Part 2 out of 5
"I will feed a thousand families for two hundred days. Come and
see me tomorrow to talk it over."
I was pleased that this was said quite simply, and was glad that
Sobol answered me still more simply:
We paid for what we had and went out of the tavern.
"I like going on like this," said Sobol, getting into the sledge.
"Eccellenza, oblige me with a match. I've forgotten mine in the
A quarter of an hour later his horses fell behind, and the sound
of his bells was lost in the roar of the snow-storm. Reaching
home, I walked about my rooms, trying to think things over and to
define my position clearly to myself; I had not one word, one
phrase, ready for my wife. My brain was not working.
But without thinking of anything, I went downstairs to my wife.
She was in her room, in the same pink dressing-gown, and standing
in the same attitude as though screening her papers from me. On
her face was an expression of perplexity and irony, and it was
evident that having heard of my arrival, she had prepared herself
not to cry, not to entreat me, not to defend herself, as she had
done the day before, but to laugh at me, to answer me
contemptuously, and to act with decision. Her face was saying:
"If that's how it is, good-bye."
"Natalie, I've not gone away," I said, "but it's not deception. I
have gone out of my mind; I've grown old, I'm ill, I've become a
different man -- think as you like. . . . I've shaken off my old
self with horror, with horror; I despise him and am ashamed of
him, and the new man who has been in me since yesterday will not
let me go away. Do not drive me away, Natalie!"
She looked intently into my face and believed me, and there was a
gleam of uneasiness in her eyes. Enchanted by her presence,
warmed by the warmth of her room, I muttered as in delirium,
holding out my hands to her:
"I tell you, I have no one near to me but you. I have never for
one minute ceased to miss you, and only obstinate vanity
prevented me from owning it. The past, when we lived as husband
and wife, cannot be brought back, and there's no need; but make
me your servant, take all my property, and give it away to any
one you like. I am at peace, Natalie, I am content. . . . I am at
My wife, looking intently and with curiosity into my face,
suddenly uttered a faint cry, burst into tears, and ran into the
next room. I went upstairs to my own storey.
An hour later I was sitting at my table, writing my "History of
Railways," and the starving peasants did not now hinder me from
doing so. Now I feel no uneasiness. Neither the scenes of
disorder which I saw when I went the round of the huts at
Pestrovo with my wife and Sobol the other day, nor malignant
rumours, nor the mistakes of the people around me, nor old age
close upon me -- nothing disturbs me. Just as the flying bullets
do not hinder soldiers from talking of their own affairs, eating
and cleaning their boots, so the starving peasants do not hinder
me from sleeping quietly and looking after my personal affairs.
In my house and far around it there is in full swing the work
which Dr. Sobol calls "an orgy of philanthropy." My wife often
comes up to me and looks about my rooms uneasily, as though
looking for what more she can give to the starving peasants "to
justify her existence," and I see that, thanks to her, there will
soon be nothing of our property left and we shall be poor; but
that does not trouble me, and I smile at her gaily. What will
happen in the future I don't know.
YEVGRAF IVANOVITCH SHIRYAEV, a small farmer, whose father, a
parish priest, now deceased, had received a gift of three hundred
acres of land from Madame Kuvshinnikov, a general's widow, was
standing in a corner before a copper washing-stand, washing his
hands. As usual, his face looked anxious and ill-humoured, and
his beard was uncombed.
"What weather!" he said. "It's not weather, but a curse laid upon
us. It's raining again!"
He grumbled on, while his family sat waiting at table for him to
have finished washing his hands before beginning dinner. Fedosya
Semyonovna, his wife, his son Pyotr, a student, his eldest
daughter Varvara, and three small boys, had been sitting waiting
a long time. The boys -- Kolka, Vanka, and Arhipka -- grubby,
snub-nosed little fellows with chubby faces and tousled hair that
wanted cutting, moved their chairs impatiently, while their
elders sat without stirring, and apparently did not care whether
they ate their dinner or waited. . . .
As though trying their patience, Shiryaev deliberately dried his
hands, deliberately said his prayer, and sat down to the table
without hurrying himself. Cabbage-soup was served immediately.
The sound of carpenters' axes (Shiryaev was having a new barn
built) and the laughter of Fomka, their labourer, teasing the
turkey, floated in from the courtyard.
Big, sparse drops of rain pattered on the window.
Pyotr, a round-shouldered student in spectacles, kept exchanging
glances with his mother as he ate his dinner. Several times he
laid down his spoon and cleared his throat, meaning to begin to
speak, but after an intent look at his father he fell to eating
again. At last, when the porridge had been served, he cleared his
throat resolutely and said:
"I ought to go tonight by the evening train. I out to have gone
before; I have missed a fortnight as it is. The lectures begin on
the first of September."
"Well, go," Shiryaev assented; "why are you lingering on here?
Pack up and go, and good luck to you."
A minute passed in silence.
"He must have money for the journey, Yevgraf Ivanovitch," the
mother observed in a low voice.
"Money? To be sure, you can't go without money. Take it at once,
since you need it. You could have had it long ago!"
The student heaved a faint sigh and looked with relief at his
mother. Deliberately Shiryaev took a pocket-book out of his
coat-pocket and put on his spectacles.
"How much do you want?" he asked.
"The fare to Moscow is eleven roubles forty-two kopecks. . . ."
"Ah, money, money!" sighed the father. (He always sighed when he
saw money, even when he was receiving it.) "Here are twelve
roubles for you. You will have change out of that which will be
of use to you on the journey."
After waiting a little, the student said:
"I did not get lessons quite at first last year. I don't know how
it will be this year; most likely it will take me a little time
to find work. I ought to ask you for fifteen roubles for my
lodging and dinner."
Shiryaev thought a little and heaved a sigh.
"You will have to make ten do," he said. "Here, take it."
The student thanked him. He ought to have asked him for something
more, for clothes, for lecture fees, for books, but after an
intent look at his father he decided not to pester him further.
The mother, lacking in diplomacy and prudence, like all mothers,
could not restrain herself, and said:
"You ought to give him another six roubles, Yevgraf Ivanovitch,
for a pair of boots. Why, just see, how can he go to Moscow in
"Let him take my old ones; they are still quite good."
"He must have trousers, anyway; he is a disgrace to look at."
And immediately after that a storm-signal showed itself, at the
sight of which all the family trembled.
Shiryaev's short, fat neck turned suddenly red as a beetroot. The
colour mounted slowly to his ears, from his ears to his temples,
and by degrees suffused his whole face. Yevgraf Ivanovitch
shifted in his chair and unbuttoned his shirt-collar to save
himself from choking. He was evidently struggling with the
feeling that was mastering him. A deathlike silence followed. The
children held their breath. Fedosya Semyonovna, as though she did
not grasp what was happening to her husband, went on:
"He is not a little boy now, you know; he is ashamed to go about
Shiryaev suddenly jumped up, and with all his might flung down
his fat pocket-book in the middle of the table, so that a hunk of
bread flew off a plate. A revolting expression of anger,
resentment, avarice -- all mixed together -- flamed on his face.
"Take everything!" he shouted in an unnatural voice; "plunder me!
Take it all! Strangle me!"
He jumped up from the table, clutched at his head, and ran
staggering about the room.
"Strip me to the last thread!" he shouted in a shrill voice.
"Squeeze out the last drop! Rob me! Wring my neck!"
The student flushed and dropped his eyes. He could not go on
eating. Fedosya Semyonovna, who had not after twenty-five years
grown used to her husband's difficult character, shrank into
herself and muttered something in self-defence. An expression of
amazement and dull terror came into her wasted and birdlike face,
which at all times looked dull and scared. The little boys and
the elder daughter Varvara, a girl in her teens, with a pale ugly
face, laid down their spoons and sat mute.
Shiryaev, growing more and more ferocious, uttering words each
more terrible than the one before, dashed up to the table and
began shaking the notes out of his pocket-book.
"Take them!" he muttered, shaking all over. "You've eaten and
drunk your fill, so here's money for you too! I need nothing!
Order yourself new boots and uniforms!"
The student turned pale and got up.
"Listen, papa," he began, gasping for breath. "I . . . I beg you
to end this, for . . ."
"Hold your tongue!" the father shouted at him, and so loudly that
the spectacles fell off his nose; "hold your tongue!"
"I used . . . I used to be able to put up with such scenes, but .
. . but now I have got out of the way of it. Do you understand? I
have got out of the way of it!"
"Hold your tongue!" cried the father, and he stamped with his
feet. "You must listen to what I say! I shall say what I like,
and you hold your tongue. At your age I was earning my living,
while you . . . Do you know what you cost me, you scoundrel? I'll
turn you out! Wastrel!"
"Yevgraf Ivanovitch," muttered Fedosya Semyonovna, moving her
fingers nervously; "you know he. . . you know Petya . . . !"
"Hold your tongue!" Shiryaev shouted out to her, and tears
actually came into his eyes from anger. "It is you who have
spoilt them -- you! It's all your fault! He has no respect for
us, does not say his prayers, and earns nothing! I am only one
against the ten of you! I'll turn you out of the house!"
The daughter Varvara gazed fixedly at her mother with her mouth
open, moved her vacant-looking eyes to the window, turned pale,
and, uttering a loud shriek, fell back in her chair. The father,
with a curse and a wave of the hand, ran out into the yard.
This was how domestic scenes usually ended at the Shiryaevs'. But
on this occasion, unfortunately, Pyotr the student was carried
away by overmastering anger. He was just as hasty and
ill-tempered as his father and his grandfather the priest, who
used to beat his parishioners about the head with a stick. Pale
and clenching his fists, he went up to his mother and shouted in
the very highest tenor note his voice could reach:
"These reproaches are loathsome! sickening to me! I want nothing
from you! Nothing! I would rather die of hunger than eat another
mouthful at your expense! Take your nasty money back! take it!"
The mother huddled against the wall and waved her hands, as
though it were not her son, but some phantom before her. "What
have I done?" she wailed. "What?"
Like his father, the boy waved his hands and ran into the yard.
