Part 6 out of 6
pitifully wretched was all which proceeded from his hand! He was
stopped at every step by his ignorance of the very first principles:
simple ignorance of the mechanical part of his art chilled all
inspiration and formed an impassable barrier to his imagination. His
brush returned involuntarily to hackneyed forms: hands folded
themselves in a set attitude; heads dared not make any unusual turn;
the very garments turned out commonplace, and would not drape
themselves to any unaccustomed posture of the body. And he felt and
saw this all himself.
"But had I really any talent?" he said at length: "did not I deceive
myself?" Uttering these words, he turned to the early works which he
had painted so purely, so unselfishly, in former days, in his wretched
cabin yonder in lonely Vasilievsky Ostroff. He began attentively to
examine them all; and all the misery of his former life came back to
him. "Yes," he cried despairingly, "I had talent: the signs and traces
of it are everywhere visible--"
He paused suddenly, and shivered all over. His eyes encountered other
eyes fixed immovably upon him. It was that remarkable portrait which
he had bought in the Shtchukinui Dvor. All this time it had been
covered up, concealed by other pictures, and had utterly gone out of
his mind. Now, as if by design, when all the fashionable portraits and
paintings had been removed from the studio, it looked forth, together
with the productions of his early youth. As he recalled all the
strange events connected with it; as he remembered that this singular
portrait had been, in a manner, the cause of his errors; that the
hoard of money which he had obtained in such peculiar fashion had
given birth in his mind to all the wild caprices which had destroyed
his talent--madness was on the point of taking possession of him. At
once he ordered the hateful portrait to be removed.
But his mental excitement was not thereby diminished. His whole being
was shaken to its foundation; and he suffered that fearful torture
which is sometimes exhibited when a feeble talent strives to display
itself on a scale too great for it and cannot do so. A horrible envy
took possession of him--an envy which bordered on madness. The gall
flew to his heart when he beheld a work which bore the stamp of
talent. He gnashed his teeth, and devoured it with the glare of a
basilisk. He conceived the most devilish plan which ever entered into
the mind of man, and he hastened with the strength of madness to carry
it into execution. He began to purchase the best that art produced of
every kind. Having bought a picture at a great price, he transported
it to his room, flung himself upon it with the ferocity of a tiger,
cut it, tore it, chopped it into bits, and stamped upon it with a grin
The vast wealth he had amassed enabled him to gratify this devilish
desire. He opened his bags of gold and unlocked his coffers. No
monster of ignorance ever destroyed so many superb productions of art
as did this raging avenger. At any auction where he made his
appearance, every one despaired at once of obtaining any work of art.
It seemed as if an angry heaven had sent this fearful scourge into the
world expressly to destroy all harmony. Scorn of the world was
expressed in his countenance. His tongue uttered nothing save biting
and censorious words. He swooped down like a harpy into the street:
and his acquaintances, catching sight of him in the distance, sought
to turn aside and avoid a meeting with him, saying that it poisoned
all the rest of the day.
Fortunately for the world and art, such a life could not last long:
his passions were too overpowering for his feeble strength. Attacks of
madness began to recur more frequently, and ended at last in the most
frightful illness. A violent fever, combined with galloping
consumption, seized upon him with such violence, that in three days
there remained only a shadow of his former self. To this was added
indications of hopeless insanity. Sometimes several men were unable to
hold him. The long-forgotten, living eyes of the portrait began to
torment him, and then his madness became dreadful. All the people who
surrounded his bed seemed to him horrible portraits. The portrait
doubled and quadrupled itself; all the walls seemed hung with
portraits, which fastened their living eyes upon him; portraits glared
at him from the ceiling, from the floor; the room widened and
lengthened endlessly, in order to make room for more of the motionless
eyes. The doctor who had undertaken to attend him, having learned
something of his strange history, strove with all his might to fathom
the secret connection between the visions of his fancy and the
occurrences of his life, but without the slightest success. The sick
man understood nothing, felt nothing, save his own tortures, and gave
utterance only to frightful yells and unintelligible gibberish. At
last his life ended in a final attack of unutterable suffering.
Nothing could be found of all his great wealth; but when they beheld
the mutilated fragments of grand works of art, the value of which
exceeded a million, they understood the terrible use which had been
made of it.
A THRONG of carriages and other vehicles stood at the entrance of a
house in which an auction was going on of the effects of one of those
wealthy art-lovers who have innocently passed for Maecenases, and in a
simple-minded fashion expended, to that end, the millions amassed by
their thrifty fathers, and frequently even by their own early labours.
The long saloon was filled with the most motley throng of visitors,
collected like birds of prey swooping down upon an unburied corpse.
There was a whole squadron of Russian shop-keepers from the Gostinnui
Dvor, and from the old-clothes mart, in blue coats of foreign make.
Their faces and expressions were a little more natural here, and did
not display that fictitious desire to be subservient which is so
marked in the Russian shop-keeper when he stands before a customer in
his shop. Here they stood upon no ceremony, although the saloons were
full of those very aristocrats before whom, in any other place, they
would have been ready to sweep, with reverence, the dust brought in by
their feet. They were quite at their ease, handling pictures and books
without ceremony, when desirous of ascertaining the value of the
goods, and boldly upsetting bargains mentally secured in advance by
noble connoisseurs. There were many of those infallible attendants of
auctions who make it a point to go to one every day as regularly as to
take their breakfast; aristocratic connoisseurs who look upon it as
their duty not to miss any opportunity of adding to their collections,
and who have no other occupation between twelve o'clock and one; and
noble gentlemen, with garments very threadbare, who make their daily
appearance without any selfish object in view, but merely to see how
it all goes off.
A quantity of pictures were lying about in disorder: with them were
mingled furniture, and books with the cipher of the former owner, who
never was moved by any laudable desire to glance into them. Chinese
vases, marble slabs for tables, old and new furniture with curving
lines, with griffins, sphinxes, and lions' paws, gilded and ungilded,
chandeliers, sconces, all were heaped together in a perfect chaos of
The auction appeared to be at its height.
The surging throng was competing for a portrait which could not but
arrest the attention of all who possessed any knowledge of art. The
skilled hand of an artist was plainly visible in it. The portrait,
which had apparently been several times restored and renovated,
represented the dark features of an Asiatic in flowing garments, and
with a strange and remarkable expression of countenance; but what
struck the buyers more than anything else was the peculiar liveliness
of the eyes. The more they were looked at, the more did they seem to
penetrate into the gazer's heart. This peculiarity, this strange
illusion achieved by the artist, attracted the attention of nearly
all. Many who had been bidding gradually withdrew, for the price
offered had risen to an incredible sum. There remained only two
well-known aristocrats, amateurs of painting, who were unwilling to
forego such an acquisition. They grew warm, and would probably have
run the bidding up to an impossible sum, had not one of the onlookers
suddenly exclaimed, "Permit me to interrupt your competition for a
while: I, perhaps, more than any other, have a right to this
These words at once drew the attention of all to him. He was a tall
man of thirty-five, with long black curls. His pleasant face, full of
a certain bright nonchalance, indicated a mind free from all
wearisome, worldly excitement; his garments had no pretence to
fashion: all about him indicated the artist. He was, in fact, B. the
painter, a man personally well known to many of those present.
