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The Wife, et al by Anton Chekhov

Part 3 out of 5

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by the Germans. He believes in himself, in his preparations;
knows the object of life, and knows nothing of the doubts and
disappointments that turn the hair o f talent grey. He has a
slavish reverence for authorities and a complete lack of any
desire for independent thought. To change his convictions is
difficult, to argue with him impossible. How is one to argue with
a man who is firmly persuaded that medicine is the finest of
sciences, that doctors are the best of men, and that the
traditions of the medical profession are superior to those of any
other? Of the evil past of medicine only one tradition has been
preserved -- the white tie still worn by doctors; for a learned
-- in fact, for any educated man the only traditions that can
exist are those of the University as a whole, with no distinction
between medicine, law, etc. But it would be hard for Pyotr
Ignatyevitch to accept these facts, and he is ready to argue with
you till the day of judgment.

I have a clear picture in my mind of his future. In the course of
his life he will prepare many hundreds of chemicals of
exceptional purity; he will write a number of dry and very
accurate memoranda, will make some dozen conscientious
translations, but he won't do anything striking. To do that one
must have imagination, inventiveness, the gift of insight, and
Pyotr Ignatyevitch has nothing of the kind. In short, he is not a
master in science, but a journeyman.

Pyotr Ignatyevitch, Nikolay, and I, talk in subdued tones. We are
not quite ourselves. There is always a peculiar feeling when one
hears through the doors a murmur as of the sea from the
lecture-theatre. In the course of thirty years I have not grown
accustomed to this feeling, and I experience it every morning. I
nervously button up my coat, ask Nikolay unnecessary questions,
lose my temper. . . . It is just as though I were frightened; it
is not timidity, though, but something different which I can
neither describe nor find a name for.

Quite unnecessarily, I look at my watch and say: "Well, it's time
to go in."

And we march into the room in the following order: foremost goes
Nikolay, with the chemicals and apparatus or with a chart; after
him I come; and then the carthorse follows humbly, with hanging
head; or, when necessary, a dead body is carried in first on a
stretcher, followed by Nikolay, and so on. On my entrance the
students all stand up, then they sit down, and the sound as of
the sea is suddenly hushed. Stillness reigns.

I know what I am going to lecture about, but I don't know how I
am going to lecture, where I am going to begin or with what I am
going to end. I haven't a single sentence ready in my head. But I
have only to look round the lecture-hall (it is built in the form
of an amphitheatre) and utter the stereotyped phrase, "Last
lecture we stopped at . . ." when sentences spring up from my
soul in a long string, and I am carried away by my own eloquence.
I speak with irresistible rapidity and passion, and it seems as
though there were no force which could check the flow of my
words. To lecture well -- that is, with profit to the listeners
and without boring them -- one must have, besides talent,
experience and a special knack; one must possess a clear
conception of one's own powers, of the audience to which one is
lecturing, and of the subject of one's lecture. Moreover, one
must be a man who knows what he is doing; one must keep a sharp
lookout, and not for one second lose sight of what lies before

A good conductor, interpreting the thought of the composer, does
twenty things at once: reads the score, waves his baton, watches
the singer, makes a motion sideways, first to the drum then to
the wind-instruments, and so on. I do just the same when I
lecture. Before me a hundred and fifty faces, all unlike one
another; three hundred eyes all looking straight into my face. My
object is to dominate this many-headed monster. If every moment
as I lecture I have a clear vision of the degree of its attention
and its power of comprehension, it is in my power. The other foe
I have to overcome is in myself. It is the infinite variety of
forms, phenomena, laws, and the multitude of ideas of my own and
other people's conditioned by them. Every moment I must have the
skill to snatch out of that vast mass of material what is most
important and necessary, and, as rapidly as my words flow, clothe
my thought in a form in which it can be grasped by the monster's
intelligence, and may arouse its attention, and at the same time
one must keep a sharp lookout that one's thoughts are conveyed,
not just as they come, but in a certain order, essential for the
correct composition of the picture I wish to sketch. Further, I
endeavour to make my diction literary, my definitions brief and
precise, my wording, as far as possible, simple and eloquent.
Every minute I have to pull myself up and remember that I have
only an hour and forty minutes at my disposal. In short, one has
one's work cut out. At one and the same minute one has to play
the part of savant and teacher and orator, and it's a bad thing
if the orator gets the upper hand of the savant or of the teacher
in one, or _vice versa_.

