Part 2 out of 6
She could see a furious face and the grey bristles of trimmed
moustaches. She could hear the malignant cry:
"We must finish him off!"
A shot was fired; there was a low, dull discharge: the boy fell and
began to toss on the ground. Another shot--the boy kept on tossing.
The shots came faster--but the boy was still alive.
Elisaveta awoke; this time she did not go to sleep again. Her heart
beat half with pain, half with joy, because it was but a dream--but a
dream! Her heart was bright with exultant joy.
The golden arrows of the yet quiet and gentle Dragon fell softly with
sidelong glances. Evidently it was still early. In the distance
Elisaveta could hear the sound of a horn and the lowing of cows. The
bedroom walls were tinged with rose light. The early light stole in
through the windows and messaged an altogether new, better day. A
refreshing breeze blew in through the open window, the twitter of
birds also entered, the air resounded with early morning joy.
Elisaveta was soon aware that Elena was also awake.
Both sisters had slept badly that night. Elisaveta was worn out by
nightmares, while Elena woke several times and went to her. Both felt
the sweet after-dizziness of sleep suddenly cut short by the Dragon's
sickles. Their memories pursued one another in a confused, vivid
flock. They began to recall the circumstances of yesterday's visit. A
secret agitation, akin to shame, stole over them. Little by little
they conquered this feeling during the day. Alone again, they
discussed what they had seen at Trirodov's. A strange forgetfulness
came upon them. The details of the visit grew more vague the more they
tried to recall them. They found themselves in constant disagreement,
and corrected one another. It might have been a dream. Now it seemed
one, now the other. Was it reality or a dream? Where is the
border-line? Whether life be a sweet or a bitter dream, it passes by
like a swift vision!
Three days passed by. Again the day was quiet and clear, again the
high Dragon smiled his malignant, excessively bright smile. He
counted, as he rose, his livid seconds, his flaming minutes; and he
let fall upon the earth, with a scarcely perceptible echo, his
lead-heavy but transparent hours. It was three o'clock in the
afternoon; they had just finished luncheon. The Rameyevs and the
Matovs were at home. Again Elisaveta wrangled with Piotr and, as
before, the discussion was long, heated and discordant--every one left
the table flustered and depressed; the hopeless confusion of it all
deeply affected even the usually composed Miss Harrison.
The sisters were left by themselves. They went out on the lower
balcony and pretended to read. They appeared to be waiting for
something. This waiting made their hearts beat fast under their
Elisaveta, letting the book fall upon her knees, was the first to
break the heavy silence.
"I think he is coming to-day."
The breeze blew at that moment, there was a rustle in the foliage and
a little bird suddenly began to chirp away somewhere--and it seemed as
if the depressed garden were glad because of these lively, resonant,
quickly uttered words.
"Who?" asked Elena.
The insincerity of her question made her flush quite suddenly. She
knew very well whom Elisaveta meant. The latter glanced at her and
"Trirodov, of course. It is strange that we should be waiting for
"I think he promised to come," said Elena indecisively.
"Yes," answered Elisaveta, "I think he said something at that strange
"It was earlier," observed Elena.
"Yes, I am mixing it all up," said Elisaveta. "I don't understand how
I could forget so quickly."
"I too am tangling things up badly," confessed Elena, astonished at
herself. "I feel very tired, I don't know why."
The soft noise of wheels over a sandy road grew closer and closer. At
last a light trap, drawn by a horse in English harness, could be seen
turning into the alley of birches and stopping before the house. The
sisters rose nervously. Their faces wore their habitually pleasant
smiles and their hands did not tremble.
Trirodov gave the reins to Kirsha, who drove away.
The meeting proved an embarrassing one. The sisters' agitation was
evident in their polite, empty phrases. They entered the drawing-room.
Presently Rameyev, accompanied by the Matov brothers, came in to
welcome the guest. There was the usual exchange of compliments, of
meaningless phrases--as everywhere, as always.
Piotr was uneasy and hostile. He spoke abruptly and with evident
unwillingness. Misha looked on with curiosity. He liked Trirodov--he
had already heard something about him which assured pleasant relations
The conversation developed rapidly and politely. Not a word was said
about the sisters' visit to Trirodov.
"We've heard a great deal about you," began Rameyev, "I'm glad to know
Trirodov smiled, and his smile seemed slightly derisive. Elisaveta
"I suppose you think our being glad to see you merely a polite
There was sharpness in her voice. Elisaveta, realizing this, suddenly
flushed. Rameyev looked at her in astonishment.
"No, I don't think that," put in Trirodov. "There's real pleasure in
"That's the usual thing to say in polite society," said Piotr quietly.
Trirodov glanced at him with a smile and turned to Rameyev.
"I say it in all sincerity, I am glad to have made your acquaintance.
I live very much alone and so am all the more glad of the fortunate
circumstance that has brought me here on a matter of business."
"Business?" asked Rameyev in astonishment.
"I can put the matter in a few words," said Trirodov. "I wish to
extend my estate."
There was a tinge of sadness in Rameyev's answer:
"You have bought the better part of the Prosianiya Meadows."
"It's not quite large enough. I should like to acquire the rest of
it--for my colony."
"I shouldn't like to let the rest go," remarked Rameyev. "It belongs
to Piotr and Misha."
"As far as it concerns me," put in Piotr, "I'd sell my share with the
greatest pleasure before those 'comrade' fellows take it from me for
Misha was silent, but it was evident that the thought of selling his
native soil was distasteful to him. He seemed on the point of bursting
"In my opinion," observed Rameyev, "the land needn't be sold. I
shouldn't advise it. I wouldn't think of selling Misha's share until
he came of age--and I shouldn't advise you to sell yours either,
Misha, gladdened, glanced gratefully at Rameyev, who continued:
"I can direct you to another plot of land which happens to be on sale.
I hope it will suit your needs."
Trirodov thanked him.
His educational institution now became the topic of conversation.
"Your school, of course, brings you into contact with the Headmaster
of the National Schools. How do you manage to get along with him?"
Trirodov smiled contemptuously.
"Not at all," he said.
"A clumsy person, this fellow with his feminine voice," went on
Rameyev. "He's an ambitious, cold-blooded man. He's likely to do you
"I'm used to it," answered Trirodov calmly. "We are all used to it."
"They might close your school," suggested Piotr in a tone of sharp
"And again they might not," asserted Trirodov.
"But if they should?" persisted Piotr.
"Let us hope for the best," said Rameyev.
Elisaveta looked affectionately at her father. But Trirodov said
quietly in his own defence:
"The school might be closed, but it is hard to prevent any one from
living on the soil and running a farm. If the school should cease
being a mere school and become an educational farm, it would succeed
in replacing the large farms as they are now run by their
"But that is Utopia," said Piotr in some irritation.
"Very well, then, we'll establish Utopia," said Trirodov, unruffled.
"But as a beginning you hope to destroy what exists?" asked Piotr.
"Why?" exclaimed Trirodov, astonished.
Strangely agitated, Piotr said:
"The comrades' proposed division of land, if carried into force, would
lead to a crushing of culture and science."
"I don't understand this alarm for science and culture," replied
Trirodov. "Both one and the other are sufficiently strong to stand up
"Nevertheless," argued Piotr, "monuments of civilization are being
demolished by this _Kham_ who is trying to replace us."
[Footnote 8: See note on page 44.]
"It is not our monuments of civilization alone that are being
destroyed," retorted Trirodov patiently. "This is very sad, of course,
and proper measures should be taken. But the sufferings of the people
are so great.... The value of human life is, after all, greater than
the value of such monuments."
In this peculiarly Russian manner the conversation quickly passed on
to general themes. Trirodov, who took a large share in it, spoke with
a calm assurance. They listened to him with deep attention.
Of his five auditors only Piotr was not captivated. He was tormented
by a feeling of hostility to Trirodov. He glanced at Trirodov with
suspicion and hate. He was exasperated by Trirodov's confident tone
and facile speech. Piotr's remarks addressed to the visitor were often
caustic, even coarse. Rameyev looked vexed at Piotr now and then, but
Trirodov appeared not to notice his sallies, and was simple, tranquil,
and courteous. In the end Piotr was compelled to restrain himself and
abandon his sharp manner. Then he grew silent altogether. After
Trirodov's departure Piotr left the room. It was evident that he did
not wish to join in any discussion about the visitor.
The day was hot, sultry, windless--helplessly prostrate before the
arrowed glances of the infuriated Dragon. A number of city folk sought
coolness on the float, as the buffet at the steamboat-landing was
called in Skorodozh. It was less oppressive under the canvas roof of
the float, where at intervals gusts of breeze came from the river.
