Part 4 out of 6
The friends began preparations for the projected theft. Now one of
them, now another, developed the habit of frequenting the monastery.
Ostrov especially received an eager welcome there. He pleased, by his
external piety, the older monks who were in authority. There were a
number of convivial monks who were especially fond of Ostrov. The
monks advised him to join the local union of the Black Hundred. They
said that it would be pleasing to God. They engaged him in religious
and patriotic conversations and invited him to drink with them.
Poltinin and Potseluychikov were also well received in the monastery.
Strange threads are woven into the relations of people at times.
Although Piotr Matov met Ostrov under unfriendly circumstances, Ostrov
managed to scrape up an acquaintance even with him. It reached a point
when Piotr even agreed to make a journey with Ostrov to the monastery.
Glafira Pavlovna Konopatskaya, the rich widow of a general, was an
energetic, power-loving woman, and enjoyed considerable influence in
town. She was a most generous contributor to the various enterprises
of the Black Hundred. Her house served as the meeting-place of the
local branch of this All-Russian organization as well as of another
secret society, which bore the elaborate name of "The Union of Active
Combat with Revolution and Anarchy."
The initiation ceremony of the union was very elaborately exulting.
Especial efforts were made to attract working men. Each new member was
presented with a badge, a Browning revolver, and a little money.
The local patriots used to say about Glafira Pavlovna's house:
"Here dwells the Russian spirit, here it smells of Russia!"
[Footnote 21: A line from a poem by Pushkin.]
After the meeting it usually smelt of vodka and shag.
Some of the working men joined these unions for material reasons,
others from ignorance. The Black Hundred had but a few members from
among the working class by conviction. The Union of Active Combat
attracted people who served now one side, now the other, people like
Yakov Poltinin, and even two or three confirmed revolutionaries. They
accepted the Brownings and handed them over to members of
revolutionary organizations. Members of the union did not find this
out until quite late.
Kerbakh and Zherbenev were the most frequent guests at Glafira
Pavlovna's cosy, hospitable house. Evil tongues made slander of this,
and associated her name now with Kerbakh, now with Zherbenev. But this
was a calumny. Her heart had only a place for a young official who
served as a private secretary to the Governor.
Once after dinner at Konopatskaya's, Kerbakh and Zherbenev were
telling Glafira Pavlovna about Ostrov. Kerbakh was the first to broach
"I have in view a man whom I should like to call to your attention."
"I too know a lively chap," said Zherbenev.
Kerbakh, annoyed at the interruption, looked none too amiably at
Zherbenev, and went on:
"He didn't at all please me at first."
"My friend also did not appeal to me at the beginning," said
Zherbenev, who would not stay repressed.
"To look at him you might think that he's a cut-throat," said Kerbakh.
"That describes my man too," announced Zherbenev, as if he were
announcing something gay and pleasant.
"But at heart," went on Kerbakh, "he is an ingenuous infant and an
"Well, well, and mine's like that too," chimed in Zherbenev.
Glafira Pavlovna smiled graciously at both of them.
"Whom are you talking about?" asked Kerbakh at last, rather annoyed at
"There is a chap here--what's his name? You remember we met him at the
pier some time ago. He was rather interested in Trirodov."
"You mean Ostrov?" ventured Kerbakh.
"That's the fellow," said Zherbenev.
"I also meant him," said Kerbakh.
"Excellent!" exclaimed Zherbenev. "We seem to agree about him. So you
see, Glafira Pavlovna, we ought to invite him into our union. He would
be a most useful man. Once mention Jews to him and he begins to howl
like a dog on a chain."
"Of course we ought to have him," decided Glafira Pavlovna. "It is
just such people that we want."
That was how Ostrov came to be admitted into the union. He worked very
zealously on its behalf.
One of the chief functions of the Black Hundred was to lodge
information against certain people. They informed the Governor and the
head of the District Schools that Trirodov's wards had been at the
funeral of the working men killed in the woods.
The colony established by Trirodov had for some time been a source of
great annoyance and scandal to the townsfolk. Complaints had been
lodged with the authorities even earlier. Ostrov communicated
considerable information, mostly invented by himself or by the alert
townsmen. The head of the schools sent an order to the Headmaster of
the National Schools to make an investigation. The Governor took other
measures. Clouds were beginning to gather over Trirodov's colony.
The union also made no little effort to arouse the hooligan part of
the population against the Jews and against the _intelligentsia_.
The town was in a state of ferment. The Cossacks often paraded the
streets. The working men eyed them with hostility. Some one spread
rumours about town that preparations were being made for an armed
revolt. Trifling causes led to tragic collisions.
One evening the Summer Garden was full of people; they were strolling
or else listening to the music and to the songs in the open-air
theatre. The evening was quiet and the sky still red. Just outside the
rail-fence the dust was flying before the wind, and settled now on the
pointed leaves of the acacia-trees, now on the small, light purple
flowers near the road.
There was a rose-red glow in the sky; the road stretched towards it;
and the grey of the dust mingling with the red glow produced a play of
colour very agreeable to the eye.
A red giant genie broke his vessel with its Solomon's seal, freed
himself, and stood on the edge of the town; he laughed soundlessly yet
repugnantly. His breath was like the smoky breath of a forest fire.
But he made sentimental grimaces, tore white petals from gigantic
marguerites, and whispered in a hoarse voice which stirred the blood
of the young:
"He loves me--he loves me not; he will cut me up--he will hang me."
But the people did not see him. They were looking at the sky and
"How superb! I love nature! And do you love nature?"
Others looked on indifferently and thought that it did not matter. The
lovers of nature bragged before these because they admired the
splendid sunset and were able to enjoy nature. They said to the
"You, old chap, are a dry stick. I suppose you'd rather go to a stuffy
room and play cards."
The promenaders strolled on, crowding and jostling each other; they
were flaunting their gaiety. There was a cheerful hum, and young
girls, amused by schoolboys and officials, giggled. Grey devilkins
mingled with the crowd, and when the little jokers-pokers hopped on
the girls' shoulders and poked their shaggy and ticklish little paws
into the corsage under the chemise the girls raised piercing screams.
They were dressed prettily and lightly, in holiday order. Their high
breasts outlined under their coloured textures taunted the youths.
An officer of the Cossacks was among those on the promenade. He had
had a drop too much, which made his face red. He was in a gay mood,
and he began to boast:
"We'll cut their heads off, yes, of all of them!"
The petty tradesmen treated him to drinks, embraced him, and said to
"Cut their throats. Do us the favour. Make a good job of it. It will
serve these anathemas right too! As for the women and the girls, give
them a hiding--the hotter the better."
There was a continuous change of amusements, each noisier and duller
than the one before. Now in the theatre, now in the open, they played
a stupid but obscene vaudeville piece, and vicious topical songs were
sung (a thunder of applause); an animated chansonnette-singer
screeched and pulled about with her naked, excessively whitened
shoulders, and winked with her exaggeratedly painted eyes; a woman
acrobat, raising her legs, attired in pink tights, above her head, was
dancing on her hands.
Everything was as if the town were not under guard and as if the
Cossacks were not riding about in the streets.
Suddenly some one in the depth of the garden raised a cry.
A frightful confusion spread among the crowd. Many darted impetuously
towards the exit. Others jumped over the fence. Suddenly the crowd,
with frenzied cries, came sweeping in retreat from the exits back into
the depth of the garden.
Cossacks darted in from somewhere and, crying savagely, made their way
along the garden paths. Their sudden appearance gave the impression
that they were waiting somewhere near by for the command. Their knouts
began to work rapidly. The thin textures upon the girls' shoulders
were rent apart and delicate bodies were unbared, and beautiful
blue-and-red spots showed themselves on the white-pink skin like
quickly ripened flowers. Drops of blood, large like bilberries,
splattered into the air, which had already quenched its thirst on the
evening coolness, on the odour of the foliage and the aroma of
artificial scents. Delicately shrill, loud sobs were the accompaniment
to the dull, flat lashings of whips across the bodies.
They threw themselves this way and that way, they ran where they
could. Several were caught--ragged young men and girls with short
hair. Two or three of the girls were caught and beaten in error: they
were from the most peaceful, even respected, families in town. These
were afterwards permitted to go free.
The hooligans were making merry in a dirty, ill-smelling beerhouse.
They were celebrating something or another, were jingling their money,
discussing future earnings, and laughing uproariously. One table was
especially absorbed in its noisy gaiety. There sat the celebrated
town-rowdy Nil Krasavtsev with three of his friends. They drank, and
sang hooligan songs, then paid their bill and went out. One could hear
their savage outbursts:
"The Jew dogs are rebels, they are against the Tsar."
"The Jews want to get hold of everything for themselves."
"It wouldn't be a bad thing to cut up a Jewess!"
"The Jews want to take over the whole earth."
It had grown dark. The hooligans went into the main street, the
Sretenka. It was very quiet, and only a few passers-by were to be met
with; people stood here and there at their gates and talked. A Jewish
widow sat at the gate of a house and chatted with her neighbour, a
Jewish tailor. Her children, a whole throng of them, one smaller than
the other, played about here, deeply wrapt in their own affairs.