You lecture for a quarter of an hour, for half an hour, when you
notice that the students are beginning to look at the ceiling, at
Pyotr Ignatyevitch; one is feeling for his handkerchief, another
shifts in his seat, another smiles at his thoughts. . . . That
means that their attention is flagging. Something must be done.
Taking advantage of the first opportunity, I make some pun. A
broad grin comes on to a hundred and fifty faces, the eyes shine
brightly, the sound of the sea is audible for a brief moment. . .
. I laugh too. Their attention is refreshed, and I can go on.

No kind of sport, no kind of game or diversion, has ever given me
such enjoyment as lecturing. Only at lectures have I been able to
abandon myself entirely to passion, and have understood that
inspiration is not an invention of the poets, but exists in real
life, and I imagine Hercules after the most piquant of his
exploits felt just such voluptuous exhaustion as I experience
after every lecture.

That was in old times. Now at lectures I feel nothing but
torture. Before half an hour is over I am conscious of an
overwhelming weakness in my legs and my shoulders. I sit down in
my chair, but I am not accustomed to lecture sitting down; a
minute later I get up and go on standing, then sit down again.
There is a dryness in my mouth, my voice grows husky, my head
begins to go round. . . . To conceal my condition from my
audience I continually drink water, cough, often blow my nose as
though I were hindered by a cold, make puns inappropriately, and
in the end break off earlier than I ought to. But above all I am

My conscience and my intelligence tell me that the very best
thing I could do now would be to deliver a farewell lecture to
the boys, to say my last word to them, to bless them, and give up
my post to a man younger and stronger than me. But, God, be my
judge, I have not manly courage enough to act according to my

Unfortunately, I am not a philosopher and not a theologian. I
know perfectly well that I cannot live more than another six
months; it might be supposed that I ought now to be chiefly
concerned with the question of the shadowy life beyond the grave,
and the visions that will visit my slumbers in the tomb. But for
some reason my soul refuses to recognize these questions, though
my mind is fully alive to their importance. Just as twenty,
thirty years ago, so now, on the threshold of death, I am
interested in nothing but science. As I yield up my last breath I
shall still believe that science is the most important, the most
splendid, the most essential thing in the life of man; that it
always has been and will be the highest manifestation of love,
and that only by means of it will man conquer himself and nature.
This faith is perhaps naive and may rest on false assumptions,
but it is not my fault that I believe that and nothing else; I
cannot overcome in myself this belief.

But that is not the point. I only ask people to be indulgent to
my weakness, and to realize that to tear from the lecture-theatre
and his pupils a man who is more interested in the history of the
development of the bone medulla than in the
final object of creation would be equivalent to taking him and
nailing him up in his coffin without waiting for him to be dead.

Sleeplessness and the consequent strain of combating increasing
weakness leads to something strange in me. In the middle of my
lecture tears suddenly rise in my throat, my eyes begin to smart,
and I feel a passionate, hysterical desire to stretch out my
hands before me and break into loud lamentation. I want to cry
out in a loud voice that I, a famous man, have been sentenced by
fate to the death penalty, that within some six months another
man will be in control here in the lecture-theatre. I want to
shriek that I am poisoned; new ideas such as I have not known
before have poisoned the last days of my life, and are still
stinging my brain like mosquitoes. And at that moment my position
seems to me so awful that I want all my listeners to be
horrified, to leap up from their seats and to rush in panic
terror, with desperate screams, to the exit.

It is not easy to get through such moments.


After my lecture I sit at home and work. I read journals and
monographs, or prepare my next lecture; sometimes I write
something. I work with interruptions, as I have from time to time
to see visitors.

There is a ring at the bell. It is a colleague come to discuss
some business matter with me. He comes in to me with his hat and
his stick, and, holding out both these objects to me, says:

"Only for a minute! Only for a minute! Sit down, _collega_! Only
a couple of words."

To begin with, we both try to show each other that we are
extraordinarily polite and highly delighted to see each other. I
make him sit down in an easy-chair, and he makes me sit down; as
we do so, we cautiously pat each other on the back, touch each
other's buttons, and it looks as though we were feeling each
other and afraid of scorching our fingers. Both of us laugh,
though we say nothing amusing. When we are seated we bow our
heads towards each other and begin talking in subdued voices.
However affectionately disposed we may be to one another, we
cannot help adorning our conversation with all sorts of Chinese
mannerisms, such as "As you so justly observed," or "I have
already had the honour to inform you"; we cannot help laughing if
one of us makes a joke, however unsuccessfully. When we have
finished with business my colleague gets up impulsively and,
waving his hat in the direction of my work, begins to say
good-bye. Again we paw one another and laugh. I see him into the
hall; when I assist my colleague to put on his coat, while he
does all he can to decline this high honour. Then when Yegor
opens the door my colleague declares that I shall catch cold,
while I make a show of being ready to go even into the street
with him. And when at last I go back into my study my face still
goes on smiling, I suppose from inertia.

