!" she exclaimed, immediately uttering a
startled cry, for in the darkness she had stumbled against some one.
"It is I," said Sanine, laughing.
Sina held out her trembling hand.
"It's so dark that one can't see," she said, by way of excuse.
"Where are you going?"
"Back to the town. They've sent for me."
"No, the little boy's going with me. He's my cavalier."
"Cavalier! Ha! Ha!" repeated Grischka merrily, stamping his bare feet.
"And what are _you_ doing here?" she asked.
"Oh! we're just having a drink together."
"You said 'we'?"
"Yes--Schafroff, Svarogitsch, Ivanoff ..."
"Oh! Yourii Nicolaijevitsch is with you, is he?" asked Sina, and she
blushed. To utter the name of him she loved sent a thrill through her
as though she were looking down into some precipice.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because--er--I met him," she answered, blushing deeper.
Sanine gently held her proffered hand in his.
"If you like, I will row you across to the other side. Why should you
go all that way round?"
"Oh! no, please don't trouble," said Sina, feeling strangely shy.
"Yes, let him row you across," said little Grischka persuasively, "for
there's such a lot of mud on the bank."
"Very well, then. You can go back to your mother."
"Aren't you afraid to cross the fields alone?" asked the boy.
"I will accompany you as far as the town," said Sanine.
"But what will your friends say?"
"Oh! that doesn't matter. They'll stop there till dawn. Besides,
they've bored me enough as it is."
"Well, it is very kind of you, I am sure. Grischka you can go."
"Good-night, Miss," said the boy, as he noiselessly disappeared. Sina
and Sanine were left there alone.
"Take my arm," he suggested, "or else you may fall."
Sina placed her arm in his, feeling a strange emotion as she touched
his muscles that were hard as steel. Thus they went on in the darkness,
through the woods to the river. In the wood it was pitch-dark, as if
all the trees had been fused and melted in a warm, impenetrable mist.
"Oh! how dark it is!"
"That doesn't matter," whispered Sanine in her ear. His voice trembled
slightly. "I like woods best at night time. It is then that man strips
off his everyday mask and becomes bolder, more mysterious, more
As the sandy soil slipped beneath their feet, Sina found it difficult
to save herself from falling. It was this darkness and this physical
contact with a supple, masterful male to whom she had always been
drawn, that now caused her most exquisite agitation. Her face glowed,
her soft arm shared its warmth with that of Sanine's, and her laughter
was forced and incessant.
At the foot of the hill it was less dark. Moonlight lay on the river,
and a cool breeze from its broad surface fanned their cheeks.
Mysteriously the wood receded in the gloom, as though it had given them
into the river's charge.
"Where is your boat?"
"There it is."
The boat lay sharply defined against the bright, smooth surface of the
stream. While Sanine got the oars into position, Sina, balancing
herself with outstretched arms, took her place in the stern. All at
once the moonlight and the luminous reflections from the water gave a
fantastic radiance to her form. Pushing off the boat from land, Sanine
sprang into it. With a slight grating sound the keel slid over the sand
and cut the water, as the boat swam into the moonlight, leaving broad
ripples in its wake.
"Let me row," said Sina, suddenly endued with strange, overmastering
strength. "I love rowing."
"Very well, sit here, then," said Sanine, standing in the middle of the
Again her supple form brushed lightly past him and as, with his finger-
tips, she touched his proffered hand, he could glance downwards at her
Thus they floated down the stream. The moonlight, shining upon her pale
face with its dark eyebrows and gleaming eyes, gave a certain lustre to
her simple white dress. To Sanine it seemed as if they were entering a
land of faerie, far removed from all men, outside the pale of human law
"What a lovely night!" exclaimed Sina.
"Lovely, isn't it?" replied Sanine in an undertone.
All at once, she burst out laughing.
"I don't know why, but I feel as if I should like to throw my hat into
the water, and let down my hair," she said, yielding to a sudden
"Then do it, by all means," murmured Sanine.
But she grew ill at ease and was silent.
Under the stimulating influence of the calm, sultry, unfathomable
night, her thoughts again reverted to her recent experiences. It seemed
to her impossible that Sanine should not know of these, and it was just
this which made her joy the more intense. Unconsciously she longed to
make him aware that she was not always so gentle and modest, but that
she could also be something vastly different when she threw off the
mask. It was this secret longing that made her flushed and elated.