"However strange my words may seem to you," he continued, perceiving
that the general attention was directed to him, "if you will listen to
a short story, you may possibly see that I was right in uttering them.
Everything assures me that this is the portrait which I am looking
A natural curiosity illuminated the faces of nearly all present; and
even the auctioneer paused as he was opening his mouth, and with
hammer uplifted in the air, prepared to listen. At the beginning of
the story, many glanced involuntarily towards the portrait; but later
on, all bent their attention solely on the narrator, as his tale grew
gradually more absorbing.
"You know that portion of the city which is called Kolomna," he began.
"There everything is unlike anything else in St. Petersburg. Retired
officials remove thither to live; widows; people not very well off,
who have acquaintances in the senate, and therefore condemn themselves
to this for nearly the whole of their lives; and, in short, that whole
list of people who can be described by the words ash-coloured--people
whose garments, faces, hair, eyes, have a sort of ashy surface, like a
day when there is in the sky neither cloud nor sun. Among them may be
retired actors, retired titular councillors, retired sons of Mars,
with ruined eyes and swollen lips.
"Life in Kolomna is terribly dull: rarely does a carriage appear,
except, perhaps, one containing an actor, which disturbs the universal
stillness by its rumble, noise, and jingling. You can get lodgings for
five rubles a month, coffee in the morning included. Widows with
pensions are the most aristocratic families there; they conduct
themselves well, sweep their rooms often, chatter with their friends
about the dearness of beef and cabbage, and frequently have a young
daughter, a taciturn, quiet, sometimes pretty creature; an ugly dog,
and wall-clocks which strike in a melancholy fashion. Then come the
actors whose salaries do not permit them to desert Kolomna, an
independent folk, living, like all artists, for pleasure. They sit in
their dressing-gowns, cleaning their pistols, gluing together all
sorts of things out of cardboard, playing draughts and cards with any
friend who chances to drop in, and so pass away the morning, doing
pretty nearly the same in the evening, with the addition of punch now
and then. After these great people and aristocracy of Kolomna, come
the rank and file. It is as difficult to put a name to them as to
remember the multitude of insects which breed in stale vinegar. There
are old women who get drunk, who make a living by incomprehensible
means, like ants, dragging old clothes and rags from the Kalinkin
Bridge to the old clothes-mart, in order to sell them for fifteen
kopeks--in short, the very dregs of mankind, whose conditions no
beneficent, political economist has devised any means of ameliorating.
"I have mentioned them in order to point out how often such people
find themselves under the necessity of seeking immediate temporary
assistance and having recourse to borrowing. Hence there settles among
them a peculiar race of money-lenders who lend small sums on security
at an enormous percentage. Among these usurers was a certain . . . but
I must not omit to mention that the occurrence which I have undertaken
to relate occurred the last century, in the reign of our late Empress
Catherine the Second. So, among the usurers, at that epoch, was a
certain person--an extraordinary being in every respect, who had
settled in that quarter of the city long before. He went about in
flowing Asiatic garb; his dark complexion indicated a Southern origin,
but to what particular nation he belonged, India, Greece, or Persia,
no one could say with certainty. Of tall, almost colossal stature,
with dark, thin, ardent face, heavy overhanging brows, and an
indescribably strange colour in his large eyes of unwonted fire, he
differed sharply and strongly from all the ash-coloured denizens of
"His very dwelling was unlike the other little wooden houses. It was
of stone, in the style of those formerly much affected by Genoese
merchants, with irregular windows of various sizes, secured with iron
shutters and bars. This usurer differed from other usurers also in
that he could furnish any required sum, from that desired by the poor
old beggar-woman to that demanded by the extravagant grandee of the
court. The most gorgeous equipages often halted in front of his house,
and from their windows sometimes peeped forth the head of an elegant
high-born lady. Rumour, as usual, reported that his iron coffers were
full of untold gold, treasures, diamonds, and all sorts of pledges,
but that, nevertheless, he was not the slave of that avarice which is
characteristic of other usurers. He lent money willingly, and on very
favourable terms of payment apparently, but, by some curious method of
reckoning, made them mount to an incredible percentage. So said
rumour, at any rate. But what was strangest of all was the peculiar
fate of those who received money from him: they all ended their lives
in some unhappy way. Whether this was simply the popular superstition,
or the result of reports circulated with an object, is not known. But
several instances which happened within a brief space of time before
the eyes of every one were vivid and striking.
"Among the aristocracy of that day, one who speedily drew attention to
himself was a young man of one of the best families who had made a
figure in his early years in court circles, a warm admirer of
everything true and noble, zealous in his love for art, and giving
promise of becoming a Maecenas. He was soon deservedly distinguished
by the Empress, who conferred upon him an important post, fully
proportioned to his deserts--a post in which he could accomplish much
for science and the general welfare. The youthful dignitary surrounded
himself with artists, poets, and learned men. He wished to give work
to all, to encourage all. He undertook, at his own expense, a number
of useful publications; gave numerous orders to artists; offered
prizes for the encouragement of different arts; spent a great deal of
money, and finally ruined himself. But, full of noble impulses, he did
not wish to relinquish his work, sought to raise a loan, and finally
betook himself to the well-known usurer. Having borrowed a
considerable sum from him, the man in a short time changed completely.
He became a persecutor and oppressor of budding talent and intellect.
He saw the bad side in everything produced, and every word he uttered
"Then, unfortunately, came the French Revolution. This furnished him
with an excuse for every kind of suspicion. He began to discover a
revolutionary tendency in everything; to concoct terrible and unjust
accusations, which made scores of people unhappy. Of course, such
conduct could not fail in time to reach the throne. The kind-hearted
Empress was shocked; and, full of the noble spirit which adorns
crowned heads, she uttered words still engraven on many hearts. The
Empress remarked that not under a monarchical government were high and
noble impulses persecuted; not there were the creations of intellect,
poetry, and art contemned and oppressed. On the other hand, monarchs
alone were their protectors. Shakespeare and Moliere flourished under
their magnanimous protection, while Dante could not find a corner in
his republican birthplace. She said that true geniuses arise at the
epoch of brilliancy and power in emperors and empires, but not in the
time of monstrous political apparitions and republican terrorism,
which, up to that time, had never given to the world a single poet;
that poet-artists should be marked out for favour, since peace and
divine quiet alone compose their minds, not excitement and tumult;
that learned men, poets, and all producers of art are the pearls and
diamonds in the imperial crown: by them is the epoch of the great
ruler adorned, and from them it receives yet greater brilliancy.