A little later another ring at the bell. Somebody comes into the
hall, and is a long time coughing and taking off his things.
Yegor announces a student. I tell him to ask him in. A minute
later a young man of agreeable appearance comes in. For the last
year he and I have been on strained relations; he answers me
disgracefully at the examinations, and I mark him one. Every year
I have some seven such hopefuls whom, to express it in the
students' slang, I "chivy" or "floor." Those of them who fail in
their examination through incapacity or illness usually bear
their cross patiently and do not haggle with me; those who come
to the house and haggle with me are always youths of sanguine
temperament, broad natures, whose failure at examinations spoils
their appetites and hinders them from visiting the opera with
their usual regularity. I let the first class off easily, but the
second I chivy through a whole year.

"Sit down," I say to my visitor; "what have you to tell me?"

"Excuse me, professor, for troubling you," he begins, hesitating,
and not looking me in the face. "I would not have ventured to
trouble you if it had not been . . . I have been up for your
examination five times, and have been ploughed. . . . I beg you,
be so good as to mark me for a pass, because . . ."

The argument which all the sluggards bring forward on their own
behalf is always the same; they have passed well in all their
subjects and have only come to grief in mine, and that is the
more surprising because they have always been particularly
interested in my subject and knew it so well; their failure has
always been entirely owing to some incomprehensible

"Excuse me, my friend," I say to the visitor; "I cannot mark you
for a pass. Go and read up the lectures and come to me again.
Then we shall see."

A pause. I feel an impulse to torment the student a little for
liking beer and the opera better than science, and I say, with a

"To my mind, the best thing you can do now is to give up medicine
altogether. If, with your abilities, you cannot succeed in
passing the examination, it's evident that you have neither the
desire nor the vocation for a doctor's calling."

The sanguine youth's face lengthens.

"Excuse me, professor," he laughs, "but that would be odd of me,
to say the least of it. After studying for five years, all at
once to give it up."

"Oh, well! Better to have lost your five years than have to spend
the rest of your life in doing work you do not care for."

But at once I feel sorry for him, and I hasten to add:

"However, as you think best. And so read a little more and come

"When?" the idle youth asks in a hollow voice.

"When you like. Tomorrow if you like."

And in his good-natured eyes I read:

"I can come all right, but of course you will plough me again,
you beast!"

"Of course," I say, "you won't know more science for going in for
my examination another fifteen times, but it is training your
character, and you must be thankful for that."

Silence follows. I get up and wait for my visitor to go, but he
stands and looks towards the window, fingers his beard, and
thinks. It grows boring.

The sanguine youth's voice is pleasant and mellow, his eyes are
clever and ironical, his face is genial, though a little bloated
from frequent indulgence in beer and overlong lying on the sofa;
he looks as though he could tell me a lot of interesting things
about the opera, about his affairs of the heart, and about
comrades whom he likes. Unluckily, it is not the thing to discuss
these subjects, or else I should have been glad to listen to him.

"Professor, I give you my word of honour that if you mark me for
a pass I . . . I'll . . ."

As soon as we reach the "word of honour" I wave my hands and sit
down to the table. The student ponders a minute longer, and says

"In that case, good-bye. . . I beg your pardon."

"Good-bye, my friend. Good luck to you."

He goes irresolutely into the hall, slowly puts on his outdoor
things, and, going out into the street, probably ponders for some
time longer; unable to think of anything, except "old devil,"
inwardly addressed to me, he goes into a wretched restaurant to
dine and drink beer, and then home to bed. "Peace be to thy
ashes, honest toiler."

A third ring at the bell. A young doctor, in a pair of new black
trousers, gold spectacles, and of course a white tie, walks in.
He introduces himself. I beg him to be seated, and ask what I can
do for him. Not without emotion, the young devotee of science
begins telling me that he has passed his examination as a doctor
of medicine, and that he has now only to write his dissertation.
He would like to work with me under my guidance, and he would be
greatly obliged to me if I would give him a subject for his

"Very glad to be of use to you, colleague," I say, "but just let
us come to an understanding as to the meaning of a dissertation.
That word is taken to mean a composition which is a product of
independent creative effort. Is that not so? A work written on
another man's subject and under another man's guidance is called
something different. . . ."

