Part 3 out of 4
I went to the window and took up the first book that my hand chanced
'What is it?' he asked.
'Ah, Lermontov! Excellent! Pushkin is greater, no doubt.... Do you
remember: "Once more the storm-clouds gather close Above me in the
perfect calm" ... or, "For the last time thy image sweet In thought I
dare caress." Ah! marvellous! marvellous! But Lermontov's fine too.
Well, I'll tell you what, dear boy: you take the book, open it by
chance, and read what you find!'
I opened the book, and was disconcerted; I had chanced upon 'The Last
Will.' I tried to turn over the page, but Pasinkov noticed my action
and said hurriedly: 'No, no, no, read what turned up.'
There was no getting out of it; I read 'The Last Will.'
[Footnote: THE LAST WILL
Alone with thee, brother,
I would wish to be;
On earth, so they tell me,
I have not long to stay,
Soon you will go home:
See that ... But nay! for my fate
To speak the truth, no one
Is very greatly troubled.
But if any one asks ...
Well, whoever may ask,
Tell them that through the breast
I was shot by a bullet;
That I died honourably for the Tsar,
That our doctors are not much good,
And that to my native land
I send a humble greeting.
My father and mother, hardly
Will you find living....
I'll own I should be sorry
That they should grieve for me.]
'Splendid thing!' said Pasinkov, directly I had finished the last
verse. 'Splendid thing!
But, it's queer,' he added, after a brief pause, 'it's queer you should
have chanced just on that.... Queer.'
I began to read another poem, but Pasinkov was not listening to me; he
looked away, and twice he repeated again: 'Queer!'
I let the book drop on my knees.
'"There is a girl, their neighbour,"' he whispered, and turning to me
he asked--'I say, do you remember Sophia Zlotnitsky?'
I turned red.
'I should think I did!'
'She was married, I suppose?...'
'To Asanov, long, long ago. I wrote to you about it.'
* * * * *
But if either of them is living,
Say I am lazy about writing,
That our regiment has been sent forward,
And that they must not expect me home.
There is a girl, their neighbour....
As you remember, it's long
Since we parted.... She will not
Ask for me.... All the same,
You tell her all the truth,
Don't spare her empty heart--
Let her weep a little....
It will not hurt her much!
'To be sure, to be sure, so you did. Did her father forgive her in the
'He forgave her; but he would not receive Asanov.'
'Obstinate old fellow! Well, and are they supposed to be happy?'
'I don't know, really...I fancy they 're happy. They live in the
country, in ---- province. I've never seen them, though I have been
through their parts.'
'And have they any children?'
'I think so.... By the way, Pasinkov?...' I began questioningly.
He glanced at me.
'Confess--do you remember, you were unwilling to answer my question at
the time--did you tell her I cared for her?'
'I told her everything, the whole truth.... I always told her the
truth. To be hypocritical with her would have been a sin!'
Pasinkov was silent for a while.
'Come, tell me,' he began again: 'did you soon get over caring for her,
'Not very soon, but I got over it. What's the good of sighing in vain?'
Pasinkov turned over, facing me.
'Well, I, brother,' he began--and his lips were quivering--'am no match
for you there; I've not got over caring for her to this day.'
'What!' I cried in indescribable amazement; 'did you love her?'
'I loved her,' said Pasinkov slowly, and he put both hands behind his
head. 'How I loved her, God only knows. I've never spoken of it to any
one, to any one in the world, and I never meant to ... but there! "On
earth, so they tell me, I have not long to stay." ... What does it
Pasinkov's unexpected avowal so utterly astonished me that I could
positively say nothing. I could only wonder, 'Is it possible? how was
it I never suspected it?'
'Yes,' he went on, as though speaking to himself, 'I loved her. I never
ceased to love her even when I knew her heart was Asanov's. But how
bitter it was for me to know that! If she had loved you, I should at
least have rejoiced for you; but Asanov.... How did he make her care
for him? It was just his luck! And change her feelings, cease to care,
she could not! A true heart does not change....'
I recalled Asanov's visit after the fatal dinner, Pasinkov's
intervention, and I could not help flinging up my hands in
'You learnt it all from me, poor fellow!' I cried; 'and you undertook
to go and see her then!'
'Yes,' Pasinkov began again; 'that explanation with her ... I shall
never forget it.' It was then I found out, then I realised the meaning
of the word I had chosen for myself long before: resignation. But still
she has remained my constant dream, my ideal.... And he's to be pitied
who lives without an ideal!'
I looked at Pasinkov; his eyes, fastened, as it were, on the distance,
shone with feverish brilliance.
'I loved her,' he went on, 'I loved her, her, calm, true,
unapproachable, incorruptible; when she went away, I was almost mad
with grief.... Since then I have never cared for any one.'...
And suddenly turning, he pressed his face into the pillow, and began
I jumped up, bent over him, and began trying to comfort him....
'It's no matter,' he said, raising his head and shaking back his hair;
'it's nothing; I felt a little bitter, a little sorry ... for myself,
that is.... But it's all no matter. It's all the fault of those verses.
Read me something else, more cheerful.'
I took up Lermontov and began hurriedly turning over the pages; but, as
fate would have it, I kept coming across poems likely to agitate
Pasinkov again. At last I read him 'The Gifts of Terek.'
'Jingling rhetoric!' said my poor friend, with the tone of a preceptor;
'but there are fine passages. Since I saw you, brother, I've tried my
hand at poetry, and began one poem--"The Cup of Life"--but it didn't
come off! It's for us, brother, to appreciate, not to create.... But
I'm rather tired; I'll sleep a little--what do you say? What a splendid
thing sleep is, come to think of it! All our life's a dream, and the
best thing in it is dreaming too.'
'And poetry?' I queried.
'Poetry's a dream too, but a dream of paradise.'
Pasinkov closed his eyes.
I stood for a little while at his bedside. I did not think he would get
to sleep quickly, but soon his breathing became more even and
prolonged. I went away on tiptoe, turned into my own room, and lay down
on the sofa. For a long while I mused on what Pasinkov had told me,
recalled many things, wondered; at last I too fell asleep....
Some one touched me; I started up; before me stood Elisei.
'Come in to my master,' he said.
I got up at once.
'What's the matter with him?'
'Delirious? And hasn't it ever been so before with him?'
'Yes, he was delirious last night, too; only to-day it is something
I went to Pasinkov's room. He was not lying down, but sitting up in
bed, his whole body bent forward. He was slowly gesticulating with his
hands, smiling and talking, talking all the time in a weak, hollow
voice, like the whispering of rushes. His eyes were wandering. The
gloomy light of a night light, set on the floor, and shaded off by a
book, lay, an unmoving patch on the ceiling; Pasinkov's face seemed
paler than ever in the half darkness.
I went up to him, called him by his name--he did not answer. I began
listening to his whispering: he was talking of Siberia, of its forests.
From time to time there was sense in his ravings.
'What trees!' he whispered; 'right up to the sky. What frost on them!
Silver ... snowdrifts.... And here are little tracks ... that's a
hare's leaping, that's a white weasel... No, it's my father running
with my papers. Here he is!... Here he is! Must go; the moon is
shining. Must go, look for my papers.... Ah! A flower, a crimson
flower--there's Sophia.... Oh, the bells are ringing, the frost is
crackling.... Ah, no; it's the stupid bullfinches hopping in the
bushes, whistling.... See, the redthroats! Cold.... Ah! here's
Asanov.... Oh yes, of course, he's a cannon, a copper cannon, and his
gun-carriage is green. That's how it is he's liked. Is it a star has
fallen? No, it's an arrow flying.... Ah, how quickly, and straight into
my heart!... Who shot it? You, Sonitchka?'
He bent his head and began muttering disconnected words. I glanced at
Elisei; he was standing, his hands clasped behind his back, gazing
ruefully at his master.
'Ah, brother, so you've become a practical person, eh?' he asked
suddenly, turning upon me such a clear, such a fully conscious glance,
that I could not help starting and was about to reply, but he went on
at once: 'But I, brother, have not become a practical person, I
haven't, and that's all about it! A dreamer I was born, a dreamer!
Dreaming, dreaming.... What is dreaming? Sobakevitch's peasant--that's
Almost till morning Pasinkov wandered in delirium; at last he gradually
grew quieter, sank back on the pillow, and dozed off. I went back into
my room. Worn out by the cruel night, I slept soundly.
Elisei again waked me.
'Ah, sir!' he said in a shaking voice, 'I do believe Yakov Ivanitch is
I ran in to Pasinkov. He was lying motionless. In the light of the
coming day he looked already a corpse. He recognised me.
'Good-bye,' he whispered; 'greet her for me, I'm dying....'
'Yasha!' I cried; 'nonsense! you are going to live....'
'No, no! I am dying.... Here, take this as a keepsake.' ... (He pointed
to his breast.) ...
'What's this?' he began suddenly; 'look: the sea ... all golden, and
blue isles upon it, marble temples, palm-trees, incense....'
He ceased speaking ... stretched....
Within half an hour he was no more. Elisei flung himself weeping at his
feet. I closed his eyes.
On his neck there was a little silken amulet on a black cord. I took
Three days afterwards he was buried.... One of the noblest hearts was
hidden for ever in the grave. I myself threw the first handful of earth
Another year and a half passed by. Business obliged me to visit Moscow.
I took up my quarters in one of the good hotels there. One day, as I
was passing along the corridor, I glanced at the black-board with the
list of visitors staying in the hotel, and almost cried out aloud with
astonishment. Opposite the number 12 stood, distinctly written in
chalk, the name, Sophia Nikolaevna Asanova. Of late I had chanced to
hear a good deal that was bad about her husband. I had learned that he
was addicted to drink and to gambling, had ruined himself, and was
generally misconducting himself. His wife was spoken of with
respect.... In some excitement I went back to my room. The passion,
that had long long ago grown cold, began as it were to stir within my
heart, and it throbbed. I resolved to go and see Sophia Nikolaevna.
'Such a long time has passed since the day we parted,' I thought, 'she
has, most likely, forgotten everything there was between us in those
I sent Elisei, whom I had taken into my service after the death of
Pasinkov, with my visiting-card to her door, and told him to inquire
whether she was at home, and whether I might see her. Elisei quickly
came back and announced that Sophia Nikolaevna was at home and would
I went at once to Sophia Nikolaevna. When I went in, she was standing
in the middle of the room, taking leave of a tall stout gentleman.
'As you like,' he was saying in a rich, mellow voice; 'he is not a
harmless person, he's a useless person; and every useless person in a
well-ordered society is harmful, harmful, harmful!'
With those words the tall gentleman went out. Sophia Nikolaevna turned
'How long it is since we met!' she said. 'Sit down, please....'
We sat down. I looked at her.... To see again after long absence the
features of a face once dear, perhaps beloved, to recognise them, and
not recognise them, as though across the old, unforgotten countenance a
new one, like, but strange, were looking out at one; instantaneously,
almost unconsciously, to note the traces time has laid upon it;--all
this is rather melancholy. 'I too must have changed in the same way,'
each is inwardly thinking....