Shiryaev's house stood alone on a ravine which ran like a furrow
for four miles along the steppe. Its sides were overgrown with
oak saplings and alders, and a stream ran at the bottom. On one
side the house looked towards the ravine, on the other towards
the open country, there were no fences nor hurdles. Instead there
were farm-buildings of all sorts close to one another, shutting
in a small space in front of the house which was regarded as the
yard, and in which hens, ducks, and pigs ran about.
Going out of the house, the student walked along the muddy road
towards the open country. The air was full of a penetrating
autumn dampness. The road was muddy, puddles gleamed here and
there, and in the yellow fields autumn itself seemed looking out
from the grass, dismal, decaying, dark. On the right-hand side of
the road was a vegetable-garden cleared of its crops and
gloomy-looking, with here and there sunflowers standing up in it
with hanging heads already black.
Pyotr thought it would not be a bad thing to walk to Moscow on
foot; to walk just as he was, with holes in his boots, without a
cap, and without a farthing of money. When he had gone eighty
miles his father, frightened and aghast, would overtake him,
would begin begging him to turn back or take the money, but he
would not even look at him, but would go on and on. . . . Bare
forests would be followed by desolate fields, fields by forests
again; soon the earth would be white with the first snow, and the
streams would be coated with ice. . . . Somewhere near Kursk or
near Serpuhovo, exhausted and dying of hunger, he would sink down
and die. His corpse would be found, and there would be a
paragraph in all the papers saying that a student called Shiryaev
had died of hunger. . . .
A white dog with a muddy tail who was wandering about the
vegetable-garden looking for something gazed at him and sauntered
He walked along the road and thought of death, of the grief of
his family, of the moral sufferings of his father, and then
pictured all sorts of adventures on the road, each more
marvellous than the one before -- picturesque places, terrible
nights, chance encounters. He imagined a string of pilgrims, a
hut in the forest with one little window shining in the darkness;
he stands before the window, begs for a night's lodging. . . .
They let him in, and suddenly he sees that they are robbers. Or,
better still, he is taken into a big manor-house, where, learning
who he is, they give him food and drink, play to him on the
piano, listen to his complaints, and the daughter of the house, a
beauty, falls in love with him.
Absorbed in his bitterness and such thoughts, young Shiryaev
walked on and on. Far, far ahead he saw the inn, a dark patch
against the grey background of cloud. Beyond the inn, on the very
horizon, he could see a little hillock; this was the
railway-station. That hillock reminded him of the connection
existing between the place where he was now standing and Moscow,
where street-lamps were burning and carriages were rattling in
the streets, where lectures were being given. And he almost wept
with depression and impatience. The solemn landscape, with its
order and beauty, the deathlike stillness all around, revolted
him and moved him to despair and hatred!
"Look out!" He heard behind him a loud voice.
An old lady of his acquaintance, a landowner of the
neighbourhood, drove past him in a light, elegant landau. He
bowed to her, and smiled all over his face. And at once he caught
himself in that smile, which was so out of keeping with his
gloomy mood. Where did it come from if his whole heart was full
of vexation and misery? And he thought nature itself had given
man this capacity for lying, that even in difficult moments of
spiritual strain he might be able to hide the secrets of his nest
as the fox and the wild duck do. Every family has its joys and
its horrors, but however great they may be, it's hard for an
outsider's eye to see them; they are a secret. The father of the
old lady who had just driven by, for instance, had for some
offence lain for half his lifetime under the ban of the wrath of
Tsar Nicolas I.; her husband had been a gambler; of her four
sons, not one had turned out well. One could imagine how many
terrible scenes there must have been in her life, how many tears
must have been shed. And yet the old lady seemed happy and
satisfied, and she had answered his smile by smiling too. The
student thought of his comrades, who did not like talking about
their families; he thought of his mother, who almost always lied
when she had to speak of her husband and children. . . .
Pyotr walked about the roads far from home till dusk, abandoning
himself to dreary thoughts. When it began to drizzle with rain he
turned homewards. As he walked back he made up his mind at all
costs to talk to his father, to explain to him, once and for all,
that it was dreadful and oppressive to live with him.
He found perfect stillness in the house. His sister Varvara was
lying behind a screen with a headache, moaning faintly. His
mother, with a look of amazement and guilt upon her face, was
sitting beside her on a box, mending Arhipka's trousers. Yevgraf
Ivanovitch was pacing from one window to another, scowling at the
weather. From his walk, from the way he cleared his throat, and
even from the back of his head, it was evident he felt himself to
"I suppose you have changed your mind about going today?" he
The student felt sorry for him, but immediately suppressing that
feeling, he said:
"Listen . . . I must speak to you seriously. . . yes, seriously.
I have always respected you, and . . . and have never brought
myself to speak to you in such a tone, but your behaviour . . .
your last action . . ."
The father looked out of the window and did not speak. The
student, as though considering his words, rubbed his forehead and
went on in great excitement:
"Not a dinner or tea passes without your making an uproar. Your
bread sticks in our throat. . . nothing is more bitter, more
humiliating, than bread that sticks in one's throat. . . . Though
you are my father, no one, neither God nor nature, has given you
the right to insult and humiliate us so horribly, to vent your
ill-humour on the weak. You have worn my mother out and made a
slave of her, my sister is hopelessly crushed, while I . . ."
"It's not your business to teach me," said his father.
"Yes, it is my business! You can quarrel with me as much as you
like, but leave my mother in peace! I will not allow you to
torment my mother!" the student went on, with flashing eyes. "You
are spoilt because no one has yet dared to oppose you. They
tremble and are mute towards you, but now that is over! Coarse,
ill-bred man! You are coarse . . . do you understand? You are
coarse, ill-humoured, unfeeling. And the peasants can't endure
The student had by now lost his thread, and was not so much
speaking as firing off detached words. Yevgraf Ivanovitch
listened in silence, as though stunned; but suddenly his neck
turned crimson, the colour crept up his face, and he made a
"Hold your tongue!" he shouted.
"That's right!" the son persisted; "you don't like to hear the
truth! Excellent! Very good! begin shouting! Excellent!"
"Hold your tongue, I tell you!" roared Yevgraf Ivanovitch.
Fedosya Semyonovna appeared in the doorway, very pale, with an
astonished face; she tried to say something, but she could not,
and could only move her fingers.
"It's all your fault!" Shiryaev shouted at her. "You have brought
him up like this!"
"I don't want to go on living in this house!" shouted the
student, crying, and looking angrily at his mother. "I don't want
to live with you!"
Varvara uttered a shriek behind the screen and broke into loud
sobs. With a wave of his hand, Shiryaev ran out of the house.
The student went to his own room and quietly lay down. He lay
till midnight without moving or opening his eyes. He felt neither
anger nor shame, but a vague ache in his soul. He neither blamed
his father nor pitied his mother, nor was he tormented by stings
of conscience; he realized that every one in the house was
feeling the same ache, and God only knew which was most to blame,
which was suffering most. . . .
At midnight he woke the labourer, and told him to have the horse
ready at five o'clock in the morning for him to drive to the
station; he undressed and got into bed, but could not get to
sleep. He heard how his father, still awake, paced slowly from
window to window, sighing, till early morning. No one was asleep;
they spoke rarely, and only in whispers. Twice his mother came to
him behind the screen. Always with the same look of vacant
wonder, she slowly made the cross over him, shaking nervously.
At five o'clock in the morning he said good-bye to them all
affectionately, and even shed tears. As he passed his father's
room, he glanced in at the door. Yevgraf Ivanovitch, who had not
taken off his clothes or gone to bed, was standing by the window,
drumming on the panes.
"Good-bye; I am going," said his son.
"Good-bye . . . the money is on the round table . . ." his father
answered, without turning round.
A cold, hateful rain was falling as the labourer drove him to the
station. The sunflowers were drooping their heads still lower,
and the grass seemed darker than ever.
ALL Olga Ivanovna's friends and acquaintances were at her
"Look at him; isn't it true that there is something in him?" she
said to her friends, with a nod towards her husband, as though
she wanted to explain why she was marrying a simple, very
ordinary, and in no way remarkable man.
Her husband, Osip Stepanitch Dymov, was a doctor, and only of the
of a titular councillor. He was on the staff of two hospitals:
in one a ward-surgeon and in the other a dissecting demonstrator.
Every day from nine to twelve he saw patients and was busy in his
ward, and after twelve o'clock he went by tram to the other
hospital, where he dissected. His private practice was a small
one, not worth more than five hundred roubles a year. That was
all. What more could one say about him? Meanwhile, Olga Ivanovna
and her friends and acquaintances were not quite ordinary people.
Every one of them was remarkable in some way, and more or less
famous; already had made a reputation and was looked upon as a
celebrity; or if not yet a celebrity, gave brilliant promise of
becoming one. There was an actor from the Dramatic Theatre, who
was a great talent of established reputation, as well as an
elegant, intelligent, and modest man, and a capital elocutionist,
and who taught Olga Ivanovna to recite; there was a singer from
the opera, a good-natured, fat man who assured Olga Ivanovna,
with a sigh, that she was ruining herself, that if she would take
herself in hand and not be lazy she might make a remarkable
singer; then there were several artists, and chief among them
Ryabovsky, a very handsome, fair young man of five-and-twenty who
painted genre pieces, animal studies, and landscapes, was
successful at exhibitions, and had sold his last picture for five
hundred roubles. He touched up Olga Ivanovna's sketches, and used
to say she might do something. Then a violoncellist, whose
instrument used to sob, and who openly declared that of all the
ladies of his acquaintance the only one who could accompany him
was Olga Ivanovna; then there was a literary man, young but
already well known, who had written stories, novels, and plays.
Who else? Why, Vassily Vassilyitch, a landowner and amateur
illustrator and vignettist, with a great feeling for the old
Russian style, the old ballad and epic. On paper, on china, and
on smoked plates, he produced literally marvels. In the midst of
this free artistic company, spoiled by fortune, though refined
and modest, who recalled the existence of doctors only in times
of illness, and to whom the name of Dymov sounded in no way
different from Sidorov or Tarasov -- in the midst of this company
Dymov seemed strange, not wanted, and small, though he was tall
and broad-shouldered. He looked as though he had on somebody
else's coat, and his beard was like a shopman's. Though if he had
been a writer or an artist, they would have said that his beard
reminded them of Zola.