Piotr and Misha were in town to do some shopping. They stopped on the
float to get a glass of lemonade. A steamboat had just come in below
them. It began to unload the passengers and wares it brought from
neighbouring manufacturing towns. It was the boat's last
stopping-point, the river higher up being too shallow. For a while
there was much bustle and noise on the float. The little tables were
soon occupied by townsfolk and new arrivals, chiefly officials and
landlords. They drank wine and talked loudly, though peacefully; they
shouted in the provincial manner, and it was easy to hear that many of
the conversations touched more or less on political themes.
Two men who sat at one table were in evident agreement, yet spoke in
tones of anger. They were the retired District Attorney Kerbakh and
the retired Colonel Zherbenev, both large land-proprietors and
patriots--members of the Union of Russian People. Their speech was
loud and vehement, and interpolated with such strange words and
phrases as "treachery," "sedition," "hang them," "wipe them out,"
"give it to them."
[Footnote 9: The Black Hundred.]
Nikolai Ilyitch Kerbakh was a small, thin, puny-looking man. The long,
drooping moustache on his otherwise clean-shaven face seemed to be
there merely to add to its already savage appearance. He rocked in his
chair as he lazily stretched himself. His large coat hung about his
shoulders like a bag, his highly coloured waistcoat was unbuttoned,
his string necktie hung loose, half undone. Altogether he had the look
of a man who would not let such small trifles stand in the way of his
comfort. Near him, fidgeting restlessly in his chair, was his son, a
slobbering, black-toothed youngster of eight, with a flagging,
Andrey Lavrentyevitch Zherbenev, a tall, lank man with an important
air, sat motionless and erect as though he were nailed to his chair,
and surveyed those round him with a stern glance. His white linen
coat, with all its buttons fastened, sat on him as on a bronze idol.
"In everything, I say, the parents are to blame," continued Kerbakh in
the same savage voice as before. "It is necessary to instil the right
ideas from very childhood. Now look at my children...."
And he shouted at his son with unnecessary loudness, though the two
sat almost nudging each other:
"Yeth?" lisped the slobbering boy.
"Stand up before me and answer."
The youngster slipped off his chair, stretched himself smartly to his
full height in front of his father, and lisped again:
And he surveyed those sitting at the other tables with a quick, sly
"What should be done with the enemies of the Tsar and the Fatherland?"
"They should be destroyed!" answered the boy alertly.
"And afterwards?" continued his father.
The boy quickly repeated the words he had studied:
"And afterwards the foul corpses of the vile enemies of the Fatherland
should be thrown on the dunghill."
Kerbakh and Zherbenev laughed gleefully.
"That describes them--foul carrion, that's what they are!" said
Zherbenev in a hoarse voice.
A new-comer at the next table, a stranger apparently to those present,
was giving an order for a bottle of beer. Of middle age and medium
height, he was stout, or rather flabby; he had small glittering eyes;
and his dress had seen much wear. Kerbakh and Zherbenev gave him an
occasional passing glance, not of a very friendly nature. As though
they took it for granted that the stranger held antagonistic views,
they increased the vehemence of their speeches and spoke more and more
furiously of agitators and of Little Mother Russia, and mentioned, by
the way, a number of local undesirables, Trirodov among them.
The new-comer scrutinized the two speakers for a long time. It was
evident that the name of Trirodov, often repeated in Kerbakh's
remarks, aroused an intense interest, even agitation, in the stranger.
His fixed scrutiny of his two neighbours at last attracted their
attention and they exchanged annoyed glances.
Then the stranger ventured to join in their conversation.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "unless I am mistaken, you were speaking
of Mr. Trirodov--am I right?"
"My dear sir, you...." began Kerbakh.
The new-comer immediately jumped to his feet and began to apologize
"May I impose upon your good nature to forgive my impertinent
curiosity. I am Ostrov, the actor--tragedian. You may have heard of
"For the first time," said Kerbakh surlily.
"I've never heard the name," said Zherbenev.
The stranger smiled pleasantly, as if he had been commended, and
continued to speak without showing the slightest embarrassment:
"Well--er--I've played in many cities. I'm just passing through here.
I'm on my way to attend to some personal business in the Rouban
Government. And you just happened to mention a name very familiar to
Kerbakh and Zherbenev exchanged glances. Malignant thoughts about
Trirodov again took possession of their minds. Ostrov continued:
"I had no suspicion that Trirodov lived here. He is a very old and
intimate acquaintance of mine. I might say we are friends."
"So-o," said Zherbenev severely, glancing at Ostrov with disapproval.
Something in Ostrov's voice and manner aroused their antagonism. His
glance was certainly impudent. Indeed his words and his whole
demeanour were provokingly arrogant. But it was impossible to be rude
with him. His words were proper enough in themselves.
"We haven't met for some years," Ostrov went on. "How does he manage
to get on?"
"Mr. Trirodov is to all appearances a rich man," said Kerbakh
"A rich man? That's agreeable news. In fact, this wealth of Mr.
Trirodov's is of comparatively recent origin. I'm quite sure of that.
Of recent origin, I assure you," repeated Ostrov, giving a sly wink.
"And not of the cleanest?" asked Kerbakh.
He winked at Zherbenev. The latter made a grimace and chuckled. Ostrov
looked cautiously at Kerbakh.
"Why do you assume so?" he asked. "No-o, I shouldn't say that. Quite
clean. Indeed, I can assure you of its clean origin," he repeated with
Misha looked with curiosity at the speakers. He wished to hear
something about Trirodov. But Piotr quickly paid his bill and rose to
go. Kerbakh tried to hold him.
"Here's a friend of your friend Trirodov," he said.
"I haven't yet had time to become a friend of Trirodov's," Piotr
answered sharply, "and I don't intend to. As for his friends, nearly
every one has his more or less strange acquaintance."
And he quickly left with Misha. Ostrov glanced after him with a smile
"A grave young man."
"Mr. Trirodov has bought some land belonging to him and his brother,"
Piotr Matov's hostility to Trirodov evidently had its roots in the
chance circumstance that Trirodov had bought the house and part of the
estate, the Prosianiya Meadows, which formerly belonged to the
Many in the town of Skorodozh remembered very well Dmitry
Alexandrovitch Matov, the father of Piotr and Mikhail Matov. He had
been a member of the local District Council for a single term, and was
not chosen again. He could not hide his connexions and his affairs,
and lost his reputation, though the scandal was hushed up. This
happened when times were still quiet. During his term of office he
paid visits to the governor more often than necessary.
About the same time, in response to some one's complaint, the
President of the District Council had been dispatched "in
administrative order" to the Olonetsk Government. There were dark
rumours about Matov. At the next election a few votes were given in
his favour, but not enough. He ceased to have any connexion with the
Matov's money affairs were in a bad state. He led a heedless life,
dissipated, and roamed from place to place. Bold, headstrong,
unrestrained, he lived only for his own pleasure. More than once he
squandered all--to the last farthing. But invariably he found sudden
means again, no one knew how, and again he would lead a dissipated,
gay, profligate life. His estate was mortgaged and re-mortgaged. His
relations with the peasants began to be unbearable. Their own
difficulties and his temper led to constant disputes. A reign of spite
began: the cattle were driven into the corn, some of the buildings
were set afire, some of the peasants were gaoled.
The Prosianiya Meadows more than once passed from a period of lavish
prosperity to a state of complete and hopeless poverty. This was
because Matov was lucky enough to fall heir to several inheritances.
Not only did people say that luck was on his side, but they also
hinted at forged wills, strangled aunts, and poisoned children. Dark
adventures of some sort enriched and ruined Matov by turns. It was all
like some dubious, fantastic game of chance....
During the lean days the ingeniously constructed buildings on his
estate were in a state of disrepair, the live stock showed decrease,
the wheat was got rid of quickly and cheaply, the wood was sold for a
trifling sum for lumber, the labourers were not paid for the work they
had done. On the other hand, during prosperous days, following the
death of some relative, things used to pick up in a marvellous way.
Companies of carpenters, masons, roofers, and painters would make
their appearance. The owner's fancies were swiftly and energetically
carried out. Money was spent lavishly, without reckoning the cost.