The doctor says nothing. I fly into a rage and jump up from my

"Why is it you all come to me?" I cry angrily. "Do I keep a shop?
I don't deal in subjects. For the tho usand and oneth time I ask
you all to leave me in peace! Excuse my brutality, but I am quite
sick of it!"

The doctor remains silent, but a faint flush is apparent on his
cheek-bones. His face expresses a profound reverence for my fame
and my learning, but from his eyes I can see he feels a contempt
for my voice, my pitiful figure, and my nervous gesticulation. I
impress him in my anger as a queer fish.

"I don't keep a shop," I go on angrily. "And it is a strange
thing! Why don't you want to be independent? Why have you such a
distaste for independence?"

I say a great deal, but he still remains silent. By degrees I
calm down, and of course give in. The doctor gets a subject from
me for his theme not worth a halfpenny, writes under my
supervision a dissertation of no use to any one, with dignity
defends it in a dreary discussion, and receives a degree of no
use to him.

The rings at the bell may follow one another endlessly, but I
will confine my description here to four of them. The bell rings
for the fourth time, and I hear familiar footsteps, the rustle of
a dress, a dear voice. . . .

Eighteen years ago a colleague of mine, an oculist, died leaving
a little daughter Katya, a child of seven, and sixty thousand
roubles. In his will he made me the child's guardian. Till she
was ten years old Katya lived with us as one of the family, then
she was sent to a boarding-school, and only spent the summer
holidays with us. I never had time to look after her education. I
only superintended it at leisure moments, and so I can say very
little about her childhood.

The first thing I remember, and like so much in remembrance, is
the extraordinary trustfulness with which she came into our house
and let herself be treated by the doctors, a trustfulness which
was always shining in her little face. She would sit somewhere
out of the way, with her face tied up, invariably watching
something with attention; whether she watched me writing or
turning over the pages of a book, or watched my wife bustling
about, or the cook scrubbing a potato in the kitchen, or the dog
playing, her eyes invariably expressed the same thought -- that
is, "Everything that is done in this world is nice and sensible."
She was curious, and very fond of talking to me. Sometimes she
would sit at the table opposite me, watching my movements and
asking questions. It interested her to know what I was reading,
what I did at the University, whether I was not afraid of the
dead bodies, what I did with my salary.

"Do the students fight at the University?" she would ask.

"They do, dear."

"And do you make them go down on their knees?"

"Yes, I do."

And she thought it funny that the students fought and I made them
go down on their knees, and she laughed. She was a gentle,
patient, good child. It happened not infrequently that I saw
something taken away from her, saw her punished without reason,
or her curiosity repressed; at such times a look of sadness was
mixed with the invariable expression of trustfulness on her face
-- that was all. I did not know how to take her part; only when I
saw her sad I had an inclination to draw her to me and to
commiserate her like some old nurse: "My poor little orphan one!"

I remember, too, that she was fond of fine clothes and of
sprinkling herself with scent. In that respect she was like me.
I, too, am fond of pretty clothes and nice scent.

I regret that I had not time nor inclination to watch over the
rise and development of the passion which took complete
possession of Katya when she was fourteen or fifteen. I mean her
passionate love for the theatre. When she used to come from
boarding-school and stay with us for the summer holidays, she
talked of nothing with such pleasure and such warmth as of plays
and actors. She bored us with her continual talk of the theatre.
My wife and children would not listen to her. I was the only one
who had not the courage to refuse to attend to her. When she had
a longing to share her transports, she used to come into my study
and say in an imploring tone:

"Nikolay Stepanovitch, do let me talk to you about the theatre!"

I pointed to the clock, and said:

"I'll give you half an hour -- begin."

Later on she used to bring with her dozens of portraits of actors
and actresses which she worshipped; then she attempted several
times to take part in private theatricals, and the upshot of it
all was that when she left school she came to me and announced
that she was born to be an actress.

I had never shared Katya's inclinations for the theatre. To my
mind, if a play is good there is no need to trouble the actors in
order that it may make the right impression; it is enough to read
it. If the play is poor, no acting will make it good.