Sophia Nikolaevna did not, however, look much older; though, when I had
seen her last, she was sixteen, and that was nine years ago.
Her features had become still more correct and severe; as of old, they
expressed sincerity of feeling and firmness; but in place of her former
serenity, a sort of secret ache and anxiety could be discerned in them.
Her eyes had grown deeper and darker. She had begun to show a likeness
to her mother....
Sophia Nikolaevna was the first to begin the conversation.
'We are both changed,' she began. 'Where have you been all this time?'
'I've been a rolling stone,' I answered. 'And have you been living in
the country all the while?'
'For the most part I've been in the country. I'm only here now for a
'How are your parents?'
'My mother is dead, but my father is still in Petersburg; my brother's
in the service; Varia lives with him.'
'And your husband?'
'My husband,' she said in a rather hurried voice--'he's just now in
South Russia for the horse fairs. He was always very fond of horses,
you know, and he has started stud stables ... and so, on that account
... he's buying horses now.'
At that instant there walked into the room a little girl of eight years
old, with her hair in a pigtail, with a very keen and lively little
face, and large dark grey eyes. On seeing me, she at once drew back her
little foot, dropped a hasty curtsey, and went up to Sophia Nikolaevna.
'This is my little daughter; let me introduce her to you,' said Sophia
Nikolaevna, putting one finger under the little girl's round chin; 'she
would not stop at home--she persuaded me to bring her with me.'
The little girl scanned me with her rapid glance and faintly dropped
'She is a capital little person,' Sophia Nikolaevna went on: 'there's
nothing she's afraid of. And she's good at her lessons; I must say that
'Comment se nomme monsieur?' the little girl asked in an undertone,
bending over to her mother.
Sophia Nikolaevna mentioned my name.
The little girl glanced at me again.
'What is your name?' I asked her.
'My name is Lidia,' answered the little girl, looking me boldly in the
'I expect they spoil you,' I observed.
'Who spoil me?'
'Who? everyone, I expect; your parents to begin with.'
(The little girl looked, without a word, at her mother.) 'I can fancy
Konstantin Alexandritch,' I was going on ...
'Yes, yes,' Sophia Nikolaevna interposed, while her little daughter
kept her attentive eyes fastened upon her; 'my husband, of course--he
is very fond of children....'
A strange expression flitted across Lidia's clever little face. There
was a slight pout about her lips; she hung her head.
'Tell me,' Sophia Nikolaevna added hurriedly; 'you are here on
business, I expect?'
'Yes, I am here on business.... And are you too?'
'Yes.... In my husband's absence, you understand, I'm obliged to look
after business matters.'
'Maman!' Lidia was beginning.
'Quoi, mon enfant?'
'Non--rien.... Je te dirai après.'
Sophia Nikolaevna smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
'Tell me, please,' Sophia Nikolaevna began again; 'do you remember, you
had a friend ... what was his name? he had such a good-natured face ...
he was always reading poetry; such an enthusiastic--'
'Yes, yes, Pasinkov ... where is he now?'
'He is dead.'
'Dead?' repeated Sophia Nikolaevna; 'what a pity!...'
'Have I seen him?' the little girl asked in a hurried whisper.
'No, Lidia, you've never seen him.--What a pity!' repeated Sophia
'You regret him ...' I began; 'what if you had known him, as I knew
him?... But, why did you speak of him, may I ask?'
'Oh, I don't know....' (Sophia Nikolaevna dropped her eyes.) 'Lidia,'
she added; 'run away to your nurse.'
'You'll call me when I may come back?' asked the little girl.
The little girl went away. Sophia Nikolaevna turned to me.
'Tell me, please, all you know about Pasinkov.' I began telling her his
story. I sketched in brief words the whole life of my friend; tried, as
far as I was able, to give an idea of his soul; described his last
meeting with me and his end.
'And a man like that,' I cried, as I finished my story--'has left us,
unnoticed, almost unappreciated! But that's no great loss. What is the
use of man's appreciation? What pains me, what wounds me, is that such
a man, with such a loving and devoted heart, is dead without having
once known the bliss of love returned, without having awakened interest
in one woman's heart worthy of him!... Such as I may well know nothing
of such happiness; we don't deserve it; but Pasinkov!... And yet
haven't I met thousands of men in my life, who could not compare with
him in any respect, who were loved? Must one believe that some faults
in a man--conceit, for instance, or frivolity--are essential to gain a
woman's devotion? Or does love fear perfection, the perfection possible
on earth, as something strange and terrible?'
Sophia Nikolaevna heard me to the end, without taking her stern,
searching eyes off me, without moving her lips; only her eyebrows
contracted from time to time.
'What makes you suppose,' she observed after a brief silence, 'that no
woman ever loved your friend?'
'Because I know it, know it for a fact.'
Sophia Nikolaevna seemed about to say something, but she stopped. She
seemed to be struggling with herself.
'You are mistaken,' she began at last; 'I know a woman who loved your
dead friend passionately; she loves him and remembers him to this day
... and the news of his death will be a fearful blow for her.'
'Who is this woman? may I know?'
'My sister, Varia.'
'Varvara Nikolaevna!' I cried in amazement.
'What? Varvara Nikolaevna?' I repeated, 'that...'
'I will finish your sentence,' Sophia Nikolaevna took me up; 'that girl
you thought so cold, so listless and indifferent, loved your friend;
that is why she has never married and never will marry. Till this day
no one has known of this but me; Varia would die before she would
betray her secret. In our family we know how to suffer in silence.'
I looked long and intently at Sophia Nikolaevna, involuntarily
pondering on the bitter significance of her last words.
'You have surprised me,' I observed at last. 'But do you know, Sophia
Nikolaevna, if I were not afraid of recalling disagreeable memories, I
might surprise you too....'
'I don't understand you,' she rejoined slowly, and with some
'You certainly don't understand me,' I said, hastily getting up; 'and
so allow me, instead of verbal explanation, to send you something ...'
'But what is it?' she inquired.
'Don't be alarmed, Sophia Nikolaevna, it's nothing to do with me.'
I bowed, and went back to my room, took out the little silken bag I had
taken off Pasinkov, and sent it to Sophia Nikolaevna with the following
'This my friend wore always on his breast and died with it on him. In
it is the only note you ever wrote him, quite insignificant in its
contents; you can read it. He wore it because he loved you
passionately; he confessed it to me only the day before his death. Now,
when he is dead, why should you not know that his heart too was yours?'
Elisei returned quickly and brought me back the relic.
'Well?' I queried; 'didn't she send any message?'
I was silent for a little.
'Did she read my note?'
'No doubt she did; the maid took it to her.'
'Unapproachable,' I thought, remembering Pasinkov's last words. 'All
right, you can go,' I said aloud.
Elisei smiled somewhat queerly and did not go.
'There's a girl ...' he began, 'here to see you.'
'Didn't my master say anything to you?'
'No.... What is it?'
'When my master was in Novgorod,' he went on, fingering the door-post,
'he made acquaintance, so to say, with a girl. So here is this girl,
wants to see you. I met her the other day in the street. I said to her,
"Come along; if the master allows it, I'll let you see him."
'Ask her in, ask her in, of course. But ... what is she like?'
'An ordinary girl...working class...Russian.'
'Did Yakov Ivanitch care for her?'
'Well, yes ... he was fond of her. And she...when she heard my master
was dead, she was terribly upset. She's a good sort of girl.'
'Ask her in, ask her in.'
Elisei went out and at once came back. He was followed by a girl in a
striped cotton gown, with a dark kerchief on her head, that half hid
her face. On seeing me, she was much taken aback and turned away.
'What's the matter?' Elisei said to her; 'go on, don't be afraid.'
I went up to her and took her by the hand.
'What is your name?' I asked her.
'Masha,' she replied in a soft voice, stealing a glance at me.
She looked about two- or three-and-twenty; she had a round, rather
simple-looking, but pleasant face, soft cheeks, mild blue eyes, and
very pretty and clean little hands. She was tidily dressed.
'You knew Yakov Ivanitch?' I pursued.
'I used to know him,' she said, tugging at the ends of her kerchief,
and the tears stood in her eyes.
I asked her to sit down.
She sat down at once on the edge of a chair, without any affectation of
ceremony. Elisei went out.
'You became acquainted with him in Novgorod?'
'Yes, in Novgorod,' she answered, clasping her hands under her
kerchief. 'I only heard the day before yesterday, from Elisei
Timofeitch, of his death. Yakov Ivanitch, when he went away to Siberia,
promised to write to me, and twice he did write, and then he wrote no
more. I would have followed him out to Siberia, but he didn't wish it.'
'Have you relations in Novgorod?'
'Did you live with them?'
'I used to live with mother and my married sister; but afterwards
mother was cross with me, and my sister was crowded up, too; she has a
lot of children: and so I moved. I always rested my hopes on Yakov
Ivanitch, and longed for nothing but to see him, and he was always good
to me--you can ask Elisei Timofeitch.'
'I have his letters,' she went on. 'Here, look.' She took several
letters out of her pocket, and handed them to me. 'Read them,' she
I opened one letter and recognised Pasinkov's hand.
'Dear Masha!' (he wrote in large, distinct letters) 'you leaned your
little head against my head yesterday, and when I asked why you do so,
you told me--"I want to hear what you are thinking." I'll tell you what
I was thinking; I was thinking how nice it would be for Masha to learn
to read and write! She could make out this letter ...'
Masha glanced at the letter.
'That he wrote me in Novgorod,' she observed, 'when he was just going
to teach me to read. Look at the others. There's one from Siberia.
Here, read this.'
I read the letters. They were very affectionate, even tender. In one of
them, the first one from Siberia, Pasinkov called Masha his best
friend, promised to send her the money for the journey to Siberia, and
ended with the following words--'I kiss your pretty little hands; the
girls here have not hands like yours; and their heads are no match for
yours, nor their hearts either.... Read the books I gave you, and think
of me, and I'll not forget you. You are the only, only girl that ever
cared for me; and so I want to belong only to you....'
'I see he was very much attached to you,' I said, giving the letters
back to her.
'He was very fond of me,' replied Masha, putting the letters carefully
into her pocket, and the tears flowed slowly down her cheeks. 'I always
trusted in him; if the Lord had vouchsafed him long life, he would not
have abandoned me. God grant him His heavenly peace!'...
She wiped her eyes with a corner of her kerchief.
'Where are you living now?' I inquired.
'I'm here now, in Moscow; I came here with my mistress, but now I'm out
of a place. I did go to Yakov Ivanitch's aunt, but she is very poor
herself. Yakov Ivanitch used often to talk of you,' she added, getting
up and bowing; 'he always loved you and thought of you. I met Elisei
Timofeitch the day before yesterday, and wondered whether you wouldn't
be willing to assist me, as I'm out of a place just now....'
'With the greatest pleasure, Maria ... let me ask, what's your name
from your father?'
'Petrovna,' answered Masha, and she cast down her eyes.