An artist said to Olga Ivanovna that with her flaxen hair and in
her wedding-dress she was very much like a graceful cherry-tree
when it is covered all over with delicate white blossoms in
"Oh, let me tell you," said Olga Ivanovna, taking his arm, "how
it was it all came to pass so suddenly. Listen, listen! . . . I
must tell you that my father was on the same staff at the
hospital as Dymov. When my poor father was taken ill, Dymov
watched for days and nights together at his bedside. Such
self-sacrifice! Listen, Ryabovsky! You, my writer, listen; it is
very interesting! Come nearer. Such self-sacrifice, such genuine
sympathy! I sat up with my father, and did not sleep for nights,
either. And all at once -- the princess had won the hero's heart
-- my Dymov fell head over ears in love. Really, fate is so
strange at times! Well, after my father's death he came to see me
sometimes, met me in the street, and one fine evening, all at
once he made me an offer . . . like snow upon my head. . . . I
lay awake all night, crying, and fell hellishly in love myself.
And here, as you see, I am his wife. There really is something
strong, powerful, bearlike about him, isn't there? Now his face
is turned three-quarters towards us in a bad light, but when he
turns round look at his forehead. Ryabovsky, what do you say to
that forehead? Dymov, we are talking about you!" she called to
her husband. "Come here; hold out your honest hand to Ryabovsky.
. . . That's right, be friends."
Dymov, with a naive and good-natured smile, held out his hand to
Ryabovsky, and said:
"Very glad to meet you. There was a Ryabovsky in my year at the
medical school. Was he a relation of yours?"
Olga Ivanovna was twenty-two, Dymov was thirty-one. They got on
splendidly together when they were married. Olga Ivanovna hung
all her drawing-room walls with her own and other people's
sketches, in frames and without frames, and near the piano and
furniture arranged picturesque corners with Japanese parasols,
easels, daggers, busts, photographs, and rags of many colours. .
. . In the dining-room she papered the walls with peasant
woodcuts, hung up bark shoes and sickles, stood in a corner a
scythe and a rake, and so achieved a dining-room in the Russian
style. In her bedroom she draped the ceiling and the walls with
dark cloths to make it like a cavern, hung a Venetian lantern
over the beds, and at the door set a figure with a halberd. And
every one thought that the young people had a very charming
When she got up at eleven o'clock every morning, Olga Ivanovna
played the piano or, if it were sunny, painted something in oils.
Then between twelve and one she drove to her dressmaker's. As
Dymov and she had very little money, only just enough, she and
her dressmaker were often put to clever shifts to enable her to
appear constantly in new dresses and make a sensation with them.
Very often out of an old dyed dress, out of bits of tulle, lace,
plush, and silk, costing nothing, perfect marvels were created,
something bewitching -- not a dress, but a dream. From the
dressmaker's Olga Ivanovna usually drove to some actress of her
acquaintance to hear the latest theatrical gossip, and
incidentally to try and get hold of tickets for the first night
of some new play or for a benefit performance. From the actress's
she had to go to some artist's studio or to some exhibition or to
see some celebrity -- either to pay a visit or to give an
invitation or simply to have a chat. And everywhere she met with
a gay and friendly welcome, and was assured that she was good,
that she was sweet, that she was rare. . . . Those whom she
called great and famous received her as one of themselves, as an
equal, and predicted with one voice that, with her talents, her
taste, and her intelligence, she would do great things if she
concentrated herself. She sang, she played the piano, she painted
in oils, she carved, she took part in amateur performances; and
all this not just anyhow, but all with talent, whether she made
lanterns for an illumination or dressed up or tied somebody's
cravat -- everything she did was exceptionally graceful,
artistic, and charming. But her talents showed themselves in
nothing so clearly as in her faculty for quickly becoming
acquainted and on intimate terms with celebrated people. No
sooner did any one become ever so little celebrated, and set
people talking about him, than she made his acquaintance, got on
friendly terms the same day, and invited him to her house. Every
new acquaintance she made was a veritable fete for her. She
adored celebrated people, was proud of them, dreamed of them
every night. She craved for them, and never could satisfy her
craving. The old ones departed and were forgotten, new ones came
to replace them, but to these, too, she soon grew accustomed or
was disappointed in them, and began eagerly seeking for fresh
great men, finding them and seeking for them again. What for?
Between four and five she dined at home with her husband. His
simplicity, good sense, and kind-heartedness touched her and
moved her up to enthusiasm. She was constantly jumping up,
impulsively hugging his head and showering kisses on it.
"You are a clever, generous man, Dymov," she used to say, "but
you have one very serious defect. You take absolutely no interest
in art. You don't believe in music or painting."
"I don't understand them," he would say mildly. "I have spent all
my life in working at natural science and medicine, and I have
never had time to take an interest in the arts."
"But, you know, that's awful, Dymov!"
"Why so? Your friends don't know a nything of science or
medicine, but you don't reproach them with it. Every one has his
own line. I don't understand landscapes and operas, but the way I
look at it is that if one set of sensible people devote their
whole lives to them, and other sensible people pay immense sums
for them, they must be of use. I don't understand them, but not
understanding does not imply disbelieving in them."
"Let me shake your honest hand!"
After dinner Olga Ivanovna would drive off to see her friends,
then to a theatre or to a concert, and she returned home after
midnight. So it was every day.
On Wednesdays she had "At Homes." At these "At Homes" the hostess
and her guests did not play cards and did not dance, but
entertained themselves with various arts. An actor from the
Dramatic Theatre recited, a singer sang, artists sketched in the
albums of which Olga Ivanovna had a great number, the
violoncellist played, and the hostess herself sketched, carved,
sang, and played accompaniments. In the intervals between the
recitations, music, and singing, they talked and argued about
literature, the theatre, and painting. There were no ladies, for
Olga Ivanovna considered all ladies wearisome and vulgar except
actresses and her dressmaker. Not one of these entertainments
passed without the hostess starting at every ring at the bell,
and saying, with a triumphant expression, "It is he," meaning by
"he," of course, some new celebrity. Dymov was not in the
drawing-room, and no one remembered his existence. But exactly at
half-past eleven the door leading into the dining-room opened,
and Dymov would appear with his good-natured, gentle smile and
say, rubbing his hands:
"Come to supper, gentlemen."
They all went into the dining-room, and every time found on the
table exactly the same things: a dish of oysters, a piece of ham
or veal, sardines, cheese, caviare, mushrooms, vodka, and two
decanters of wine.
My dear _maitre d' hotel!_" Olga Ivanovna would say, clasping her
hands with enthusiasm, "you are simply fascinating! My friends,
look at his forehead! Dymov, turn your profile. Look! he has the
face of a Bengal tiger and an expression as kind and sweet as a
gazelle. Ah, the darling!"
The visitors ate, and, looking at Dymov, thought, "He really is a
nice fellow"; but they soon forgot about him, and went on talking
about the theatre, music, and painting.
The young people were happy, and their life flowed on without a
The third week of their honeymoon was spent, however, not quite
happily -- sadly, indeed. Dymov caught erysipelas in the
hospital, was in bed for six days, and had to have his beautiful
black hair cropped. Olga Ivanovna sat beside him and wept
bitterly, but when he was better she put a white handkerchief on
his shaven head and began to paint him as a Bedouin. And they
were both in good spirits. Three days after he had begun to go
back to the hospital he had another mischance.
"I have no luck, little mother," he said one day at dinner. "I
had four dissections to do today, and I cut two of my fingers at
one. And I did not notice it till I got home."
Olga Ivanovna was alarmed. He smiled, and told her that it did
not matter, and that he often cut his hands when he was
"I get absorbed, little mother, and grow careless."
Olga Ivanovna dreaded symptoms of blood-poisoning, and prayed
about it every night, but all went well. And again life flowed on
peaceful and happy, free from grief and anxiety. The present was
happy, and to follow it spring was at hand, already smiling in
the distance, and promising a thousand delights. There would be
no end to their happiness. In April, May and June a summer villa
a good distance out of town; walks, sketching, fishing,
nightingales; and then from July right on to autumn an artist's
tour on the Volga, and in this tour Olga Ivanovna would take part
as an indispensable member of the society. She had already had
made for her two travelling dresses of linen, had bought paints,
brushes, canvases, and a new palette for the journey. Almost
every day Ryabovsky visited her to see what progress she was
making in her painting; when she showed him her painting, he used
to thrust his hands deep into his pockets, compress his lips,
sniff, and say:
"Ye--es . . . ! That cloud of yours is screaming: it's not in the
evening light. The foreground is somehow chewed up, and there is
something, you know, not the thing. . . . And your cottage is
weighed down and whines pitifully. That corner ought to have been
taken more in shadow, but on the whole it is not bad; I like it."
And the more incomprehensible he talked, the more readily Olga
Ivanovna understood him.
After dinner on the second day of Trinity week, Dymov bought some
sweets and some savouries and went down to the villa to see his
wife. He had not seen her for a fortnight, and missed her
terribly. As he sat in the train and afterwards as he looked for
his villa in a big wood, he felt all the while hungry and weary,
and dreamed of how he would have supper in freedom with his wife,
then tumble into bed and to sleep. And he was delighted as he
looked at his parcel, in which there was caviare, cheese, and
The sun was setting by the time he found his villa and recognized
it. The old servant told him that her mistress was not at home,
but that most likely she would soon be in. The villa, very
uninviting in appearance, with low ceilings papered with
writing-paper and with uneven floors full of crevices, consisted
only of three rooms. In one there was a bed, in the second there
were canvases, brushes, greasy papers, and men's overcoats and
hats lying about on the chairs and in the windows, while in the
third Dymov found three unknown men; two were dark-haired and had
beards, the other was clean-shaven and fat, apparently an actor.
There was a samovar boiling on the table.
"What do you want?" asked the actor in a bass voice, looking at
Dymov ungraciously. "Do you want Olga Ivanovna? Wait a minute;
she will be here directly."