Dmitry Alexandrovitch Matov was already forty years old, and many
dark, mad misdeeds weighed on his shoulders, when, quite unexpectedly
to all and possibly to himself, he married a young girl with excellent
means and a dark past. There was a report that she had been the
mistress of a dignitary, who had begun to grow weary of her. She
managed, none the less, to keep up her connexions and to collect
capital. She would have been very beautiful but for a strange
stain--as from fire--on her left cheek, which disfigured her. This
spot was very conspicuous and completely marred the beauty of her
Very shortly a fierce hatred arose between husband and wife, no one
knew why. The gossips said he was disappointed in his expectations,
while she had found out about his mistresses and revels and had got
wind of the dark rumours about his inheritances. The quarrels grew
more frequent. Quite often he left his home, and always suddenly. Once
he took all valuables with him and decamped, leaving with his wife
only his mortgaged estate, his debts, and their two sons. A short time
afterwards all sorts of reports came in about him. Some had seen him
in Odessa, others in Manchuria. Later even rumours ceased.
Then came the unexpected news of his death in a remote southern town.
Its cause remained unknown. Even his body had not been found. It was
only certain that he had been lured into an empty, uninhabited
house--there all trace of him was lost.
Matov's widow soon died from a sudden, sharp illness. Her sons
remained in the house of Rameyev. He became their guardian.
"He's an agitator and a conspirator," said Zherbenev sharply.
"All the same, I must stand up for my friend. Pardon me if I ask the
question: are these calumnies against my friend actuated by patriotic
reasons? Of course, from the most honourable impulses!"
"I do not take up my time with calumnies," said Zherbenev dryly.
"Oh, I beg your pardon. But I'll not intrude upon you any longer. I'm
very grateful for the pleasant conversation and for the interesting
Ostrov left them. Kerbakh and Zherbenev quietly discussed him.
"What a strange-looking man! Quite a beast!"
"Yes, what a character! I shouldn't like to meet him alone in the
"Our poet and doctor of chemistry has fine friends, I must say!"
Elisaveta and Elena were walking again on a path close to the road
that connected the Prosianiya Meadows and the Rameyev estate. The
sisters were glad that it was so still and deserted around them and
that the turmoil of life seemed so remote from them. Life with all its
bustling movement seemed indeed distant, and it was a joy to dismiss
all its conditions and proprieties from their minds and to walk with
bare feet upon the soft ground, the sand, the clay, and the grass; it
filled their hearts with a simple, childlike, and chaste delight.
Both were dressed alike, in short frocks; there was a sash raised
rather high at the waist, two other bands crossed each other at the
breast, the sleeves were cut quite short at the shoulders.
They walked on farther, and their eyes contemplated gaily and
affectionately the half-hidden depths of the valleys, the woods, and
the thickets. A simple-hearted devotion to this lovable nature
possessed them--it was a sweet and tender devotion. It struck a deep
note in Elisaveta, who was in a mood of expectancy. If only she could
have met some one deserving of her love whom she might place at the
crossings of all earthly and heavenly roads, and to whom she might do
This tender devotion aroused young virginal intoxication in Elena
also. She felt herself in love--not with any one in particular, but
with everything: as the air loves in the springtime, kissing all in
its gladness; as a stream's currents love when they brush caressingly
past boys' and girls' pink knees--such were the currents of the stream
that suddenly became visible, winding its way among the green in the
direction of the River Skorodyen, into which it emptied itself.
The bridge was some way off, and so the sisters waded the stream.
There was the delicious coolness of the water round their knees. They
remained standing on the bank and admired the porcupines of sand,
studded sparsely with tall blades of grass as with spines; also the
round pebbles made smooth by the water. Their cooled legs felt for
some time afterwards the sensation of the water's loving caresses.
Just as the running water falls in love with all beauty that is
immersed in it, so Elena fell in love with all that her vision evoked
Most of all her love was directed towards Piotr. His love for
Elisaveta wounded her with a sweet pain.
The sisters descended into the hollow near Trirodov's colony, ascended
it again to the other side, walked along the already familiar path,
and opened the gate--this time it yielded without effort. They
entered. Soon they saw a lake before them. The children and their
instructresses were bathing. There was a spirit of buoyancy in the
brown nakedness disporting itself in the buoyant waters--buoyant were
the splashes, the laughter, and the outcries!
The children and the instructresses walked out of the water upon the
dry ground and ran naked upon the sand. Their legs, bare and sunburnt,
seemed white in the green grass, like young birch-saplings growing out
of the earth.
They suddenly caught sight of the sisters, formed a ring of beautiful
wet bodies around them, and twirled in a circle at a fast, furious
pace. The discarded clothes that lay there close by seemed unnecessary
to the sisters at that moment. What, after all, was more beautiful and
lovely than the nude, eternal body?
The sisters learnt afterwards that they more often walked about naked
here than in their clothes.
The radiantly sad Nadezhda said to them:
"To lull the beast to sleep and to awaken the human being--that is the
reason of our nakedness."
The dark, black-haired Maria said with ecstasy:
"We have bared our feet in order to come in closer contact with the
earth; we have become simple and happy, like people in the first
garden. We have discarded our clothes in order to come closer to the
elements. Caressed by these, clothed by the fire of the sun's rays, we
have discovered the human being in us. This being is not the uncouth
beast thirsting for blood, or the townsman counting his profits--it is
the human being, clean in body and alive with love."
So natural, indispensable, and inevitable seemed the nakedness of
these young, beautiful bodies that it appeared rather stupid to put on
one's clothes afterwards. The sisters joined in with the naked
dancers, and went into the water and lay on the grass under the trees.
It was pleasant to feel the beauty, the grace, and the agility of
their bodies among these other twirling, beautiful, strong bodies.
Elisaveta's observant glance detected two types among the girl
instructresses. There were the rapturous ones and the dissembling
The rapturous ones gave themselves up with a bacchic joy to a life
lived in the embrace of chaste nature: they fervently carried out all
the rites of the colony, joyously divested themselves of all fear and
shame, made great efforts and self-denials; and they laughed and they
flamed, overcome by a passionate thirst of noble actions and of
love--a thirst which not all the waters of this poor earth can quench.
Among this number were the sad Nadezhda and the ecstatic Maria.
The others, the dissembling ones, were those who had sold their time
and had parted with all their habits, inclinations, and proprieties
for money. They pretended that they loved children, simple life, and
bodily beauty. They did not find it hard to dissemble, for the others
served them as excellent models.
This time the sisters were shown the buildings of the colony, or at
least as much of them as they could see in an hour, and all sorts of
things made by the children--books and pictures--things that belonged
to this or that child. They were shown the fruit-orchard and the
garden-beds, above which the bees buzzed; and the air was fresh with
the honeyed aroma of flowers half lost in the tender softness of
But the sisters soon left.
They had intended to go home, but somehow they lost their way among
the paths and found themselves in sight of Trirodov's house. Elisaveta
espied the high turrets rising above the white wall and recalled
Trirodov's neither young nor handsome face: she became suffused with a
sweet passion, as with a rich wine--but it was an emotion not free
Before they realized it they were quite close to the white wall, near
the ponderous closed gates. The small gate was open. A quiet, white
boy was looking at the sisters through the crevice with an inviting
glance. The sisters exchanged irresolute glances.
"Shall we go in, Vetochka?" asked Elena.
[Footnote 10: Betty.]
"Yes, let's go in," said Elisaveta.
The sisters entered and found themselves in the garden. They found old
Elikonida at the entrance. She was sitting on the bench near the small
gate and was mumbling something slowly and indistinctly. Evidently no
one was there to listen to her. Perhaps the old woman was talking to
Old Elikonida was first engaged to nurse Kirsha; now she carried out
the duties of a housekeeper. She had always been austere and never
wasted a word in speaking with people. The sisters tried to draw her
into conversation; they wanted to ask her things, about the ways of
the house, the habits of Trirodov--they were such inquisitive girls!
Elena asked many questions, although Elisaveta tried to restrain her;
but they found out nothing. The old woman looked past the sisters and
mumbled in answer to all questions:
"I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen."
The quiet children approached them. They stood motionless and
inanimate in the shade of the old trees, and looked at the sisters
with a fixed, expressionless stare. The sisters felt uncomfortable and
made haste to depart. They could hear behind them the austere mumbling
"I've seen what I've seen."
And the quiet children laughed their quiet, quiet laughter, which was
truly like the sudden rustle of autumn leaves all aflutter in the air.
The sisters walked home silently. They found the right path and walked
without blundering. The evening darkness was coming on. They made
haste. The warm, damp earth clung to their feet and seemed to hinder
They were not far from their own house when they suddenly came upon
Ostrov in the woods. He seemed to be on the look-out for something as
he walked. When he saw the sisters he turned aside and stood behind
the trees; then he strode forward quickly and faced them with an
unexpected suddenness that made Elena shudder and Elisaveta frown.