'I will do anything for you I can, Maria Petrovna,' I continued; 'I am
only sorry that I am a visitor here, and know few good families.'
'If I could get a situation of some sort ... I can't cut out, but I can
sew, so I'm always doing sewing ... and I can look after children too.'
'Give her money,' I thought; 'but how's one to do it?'
'Listen, Maria Petrovna,' I began, not without faltering; 'you must,
please, excuse me, but you know from Pasinkov's own words what a friend
of his I was ... won't you allow me to offer you--for the immediate
present--a small sum?' ...
Masha glanced at me.
'What?' she asked.
'Aren't you in want of money?' I said.
Masha flushed all over and hung her head.
'What do I want with money?' she murmured; 'better get me a situation.'
'I will try to get you a situation, but I can't answer for it for
certain; but you ought not to make any scruple, really ... I'm not like
a stranger to you, you know.... Accept this from me, in memory of our
I turned away, hurriedly pulled a few notes out of my pocket-book, and
handed them to her.
Masha was standing motionless, her head still more downcast.
'Take it,' I persisted.
She slowly raised her eyes to me, looked me in the face mournfully,
slowly drew her pale hand from under her kerchief and held it out to
I laid the notes in her cold fingers. Without a word, she hid the hand
again under her kerchief, and dropped her eyes.
'In future, Maria Petrovna,' I resumed, 'if you should be in want of
anything, please apply directly to me. I will give you my address.'
'I humbly thank you,' she said, and after a short pause she added: 'He
did not speak to you of me?'
'I only met him the day before his death, Maria Petrovna. But I'm not
sure ... I believe he did say something.'
Masha passed her hand over her hair, pressed her cheek lightly, thought
a moment, and saying 'Good-bye,' walked out of the room.
I sat at the table and fell into bitter musings. This Masha, her
relations with Pasinkov, his letters, the hidden love of Sophia
Nikolaevna's sister for him.... 'Poor fellow! poor fellow!' I
whispered, with a catching in my breath. I thought of all Pasinkov's
life, his childhood, his youth, Fräulein Frederike.... 'Well,' I
thought, 'much fate gave to thee! much cause for joy!'
Next day I went again to see Sophia Nikolaevna. I was kept waiting in
the ante-room, and when I entered, Lidia was already seated by her
mother. I understood that Sophia Nikolaevna did not wish to renew the
conversation of the previous day.
We began to talk--I really don't remember what about--about the news of
the town, public affairs.... Lidia often put in her little word, and
looked slily at me. An amusing air of importance had suddenly become
apparent on her mobile little visage.... The clever little girl must
have guessed that her mother had intentionally stationed her at her
I got up and began taking leave. Sophia Nikolaevna conducted me to the
'I made you no answer yesterday,' she said, standing still in the
doorway; 'and, indeed, what answer was there to make? Our life is not
in our own hands; but we all have one anchor, from which one can never,
without one's own will, be torn--a sense of duty.'
Without a word I bowed my head in sign of assent, and parted from the
All that evening I stayed at home, but I did not think of her; I kept
thinking and thinking of my dear, never-to-be-forgotten Pasinkov--the
last of the idealists; and emotions, mournful and tender, pierced with
sweet anguish into my soul, rousing echoes on the strings of a heart
not yet quite grown old.... Peace to your ashes, unpractical man,
simple-hearted idealist! and God grant to all practical men--to whom
you were always incomprehensible, and who, perhaps, will laugh even now
over you in the grave--God grant to them to experience even a hundredth
part of those pure delights in which, in spite of fate and men, your
poor and unambitious life was so rich!
In a small, decently furnished room several young men were sitting
before the fire. The winter evening was only just beginning; the
samovar was boiling on the table, the conversation had hardly taken a
definite turn, but passed lightly from one subject to another. They
began discussing exceptional people, and in what way they differed from
ordinary people. Every one expounded his views to the best of his
abilities; they raised their voices and began to be noisy. A small,
pale man, after listening long to the disquisitions of his companions,
sipping tea and smoking a cigar the while, suddenly got up and
addressed us all (I was one of the disputants) in the following
'Gentlemen! all your profound remarks are excellent in their own way,
Every one, as usual, hears his opponent's views, and every one retains
his own convictions. But it's not the first time we have met, nor the
first time we have argued, and so we have probably by now had ample
opportunity for expressing our own views and learning those of others.
Why, then, do you take so much trouble?'
Uttering these words, the small man carelessly flicked the ash off his
cigar into the fireplace, dropped his eyelids, and smiled serenely. We
all ceased speaking.
'Well, what are we to do then, according to you?' said one of us; 'play
cards, or what? go to sleep? break up and go home?'
'Playing cards is agreeable, and sleep's always salutary,' retorted the
small man; 'but it's early yet to break up and go home. You didn't
understand me, though. Listen: I propose, if it comes to that, that
each of you should describe some exceptional personality, tell us of
any meeting you may have had with any remarkable man. I can assure you
even the feeblest description has far more sense in it than the finest
'It's a strange thing,' observed one of us, an inveterate jester;
'except myself I don't know a single exceptional person, and with my
life you are all, I fancy, familiar already. However, if you insist--'
'No!' cried another, 'we don't! But, I tell you what,' he added,
addressing the small man, 'you begin. You have put a stopper on all of
us, you're the person to fill the gap. Only mind, if we don't care for
your story, we shall hiss you.'
'If you like,' answered the small man. He stood close to the fire; we
sat round him and kept quiet. The small man looked at all of us,
glanced at the ceiling, and began as follows:--
'Ten years ago, my dear friends, I was a student at Moscow. My father,
a virtuous landowner of the steppes, had handed me over to a retired
German professor, who, for a hundred roubles a month, undertook to
lodge and board me, and to watch over my morals. This German was the
fortunate possessor of an exceedingly solemn and decorous manner; at
first I went in considerable awe of him. But on returning home one
evening, I saw, with indescribable emotion, my preceptor sitting with
three or four companions at a round table, on which there stood a
fair-sized collection of empty bottles and half-full glasses. On seeing
me, my revered preceptor got up, and, waving his arms and stammering,
presented me to the honourable company, who all promptly offered me a
glass of punch. This agreeable spectacle had a most illuminating effect
on my intelligence; my future rose before me in the most seductive
images. And, as a fact, from that memorable day I enjoyed unbounded
freedom, and all but worried my preceptor to death. He had a wife who
always smelt of smoke and pickled cucumbers; she was still youngish,
but had not a single front tooth in her head. All German women, as we
know, very quickly lose those indispensable ornaments of the human
frame. I mention her, solely because she fell passionately in love with
me and fed me almost into my grave.'
'To the point, to the point,' we shouted. 'Surely it's not your own
adventures you're going to tell us?'
'No, gentlemen!' the small man replied composedly. 'I am an ordinary
mortal. And so I lived at my German's, as the saying is, in clover. I
did not attend lectures with too much assiduity, while at home I did
positively nothing. In a very short time, I had got to know all my
comrades and was on intimate terms with all of them. Among my new
friends was one rather decent and good-natured fellow, the son of a
town provost on the retired list. His name was Bobov. This Bobov got in
the habit of coming to see me, and seemed to like me. I, too ... do you
know, I didn't like him, nor dislike him; I was more or less
indifferent.... I must tell I hadn't in all Moscow a single relation,
except an old uncle, who used sometimes to ask me for money. I never
went anywhere, and was particularly afraid of women; I also avoided all
acquaintance with the parents of my college friends, ever after one
such parent (in my presence) pulled his son's hair--because a button
was off his uniform, while at the very time I hadn't more than six
buttons on my whole coat. In comparison with many of my comrades, I
passed for being a person of wealth; my father used to send me every
now and then small packets of faded blue notes, and consequently I not
only enjoyed a position of independence, but I was continually
surrounded by toadies and flatterers.... What am I saying?--why, for
that matter, so was my bobtail dog Armishka, who, in spite of his
setter pedigree, was so frightened of a shot, that the very sight of a
gun reduced him to indescribable misery. Like every young man, however,
I was not without that vague inward fermentation which usually, after
bringing forth a dozen more or less shapeless poems, passes off in a
peaceful and propitious manner. I wanted something, strove towards
something, and dreamed of something; I'll own I didn't know precisely
what it was I dreamed of. Now I understand what was lacking:--I felt my
loneliness, thirsted for the society of so-called live people; the word
Life waked echoes in my heart, and with a vague ache I listened to the
sound of it.... Valerian Nikitich, pass me a cigarette.'
Lighting the cigarette, the small man continued:
'One fine morning Bobov came running to me, out of breath: "Do you
know, old man, the great news? Kolosov has arrived." "Kolosov? and who
on earth is Mr. Kolosov?"
'"You don't know him? Andriusha Kolosov! Come, old boy, let's go to him
directly. He came back last night from a holiday engagement." "But what
sort of fellow is he?" "An exceptional man, my boy, let me assure you!"
"An exceptional man," I answered; "then you go alone. I'll stop at
home. I know your exceptional men! A half-tipsy rhymester with an
everlastingly ecstatic smile!" ... "Oh no! Kolosov's not like that." I
was on the point of observing that it was for Mr. Kolosov to call on
me; but, I don't know why, I obeyed Bobov and went. Bobov conducted me
to one of the very dirtiest, crookedest, and narrowest streets in
Moscow.... The house in which Kolosov lodged was built in the
old-fashioned style, rambling and uncomfortable. We went into the
courtyard; a fat peasant woman was hanging out clothes on a line
stretched from the house to the fence.... Children were squalling on
the wooden staircase...'
'Get on! get on!' we objected plaintively.
'I see, gentlemen, you don't care for the agreeable, and cling solely
to the profitable. As you please! We groped our way through a dark and
narrow passage to Kolosov's room; we went in. You have most likely an
approximate idea of what a poor student's room is like. Directly facing
the door Kolosov was sitting on a chest of drawers, smoking a pipe. He
gave his hand to Bobov in a friendly way, and greeted me affably. I
looked at Kolosov and at once felt irresistibly drawn to him.
Gentlemen! Bobov was right: Kolosov really was a remarkable person. Let
me describe a little more in detail.... He was rather tall, slender,
graceful, and exceedingly good-looking. His face...I find it very
difficult to describe his face. It is easy to describe all the features
one by one; but how is one to convey to any one else what constitutes
the distinguishing characteristic, the essence of just _that_ face?'
'What Byron calls "the music of the face,"' observed a tightly
buttoned-up, pallid gentleman.