Dymov sat down and waited. One of the dark-haired men, looking
sleepily and listlessly at him, poured himself out a glass of
tea, and asked:
"Perhaps you would like some tea?"
Dymov was both hungry and thirsty, but he refused tea for fear of
spoiling his supper. Soon he heard footsteps and a familiar
laugh; a door slammed, and Olga Ivanovna ran into the room,
wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a box in her hand; she
was followed by Ryabovsky, rosy and good-humoured, carrying a big
umbrella and a camp-stool.
"Dymov!" cried Olga Ivanovna, and she flushed crimson with
pleasure. "Dymov!" she repeated, laying her head and both arms on
his bosom. "Is that you? Why haven't you come for so long? Why?
"When could I, little mother? I am always busy, and whenever I am
free it always happens somehow that the train does not fit."
"But how glad I am to see you! I have been dreaming about you the
whole night, the whole night, and I was afraid you must be ill.
Ah! if you only knew how sweet you are! You have come in the nick
of time! You will be my salvation! You are the only person who
can save me! There is to be a most original wedding here
tomorrow," she went on, laughing, and tying her husband's cravat.
"A young telegraph clerk at the station, called Tchikeldyeev, is
going to be married. He is a handsome young man and -- well, not
stupid, and you know there is something strong, bearlike in his
face . . . you might paint him as a young Norman. We summer
visitors take a great interest in him, and have promised to be at
his wedding. . . . He is a lonely, timid man, not well off, and
of course it would be a shame not to be sympathetic to him.
Fancy! the wedding will be after the service; then we shall all
walk from the church to the bride's lodgings. . . you see the
wood, the birds singing, patches of sunlight on the grass, and
all of us spots of different colours against the bright green
background -- very original, in the style of the French
impressionists. But, Dymov, what am I to go to the church in?"
said Olga Ivanovna, and she looked as though she were going to
cry. "I have nothing here, literally nothing! no dress, no
flowers, no gloves . . . you must save me. Since you have come,
fate itself bids you save me. Take the keys, my precious, go home
and get my pink dress from the wardrobe. You remember it; it
hangs in front. . . . Then, in the storeroom, on the floor, on
the right side, you will see two cardboard boxes. When you open
the top one you will see tulle, heaps of tulle and rags of all
sorts, and under them flowers. Take out all the flowers
carefully, try not to crush them, darling; I will choose among
them later. . . . And buy me some gloves."
"Very well," said Dymov; "I will go tomorrow and send them to
"Tomorrow?" asked Olga Ivanovna, and she looked at him surprised.
"You won't have time tomorrow. The first train goes tomorrow at
nine, and the wedding's at eleven. No, darling, it must be today;
it absolutely must be today. If you won't be able to come
tomorrow, send them by a messenger. Come, you must run along. . .
. The passenger train will be in directly; don't miss it,
"Oh, how sorry I am to let you go!" said Olga Ivanovna, and tears
came into her eyes. "And why did I promise that telegraph clerk,
like a silly?"
Dymov hurriedly drank a glass of tea, took a cracknel, and,
smiling gently, went to the station. And the caviare, the cheese,
and the white salmon were eaten by the two dark gentlemen and the
On a still moonlight night in July Olga Ivanovna was standing on
the deck of a Volga steamer and looking alternately at the water
and at the picturesque banks. Beside her was standing Ryabovsky,
telling her the black shadows on the water were not shadows, but
a dream, that it would be sweet to sink into forgetfulness, to
die, to become a memory in the sight of that enchanted water with
the fantastic glimmer, in sight of the fathomless sky and the
mournful, dreamy shores that told of the vanity of our life and
of the existence of something higher, blessed, and eternal. The
past was vulgar and uninteresting, the future was trivial, and
that marvellous night, unique in a lifetime, would soon be over,
would blend with eternity; then, why live?
And Olga Ivanovna listened alternately to Ryabovsky's voice and
the silence of the night, and thought of her being immortal and
never dying. The turquoise colour of the water, such as she had
never seen before, the sky, the river-banks, the black shadows,
and the unaccountable joy that flooded her soul, all told her
that she would make a great artist, and that somewhere in the
distance, in the infinite space beyond the moonlight, success,
glory, the love of the people, lay awaiting her. . . . When she
gazed steadily without blinking into the distance, she seemed to
see crowds of people, lights, triumphant strains of music, cries
of enthusiasm, she herself in a white dress, and flowers showered
upon her from all sides. She thought, too, that beside her,
leaning with his elbows on the rail of the steamer, there was
standing a real great man, a genius, one of God's elect. . . .
All that he had created up to the present was fine, new, and
extraordinary, but what he would create in time, when with
maturity his rare talent reached its full development, would be
astounding, immeasurably sublime; and that could be seen by his
face, by his manner of expressing himself and his attitude to
nature. He talked of shadows, of the tones of evening, of the
moonlight, in a special way, in a language of his own, so that
one could not help feeling the fascination of his power over
nature. He was very handsome, original, and his life, free,
independent, aloof from all common cares, was like the life of a
"It's growing cooler," said Olga Ivanovna, and she gave a
Ryabovsky wrapped her in his cloak, and said mournfully:
"I feel that I am in your power; I am a slave. Why are you so
He kept staring intently at her, and his eyes were terrible. And
she was afraid to look at him.
"I love you madly," he whispered, breathing on her cheek. "Say
one word to me and I will not go on living; I will give up art .
. ." he muttered in violent emotion. "Love me, love . . . ."
"Don't talk like that," said Olga Ivanovna, covering her eyes.
"It's dreadful! How about Dymov?"
"What of Dymov? Why Dymov? What have I to do with Dymov? The
Volga, the moon, beauty, my love, ecstasy, and there is no such
thing as Dymov. . . . Ah! I don't know . . . I don't care about
the past; give me one moment, one instant!"
Olga Ivanovna's heart began to throb. She tried to think about
her husband, but all her past, with her wedding, with Dymov, and
with her "At Homes," seemed to her petty, trivial, dingy,
unnecessary, and far, far away. . . . Yes, really, what of Dymov?
Why Dymov? What had she to do with Dymov? Had he any existence in
nature, or was he only a dream?
"For him, a simple and ordinary man the happiness he has had
already is enough," she thought, covering her face with her
hands. "Let them condemn me, let them curse me, but in spite of
them all I will go to my ruin; I will go to my ruin! . . . One
must experience everything in life. My God! how terrible and how
"Well? Well?" muttered the artist, embracing her, and greedily
kissing the hands with which she feebly tried to thrust him from
her. "You love me? Yes? Yes? Oh, what a night! marvellous night!"
"Yes, what a night!" she whispered, looking into his eyes, which
were bright with tears.
Then she looked round quickly, put her arms round him, and kissed
him on the lips.
"We are nearing Kineshmo!" said some one on the other side of the
They heard heavy footsteps; it was a waiter from the
"Waiter," said Olga Ivanovna, laughing and crying with happiness,
"bring us some wine."
The artist, pale with emotion, sat on the seat, looking at Olga
Ivanovna with adoring, grateful eyes; then he closed his eyes,
and said, smiling languidly:
"I am tired."
And he leaned his head against the rail.
On the second of September the day was warm and still, but
overcast. In the early morning a light mist had hung over the
Volga, and after nine o'clock it had begun to spout with rain.
And there seemed no hope of the sky clearing. Over their morning
tea Ryabovsky told Olga Ivanovna that painting was the most
ungrateful and boring art, that he was not an artist, that none
but fools thought that he had any talent, and all at once, for no
rhyme or reason, he snatched up a knife and with it scraped over
his very best sketch. After his tea he sat plunged in gloom at
the window and gazed at the Volga. And now the Volga was dingy,
all of one even colour without a gleam of light, cold-looking.
Everything, everything recalled the approach of dreary, gloomy
autumn. And it seemed as though nature had removed now from the
Volga the sumptuous green covers from the banks, the brilliant
reflections of the sunbeams, the transparent blue distance, and
all its smart gala array, and had packed it away in boxes till
the coming spring, and the crows were flying above the Volga and
crying tauntingly, "Bare, bare!"
Ryabovsky heard their cawing, and thought he had already gone off
and lost his talent, that everything in this world was relative,
conditional, and stupid, and that he ought not to have taken up
with this woman. . . . In short, he was out of humour and
Olga Ivanovna sat behind the screen on the bed, and, passing her
fingers through her lovely flaxen hair, pictured herself first in
the drawing-room, then in the bedroom, then in her husband's
study; her imagination carried her to the theatre, to the
dress-maker, to her distinguished friends. Were they getting
something up now? Did they think of her? The season had begun by
now, and it would be time to think about her "At Homes." And
Dymov? Dear Dymov! with what gentleness and childlike pathos he
kept begging her in his letters to make haste and come home!
Every month he sent her seventy-five roubles, and when she wrote
him that she had lent the artists a hundred roubles, he sent that
hundred too. What a kind, generous-hearted man! The travelling
wearied Olga Ivanovna; she was bored; and she longed to get away
from the peasants, from the damp smell of the river, and to cast
off the feeling of physical uncleanliness of which she was
conscious all the time, living in the peasants' huts and
wandering from village to village. If Ryabovsky had not given his
word to the artists that he would stay with them till the
twentieth of September, they might have gone away that very day.
And how nice that would have been!
"My God!" moaned Ryabovsky. "Will the sun ever come out? I can't
go on with a sunny landscape without the sun. . . ."
"But you have a sketch with a cloudy sky," said Olga Ivanovna,
coming from behind the screen. "Do you remember, in the right
foreground forest trees, on the left a herd of cows and geese?
You might finish it now."
"Aie!" the artist scowled. "Finish it! Can you imagine I am such
a fool that I don't know what I want to do?"
"How you have changed to me!" sighed Olga Ivanovna.
"Well, a good thing too!"
Olga Ivanovna's face quivered; she moved away to the stove and
began to cry.
"Well, that's the last straw -- crying! Give over! I have a
thousand reasons for tears, but I am not crying."
"A thousand reasons!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "The chief one is that
you are weary of me. Yes!" she said, and broke into sobs. "If one
is to tell the truth, you are ashamed of our love. You keep
trying to prevent the artists from noticing it, though it is
impossible to conceal it, and they have known all about it for
ever so long."