"As the Empress uttered these words she was divinely beautiful for the
moment, and I remember old men who could not speak of the occurrence
without tears. All were interested in the affair. It must be remarked,
to the honour of our national pride, that in the Russian's heart there
always beats a fine feeling that he must adopt the part of the
persecuted. The dignitary who had betrayed his trust was punished in
an exemplary manner and degraded from his post. But he read a more
dreadful punishment in the faces of his fellow-countrymen: universal
scorn. It is impossible to describe what he suffered, and he died in a
terrible attack of raving madness.
"Another striking example also occurred. Among the beautiful women in
which our northern capital assuredly is not poor, one decidedly
surpassed the rest. Her loveliness was a combination of our Northern
charms with those of the South, a gem such as rarely makes its
appearance on earth. My father said that he had never beheld anything
like it in the whole course of his life. Everything seemed to be
united in her, wealth, intellect, and wit. She had throngs of
admirers, the most distinguished of them being Prince R., the most
noble-minded of all young men, the finest in face, and an ideal of
romance in his magnanimous and knightly sentiments. Prince R. was
passionately in love, and was requited by a like ardent passion.
"But the match seemed unequal to the parents. The prince's family
estates had not been in his possession for a long time, his family was
out of favour, and the sad state of his affairs was well known to all.
Of a sudden the prince quitted the capital, as if for the purpose of
arranging his affairs, and after a short interval reappeared,
surrounded with luxury and splendour. Brilliant balls and parties made
him known at court. The lady's father began to relent, and the wedding
took place. Whence this change in circumstances, this
unheard-of-wealth, came, no one could fully explain; but it was
whispered that he had entered into a compact with the mysterious
usurer, and had borrowed money of him. However that may have been, the
wedding was a source of interest to the whole city, and the bride and
bridegroom were objects of general envy. Every one knew of their warm
and faithful love, the long persecution they had had to endure from
every quarter, the great personal worth of both. Ardent women at once
sketched out the heavenly bliss which the young couple would enjoy.
But it turned out very differently.
"In the course of a year a frightful change came over the husband. His
character, up to that time so noble, became poisoned with jealous
suspicions, irritability, and inexhaustible caprices. He became a
tyrant to his wife, a thing which no one could have foreseen, and
indulged in the most inhuman deeds, and even in blows. In a year's
time no one would have recognised the woman who, such a little while
before, had dazzled and drawn about her throngs of submissive adorers.
Finally, no longer able to endure her lot, she proposed a divorce. Her
husband flew into a rage at the very suggestion. In the first outburst
of passion, he chased her about the room with a knife, and would
doubtless have murdered her then and there, if they had not seized him
and prevented him. In a fit of madness and despair he turned the knife
against himself, and ended his life amid the most horrible sufferings.
"Besides these two instances which occurred before the eyes of all the
world, stories circulated of many more among the lower classes, nearly
all of which had tragic endings. Here an honest sober man became a
drunkard; there a shopkeeper's clerk robbed his master; again, a
driver who had conducted himself properly for a number of years cut
his passenger's throat for a groschen. It was impossible that such
occurrences, related, not without embellishments, should not inspire a
sort of involuntary horror amongst the sedate inhabitants of Kolomna.
No one entertained any doubt as to the presence of an evil power in
the usurer. They said that he imposed conditions which made the hair
rise on one's head, and which the miserable wretch never afterward
dared reveal to any other being; that his money possessed a strange
power of attraction; that it grew hot of itself, and that it bore
strange marks. And it is worthy of remark, that all the colony of
Kolomna, all these poor old women, small officials, petty artists, and
insignificant people whom we have just recapitulated, agreed that it
was better to endure anything, and to suffer the extreme of misery,
rather than to have recourse to the terrible usurer. Old women were
even found dying of hunger, who preferred to kill their bodies rather
than lose their soul. Those who met him in the street experienced an
involuntary sense of fear. Pedestrians took care to turn aside from
his path, and gazed long after his tall, receding figure. In his face
alone there was sufficient that was uncommon to cause any one to
ascribe to him a supernatural nature. The strong features, so deeply
chiselled; the glowing bronze of his complexion; the incredible
thickness of his brows; the intolerable, terrible eyes--everything
seemed to indicate that the passions of other men were pale compared
to those raging within him. My father stopped short every time he met
him, and could not refrain each time from saying, 'A devil, a perfect
devil!' But I must introduce you as speedily as possible to my father,
the chief character of this story.
"My father was a remarkable man in many respects. He was an artist of
rare ability, a self-taught artist, without teachers or schools,
principles and rules, carried away only by the thirst for perfection,
and treading a path indicated by his own instincts, for reasons
unknown, perchance, even to himself. Through some lofty and secret
instinct he perceived the presence of a soul in every object. And this
secret instinct and personal conviction turned his brush to Christian
subjects, grand and lofty to the last degree. His was a strong
character: he was an honourable, upright, even rough man, covered with
a sort of hard rind without, not entirely lacking in pride, and given
to expressing himself both sharply and scornfully about people. He
worked for very small results; that is to say, for just enough to
support his family and obtain the materials he needed; he never, under
any circumstances, refused to aid any one, or to lend a helping hand
to a poor artist; and he believed with the simple, reverent faith of
his ancestors. At length, by his unintermitting labour and
perseverance in the path he had marked out for himself, he began to
win the approbation of those who honoured his self-taught talent. They
gave him constant orders for churches, and he never lacked employment.
"One of his paintings possessed a strong interest for him. I no longer
recollect the exact subject: I only know that he needed to represent
the Spirit of Darkness in it. He pondered long what form to give him:
he wished to concentrate in his face all that weighs down and
oppresses a man. In the midst of his meditations there suddenly
occurred to his mind the image of the mysterious usurer; and he
thought involuntarily, 'That's how I ought to paint the Devil!'
Imagine his amazement when one day, as he was at work in his studio,
he heard a knock at the door, and directly after there entered that
same terrible usurer.
"'You are an artist?' he said to my father abruptly.
"'I am,' answered my father in surprise, waiting for what should come
"'Good! Paint my portrait. I may possibly die soon. I have no
children; but I do not wish to die completely, I wish to live. Can you
paint a portrait that shall appear as though it were alive?'
"My father reflected, 'What could be better! he offers himself for the
Devil in my picture.' He promised. They agreed upon a time and price;
and the next day my father took palette and brushes and went to the
usurer's house. The lofty court-yard, dogs, iron doors and locks,
arched windows, coffers, draped with strange covers, and, last of all,
the remarkable owner himself, seated motionless before him, all
produced a strange impression on him. The windows seemed intentionally
so encumbered below that they admitted the light only from the top.