In my youth I often visited the theatre, and now my family takes
a box twice a year and carries me off for a little distraction.
Of course, that is not enough to give me the right to judge of
the theatre. In my opinion the theatre has become no better than
it was thirty or forty years ago. Just as in the past, I can
never find a glass of clean water in the corridors or foyers of
the theatre. Just as in the past, the attendants fine me twenty
kopecks for my fur coat, though there is nothing reprehensible in
wearing a warm coat in winter. As in the past, for no sort of
reason, music is played in the intervals, which adds something
new and uncalled-for to the impression made by the play. As in
the past, men go in the intervals and drink spirits in the
buffet. If no progress can be seen in trifles, I should look for
it in vain in what is more important. When an actor wrapped from
head to foot in stage traditions and conventions tries to recite
a simple ordinary speech, "To be or not to be," not simply, but
invariably with the accompaniment of hissing and convulsive
movements all over his body, or when he tries to convince me at
all costs that Tchatsky, who talks so much with fools and is so
fond of folly, is a very clever man, and that "Woe from Wit" is
not a dull play, the stage gives me the same feeling of
conventionality which bored me so much forty years ago when I was
regaled with the classical howling and beating on the breast. And
every time I come out of the theatre more conservative than I go

The sentimental and confiding public may be persuaded that the
stage, even in its present form, is a school; but any one who is
familiar with a school in its true sense will not be caught with
that bait. I cannot say what will happen in fifty or a hundred
years, but in its actual condition the theatre can serve only as
an entertainment. But this entertainment is too costly to be
frequently enjoyed. It robs the state of thousands of healthy and
talented young men and women, who, if they had not devoted
themselves to the theatre, might have been good doctors, farmers,
schoolmistresses, officers; it robs the public of the evening
hours -- the best time for intellectual work and social
intercourse. I say nothing of the waste of money and the moral
damage to the spectator when he sees murder, fornication, or
false witness unsuitably treated on the stage.

Katya was of an entirely different opinion. She assured me that
the theatre, even in its present condition, was superior to the
lecture-hall, to books, or to anything in the world. The stage
was a power that united in itself all the arts, and actors were
missionaries. No art nor science was capable of producing so
strong and so certain an effect on the soul of man as the stage,
and it was with good reason that an actor of medium quality
enjoys greater popularity than the greatest savant or artist. And
no sort of public service could provide such enjoyment and
gratification as the theatre.

And one fine day Katya joined a troupe of actors, and went off, I
believe to Ufa, taking away with her a good supply of money, a
store of rainbow hopes, and the most aristocratic views of her

Her first letters on the journey were marvellous. I read them,
and was simply amazed that those small sheets of paper could
contain so much youth, purity of spirit, holy innocence, and at
the same time subtle and apt judgments which would have done
credit to a fine mas culine intellect. It was more like a
rapturous paean of praise she sent me than a mere description of
the Volga, the country, the towns she visited, her companions,
her failures and successes; every sentence was fragrant with that
confiding trustfulness I was accustomed to read in her face --
and at the same time there were a great many grammatical
mistakes, and there was scarcely any punctuation at all.

Before six months had passed I received a highly poetical and
enthusiastic letter beginning with the words, "I have come to
love . . ." This letter was accompanied by a photograph
representing a young man with a shaven face, a wide-brimmed hat,
and a plaid flung over his shoulder. The letters that followed
were as splendid as before, but now commas and stops made their
appearance in them, the grammatical mistakes disappeared, and
there was a distinctly masculine flavour about them. Katya began
writing to me how splendid it would be to build a great theatre
somewhere on the Volga, on a cooperative system, and to attract
to the enterprise the rich merchants and the steamer owners;
there would be a great deal of money in it; there would be vast
audiences; the actors would play on co-operative terms. . . .
Possibly all this was really excellent, but it seemed to me that
such schemes could only originate from a man's mind.

However that may have been, for a year and a half everything
seemed to go well: Katya was in love, believed in her work, and
was happy; but then I began to notice in her letters unmistakable
signs of falling off. It began with Katya's complaining of her
companions -- this was the first and most ominous symptom; if a
young scientific or literary man begins his career with bitter
complaints of scientific and literary men, it is a sure sign that
he is worn out and not fit for his work. Katya wrote to me that
her companions did not attend the rehearsals and never knew their
parts; that one could see in every one of them an utter
disrespect for the public in the production of absurd plays, and
in their behaviour on the stage; that for the benefit of the
Actors' Fund, which they only talked about, actresses of the
serious drama demeaned themselves by singing chansonettes, while
tragic actors sang comic songs making fun of deceived husbands
and the pregnant condition of unfaithful wives, and so on. In
fact, it was amazing that all this had not yet ruined the
provincial stage, and that it could still maintain itself on such
a rotten and unsubstantial footing.