Ostrov bowed to them with derisive politeness and said:
"May I ask you something, fair ladies?"
Elisaveta surveyed him calmly and said without haste:
"What is it?"
Elena was silent with fear.
"Are you taking a walk?" asked Ostrov.
"Yes," answered Elisaveta briefly.
"Mr. Trirodov's house is somewhere hereabouts, unless I'm mistaken,"
said Ostrov, half questioningly.
"Yes, you'll find it by following the direction from which we came,"
She wanted to conquer her fear. Ostrov winked at her insolently and
"Thank you most humbly. And who may you be?"
"Perhaps it is not necessary that you should know," replied Elisaveta
with a half-question.
Ostrov burst into laughter and said with unpleasant familiarity:
"It may not be necessary, but it would be interesting."
The sisters walked on rapidly, but he did not desist. They thought him
repulsive. There was something alarming in his obtrusiveness.
"You evidently live hereabouts, fair ladies," continued Ostrov; "I
will therefore venture to ask you what you know about Mr. Trirodov,
who interests me immensely."
Elena laughed, perhaps somewhat dissemblingly, in order to hide her
agitation and fear.
"Perhaps we don't live hereabouts," she said.
"Very likely, isn't it, that you've come all the way from Moscow with
your bare little feet," he shouted angrily.
"We cannot tell you anything that can interest you," said Elena
coldly. "You had better apply to him personally. It would be more
Ostrov again burst into a sarcastic laugh and exclaimed:
"I can't deny that that would be proper, my handsome barefoot one. But
suppose he's very busy, eh? How, then, would you advise me to get this
interesting information I want?"
The sisters were silent and walked on rapidly. Ostrov persisted:
"You are of his colony? Unless I'm mistaken you are instructresses
there. As far as one could judge from your light dresses and your
contempt of footwear, I think I'm not mistaken, eh? Tell me, it's an
amusing life there, isn't it?"
"No," said Elisaveta, "we are not instructresses and we do not live
"What a pity!" said Ostrov incredulously. "I might have told you
something about Mr. Trirodov."
He looked at the sisters attentively. They were silent.
"I've got together all sorts of information here and elsewhere," he
went on. "Curious things they tell about him, very curious indeed. And
where did he get his money? In general there are many suspicious
circumstances about his life."
"Suspicious for whom?" asked Elena. "And what affair is it of ours?"
"What affair is it of yours, my charming maidens?" repeated Ostrov
after her. "I have a well-founded suspicion that you are acquainted
with Mr. Trirodov, and I therefore hope that you'll tell me something
"You had better not hope," said Elisaveta.
"And why not?" observed Ostrov in a familiar tone. "He's an old
acquaintance of mine. In years gone by we lived, drank, and roamed
together. And quite suddenly I lost sight of him, and now quite as
suddenly I've found him again. Naturally, I'm interested. As an old
friend, you see!"
"Now, look here," said Elisaveta, "we do not wish to converse with
you. You had better go where you were going. We know nothing that
would interest you and we have nothing to say to you."
"So that's it!" said Ostrov, with an insolent smile. "And now, my
beauty, I'd better tell you that you're expressing yourself a little
carelessly. Suppose I whistled suddenly, eh?"
"What for?" asked Elisaveta, astonished.
"What for-r? Well, some one may come out to my whistle."
"What then?" asked Elisaveta.
After a short silence Ostrov resumed his threatening tone:
"You may be asked to give a few details about what Mr. Trirodov is
doing behind his walls."
"Nonsense!" said Elisaveta in vexation.
"In any case, I'm only joking," said Ostrov, suddenly changing his
He was listening intently. Some one was coming towards them. The
sisters recognized Piotr and walked quickly to meet him. From their
haste and flustered manner Piotr understood that the man was
distasteful to them. He eyed him fixedly and recalled where he had met
him, whereupon he frowned and asked the sisters:
"Who is this?"
"A very inquisitive person who somehow has got an idea that we have
many interesting things to tell him about Trirodov," said Elisaveta
with a smile.
Ostrov raised his hat and said:
"I've had the honour to see you on the float."
"Well, what of it?" asked Piotr sharply.
"Well--er, I have the honour to remind you," said Ostrov with
"What are you doing here?" asked Piotr.
"I've had the pleasure of meeting these charming young ladies," Ostrov
began to explain.
Piotr interrupted him sharply:
"And now you let the young ladies alone and go away from here."
"Why shouldn't I have turned to these young ladies with a polite
question and an interesting tale?" asked Ostrov.
Piotr, without replying, turned to the sisters:
"You little girls are ready to enter into conversation with every
An expression of bitterness crept into Ostrov's face. Possibly this
was only a game, but it was certainly well played. It made Piotr feel
"A vagrant? And what is a vagrant?" asked Ostrov.
"What is a vagrant?" repeated Piotr in confusion. "What a question!"
"Well, sir, you have permitted yourself to use the word, and I'm
rather interested to know in what sense you've used it in its
application to me."
Piotr, annoyed at being disconcerted by the stranger's question, said
"A vagrant is one who roams about without shelter and without money
and obtrudes upon others instead of attending to his own business."
"Thank you for the definition," said Ostrov with a bow. "It is true
that I have but little money and that I'm compelled to roam
about--such is the nature of my profession."
"What is your profession?" asked Piotr.
Ostrov bowed with dignity and said:
"I'm an actor!"
"I doubt it," said Piotr once more sharply, "you look more like a
"You are mistaken," said Ostrov in a flustered way.
Piotr turned away from him.
"Let us go home at once," he said to the sisters.
It was growing dark. Ostrov was approaching Trirodov's gates. His face
betrayed agitation. It was even more clear now than by daylight that
life had used him hardly. He felt painfully timid in going to
Trirodov, in whom he evidently had certain hopes. Before Ostrov could
make up his mind to ring the bell at the gates he walked the entire
length of the stone wall that surrounded Trirodov's house and garden
and examined it attentively, without learning anything. Only the
entire length of the tall wall was before his eyes.
It was already quite dark when Ostrov stopped at last at the main
gate. The half-effaced figures and old heraldic emblems held his
attention for a moment only. He had already taken hold of the brass
bell-handle and paused cautiously, as if it were his habit to
reconsider at the last moment; he gave a sudden shiver. A clear,
childish voice behind his back uttered quietly:
Ostrov looked on both sides timidly, half stealthily, bending his head
low and letting it sink between his shoulders. Quite close by a pale,
blue-eyed boy dressed in white was standing and eyeing him with intent
"They won't hear you here. Every one has left," he said.
"Where is one to ring?" Ostrov asked harshly.
The boy pointed his finger to the left; it was a slow, graceful
"Ring at the small gate there."
He ran off so quickly and quietly it seemed as if he had not been
there. Ostrov went in the direction indicated. He came to a high,
narrow gate. A white electric bell-button shone in a round wooden
recess. Ostrov rang and listened. He could hear somewhere the rapid
shivering tones of a tiny bell. Ostrov waited. The door did not open.
Ostrov rang once more. It was quiet behind the door.
"I wonder how long there's to wait?" he grumbled, then gave a shout:
"Hey, you in there!"
A faint, muffled sound vibrated in the damp air, as if some one had
tittered lightly. Ostrov caught hold of the brass handle of the gate.
The gate opened towards him easily and without a sound. Ostrov looked
round cautiously as he entered, and purposely left the gate open.
He found himself in a small court on either side of which was a low
wall. The gate swung to behind him with a metallic click. Had he
himself pulled it to rather quickly? He could not recall now. He
walked forward about ten paces, when he came upon a wall twice as high
as the side walls. It had a massive oak door; an electric bell-button
shone very white on one side. Ostrov rang once more. The bell-button
was very cold, almost icy, to the touch. A sensation of chill passed
down his whole body.
A round window, like a dim, motionless, observing eye, was visible
high above the door.
Ostrov could not say whether he waited there a long or a short time.
He experienced a strange feeling of having become congealed and of
having lost all sense of time. Whole days seemed to pass before him
like a single minute. Rays of bright light fell on his face and
disappeared. Ostrov thought that some one flashed this light on his
face by means of a lantern from the window over the door--a light so
intense that his eyes felt uncomfortable. He turned his face aside in
vexation. He did not wish to be recognized before he entered. That was
why he came in the dark of the evening.