"You have known Yourii Nicolaijevitsch for a long while, haven't you?"
she asked in a faltering voice, irresistibly impelled to hover above an
"No," replied Sanine. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh! I merely asked. He's a clever fellow, don't you think?"
Her tone was one of childish timidity, as if she sought to obtain
something from a person far older than herself, who had the right to
caress or to punish her.
Sanine smiled at her, as he said;
"Ye ... es!"
From his voice Sina knew that he was smiling, and she blushed deeply.
"No ... but, really he is.... Well, he seems to be very unhappy." Her
"Most likely. Unhappy he certainly is. Are you sorry for him?"
"Of course I am," said Sina with feigned _naivete_.
"It's only natural," said Sanine, "but 'unhappy' means to you something
different from what it really is. You think that a man spiritually
discontented, who is for ever analysing his moods and his actions
counts, not as a deplorably unhappy person, but as one of extraordinary
individuality and power. Such perpetual self-analysis appears to you a
fine trait which entitles that man to think himself better than all
others, and deserving not merely of compassion, but of love and
"Well, what else is it, if not that?" asked Sina ingenuously.
She had never talked so much to Sanine before. That he was an original,
she knew by hearsay; and she now felt agreeably perturbed at
encountering so novel and interesting a personality.
"There was a time when man lived the narrow life of a brute, not
holding himself responsible for his actions nor his feelings. This was
followed by the period of conscious life, and at its outset man was
wont to overestimate his own sentiments and needs and desires. Here, at
this stage, stands Svarogitsch. He is the last of the Mohicans, the
final representative of an epoch of human evolution which has
disappeared for evermore. He has absorbed, as it were, all the essences
of that epoch, which have poisoned his very soul. He does not really
live his life; each act, each thought is questioned. 'Have I done
right?' 'Have I done wrong?' In his case this becomes almost absurd. In
politics he is not sure whether it is not beneath his dignity to rank
himself with others, yet, if he retires from politics, he wonders if it
is not humiliating to stand aloof. There are many such persons. If
Yourii Svarogitsch forms an exception, it is solely on account of his
"I do not quite understand you," began Sina timidly. "You speak of
Yourii Nicolaijevitsch as if he himself were to blame for not being
other than what he is. If life fails to satisfy a man, then that man
stands above life."
"Man cannot be above life," replied Sanine, "for he himself is but a
fraction of it. He may be dissatisfied, but the cause for such
discontent lies in himself. He either cannot or dare not take from
life's treasures enough for his actual needs. There are people who
spend their lives in a prison. Others are afraid to escape from it,
like some captive bird that fears to fly away when set free.... The
body and spirit of man form one complete harmonious whole, disturbed
only by the dread approach of death. But it is we ourselves who disturb
such harmony by our own distorted conception of life. We have branded
as bestial our physical desires; we have become ashamed of them; we
have shrouded them in degrading forms and trammels. Those of us who by
nature are weak, do not notice this, but drag on through life in
chains, while those who are crippled by a false conception of life, it
is they who are the martyrs. The pent-up forces crave an outlet; the
body pines for joy, and suffers torment through its own impotence.
Their life is one of perpetual discord and uncertainty, and they catch
at any straw that might help them to a newer theory of morals, till at
last so melancholy do they become that they are afraid to live, afraid
"Yes, yes," was Sina's vigorous assent.
A host of new thoughts invaded her mind. As with shining eyes she
glanced round, the splendour of the night, the beauty of the calm river
and of the dreaming woods in moonlight seemed to penetrate her whole
being. Again she was possessed by that vague longing for sheer dominant
strength that should yield her delight.
"My dream is always of some golden age," continued Sanine, "when
nothing shall stand between man and his happiness, and when, fearless
and free, he can gave himself up to all attainable enjoyments."
"Yes, but how is he to do that? By a return to barbarism?"
"No. The epoch when man lived like a brute was a miserable, barbarous
one, and our own epoch, in which the body, dominated by the mind, is
kept under and set in the background lacks sense and vigour. But
humanity has not lived in vain. It has created new conditions of life
which give no scope either for grossness or asceticism."
"Yes, but what of love? Does not that impose obligations upon us?"
asked Sina hurriedly.
"No. If love imposes grievous obligations, it is through jealousy, and
jealousy is the outcome of slavery. In any form slavery causes harm.