'Quite so.... And therefore I will confine myself to a single remark:
the especial "something" to which I have just referred consisted in
Kolosov's case in a carelessly gay and fearless expression of face, and
also in an exceedingly captivating smile. He did not remember his
parents, and had had a wretched bringing-up in the house of a distant
relative, who had been degraded from the service for taking bribes. Up
to the age of fifteen, he had lived in the country; then he found his
way into Moscow, and after two years spent in the care of an old deaf
priest's wife, he entered the university and began to get his living by
lessons. He gave instruction in history, geography, and Russian
grammar, though he had only a dim notion of these branches of science;
but in the first place, there is an abundance of 'textbooks' among us
in Russia, of the greatest usefulness to teachers; and secondly, the
requirements of the respectable merchants, who confided their
children's education to Kolosov, were exceedingly limited. Kolosov was
neither a wit nor a humorist; but you cannot imagine how readily we all
fell under that fellow's sway. We felt a sort of instinctive admiration
of him; his words, his looks, his gestures were all so full of the
charm of youth that all his comrades were head over ears in love with
him. The professors considered him as a fairly intelligent lad, but 'of
no marked abilities,' and lazy.
Kolosov's presence gave a special harmony to our evening reunions.
Before him, our liveliness never passed into vulgar riotousness; if we
were all melancholy--this half childlike melancholy, in his presence,
led on to quiet, sometimes fairly sensible, conversation, and never
ended in dejected boredom. You are smiling, gentlemen--I understand
your smile; no doubt, many of us since then have turned out pretty
cads! But youth ... youth....'
'Oh, talk not to me of a name great in story!
The days of our youth are the days of our glory....'
commented the same pallid gentleman.
'By Jove, what a memory he's got! and all from Byron!' observed the
storyteller. 'In one word, Kolosov was the soul of our set. I was
attached to him by a feeling stronger than any I have ever felt for any
woman. And yet, I don't feel ashamed even now to remember that strange
love--yes, love it was, for I recollect I went through at that time all
the tortures of that passion, jealousy, for instance. Kolosov liked us
all equally, but was particularly friendly with a silent,
flaxen-haired, and unobtrusive youth, called Gavrilov. From Gavrilov he
was almost inseparable; he would often speak to him in a whisper, and
used to disappear with him out of Moscow, no one knew where, for two or
three days at a time.... Kolosov did not care to be questioned, and I
was lost in surmises. It was not simple curiosity that disturbed me. I
longed to become the friend, the attendant squire of Kolosov; I was
jealous of Gavrilov; I envied him; I could never find an explanation to
satisfy me of Kolosov's strange absences. Meanwhile he had none of that
air of mysteriousness about him, which is the proud possession of
youths endowed with vanity, pallor, black hair, and 'expressive' eyes,
nor had he anything of that studied carelessness under which we are
given to understand that vast forces are slumbering; no, he was quite
open and free; but when he was possessed by passion, an intense,
impulsive energy was apparent in everything about him; only he did not
waste his energies in vain, and never under any circumstances became
high-flown or affected. By the way ... tell me the truth, hasn't it
happened to you to sit smoking a pipe with an air of as weary solemnity
as if you had just resolved on a grand achievement, while you were
simply pondering on what colour to choose for your next pair of
trousers?... But the point is, that I was the first to observe in
Kolosov, always cheerful and friendly as he was, these instinctive,
passionate impulses.... They may well say that love is penetrating. I
made up my mind at all hazards to get into his confidence. It was no
use for me to lay myself out to please Kolosov; I had such a childlike
adoration for him that he could have no doubt of my devotion ... but to
my indescribable vexation, I had, at last, to yield to the conviction
that Kolosov avoided closer intimacy with me, that he was as it were
oppressed by my uninvited attachment. Once, when with obvious
displeasure he asked me to lend him money--the very next day he
returned me the loan with ironical gratitude. During the whole winter
my relations with Kolosov were utterly unchanged; I often compared
myself with Gavrilov, and could not make out in what respect he was
better than I.... But suddenly everything was changed. In the middle of
April, Gavrilov fell ill, and died in the arms of Kolosov, who never
left his room for an instant, and went nowhere for a whole week
afterwards. We were all grieved for poor Gavrilov; the pale, silent lad
seemed to have had a foreboding of his end. I too grieved sincerely for
him, but my heart ached with expectation of something.... One ever
memorable evening ... I was alone, lying on the sofa, gazing idly at
the ceiling ... some one rapidly opened the door of my room and stood
still in the doorway; I raised my head; before me stood Kolosov.
He slowly came in and sat down beside me. 'I have come to you,' he
began in a rather thick voice, 'because you care more for me than any
of the others do.... I have lost my best friend'--his voice shook a
little--'and I feel lonely.... None of you knew Gavrilov ... none of
you knew....' He got up, paced up and down the room, came rapidly
towards me again.... 'Will you take his place?' he said, and gave me
his hand. I leaped up and flung myself on his breast. My genuine
delight touched him.... I did not know what to say, I was choking....
Kolosov looked at me and softly laughed. We had tea. At tea he talked
of Gavrilov; I heard that that timid, gentle boy had saved Kolosov's
life, and I could not but own to myself that in Gavrilov's place I
couldn't have resisted chattering about it--boasting of my luck. It
struck eight. Kolosov got up, went to the window, drummed on the panes,
turned swiftly round to me, tried to say something ... and sat down on
a chair without a word. I took his hand. 'Kolosov, truly, truly I
deserve your confidence!' He looked straight into my eyes. 'Well, if
so,' he brought out at last, 'take your cap and come along.' 'Where
to?' 'Gavrilov did not ask me.' I was silent at once. 'Can you play at
We went out, took a cab to one of the gates of the town. At the gate we
got out. Kolosov went on in front very quickly; I followed him. We
walked along the highroad. After we had gone three-quarters of a mile,
Kolosov turned off. Meanwhile night had come on. On the right in the
fog were the twinkling lights, the innumerable church-spires of the
immense city; on the left, two white horses were grazing in a meadow
skirting the forest: before us stretched fields covered with greyish
mists. I followed Kolosov in silence. He stopped all at once, stretched
his hand out in front of him, and said: 'Here, this is where we are
going.' I saw a small dark house; two little windows showed a dim light
in the fog. 'In this house,' Kolosov went on, 'lives a man called
Sidorenko, a retired lieutenant, with his sister, an old maid, and his
daughter. I shall pass you off as a relation of mine--you must sit
down and play at cards with him.' I nodded without a word.
I wanted to show Kolosov that I could be as silent as Gavrilov.... But
I will own I was suffering agonies of curiosity. As we went up to the
steps of the house, I caught sight, at a lighted window, of the slender
figure of a girl.... She seemed waiting for us and vanished at once. We
went into a dark and narrow passage. A crooked, hunchback old woman
came to meet us, and looked at me with astonishment. 'Is Ivan
Semyonitch at home?' inquired Kolosov. 'He is at home.'... 'He is at
home!' called a deep masculine voice from within. We went into the
dining-room, if dining-room one can call the long, rather dirty room; a
small old piano huddled unassumingly in a corner beside the stove; a
few chairs stood out along the walls which had once been yellow. In the
middle of the room stood a tall, stooping man of fifty, in a greasy
dressing-gown. I looked at him more attentively: a morose looking
countenance, hair standing up like a brush, a low forehead, grey eyes,
immense whiskers, thick lips.... 'A nice customer!' I thought. 'It's a
longish time since we've seen you, Andrei Nikolaevitch,' he observed,
holding out his hideous red hand, 'a longish time it is! And where's
Sevastian Sevastianovitch?' 'Gavrilov is dead,' answered Kolosov
mournfully. 'Dead! you don't say so! And who's this?' 'My relation--I
have the honour to present to you Nikolai Alexei....' 'All right, all
right,' Ivan Semyonitch cut him short, 'delighted, delighted. And does
he play cards?' 'Play, of course he does!' 'Ah, then, that's capital;
we'll sit down directly. Hey! Matrona Semyonovna--where are you? the
card-table--quick!... And tea!' With these words Mr. Sidorenko walked
into the next room. Kolosov looked at me. 'Listen,' he said, 'you can't
think how ashamed I am!'... I shut him up. 'Come, you there, what's
your name, this way,' called Ivan Semyonitch. I went into the
drawing-room. The drawing-room was even smaller than the dining-room.
On the walls hung some monstrosities of portraits; in front of the
sofa, of which the stuffing protruded in several places, stood a green
table; on the sofa sat Ivan Semyonitch, already shuffling the cards.
Near him on the extreme edge of a low chair sat a spare woman in a
white cap and a black gown, yellow and wrinkled, with short-sighted
eyes and thin cat-like lips. 'Here,' said Ivan Semyonitch, 'let me
introduce him; the first man's dead; Andrei Nikolaevitch has brought us
another; let's see how he plays!' The old lady bowed awkwardly and
cleared her throat. I looked round; Kolosov was no longer in the room.
'Stop that coughing, Matrona Semyonovna; sheep cough,' grumbled
Sidorenko. I sat down; the game began. Mr. Sidorenko got fearfully hot
and furious at my slightest mistake; he pelted his sister with abusive
epithets, but she had apparently had time to get used to her brother's
amenities, and only blinked in response. But when he announced to
Matrona Semyonovna that she was 'Antichrist,' the poor old woman fired
up. 'Ivan Semyonitch,' she protested with heat, 'you were the death of
your wife, Anfisa Karpovna, but you shan't worry me into my grave!'
'Indeed?' 'No! you shan't.' 'Indeed?' 'No! you shan't.' They kept it up
in this fashion for some time. My position was, as you perceive, not
merely an unenviable one: it was positively idiotic. I couldn't
conceive what had induced Kolosov to bring me.... I have never been a
good card-player; but on that occasion I was aware myself that I was
playing excruciatingly badly. 'No!' the retired lieutenant repeated
continually,' you can't hold a candle to Sevastianovitch! No! you play
carelessly!' I, you may be sure, was inwardly wishing him at the devil.
This torture continued for two hours; they beat me hollow. Before the
end of the last rubber, I heard a slight sound behind my chair--I
looked round and saw Kolosov; beside him stood a girl of seventeen, who
was watching me with a scarcely perceptible smile. 'Fill me my pipe,
Varia,' muttered Ivan Semyonitch. The girl promptly flew off into the
other room. She was not very pretty, rather pale, rather thin; but
never before or since have I seen such hair, such eyes. We finished the
rubber somehow; I paid up, Sidorenko lighted his pipe and grumbled:
'Well, now it's time for supper!' Kolosov presented me to Varia, that
is, to Varvara Ivanovna, the daughter of Ivan Semyonitch. Varia was
embarrassed; I too was embarrassed. But in a few minutes Kolosov, as
usual, had got everything and everyone into full swing; he sat Varia
down to the piano, begged her to play a dance tune, and proceeded to
dance a Cossack dance in competition with Ivan Semyonitch. The
lieutenant uttered little shrieks, stamped and cut such incredible
capers that even Matrona Semyonovna burst out laughing and retreated to
her own room upstairs. The hunchback old woman laid the table; we sat
down to supper. At supper Kolosov told all sorts of nonsensical
stories; the lieutenant's guffaws were deafening; I peeped from under
my eyelids at Varia. She never took her eyes off Kolosov ... and from
the expression of her face alone, I could divine that she both loved
him and was loved by him. Her lips were slightly parted, her head bent
a little forward, a faint colour kept flitting across her whole face;
from time to time she sighed deeply, suddenly dropped her eyes, and
softly laughed to herself.... I rejoiced for Kolosov.... But at the
same time, deuce take it, I was envious....