But evidently he had been recognized. This door swung open as
soundlessly as the first. He entered a short, dark corridor in the
thick wall; then another court. No one was there. The door closed
noiselessly behind him.
"How many courts are there in this devilish hole?" growled Ostrov.
A narrow path paved with stone stretched before him. It was lit up by
a lamp from a distance, the reflection of which was directed straight
towards Ostrov, so that he could see only the smooth grey slabs of
stone under his feet. It was altogether dark on either side of the
path, and it was impossible to know whether a wall was there or trees.
There was nothing for him to do but to walk straight on. Nevertheless
he occasionally thrust his foot out to either side of him and felt
there; he was convinced that thickly planted, prickly bushes grew
there. He thought there was another hedge beyond that.
"Tricks!" he grumbled.
As he slowly moved forward he experienced a vague and growing fear. So
as not to be caught off his guard, he put his left hand into the
pocket of his dusty and greasy trousers and felt there the hard body
of a revolver, which he then transferred to his right-hand pocket.
On the threshold of the house he was met by Trirodov. Trirodov's face
expressed nothing except an apparent effort to suppress his feelings.
There was no warmth or welcome in his voice:
"I did not expect to see you."
"I've come, all the same," said Ostrov. "Whether you like it or not,
you've got to receive your dear guest."
There was contemptuous defiance in his voice. His eyes looked more
insolent than ever. Trirodov frowned lightly and looked straight into
Ostrov's eyes, which were compelled to turn aside.
"Come in," said Trirodov. "Why didn't you write and tell me that you
wished to see me?"
"How should I know that you were here?" growled Ostrov surlily.
"Nevertheless, you found out," said Trirodov, with a vexed smile.
"Found out quite by accident on the float," replied Ostrov. "Heard you
mentioned in conversation. I don't think you'll care to know what they
He gave an insinuating smile. Trirodov merely said: "Come in. Follow
They ascended a narrow, very steep staircase with low, wide stairs;
there were frequent turnings in various directions round all sorts of
odd corners, interrupted by long landings between the climbs; each
landing revealed a tightly shut door. The light was clear and
unwavering. A cold gaiety and malice, a half-hidden, motionless irony,
were in the gleam of the incandescent wires bent inside the glass
Some one walked behind with a light, cautious step. There were the
clicking sounds of lights being extinguished; the passages they had
just passed through were plunged in darkness.
At last they reached the top of the stairway. They walked through a
long corridor and found themselves in a large gloomy room. There was a
sideboard against one of the walls and a table in the middle;
cut-glass dishes rested along shelves around the room. It was to all
appearances a dining-room.
"It's quite the proper thing to do," grumbled Ostrov. "A meal would do
me no harm."
The light was strangely distributed. Half of the room and half of the
table were in the shadow. Two boys dressed in white waited at the
table. Ostrov winked at them insolently.
But they looked on calmly and departed quite simply. Trirodov settled
himself in the dark part of the room. Ostrov sat down at the table.
"Well, what do you want of me?"
"Now that's a businesslike question," answered Ostrov, with a hoarse
laugh, "very much a business question, not so much a gracious as a
businesslike question. What do I want? In the first place, I am
delighted to see you. There is a certain bond between us--our
childhood and all the rest of it."
"I'm very glad," said Trirodov dryly.
"I doubt it," responded Ostrov impudently. "Then again, my dear chap,
I've come for something else. In fact, you've guessed what I've come
for. You've been a psychologist ever since I can remember."
"What is it you want?" asked Trirodov.
"Can't you guess?" said Ostrov, winking his eye.
"No," replied Trirodov dryly.
"In that case there's nothing left for me to do but to tell you
straight: I need money."
He laughed hoarsely, unnaturally; then, pouring out a glass of wine,
mumbled as he gulped it down:
"Every one needs money," answered Trirodov coldly. "Where do you
intend to get it?"
Ostrov turned in his chair. He chuckled nervously and said:
"I've come to you, as you see. You evidently have lots of money, and I
have little. Comment is needless, as the newspapers would say."
"So that's it! And suppose I refuse?" asked Trirodov.
Ostrov whistled sharply and looked insolently at Trirodov.
"Well, old chap," he said rudely, "I don't count on your permitting
yourself such a stupid mistake."
"Why not?" repeated Ostrov after him. "I think the facts must be as
clear to you as to me, if not more so--and there's nothing to be
gained by the world getting wind of them."
"I owe you nothing," said Trirodov quietly. "I don't understand why I
should give you money. You'd only spend it recklessly--squander it
"And do you spend it any more sensibly?" asked Ostrov with a malicious
"If not more sensibly, at least with more reckoning," retorted
Trirodov. "In any case, I'm prepared to help you. Only I may as well
tell you that I have little spare cash and that even if I had it I'd
not give you much."
Ostrov gave a short, abrupt laugh and said with decision:
"A little is of no use to me. I need a lot of money. But perhaps
you'll not think it much."
"How much do you want?" asked Trirodov abruptly.
"Twenty thousand roubles," replied Ostrov, making a determined effort
to brazen it out.
"I'll not give you so much," said Trirodov, "and I couldn't even if I
Ostrov drew nearer to Trirodov and whispered:
"I'll inform against you."
"What then?" asked Trirodov, untouched by the threat.
"It will be bad for you. It's a capital crime, as you know, my dear
chap, and of a no mean order," said Ostrov in a menacing tone.
"Yours, my good fellow," said Trirodov in his usual calm voice.
"I'll manage to wriggle out of it somehow, but will see that you get
your due," said Ostrov with a laugh.
"You're making a sad mistake if you think that I have anything to
fear," observed Trirodov, with a shrug of his shoulders.
Ostrov seemed to grow more insolent every minute. He whistled and said
"Tell me now, if you please! Didn't you kill him?"
"I? No, I didn't kill him," answered Trirodov.
"Who then?" asked Ostrov in his derisive voice.
"He's alive," said Trirodov.
"Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Ostrov.
And he burst out into a loud, insolent, hoarse laugh, though he seemed
panic-stricken at the same time. He asked:
"What of those little prisms which you've manufactured? I've heard
that even now they are lying on the table in your study."
"That's true," said Trirodov dryly.
"And I'm told that your present is not absolutely clean either,"
"Yes?" asked--Trirodov derisively.
"Yes-s," continued Ostrov jeeringly. "The first business in your
colony is conspiracy, the second corruption, the third cruelty."
Trirodov gave a stern frown and asked scornfully:
"You've had enough time to gather a bouquet of slanders."
"Yes-s, I've managed, as you see. Whether they are slanders is quite
another matter. I can only say that they fit you somehow. Take, for
instance, those perverse habits of yours; need I recall them to you? I
could remind you, if I wished, of certain facts from your early life."
"You know you are talking nonsense," said Trirodov.
"It is reported," went on Ostrov, "that all this is being repeated in
the quiet of your asylum."
"Even if it were all true," said Trirodov, "I do not see that you have
anything to gain by it."
Trirodov's eyes had a tranquil look. He seemed remote. His voice had a
calm, hollow sound. Ostrov exclaimed vehemently:
"Don't imagine for a moment that I have fallen into a trap. If I don't
leave this place, I have prepared something that will send you to
"Nonsense," said Trirodov as quietly as before. "I'm not afraid. In
the last resort I can emigrate."
"I suppose you'll put on the mantle of a political exile," laughed
Ostrov. "It's useless! Our police, they'll keep a sharp look-out for
you, clever fellows that they are. Never fear, they'll get you.
They'll get you anywhere. You may be sure of that."
"They'll not give me up where I'm going," said Trirodov. "It's a safe
place, and you'll not be able to reach me there."
"What sort of place have you prepared for yourself?" asked Ostrov,
smiling malignantly. "Or is it a secret?"
"It is the moon," was Trirodov's simple and tranquil answer.
Ostrov laughed boisterously. Trirodov added:
"Moreover, the moon has been created by me. She is before my window,
ready to take me."
Ostrov jumped up in great rage from his place, stamped violently with
his feet, and shouted:
"You are laughing at me! It is useless. You can't fool me with those
stupid fairy-tales of yours. Tell those sweet little stories to the
silly little girls of the provinces. I'm an old sparrow. You can't
feed me on chaff."
Trirodov remained unruffled.
"You're fuming all for nothing. I'll help you with money on a
"What sort of condition?" asked Ostrov with restrained anger.
"You'll have to go from here--very far--for always," answered
"I'll have to think that over," said Ostrov.
"I give you a week. Come to me exactly within a week, and you'll
receive the money."