Nil walked up to the Jewess and shouted:
"You dog of a Jew, pray to God for the orthodox Tsar!"
"What do you want of me?" cried the Jewess. "I'm not touching you; you
had better go away!"
"What's that you say?" shouted the hooligan.
A broad knife was lifted in the darkness and, gleaming, came down in a
swoop, piercing the old woman. She gave a quick, shrill cry--and fell
back dead. The Jew, terrified, ran away, filling the night air with
his piteous wails. The children began to whimper. The hooligans
marched off, laughing uproariously.
Midday. It was quiet, innocent, and fresh in the depth of the wood, at
the edge of the hollow--and the outer heat penetrated hither only by
an infinite coiling as of a scaly serpent impotent at last and
deprived of its poison.
Trirodov had found this place for himself and Elisaveta. More than
once they came here together--to read, to talk, and to sit a while at
the moss-covered stone, out of which, like a strange corporeal ghost,
grew up all awry a slender quaking ash. Elisaveta, dressed in her
simple short skirt, her long sunburnt arms and part of her legs
showing, seemed so tall, so erect, and so graceful at this
Elisaveta was reading aloud--poems! How golden her voice sounded with
its seductive, sun-like sonorousness! Trirodov listened with a
slightly ironical smile to these familiar, infinitely deep and lovely
words, so seemingly meaningless in life. When she finished Trirodov
"A man's whole life is barely enough to think out a single idea
"You mean to say that each should choose for himself but a single
"Yes. If people could but grasp this fact human knowledge would take
an unprecedented step forward. But we are afraid to venture."
And coarse life already hovered near them behind their backs, and was
about to intrude upon them. Elisaveta gave a sudden faint outcry at
the unexpectedness of an unseemly apparition. A dirty, rough-looking
man, all in tatters, was almost upon them; he had approached them upon
the mossy ground as softly as a wood fairy. He stretched out a dirty,
horny hand, and asked, not at all in a begging voice:
"Give a hungry man something to buy bread with."
Trirodov frowned in annoyance, and without looking at the beggar took
a silver coin out of the pocket of his waistcoat. He always kept a
trifle about him to provide for unexpected meetings. The ragged one
smiled, turned the coin, threw it upward, caught it, and hid it
adroitly in his pocket.
"I thank your illustrious Honour most humbly," he said. "May God give
you good health, a rich wife, and assured success. Only I want to say
something to you."
He grew silent, and assumed a grave, important air. Trirodov frowned
even more intensely than before, and asked stiffly:
"What is it you wish to tell me?"
The ragged one said with frank derision in his voice:
"It's this. You were reading a book, my good people, but not the right
He laughed a pathetic, insolent laugh. It was as if a timorous dog
suddenly began to whine hoarsely, insolently, and cautiously.
Trirodov asked again in astonishment:
"Not the right one, why not?"
The ragged one began to speak with awkward gestures, and he gave the
impression that he was able to speak well and eloquently, and that he
merely assumed his stupid, unpolished manner of speaking.
"I had been listening to you a long time. I was behind the bush there.
I was asleep, I must confess--then you came--chattered away, and waked
me. The young lady read well. Clearly and sympathetically. One could
see at once that it was from the heart. Only I don't like the
contents, and all that's in this book."
"Why don't you like it?" asked Elisaveta quietly.
"In my opinion," said the ragged one, "it isn't your style. It doesn't
fit you somehow."
"What sort of book ought we to read?" asked Elisaveta.
She gave a light, forced smile. The ragged one sat down on a near-by
stump, and answered in no undue haste:
"I am not thinking of you alone, honourable folk, but of all those who
parade in fancy gaiters and in velvet dresses, and look scornfully at
"What book?" again asked Elisaveta.
"It's the gospels that you ought to read," he replied, as he looked
attentively and austerely at Elisaveta, his glance taking in her
entire figure from her flushed face down to her feet.
"Why the gospels?" asked Trirodov, who suddenly grew morose. He
appeared to be pondering over something, and unable to decide; his
indecision seemed to torment him.
The ragged one replied slowly:
"I will tell you why; you'll find the true facts there. We will take
it easy in paradise, while the devils will be pulling the veins out of
you in hell. And we shall look on coolly, and applaud gaily with our
hands. It ought to prove entertaining."
He burst out into loud, hoarse laughter--but it seemed more assumed
than joyous, and rather abject and hideous. Elisaveta shivered.
"What a wicked person you are! Why do you think that?" said Elisaveta
The ragged one glanced at her crossly, and looked fixedly into her
deep blue eyes; then he said with a broad smile:
"Why am I wicked? And are you two good? Wicked or not, the thing is to
be just. But I may tell you, sir, that I like you," he said as he
turned suddenly to Trirodov.
"Thank you for your good opinion," said Trirodov with a slightly
ironical smile, "but why should you like me?"
He looked attentively at the ragged one. Then suddenly he felt
depressed and apprehensive, and he lowered his eyes. The other slowly
lit his foul-smelling pipe, stretched himself, and began after a brief
"Other gentlemen's mugs are mostly gay, as if they had gorged
themselves on a pancake with cream, or had successfully forged their
uncle's will. But you, sir, seem to have the same lean mug always. I
have been observing you some time now. It's evident that you have
something on your soul. At least a capital crime."
Trirodov was silent. He lifted himself on his elbow and looked
straight into the man's eyes with such a fixed, strange expression in
his unblinking, commanding, wilful eyes.
The ragged one grew silent, as if he had been congealed for a moment.
Then, as if frightened, he suddenly shook himself. He shrank and
stooped, and as he took his cap off he revealed an unkempt, tousled
head of hair; he mumbled something, slipped away among the bushes, and
disappeared quietly--like a fairy of the wood.
Trirodov looked gloomily after him--and was silent. Elisaveta thought
that he deliberately avoided looking at her. She was intensely
embarrassed, but made an effort to control herself. She laughed, and
said with assumed gaiety:
"What a strange creature!"
Trirodov turned upon her his melancholy glances and said quietly:
"He talks like one who knows. He talks like one who sees. But no one
can know what happened."
Oh, if one could only know! If one could only change that which once
Trirodov recalled again during these days the dark history of Piotr
Matov's father. Trirodov had carelessly entangled himself in this
affair, and now it compelled him to have dealings with the blackmailer
Piotr's father, Dmitry Matov, had fallen into a trap which he had set
for others. He had joined a secret revolutionary circle. There they
soon discovered his relations with the police, and they decided to
detect him and kill him.
One of the members of the circle, the young physician Lunitsin, took
the role of betrayer upon himself. He promised to obtain for Dmitry
Matov important documents involving many of the members. They made a
bargain at a moderate figure. The meeting at which the documents were
to be exchanged for the money was designated to take place in a small
borough close to the town in which Trirodov then lived.
At the appointed hour Dmitry Matov got out of his train at a little
station. It was late in the evening. Matov wore blue spectacles and a
false beard, as was agreed upon. Lunitsin waited for him a few yards
from the station, and led him to a very solitary spot where was
situated the house hired for the purpose.
A supper had been prepared there. Matov ate heartily and drank much
wine. His companion began to invent stories about certain suspicious
movements he had heard of lately. Little by little Matov grew candid,
and began to boast of his connexions with the police, and of the great
number of people he had skilfully betrayed.
The door leading to the next room was hung with draperies. Three
people were hiding in that room--Trirodov, Ostrov, and the young
working man Krovlin. They were listening. Krovlin was intensely
excited. He kept on repeating in indignant whispers:
"Oh, the scoundrel! The wretch!"
Ostrov and Trirodov managed to restrain him with great difficulty.
"Be silent. Let him babble out everything," they said to him.
At last Matov's impudent boastfulness was too much for Krovlin, who
jumped out from his hiding-place, and shouted:
"So that's how it is! You've betrayed our men to the police! And you
have the face to confess it!"
Dmitry Matov grew green with fear. He shouted to his companion:
"Kill him! He has been listening to us! Shoot quick! He mustn't live.
He will give us both up!"
At this moment two other men appeared from the same place. Lunitsin
aimed his revolver straight at Matov's forehead, and asked:
"Who ought to be killed, traitor?"
Matov then understood that he had been caught in a trap. But he still
made efforts to wriggle out of it, and called all his skill and his
insolence to his assistance. They tried him for treachery. At first he
defended himself. He said that he had deceived the police, and that he
had entered into relations with them merely to get important
information for his comrades. But his protestations soon grew weaker.
Then he began to beg for mercy. He spoke of his wife and of his
Matov's entreaties failed to impress any one. His judges were adamant.
His fate was decided. The sentence of hanging was passed unanimously.
Matov was bound. The noose was already thrown about his neck. Then
"What are you going to do with him? It will be difficult to take him
away, and it is dangerous to leave him here."
"Who will come here?" said Lunitsin. "At best only by chance. Let him
hang here until he's found."
"Let us bury him here in the garden, like a dog," suggested Krovlin.
"Give him to me," said Trirodov. "I will dispose his body in such a
way that no one will find it."