After supper, Kolosov and I promptly took up our caps, which did not,
however, prevent the lieutenant from saying, with a yawn: 'You've paid
us a long visit, gentlemen; it's time to say good-bye.' Varia
accompanied Kolosov into the passage: 'When are you coming, Andrei
Nikolaevitch?' she whispered to him. 'In a few days, for certain.'
'Bring him too,' she added, with a very sly smile. 'Of course, of
course.' ... 'Your humble servant!' thought I....
On the way home, I heard the following story. Six months before,
Kolosov had become acquainted with Mr. Sidorenko in a rather queer way.
One rainy evening, Kolosov was returning home from shooting, and had
reached the gate of the city, when suddenly, at no great distance from
the highroad, he heard groans, interspersed with curses. He had a gun;
without thinking long, he made straight for the sound, and found a man
lying on the ground with a dislocated ankle. This man was Mr.
Sidorenko. With great difficulty he got him home, handed him over to
the care of his frightened sister and his daughter, and ran for the
doctor.... Meantime it was nearly morning; Kolosov was almost dropping
with fatigue. With the permission of Matrona Semyonovna, he lay down on
the sofa in the parlour, and slept till eight o'clock. On waking up he
would at once have gone home; but they kept him and gave him some tea.
In the night he had twice succeeded in catching a glimpse of the pale
face of Varvara Ivanovna; he had not particularly noticed her, but in
the morning she made a decidedly agreeable impression on him. Matrona
Semyonovna garrulously praised and thanked Kolosov; Varvara sat silent,
pouring out the tea, glanced at him now and then, and with timid
shame-faced attentiveness handed him first a cup of tea, then the
cream, then the sugar-basin. Meanwhile the lieutenant waked up, loudly
called for his pipe, and after a short pause bawled: 'Sister! hi,
sister!' Matrona Semyonovna went to his bedroom. 'What about
that...what the devil's his name? is he gone?' 'No, I'm still here,'
answered Kolosov, going up to the door; 'are you better now?' 'Yes,'
answered the lieutenant; 'come in here, my good sir.' Kolosov went in.
Sidorenko looked at him, and reluctantly observed: 'Well, thanks; come
sometimes and see me--what's your name? who the devil's to know?'
'Kolosov,' answered Andrei. 'Well, well, come and see us; but it's no
use your sticking on here now, I daresay they're expecting you at
home.' Kolosov retreated, said good-bye to Matrona Semyonovna, bowed to
Varvara Ivanovna, and returned home. From that day he began to visit
Ivan Semyonitch, at first at long intervals, then more and more
frequently. The summer came on; he would sometimes take his gun, put on
his knapsack, and set off as if he were going shooting. He would go to
the retired lieutenant's, and stay on there till evening.
Varvara Ivanovna's father had served twenty-five years in the army, had
saved a small sum of money, and bought himself a few acres of land a
mile and a half from Moscow. He could scarcely read and write; but in
spite of his external clumsiness and coarseness, he was shrewd and
cunning, and even, on occasion, capable of sharp practice, like many
Little Russians. He was a fearful egoist, obstinate as an ox, and in
general exceedingly impolite, especially with strangers; I even
detected in him something like a contempt for the whole human race. He
indulged himself in every caprice, like a spoilt child; would know no
one, and lived for his own pleasure. We were once somehow or other
talking about marriages with him; 'Marriage ... marriage,' said he;
'whom the devil would I let my daughter marry? Eh? what should I do it
for? for her husband to knock her about as I used to my wife? Besides,
whom should I be left with?' Such was the retired lieutenant, Ivan
Semyonitch. Kolosov used to go and see him, not on his account, of
course, but for the sake of his daughter. One fine evening, Andrei was
sitting in the garden with her, chatting about something; Ivan
Semyonitch went up to him, looked sullenly at Varia, and called Andrei
away. 'Listen, my dear fellow,' he said to him; 'you find it good fun,
I see, gossiping with my only child, but I'm dull in my old age; bring
some one with you, or I've nobody to deal a card to; d'ye hear? I
shan't give admittance to you by yourself.' The next day Kolosov turned
up with Gavrilov, and poor Sevastian Sevastianovitch had for a whole
autumn and winter been playing cards in the evenings with the retired
lieutenant; that worthy treated him without ceremony, as it is
called--in other words, fearfully rudely. You now probably realise why
it was that, after Gavrilov's death, Kolosov took me with him to Ivan
Semyonitch's. As he communicated all these details, Kolosov added, 'I
love Varia, she is the dearest girl; she liked you.'
I have forgotten, I fancy, to make known to you that up to that time I
had been afraid of women and avoided them, though I would sometimes, in
solitude, spend whole hours in dreaming of tender interviews, of love,
of mutual love, and so on. Varvara Ivanovna was the first girl with
whom I was forced to talk, by necessity--by necessity it really was.
Varia was an ordinary girl, and yet there are very few such girls in
holy Russia. You will ask me--why so? Because I never noticed in her
anything strained, unnatural, affected; because she was a simple,
candid, rather melancholy creature, because one could never call her 'a
young lady.' I liked her soft smile; I liked her simple-hearted,
ringing little voice, her light and mirthful laugh, her attentive
though by no means 'profound' glances. The child promised nothing; but
you could not help admiring her, as you admire the sudden, soft cry of
the oriole at evening, in the lofty, dark birch-wood. I must confess
that at the present time I should pass by such a creature with some
indifference; I've no taste now for solitary evening strolls, and
orioles; but in those days ...
I've no doubt, gentlemen, that, like all well-educated persons, you
have been in love at least once in the course of your life, and have
learnt from your own experience how love springs up and develops in the
human heart, and therefore I'm not going to enlarge too much on what
took place with me at that time. Kolosov and I used to go pretty often
to Ivan Semyonitch's; and though those damned cards often drove me to
utter despair, still, in the mere proximity of the woman one loves (I
had fallen in love with Varia) there is a sort of strange, sweet,
tormenting joy. I made no effort to suppress this growing feeling;
besides, by the time I had at last brought myself to call the emotion
by its true name, it was already too strong.... I cherished my love in
silence, and jealously and shyly concealed it. I myself enjoyed this
agonising ferment of silent passion. My sufferings did not rob me of my
sleep, nor of my appetite; but for whole days together I was conscious
of that peculiar physical sensation in my breast which is a symptom of
the presence of love. I am incapable of depicting the conflict of
various sensations which took place within me when, for example,
Kolosov came in from the garden with Varia, and her whole face was
aglow with ecstatic devotion, exhaustion from excess of bliss.... She
so completely lived in his life, was so completely taken up with him,
that unconsciously she adopted his ways, looked as he looked, laughed
as he laughed.... I can imagine the moments she passed with Andrei, the
raptures she owed to him.... While he ... Kolosov did not lose his
freedom; in her absence he did not, I suppose, even think of her; he
was still the same unconcerned, gay, and happy fellow we had always
And, as I have already told you, we used, Kolosov and I, to go pretty
often to Ivan Semyonitch's. Sometimes, when he was out of humour, the
retired lieutenant did not make me sit down to cards; on such
occasions, he would shrink into a corner in silence, scowling and
looking crossly at every one. The first time I was delighted at his
letting me off so easily; but afterwards I would sometimes begin myself
begging him to sit down to whist, the part of third person was so
insupportable! I was so unpleasantly in Kolosov's and Varia's way,
though they did assure each other that there was no need to mind me!...
Meanwhile time went on.... They were happy.... I have no great fondness
for describing other people's happiness. But then I began to notice
that Varia's childish ecstasy had gradually given way to a more
womanly, more restless feeling. I began to surmise that the new song
was being sung to the old tune--that is, that Kolosov was...little by
little...cooling. This discovery, I must own, delighted me; I did not
feel, I must confess, the slightest indignation against Andrei.
The intervals between our visits became longer and longer.... Varia
began to meet us with tear-stained eyes. Reproaches were heard ...
Sometimes I asked Kolosov with affected indifference, 'Well, shall we
go to Ivan Semyonitch's to-day?' ... He looked coldly at me, and
answered quietly, 'No, we're not going.' I sometimes fancied that he
smiled slily when he spoke to me of Varia.... I failed generally to
fill Gavrilov's place with him.... Gavrilov was a thousand times more
good-natured and foolish than I.
Now allow me a slight digression.... When I spoke of my university
comrades, I did not mention a certain Mr. Shtchitov. He was
five-and-thirty; he had been a student for ten years already. I can see
even now his rather long pale face, his little brown eyes, his long
hawk nose crooked at the end, his thin sarcastic lips, his solemn
upstanding shock of hair, and his chin that lost itself complacently in
the wide striped cravat of the colour of a raven's wing, the shirt
front with bronze buttons, the open blue frock-coat and striped
waistcoat.... I can hear his unpleasantly jarring laugh.... He went
everywhere, was conspicuous at all possible kinds of 'dancing classes.'
... I remember I could not listen to his cynical stories without a
peculiar shudder.... Kolosov once compared him to an unswept Russian
refreshment bar ... a horrible comparison! And with all that, there was
a lot of intelligence, common sense, observation, and wit in the
man.... He sometimes impressed us by some saying so apt, so true and
cutting, that we were all involuntarily reduced to silence and looked
at him with amazement. But, to be sure, it is just the same to a
Russian whether he has uttered an absurdity or a clever thing.
Shtchitov was especially dreaded by those self-conscious, dreamy, and
not particularly gifted youths who spend whole days in painfully
hatching a dozen trashy lines of verse and reading them in sing-song to
their 'friends,' and who despise every sort of positive science. One
such he simply drove out of Moscow, by continually repeating to him two
of his own lines. Yet all the while Shtchitov himself did nothing and
learnt nothing.... But that's all in the natural order of things. Well,
Shtchitov, God only knows why, began jeering at my romantic attachment
to Kolosov. The first time, with noble indignation, I told him to go to
the devil; the second time, with chilly contempt, I informed him that
he was not capable of judging of our friendship--but I did not send him
away; and when, on taking leave of me, he observed that without
Kolosov's permission I didn't even dare to praise him, I felt annoyed;
Shtchitov's last words sank into my heart.--For more than a fortnight I
had not seen Varia.... Pride, love, a vague anticipation, a number of
different feelings were astir within me ... with a wave of the hand and
a fearful sinking at my heart, I set off alone to Ivan Semyonitch's.