Ostrov suddenly felt an incomprehensible fear. He experienced the
feeling of having passed into another's power. He felt oppressed. A
stern smile marked Trirodov's face. He said quietly:
"You are of such little value that I could kill you without
scruple--like a snake. But I am tired even of other people's murders."
"My value?" Ostrov muttered hoarsely and absurdly.
"What is your value?" went on Trirodov. "You are a hired murderer, a
spy, a traitor."
Ostrov said in a meek voice:
"Nevertheless, I've not betrayed you so far."
"Because it wouldn't pay, that's why you've not betrayed me. Again,
you dare not."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Ostrov humbly. "What is your
condition? Where do you want me to go?"
Trirodov left a pleasant impression on Rameyev. Rameyev made haste to
return his visit: he went together with Piotr. Piotr did not wish to
go to Trirodov's, but could not make up his mind to refuse. He kept
frowning on the way, but once in Trirodov's house he tried to be
courteous. This he did constrainedly.
Misha soon made friends with Kirsha and with some of the boys. An
intimacy sprang up between the Rameyevs and Trirodov--that is, to the
extent that Trirodov's unsociableness and love of a solitary life
permitted him to become intimate.
It once happened that Trirodov took Kirsha with him to the Rameyevs
and remained to dinner. Several other close acquaintances of the
Rameyevs came to dinner. The older of the visitors were the Cadets,
the younger were the Es-Deks and the Es-Ers.
[Footnote 11: Nickname for Social Democrats.]
[Footnote 12: Nickname for Social Revolutionaries.]
At the beginning there was a long agitated discussion in connexion
with the news brought by one of the younger guests, a public school
instructor named Voronok, an Es-Er. The Chief of Police had been
killed that day near his house. The culprits managed to escape.
Trirodov took almost no part in the conversation. Elisaveta looked at
him with anxious eyes, and the yellow of her dress appeared like the
colour of sadness. It had been remarked by all that Trirodov was
thoughtful and gloomy; he seemed to be tormented by some secret
agitation, which he made obvious efforts to control. At last the
attention of all was turned upon him. This happened after he had
answered one of the girls' questions.
Trirodov noticed that they were looking at him. He felt uneasy and
vexed with himself. This vexation, however, helped him to control his
agitation. He became more animated, threw off, as it were, some
weight, and began to talk. The glance of Elisaveta's deep blue eyes
grew joyous at this.
Piotr put in a remark just then, in his usual parochial,
"If it were not for the wild changes in Peter's time, everything would
have gone differently."
There was a tinge of derision in Trirodov's smile.
"A mistake, wasn't it?" he observed. "But if you are going to look for
mistakes in Russian history, why not start earlier?"
"You mean at the beginning of creation?" said Piotr.
"Precisely then. But without going so far back, let us pause at the
Mongolian period," replied Trirodov. "The historical error was that
Russia did not amalgamate with the Tartars."
"As if there were not enough Tartars in Russia now!" said Piotr,
"That's precisely why there are many--because they didn't amalgamate,"
observed Trirodov. "They should have had the sense to establish a
"And become Mohammedans?" asked Dr. Svetilovitch, a very agreeable
person but very confident of all that was obvious.
"Not at all!" answered Trirodov. "Wasn't Boris Godunov a Christian?
That's not the point at issue. All the same, we and the Catholics of
Western Europe have regarded each other as heretics; and our empire
might have become a universal one. Even if they had counted us among
the yellow race, it should be remembered that the yellow race might
have been considered under the circumstances quite noble and the
yellow skin a very elegant thing."
"You are developing a strange Mongolian paradox," said Piotr
"Even now," retorted Trirodov, "we are looked upon by the rest of
Europe as almost Mongols, as a race mixed with Mongolian elements. You
know the saying: 'Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar.'"
A discussion arose which continued until they left the table.
Piotr Matov was very much out of sorts during the entire dinner. He
found almost nothing to say to his neighbour, a young girl, a
dark-eyed, dark-haired beauty, an Es-Dek. And the handsome Es-Dek
began to turn more and more towards the diner on the other side of
her, the priest Zakrasin. He belonged to the Cadets, but was nearer to
her in his convictions than the Octobrist Matov.
[Footnote 13: A political party of moderate liberals which owes its
name to the fact that on October 17, 1905, the Russian Constitution
was established and the Duma organized.]
Piotr was displeased because Elisaveta paid no attention to him and
appeared to be absorbed in Trirodov and in what he was saying; and it
vexed him because Elena also now and then let her softened gaze rest
upon Trirodov. He felt he wanted to say provoking things to Trirodov.
"Yet he is a guest," reflected Piotr to himself, but at last he could
hold out no longer; he felt that he must in one way or another shake
Trirodov's self-assurance. Piotr walked up to him and, swaying before
him on his long thin legs, remarked, without almost the slightest
effort to conceal his animosity:
"Some days ago on the pier a stranger made inquiries about you.
Kerbakh and Zherbenev were talking nonsense, and he sat down near them
and seemed very interested in you."
"Rather flattering," said Trirodov unwillingly.
"I cannot say to what an extent it is flattering," said Piotr
maliciously. "In my opinion there was little to recommend him. His
appearance was rather suspicious--that of a ragamuffin, in fact.
Though he insists he's an actor, I have my doubts. He says you are old
friends. A most insolent fellow."
Trirodov smiled. Elisaveta remarked with some agitation:
"We met him some days ago not far from your house."
"It's quite a lonely place," observed Trirodov in an uncertain voice.
Piotr went on to describe him.
"Yes, that's the actor Ostrov," assented Trirodov.
Elisaveta, feeling a strange unrest, put in:
"He seemed to have gone around the neighbourhood looking about and
asking questions. I wonder what he can be up to."
"Evidently a spy," said the young Es-Dek contemptuously.
Trirodov, without expressing the slightest astonishment, remarked:
"Do you think so? It's possible. I really don't know. I haven't seen
him for five years now."
The young Es-Dek, thinking that Trirodov felt offended at her
reference to his acquaintance, added affectedly:
"You know him well; then please pardon me."
"I don't know his present condition," put in Trirodov. "Everything is
"It's impossible to be responsible for all chance acquaintances!"
Trirodov turned to Piotr:
"And what did he say about me?"
But his voice did not express any especial curiosity. Piotr replied
with a sarcastic smile:
"He said very little, but asked a great deal. He said that you knew
him very well. In any case, I soon left."
"Yes, I have known him a long time," was Trirodov's calm answer.
"Perhaps not too well, yet I know him. I had some dealings with him."
"I think he paid you a visit yesterday?"
"Yes," said Trirodov in reply to Elisaveta's question, "he came to see
me last evening, quite late. I don't know why he chose such a late
hour. He asked assistance. His demands were large. I will give him
what I can. He's going away from here."
All this was said in jerks, unwillingly. No one seemed to care to
continue the subject further, but at this moment, quite unexpectedly
to all, Kirsha entered into the conversation. He went up to his father
and said in a quiet but audible voice:
"He purposely came late, while I slept, so that I shouldn't see him.
But I remember him. When I was very little he used to show me dreadful
tricks. I don't remember them now. I can only remember that I used to
get frightened and that I cried."
All looked in astonishment at Kirsha, exchanged glances and smiled.
"You must have, seen it in a dream, Kirsha," said Trirodov--quietly.
Then, turning to the older people: "Boys of his age love fantastic
tales. Even we love Utopia and read Wells. The very life which we are
now creating is a joining, as it were, of real existence with
fantastic and Utopian elements. Take, for example, this affair of...."
In this manner Trirodov interrupted the conversation about Ostrov and
changed it to another subject that was agitating all circles at the
time. He left very soon after that. The others also stayed but a short
There was an atmosphere of irritation and hostility after the guests
had gone. Rameyev reproached Piotr.
"My dear Petya, you shouldn't have done that. It isn't hospitable. You
were looking all the time at Trirodov as if you were getting ready to
send him to all the devils."
Piotr replied with a controlled gruffness:
"Yes, precisely, to all the devils. You have guessed my feelings,
Rameyev eyed him incredulously and said:
"Why, my dear fellow?"
"Why?" repeated Piotr, giving free rein to his irritation. "What is
he? A charlatan? A visionary? A magician? Is he in partnership with
some unclean power? What do you think of it? Or is it the devil
himself come in a human shape--a little grey, cloven-hoofed demon?"
"That's enough, Petya; what are you saying?" said Rameyev with
Elisaveta smiled an incredulous smile, full of gentle irony; a golden,
saddened smile, set off by the melancholy yellow rose in her black
hair. And Elena's astonished eyes dilated widely.