The others assented eagerly. Ostrov said with a scornful smile:
"Will you try your chemistry on him, Giorgiy Sergeyevitch? Well, it's
all the same to us. A bad man ought to be punished--make even a
skeleton of him for your use if you like."
Trirodov drew a flagon containing a colourless liquid from his pocket.
"Now this will put him to sleep," he said.
He injected with a small syringe several drops of the liquid under
Dmitry Matov's skin. Matov gave a feeble cry and fell heavily to the
floor. In a few moments the body lay before them, blue and apparently
lifeless. Lunitsin examined Matov and said:
"He's done for."
The men left one by one. Trirodov alone remained with Matov's body.
Trirodov took off Matov's clothes and burned them in the stove. He
made several more injections of the same colourless liquid.
The night passed slowly. Trirodov lay on the sofa without taking his
clothes off. He slept badly, tormented by oppressive dreams. He awoke
Dmitry Matov lay in the next room on the floor. The liquid, injected
into his blood, acted strangely. The body contracted in proper
proportion, and wasted very quickly. Within several hours it lost more
than half of its weight, and assumed very small dimensions; it became
very soft and pliant. But all its proportions were faithfully
Trirodov made up the body into a large parcel, covered it over with
plaid, and bound it with straps. It resembled a pillow wrapped up in
plaid. Trirodov left by the morning train for home, carrying with him
Dmitry Matov's body.
At home Trirodov put the body into a vessel containing a greenish
liquid compounded by himself. Matov's body shrunk in it even more. It
had become barely more than seven inches long. But as before all its
proportions remained inviolate.
Then Trirodov prepared a special plastic substance, in which he
wrapped Matov's body. He pressed it compactly into the form of a cube,
and placed it on his writing-table. And thus a thing that once had
been a man remained there a thing among other things.
Nevertheless Trirodov was right when he told Ostrov that Matov had not
been killed. Yes, notwithstanding his strange form and his distressing
immobility, Dmitry Matov was not dead. The potentiality of life slept
dormant in that solid object. Trirodov thought more than once as to
whether the time had not come to rehabilitate Matov and return him to
the world of the living.
He had not decided upon this before. But he was confident that he
would succeed in doing this without hindrance. The process of
rehabilitation required a tranquil and isolated place.
In a little more than a year at the beginning of the summer Trirodov
decided to begin the process of rehabilitation. He prepared a large
vat over six feet in length. He filled it with a colourless liquid,
and lowered into it the cube containing Matov's body.
The slow process of rehabilitation began. Unperceived by the eye, the
cube began to thaw and to swell. It needed a half-year before it would
thaw out sufficiently to permit the body to peer through.
Sonya Svetilovitch was badly shaken by the hard, cruel events of that
night in the woods. She fell ill, and remained two weeks in an
unconscious state. It was feared that she would die. But she was a
strong girl and conquered her illness.
Scenes from that nightmarish occasion passed before the poor girl in
her heavy delirium. Grey, ferocious demons, with dim, tinny eyes, came
to her, taunted her, and acted without reason. There was no place in
which to hide from the hideous frenzy.
Deep oppression reigned in the Svetilovitch house. Sonya's mother
wept, and bewailed her lot. Sonya's father spoke of the matter warmly
and eloquently, with gesticulations, to his friends in his study--and
inevitably got into a state of indignation. Sonya's little brothers
discussed plans of vengeance. Fraulein Berta, the governess of Sonya's
younger sister, made censorious remarks about barbarous Russia.
All the acquaintances of the Svetilovitches were also indignant. But
their indignation assumed only platonic forms. Perhaps it was
impossible for it to have been otherwise. To be sure, all the more or
less independent people in town paid the Svetilovitches visits of
sympathy. Even the liberal Inspector of Taxes came. He was a patient
of Doctor Svetilovitch's, and came during the reception hour to
express his interest; incidentally he asked advice about his physical
indispositions and paid no fee--in view of its being a visit of
Sonya's father, Doctor Sergey Lvovitch Svetilovitch, was a member of
the Constitutional Democratic Party; among his own he was regarded as
belonging to the extreme left wing. Like his friend Rameyev, who was a
Cadet of more moderate views, he was a member of the local committee.
Doctor Svetilovitch thought he ought to protest against the improper
actions of the police. He lodged complaints with the Governor and the
District Attorney, and wrote circumstantial petitions to both--his
chief concern being that no offending expression of any sort should
enter into them.
Doctor Svetilovitch was an extremely correct and loyal man. Other
people around him, if placed in unusual circumstances, might lose
their presence of mind and forget their principles; others around him,
friends or enemies, might act incorrectly and illegally; but Doctor
Svetilovitch always remained faithful to himself. No circumstance, no
earthly or heavenly power, could swerve him from the path which he
acknowledged as the only true one, in so far as it conformed to
Constitutional Democratic principles. The problem of expedience of
conduct concerned Doctor Svetilovitch but little. The important thing
was to be correct in principle. He always placed, however, the
responsibility for the result this procedure achieved upon the
shoulders of those who wished to follow along other lines. That was
why Doctor Svetilovitch enjoyed extraordinary respect in his own
party. Great weight was attached to his opinions, and in the matter of
tactics his declarations were indisputable.
Several days after Doctor Svetilovitch presented his petition he had a
call from an inspector of the police, who handed him, with a request
for a receipt, a grey, rough paper impressed at the upper left-hand
corner with the stamp of the Skorodozh governing authorities, together
with a packet from the District Attorney. This last contained a white
solid-looking page of foolscap folded in four, handsomely engraved
with the District Attorney's seal. Both the grey rough paper and the
solid-looking page of foolscap contained approximately in the same
words the answers to the complaints of Doctor Svetilovitch. These
informed Doctor Svetilovitch that a very careful investigation had
been made in connexion with his complaints; in conclusion, it was
affirmed that Doctor Svetilovitch's evidence as to the illegal actions
of the police, and as to the subjection of the girls caught in the
woods to blows, was not borne out by facts.
At last Sonya began to improve. The members of the family and
acquaintances tried not to recall the sad incident of that night
before Sonya. Only indifferent and pleasant matters were mentioned in
the poor girl's presence in order to divert her. A number of visitors
were invited one evening for this purpose. Some were asked by letter,
others by Doctor Svetilovitch in person. He visited the Rameyevs and
Trirodov in his carriage, which was harnessed to a pair of stout
In inviting Trirodov, Doctor Svetilovitch asked him to read something
from his own work at the gathering, something that would not make
Sonya unpleasantly reminiscent. Trirodov agreed to this quite
heartily, although he usually avoided reading his own work anywhere.
As Trirodov was preparing to leave his house that evening and was
putting on a coloured tie, Kirsha said to him with his usual gravity:
"I should not go to the Svetilovitches' to-night if I were you. It
would be much wiser to remain at home."
Trirodov, not all astonished by this unexpected advice, smiled and
"Why shouldn't I go?"
Kirsha held his father's hand and said sadly:
"There have been many detectives of late poking their noses about
here. What can they want here? It's almost certain they will make a
search of Svetilovitch's house to-night--I have a presentiment."
"That's nothing," said Trirodov with a smile, "we have got used to
everything. But, dear Kirsha, you are very inquisitive--you look in
everywhere, even where you shouldn't."
"My eyes see, and my ears hear," replied Kirsha, "is that my fault?"
In the pleasant, well-appointed drawing-room of the Svetilovitches, in
the lifeless light of three electric globes with lustrous bronze
fittings, the green-blue upholsterings of the Empire furniture seemed
illusively beautiful. The dark curves of the grand piano were
gleaming. Albums were lying on a little table under the leaves of a
palm. The portrait of an old man with a long, white moustache smiled
down youthfully and cheerfully from its place on the wall above the
sofa. The visitors gathered in the midst of these attractive
surroundings, as if there were nothing to mar them. They spoke a great
deal, with much heat and eloquence.
Most of the visitors were local Cadets. Among those present were three
physicians, one engineer, two legal advocates, the editor of a local
progressive newspaper, a justice of the peace, a notary, three
gymnasia instructors, and a priest. Nearly all came accompanied by
women and girls. There were also several students, college girls, and
grownup schoolboys from the higher gymnasia classes.
The young priest, Nikolai Matveyevitch Zakrasin, who sympathized with
the Cadets, gave lessons in Trirodov's school. He was considered a
great freethinker among his colleagues, the priests. The town clergy
looked askance at him. And the Diocesan Bishop was not well disposed
Father Zakrasin had completed a course in the ecclesiastical academy.
He spoke rather well, wrote something, and collaborated not only in
religious but also in worldly periodicals. He had wavy, dense, not
over-long hair. His grey eyes smiled amiably and cheerfully. His
priestly attire always appeared new and neat. His manners were
restrained and gentle. He did not at all resemble the average Russian
priest; Father Zakrasin seemed more like a Catholic prelate who had
let his beard grow and had put on a golden pectoral cross. Father
Zakrasin's house was bright, neat, and cheerful. The walls were
decorated with engravings, scenes from sacred history. His study
contained several cases of books. It was evident from their selection
that Father Zakrasin's interests were very broad. In general he liked
that which was certain, convincing, and rational.