'Devil take him, how well his face is lighted!' he said to himself,
and began to paint assiduously, as though afraid that the favourable
light would disappear. 'What power!' he repeated to himself. 'If I
only accomplish half a likeness of him, as he is now, it will surpass
all my other works: he will simply start from the canvas if I am only
partly true to nature. What remarkable features!' He redoubled his
energy; and began himself to notice how some of his sitter's traits
were making their appearance on the canvas.
"But the more closely he approached resemblance, the more conscious he
became of an aggressive, uneasy feeling which he could not explain to
himself. Notwithstanding this, he set himself to copy with literal
accuracy every trait and expression. First of all, however, he busied
himself with the eyes. There was so much force in those eyes, that it
seemed impossible to reproduce them exactly as they were in nature.
But he resolved, at any price, to seek in them the most minute
characteristics and shades, to penetrate their secret. As soon,
however, as he approached them in resemblance, and began to redouble
his exertions, there sprang up in his mind such a terrible feeling of
repulsion, of inexplicable expression, that he was forced to lay aside
his brush for a while and begin anew. At last he could bear it no
longer: he felt as if these eyes were piercing into his soul, and
causing intolerable emotion. On the second and third days this grew
still stronger. It became horrible to him. He threw down his brush,
and declared abruptly that he could paint the stranger no longer. You
should have seen how the terrible usurer changed countenance at these
words. He threw himself at his feet, and besought him to finish the
portrait, saying that his fate and his existence depended on it; that
he had already caught his prominent features; that if he could
reproduce them accurately, his life would be preserved in his portrait
in a supernatural manner; that by that means he would not die
completely; that it was necessary for him to continue to exist in the
"My father was frightened by these words: they seemed to him strange
and terrible to such a degree, that he threw down his brushes and
palette and rushed headlong from the room.
"The thought of it troubled him all day and all night; but the next
morning he received the portrait from the usurer, by a woman who was
the only creature in his service, and who announced that her master
did not want the portrait, and would pay nothing for it, and had sent
it back. On the evening of the same day he learned that the usurer was
dead, and that preparations were in progress to bury him according to
the rites of his religion. All this seemed to him inexplicably
strange. But from that day a marked change showed itself in his
character. He was possessed by a troubled, uneasy feeling, of which he
was unable to explain the cause; and he soon committed a deed which no
one could have expected of him. For some time the works of one of his
pupils had been attracting the attention of a small circle of
connoisseurs and amateurs. My father had perceived his talent, and
manifested a particular liking for him in consequence. Suddenly the
general interest in him and talk about him became unendurable to my
father who grew envious of him. Finally, to complete his vexation, he
learned that his pupil had been asked to paint a picture for a
recently built and wealthy church. This enraged him. 'No, I will not
permit that fledgling to triumph!' said he: 'it is early, friend, to
think of consigning old men to the gutters. I still have powers, God
be praised! We'll soon see which will put down the other.'
"And this straightforward, honourable man employed intrigues which he
had hitherto abhorred. He finally contrived that there should be a
competition for the picture which other artists were permitted to
enter into. Then he shut himself up in his room, and grasped his brush
with zeal. It seemed as if he were striving to summon all his strength
up for this occasion. And, in fact, the result turned out to be one of
his best works. No one doubted that he would bear off the palm. The
pictures were placed on exhibition, and all the others seemed to his
as night to day. But of a sudden, one of the members present, an
ecclesiastical personage if I mistake not, made a remark which
surprised every one. 'There is certainly much talent in this artist's
picture,' said he, 'but no holiness in the faces: there is even, on
the contrary, a demoniacal look in the eyes, as though some evil
feeling had guided the artist's hand.' All looked, and could not but
acknowledge the truth of these words. My father rushed forward to his
picture, as though to verify for himself this offensive remark, and
perceived with horror that he had bestowed the usurer's eyes upon
nearly all the figures. They had such a diabolical gaze that he
involuntarily shuddered. The picture was rejected; and he was forced
to hear, to his indescribable vexation, that the palm was awarded to
"It is impossible to describe the state of rage in which he returned
home. He almost killed my mother, he drove the children away, broke
his brushes and easels, tore down the usurer's portrait from the wall,
demanded a knife, and ordered a fire to be built in the chimney,
intending to cut it in pieces and burn it. A friend, an artist, caught
him in the act as he entered the room--a jolly fellow, always
satisfied with himself, inflated by unattainable wishes, doing daily
anything that came to hand, and taking still more gaily to his dinner
and little carouses.
"'What are you doing? What are you preparing to burn?' he asked, and
stepped up to the portrait. 'Why, this is one of your very best works.
It is the usurer who died a short time ago: yes, it is a most perfect
likeness. You did not stop until you had got into his very eyes. Never
did eyes look as these do now.'
"'Well, I'll see how they look in the fire!' said my father, making a
movement to fling the portrait into the grate.
"'Stop, for Heaven's sake!' exclaimed his friend, restraining him:
'give it to me, rather, if it offends your eyes to such a degree.' My
father resisted, but yielded at length; and the jolly fellow, well
pleased with his acquisition, carried the portrait home with him.
"When he was gone, my father felt more calm. The burden seemed to have
disappeared from his soul in company with the portrait. He was
surprised himself at his evil feelings, his envy, and the evident
change in his character. Reviewing his acts, he became sad at heart;
and not without inward sorrow did he exclaim, 'No, it was God who
punished me! my picture, in fact, was meant to ruin my brother-man. A
devilish feeling of envy guided my brush, and that devilish feeling
must have made itself visible in it.'
"He set out at once to seek his former pupil, embraced him warmly,
begged his forgiveness, and endeavoured as far as possible to excuse
his own fault. His labours continued as before; but his face was more
frequently thoughtful. He prayed more, grew more taciturn, and
expressed himself less sharply about people: even the rough exterior
of his character was modified to some extent. But a certain occurrence
soon disturbed him more than ever. He had seen nothing for a long time
of the comrade who had begged the portrait of him. He had already
decided to hunt him up, when the latter suddenly made his appearance
in his room. After a few words and questions on both sides, he said,
'Well, brother, it was not without cause that you wished to burn that
portrait. Devil take it, there's something horrible about it! I don't
believe in sorcerers; but, begging your pardon, there's an unclean
spirit in it.'
"'How so?' asked my father.
"'Well, from the very moment I hung it up in my room I felt such
depression--just as if I wanted to murder some one. I never knew in my
life what sleeplessness was; but I suffered not from sleeplessness
alone, but from such dreams!--I cannot tell whether they were dreams,
or what; it was as if a demon were strangling one: and the old man
appeared to me in my sleep. In short, I can't describe my state of
mind. I had a sensation of fear, as if expecting something unpleasant.