"Think it over yourself, uncle," went on Piotr, "and look around you.
He has bewitched our little girls completely!"
"Well, if he has," said Elena with a gay smile, "it's only just a
little as far as I am concerned."
Elisaveta flushed but said with composure:
"Yes, he's interesting to listen to; and it's no use stuffing one's
"There, she admits it!" exclaimed Piotr angrily.
"Admits what?" asked Elisaveta in astonishment.
"That for the sake of this cold, vain egoist you are ready to forget
"I've not noticed either his vanity or his egoism," said Elisaveta
coldly. "I wonder how you've managed to know him so well--or so ill."
"All this is pitiful and absurd nonsense, only an excuse for starting
a quarrel," said Piotr angrily.
"Petya, you envy him," retorted Elisaveta with unaccustomed sharpness.
Then, feeling that she had overstepped the mark, she added:
"Do forgive me, Petya, but really you are exasperating sometimes with
your personal attacks."
"Envy him? Why should I?" he said hotly. "Tell me, what useful thing
has he done? To be sure, he has published a few tales, a volume of
verses--but name me even a single work of his prose or verse that
contains the slightest sense or beauty."
"His verses...." began Elisaveta.
But Piotr would not let her continue.
"Tell me, where is his talent? What is he famous for? All that he
writes only seems like poetry. If you look at it closely you will see
that it is bookish, forced, dry--it is diabolically suggestive without
Rameyev interrupted in a conciliatory tone:
"You're unjust. You can't deny him everything."
"Let us admit, then, that there's something in his work not altogether
bad," continued Piotr. "Who is there nowadays who cannot put together
some nice-sounding versicles! Yet what is there really I should
respect in him? He's nothing but a corrupt, bald-headed, ridiculous,
and dull-sighted person--yet Elisaveta considers him a handsome man!"
"I never said anything about his being handsome," protested Elisaveta.
"As for his corruption, isn't it purely town tattle?"
She frowned and grew red. Her blue eyes flared up with small greenish
flames. Piotr walked angrily out of the room.
"Why is he so annoyed?" asked Rameyev in astonishment.
Elisaveta lowered her head and said with childish bashfulness:
"I don't know."
She could not repress an ashamed smile at her timid words, because she
felt like a little girl who was concealing something. At last she
overcame her shame and said:
Trirodov loved to be alone. Solitude and silence were a holiday to
him. How significant seemed his lonely experiences to him, how
delicious his devotion to his visions. Some one came to him, something
appeared before him, wonderful apparitions visited him, now in dream,
now in his waking hours, and they consumed his sadness.
Sadness was Trirodov's habitual state. Only while writing his poems
and his prose did he find self-oblivion--an astonishing state, in
which time is shrivelled up and consumed, in which great inspiration
consoles her chosen ones with divine exultation for all burdens, for
all annoyances in life.
He wrote much, published little. His fame was very limited--there were
few who read his verses and prose, and even among these but a few who
acknowledged his talent. His stories and lyrical poems were not
distinguished by any especial obscurity or any especial decadent
mannerisms. They bore the imprint of something strange and exquisite.
It needed an especial kind of soul to appreciate this poetry which
seemed so simple at the first glance, yet actually so out of the
To others, from among those who knew him, the public's ignorance of
him appeared inexplicable. His capabilities seemed sufficiently great
to awaken the attention and admiration of the crowd. But he, to some
extent, detested people--perhaps because he was too confident of his
own genius--and he never made a definite effort to gratify them. And
that was why his works were only rarely published.
In general, Trirodov did not encourage intimacies with people. He
found it painful to look with involuntary penetration into the
confusion of their dark, foggy souls.
He found himself at ease only in the company of his wife. Love makes
kin of souls. But his wife had died a few years ago, when Kirsha was
six years old. Kirsha remembered her; he could not forget her, and
kept on recalling her. Trirodov for some reason associated his wife's
death with the birth of his son, though there was no obvious
connexion: his wife died from a casual, sharp illness. Trirodov
"She bore, and therefore had to die. Life is only for the innocent."
After her death he always awaited her; there was for him the consoling
"She will come. She will not deceive me. She will give a sign. She
will take me with her."
And life became as easy to bear as a vacillant vision seen in dream.
He loved to look at his wife's portrait. It was painted by a
celebrated English artist and hung in his study. There were also many
photographic reproductions of her. It was his joy to muse of her and,
musing, to delight in images of her handsome face and her lovely body.
Sometimes his solitude was broken by the intrusion of external life
and external, unemotional love. A woman used to come in to him
sometimes--a strange, undemanding woman who seemed to come from
nowhere and to lead to nowhere. Trirodov had had relations with her
for several months. She was an instructress in the local girls'
school, Ekaterina Nikolayevna Alkina--a quiet, tranquil, cold creature
with dark red hair and a thin face, the dull pallor of which
emphasized the impressively vivid lips of her large mouth; it seemed
as if all the sensuality and colour of the face had poured themselves
into the lips and made them startlingly and painfully vivid and
suggestive of sin. She had married and had parted from her husband.
She had a son, who lived with her. She was an S.D. and worked in
the organization, but all this was merely incidental in her life. She
met Trirodov in party work. Her comrades understood as by some
intuition that in order to carry on negotiations with Trirodov, who
did not permit himself any intimacy with them, it was necessary to
choose this woman.
[Footnote 14: Member of the Social Democratic Party.]
And now Alkina had come again, and began as always:
"I've come on business."
Trirodov regarded her with a deep, tranquil glance and answered her
with the usual commonplaces of welcome.
Slightly agitated by hidden desires, Alkina spoke of the "business" in
It had already been decided that the party orator who was to come to
speak at the projected mass meeting would be quartered at Trirodov's:
this was thought to be the least dangerous place. Alkina came to say
that the orator was expected that evening. It was necessary to bring
him to Trirodov's house in such a way that the town should not know
anything about it. As soon as they had decided at what entrance he
should be received Trirodov went out of the room to make the necessary
arrangements. The agreeable consciousness of creative mystery filled
him with joy.
When Trirodov returned Alkina was standing at the table and turning
over the pages of a new book. Her hands trembled slightly. She glanced
expectantly at Trirodov. She appeared to wish to say something
meaningful and tender--but instead she resumed her remarks on
business. She told him what was new in town, in her school, in the
organization--about the confiscation of the local newspaper, about
personalities ordered to leave town by the police, about the factory
"Who will be our own speakers at the mass meeting?" asked Trirodov.
"Bodeyev, from the school, for one."
"I do not like his manner of speaking,", said Trirodov.
"He's a good party workman," observed Alkina with a timid smile. "He's
to be valued for that."
"You know, of course, that I am not much of a party man," said
Alkina was silent. She trembled lightly as she rose from her seat,
then suddenly ceased to be agitated. Only her vivid lips, speaking
slowly, seemed to be alive in her pale face.
"Giorgiy Sergeyevitch, will you love me a little?"
Trirodov smiled. He sat quietly in his chair and looked at her simply
and dispassionately. He did not answer at once. Alkina asked again
with her sad and gentle humility:
"Perhaps you haven't the time, nor the desire?"
"No, Katya, I shall be glad," answered Trirodov calmly. "You'll find
it convenient in there," and he signified with his eyes the little
neighbouring room which had no other exit.
Alkina flushed lightly and said:
"If you will permit me, I'd rather undress here. It would give me joy
to have you look at me a long time."
Trirodov helped her to undo the clasps of her skirt. Alkina sat down
on a chair, bent over, and began to undo the buttons of her boots.
Then, with evident enjoyment at having freed her feet, she walked
slowly across the floor towards the door and turned the key in the
"As you know, I have but one joy," she said.
She gracefully threw off her clothes and stood before Trirodov with
uplifted arms. She was sinuously slender, like a white serpent.
Crossing the fingers of her upraised hands, she bent her whole body
forward, so that she appeared more sinuously slender than ever, and
the curve of her body almost resembled a white ring. Then she relaxed
her arms, stood up erect, all tranquil and self-possessed, and said:
"I want you to take a good look at me. I haven't grown old yet, have
I? And not altogether faded?"
Trirodov surveyed her with admiration and said quietly:
"Katya, you are as handsome as always."
Alkina was mistrustful.
"It's true, isn't it, that clothes have too long cramped my body and
injured the skin. How can my body be handsome?"
"You are graceful and flexible," answered Trirodov. "The lines of your
body are somewhat elongated but wholly elastic. If any one were to
measure your body he would find no error in its proportions."