Men should enjoy what love can give them fearlessly and without
restrictions. If this were so, love would be infinitely richer and more
varied in all its forms, and more influenced by chance and
"I hadn't the least fear just now," was Sina's proud reflection. She
suddenly looked at Sanine, feeling as if this were her first sight of
him. There he sat, facing her, in the stern, a fine figure of a man;
dark-eyed, broad-shouldered, intensely virile.
"What a handsome fellow!" she thought. A whole world of unknown forces
and emotions lay before her. Should she enter that world? She smiled at
her now curiosity, trembling all over. Sanine must have guessed what
was passing in her mind. His breath came quicker, almost in gasps.
In passing through a narrow part of the stream, the oars caught in the
trailing foliage and slipped from Sina's hands.
"I can't get along here, it's so narrow," she said timidly. Her voice
sounded gentle and musical as the rippling of the stream.
Sanine stood up, and moved towards her.
"What is it?" she asked in alarm.
"It's all right, I am only going to ..."
Sina rose in her turn, and attempted to get to the rudder.
The boat rocked so violently that she well nigh lost her balance, and
involuntarily she caught hold of Sanine, after falling almost into his
arms. At that moment, almost unconsciously, and never believing it
possible, she gently prolonged their contact. It was this touch of her
that in a moment fired his blood, while she, sensible of his ardour,
irresistibly responded thereto.
"Ah!" exclaimed Sanine, in surprise and delight.
He embraced her passionately, forcing her backwards, so that her hat
The boat rocked with greater violence, as invisible wavelets dashed
against the shore.
"What are you doing?" she cried, in a faint voice. "Let me go! For
heaven's sake! ... What are you doing? ..."
She struggled to free herself from those arms of steel, but Sanine
crushed her firm bosom closer, closer to his own, till such barriers as
there had been between them ceased to exist.
Around them, only darkness; the moist odour of the river and the reeds;
an atmosphere now hot, now cold; profound silence. Suddenly,
unaccountably, she lost all power of volition and of thought; her limbs
relaxed, and she surrendered to another's will.
Recovering herself at last, she perceived the bright image of the moon
in the dark water, and Sanine's face bending over her with glittering
eyes. She felt that his arms were wound tightly round her, and that one
of the oars was chafing her knee.
Then she began to weep gently, persistently, without freeing herself
from Sanine's embrace.
Her tears were for that which was irretrievable. Fear and pity for
herself, and fondness for him made her weep. Sanine lifted her up and
set her on his knee. She meekly submitted like some sorrowful child. As
in a dream she could hear him gently comforting her in a tender,
"I shall drown myself." The thought seemed an answer to a third
person's stern question, "What have you done, and what will you do
"What shall I do now?" she asked aloud.
"We will see," replied Sanine.
She tried to slip off his knees, but he held her fast, so she remained
there, thinking it strange that she could feel for him neither hatred
"It doesn't matter what happens, now," she said to herself, yet a
secret physical curiosity prompted her to wonder what this strong man,
a stranger, and yet so close a friend, would do with her.
After a while, he took the oars, and she reclined beside him, her eyes
half-closed, and trembling every time that his hand in rowing moved
close to her bosom. As the boat with a grating sound touched the shore,
Sina opened her eyes. She saw fields, and water, and white mist, and
the moon like a pale phantom ready to flee at dawn. It was now daybreak
and a cool breeze was blowing.
"Shall I go with you?" asked Sanine gently.
"No. I'd rather go alone," she replied.
Sanine lifted her out of the boat. It was a joy to him to do this, for
he felt that he loved her, and was grateful to her. As he put her down
on the shore after embracing her fondly, she stumbled.
"Oh! you beauty!" exclaimed Sanine, in a voice full of passion and
tenderness and pity.
She smiled in unconscious pride. Sanine took hold of her hands, and
drew her to him.
"It doesn't matter; nothing matters now," she thought, as she gave him
a long, passionate kiss on his lips.
"Good-bye," she murmured, scarcely knowing what she said.
"Don't be angry with me, darling," pleaded Sanine.
As she crossed the dyke, staggering as she went, and tripping over her
dress, Sanine watched her with sorrowful eyes. It grieved him to think
of all the needless suffering that was in store for her and which, as
he foresaw, she had not the strength to set aside.
Slowly her figure moved forward to meet the dawn, and it soon vanished
in the white mist.
When he could no longer see her, Sanine leapt into the boat, and by a
few powerful strokes lashed the water to foam In mid-stream, as the
dense morning mists rose round him, Sanine dropped the oars, stood
erect in the boat and uttered a great shout of joy. And the woods and
the mists, as if alive, responded to his cry.