I felt as if I could not speak a cheerful or sincere word to any one:
it was just as if a spy were sitting over me. But from the very hour
that I gave that portrait to my nephew, who asked for it, I felt as if
a stone had been rolled from my shoulders, and became cheerful, as you
see me now. Well, brother, you painted the very Devil!'
"During this recital my father listened with unswerving attention, and
finally inquired, 'And your nephew now has the portrait?'
"'My nephew, indeed! he could not stand it!' said the jolly fellow:
'do you know, the soul of that usurer has migrated into it; he jumps
out of the frame, walks about the room; and what my nephew tells of
him is simply incomprehensible. I should take him for a lunatic, if I
had not undergone a part of it myself. He sold it to some collector of
pictures; and he could not stand it either, and got rid of it to some
"This story produced a deep impression on my father. He grew seriously
pensive, fell into hypochondria, and finally became fully convinced
that his brush had served as a tool of the Devil; and that a portion
of the usurer's vitality had actually passed into the portrait, and
was now troubling people, inspiring diabolical excitement, beguiling
painters from the true path, producing the fearful torments of envy,
and so forth. Three catastrophes which occurred afterwards, three
sudden deaths of wife, daughter, and infant son, he regarded as a
divine punishment on him, and firmly resolved to withdraw from the
"As soon as I was nine years old, he placed me in an academy of
painting, and, paying all his debts, retired to a lonely cloister,
where he soon afterwards took the vows. There he amazed every one by
the strictness of his life, and his untiring observance of all the
monastic rules. The prior of the monastery, hearing of his skill in
painting, ordered him to paint the principal picture in the church.
But the humble brother said plainly that he was unworthy to touch a
brush, that his was contaminated, that with toil and great sacrifice
must he first purify his spirit in order to render himself fit to
undertake such a task. He increased the rigours of monastic life for
himself as much as possible. At last, even they became insufficient,
and he retired, with the approval of the prior, into the desert, in
order to be quite alone. There he constructed himself a cell from
branches of trees, ate only uncooked roots, dragged about a stone from
place to place, stood in one spot with his hands lifted to heaven,
from the rising until the going down of the sun, reciting prayers
without cessation. In this manner did he for several years exhaust his
body, invigorating it, at the same time, with the strength of fervent
"At length, one day he returned to the cloister, and said firmly to
the prior, 'Now I am ready. If God wills, I will finish my task.' The
subject he selected was the Birth of Christ. A whole year he sat over
it, without leaving his cell, barely sustaining himself with coarse
food, and praying incessantly. At the end of the year the picture was
ready. It was a really wonderful work. Neither prior nor brethren knew
much about painting; but all were struck with the marvellous holiness
of the figures. The expression of reverent humility and gentleness in
the face of the Holy Mother, as she bent over the Child; the deep
intelligence in the eyes of the Holy Child, as though he saw something
afar; the triumphant silence of the Magi, amazed by the Divine
Miracle, as they bowed at his feet: and finally, the indescribable
peace which emanated from the whole picture--all this was presented
with such strength and beauty, that the impression it made was
magical. All the brethren threw themselves on their knees before it;
and the prior, deeply affected, exclaimed, 'No, it is impossible for
any artist, with the assistance only of earthly art, to produce such a
picture: a holy, divine power has guided thy brush, and the blessing
of Heaven rested upon thy labour!'
"By that time I had completed my education at the academy, received
the gold medal, and with it the joyful hope of a journey to Italy--the
fairest dream of a twenty-year-old artist. It only remained for me to
take leave of my father, from whom I had been separated for twelve
years. I confess that even his image had long faded from my memory. I
had heard somewhat of his grim saintliness, and rather expected to
meet a hermit of rough exterior, a stranger to everything in the
world, except his cell and his prayers, worn out, tried up, by eternal
fasting and penance. But how great was my surprise when a handsome old
man stood before me! No traces of exhaustion were visible on his
countenance: it beamed with the light of a heavenly joy. His beard,
white as snow, and his thin, almost transparent hair of the same
silvery hue, fell picturesquely upon his breast, and upon the folds of
his black gown, even to the rope with which his poor monastic garb was
girded. But most surprising to me of all was to hear from his mouth
such words and thoughts about art as, I confess, I long shall bear in
mind, and I sincerely wish that all my comrades would do the same.
"'I expected you, my son,' he said, when I approached for his
blessing. 'The path awaits you in which your life is henceforth to
flow. Your path is pure--desert it not. You have talent: talent is the
most priceless of God's gifts--destroy it not. Search out, subject all
things to your brush; but in all see that you find the hidden soul,
and most of all, strive to attain to the grand secret of creation.
Blessed is the elect one who masters that! There is for him no mean
object in nature. In lowly themes the artist creator is as great as in
great ones: in the despicable there is nothing for him to despise, for
it passes through the purifying fire of his mind. An intimation of
God's heavenly paradise is contained for the artist in art, and by
that alone is it higher than all else. But by as much as triumphant
rest is grander than every earthly emotion, by so much is the lofty
creation of art higher than everything else on earth. Sacrifice
everything to it, and love it with passion--not with the passion
breathing with earthly desire, but a peaceful, heavenly passion. It
cannot plant discord in the spirit, but ascends, like a resounding
prayer, eternally to God. But there are moments, dark moments--' He
paused, and I observed that his bright face darkened, as though some
cloud crossed it for a moment. 'There is one incident of my life,' he
said. 'Up to this moment, I cannot understand what that terrible being
was of whom I painted a likeness. It was certainly some diabolical
apparition. I know that the world denies the existence of the Devil,
and therefore I will not speak of him. I will only say that I painted
him with repugnance: I felt no liking for my work, even at the time. I
tried to force myself, and, stifling every emotion in a hard-hearted
way, to be true to nature. I have been informed that this portrait is
passing from hand to hand, and sowing unpleasant impressions,
inspiring artists with feelings of envy, of dark hatred towards their
brethren, with malicious thirst for persecution and oppression. May
the Almighty preserve you from such passions! There is nothing more
"He blessed and embraced me. Never in my life was I so grandly moved.
Reverently, rather than with the feeling of a son, I leaned upon his
breast, and kissed his scattered silver locks.
"Tears shone in his eyes. 'Fulfil my one request, my son,' said he, at
the moment of parting. 'You may chance to see the portrait I have
mentioned somewhere. You will know it at once by the strange eyes, and
their peculiar expression. Destroy it at any cost.'