"Olga, one thing I beg you," said the artist in an imploring
voice, laying his hand on his heart -- "one thing; don't worry
me! I want nothing else from you!"
"But swear that you love me still!"
"This is agony!" the artist hissed through his teeth, and he
jumped up. "It will end by my throwing myself in the Volga or
going out of my mind! Let me alone!"
"Come, kill me, kill me!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "Kill me!"
She sobbed again, and went behind the screen. There was a swish
of rain on the straw thatch of the hut. Ryabovsky clutched his
head and strode up and down the hut; then with a resolute face,
as though bent on proving something to somebody, put on his cap,
slung his gun over his shoulder, and went out of the hut.
After he had gone, Olga Ivanovna lay a long time on the bed,
crying. At first she thought it would be a good thing to poison
herself, so that when Ryabovsky came back he would find her dead;
then her imagination carried her to her drawing-room, to her
husband's study, and she imagined herself sitting motionless
beside Dymov and enjoying the physical peace and cleanliness, and
in the evening sitting in the theatre, listening to Mazini. And a
yearning for civilization, for the noise and bustle of the town,
for celebrated people sent a pang to her heart. A peasant woman
came into the hut and began in a leisurely way lighting the stove
to get the dinner. There was a smell of charcoal fumes, and the
air was filled with bluish smoke. The artists came in, in muddy
high boots and with faces wet with rain, examined their sketches,
and comforted themselves by saying that the Volga had its charms
even in bad weather. On the wall the cheap clock went
"tic-tic-tic." . . . The flies, feeling chilled, crowded round
the ikon in the corner, buzzing, and one could hear the
cockroaches scurrying about among the thick portfolios under the
seats. . . .
Ryabovsky came home as the sun was setting. He flung his cap on
the table, and, without removing his muddy boots, sank pale and
exhausted on the bench and closed his eyes.
"I am tired . . ." he said, and twitched his eyebrows, trying to
raise his eyelids.
To be nice to him and to show she was not cross, Olga Ivanovna
went up to him, gave him a silent kiss, and passed the comb
through his fair hair. She meant to comb it for him.
"What's that?" he said, starting as though something cold had
touched him, and he opened his eyes. "What is it? Please let me
He thrust her off, and moved away. And it seemed to her that
there was a look of aversion and annoyance on his face.
At that time the peasant woman cautiously carried him, in both
hands, a plate of cabbage-soup. And Olga Ivanovna saw how she
wetted her fat fingers in it. And the dirty peasant woman,
standing with her body thrust forward, and the cabbage-soup which
Ryabovsky began eating greedily, and the hut, and their whole way
of life, which she at first had so loved for its simplicity and
artistic disorder, seemed horrible to her now. She suddenly felt
insulted, and said coldly:
"We must part for a time, or else from boredom we shall quarrel
in earnest. I am sick of this; I am going today."
"Going how? Astride on a broomstick?"
"Today is Thursday, so the steamer will be here at half-past
"Eh? Yes, yes. . . . Well, go, then . . ." Ryabovsky said softly,
wiping his mouth with a towel instead of a dinner napkin. "You
are dull and have nothing to do here, and one would have to be a
great egoist to try and keep you. Go home, and we shall meet
again after the twentieth."
Olga Ivanovna packed in good spirits. Her cheeks positively
glowed with pleasure. Could it really be true, she asked herself,
that she would soon be writing in her drawing-room and sleeping
in her bedroom, and dining with a cloth on the table? A weight
was lifted from her heart, and she no longer felt angry with the
"My paints and brushes I will leave with you, Ryabovsky," she
said. "You can bring what's left. . . . Mind, now, don't be lazy
here when I am gone; don't mope, but work. You are such a
splendid fellow, Ryabovsky!"
At ten o'clock Ryabovsky gave her a farewell kiss, in order, as
she thought, to avoid kissing her on the steamer before the
artists, and went with her to the landing-stage. The steamer soon
came up and carried her away.
She arrived home two and a half days later. Breathless with
excitement, she went, without taking off her hat or waterproof,
into the drawing-room and thence into the dining-room. Dymov,
with his waistcoat unbuttoned and no coat, was sitting at the
table sharpening a knife on a fork; before him lay a grouse on a
plate. As Olga Ivanovna went into the flat she was convinced that
it was essential to hide everything from her husband, and that
she would have the strength and skill to do so; but now, when she
saw his broad, mild, happy smile, and shining, joyful eyes, she
felt that to deceive this man was as vile, as revolting, and as
impossible and out of her power as to bear false witness, to
steal, or to kill, and in a flash she resolved to tell him all
that had happened. Letting him kiss and embrace her, she sank
down on her knees before him and hid her face.
"What is it, what is it, little mother?" he asked tenderly. "Were
She raised her face, red with shame, and gazed at him with a
guilty and imploring look, but fear and shame prevented her from
telling him the truth.
"Nothing," she said; "it's just nothing. . . ."
"Let us sit down," he said, raising her and seating her at the
table. "That's right, eat the grouse. You are starving, poor
She eagerly breathed in the atmosphere of home and ate the
grouse, while he watched her with tenderness and laughed with
Apparently, by the middle of the winter Dymov began to suspect
that he was being deceived. As though his conscience was not
clear, he could not look his wife straight in the face, did not
smile with delight when he met her, and to avoid being left alone
with her, he often brought in to dinner his colleague,
Korostelev, a little close-cropped man with a wrinkled face, who
kept buttoning and unbuttoning his reefer jacket with
embarrassment when he talked with Olga Ivanovna, and then with
his right hand nipped his left moustache. At dinner the two
doctors talked about the fact that a displacement of the
diaphragm was sometimes accompanied by irregularities of the
heart, or that a great number of neurotic complaints were met
with of late, or that Dymov had the day before found a cancer of
the lower abdomen while dissecting a corpse with the diagnosis of
pernicious anaemia. And it seemed as though they were talking of
medicine to give Olga Ivanovna a chance of being silent -- that
is, of not lying. After dinner Korostelev sat
down to the piano, while Dymov sighed and said to him:
"Ech, brother -- well, well! Play something melancholy."
Hunching up his shoulders and stretching his fingers wide apart,
Korostelev played some chords and began singing in a tenor voice,
"Show me the abode where the Russian peasant would not groan,"
while Dymov sighed once more, propped his head on his fist, and
sank into thought.
Olga Ivanovna had been extremely imprudent in her conduct of
late. Every morning she woke up in a very bad humour and with the
thought that she no longer cared for Ryabovsky, and that, thank
God, it was all over now. But as she drank her coffee she
reflected that Ryabovsky had robbed her of her husband, and that
now she was left with neither her husband nor Ryabovsky; then she
remembered talks she had heard among her acquaintances of a
picture Ryabovsky was preparing for the exhibition, something
striking, a mixture of genre and landscape, in the style of
Polyenov, about which every one who had been into his studio went
into raptures; and this, of course, she mused, he had created
under her influence, and altogether, thanks to her influence, he
had greatly changed for the better. Her influence was so
beneficent and essential that if she were to leave him he might
perhaps go to ruin. And she remembered, too, that the last time
he had come to see her in a great-coat with flecks on it and a
new tie, he had asked her languidly:
"Am I beautiful?"
And with his elegance, his long curls, and his blue eyes, he
really was very beautiful (or perhaps it only seemed so), and he
had been affectionate to her.
Considering and remembering many things Olga Ivanovna dressed and
in great agitation drove to Ryabovsky's studio. She found him in
high spirits, and enchanted with his really magnificent picture.
He was dancing about and playing the fool and answering serious
questions with jokes. Olga Ivanovna was jealous of the picture
and hated it, but from politeness she stood before the picture
for five minutes in silence, and, heaving a sigh, as though
before a holy shrine, said softly:
"Yes, you have never painted anything like it before. Do you
know, it is positively awe-inspiring?"
And then she began beseeching him to love her and not to cast her
off, to have pity on her in her misery and her wretchedness. She
shed tears, kissed his hands, insisted on his swearing that he
loved her, told him that without her good influence he would go
astray and be ruined. And, when she had spoilt his good-humour,
feeling herself humiliated, she would drive off to her dressmaker
or to an actress of her acquaintance to try and get theatre
If she did not find him at his studio she left a letter in which
she swore that if he did not come to see her that day she would
poison herself. He was scared, came to see her, and stayed to
dinner. Regardless of her husband's presence, he would say rude
things to her, and she would answer him in the same way. Both
felt they were a burden to each other, that they were tyrants and
enemies, and were wrathful, and in their wrath did not notice
that their behaviour was unseemly, and that even Korostelev, with
his close-cropped head, saw it all. After dinner Ryabovsky made
haste to say good-bye and get away.
"Where are you off to?" Olga Ivanovna would ask him in the hall,
looking at him with hatred.
Scowling and screwing up his eyes, he mentioned some lady of
their acquaintance, and it was evident that he was laughing at
her jealousy and wanted to annoy her. She went to her bedroom and
lay down on her bed; from jealousy, anger, a sense of humiliation
and shame, she bit the pillow and began sobbing aloud. Dymov left
Korostelev in the drawing-room, went into the bedroom, and with a
desperate and embarrassed face said softly:
"Don't cry so loud, little mother; there's no need. You must be
quiet about it. You must not let people see. . . . You know what
is done is done, and can't be mended."
Not knowing how to ease the burden of her jealousy, which
actually set her temples throbbing with pain, and thinking still
that things might be set right, she would wash, powder her
tear-stained face, and fly off to the lady mentioned.
Not finding Ryabovsky with her, she would drive off to a second,
then to a third. At first she was ashamed to go about like this,
but afterwards she got used to it, and it would happen that in
one evening she would make the round of all her female
acquaintances in search of Ryabovsky, and they all understood it.
One day she said to Ryabovsky of her husband:
"That man crushes me with his magnanimity."
This phrase pleased her so much that when she met the artists who
knew of her affair with Ryabovsky she said every time of her
husband, with a vigorous movement of her arm:
"That man crushes me with his magnanimity."