Alkina scrutinized herself attentively and went on incredulously:
"The lines are good--but the colour? I believe you once said that
Russians often have unpleasant complexions. When I look on the
whiteness of my body I am reminded of plaster of paris, and I begin to
weep because I am so ugly."
"No, Katya," asserted Trirodov. "The whiteness of your body is not
like plaster of paris. It is marble, slightly rose-tinged. It is milk
poured into a pink crystal vase. It is mountain snow lit up with the
last glow of sunset. It is a white reverie suffused with rose desire."
Alkina smiled joyously and flushed lightly as she asked him:
"Will you take a few snapshots of me to-day? Otherwise I shall weep,
because I am so ugly and so meagre that you do not wish to recall
sometimes my face and my body."
"Yes," answered Trirodov, "I have a few films ready."
Alkina laughed gleefully and said:
"Now kiss me."
She bent over Trirodov and almost fell into his arms. The kisses
seemed tranquil and innocent; it might have been a sister kissing a
brother. How gentle and elastic her skin was under his hands! Alkina
pressed against him with a submissive, yielding movement. Trirodov
carried her to the wide, soft couch. She lay in his arms timidly and
quietly and looked straight into his eyes with a simple, innocent
When the sweet and deep minutes passed, followed by fatigue and shame,
Alkina lay there motionlessly with half-closed eyes--and then said
"I've been wanting to ask you, and somehow couldn't decide to. Do you
detest me? Perhaps you think me very shameless?"
She turned her face towards him and looked at him with frightened,
ashamed eyes. And he answered her with his usual resolution:
"No, Katya. Shame is often needed, in order that we may gain control
Alkina once more lay back calmly, basking naked under his glances, as
under the rays of the high Dragon. Trirodov was silent. Alkina laughed
quietly and said:
"My husband used to be so respectable, mean and polite. He never beat
me--he was not a cultured man for nothing--and he never even used
coarse words. If he had but called me a fool! I sometimes think that I
wouldn't have left him if our quarrels hadn't passed so quietly, if he
had but beat me, pulled me by my hair, lashed me with something."
"Sweet?" asked Trirodov.
"Life is so dull," continued Alkina. "One struggles in the nets of
petty annoyances. If one could but cry out, but give wail to one's
yearning, one's woe, one's unendurable pain!"
She said this with a passion unusual to her and grew silent.
It was drawing towards evening, and once more Trirodov was alone,
tormented by his unceasing sadness. His mind was in a whirl. He was in
a half-somnolent state, which was like the foreboding of a nightmare.
His half-dreams and half-illusions were full of the day's impressions,
full of burning, cruel reveries.
It had just grown dark. A fire was visible on a height near the town.
The town boys were making merry. They had lit a bonfire, and were
throwing the brands into the air; as they rose swiftly, the burning
brands appeared like skyrockets against the blue sky. And these
beautiful flights of fire in the darkness gave joy and sadness.
Kirsha, silent as always, came to his father. He placed himself at the
window and looked out with his dark, sad eyes upon the distant fires
of St. John's Eve. Trirodov went up to him. Kirsha turned quietly
towards his father:
"This will be a terrible night."
Trirodov answered as quietly:
"There will be nothing terrible. Don't be afraid, Kirsha. You had
better go to sleep, my boy, it is time."
As if he had not heard his father, Kirsha went on:
"The dead will soon rise from their graves."
"The dead are already rising from their graves," replied Trirodov.
A strange feeling of astonishment stirred within him, why did he speak
of this? Or was it due to the urgency of the questioner's desire?
Quietly, ever so quietly, half questioning, half relating, Kirsha
"The dead will walk on the Navii footpath, the dead will speak
[Footnote 15: See note on page 26.]
And again, as though submitting to a strange will, not his own,
"The dead have already risen, they are already walking upon the Navii
footpath, towards the Navii town, they are already speaking Navii
words about Navii affairs."
And Kirsha asked:
"Are you going?"
"I am going," said Trirodov after a brief silence.
"I am going with you," said Kirsha resolutely.
"You had better not go, dear Kirsha," said his father tenderly.
But Kirsha persistently repeated:
"I will spend this night with you there, at the Navii footpath. I will
see and I will hear. I will look into dead eyes."
Trirodov said sternly:
"I do not wish to take you with me--you ought to remain here."
There was entreaty in Kirsha's voice:
"Perhaps mother will come by."
Trirodov, falling into deep thought, said finally:
"Very well, come with me."
The evening dragged on slowly and sadly. The father and son waited. It
grew quite dark by the time they went.
They walked through the garden, past the closed greenhouse with its
mysteriously glittering window-panes. The quiet children were not yet
asleep. Quietly they swung in the garden upon their swings. Quietly
clinked the swing rings, quietly creaked the wooden seats. Upon the
swings sat the quiet children, lit up by the dead moon and cooled by
the night breeze, and they swung softly and sang their songs. The
night listened to their quiet songs, and the full, clear, dead moon
also. Kirsha, lowering his voice so that the quiet children might not
"Why don't they sleep? They swing on their swings neither upward nor
downward, but evenly. Why do they do this?"
"They must not sleep to-night," answered Trirodov, also in a whisper.
"They cannot sleep until the dawn grows rosy, until the dawn begins to
laugh. There is really no reason why they should sleep. They can sleep
as well by day."
Again Kirsha asked:
"Will they go with us? They want to go."
"No, Kirsha, they don't want anything."
"Don't want anything?" repeated Kirsha sadly.
"They ought not to go with us unless we call them."
"Shall we call them?" asked Kirsha joyously.
"We shall call one. Which one would you like?"
Kirsha, after some thought, said:
"Very well, we'll call Grisha," said Trirodov.
He turned in the direction of the swings, and called out:
A boy, who resembled the sad-faced Nadezhda, quietly jumped down from
his swing, and walked behind them, without approaching too closely.
The other quiet children looked tranquilly after him, and continued to
swing and to sing as before.
Trirodov opened the gate, and was followed by Kirsha and Grisha. The
night hovered all around them, and the forgotten Navii footpath
stretched in a black strip through the darkness.
Kirsha shivered--he felt the cold, heavy earth under his bare feet;
the cold air pressed against his bare knees, the cold moist freshness
of the night blew against his half-bared breast. He heard his father
ask in a low voice:
"Kirsha, are you not afraid?"
"No," whispered Kirsha, as he breathed in the fresh aroma of the dew
and the light mist.
The light of the moon was seductive with mystery. She smiled with her
lifeless, tranquil face, and appeared to be saying:
"What was will be again. What was will happen more than once."
The night was peaceful and clear. They walked a long time--Trirodov
and Kirsha, and some distance behind them the quiet Grisha followed.
At last there appeared, quite near, peering through the mist, the low
white cemetery wall. Another road cut across theirs. Quite narrow, its
worn cobblestones gleamed dimly in the moonlight. The road of the
living and the road of the dead crossed each other at the entrance of
the cemetery. In the field near the crossing several mounds were
visible--they were the unmarked graves of suicides and convicts.
The whole neighbourhood, bewitched with mystery and fear, seemed
oppressed. The flat field stretched far--all enveloped in a light
mist. Far to the left, the town fires showed their vague glimmers
through the mist--and marked off by the wall of mist, the town seemed
to be very distant, and to be guarding jealously from the fields of
night the tumultuous voices of life.
An old witch, grey, and all bent, appeared from somewhere; she swung a
crutch and stumbled on in haste. She was mumbling angrily:
"It doesn't smell of our spirit. Strangers have come! Why have they
come? What can strangers want here? What are they seeking? They'll
find what they don't want to find. Ours will see them, and will tear
them to pieces, and will scatter the pieces before all the winds."
Suddenly there was a weird rustle, there rose all about them the
squeak of piping little voices, and the sounds of a confused
scampering. At the crosspaths there darted in all directions, as thick
as dust, countless hordes of grey sprites and evil spirits. Their
running was so impetuous that they could have borne along with them
every living, weak-willed soul. And it could already be seen that
running in their midst were the pitiful souls of little people. Kirsha
whispered in a voice full of fear:
"Quicker, quicker into the ring! They will bear us away if we don't
mark ourselves in."
Trirodov called quietly:
"Come here, come here, quiet boy, draw a circle around us with your
nocturnal little stick."
They no sooner had succeeded in marking themselves in with the magic
line than the dead began to pass down the Navii path. The throng of
the dead, submitting to some evil malediction, walked towards the
town. The spectres walked in the nocturnal silence and the traces they
left behind them were light, curious, and hardly distinguishable.