"Judge for yourselves whether I could refuse to promise, with an oath,
to fulfil this request. In the space of fifteen years I had never
succeeded in meeting with anything which in any way corresponded to
the description given me by my father, until now, all of a sudden, at
The artist did not finish his sentence, but turned his eyes to the
wall in order to glance once more at the portrait. The entire throng
of auditors made the same movement, seeking the wonderful portrait
with their eyes. But, to their extreme amazement, it was no longer on
the wall. An indistinct murmur and exclamation ran through the crowd,
and then was heard distinctly the word, "stolen." Some one had
succeeded in carrying it off, taking advantage of the fact that the
attention of the spectators was distracted by the story. And those
present long remained in a state of surprise, not knowing whether they
had really seen those remarkable eyes, or whether it was simply a
dream which had floated for an instant before their eyesight, strained
with long gazing at old pictures.
The town of B-- had become very lively since a cavalry regiment had
taken up its quarters in it. Up to that date it had been mortally
wearisome there. When you happened to pass through the town and
glanced at its little mud houses with their incredibly gloomy aspect,
the pen refuses to express what you felt. You suffered a terrible
uneasiness as if you had just lost all your money at play, or had
committed some terrible blunder in company. The plaster covering the
houses, soaked by the rain, had fallen away in many places from their
walls, which from white had become streaked and spotted, whilst old
reeds served to thatch them.
Following a custom very common in the towns of South Russia, the chief
of police has long since had all the trees in the gardens cut down to
improve the view. One never meets anything in the town, unless it is a
cock crossing the road, full of dust and soft as a pillow. At the
slightest rain this dust is turned into mud, and then all the streets
are filled with pigs. Displaying to all their grave faces, they utter
such grunts that travellers only think of pressing their horses to get
away from them as soon as possible. Sometimes some country gentleman
of the neighbourhood, the owner of a dozen serfs, passes in a vehicle
which is a kind of compromise between a carriage and a cart,
surrounded by sacks of flour, and whipping up his bay mare with her
colt trotting by her side. The aspect of the marketplace is mournful
enough. The tailor's house sticks out very stupidly, not squarely to
the front but sideways. Facing it is a brick house with two windows,
unfinished for fifteen years past, and further on a large wooden
market-stall standing by itself and painted mud-colour. This stall,
which was to serve as a model, was built by the chief of police in the
time of his youth, before he got into the habit of falling asleep
directly after dinner, and of drinking a kind of decoction of dried
goose-berries every evening. All around the rest of the market-place
are nothing but palings. But in the centre are some little sheds where
a packet of round cakes, a stout woman in a red dress, a bar of soap,
some pounds of bitter almonds, some lead, some cotton, and two shopmen
playing at "svaika," a game resembling quoits, are always to be seen.
But on the arrival of the cavalry regiment everything changed. The
streets became more lively and wore quite another aspect. Often from
their little houses the inhabitants would see a tall and well-made
officer with a plumed hat pass by, on his way to the quarters of one
of his comrades to discuss the chances of promotion or the qualities
of a new tobacco, or perhaps to risk at play his carriage, which might
indeed be called the carriage of all the regiment, since it belonged
in turn to every one of them. To-day it was the major who drove out in
it, to-morrow it was seen in the lieutenant's coach-house, and a week
later the major's servant was again greasing its wheels. The long
hedges separating the houses were suddenly covered with soldiers' caps
exposed to the sun, grey frieze cloaks hung in the doorways, and
moustaches harsh and bristling as clothes brushes were to be met with
in all the streets. These moustaches showed themselves everywhere, but
above all at the market, over the shoulders of the women of the place
who flocked there from all sides to make their purchases. The officers
lent great animation to society at B--.
Society consisted up till then of the judge who was living with a
deacon's wife, and of the chief of police, a very sensible man, but
one who slept all day long from dinner till evening, and from evening
This general liveliness was still further increased when the town of
B-- became the residence of the general commanding the brigade to
which the regiment belonged. Many gentlemen of the neighbourhood,
whose very existence no one had even suspected, began to come into the
town with the intention of calling on the officers, or, perhaps, of
playing bank, a game concerning which they had up till then only a
very confused notion, occupied as they were with their crops and the
commissions of their wives and their hare-hunting. I am very sorry
that I cannot recollect for what reason the general made up his mind
one fine day to give a grand dinner. The preparations were
overwhelming. The clatter of knives in the kitchen was heard as far as
the town gates. The whole of the market was laid under contributions,
so much so that the judge and the deacon's wife found themselves
obliged that day to be satisfied with hasty puddings and cakes of
flour. The little courtyard of the house occupied by the general was
crowded with vehicles. The company only consisted of men, officers and
gentlemen of the neighbourhood.
Amongst these latter was above all conspicuous Pythagoras
Pythagoravitch Tchertokoutski, one of the leading aristocrats of the
district of B--, the most fiery orator at the nobiliary elections and
the owner of a very elegant turn-out. He had served in a cavalry
regiment and had even passed for one of its most accomplished
officers, having constantly shown himself at all the balls and parties
wherever his regiment was quartered. Information respecting him may be
asked of all the young ladies in the districts of Tamboff and
Simbirsk. He would very probably have further extended his reputation
in other districts if he had not been obliged to leave the service in
consequence of one of those affairs which are spoken of as "a very
unpleasant business." Had he given or received a blow? I cannot say
with certainty, but what is indisputable is that he was asked to send
in his resignation. However, this accident had no unpleasant effect
upon the esteem in which he had been held up till then.
Tchertokoutski always wore a coat of a military cut, spurs and
moustache, in order not to have it supposed that he had served in the
infantry, a branch of the service upon which he lavished the most
contemptuous expressions. He frequented the numerous fairs to which
flock the whole of the population of Southern Russia, consisting of
nursemaids, tall girls, and burly gentlemen who go there in vehicles
of such strange aspect that no one has ever seen their match even in a
dream. He instinctively guessed the spot in which a regiment of
cavalry was to be found and never failed to introduce himself to the
officers. On perceiving them he bounded gracefully from his light
phaeton and soon made acquaintance with them. At the last election he
had given to the whole of the nobility a grand dinner during which he
declared that if he were elected marshal he would put all gentlemen on
the best possible footing. He usually behaved after the fashion of a
great noble. He had married a rather pretty lady with a dowry of two
hundred serfs and some thousands of rubles. This money was at once
employed in the purchase of six fine horses, some gilt bronze locks,
and a tame monkey. He further engaged a French cook. The two hundred
peasants of the lady, as well as two hundred more belonging to the
gentleman, were mortgaged to the bank. In a word, he was a regular
nobleman. Besides himself, several other gentlemen were amongst the
general's guests, but it is not worth while speaking of them. The
officers of the regiment, amongst whom were the colonel and the fat
major, formed the majority of those present. The general himself was
rather stout; a good officer, nevertheless, according to his
subordinates. He had a rather deep bass voice.