Their manner of life was the same as it had been the year before.
On Wednesdays they were "At Home"; an actor recited, the artists
sketched. The violoncellist played, a singer sang, and invariably
at half-past eleven the door leading to the dining-room opened
and Dymov, smiling, said:
"Come to supper, gentlemen."
As before, Olga Ivanovna hunted celebrities, found them, was not
satisfied, and went in pursuit of fresh ones. As before, she came
back late every night; but now Dymov was not, as last year,
asleep, but sitting in his study at work of some sort. He went to
bed at three o'clock and got up at eight.
One evening when she was getting ready to go to the theatre and
standing before the pier glass, Dymov came into her bedroom,
wearing his dress-coat and a white tie. He was smiling gently and
looked into his wife's face joyfully, as in old days; his face
"I have just been defending my thesis," he said, sitting down and
smoothing his knees.
"Defending?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"Oh, oh!" he laughed, and he craned his neck to see his wife's
face in the mirror, for she was still standing with her back to
him, doing up her hair. "Oh, oh," he repeated, "do you know it's
very possible they may offer me the Readership in General
Pathology? It seems like it."
It was evident from his beaming, blissful face that if Olga
Ivanovna had shared with him his joy and triumph he would have
forgiven her everything, both the present and the future, and
would have forgotten everything, but she did not understand what
was meant by a "readership" or by "general pathology"; besides,
she was afraid of being late for the theatre, and she said
He sat there another two minutes, and with a guilty smile went
It had been a very troubled day.
Dymov had a very bad headache; he had no breakfast, and did not
go to the hospital, but spent the whole time lying on his sofa in
the study. Olga Ivanovna went as usual at midday to see
Ryabovsky, to show him her still-life sketch, and to ask him why
he had not been to see her the evening before. The sketch seemed
to her worthless, and she had painted it only in order to have an
additional reason for going to the artist.
She went in to him without ringing, and as she was taking off her
goloshes in the entry she heard a sound as of something running
softly in the studio, with a feminine rustle of skirts; and as
she hastened to peep in she caught a momentary glimpse of a bit
of brown petticoat, which vanished behind a big picture draped,
together with the easel, with black calico, to the floor. There
could be no doubt that a woman was hiding there. How often Olga
Ivanovna herself had taken refuge behind that picture!
Ryabovsky, evidently much embarrassed, held out both hands to
her, as though surprised at her arrival, and said with a forced
"Aha! Very glad to see you! Anything nice to tell me?"
Olga Ivanovna's eyes filled with tears. She felt ashamed and
bitter, and would not for a million roubles have consented to
speak in the presence of the outsider, the rival, the deceitful
woman who was standing now behind the picture, and probably
"I have brought you a sketch," she said timidly in a thin voice,
and her lips quivered. "_Nature morte._"
"Ah--ah! . . . A sketch?"
The artist took the sketch in his hands, and as he examined it w
alked, as it were mechanically, into the other room.
Olga Ivanovna followed him humbly.
"_Nature morte_ . . . first-rate sort," he muttered, falling into
rhyme. "Kurort . . . sport . . . port . . ."
From the studio came the sound of hurried footsteps and the
rustle of a skirt.
So she had gone. Olga Ivanovna wanted to scream aloud, to hit the
artist on the head with something heavy, but she could see
nothing through her tears, was crushed by her shame, and felt
herself, not Olga Ivanovna, not an artist, but a little insect.
"I am tired . . ." said the artist languidly, looking at the
sketch and tossing his head as though struggling with drowsiness.
"It's very nice, of course, but here a sketch today, a sketch
last year, another sketch in a month . . . I wonder you are not
bored with them. If I were you I should give up painting and work
seriously at music or something. You're not an artist, you know,
but a musician. But you can't think how tired I am! I'll tell
them to bring us some tea, shall I?"
He went out of the room, and Olga Ivanovna heard him give some
order to his footman. To avoid farewells and explanations, and
above all to avoid bursting into sobs, she ran as fast as she
could, before Ryabovsky came back, to the entry, put on her
goloshes, and went out into the street; then she breathed easily,
and felt she was free for ever from Ryabovsky and from painting
and from the burden of shame which had so crushed her in the
studio. It was all over!
She drove to her dressmaker's; then to see Barnay, who had only
arrived the day before; from Barnay to a music-shop, and all the
time she was thinking how she would write Ryabovsky a cold, cruel
letter full of personal dignity, and how in the spring or the
summer she would go with Dymov to the Crimea, free herself
finally from the past there, and begin a new life.
On getting home late in the evening she sat down in the
drawing-room, without taking off her things, to begin the letter.
Ryabovsky had told her she was not an artist, and to pay him out
she wrote to him now that he painted the same thing every year,
and said exactly the same thing every day; that he was at a
standstill, and that nothing more would come of him than had come
already. She wanted to write, too, that he owed a great deal to
her good influence, and that if he was going wrong it was only
because her influence was paralysed by various dubious persons
like the one who had been hiding behind the picture that day.
"Little mother!" Dymov called from the study, without opening the
"What is it?"
"Don't come in to me, but only come to the door -- that's right.
. . . The day before yesterday I must have caught diphtheria at
the hospital, and now . . . I am ill. Make haste and send for
Olga Ivanovna always called her husband by his surname, as she
did all the men of her acquaintance; she disliked his Christian
name, Osip, because it reminded her of the Osip in Gogol and the
silly pun on his name. But now she cried:
"Osip, it cannot be!"
"Send for him; I feel ill," Dymov said behind the door, and she
could hear him go back to the sofa and lie down. "Send!" she
heard his voice faintly.
"Good Heavens!" thought Olga Ivanovna, turning chill with horror.
"Why, it's dangerous!"
For no reason she took the candle and went into the bedroom, and
there, reflecting what she must do, glanced casually at herself
in the pier glass. With her pale, frightened face, in a jacket
with sleeves high on the shoulders, with yellow ruches on her
bosom, and with stripes running in unusual directions on her
skirt, she seemed to herself horrible and disgusting. She
suddenly felt poignantly sorry for Dymov, for his boundless love
for her, for his young life, and even for the desolate little bed
in which he had not slept for so long; and she remembered his
habitual, gentle, submissive smile. She wept bitterly, and wrote
an imploring letter to Korostelev. It was two o'clock in the
When towards eight o'clock in the morning Olga Ivanovna, her head
heavy from want of sleep and her hair unbrushed, came out of her
bedroom, looking unattractive and with a guilty expression on her
face, a gentleman with a black beard, apparently the doctor,
passed by her into the entry. There was a smell of drugs.
Korostelev was standing near the study door, twisting his left
moustache with his right hand.
"Excuse me, I can't let you go in," he said surlily to Olga
Ivanovna; "it's catching. Besides, it's no use, really; he is
"Has he really got diphtheria?" Olga Ivanovna asked in a whisper.
"People who wantonly risk infection ought to be hauled up and
punished for it," muttered Korostelev, not answering Olga
Ivanovna's question. "Do you know why he caught it? On Tuesday he
was sucking up the mucus through a pipette from a boy with
diphtheria. And what for? It was stupid. . . . Just from folly. .
"Is it dangerous, very?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"Yes; they say it is the malignant form. We ought to send for
A little red-haired man with a long nose and a Jewish accent
arrived; then a tall, stooping, shaggy individual, who looked
like a head deacon; then a stout young man with a red face and
spectacles. These were doctors who came to watch by turns beside
their colleague. Korostelev did not go home when his turn was
over, but remained and wandered about the rooms like an uneasy
spirit. The maid kept getting tea for the various doctors, and
was constantly running to the chemist, and there was no one to do
the rooms. There was a dismal stillness in the flat.
Olga Ivanovna sat in her bedroom and thought that God was
punishing her for having deceived her husband. That silent,
unrepining, uncomprehended creature, robbed by his mildness of
all personality and will, weak from excessive kindness, had been
suffering in obscurity somewhere on his sofa, and had not
complained. And if he were to complain even in delirium, the
doctors watching by his bedside would learn that diphtheria was
not the only cause of his sufferings. They would ask Korostelev.
He knew all about it, and it was not for nothing that he looked
at his friend's wife with eyes that seemed to say that she was
the real chief criminal and diphtheria was only her accomplice.
She did not think now of the moonlight evening on the Volga, nor
the words of love, nor their poetical life in the peasant's hut.
She thought only that from an idle whim, from self-indulgence,
she had sullied herself all over from head to foot in something
filthy, sticky, which one could never wash off. . . .
"Oh, how fearfully false I've been!" she thought, recalling the
troubled passion she had known with Ryabovsky. "Curse it all! . .
At four o'clock she dined with Korostelev. He did nothing but
scowl and drink red wine, and did not eat a morsel. She ate
nothing, either. At one minute she was praying inwardly and
vowing to God that if Dymov recovered she would love him again
and be a faithful wife to him. Then, forgetting herself for a
minute, she would look at Korostelev, and think: "Surely it must
be dull to be a humble, obscure person, not remarkable in any
way, especially with such a wrinkled face and bad manners!"
Then it seemed to her that God would strike her dead that minute
for not having once been in her husband's study, for fear of
infection. And altogether she had a dull, despondent feeling and
a conviction that her life was spoilt, and that there was no
setting it right anyhow. . . .
After dinner darkness came on. When Olga Ivanovna went into the
drawing-room Korostelev was asleep on the sofa, with a
gold-embroidered silk cushion under his head.
"Khee-poo-ah," he snored -- "khee-poo-ah."
And the doctors as they came to sit up and went away again did
not notice this disorder. The fact that a strange man was asleep
and snoring in the drawing-room, and the sketches on the walls
and the exquisite decoration of the room, and the fact that the
lady of the house was dishevelled and untidy -- all that aroused
not the slightest interest now. One of the doctors chanced to
laugh at something, and the laugh had a strange and timid sound
that made one's heart ac he.
When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room next time,
Korostelev was not asleep, but sitting up and smoking.
"He has diphtheria of the nasal cavity," he said in a low voice,
"and the heart is not working properly now. Things are in a bad
"But you will send for Shrek?" said Olga Ivanovna.