His wife, Susanna Kirillovna, a good-looking, plump, and calm woman,
who was wholly convinced of the justice of the Cadets' cause, was now
sitting quietly on the sofa in the Svetilovitch drawing-room, and
expounding truths. Notwithstanding her Constitutional Democratic
convictions, she was a real priest's spouse, a housewifely,
loquacious, timorous creature.
Priest Zakrasin's sister, Irina Matveyevna, or Irinushka as every one
called her, was a parish-school girl who had been won over to the
cause by the priest's wife; she was young, rosy, and slender, and
greatly resembled her brother. She got excited so often and so
intensely that she constantly had to be appeased by the elders, who
regarded her youthful impetuosity with benevolent amusement.
Rameyev was there with both his daughters, the Matov brothers, and
Miss Harrison. Trirodov was there also.
There was almost a spirit of gaiety. They talked on various
subjects--on politics, on literature, on local matters, etc. Sonya's
mother sat in the drawing-room and discussed women's rights and the
works of Knut Hamsun. Sonya's mother liked this writer intensely, and
loved to tell about her meeting with him abroad. There was an
autographed portrait of Knut Hamsun upon her table and it was the
object of much pride for the whole Svetilovitch family.
At the tea-table in the small neighbouring room, which was called the
"buffet," Sonya--surrounded by young people--was pouring out tea. In
Doctor Svetilovitch's study they spoke of the recent unrest in near-by
villages. There were incendiary fires on various estates and farms
belonging to the landed gentry. There were several cases in which the
bread granaries belonging to certain hoarders were broken into.
Sonya's mother was asked to play something. She refused a long time,
but finally, with evident pleasure, went to the grand piano, and
played a selection from Grieg. Then the notary took his turn at the
instrument. Irinushka, blushing furiously, sang with much expression
the new popular song to his accompaniment:
_Once I loved a learned student,
I admit I wasn't prudent;
On the day I married him
The village feasted to the brim.
Vodka every one was drinking,
All were doing loud thinking--
How to make the masters toil,
And amongst us share their soil.
Suddenly there came a copper
Right into our hut a-flopper!
"I'll send you both to Sakhalin
For raising this rebellious din."
"Well, my dear one, quick, get ready,
Mind that you walk 'long there steady,
For your charming words, my sweet,
A gaol is waiting you to greet."
Do you think I was agitated?
No, not me--I was most elated.
Then the muzhiks stepped right in
And chucked him out on the green._
[Footnote 22: Siberian island famous for its prison.]
This song was an illustration appropriate to the discussions on
village tendencies. It achieved a great success. Irinushka was
profusely praised and thanked for it. Irinushka blushed, and regretted
that she knew no other songs of the same kind.
Then Trirodov read his story of a beautiful and exultant love. He read
simply and calmly, not as actors read. He finished reading and in the
cold polite praises he felt how remote he was from all these people.
Once more, as it frequently had happened before, there stirred in his
soul the thought: "Why do I come to see these people?"
"There is so little in common between them and me," thought Trirodov.
Only Elisaveta's smile and word consoled him.
Afterwards there was dancing--then card-playing. It was as always, as
No one else was expected. The dining-room table was being set for
supper. Suddenly there was a loud, violent bell-ring. The housemaid
ran quickly to answer it. Some one in the drawing-room remarked in
"A rather late visitor."
Every one suddenly felt depressed for some reason. There was an air of
ominous expectancy. Were robbers about to break in? Was it a telegram
containing an unpleasant announcement? Or would some one come in
panting and exhausted and divulge a piece of terrible news? But the
words they addressed to each other were of quite a different nature.
"But who can it be at such a late hour?" said one woman to another.
"Who else can it be but Piotr Ivanitch!"
"That's so; he likes coming late."
"Do you remember--once at the Taranovs?"
Piotr Ivanitch, approaching at that moment, overheard the remark.
"You are unfair to me, Marya Ivanovna! I've been here a long time,"
"Forgive me, but who, then, can it be?" said Marya Ivanovna in
"We'll soon know. Let's take a look."
The inquisitive engineer put his head out into the hall and stumbled
upon some one in a grey uniform who was walking impetuously towards
the drawing-room. Some one whispered in suppressed horror:
When the maid, in response to the ring, opened the door, several men
filed into the hall, awkwardly jostling one another--house-porters,
gendarmes, detectives, an Inspector of the police, an officer of the
gendarmerie, two petty constables. The maid stood speechless with
fright. The police inspector shouted at her:
"Get back to the kitchen!"
[Footnote 23: Usually brought along as witnesses.]
A detachment of policemen and porters remained outside under the
command of the Inspector of the constabulary. They watched to see that
no one entered or left the Svetilovitch house.
Altogether about twenty policemen entered the house. For some unknown
reason they were armed with rifles with fixed bayonets. Three
hideous-looking men in civilian clothes kept close to the policemen.
These were the detectives. Two policemen stationed themselves at the
entrance, two others ran to the telephone, which was attached to a
wall in the hall. It was evident that everything had been arranged
beforehand by a manager expert in such matters. The rest of the men
tumbled into the drawing-room. The Inspector of the police stretched
his neck and, assuming a tense red expression and bulging his eyes,
shouted very loudly.
"Don't any one dare to move from his place!"
And he looked round in self-satisfaction at the officer of the
The men and the women remained transfixed in their places, as if they
were acting a tableau. They were looking silently at the new-comers.
The policemen, awkwardly holding their rifles, tramped with their
ponderous boots on the parquet-floor and made their way about the
rooms. They paused at all the doors, looked at the visitors timorously
and savagely, uneasily pressed the barrels of their rifles, and tried
to look like real soldiers. It was evident that these zealous people
were ready to fire at any one whomsoever at the first suspicious
movement: they thought that a band of conspirators had gathered here.
All the rooms were overrun with these strangers. It began to smell of
bad tobacco, sweat, and vodka. Many of them drank to keep their
courage up: they were afraid of a possible armed resistance.
A gendarme placed his Colonel's voluminous portfolio on the grand
piano in the drawing-room. The Colonel, stepping forward to the middle
of the room, so that the light of the centre cluster of lamps fell
almost directly upon his bald forehead and upon his bushy,
sandy-haired moustache, pronounced in an official tone:
"Where's the master of this house?"
He made a determined effort to give the impression that he did not
know Doctor Svetilovitch or the others. Actually he knew nearly all of
them personally. Doctor Svetilovitch walked up to him.
"I am the master of this house. I am Doctor Svetilovitch," he said in
a no less official tone.
The Colonel in the blue uniform then announced:
"M. Svetilovitch, it is my duty to make a search of your house."
Doctor Svetilovitch asked:
"Under whose authority are you doing this? And where is your warrant
for carrying out the search?"
The Colonel of the gendarmerie turned towards the piano and rummaged
in his portfolio, but produced nothing. He said:
"I assure you I have an order. If you have any doubts you can call up
on the telephone."
Then the Colonel turned to the Inspector of the police and said:
"Please collect them all in one room."
All, except Doctor Svetilovitch, were compelled to go into the
dining-room, which now became crowded and uncomfortable. Armed
constables were placed at both doors--the one entering the hall and
the other the dining-room--as well as in all the corners. Their faces
were dull, and their guns seemed unnecessary and absurd in these
peaceful surroundings--but then the guests felt even more
A detective looked out from time to time from the drawing-room door.
He looked searchingly into the faces. The look he had on his
disagreeable face with its white eyebrows and eyelashes gave the
impression that he was sniffing the air.
In the drawing-room the Colonel of the gendarmerie was saying to
"And now, M. Svetilovitch, will you be so good as to tell me with what
object you have arranged this gathering?"
Doctor Svetilovitch replied with an ironic smile:
"With the object of dancing and dining, nothing more. You can see for
yourself that we are all peaceable folk."
"Very well," said the Colonel in an authoritative, rude tone. "Are the
names and families of all gathered here with the object you state
known to you?"
Doctor Svetilovitch shrugged his shoulders in astonishment and
"Of course they are known to me! Why shouldn't I know my own guests? I
believe you know many of them yourself."
"Be so good," requested the Colonel, "as to give me the names of all
He produced a sheet of paper from his portfolio and placed it on the
piano. The Colonel wrote the names down as Doctor Svetilovitch gave
them. When the doctor stopped short the Colonel asked laconically:
"Doctor Svetilovitch answered as briefly:
"Show us into your study," said the Colonel.
They went into the study and rummaged among everything there. They
turned over all the books and disarranged the writing-table. They
looked through the letters. The Colonel demanded:
"Open the bookcases, the bureau drawers."
Doctor Svetilovitch answered: "The keys, as you see, are in their
places in the locks."
He put his hands into his pockets and stood by the window.
"Will you be good enough to open them?" said the Colonel.
"I can't do this," replied Doctor Svetilovitch. "I do not consider it
obligatory to help you in your searches."