In answer I wrote Katya a long and, I must confess, a very boring
letter. Among other things, I wrote to her:

"I have more than once happened to converse with old actors, very
worthy men, who showed a friendly disposition towards me; from my
conversations with them I could understand that their work was
controlled not so much by their own intelligence and free choice
as by fashion and the mood of the public. The best of them had
had to play in their day in tragedy, in operetta, in Parisian
farces, and in extravaganzas, and they always seemed equally sure
that they were on the right path and that they were of use. So,
as you see, the cause of the evil must be sought, not in the
actors, but, more deeply, in the art itself and in the attitude
of the whole of society to it."

This letter of mine only irritated Katya. She answered me:

"You and I are singing parts out of different operas. I wrote to
you, not of the worthy men who showed a friendly disposition to
you, but of a band of knaves who have nothing worthy about them.
They are a horde of savages who have got on the stage simply
because no one would have taken them elsewhere, and who call
themselves artists simply because they are impudent. There are
numbers of dull-witted creatures, drunkards, intriguing schemers
and slanderers, but there is not one person of talent among them.
I cannot tell you how bitter it is to me that the art I love has
fallen into the hands of people I detest; how bitter it is that
the best men look on at evil from afar, not caring to come
closer, and, instead of intervening, write ponderous commonplaces
and utterly useless sermons. . . ." And so on, all in the same

A little time passed, and I got this letter: "I have been
brutally deceived. I cannot go on living. Dispose of my money as
you think best. I loved you as my father and my only friend.

It turned out that _he_, too, belonged to the "horde of savages."
Later on, from certain hints, I gathered that there had been an
attempt at suicide. I believe Katya tried to poison herself. I
imagine that she must have been seriously ill afterwards, as the
next letter I got was from Yalta, where she had most probably
been sent by the doctors. Her last letter contained a request to
send her a thousand roubles to Yalta as quickly as possible, and
ended with these words:

"Excuse the gloominess of this letter; yesterday I buried my
child." After spending about a year in the Crimea, she returned

She had been about four years on her travels, and during those
four years, I must confess, I had played a rather strange and
unenviable part in regard to her. When in earlier days she had
told me she was going on the stage, and then wrote to me of her
love; when she was periodically overcome by extravagance, and I
continually had to send her first one and then two thousand
roubles; when she wrote to me of her intention of suicide, and
then of the death of her baby, every time I lost my head, and all
my sympathy for her sufferings found no expression except that,
after prolonged reflection, I wrote long, boring letters which I
might just as well not have written. And yet I took a father's
place with her and loved her like a daughter!

Now Katya is living less than half a mile off. She has taken a
flat of five rooms, and has installed herself fairly comfortably
and in the taste of the day. If any one were to undertake to
describe her surroundings, the most characteristic note in the
picture would be indolence. For the indolent body there are soft
lounges, soft stools; for indolent feet soft rugs; for indolent
eyes faded, dingy, or flat colours; for the indolent soul the
walls are hung with a number of cheap fans and trivial pictures,
in which the originality of the execution is more conspicuous
than the subject; and the room contains a multitude of little
tables and shelves filled with utterly useless articles of no
value, and shapeless rags in place of curtains. . . . All this,
together with the dread of bright colours, of symmetry, and of
empty space, bears witness not only to spiritual indolence, but
also to a corruption of natural taste. For days together Katya
lies on the lounge reading, principally novels and stories. She
only goes out of the house once a day, in the afternoon, to see

I go on working while Katya sits silent not far from me on the
sofa, wrapping herself in her shawl, as though she were cold.
Either because I find her sympathetic or because I was used to
her frequent visits when she was a little girl, her presence does
not prevent me from concentrating my attention. From time to time
I mechanically ask her some question; she gives very brief
replies; or, to rest for a minute, I turn round and watch her as
she looks dreamily at some medical journal or review. And at such
moments I notice that her face has lost the old look of confiding
trustfulness. Her expression now is cold, apathetic, and
absent-minded, like that of passengers who had to wait too long
for a train. She is dressed, as in old days, simply and
beautifully, but carelessly; her dress and her hair show visible
traces of the sofas and rocking-chairs in which she spends whole
days at a stretch. And she has lost the curiosity she had in old
days. She has ceased to ask me questions now, as though she had
experienced everything in life and looked for nothing new from

Towards four o'clock there begins to be sounds of movement in the
hall and in the drawing-room. Liza has come back from the
Conservatoire, and has brought some girl-friends in with her. We
hear them playing on the piano, trying their voices and laughing;
in the dining-room Yegor is laying th e table, with the clatter
of crockery.

"Good-bye," said Katya. "I won't go in and see your people today.
They must excuse me. I haven't time. Come and see me."