"He has been already. It was he noticed that the diphtheria had
passed into the nose. What's the use of Shrek! Shrek's no use at
all, really. He is Shrek, I am Korostelev, and nothing more."
The time dragged on fearfully slowly. Olga Ivanovna lay down in
her clothes on her bed, that had not been made all day, and sank
into a doze. She dreamed that the whole flat was filled up from
floor to ceiling with a huge piece of iron, and that if they
could only get the iron out they would all be light-hearted and
happy. Waking, she realized that it was not the iron but Dymov's
illness that was weighing on her.
"Nature morte, port . . ." she thought, sinking into
forgetfulness again. "Sport . . . Kurort . . . and what of Shrek?
Shrek. . . trek . . . wreck. . . . And where are my friends now?
Do they know that we are in trouble? Lord, save . . . spare!
Shrek. . . trek . . ."
And again the iron was there. . . . The time dragged on slowly,
though the clock on the lower storey struck frequently. And bells
were continually ringing as the doctors arrived. . . . The
house-maid came in with an empty glass on a tray, and asked,
"Shall I make the bed, madam?" and getting no answer, went away.
The clock below struck the hour. She dreamed of the rain on the
Volga; and again some one came into her bedroom, she thought a
stranger. Olga Ivanovna jumped up, and recognized Korostelev.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Well, what is it?"
"What, indeed! . . . I've come to tell you he is passing. . . ."
He gave a sob, sat down on the bed beside her, and wiped away the
tears with his sleeve. She could not grasp it at once, but turned
cold all over and began slowly crossing herself.
"He is passing," he repeated in a shrill voice, and again he gave
a sob. "He is dying because he sacrificed himself. What a loss
for science!" he said bitterly. "Compare him with all of us. He
was a great man, an extraordinary man! What gifts! What hopes we
all had of him!" Korostelev went on, wringing his hands:
"Merciful God, he was a man of science; we shall never look on
his like again. Osip Dymov, what have you done -- aie, aie, my
Korostelev covered his face with both hands in despair, and shook
"And his moral force," he went on, seeming to grow more and more
exasperated against some one. "Not a man, but a pure, good,
loving soul, and clean as crystal. He served science and died for
science. And he worked like an ox night and day -- no one spared
him -- and with his youth and his learning he had to take a
private practice and work at translations at night to pay for
these . . . vile rags!"
Korostelev looked with hatred at Olga Ivanovna, snatched at the
sheet with both hands and angrily tore it, as though it were to
"He did not spare himself, and others did not spare him. Oh,
what's the use of talking!"
"Yes, he was a rare man," said a bass voice in the drawing-room.
Olga Ivanovna remembered her whole life with him from the
beginning to the end, with all its details, and suddenly she
understood that he really was an extraordinary, rare, and,
compared with every one else she knew, a great man. And
remembering how her father, now dead, and all the other doctors
had behaved to him, she realized that they really had seen in him
a future celebrity. The walls, the ceiling, the lamp, and the
carpet on the floor, seemed to be winking at her sarcastically,
as though they would say, "You were blind! you were blind!" With
a wail she flung herself out of the bedroom, dashed by some
unknown man in the drawing-room, and ran into her husband's
study. He was lying motionless on the sofa, covered to the waist
with a quilt. His face was fearfully thin and sunken, and was of
a greyish-yellow colour such as is never seen in the living; only
from the forehead, from the black eyebrows and from the familiar
smile, could he be recognized as Dymov. Olga Ivanovna hurriedly
felt his chest, his forehead, and his hands. The chest was still
warm, but the forehead and hands were unpleasantly cold, and the
half-open eyes looked, not at Olga Ivanovna, but at the quilt.
"Dymov!" she called aloud, "Dymov!" She wanted to explain to him
that it had been a mistake, that all was not lost, that life
might still be beautiful and happy, that he was an extraordinary,
rare, great man, and that she would all her life worship him and
bow down in homage and holy awe before him. . . .
"Dymov!" she called him, patting him on the shoulder, unable to
believe that he would never wake again. "Dymov! Dymov!"
In the drawing-room Korostelev was saying to the housemaid:
"Why keep asking? Go to the church beadle and enquire where they
live. They'll wash the body and lay it out, and do everything
that is necessary."
A DREARY STORY
FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF AN OLD MAN
THERE is in Russia an emeritus Professor Nikolay Stepanovitch, a
chevalier and privy councillor; he has so many Russian and
foreign decorations that when he has occasion to put them on the
students nickname him "The Ikonstand." His acquaintances are of
the most aristocratic; for the last twenty-five or thirty years,
at any rate, there has not been one single distinguished man of
learning in Russia with whom he has not been intimately
acquainted. There is no one for him to make friends with
nowadays; but if we turn to the past, the long list of his famous
friends winds up with such names as Pirogov, Kavelin, and the
poet Nekrasov, all of whom bestowed upon him a warm and sincere
affection. He is a member of all the Russian and of three foreign
universities. And so on, and so on. All that and a great deal
more that might be said makes up what is called my "name."
That is my name as known to the public. In Russia it is known to
every educated man, and abroad it is mentioned in the
lecture-room with the addition "honoured and distinguished." It
is one of those fortunate names to abuse which or to take which
in vain, in public or in print, is considered a sign of bad
taste. And that is as it should be. You see, my name is closely
associated with the conception of a highly distinguished man of
great gifts and unquestionable usefulness. I have the industry
and power of endurance of a camel, and that is important, and I
have talent, which is even more important. Moreover, while I am
on this subject, I am a well-educated, modest, and honest fellow.
I have never poked my nose into literature or politics; I have
never sought popularity in polemics with the ignorant; I have
never made speeches either at public dinners or at the funerals
of my friends. . . . In fact, there is no slur on my learned
name, and there is no complaint one can make against it. It is
The bearer of that name, that is I, see myself as a man of
sixty-two, with a bald head, with false teeth, and with an
incurable tic douloureux. I am myself as dingy and unsightly as
my name is brilliant and splendid. My head and my hands tremble
with weakness; my neck, as Turgenev says of one of his heroines,
is like the handle of a double bass; my chest is hollow; my
shoulders narrow; when I talk or lecture, my mouth turns down at
one corner; when I smile, my whole face is covered with
aged-looking, deathly wrinkles. There is nothing impressive about
my pitiful figure; only, perhaps, when I have an attack of tic
douloureux my face wears a peculiar expression, the sight of
which must have roused in every one the grim and impressive
thought, "Evidently that man will soon die."
I still, as in the past, lecture fairly well; I can still, as in
the past, hold the attention of my listeners for a couple of
hours. My fervour, the literary skill of my exposition, and my
humour, almost efface the defects of my voice, though it is
harsh, dry, and monotonous as a praying beggar's. I write poorly.
That bit of my brain which presides over the faculty of
authorship refuses to
work. My memory has grown weak; there is a lack of sequence in
my ideas, and when I put them on paper it always seems to me that
I have lost the instinct for their organic connection; my
construction is monotonous; my language is poor and timid. Often
I write what I do not mean; I have forgotten the beginning when I
am writing the end. Often I forget ordinary words, and I always
have to waste a great deal of energy in avoiding superfluous
phrases and unnecessary parentheses in my letters, both
unmistakable proofs of a decline in mental activity. And it is
noteworthy that the simpler the letter the more painful the
effort to write it. At a scientific article I feel far more
intelligent and at ease than at a letter of congratulation or a
minute of proceedings. Another point: I find it easier to write
German or English than to write Russian.
As regards my present manner of life, I must give a foremost
place to the insomnia from which I have suffered of late. If I
were asked what constituted the chief and fundamental feature of
my existence now, I should answer, Insomnia. As in the past, from
habit I undress and go to bed exactly at midnight. I fall asleep
quickly, but before two o'clock I wake up and feel as though I
had not slept at all. Sometimes I get out of bed and light a
lamp. For an hour or two I walk up and down the room looking at
the familiar photographs and pictures. When I am weary of walking
about, I sit down to my table. I sit motionless, thinking of
nothing, conscious of no inclination; if a book is lying before
me, I mechanically move it closer and read it without any
interest -- in that way not long ago I mechanically read through
in one night a whole novel, with the strange title "The Song the
Lark was Singing"; or to occupy my attention I force myself to
count to a thousand; or I imagine the face of one of my
colleagues and begin trying to remember in what year and under
what circumstances he entered the service. I like listening to
sounds. Two rooms away from me my daughter Liza says something
rapidly in her sleep, or my wife crosses the drawing-room with a
candle and invariably drops the matchbox; or a warped cupboard
creaks; or the burner of the lamp suddenly begins to hum -- and
all these sounds, for some reason, excite me.
To lie awake at night means to be at every moment conscious of
being abnormal, and so I look forward with impatience to the
morning and the day when I have a right to be awake. Many
wearisome hours pass before the cock crows in the yard. He is my
first bringer of good tidings. As soon as he crows I know that
within an hour the porter will wake up below, and, coughing
angrily, will go upstairs to fetch something. And then a pale
light will begin gradually glimmering at the windows, voices will
sound in the street. . . .
The day begins for me with the entrance of my wife. She comes in
to me in her petticoat, before she has done her hair, but after
she has washed, smelling of flower-scented eau-de-Cologne,
looking as though she had come in by chance. Every time she says
exactly the same thing: "Excuse me, I have just come in for a
minute. . . . Have you had a bad night again?"
Then she puts out the lamp, sits down near the table, and begins
talking. I am no prophet, but I know what she will talk about.
Every morning it is exactly the same thing. Usually, after
anxious inquiries concerning my health, she suddenly mentions our
son who is an officer serving at Warsaw. After the twentieth of
each month we send him fifty roubles, and that serves as the
chief topic of our conversation.
"Of course it is difficult for us," my wife would sigh, "but
until he is completely on his own feet it is our duty to help
him. The boy is among strangers, his pay is small. . . . However,
if you like, next month we won't send him fifty, but forty. What
do you think?"
Daily experience might have taught my wife that constantly
talking of our expenses does not reduce them, but my wife refuses
to learn by experience, and regularly every morning discusses our
officer son, and tells me that bread, thank God, is cheaper,
while sugar is a halfpenny dearer -- with a tone and an air as
though she were communicating interesting news.