Pride filled his Cadet's soul. He felt that he was behaving correctly
and valiantly. What was the consequence? The uninvited guests opened
everything themselves and rummaged where they pleased. A constable put
aside all those books which looked suspicious. Several of these books
had been published in Russia quite openly and sold no less openly.
They took several books wholly innocent in their contents, simply
because they thought they detected a rebellious note in their titles.
The Colonel of the gendarmerie announced:
"We will take the correspondence and the manuscripts with us."
Doctor Svetilovitch said in vexation:
"I assure you there's nothing criminal there. The manuscripts are very
necessary to my work."
"We'll have a look at them," said the Colonel dryly. "Don't be
concerned about them, they will be kept in safety."
Then they rummaged the other rooms. They searched the beds to see if
there were any concealed fire-arms.
When he returned into the study the Colonel of the gendarmerie said to
"Well, try and see if you can find the papers of the strike
"I have no such papers," replied Doctor Svetilovitch.
"S-so! Now," said the Colonel very significantly, "tell us frankly
where you keep the weapons concealed."
"What weapons?" asked Doctor Svetilovitch in astonishment.
The Colonel replied with an ironic smile:
"Any sort that you may have about--revolvers, bombs, or machine-guns."
"I haven't any kind of weapons," said Doctor Svetilovitch with an
amused laugh. "I haven't even a gun for hunting. What kind of weapon
can I possibly have?"
"We'll have a look!" said the Colonel in a meaningful voice.
They turned the whole house upside down. Of course they found no
weapons of any kind.
While all this was going on Trirodov was reading in the dining-room
his own verses and some which were not his. The constables listened in
a dull way. They did not understand anything, but waited patiently to
see if any rebellious words were mentioned, but their waiting remained
The Inspector of the police then entered the dining-room. Every one
looked guardedly at him. He said solemnly, as if he were announcing
the beginning of an important and useful work:
"Gentlemen, now we must subject all those present to a personal
examination. One at a time, please. Suppose we begin with you," said
he, turning to the engineer.
The face of the Inspector of the police expressed a consciousness of
his personal dignity. His movements were sure and significant. It was
evident that he not only was not ashamed of what he was saying and
doing, but that he had not the slightest comprehension that there was
anything in this to be ashamed of. The engineer, a young and handsome
man, shrugged his shoulders, smiled contemptuously and went into the
study, being directed there by an awkward motion of the red-palmed paw
of the Commissary of the rural police.
The priest's wife found herself an arm-chair in the dining-room, but
she was not any more comfortable in it. Terrified in her arm-chair,
she trembled like jelly. With pale lips she whispered to the
parish-school girl she had won over to the cause:
"Irinushka, dearest, think of it--they are going to search us!"
The parish-school girl, Irinushka, looking slender, fresh, and red,
like a newly washed carrot, moved her ears in her fright--a faculty
which her companions envied her intensely--and whispered something to
the priest's wife.
The constable looked savagely at the priest's wife and at the
parish-school girl, and cried out in a shrill, somewhat hoarse voice,
which resembled the crowing of a cock:
"I must very humbly ask you not to whisper."
The constables with the guns pricked up their ears. Their sudden zeal
made them perspire. The priest's wife and the parish-school girl
almost fainted from fright, but the girl at once recovered herself and
began to get angry; she was now even more angry than she had been
frightened a little while ago. Small tears gleamed in her eyes; small
drops of perspiration appeared on her cheeks and on her forehead. The
angry girl's face grew even redder, so that now she resembled no
longer a carrot but a wet beetroot. The only person in the room to be
refreshingly and youthfully indignant, and all aflame with a deep
anger, she looked truly beautiful in her ingenuous exasperation.
"Here is something new!" she cried. "Whispering is forbidden! Are you
afraid that we will say something against you, that we will hurt you?"
At this moment all the Cadets and their wives and daughters, who were
sitting around the table and against the walls, turned their horrified
faces at the parish-school girl, and all together hissed at her. They
would have laid hands on her, some one would have gagged her
mouth--but not one of them dared to make a move. They sat motionless,
looked at the parish-school girl with eyes dilated with fear, and
The parish-school girl, overcome with fright, grew silent. Only the
hissing could be heard in the dining-room. Even the constables began
to smile at the friendly hissing of the Cadets of both sexes.
When they had finished hissing, Irinushka said almost tranquilly:
"We didn't whisper anything criminal. I only said about you, Mr.
Constable, that you were fascinatingly handsome with your dark hair."
When she saw that the Rameyev sisters were laughing, Irinushka turned
"You do agree with me, Vetochka, that the constable is a fascinatingly
The constable flushed. He was not sure whether the blushing girl was
laughing at him or in earnest. In any case he frowned, vigorously
twirled his dark moustache, and exclaimed:
"I must humbly ask you not to express yourself."
Later, at home, Irinushka was scolded for her behaviour, regarded as
untactful by Priest Zakrasin. The priest's wife was especially angry.
Poor Irinushka even cried several times.
But this was later. At this particular instant the Inspector of the
police and the Colonel of the gendarmerie were sitting in Doctor
Svetilovitch's study and were examining the guests one by one; they
turned their pockets inside out and, for some unknown reason, deprived
their owners of letters, notes, and notebooks.
Rameyev was in a quiet, genial mood. He laughed on being searched.
Trirodov made an effort to be calm and was a little sharper than he
wished to be.
The women were searched in one of the bedrooms. A police-matron was
brought for this purpose. She was a dirty, cunning sycophant. The
contact of her coarse hands was repulsive. Elisaveta felt
uncomfortably unclean after she had passed through the policewoman's
paws. Elena shivered with fear and nausea.
Those who had been searched were not permitted to enter the
dining-room but were led into the drawing-room. Nearly all the
searched ones were proud of this. They looked as if they were
celebrating a birthday.
No one was arrested. They began to draw up the official report.
Trirodov quietly addressed a gendarme, but the latter replied in a
"We are not permitted to enter into conversation with any one. Those
scoundrelly spies are watching us, so that we shouldn't speak with
liberals. They are quick to inform against us."
"You are in an unfortunate business," said Trirodov.
The Inspector of the police read the official report aloud. It was
signed by Doctor Svetilovitch, the Inspector, and the witnesses.
When the uninvited guests left, the hosts and the invited guests sat
down to supper.
It was presently discovered that the beer prepared for the occasion
had been consumed. At the same time the cap of one of the guests had
disappeared. Its owner was very much disturbed. The cap became almost
the sole topic of conversation.
On the next day there was much talk in town about the search at the
Svetilovitches, the consumed beer, and especially about the lost cap.
Not a little was said in the newspapers about the beer and the cap.
One newspaper in St. Petersburg devoted a very heated article to the
stolen cap. The author of the article made very broad generalizations.
"Is it not one of those caps with which we were preparing to throw
back the foreign enemy? Is not all Russia seeking now its lost cap and
cannot be consoled?"
[Footnote 24: I have it on the authority of one who was of the party
that it actually took place at the house of a celebrated living poet
in St. Petersburg. The lost cap belonged to Dmitry Merezhkovsky, who
immediately wrote a much-discussed article in an important newspaper
under the title of "What has become of our Cap?" The above is an
actual quotation from it. The sarcastic remark about "throwing back
the enemy" is aimed at those "patriots" who used to say that all
Russians had to do to repel foreign enemies was to throw their caps at
Much less was said and written about the consumed beer. For some
reason or other it did not offend people so much. In accordance with
our general custom of placing substance above the form, it was found
that the stealing of the cap deserved the greater protest, inasmuch as
it is more difficult to get along without a cap than without beer.
Once more alone! He sat in his room, musing of her, recalling her dear
There was an album before him--portrait after portrait of her--naked,
beautiful, calling to love, to the sweet solace of love. Would this
white breast cease heaving? Would these clear eyes grow dim?
Trirodov closed the album. For a long time he remained immersed in
thought. Suddenly there was a rustling behind the wall, which
gradually grew louder--it seemed as if the whole house were alive with
the movements of the quiet children. Some one knocked on the door;
Kirsha entered, distraught. He said:
"Father, let us go into the wood as fast as we can."
Trirodov looked at him in silence. Kirsha went on:
"Something terrible is happening. There, near the hollow, by the
Elisaveta's blue eyes appeared to him suddenly as in a flame. Where
was she? Was she in a difficulty? And his heart fell into the dark
abyss of fear.
Kirsha made haste. He almost cried in his agitation.
They went on horseback. They whipped up their horses. They feared they
might be too late.
Again the quiet, dark, intensely pensive wood. Elisaveta walked
alone--tranquil, blue-eyed, simple in her dress, harmonious in the
graceful harmony of her deep experiences. She fell into thought--she
recalled things and mused upon them. Her dreams were revealed in the
gleam of her blue eyes. Dreams of happiness and of passionate love
were interwoven with a different, greater love; and these melted into
one another in the fiery longing for noble activity and sacrifice.
What did she not recall? What did she not dream of?
Sharp swords were being forged. To whose lot would they fall?
The high standard of solitary freedom was fluttering.
Youths and maidens!
There, in the dark halls of his house, proud plans were being made.
What a beautiful environment of naked beauty!
There were the children--happy and beautiful--in the wood.