I don't know how I made my way to the familiar little house; I remember
I sat down several times by the road to rest, not from fatigue, but
from emotion. I went into the passage, and had not yet had time to
utter a single word when the door of the drawing-room flew open and
Varia ran to meet me. 'At last,' she said, in a quavering voice;
'where's Andrei Nikolaevitch?' 'Kolosov has not come,' I muttered with
an effort. 'Not come!' she repeated. 'Yes ... he told me to tell you
that ... he was detained....' I positively did not know what I was
saying, and I did not dare to raise my eyes. Varia stood silent and
motionless before me. I glanced at her: she turned away her head; two
big tears rolled slowly down her cheeks. In the expression of her face
there was such sudden, bitter suffering; the conflict between
bashfulness, sorrow, and confidence in me was so simply, so touchingly
apparent in the unconscious movement of her poor little head that it
sent a pang to my heart. I bent a little forward ... she gave a hurried
start and ran away. In the parlour I was met by Ivan Semyonitch. 'How's
this, my good sir, are you alone?' he asked me, with a queer twitch of
his left eyelid. 'Yes, I've come alone,' I stammered. Sidorenko went
off into a sudden guffaw and departed into the next room.
I had never been in such a foolish position; it was too devilishly
disgusting! But there was nothing to be done. I began walking up and
down the room. 'What was the fat pig laughing at?' I wondered. Matrona
Semyonovna came into the room with a stocking in her hands and sat down
in the window. I began talking to her. Meanwhile tea was brought in.
Varia came downstairs, pale and sorrowful. The retired lieutenant made
jokes about Kolosov. 'I know,' said he, 'what sort of customer he is;
you couldn't tempt him here with lollipops now, I expect!' Varia
hurriedly got up and went away. Ivan Semyonitch looked after her and
gave a sly whistle. I glanced at him in perplexity. 'Can it be,' I
wondered, 'that he knows all about it?' And the lieutenant, as though
divining my thoughts, nodded his head affirmatively. Directly after tea
I got up and took leave. 'You, my good sir, we shall see again,'
observed the lieutenant. I did not say a word in reply.... I began to
feel simply frightened of the man.
On the steps a cold and trembling hand clutched at mine; I looked
round: Varia. 'I must speak to you,' she whispered. 'Come to-morrow
rather earlier, straight into the garden. After dinner papa is asleep;
no one will interfere with us.' I pressed her hand without a word, and
Next day, at three o'clock in the afternoon, I was in Ivan Semyonitch's
garden. In the morning I had not seen Kolosov, though he had come to
see me. It was a grey autumn day, but soft and warm. Delicate yellow
blades of grass nodded over the blanching turf; the nimble tomtits were
hopping about the bare dark-brown twigs; some belated larks were
hurriedly running about the paths; a hare was creeping cautiously about
among the greens; a herd of cattle wandered lazily over the stubble. I
found Varia in the garden under the apple-tree on the little
garden-seat; she was wearing a dark dress, rather creased; her weary
eyes, the dejected droop of her hair, seemed to express genuine
I sat down beside her. We were both silent. For a long while she kept
twisting a twig in her hand; she bent her head, and uttered: 'Andrei
Nikolaevitch....' I noticed at once, by the twitching of her lips, that
she was getting ready to cry, and began consoling her, assuring her
hotly of Andrei's devotion.... She heard me, nodded her head
mournfully, articulated some indistinct words, and then was silent but
did not cry. The first moments I had dreaded most of all had gone off
fairly well. She began little by little to talk about Andrei. 'I know
that he does not love me now,' she repeated: 'God be with him! I can't
imagine how I am to live without him.... I don't sleep at nights, I
keep weeping.... What am I to do! What am I to do! ...' Her eyes filled
with tears. 'I thought him so kind ... and here ...' Varia wiped her
eyes, cleared her throat, and sat up. 'It seems such a little while
ago,' she went on: 'he was reading to me out of Pushkin, sitting with
me on this bench....' Varia's naïve communicativeness touched me. I
listened in silence to her confessions; my soul was slowly filled with
a bitter, torturing bliss; I could not take my eyes off that pale face,
those long, wet eyelashes, and half-parted, rather parched lips.... And
meanwhile I felt ... Would you care to hear a slight psychological
analysis of my emotions at that moment? in the first place I was
tortured by the thought that it was not I that was loved, not I that as
making Varia suffer: secondly, I was delighted at her confidence; I
knew she would be grateful to me for giving her an opportunity of
expressing her sorrow: thirdly, I was inwardly vowing to myself to
bring Kolosov and Varia together again, and was deriving consolation
from the consciousness of my magnanimity ... in the fourth place, I
hoped, by my self-sacrifice, to touch Varia's heart; and then ... You
see I do not spare myself; no, thank God! it's high time!
But from the bell-tower of the monastery near it struck five o'clock;
the evening was coming on rapidly. Varia got up hastily, thrust a
little note into my hand, and went off towards the house. I overtook
her, promised to bring Andrei to her, and stealthily, like a happy
lover, crept out by the little gate into the field. On the note was
written in an unsteady hand the words: To Andrei Nikolaevitch.
Next day I set off early in the morning to Kolosov's. I'm bound to
confess that, although I assured myself that my intentions were not
only honourable, but positively brimful of great-hearted
self-sacrifice, I was yet conscious of a certain awkwardness, even
timidity. I arrived at Kolosov's. There was with him a fellow called
Puzyritsin, a former student who had never taken his degree, one of
those authors of sensational novels of the so-called 'Moscow' or 'grey'
school. Puzyritsin was a very good-natured and shy person, and was
always preparing to be an hussar, in spite of his thirty-three years.
He belonged to that class of people who feel it absolutely necessary,
once in the twenty-four hours, to utter a phrase after the pattern of,
'The beautiful always falls into decay in the flower of its splendour;
such is the fate of the beautiful in the world,' in order to smoke his
pipe with redoubled zest all the rest of the day in a circle of 'good
comrades.' On this account he was called an idealist. Well, so
Puzyritsin was sitting with Kolosov reading him some 'fragment.' I
began to listen; it was all about a youth, who loves a maiden, kills
her, and so on. At last Puzyritsin finished and retreated. His absurd
production, solemnly bawling voice, his presence altogether, had put
Kolosov into a mood of sarcastic irritability. I felt that I had come
at an unlucky moment, but there was nothing to be done for it; without
any kind of preface, I handed Andrei Varia's note.
Kolosov looked at me in perplexity, tore open the note, ran his eyes
over it, said nothing, but smiled composedly. 'Oh, ho!' he said at
last; 'so you've been at Ivan Semyonitch's?'
'Yes, I was there yesterday, alone,' I answered abruptly and
'Ah!...' observed Kolosov ironically, and he lighted his pipe.
'Andrei,' I said to him, 'aren't you sorry for her?... If you had seen
And I launched into an eloquent description of my visit of the previous
day. I was genuinely moved. Kolosov did not speak, and smoked his pipe.
'You sat with her under the apple-tree in the garden,' he said at last.
'I remember in May I, too, used to sit with her on that seat.... The
apple-tree was in blossom, the fresh white flowers fell upon us
sometimes; I held both Varia's hands... we were happy then.... Now the
apple-blossom is over, and the apples on the tree are sour.'
I flew into a passion of noble indignation, began reproaching Andrei
for coldness, for cruelty, argued with him that he had no right to
abandon a girl so suddenly, after awakening in her a multitude of new
emotions; I begged him at least to go and say good-bye to Varia.
Kolosov heard me to the end.
'Admitting,' he said to me, when, agitated and exhausted, I flung
myself into an armchair, 'that you, as my friend, may be allowed to
criticise me. But hear my defence, at least, though...'
Here he paused for a little while and smiled curiously. 'Varia's an
excellent girl,' he went on, 'and has done me no wrong whatever.... On
the contrary, I am greatly, very greatly indebted to her. I have left
off going to see her for a very simple reason--I have left off caring
'But why? why?' I interrupted him.
'Goodness knows why. While I loved her, I was entirely hers; I never
thought of the future, and everything, my whole life, I shared with her
... now this passion has died out in me.... Well, you would tell me to
be a humbug, to play at being in love, wouldn't you? But what for? from
pity for her? If she's a decent girl, she won't care for such charity
herself, but if she is glad to be consoled by my ... my sympathy, well,
she's not good for much!'
Kolosov's carelessly offhand expressions offended me, perhaps, the more
because they were applied to the woman with whom I was secretly in
love.... I fired up. 'Stop,' I said to him; 'stop! I know why you have
given up going to see Varia.'
'Taniusha has forbidden you to.'
In uttering these words, I fancied I was dealing a most cutting blow at
Andrei. Taniusha was a very 'easy-going' young lady, black-haired,
dark, five-and-twenty, free in her manners, and devilishly clever, a
Shtchitov in petticoats. Kolosov quarrelled with her and made it up
again half a dozen times in a month. She was passionately fond of him,
though sometimes, during their misunderstandings, she would vow and
declare that she thirsted for his blood.... And Andrei, too, could not
get on without her. Kolosov looked at me, and responded serenely,
'Not perhaps so,' I shouted, 'but certainly!'
Kolosov at last got sick of my reproaches.... He got up and put on his
'Where are you going?'
'For a walk; you and Puzyritsin have given me a headache between you.'
'You are angry with me?'
'No,' he answered, smiling his sweet smile, and holding out his hand to
'Well, anyway, what do you wish me to tell Varia?'
'Eh?' ... He thought a little. 'She told you,' he said, 'that we had
read Pushkin together.... Remind her of one line of Pushkin's.' 'What
line? what line?' I asked impatiently. 'This one:
"What has been will not be again."'
With those words he went out of the room. I followed him; on the stairs
'And is she very much upset?' he asked me, pulling his cap over his
'Very, very much!...'
'Poor thing! Console her, Nikolai; you love her, you know.'
'Yes, I have grown fond of her, certainly....'
'You love her,' repeated Kolosov, and he looked me straight in the
face. I turned away without a word, and we separated.
On reaching home, I was in a perfect fever.
'I have done my duty,' I thought; 'I have overcome my own egoism; I
have urged Andrei to go back to Varia!... Now I am in the right; he
that will not when he may...!' At the same time Andrei's indifference
wounded me. He had not been jealous of me, he told me to console
her.... But is Varia such an ordinary girl, is she not even worthy of
sympathy?... There are people who know how to appreciate what you
despise, Andrei Nikolaitch!... But what's the good? She does not love
me.... No, she does not love me now, while she has not quite lost hope
of Kolosov's return.... But afterwards...who knows, my devotion will
touch her. I will make no claims.... I will give myself up to her
wholly, irrevocably.... Varia! is it possible you will not love
Such were the speeches your humble servant was rehearsing in the city
of Moscow, in the year 1833, in the house of his revered preceptor. I
wept...I felt faint... The weather was horrible...a fine rain trickled
down the window panes with a persistent, thin, little patter; damp,
dark-grey storm-clouds hung stationary over the town. I dined
hurriedly, made no response to the anxious inquiries of the kind German
woman, who whimpered a little herself at the sight of my red, swollen
eyes (Germans--as is well known--are always glad to weep). I behaved
very ungraciously to my preceptor...and at once after dinner set off to
Ivan Semyonitch... Bent double in a jolting droshky, I kept asking
myself whether I should tell Varia all as it was, or go on deceiving
her, and little by little turn her heart from Andrei... I reached Ivan
Semyonitch's without knowing what to decide upon... I found all the
family in the parlour. On seeing me, Varia turned fearfully white, but
did not move from her place; Sidorenko began talking to me in a
peculiarly jeering way. I responded as best I could, looking from time
to time at Varia, and almost unconsciously giving a dejected and
pensive expression to my features. The lieutenant started whist again.