As though stunned by a blow, Sina at once fell asleep, but woke early,
feeling utterly broken, and cold as a corpse. Her despair had never
slumbered, and for no single moment could she forget that which had
been done. In mute dejection she scrutinized every detail of her room,
as if to discover what since yesterday had suffered change. Yet, from
its corner, touched by morning light, the _ikon_ looked down at her in
friendly wise. The windows, the floor, the furniture were unaltered,
and on the pillows of the adjoining bed lay the fair head of Dubova who
was still fast asleep. All was exactly the same as usual; only the
crumpled dress flung carelessly across a chair told its tale. The flush
on her face at waking soon gave place to an ashen pallor that was
heightened by her coal-black eyebrows. With the awful clearness of an
overwrought brain she rehearsed her experiences of the last few hours.
She saw herself walking through silent streets at sunrise and hostile
windows seemed watching her, while the few persons she met turned round
to look at her. On she went in the dawn-light, hampered by her long
skirts, and holding a little green plush bag, much as some criminal
might stagger homewards. The past night was to her as a night of
delirium. Something mad and strange and overwhelming had happened, yet
how or why she knew not. To have flung all shame aside, to have
forgotten her love for another man, it was this that to her appeared
Jaded and sick at heart, she rose, and noiselessly began to dress,
fearful lest Dubova should awake. Then she sat at the window, gazing
anxiously at the green and yellow foliage in the garden. Thoughts
whirled in her brain, thoughts hazy and confused as smoke driven by the
wind. Suddenly Dubova awoke.
"What? Up already? How extraordinary!" she exclaimed.
When Sina returned in the early morning, her friend had only drowsily
asked, "How did you get in such a mess?" and then had fallen asleep
again. Now that she noticed that something was wrong, she hurried
across to Sina, barefooted, and in her night-dress.
"What's the matter? Are you ill?" she asked sympathetically, as might
an elder sister.
Sina winced, as beneath a blow, yet, with a smile on her rosy lips, she
replied in a tone of forced gaiety:
"Oh! dear no! Only, I hardly slept at all last night."
Thus was the first lie spoken that converted all her frank, proud
maidenhood to a memory. In its place there was now something false and
sullied. While Dubova was dressing herself, Sina glanced furtively at
her from time to time. Her friend seemed to her bright and pure, and
she herself as repulsive as a crushed reptile. So powerful was this
impression, that even the very part of the room where Dubova stood
appeared full of sunshine, while her own corner was steeped in gloom.
Sina remembered how she had always thought herself purer and more
beautiful than her friend, and the change that had come caused her
Yet all this lay hidden deep in her heart, and outwardly she was
perfectly calm; indeed, almost gay. She put on a pretty dark-blue
dress, and, taking her hat and sunshade, walked to school in her usual
buoyant way, where she remained until noon, and then returned home.
In the street she met Lida Sanina. They both stood there in the
sunlight, graceful, young, and pretty, as with smiles on their lips
they talked of trifling things. Lida felt morbidly hostile towards
Sina, happy and free from care as she imagined her to be, while the
latter envied Lida her liberty and her pleasant, easy life. Each
believed herself to be the victim of cruel injustice.
"I am surely better than she is. Why is she so happy, and why must I
suffer?" In both their minds this thought was uppermost.
After lunch, Sina took a book and sat near the window, listlessly
gazing at the garden that was still touched with the splendour of the
dying summer. The emotional crisis had passed, and now her mood was one
of apathy and indifference.
"Ah! Well, it's all over with me now," she kept repeating. "I'd better
Sina saw Sanine before he noticed her. Tall and calm, he crossed the
garden, thrusting aside the branches as if to greet them by his touch.
Leaning back in her chair, and pressing the book against her bosom, she
watched him, wild-eyed, as he slowly approached the window.
"Good day," he said, holding out his hand.
Before she could rise or recover from her amazement he repeated in a
gentle, caressing tone.
"Good morning to you."
Sina felt utterly powerless. She only murmured:
Sanine leant on the window-sill and said:
"Do come out into the garden for a little while and have a talk."
Sina got up, swayed by a strange force that robbed her of her will.
"I'll wait for you there," added Sanine.
She merely nodded.
As he strolled back to the garden Sina was afraid to look at him. For
some seconds she remained motionless, with her hands clasped, and then
suddenly went out, holding up her dress so as to walk more easily.