While I am seeing her to the door, she looks me up and down
grimly, and says with vexation:

"You are getting thinner and thinner! Why don't you consult a
doctor? I'll call at Sergey Fyodorovitch's and ask him to have a
look at you."

"There's no need, Katya."

"I can't think where your people's eyes are! They are a nice lot,
I must say!"

She puts on her fur coat abruptly, and as she does so two or
three hairpins drop unnoticed on the floor from her carelessly
arranged hair. She is too lazy and in too great a hurry to do her
hair up; she carelessly stuffs the falling curls under her hat,
and goes away.

When I go into the dining-room my wife asks me:

"Was Katya with you just now? Why didn't she come in to see us?
It's really strange . . . ."

"Mamma," Liza says to her reproachfully, "let her alone, if she
doesn't want to. We are not going down on our knees to her."

"It's very neglectful, anyway. To sit for three hours in the
study without remembering our existence! But of course she must
do as she likes."

Varya and Liza both hate Katya. This hatred is beyond my
comprehension, and probably one would have to be a woman in order
to understand it. I am ready to stake my life that of the hundred
and fifty young men I see every day in the lecture-theatre, and
of the hundred elderly ones I meet every week, hardly one could
be found capable of understanding their hatred and aversion for
Katya's past -- that is, for her having been a mother without
being a wife, and for her having had an illegitimate child; and
at the same time I cannot recall one woman or girl of my
acquaintance who would not consciously or unconsciously harbour
such feelings. And this is not because woman is purer or more
virtuous than man: why, virtue and purity are not very different
from vice if they are not free from evil feeling. I attribute
this simply to the backwardness of woman. The mournful feeling of
compassion and the pang of conscience experienced by a modern man
at the sight of suffering is, to my mind, far greater proof of
culture and moral elevation than hatred and aversion. Woman is as
tearful and as coarse in her feelings now as she was in the
Middle Ages, and to my thinking those who advise that she should
be educated like a man are quite right.

My wife also dislikes Katya for having been an actress, for
ingratitude, for pride, for eccentricity, and for the numerous
vices which one woman can always find in another.

Besides my wife and daughter and me, there are dining with us two
or three of my daughter's friends and Alexandr Adolfovitch
Gnekker, her admirer and suitor. He is a fair-haired young man
under thirty, of medium height, very stout and broad-shouldered,
with red whiskers near his ears, and little waxed moustaches
which make his plump smooth face look like a toy. He is dressed
in a very short reefer jacket, a flowered waistcoat, breeches
very full at the top and very narrow at the ankle, with a large
check pattern on them, and yellow boots without heels. He has
prominent eyes like a crab's, his cravat is like a crab's neck,
and I even fancy there is a smell of crab-soup about the young
man's whole person. He visits us every day, but no one in my
family knows anything of his origin nor of the place of his
education, nor of his means of livelihood. He neither plays nor
sings, but has some connection with music and singing, sells
somebody's pianos somewhere, is frequently at the Conservatoire,
is acquainted with all the celebrities, and is a steward at the
concerts; he criticizes music with great authority, and I have
noticed that people are eager to agree with him.

Rich people always have dependents hanging about them; the arts
and sciences have the same. I believe there is not an art nor a
science in the world free from "foreign bodies" after the style
of this Mr. Gnekker. I am not a musician, and possibly I am
mistaken in regard to Mr. Gnekker, of whom, indeed, I know very
little. But his air of authority and the dignity with which he
takes his stand beside the piano when any one is playing or
singing strike me as very suspicious.

You may be ever so much of a gentleman and a privy councillor,
but if you have a daughter you cannot be secure of immunity from
that petty bourgeois atmosphere which is so often brought into
your house and into your mood by the attentions of suitors, by
matchmaking and marriage. I can never reconcile myself, for
instance, to the expression of triumph on my wife's face every
time Gnekker is in our company, nor can I reconcile myself to the
bottles of Lafitte, port and sherry which are only brought out on
his account, that he may see with his own eyes the liberal and
luxurious way in which we live. I cannot tolerate the habit of
spasmodic laughter Liza has picked up at the Conservatoire, and
her way of screwing up her eyes whenever there are men in the
room. Above all, I cannot understand why a creature utterly alien
to my habits, my studies, my whole manner of life, completely
different from the people I like, should come and see me every
day, and every day should dine with me. My wife and my servants
mysteriously whisper that he is a suitor, but still I don't
understand his presence; it rouses in me the same wonder and
perplexity as if they were to set a Zulu beside me at the table.
And it seems strange to me, too, that my daughter, whom I am used
to thinking of as a child, should love that cravat, those eyes,
those soft cheeks. . . .