The dinner was magnificent; there were sturgeons, sterlets, bustards,
asparagus, quail, partridges, mushrooms. The flavour of all these
dishes supplied an irrefutable proof of the sobriety of the cook
during the twenty-four hours preceding the dinner. Four soldiers, who
had been given him as assistants, had not ceased working all night,
knife in hand, at the composition of ragouts and jellies. The immense
quantity of long-necked bottles, mingled with shorter ones, holding
claret and madeira; the fine summer day, the wide-open windows, the
plates piled up with ice on the table, the crumpled shirt-fronts of
the gentlemen in plain clothes, and a brisk and noisy conversation,
now dominated by the general's voice, and now besprinkled with
champagne, were all in perfect harmony. The guests rose from the table
with a pleasant feeling of repletion, and, after having lit their
pipes, all stepped out, coffee-cups in hand, on to the verandah.
"We can see her now," said the general. "Here, my dear fellow," added
he, addressing his aide-de-camp, an active well-made young officer,
"have the bay mare brought here. You shall see for yourselves,
At these words the general took a long pull at his pipe.
"She is not quite recovered yet; there is not a decent stable in this
cursed little place. But she is not bad looking--" puff--puff, the
general here let out the smoke which he had kept in his mouth till
then--"the little mare."
"It is long since your excellency--" puff--puff--puff--"condescended
to buy her?" asked Tchertokoutski.
Puff--puff--puff--puff. "Not very long, I had her from the breeding
establishment two years ago."
"And did your excellency condescend to take her ready broken, or to
have her broken in here yourself?"
As he spoke the general disappeared behind a cloud of smoke.
At that moment a soldier jumped out of the stable. The trampling of a
horse's hoofs was heard, and another soldier with immense moustaches,
and wearing a long white tunic, appeared, leading by the bridle the
terrified and quivering mare, which, suddenly rearing, lifted him off
"Come, come, Agrafena Ivanovna," said he, leading her towards the
The mare's name was Agrafena Ivanovna. Strong and bold as a Southern
beauty, she suddenly became motionless.
The general began to look at her with evident satisfaction, and left
off smoking. The colonel himself went down the steps and patted her
neck. The major ran his hand down her legs, and all the other officers
clicked their tongues at her.
Tchertokoutski left the verandah to take up a position beside the
mare. The soldier who held her bridle drew himself up and stared
fixedly at the guests.
"She is very fine, very fine," said Tchertokoutski, "a very
well-shaped beast. Will your excellency allow me to ask whether she is
a good goer?"
"She goes well, but that idiot of a doctor, deuce take him, has given
her some balls which have made her sneeze for the last two days."
"She is a fine beast, a very fine beast. Has your excellency a
turn-out to match the horse?"
"Turn-out! but she's a saddle horse."
"I know. I put the question, your excellency, to know if you have an
equipage worthy of your other horses?"
"No, I have not much in the way of equipages; I must admit that, for
some time past, I have been wanting to buy a calash, such as they
build now-a-days. I have written about it to my brother who is now at
St. Petersburg, but I do not know whether he will be able to send me
"It seems to me, your excellency," remarked the colonel, "that there
are no better calashes than those of Vienna."
"You are right." Puff--puff--puff.
"I have an excellent calash, your excellency, a real Viennese calash,"
"That in which you came?"
"Oh no, I make use of that for ordinary service, but the other is
something extraordinary. It is as light as a feather, and if you sit
in it, it seems as if your nurse was rocking you in a cradle."
"It is very comfortable then?"
"Extremely comfortable; the cushions, the springs, and everything else
"Ah! that is good."
"And what a quantity of things can be packed away in it. I have never
seen anything like it, your excellency. When I was still in the
service there was room enough in the body to stow away ten bottles of
rum, twenty pounds of tobacco, six uniforms, and two pipes, the
longest pipes imaginable, your excellency; and in the pockets inside
you could stow away a whole bullock."
"That is very good."
"It cost four thousand rubles, your excellency."
"It ought to be good at that price. Did you buy it yourself?"
"No, your excellency, I had it by chance. It was bought by one of my
oldest friends, a fine fellow with whom you would be very well
pleased. We are very intimate. What is mine is his, and what is his is
mine. I won it of him at cards. Would your excellency have the
kindness to honour me at dinner to-morrow? You could see my calash."
"I don't know what to say. Alone I could not--but if you would allow
me to come with these officers--"
"I beg of them to come too. I shall esteem it a great honour,
gentlemen, to have the pleasure of seeing you at my house."
The colonel, the major, and the other officers thanked Tchertokoutski.
"I am of opinion myself, your excellency, that if one buys anything it
should be good; it is not worth the trouble of getting, if it turns
out bad. If you do me the honour of calling on me to-morrow, I will
show you some improvements I have introduced on my estate."
The general looked at him, and puffed out a fresh cloud of smoke.
Tchertokoutski was charmed with his notion of inviting the officers,
and mentally ordered in advance all manner of dishes for their
entertainment. He smiled at these gentlemen, who on their part
appeared to increase their show of attention towards him, as was
noticeable from the expression of their eyes and the little half-nods
they bestowed upon him. His bearing assumed a certain ease, and his
voice expressed his great satisfaction.
"Your excellency will make the acquaintance of the mistress of the
"That will be most agreeable to me," said the general, twirling his
Tchertokoutski was firmly resolved to return home at once in order to
make all necessary preparations in good time. He had already taken his
hat, but a strange fatality caused him to remain for some time at the
general's. The card tables had been set out, and all the company,
separating into groups of four, scattered itself about the room.
Lights were brought in. Tchertokoutski did not know whether he ought
to sit down to whist. But as the officers invited him, he thought that
the rules of good breeding obliged him to accept. He sat down. I do
not know how a glass of punch found itself at his elbow, but he drank
it off without thinking. After playing two rubbers, he found another
glass close to his hand which he drank off in the same way, though not
"It is really time for me to go, gentlemen."
He began to play a fresh rubber. However, the conversation which was
going on in every corner of the room took an especial turn. Those who
were playing whist were quiet enough, but the others talked a great
deal. A captain had taken up his position on a sofa, and leaning
against a cushion, pipe in mouth, he captivated the attention of a
circle of guests gathered about him by his eloquent narrative of
amorous adventures. A very stout gentleman whose arms were so short
that they looked like two potatoes hanging by his sides, listened to
him with a very satisfied expression, and from time to time exerted
himself to pull his tobacco-pouch out of his coat-tail pocket. A
somewhat brisk discussion on cavalry drill had arisen in another
corner, and Tchertokoutski, who had twice already played a knave for a
king, mingled in the conversation by calling out from his place: "In
what year?" or "What regiment?" without noticing that very often his
question had no application whatever. At length, a few minutes before
supper, play came to an end. Tchertokoutski could remember that he had
won a great deal, but he did not take up his winnings, and after
rising stood for some time in the position of a man who has no
handkerchief in his pocket.