Sunlight touched the bright-hued autumn foliage; and the garden seemed
steeped in a golden haze. As Sina hastened towards him, Sanine was
standing at some distance in the middle of the path. His smile troubled
her. He took her hand, and, sitting on the trunk of a tree, gently drew
her on to his lap.
"I am not sure," he began, "that I ought to have come here to see you,
for you may think that I have treated you very badly. But I could not
stay away. I wanted to explain things, so that you might not utterly
hate and loathe me. After all ... what else could I do? How was I to
resist? There came a moment when I felt that the last barrier between
us had fallen, and that, if I missed this moment of my life, it would
never again be mine. You're so beautiful, so young ..."
Sina was mute. Her soft, transparent ear, half-hidden by her hair,
became rosy, and her long eyelashes quivered.
"You're miserable, now, and yesterday, how beautiful it all was," he
said. "Sorrows only exist because man has set a price upon his own
happiness. If our way of living were different, last night would remain
in our memory as one of life's most beautiful and precious
"Yes, if ..." she said mechanically. Then, all at once, much to her own
surprise, she smiled. And as sunrise, and the song of birds, and the
sound of whispering reeds, so this smile seemed to cheer her spirit.
Yet it was but for a moment.
All at once she saw her whole future life before her, a broken life of
sorrow and shame. The prospect was so horrible that it roused hatred.
"Go away! Leave me!" she said sharply. Her teeth were clenched and her
face wore a hard, vindictive expression as she rose to her feet.
Sanine pitied her. For a moment he was moved to offer her his name and
his protection, yet something held him back. He felt that such amends
would be too mean.
"Ah! well," he thought, "life must just take its course."
"I know that you are in love with Yourii Svarogitsch," he began.
"Perhaps it is that which grieves you most?"
"I am in love with no one," murmured Sina, clasping her hands
"Don't bear me any ill-will," pleaded Sanine. "You're just as beautiful
as ever you were, and the same happiness that you gave to me, you will
give to him you love--far more, indeed, far more. I wish you from my
heart all possible joy, and I shall always picture you to myself as I
saw you last night. Good-bye ... and, if ever you need me, send for me.
If I could ... I would give my life for you."
Sina looked at him, and was silent, stirred by strange pity.
"It may all come right, who knows?" she thought, and for a moment
matters did not seem so dreadful. They gazed into each other's eyes
steadfastly, knowing that in their hearts they held a secret which no
one would ever discover, and the memory of which would always be
"Well, good-bye," said Sina, in a gentle, girlish voice.
Sanine looked radiant with pleasure. She held out her hand, and they
kissed, simply, affectionately, like brother and sister.
Sina accompanied Sanine as far as the garden-gate and sorrowfully
watched him go. Then she went back to the garden, and lay down on the
scented grass that waved and rustled round her. She shut her eyes,
thinking of all that had happened, and wondering whether she ought to
tell Yourii or not.
"No, no," she said to herself, "I won't think any more about it. Some
things are best forgotten."
Next morning Yourii rose late, feeling indisposed. His head ached, and
he had a bad taste in his mouth. At first he could only recollect
shouts, jingling glasses, and the waning light of lamps at dawn. Then
he remembered how, stumbling and grunting, Schafroff and Peter Ilitsch
had retired, while he and Ivanoff--the latter pale with drink, but firm
on his feet--stood talking on the balcony. They had no eyes for the
radiant morning sky, pale green at the horizon, and changing over head
to blue; they did not see the fair meadows and fields, nor the shining
river that lay below.
They still went on arguing. Ivanoff triumphantly proved to Yourii that
people of his sort were worthless, since they feared to take from life
that which life offered them. They were far better dead and forgotten.
It was with malicious pleasure that he quoted Peter Ilitsch's remark,
"I should certainly never call such persons men," as he laughed wildly,
imagining that he had demolished Yourii by such a phrase. Yet, strange
to say, Yourii was not annoyed by it, dealing only with Ivanoff's
assertion that his life was a miserable one. That, he said, was because
"people of his sort" were more sensitive, more highly-strung; and he
agreed that they were far better out of the world. Then, becoming
intensely depressed, he almost wept. He now recollected with shame how
he had been on the point of telling Ivanoff of his love-episode with
Sina, and had almost flung the honour of that pure, lovely girl at the
feet of this truculent sot. When at last Ivanoff, growling, had gone
out into the courtyard, the room to Yourii seemed horribly dreary and
There was a mist over everything; only the dirty table-cloth, with its