Varia sat near the window and did not stir. 'You're dull now, I
suppose?' Ivan Semyonitch asked her twenty times over.
At last I succeeded in seizing a favourable opportunity.
'You are alone again,' Varia whispered to me.
'Yes,' I answered gloomily; 'and probably for long.'
She swiftly drew in her head.
'Did you give him my letter?' she asked in a voice hardly audible.
'Well?'... she gasped for breath. I glanced at her.... There was a
sudden flash of spiteful pleasure within me.
'He told me to tell you,' I pronounced deliberately, 'that "what has
been will not be again...."'
Varia pressed her left hand to her heart, stretched her right hand out
in front, staggered, and went quickly out of the room. I tried to
overtake her.... Ivan Semyonitch stopped me. I stayed another two hours
with him, but Varia did not appear. On the way back I felt ashamed ...
ashamed before Varia, before Andrei, before myself; though they say it
is better to cut off an injured limb at once than to keep the patient
in prolonged suffering; but who gave me a right to deal such a
merciless blow at the heart of a poor girl?... For a long while I could
not sleep ... but I fell asleep at last. In general I must repeat that
'love' never once deprived me of sleep.
I began to go pretty often to Ivan Semyonitch's. I used to see Kolosov
as before, but neither he nor I ever referred to Varia. My relations
with her were of a rather curious kind. She became attached to me with
that sort of attachment which excludes every possibility of love. She
could not help noticing my warm sympathy, and talked eagerly with me
... of what, do you suppose?... of Kolosov, nothing but Kolosov! The
man had taken such possession of her that she did not, as it were,
belong to herself. I tried in vain to arouse her pride ... she was
either silent or, if she talked--chattered on about Kolosov. I did not
even suspect in those days that sorrow of that kind--talkative
sorrow--is in reality far more genuine than any silent suffering. I
must own I passed many bitter moments at that time. I was conscious
that I was not capable of filling Kolosov's place; I was conscious that
Varia's past was so full, so rich ... and her present so poor.... I got
to the point of an involuntary shudder at the words 'Do you remember'
... with which almost every sentence of hers began. She grew a little
thinner during the first days of our acquaintance ... but afterwards
got better again, and even grew cheerful; she might have been compared
then with a wounded bird, not yet quite recovered. Meanwhile my
position had become insupportable; the lowest passions gradually gained
possession of my soul; it happened to me to slander Kolosov in Varia's
presence. I resolved to cut short such unnatural relations. But how?
Part from Varia--I could not.... Declare my love to her--I did not
dare; I felt that I could not, as yet, hope for a return. Marry her....
This idea alarmed me; I was only eighteen; I felt a dread of putting
all my future into bondage so early; I thought of my father, I could
hear the jeering comments of Kolosov's comrades.... But they say every
thought is like dough; you have only to knead it well--you can make
anything you like of it. I began, for whole days together, to dream of
marriage.... I imagined what gratitude would fill Varia's heart when I,
the friend and confidant of Kolosov, should offer her my hand, knowing
her to be hopelessly in love with another. Persons of experience, I
remembered, had told me that marriage for love is a complete absurdity;
I began to indulge my fancy; I pictured to myself our peaceful life
together in some snug corner of South Russia; an mentally I traced the
gradual transition in Varia's heart from gratitude to affection, from
affection to love.... I vowed to myself at once to leave Moscow, the
university, to forget everything and every one. I began to avoid
At last, one bright winter day (Varia had been somehow peculiarly
enchanting the previous evening), I dressed myself in my best, slowly
and solemnly sallied out from my room, took a first-rate sledge, and
drove down to Ivan Semyonitch's. Varia was sitting alone in the
drawing-room reading Karamzin. On seeing me she softly laid the book
down on her knees, and with agitated curiosity looked into my face; I
had never been to see them in the morning before.... I sat down beside
her; my heart beat painfully. 'What are you reading?' I asked her at
last. 'Karamzin.' 'What, are you taking up Russian literature?...' She
suddenly cut me short. 'Tell me, haven't you come from Andrei?' That
name, that trembling, questioning voice, the half-joyful, half-timid
expression of her face, all these unmistakable signs of persistent
love, pierced to my heart like arrows. I resolved either to part from
Varia, or to receive from her herself the right to chase the hated name
of Andrei from her lips for ever. I do not remember what I said to her;
at first I must have expressed myself in rather confused fashion, as
for a long while she did not understand me; at last I could stand it no
longer, and almost shouted, 'I love you, I want to marry you.' 'You
love me?' said Varia in bewilderment. I fancied she meant to get up, to
go away, to refuse me. 'For God's sake,' I whispered breathlessly,
'don't answer me, don't say yes or no; think it over; to-morrow I will
come again for a final answer.... I have long loved you. I don't ask of
you love, I want to be your champion, your friend; don't answer me now,
don't answer.... Till to-morrow.' With these words I rushed out of the
room. In the passage Ivan Semyonitch met me, and not only showed no
surprise at my visit, but positively, with an agreeable smile, offered
me an apple. Such unexpected amiability so struck me that I was simply
dumb with amazement. 'Take the apple, it's a nice apple, really!'
persisted Ivan Semyonitch. Mechanically I took the apple at last, and
drove all the way home with it in my hand.
You may easily imagine how I passed all that day and the following
morning. That night I slept rather badly. 'My God! my God!' I kept
thinking; 'if she refuses me! ... I shall die.... I shall die....' I
repeated wearily. 'Yes, she will certainly refuse me.... And why was I
in such a hurry!'... Wishing to turn my thoughts, I began to write a
letter to my father--a desperate, resolute letter. Speaking of myself,
I used the expression 'your son.' Bobov came in to see me. I began
weeping on his shoulder, which must have surprised poor Bobov not a
little.... I afterwards learned that he had come to me to borrow money
(his landlord had threatened to turn him out of the house); he had no
choice but to hook it, as the students say....
At last the great moment arrived. On going out of my room, I stood
still in the doorway. 'With what feelings,' thought I, 'shall I cross
this threshold again to-day?' ... My emotion at the sight of Ivan
Semyonitch's little house was so great that I got down, picked up a
handful of snow and pressed it to my face. 'Oh, heavens!' I thought,
'if I find Varia alone--I am lost!' My legs were giving way under me; I
could hardly get to the steps. Things were as I had hoped. I found
Varia in the parlour with Matrona Semyonovna. I made my bows awkwardly,
and sat down by the old lady. Varia's face was rather paler than
usual.... I fancied that she tried to avoid my eyes.... But what were
my feelings when Matrona Semyonovna suddenly got up and went into the
next room!... I began looking out of the window--I was trembling
inwardly like an autumn leaf. Varia did not speak.... At last I
mastered my timidity, went up to her, bent my head....
'What are you going to say to me?' I articulated in a breaking voice.
Varia turned away--the tears were glistening on her eyelashes.
'I see,' I went on, 'it's useless for me to hope.'...
Varia looked shyly round and gave me her hand without a word.
'Varia!' I cried involuntarily...and stopped, as though frightened at
my own hopes.
'Speak to papa,' she articulated at last.
'You permit me to speak to Ivan Semyonitch?' ...
'Yes.'... I covered her hands with kisses.
'Don't, don't,' whispered Varia, and suddenly burst into tears.
I sat down beside her, talked soothingly to her, wiped away her
tears.... Luckily, Ivan Semyonitch was not at home, and Matrona
Semyonovna had gone up to her own little room. I made vows of love, of
constancy to Varia.
...'Yes,' she said, suppressing her sobs and continually wiping her
eyes; 'I know you are a good man, an honest man; you are not like
Kolosov.'... 'That name again!' thought I. But with what delight I
kissed those warm, damp little hands! with what subdued rapture I gazed
into that sweet face!... I talked to her of the future, walked about
the room, sat down on the floor at her feet, hid my eyes in my hands,
and shuddered with happiness.... Ivan Semyonitch's heavy footsteps cut
short our conversation. Varia hurriedly got up and went off to her own
room--without, however, pressing my hand or glancing at me. Mr.
Sidorenko was even more amiable than on the previous day: he laughed,
rubbed his stomach, made jokes about Matrona Semyonovna, and so on. I
was on the point of asking for his blessing there and then, but I
thought better of it and deferred doing so till the next day. His
ponderous jokes jarred upon me; besides I was exhausted.... I said
good-bye to him and went away.
I am one of those persons who love brooding over their own sensations,
though I cannot endure such persons myself. And so, after the first
transport of heartfelt joy, I promptly began to give myself up to all
sorts of reflections. When I had got half a mile from the house of the
retired lieutenant, I flung my hat up in the air, in excessive delight,
and shouted 'Hurrah!' But while I was being jolted through the long,
crooked streets of Moscow, my thoughts gradually took another turn. All
sorts of rather sordid doubts began to crowd upon my mind. I recalled
my conversation with Ivan Semyonitch about marriage in general ... and
unconsciously I murmured to myself, 'So he was putting it on, the old
humbug!' It is true that I continually repeated, 'but then Varia is
mine! mine!' ... Yet that 'but'--alas, that _but_!--and then, too, the
words, 'Varia is mine!' aroused in me not a deep, overwhelming rapture,
but a sort of paltry, egoistic triumph.... If Varia had refused me
point-blank, I should have been burning with furious passion; but
having received her consent, I was like a man who has just said to a
guest, 'Make yourself at home,' and sees the guest actually beginning
to settle into his room, as if he were at home. 'If she had loved
Kolosov,' I thought, 'how was it she consented so soon? It's clear
she's glad to marry any one.... Well, what of it? all the better for
me.'... It was with such vague and curious feelings that I crossed the
threshold of my room. Possibly, gentlemen, my story does not strike you
as sounding true.
I don't know whether it sounds true or not, but I know that all I have
told is the absolute and literal truth. However, I gave myself up all
that day to a feverish gaiety, assured myself that I simply did not
deserve such happiness; but next morning....
A wonderful thing is sleep! It not only renews one's body: in a way it
renews one's soul, restoring it to primaeval simplicity and
naturalness. In the course of the day you succeed in _tuning_ yourself,
in soaking yourself in falsity, in false ideas ... sleep with its cool
wave washes away all such pitiful trashiness; and on waking up, at
least for the first few instants, you are capable of understanding and
loving truth. I waked up, and, reflecting on the previous day, I felt a
certain discomfort.... I was, as it were, ashamed of all my own
actions. With instinctive uneasiness I thought of the visit to be made
that day, of my interview with Ivan Semyonitch.... This uneasiness was
acute and distressing; it was like the uneasiness of the hare who hears
the barking of the dogs and is bound at last to run out of his native
forest into the open country...and there the sharp teeth of the
harriers are awaiting him.... 'Why was I in such a hurry?' I repeated,
just as I had the day before, but in quite a different sense. I
remember the fearful difference between yesterday and to-day struck
myself; for the first time it occurred to me that in human life there
lie hid secrets--strange secrets.... With childish perplexity I gazed
into this new, not fantastic, real world. By the word 'real' many
people understand 'trivial.' Perhaps it sometimes is so; but I must own
that the first appearance of _reality_ before me shook me profoundly,
scared me, impressed me....