There were the quiet children in his house--radiant and lovable and
touched with such sadness.
There was the strange Kirsha.
Portraits of his first wife--naked and beautiful.
Elisaveta's blue eyes gleamed dreamily.
She recalled the details of the previous evening--the remote room in
Trirodov's house, the small gathering in it, the long discussions, the
subsequent labours, the measured knock of the typing-machine, the damp
pages put into portfolios.
Then she thought how she, Stchemilov, Voronok and some one else walked
out into the various streets of the town to paste up the bills. They
put the paste on while still walking. They always took a look round
first to see that no one was in sight. Then they would pause and
quickly stick the bill on the fence. They would go on farther.... The
effort had been successful.
Elisaveta did not think where she was going; she had walked quite far
out of her way, to a place that she had not been to before. She
imagined that the quiet children were keeping guard over her. She
walked trustfully in the forest silence, yielding her bare feet to the
caresses of the moist forest grasses, and now listened, now ceased
listening, in delicious drowsiness.
Something rustled behind the bushes, some one's nimble feet were
running behind the light undergrowth.
Suddenly she heard a loud laugh--almost at her ears; it broke into her
sweet reverie with such a violent suddenness--like the trumpet of an
archangel calling to wake the dear dead on Judgment Day. Elisaveta
felt some one's hot breath on her neck. A rough, perspiring hand
caught her by her bared forearm.
It was as if Elisaveta had suddenly awakened from a pleasant dream.
She raised her frightened eyes and paused like one bewitched. Two
vigorous ragged men stood before her. They were both handsome young
fellows; one of them was astonishingly handsome, swarthy, black-eyed.
Both were barely covered by their dirty rags, the openings in which
showed their dirty, perspiring, powerful bodies.
The men were laughing and crying insolently:
"We've caught you this time, pretty one!"
"We'll fondle you to your heart's content--you shan't forget us so
They drew closer and closer to her and blew their hot breath upon her.
Elisaveta suddenly came to herself, tore herself away with a quick
movement and began to run. A horror akin to wonder swung the
resounding bell in her breast--her heavily beating heart. It hindered
her running, and there was a beating of sharp little hammers under her
The two men quickly overtook her, and as they obstructed her passage
they laughed insolently and said:
"Ah, my beauty! Don't make a fuss!"
"You won't get away anyway."
They jostled one another as they pulled Elisaveta about, each towards
himself; and acted altogether awkwardly, as if they did not know who
should begin and how. Their sensual panting bared their white teeth,
vigorous as those of a wild beast. The beauty of the half-naked,
swarthy man tempted Elisaveta--it was a sudden piquant temptation
acting like a poison.
The handsome man, his voice hoarse with agitation, shouted:
"Tear her clothes! Let her dance naked before us, and make our eyes
"She hasn't much on!" the other responded with a gay laugh.
He caught the broad collar of Elisaveta's dress with one hand and
jerked it forward; he thrust the other hand, large, hot, and
perspiring, under her chemise and pressed and squeezed her taut young
"Two men against one woman--aren't you ashamed?" said Elisaveta.
"Don't be ashamed, my lass, and lie down on the grass," exclaimed the
handsome, swarthy one, with a laugh very much like a horse's neigh.
His white teeth gleamed, his eyes flamed with desire, as he tore
Elisaveta's clothes with his hands and his teeth. The red and the
white roses of her body were soon bared.
The sensual breathing of the assailants was horrible and repugnant to
her, and she found it no less horrible and repugnant to look at their
perspiring faces, at the gleaming of their enkindled eyes. But their
beauty was tempting. In the dark depths of her consciousness a thought
struggled--to yield herself, to yield willingly.
Her dress and chemise, flimsy of texture, ripped with a barely audible
noise. Elisaveta struggled desperately, and shouted something--she did
not remember what.
All her clothes were already torn, and soon the last shreds of her
very light garments fell from her naked body. And in the struggle the
rags of the two clumsily moving men ripped with a loud, splitting
sound, their sudden nakedness rousing them even more.
There was seductiveness for Elisaveta in the nakedness of these
impetuous bodies. She taunted them:
"The two of you can't manage one girl."
She was strong and agile. It was difficult for them to conquer her.
Her naked body struggled and wriggled itself out of their arms. The
blue arch of her teeth on the naked shoulder of the handsome, swarthy
man grew red quickly. Drops of dark blood spurted on to his naked
"Wait, you carrion-flesh," he cried in a hoarse voice, "I will...."
The powerful but awkward pair grew more and more exasperated. They
were enraged and intoxicated by her extraordinary resistance, by the
falling away of their rags and their sudden nakedness. They beat
Elisaveta, in the beginning with their fists, later with quickly
severed branches, or with those which already lay on the ground. The
sharp fires of pain stung her naked body and tempted her with a
burning temptation to yield herself willingly. But she did not yield
herself. Her loud sobs resounded for some distance around her.
The struggle continued for a long time. Elisaveta already began to
weaken, and the raging passions of the two men had not yet exhausted
themselves. Naked and savage, the lips of their wry mouths grown blue,
their blood-inflamed eyes gleaming dimly, they were on the point of
drawing her down to the ground.
Suddenly the white, quiet boys came running in a swarm into the glade,
lightly and noiselessly, like a rapid, light summer shower. They
appeared so quickly from among the bushes and threw themselves on the
savage pair; they surrounded them, cast themselves upon them, threw
them down, cast a sleeping spell upon them, and dragged them away into
the depth of the dark hollow. And they left the naked bodies sprawling
helplessly on the rough grasses.
The rapid, noiseless movements of the quiet boys put Elisaveta into a
mood verging on oblivion, half painful and half sweet.
What happened in that thicket seemed like a heavy and incredible dream
to Elisaveta--a sudden and cruel whim of the undependable Aisa. And
for a long time a dark horror nestled in her soul, merging with
senseless laughter--the exulting smile of pitiless irony....
Elisaveta came to herself. She saw above her the green branches of the
birches and the lovely pale faces. She lay in the refreshing grass
encircled by quiet children. She could not recall at once what had
happened to her. Her nakedness was incomprehensible to her--but she
felt no shame.
Her eyes paused for a moment on some one's neatly combed fair hair.
She recognized Klavdia, the dissembling instructress. She stood under
the tree, her arms folded, and looked with her grey eyes gleaming with
envy at Elisaveta's naked body; it was as if a grey spider was
spinning across her soul a grey web of dull oblivion and tedious
"Clothes will be here in a moment," said one of the boys quietly.
Elisaveta closed her eyes and lay tranquilly. Her head felt somewhat
dizzy. Fatigue overcame her. Beautiful and graceful she lay there--as
perfect as the dream of Don Quixote....
They were dark, long-drawn-out moments, and there fell in their midst
from the gradually darkening sky a brief interval of great
comprehension. And this brief interval became like an age--from birth
until death. Early next morning Elisaveta clearly recalled the course
of this strange, vivid life--the sad lofty road, the life of Queen
[Footnote 25: The second of the novels under the general head of "The
Created Legend" deals with the previous existence of Elisaveta when
she was the Queen Ortruda of the United Isles in the Mediterranean,
and her consort was Prince Tancred, now Trirodov. She died from
suffocation in a volcanic eruption, after a vain effort to help her
people. The author draws a curious parallel, not only with regard to
these two characters, but has also a revolution as the background; it
is a rather veiled effort to describe over again the events which took
place in Russia in 1905.--Translator.]
And when, suffocating, Ortruda was dying....
The rush of light feet in the grass awakened Elisaveta. Light, adroit
hands dressed her. The quiet boys helped her to rise. Elisaveta rose
and looked around her: a light green Grecian tunic draped her tired
body within its broad folds. Elisaveta thought:
"How shall I manage to walk so far?"
And as if in answer to her question, she suddenly caught sight of a
light trap under the trees. Some one said:
"Kirsha will drive you home."
In her strange dress Elisaveta returned home. She sat silently in the
trap. She did not even notice Trirodov. She was trying to recall
something. Through the dark horror and senseless laughter there shone
clearer and clearer the recollection of another life lived through
momentarily--the life of Queen Ortruda.
The quiet boy Grisha stood within the enclosure of enchanted sadness
and mystery. His face was pale and reposeful, and there was a keen,
quiet sparkle in his cool, sky-blue eyes.
The early evening sky was growing bluer--a blue reposefulness was
pouring itself out upon the earth and extinguishing the ruby-coloured
flames of the sunset. And silhouetted against the blueness of the
heights birds were flying about. Why should they have wings, these
earthly, preoccupied creatures?
As he stood there in the quiet of the enclosure, Grisha felt himself
drawn by the fragrance of the lilies of the valley, no less innocent
than he, the quiet, blue-eyed Grisha. It was as if some one were
calling him outside the enclosure, towards the poor life which
tormented itself in the blue and mist-enveloped distance, calling him
despairingly and agonizingly--and he both wished and did not wish to
go. Some one's voice, full of distress, called him wearily to life
How can calls of distress be resisted? When will the tranquil heart
forget earthly travail wholly and for always?