I listen, mechanically assent, and probably because I have had a
bad night, strange and inappropriate thoughts intrude themselves
upon me. I gaze at my wife and wonder like a child. I ask myself
in perplexity, is it possible that this old, very stout, ungainly
woman, with her dull expression of petty anxiety and alarm about
daily bread, with eyes dimmed by continual brooding over debts
and money difficulties, who can talk of nothing but expenses and
who smiles at nothing but things getting cheaper -- is it
possible that this woman is no other than the slender Varya whom
I fell in love with so passionately for her fine, clear
intelligence, for her pure soul, her beauty, and, as Othello his
Desdemona, for her "sympathy" for my studies? Could that woman be
no other than the Varya who had once borne me a son?
I look with strained attention into the face of this flabby,
spiritless, clumsy old woman, seeking in her my Varya, but of her
past self nothing is left but her anxiety over my health and her
manner of calling my salary "our salary," and my cap "our cap."
It is painful for me to look at her, and, to give her what little
comfort I can, I let her say what she likes, and say nothing even
when she passes unjust criticisms on other people or pitches into
me for not having a private practice or not publishing
Our conversation always ends in the same way. My wife suddenly
remembers with dismay that I have not had my tea.
"What am I thinking about, sitting here?" she says, getting up.
"The samovar has been on the table ever so long, and here I stay
gossiping. My goodness! how forgetful I am growing!"
She goes out quickly, and stops in the doorway to say:
"We owe Yegor five months' wages. Did you know it? You mustn't
let the servants' wages run on; how many times I have said it!
It's much easier to pay ten roubles a month than fifty roubles
every five months!"
As she goes out, she stops to say:
"The person I am sorriest for is our Liza. The girl studies at
the Conservatoire, always mixes with people of good position, and
goodness knows how she is dressed. Her fur coat is in such a
state she is ashamed to show herself in the street. If she were
somebody else's daughter it wouldn't matter, but of course every
one knows that her father is a distinguished professor, a privy
And having reproached me with my rank and reputation, she goes
away at last. That is how my day begins. It does not improve as
it goes on.
As I am drinking my tea, my Liza comes in wearing her fur coat
and her cap, with her music in her hand, already quite ready to
go to the Conservatoire. She is two-and-twenty. She looks
younger, is pretty, and rather like my wife in her young days.
She kisses me tenderly on my forehead and on my hand, and says:
"Good-morning, papa; are you quite well?"
As a child she was very fond of ice-cream, and I used often to
take her to a confectioner's. Ice-cream was for her the type of
everything delightful. If she wanted to praise me she would say:
"You are as nice as cream, papa." We used to call one of her
little fingers "pistachio ice," the next, "cream ice," the third
"raspberry," and so on. Usually when she came in to say
good-morning to me I used to sit her on my knee, kiss her little
fingers, and say:
"Creamy ice . . . pistachio . . . lemon. . . ."
And now, from old habit, I kiss Liza's fingers and mutter:
"Pistachio . . . cream . . . lemon. . ." but the effect is
utterly different. I am cold as ice and I am ashamed. When my
daughter comes in to me and touches my forehead with her lips I
start as though a bee had stung me on the head, give a forced
smile, and turn my face away. Ever since I have been suffering
from sleeplessness, a question sticks in my brain like a nail. My
daughter often sees me, an old man and a distinguished man, blush
painfully at being in debt to my footman; she sees how often
anxiety over petty debts forces me to lay aside my work and to
walk u p and down the room for hours together, thinking; but why
is it she never comes to me in secret to whisper in my ear:
"Father, here is my watch, here are my bracelets, my earrings, my
dresses. . . . Pawn them all; you want money . . ."? How is it
that, seeing how her mother and I are placed in a false position
and do our utmost to hide our poverty from people, she does not
give up her expensive pleasure of music lessons? I would not
accept her watch nor her bracelets, nor the sacrifice of her
lessons -- God forbid! That isn't what I want.
I think at the same time of my son, the officer at Warsaw. He is
a clever, honest, and sober fellow. But that is not enough for
me. I think if I had an old father, and if I knew there were
moments when he was put to shame by his poverty, I should give up
my officer's commission to somebody else, and should go out to
earn my living as a workman. Such thoughts about my children
poison me. What is the use of them? It is only a narrow-minded or
embittered man who can harbour evil thoughts about ordinary
people because they are not heroes. But enough of that!
At a quarter to ten I have to go and give a lecture to my dear
boys. I dress and walk along the road which I have known for
thirty years, and which has its history for me. Here is the big
grey house with the chemist's shop; at this point there used to
stand a little house, and in it was a beershop; in that beershop
I thought out my thesis and wrote my first love-letter to Varya.
I wrote it in pencil, on a page headed "Historia morbi." Here
there is a grocer's shop; at one time it was kept by a little
Jew, who sold me cigarettes on credit; then by a fat peasant
woman, who liked the students because "every one of them has a
mother"; now there is a red-haired shopkeeper sitting in it, a
very stolid man who drinks tea from a copper teapot. And here are
the gloomy gates of the University, which have long needed doing
up; I see the bored porter in his sheep-skin, the broom, the
drifts of snow. . . . On a boy coming fresh from the provinces
and imagining that the temple of science must really be a temple,
such gates cannot make a healthy impression. Altogether the
dilapidated condition of the University buildings, the gloominess
of the corridors, the griminess of the walls, the lack of light,
the dejected aspect of the steps, the hat-stands and the benches,
take a prominent position among predisposing causes in the
history of Russian pessimism. . . . Here is our garden . . . I
fancy it has grown neither better nor worse since I was a
student. I don't like it. It would be far more sensible if there
were tall pines and fine oaks growing here instead of
sickly-looking lime-trees, yellow acacias, and skimpy pollard
lilacs. The student whose state of mind is in the majority of
cases created by his surroundings, ought in the place where he is
studying to see facing him at every turn nothing but what is
lofty, strong and elegant. . . . God preserve him from gaunt
trees, broken windows, grey walls, and doors covered with torn
When I go to my own entrance the door is flung wide open, and I
am met by my colleague, contemporary, and namesake, the porter
Nikolay. As he lets me in he clears his throat and says:
"A frost, your Excellency!"
Or, if my great-coat is wet:
"Rain, your Excellency!"
Then he runs on ahead of me and opens all the doors on my way. In
my study he carefully takes off my fur coat, and while doing so
manages to tell me some bit of University news. Thanks to the
close intimacy existing between all the University porters and
beadles, he knows everything that goes on in the four faculties,
in the office, in the rector's private room, in the library. What
does he not know? When in an evil day a rector or dean, for
instance, retires, I hear him in conversation with the young
porters mention the candidates for the post, explain that such a
one would not be confirmed by the minister, that another would
himself refuse to accept it, then drop into fantastic details
concerning mysterious papers received in the office, secret
conversations alleged to have taken place between the minister
and the trustee, and so on. With the exception of these details,
he almost always turns out to be right. His estimates of the
candidates, though original, are very correct, too. If one wants
to know in what year some one read his thesis, entered the
service, retired, or died, then summon to your assistance the
vast memory of that soldier, and he will not only tell you the
year, the month and the day, but will furnish you also with the
details that accompanied this or that event. Only one who loves
can remember like that.
He is the guardian of the University traditions. From the porters
who were his predecessors he has inherited many legends of
University life, has added to that wealth much of his own gained
during his time of service, and if you care to hear he will tell
you many long and intimate stories. He can tell one about
extraordinary sages who knew _everything_, about remarkable
students who did not sleep for weeks, about numerous martyrs and
victims of science; with him good triumphs over evil, the weak
always vanquishes the strong, the wise man the fool, the humble
the proud, the young the old. There is no need to take all these
fables and legends for sterling coin; but filter them, and you
will have left what is wanted: our fine traditions and the names
of real heroes, recognized as such by all.
In our society the knowledge of the learned world consists of
anecdotes of the extraordinary absentmindedness of certain old
professors, and two or three witticisms variously ascribed to
Gruber, to me, and to Babukin. For the educated public that is
not much. If it loved science, learned men, and students, as
Nikolay does, its literature would long ago have contained whole
epics, records of sayings and doings such as, unfortunately, it
cannot boast of now.
After telling me a piece of news, Nikolay assumes a severe
expression, and conversation about business begins. If any
outsider could at such times overhear Nikolay's free use of our
terminology, he might perhaps imagine that he was a learned man
disguised as a soldier. And, by the way, the rumours of the
erudition of the University porters are greatly exaggerated. It
is true that Nikolay knows more than a hundred Latin words, knows
how to put the skeleton together, sometimes prepares the
apparatus and amuses the students by some long, learned
quotation, but the by no means complicated theory of the
circulation of the blood, for instance, is as much a mystery to
him now as it was twenty years ago.
At the table in my study, bending low over some book or
preparation, sits Pyotr Ignatyevitch, my demonstrator, a modest
and industrious but by no means clever man of five-and-thirty,
already bald and corpulent; he works from morning to night, reads
a lot, remembers well everything he has read -- and in that way
he is not a man, but pure gold; in all else he is a carthorse or,
in other words, a learned dullard. The carthorse characteristics
that show his lack of talent are these: his outlook is narrow and
sharply limited by his specialty; outside his special branch he
is simple as a child.
"Fancy! what a misfortune! They say Skobelev is dead."
Nikolay crosses himself, but Pyotr Ignatyevitch turns to me and
"What Skobelev is that?"
Another time -- somewhat earlier -- I told him that Professor
Perov was dead. Good Pyotr Ignatyevitch asked:
"What did he lecture on?"
I believe if Patti had sung in his very ear, if a horde of
Chinese had invaded Russia, if there had been an earthquake, he
would not have stirred a limb, but screwing up his eye, would
have gone on calmly looking through his microscope. What is he to
Hecuba or Hecuba to him, in fact? I would give a good deal to see
how this dry stick sleeps with his wife at night.
Another characteristic is his fanatical faith in the
infallibility of science, and, above all, of everything written