What fine-sounding phrases all about love that didn't come off, to use
Gogol's expression! ... I come back to my story. In the course of that
day I assured myself again that I was the most blissful of mortals. I
drove out of the town to Ivan Semyonitch's. He received me very
gleefully; he had been meaning to go and see a neighbour, but I myself
stopped him. I was afraid to be left alone with Varia. The evening was
cheerful, but not reassuring. Varia was neither one thing nor the
other, neither cordial nor melancholy ... neither pretty nor plain. I
looked at her, as the philosophers say, objectively--that is to say, as
the man who has dined looks at the dishes. I thought her hands were
rather red. Sometimes, however, my heart warmed, and watching her I
gave way to other dreams and reveries. I had only just made her an
offer, as it is called, and here I was already feeling as though we
were living as husband and wife ... as though our souls already made up
one lovely whole, belonged to one another, and consequently were trying
each to seek out a separate path for itself....
'Well, have you spoken to papa?' Varia said to me, as soon as we were
This inquiry impressed me most disagreeably.... I thought to myself,
'You're pleased to be in a desperate hurry, Varvara Ivanovna.'
'Not yet,' I answered, rather shortly, 'but I will speak to him.'
Altogether I behaved rather casually with her. In spite of my promise,
I said nothing definite to Ivan Semyonitch. As I was leaving, I pressed
his hand significantly, and informed him that I wanted to have a little
talk with him ... that was all.... 'Good-bye!' I said to Varia.
'Till we meet!' said she.
I will not keep you long in suspense, gentlemen; I am afraid of
exhausting your patience....We never met again. I never went back to
Ivan Semyonitch's. The first days, it is true, of my voluntary
separation from Varia did not pass without tears, self-reproach, and
emotion; I was frightened myself at the rapid drooping of my love;
twenty times over I was on the point of starting off to see her.
Vividly I pictured to myself her amazement, her grief, her wounded
feelings; but--I never went to Ivan Semyonitch's again. In her absence
I begged her forgiveness, fell on my knees before her, assured her of
my profound repentance--and once, when I met a girl in the street
slightly resembling her, I took to my heels without looking back, and
only breathed freely in a cook-shop after the fifth jam-puff. The word
'to-morrow' was invented for irresolute people, and for children; like
a baby, I lulled myself with that magic word. 'To-morrow I will go to
her, whatever happens,' I said to myself, and ate and slept well
to-day. I began to think a great deal more about Kolosov than about
Varia ... everywhere, continually, I saw his open, bold, careless face.
I began going to see him as before. He gave me the same welcome as
ever. But how deeply I felt his superiority to me! How ridiculous I
thought all my fancies, my pensive melancholy, during the period of
Kolosov's connection with Varia, my magnanimous resolution to bring
them together again, my anticipations, my raptures, my remorse!... I
had played a wretched, drawn-out part of screaming farce, but he had
passed so simply, so well, through it all....
You will say, 'What is there wonderful in that? your Kolosov fell in
love with a girl, then fell out of love again, and threw her over....
Why, that happens with everybody....' Agreed; but which of us knows
just when to break with our past? Which of us, tell me, is not afraid
of the reproaches--I don't mean of the woman--the reproaches of every
chance fool? Which of us is proof against the temptation of making a
display of magnanimity, or of playing egoistically with another devoted
heart? Which of us, in fact, has the force of character to be superior
to petty vanity, to _petty fine feelings_, sympathy and
self-reproach?... Oh, gentlemen, the man who leaves a woman at that
great and bitter moment when he is forced to recognise that his heart
is not altogether, not fully, hers, that man, believe me, has a truer
and deeper comprehension of the sacredness of love than the
faint-hearted creatures who, from dulness or weakness, go on playing on
the half-cracked strings of their flabby and sentimental hearts! At the
beginning of my story I told you that we all considered Andrei Kolosov
an extraordinary man. And if a clear, simple outlook upon life, if the
absence of every kind of cant in a young man, can be called an
extraordinary thing, Kolosov deserved the name. At a certain age, to be
natural is to be extraordinary.... It is time to finish, though. I
thank you for your attention.... Oh, I forgot to tell you that three
months after my last visit I met the old humbug Ivan Semyonitch. I
tried, of course, to glide hurriedly and unnoticed by him, but yet I
could not help overhearing the words, 'Feather-headed scoundrels!'
'And what became of Varia?' asked some one.
'I don't know,' answered the story-teller.
We all got up and separated.
A few years ago I was in Dresden. I was staying at an hotel. From early
morning till late evening I strolled about the town, and did not think
it necessary to make acquaintance with my neighbours; at last it
reached my ears in some chance way that there was a Russian in the
hotel--lying ill. I went to see him, and found a man in galloping
consumption. I had begun to be tired of Dresden; I stayed with my new
acquaintance. It's dull work sitting with a sick man, but even dulness
is sometimes agreeable; moreover, my patient was not low-spirited and
was very ready to talk. We tried to kill time in all sorts of ways; We
played 'Fools,' the two of us together, and made fun of the doctor. My
compatriot used to tell this very bald-headed German all sorts of
fictions about himself, which the doctor had always 'long ago
anticipated.' He used to mimic his astonishment at any new, exceptional
symptom, to throw his medicines out of window, and so on. I observed
more than once, however, to my friend that it would be as well to send
for a good doctor before it was too late, that his complaint was not to
be trifled with, and so on. But Alexey (my new friend's name was Alexey
Petrovitch S----) always turned off my advice with jests at the expense
of doctors in general, and his own in particular; and at last one rainy
autumn evening he answered my urgent entreaties with such a mournful
look, he shook his head so sorrowfully and smiled so strangely, that I
felt somewhat disconcerted. The same night Alexey was worse, and the
next day he died. Just before his death his usual cheerfulness deserted
him; he tossed about uneasily in his bed, sighed, looked round him in
anguish ... clutched at my hand, and whispered with an effort, 'But
it's hard to die, you know ... dropped his head on the pillow, and shed
tears. I did not know what to say to him, and sat in silence by his
bed. But Alexey soon got the better of these last, late regrets.... 'I
say,' he said to me, 'our doctor'll come to-day and find me dead.... I
can fancy his face.'... And the dying man tried to mimic him. He asked
me to send all his things to Russia to his relations, with the
exception of a small packet which he gave me as a souvenir.
This packet contained letters--a girl's letters to Alexey, and copies
of his letters to her. There were fifteen of them. Alexey Petrovitch
S---- had known Marya Alexandrovna B---- long before, in their
childhood, I fancy. Alexey Petrovitch had a cousin, Marya Alexandrovna
had a sister. In former years they had all lived together; then they
had been separated, and had not seen each other for a long while. Later
on, they had chanced one summer to be all together again in the
country, and they had fallen in love--Alexey's cousin with Marya
Alexandrovna, and Alexey with her sister. The summer had passed by, the
autumn came; they parted. Alexey, like a sensible person, soon came to
the conclusion that he was not in love at all, and had effected a very
satisfactory parting from his charmer. His cousin had continued writing
to Marya Alexandrovna for nearly two years longer ... but he too
perceived at last that he was deceiving her and himself in an
unconscionable way, and he too dropped the correspondence.
I could tell you something about Marya Alexandrovna, gentle reader, but
you will find out what she was from her letters. Alexey wrote his first
letter to her soon after she had finally broken with his cousin. He was
at that time in Petersburg; he went suddenly abroad, fell ill, and died
at Dresden. I resolved to print his correspondence with Marya
Alexandrovna, and trust the reader will look at it with indulgence, as
these letters are not love-letters--Heaven forbid! Love-letters are as
a rule only read by two persons (they read them over a thousand times
to make up), and to a third person they are unendurable, if not
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, _March_ 7, 1840.
DEAR MARYA ALEXANDROVNA,--
I fancy I have never written to you before, and here I am writing to
you now.... I have chosen a curious time to begin, haven't I? I'll tell
you what gave me the impulse. Mon cousin Théodore was with me to-day,
and...how shall I put it?...and he confided to me as the greatest
secret (he never tells one anything except as a great secret), that he
was in love with the daughter of a gentleman here, and that this time
he is firmly resolved to be married, and that he has already taken the
first step--he has declared himself! I made haste, of course, to
congratulate him on an event so agreeable for him; he has been longing
to declare himself for a great while...but inwardly, I must own, I was
rather astonished. Although I knew that everything was over between
you, still I had fancied.... In short, I was surprised. I had made
arrangements to go out to see friends to-day, but I have stopped at
home and mean to have a little gossip with you. If you do not care to
listen to me, fling this letter forthwith into the fire. I warn you I
mean to be frank, though I feel you are fully justified in taking me
for a rather impertinent person. Observe, however, that I would not
have taken up my pen if I had not known your sister was not with you;
she is staying, so Théodore told me, the whole summer with your aunt,
Madame B---. God give her every blessing!
And so, this is how it has all worked out.... But I am not going to
offer you my friendship and all that; I am shy as a rule of
high-sounding speeches and 'heartfelt' effusions. In beginning to write
this letter, I simply obeyed a momentary impulse. If there is another
feeling latent within me, let it remain hidden under a bushel for the
I'm not going to offer you sympathy either. In sympathising with
others, people for the most part want to get rid, as quick as they can,
of an unpleasant feeling of involuntary, egoistic regret.... I
understand genuine, warm sympathy ... but such sympathy you would not
accept from just any one.... Do, please, get angry with me.... If
you're angry, you'll be sure to read my missive to the end.
But what right have I to write to you, to talk of my friendship, of my
feelings, of consolation? None, absolutely none; that I am bound to
admit, and I can only throw myself on your kindness.
Do you know what the preface of my letter's like? I'll tell you: some
Mr. N. or M. walking into the drawing-room of a lady who doesn't in the
least expect him, and who does, perhaps, expect some one else.... He
realises that he has come at an unlucky moment, but there's no help for
it.... He sits down, begins talking...goodness knows what about:
poetry, the beauties of nature, the advantages of a good
education...talks the most awful rot, in fact. But, meanwhile, the
first five minutes have gone by, he has settled himself comfortably;
the lady has resigned herself to the inevitable, and so Mr. N. or M.
regains his self-possession, takes breath, and begins a real
conversation--to the best of his ability.
In spite, though, of all this rigmarole, I don't still feel quite
comfortable. I seem to see your bewildered--even rather wrathful--face;
I feel that it will be almost impossible you should not ascribe to me
some hidden motives, and so, like a Roman who has committed some folly,
I wrap myself majestically in my toga, and await in silence your final
The question is: Will you allow me to go on writing to you?--I remain
sincerely and warmly devoted to you,