At last Grisha walked out of the gate. He took a deep breath of the
sharp but delicious outside air. He walked quietly upon the narrow,
dusty path. His light footprints lay behind him, and his white clothes
glimmered brightly, in quiet movement, against the dim verdure and the
grey dust. Before him, barely visible, rose the white, lifeless, clear
moon, powerless to enchant the tedious earthly spaces.
Then the town began--the grey, dull, tiresome town, with its dirty
back yards, consumptive vegetable gardens, broken-down hedges,
bathhouses, and sheds, and all manner of ugly projections and
depressing amorphousness--all of it resembling a hopeless ruin.
Egorka, the eleven-year-old son of a local commoner, stood by the
hedge of one of the vegetable gardens. What had been red calico once
made up his torn shirt; but his face!--it was like that of an angel in
a tawny mask covered with spots of dirt and dust. Wings are for light
feet, but what can the earth do? Only dust and clay cling to light
Egorka had come out to play. He waited for his companions, but for
some reason none of them was to be seen. He stood alone there, now
listening to this, now looking at that. He suddenly espied on the
other side of the hedge an unknown quiet boy, who--all in white--was
looking at him. Egorka asked in astonishment:
"Where do you come from?"
"You can never know," said Grisha.
"Don't be too sure of that!" shouted Egorka gaily. "Maybe I do know.
Now tell me."
"Would you like to know?" asked Grisha with a smile.
It was a tranquil smile. Egorka was about to stick his tongue out in
response, but changed his mind for some reason. They began to
converse, to exchange whispers.
Everything around them lapsed into deep quiet, and nothing appeared to
give heed to them--it was as if the two little ones went off into
quite another world, behind a thin curtain which no one could rend. So
motionless stood the birches bewitched mysteriously by three fallen
spirits. Grisha asked again:
"Yes, you would like to know?"
"Honest to God, I'd like to; here's a cross to prove it," said Egorka
rather quickly, and he crossed himself with an oblique movement of the
joined fingers of his dirty hand.
"Then follow me," said Grisha.
He turned lightly homewards, and as he walked he did not stop to look
round at the meagre, tiresome objects of this grey life. Egorka
followed the white boy. He walked quietly and marvelled at the other.
He thought for a while, then he asked:
"Are you not one of God's angels? Why are you so white?"
The quiet boy smiled at these words. He said with a light sigh:
"No, I am a human being."
"You don't mean it? An ordinary boy?"
"Just like you--almost like you."
"How clean you are! I should say you washed yourself seven times a day
with egg-soap! You walk about barefoot, not at all like me, and the
sunburn doesn't seem to stick to you--there's only a cover of dust on
The aroma of violets came from somewhere, and it mingled now with the
dry smell of the flying dust, now with the sickly, half-sweet,
half-bitter odour of the smoke of a forest fire.
The two boys avoided the tiresome monotony of the fields and the
roads, and entered the dark silence of the wood. They passed by glades
and copses and quietly purling streams. The boys strode along narrow
footpaths, where the gentle dew clung to their feet. Everything
appeared wonderful in Egorka's eyes, used only to the raging
turbulence of a malignant yet dull and grey life. The time lingered
on, running and consuming itself, wreathed in a circle of delicious
moments, and it seemed to Egorka that he had come into some fabulous
land. He slept somewhere at night, and he felt intensely happy on
opening his eyes next morning, having been awakened by the twitter of
birds which shook the dew from the pliant tree-limbs; then he played
with the cheerful boys and listened to music.
Sometimes the white Grisha left Egorka all by himself. Then he again
reappeared. Egorka noticed that Grisha kept apart from the others, the
cheerful, noisy children; that he did not play with them, and that he
spoke little--not that he was afraid, or deliberately turned aside,
but simply because it seemed to arrange itself, and it was natural for
him to be alone, radiant and sad.
Once Egorka and Grisha, on being left by themselves, went strolling
together through a little wood which was all permeated with light. The
wood grew denser and denser.
They came to two tall, straight trees. A bronze rod was suspended
between them, and upon the rod, on rings, hung a dark red silk
curtain. The light breeze caused the thin draperies to flutter. The
quiet, blue-eyed Grisha drew the curtain aside. The red folds came
together with a sharp rustle and with a sudden flare as of a flame.
The opening revealed a wooded vista, all permeated with a strangely
bright light, like a vision of a transfigured land. Grisha said:
"Go, Egorushka--it is good there."
Egorka looked into the clear wooded distance: fear beset his heart,
and he said quietly:
"I am afraid."
"What are you afraid of, silly boy?" asked Grisha affectionately.
"I don't know. Something makes me afraid," said Egorka timidly.
Grisha felt aggrieved. He sighed quietly and then said:
"Well, go home, then, if you are afraid here."
Egorka recalled his home, his mother, the town he lived in. He did not
have a very happy time of it at home--they lived poorly, and he was
whipped often. Egorka suddenly threw himself at the quiet Grisha,
caught him by his gentle, cool hands, and cried:
"Don't chase me away, dear Grisha, don't chase me from you."
"Am I chasing you away?" retorted Grisha. "You yourself don't want to
Egorka got down on his knees and whispered as he kissed Grisha's feet:
"I pray to you angels with all my strength."
"Then follow me," said Grisha.
Light hands descended on Egorka's shoulders and lifted him from the
grass. Egorka followed Grisha obediently to the blue paradise of his
quiet eyes. A peaceful valley opened before him and the quiet children
played in it. The dew fell on Egorka's feet, and its kisses gave him
joy. The quiet children surrounded Egorka and Grisha and, all joining
hands in one broad ring, carried the two boys with them in a swiftly
"My dear angels," shouted Egorka, twirling and rejoicing, "you have
bright little faces, you have clean little eyes, you have white little
hands, you have light little feet! Am I on earth or am I in Paradise?
My dear ones, my little brothers and little sisters, where are your
Some one's near, sweet-sounding voice answered him:
"You are upon the earth, not in Paradise, and we have no need of
wings--we fly wingless."
They captivated, bewitched, and caressed him. They showed him all the
wonders of the wood under the tree-stumps, the bushes, the dry
leaves--little wood-sprites with rustling little voices, with
spider-webby hair, straight ones and hunchbacked ones; little old men
of the wood; the shadow-sprites and little companion spirits;
bantering little sprites in green coats, midnight ones and daylight
ones, grey ones and black ones; little jokers-pokers with shaggy
little paws; fabulous birds and animals--everything that is not to be
seen in the gloomy, everyday, earthly world.
Egorka had a splendid time with the quiet children. He did not notice
how a whole week had passed by--from Friday to Friday. And suddenly he
began to long for his mother. He heard her calling him at night, and
as he woke in agitation he called:
"Mamma, where are you?"
There was stillness and silence all around him--it was an altogether
unknown world. Egorka began to cry. The quiet children came to comfort
him. They said to him:
"There's nothing to cry about. You will return to your mother. And she
will be glad, and she will caress you."
"She may whip me," said Egorka, sobbing.
The quiet children smiled and said:
"Fathers and mothers whip their children."
"They like to do it."
"It seems wicked to beat any one."
"But they really mean well."
"They beat whom they love."
"People mix everything up shame, love, pain."
"Don't you be afraid, Egorushka--she's a mother."
"Very well, I'll not be afraid," said Egorka, comforted.
When Egorka took leave of the quiet children Grisha said to him:
"You had better not tell your mother where you have passed all this
"No, I won't tell," replied Egorka vigorously, "not for anything."
"You'll blab it out," said one of the girls.
She had dark, infinitely deep eyes; her thin, bare arms were always
folded obstinately across her breast. She spoke even less than the
other quiet children, and of all human words she liked "no" most.
"No, I shan't blab anything," asserted Egorka. "I shan't even tell any
one where I have been; I shall put all these words under lock and
That same evening when Egorka left with Grisha, his mother suddenly
missed him. She shouted a long time and cursed and threatened; but as
there was no response she became frightened. "Perhaps he's been
drowned," she thought. She ran among her neighbours, wailing and
"My boy's gone. I can't find him anywhere. I simply don't know where
else to look. He's either drowned in the river or fallen into a
well--that's what comes of mischief-making."
One neighbour suggested:
"It's most likely the Jews have caught him and are keeping him in some
out-of-the-way spot, and only waiting to let his Christian blood and
then drink it."
This guess pleased them. They said with great assurance:
"It's Jews' work."
"They are again at it, that accursed breed."
"There's no getting rid of them."
"What a wretched affair!"
They all believed this. The disturbing rumour that the Jews had stolen
a Christian boy spread about town. Ostrov took a most zealous share in
disseminating the rumour. The markets were filled with noisy
discussions. The tradesmen and dealers, instigated by Ostrov, bellowed
loudly their denunciations. Why did Ostrov do this? He knew, of
course, that it was a lie. But latterly, acting on the instructions of
the local branch of the Black Hundred, he had been engaged in
provocatory work. The new episode came in handily.
The police began an investigation. They looked for the boy, but
without success. In any case, they found a Jew who had been seen by
some one near Egorka's house. He was arrested.