They sat down to supper. As might be expected, wine was not lacking,
and Tchertokoutski kept involuntarily filling his glass with it, for
he was surrounded with bottles. A lengthy conversation took place at
table, but the guests carried it on after a strange fashion. A
colonel, who had served in 1812, described a battle which had never
taken place; and besides, no one ever could make out why he took a
cork and stuck it into a pie. They began to break-up at three in the
morning. The coachmen were obliged to take several of them in their
arms like bundles; and Tchertokoutski himself, despite his
aristocratic pride, bowed so low to the company, that he took home two
thistles in his moustache.
The coachman who drove him home found every one asleep. He routed out,
after some trouble, the valet, who, after having ushered his master
through the hall, handed him over to a maid-servant. Tchertokoutski
followed her as well as he could to the best room, and stretched
himself beside his pretty young wife, who was sleeping in a night-gown
as white as snow. The shock of her husband falling on the bed awoke
her--she stretched out her arms, opened her eyes, closed them quickly,
and then opened them again quite wide, with a half-vexed air. Seeing
that her husband did not pay the slightest attention to her, she
turned over on the other side, rested her fresh and rosy cheek on her
hand, and went to sleep again.
It was late--that is, according to country customs--when the lady
awoke again. Her husband was snoring more loudly than ever. She
recollected that he had come home at four o'clock, and not wishing to
awaken him, got up alone, and put on her slippers, which her husband
had had sent for her from St. Petersburg, and a white dressing-gown
which fell about her like the waters of a fountain. Then she passed
into her dressing-room, and after washing in water as fresh as
herself, went to her toilet table. She looked at herself twice in the
glass, and thought she looked very pretty that morning. This
circumstance, a very insignificant one apparently, caused her to stay
two hours longer than usual before her glass. She dressed herself very
tastefully and went into the garden.
The weather was splendid: it was one of the finest days of the summer.
The sun, which had almost reached the meridian, shed its most ardent
rays; but a pleasant coolness reigned under the leafy arcades; and the
flowers, warmed by the sun, exhaled their sweetest perfume. The pretty
mistress of the house had quite forgotten that it was noon at least,
and that her husband was still asleep. Already she heard the snores of
two coachmen and a groom, who were taking their siesta in the stable,
after having dined copiously. But she was still sitting in a bower
from which the deserted high road could be seen, when all at once her
attention was caught by a light cloud of dust rising in the distance.
After looking at it for some moments, she ended by making out several
vehicles, closely following one another. First came a light calash,
with two places, in which was the general, wearing his large and
glittering epaulettes, with the colonel. This was followed by another
with four places, containing the captain, the aide-de-camp and two
lieutenants. Further on, came the celebrated regimental vehicle, the
present owner of which was the major, and behind that another in which
were packed five officers, one on his comrade's knees, the procession
being closed by three more on three fine bays.
"Are they coming here?" thought the mistress of the house. "Good
heavens, yes! they are leaving the main road."
She gave a cry, clasped her hands, and ran straight across the
flower-beds to her bedroom, where her husband was still sleeping
"Get up! get up! get up at once," she cried, pulling him by the arm.
"What--what's the matter?" murmured Tchertokoutski, stretching his
limbs without opening his eyes.
"Get up, get up. Visitors have come, do you hear? visitors."
"Visitors, what visitors?" After saying these words he uttered a
little plaintive grunt like that of a sucking calf: "M-m-m. Let me
"My dear, get up at once, for heaven's sake. The general has come with
all his officers. Ah! goodness, you have got a thistle in your
"The general! Has he come already? But why the deuce did not they wake
me? And the dinner, is the dinner ready?"
"But haven't I ordered a dinner?"
"A dinner! You got home at four o'clock in the morning and you did not
answer a single word to all my questions. I did not wake you, since
you had so little sleep."
Tchertokoutski, his eyes staring out of his head, remained motionless
for some moments as though a thunderbolt had struck him. All at once
he jumped out of bed in his shirt.
"Idiot that I am," he exclaimed, clasping his hand to his forehead; "I
had invited them to dinner. What is to be done? are they far off?"
"They will be here in a moment."
"My dear, hide yourself. Ho there, somebody. Hi there, you girl. Come
here, you fool; what are you afraid of? The officers are coming here;
tell them I am not at home, that I went out early this morning, that I
am not coming back. Do you understand? Go and repeat it to all the
servants. Be off, quick."
Having uttered these words, he hurriedly slipped on his dressing-gown,
and ran off to shut himself up in the coach-house, which he thought
the safest hiding-place. But he fancied that he might be noticed in
the corner in which he had taken refuge.
"This will be better," said he to himself, letting down the steps of
the nearest vehicle, which happened to be the calash. He jumped
inside, closed the door, and, as a further precaution, covered himself
with the leather apron. There he remained, wrapped in his
dressing-gown, in a doubled-up position.
During this time the equipages had drawn up before the porch. The
general got out of his carriage and shook himself, followed by the
colonel, arranging the feathers in his hat. After him came the stout
major, his sabre under his arm, and the slim lieutenants, whilst the
mounted officers also alighted.
"The master is not at home," said a servant appearing at the top of a
flight of steps.
"What! not at home; but he is coming home for dinner, is he not?"
"No, he is not; he has gone out for the day and will not be back till
this time to-morrow."
"Bless me," said the general; "but what the deuce--"
"What a joke," said the colonel laughing.
"No, no, such things are inconceivable," said the general angrily. "If
he could not receive us, why did he invite us?"
"I cannot understand, your excellency, how it is possible to act in
such a manner," observed a young officer.
"What?" said the general, who always made an officer under the rank of
captain repeat his remarks twice over.
"I wondered, your excellency, how any one could do such a thing."
"Quite so; if anything has happened he ought to have let us know."
"There is nothing to be done, your excellency, we had better go back
home," said the colonel.
"Certainly, there is nothing to be done. However, we can see the
calash without him; probably he has not taken it with him. Come here,
"What does your excellency want?"
"Show us your master's new calash."
"Have the kindness to step this way to the coach-house."
The general entered the coach-house followed by his officers.
"Let me pull it a little forward, your excellency," said the servant,
"it is rather dark here."
"That will do."
The general and his officers walked around the calash, carefully
inspecting the wheels and springs.
"There is nothing remarkable about it," said the general; "it is a
very ordinary calash."
"Nothing to look at," added the colonel; "there is absolutely nothing
good about it."
"It seems to me, your excellency, that it is not worth four thousand
rubles," remarked a young officer.
"I said, your excellency, that I do not think that it is worth four
"Four thousand! It is not worth two. Perhaps, however, the inside is
well fitted. Unbutton the apron."
And Tchertokoutski appeared before the officers' eyes, clad in his
dressing-gown and doubled up in a singular fashion.
"Hullo, there you are," said the astonished general.
Then he covered Tchertokoutski up again and went off with his