It was evening again. Egorka's mother was at home when Egorka
returned. There was a radiant sadness about him as he walked up to his
mother, kissed her and said:
Egorka's mother assailed him with questions:
"Oh, you little wretch! Where have you been? What have you been doing?
What unclean demons have carried you away?"
Egorka remembered his promise. He stood before his mother in obstinate
silence. His mother questioned him angrily:
"Where have you been? tell me! Did the Jews try to crucify you?"
"What Jews?" exclaimed Egorka. "No one has tried to crucify me."
"You just wait, you young brat," shouted his mother in a rage, "I'll
make you talk."
She caught hold of the besom and began to tear off its twigs. Then she
stripped the boy of his light clothes. Still wrapt in his radiant
sadness, Egorka looked at his mother with astonished eyes. He cried
"Mamma, what are you doing?"
But, already seized by the rough hand, the little body that had been
washed by the still waters began to struggle on the knees of the
harshly crying woman. It was painful, and Egorka sobbed in a shrill
voice. His mother beat him long and painfully, and she accompanied
each blow with an admonition:
"Tell me where you've been! Tell me! I won't stop until you tell me."
At last she stopped and burst out into violent crying:
"Why has God punished me so? But no, I'll yet beat a word out of you.
I'll give it to you worse to-morrow."
Egorka was shaken less by the physical pain than by the unexpected
harshness of his reception. He had been in touch with another world,
and the quiet children in the enchanted valley had reconstructed his
soul on another plane.
His mother, however, loved him. Of course, she loved him. That was why
she beat him in her anger. Love and cruelty go always together among
humankind. They like to torment, vengeance gives them pleasure. But
later Egorka's mother took pity on him; she thought she had flogged
him too hard. And now she walked up quietly to him.
Egorka lay on the bench and moaned softly, then he grew silent. His
mother smoothed his back awkwardly with her rough hands and left him.
She thought he had gone to sleep.
In the morning she went to wake him. She found him lying cold and
motionless on the bench, his face downward. And his radiance was gone
from him--he lay there a dark, cold corpse. The horrified mother began
"He's dead! Egorushka, are you really dead? Oh, God--and his little
hands are quite cold!"
She dashed out to her neighbours, she aroused the whole neighbourhood
with her shrill cries. Inquisitive women soon filled the house.
"I struck him ever so lightly with a thin twig," the mother wailed.
"Then my angel lay down on the bench, cried a little, then grew quiet
and went to sleep, and in the morning he gave up his soul to God."
Held by a heavy, death-like sleep, Egorka lay there motionless and to
all appearances lifeless, and listened to his mother's wailing and to
the discordant clamour of voices. And he heard his mother keening over
"Those accursed Jews have sucked out all his blood! It was not the
first time that I beat my little darling! It used to be that I'd beat
him and put a bit of salt on afterwards, and nothing would come of
it--and here I've hit him with a little twig and he, my handsome
darling, my little angel...."
Egorka heard her groans and wondered at his fettered helplessness and
immobility. He seemed to hear the noise of some one else's body--he
realized that it was his own as it was put on the floor to be washed.
He had an intense longing to stir, to rise, but he could not. He
"I have died: what are they going to do with me now?"
And again he thought:
"Why is it that my soul is not leaving my body? I do not feel that I
have arms or legs, yet I can hear."
He wondered and waited. Then, with a sudden powerless exertion, he
tried to wake from his death-like sleep, to return to himself, to run
away from the dark grave--and again his helpless will drooped, and
again he waited.
And he heard the sounds of the funeral chant, and noted the blueness
of the little cloud of incense-smoke and the fragrance that was wafted
by the quietly sounding swings of the smoky censer.
Egorka was buried. His mother wept long over his grave in
long-drawn-out wails, then went home. She was convinced that her boy
would be far better off there than upon the earth, and was consoled.
But such truly Russian people as Kerbakh, Ostrov, and others would not
be consoled. They let loose evil rumours. The report spread:
"The Jews have tortured a Christian boy. They've cut him up with
knives and used his blood in their matzoth."
[Footnote 26: Unleavened bread of the Passover.]
The slanderers were not deterred by the consideration that the Jewish
Passover had taken place very much earlier than the running away of
Egorka from his mother.
The townsmen were agitated--those who believed as well as those who
did not believe the tale. Demands were made for an investigation and
the opening of the grave.
Elisaveta came to Trirodov's house early in the day and remained there
long. Trirodov showed her his colony. The quiet boy Grisha accompanied
them, and looked with the blue reposefulness of his impassionate eyes
into the blue flames of her rapturous ones, soothing the sultriness
and passion of her agitation.
Her light, ample dress seemed transparent--the perfect outlines of her
body showed clearly; the red and white roses of her breast and
shoulders were visible. Her sunburnt feet were bare--she loved the
affectionate contact of the earth and the grass.
It was all like a paradise--the twittering of the birds, the hubbub of
the children, the rustle of the wind in the grass and in the trees,
the murmur of the brook in the wood. Everything was innocent, as in
Paradise--girls, scantily dressed, came up, spoke to them, and were
not ashamed. Everything was chaste, as in Paradise. And cloudless, the
sky shone above the forest glades.
Towards evening Elisaveta sat at Trirodov's. They read poems.
Elisaveta loved poems even before she met Trirodov. Who else should
love them if not girls? Now she read poems avidly. Whole hours passed
by quickly in reading, and the poems gave birth in her to sweet and
bitter emotions and passionate dreams.
Perhaps this was so because she was in love; in love she had found a
new sun for herself, and she led a new dance round it of dreams,
hopes, sorrows, joys, enchantments, and raptures. And, flaunting a
rainbow of radiance, this round dance, this naming circle of impetuous
emotions, was full of a rich music and vivid colour.
Trirodov caused her to fall in love with the verses of the new poets.
She found such enchantments and such disillusions in the fragile music
of new poetry, written so happily and so elusively, with a lightness
and transparency like those of the dresses that she now loved to wear.
With the harmony of their souls thus achieved, why should they not
love one another?
Once, after they had read together some beautiful love-poems, Trirodov
"Love says 'No' to the world, the lyrical 'No'--marriage says 'Yes' to
it, the ironic 'Yes.' To be in love, to strive, yet not to
possess--that is the poetry of love, sweet but illusive. Externally
love contradicts the world and conceals its fatal discord. To be
together, to say 'Yes' to some one, to yield oneself--that is the way
in which life reveals its irreconcilable contradictions. And how to be
together when we are such solitary souls? And how to yield oneself?
Mask after mask falls off, and it is terrible to see Janus-faced
actuality. A weariness comes on--what has become of love, that love
which had prided itself on being stronger than death?"
"You have had a wife," said Elisaveta. "You loved her. Everything here
is reminiscent of her. She was beautiful."
Her voice became dark, and the blue flashes under the moist eyelids
lit up with a jealous flame. Trirodov smiled and said sadly:
"She left life before the time had come for weariness to make its
appearance. My Dulcinea did not want to become Aldonza."
"Dulcinea is loved," said Elisaveta, "but the fullness of life belongs
to Aldonza becoming Dulcinea."
"But does Aldonza want that?" asked Trirodov.
"She wants it, but cannot realize it," said Elisaveta. "But we will
help her, we will teach her."
Trirodov smiled affectionately--if sadly--and said:
"But he, like the eternal Don Juan, always seeks Dulcinea. And what is
to him the poor earthly Aldonza, poisoned by the dream of beauty?"
"It is for that that he will love her," replied Elisaveta; "because
she is poor and has been poisoned by the exultant dream of beauty. The
basis for their union will be creative beauty."
The night came: a darkness settled outside the windows, full of the
whisperings of sad, pellucid voices. Trirodov walked up to the window.
Elisaveta soon stood beside him--and almost at the same instant their
eyes fixed themselves upon the distant, dimly visible cemetery.
Trirodov said quietly:
"He has been buried there. But he will rise from his grave."
Elisaveta looked at him in astonishment and asked:
Trirodov glanced at her like one suddenly awakened and said slowly:
"It is a boy who has not yet lived, and who is still chaste. His body
contains all possibilities and not a single achievement. He is like
one created to receive every energy directed at him. Now he is asleep
in his tight coffin, in a grave. He will awake for a life free from
passions and desires, for clear seeing and hearing, for the
establishment of one will."
"When will he awake?" asked Elisaveta.
"When I wish it," said Trirodov, "I will wake him."
The sound of his voice was sad and insistent--like the sound of an
"To-night?" asked Elisaveta.
"If you wish it," answered Trirodov quietly.
"Must I leave?" she asked again.
"Yes," he answered, just as simply and as quietly as before.
She bid him good-bye and left. Trirodov again walked up to the window.
He called some one in a voice of invocation and whispered:
"You will awake, dear one. Wake, rise, come to me. I will open your
eyes, and you will see what you have not yet seen. I will open your
ears, and you will hear what you have not yet heard. You are of the
earth--I will not part you from the earth. You are from me, you are
mine, you are I; come to me. Wake!"
He waited confidently. He knew that when the sleeper had awakened in
his grave they would come to him--the wise, innocent ones--and would