In the old days I used to like my dinner, or at least was
indifferent about it; now it excites in me no feeling but
weariness and irritation. Ever since I became an "Excellency" and
one of the Deans of the Faculty my family has for some reason
found it necessary to make a complete change in our menu and
dining habits. Instead of the simple dishes to which I was
accustomed when I was a student and when I was in practice, now
they feed me with a puree with little white things like circles
floating about in it, and kidneys stewed in madeira. My rank as a
general and my fame have robbed me for ever of cabbage-soup and
savoury pies, and goose with apple-sauce, and bream with boiled
grain. They have robbed me of our maid-servant Agasha, a chatty
and laughter-loving old woman, instead of whom Yegor, a
dull-witted and conceited fellow with a white glove on his right
hand, waits at dinner. The intervals between the courses are
short, but they seem immensely long because there is nothing to
occupy them. There is none of the gaiety of the old days, the
spontaneous talk, the jokes, the laughter; there is nothing of
mutual affection and the joy which used to animate the children,
my wife, and me when in old days we met together at meals. For
me, the celebrated man of science, dinner was a time of rest and
reunion, and for my wife and children a fete -- brief indeed, but
bright and joyous -- in which they knew that for half an hour I
belonged, not to science, not to students, but to them alone. Our
real exhilaration from one glass of wine is gone for ever, gone
is Agasha, gone the bream with boiled grain, gone the uproar that
greeted every little startling incident at dinner, such as the
cat and dog fighting under the table, or Katya's bandage falling
off her face into her soup-plate.

To describe our dinner nowadays is as uninteresting as to eat it.
My wife's face wears a look of triumph and affected dignity, and
her habitual expression of anxiety. She looks at our plates and
says, "I see you don't care for the joint. Tell me; you don't
like it, do you?" and I am obliged to answer: "There is no need
for you to trouble, my dear; the meat is very nice." And she will
say: "You always stand up for me, Nikolay Stepanovitch, and you
never tell the truth. Why is Alexandr Adolfovitch eating so
little?" And so on in the same style all through dinner. Liza
laughs spasmodically and screws up her eyes. I watch them both,
and it is only now at dinner that it becomes absolutely evident
to me that the inner life of these two has slipped away out of my
ken. I have a feeling as though I had once lived at home with a
real wife and children and that now I am dining with visitors, in
the house of a sham wife who is not the real one, and am looking
at a Liza who is not the real Liza. A startling change has taken
place in both of them; I have missed the long process by which
that change was effected, and it is no wonder that I can make
nothing of it. Why did that change take place? I don't know.
Perhaps the whole trouble is that God has not given my wife and
daughter the same strength of character as me. From childhood I
have been accustomed to resisting external influences, and have
steeled myself pretty thoroughly. Such catastrophes in life as
fame, the rank of a general, the transition from comfort to
living beyond our means, acquaintance with celebrities, etc.,
have scarcely affected me, and I have remained intact and
unashamed; but on my wife and Liza, who have not been through the
same hardening process and are weak, all this has fallen like an
avalanche of snow, overwhelming them. Gnekker and the young
ladies talk of fugues, of counterpoint, of singers and pianists,
of Bach and Brahms, while my wife, afraid of their suspecting her
of ignorance of music, smiles to them sympathetically and
mutters: "That's exquisite . . . really! You don't say so! . . .
Gnekker eats with solid dignity, jests with solid dignity, and
condescendingly listens to the remarks of the young ladies. From
time to time he is moved to speak in bad French, and then, for
some reason or other, he thinks it necessary to address me as
_"Votre Excellence."_

And I am glum. Evidently I am a constraint to them and they are a
constraint to me. I have never in my earlier days had a close
knowledge of class antagonism, but now I am tormented by
something of that sort. I am on the lookout for nothing but bad
qualities in Gnekker; I quickly find them, and am fretted at the
thought that a man not of my circle is sitting here as my
daughter's suitor. His presence has a bad influence on me in
other ways, too. As a rule, when I am alone or in the society of
people I like, never think of my own achievements, or, if I do
recall them, they seem to me as trivial as though I had only
completed my studies yesterday; but in the presence of people
like Gnekker my achievements in science seem to be a lofty
mountain the top of which vanishes into the clouds, while at its
foot Gnekkers are running about scarcely visible to the naked

After dinner I go into my study and there smoke my pipe, the only
one in the whole day, the sole relic of my old bad habit of
smoking from morning till night. While I am smoking my wife comes
in and sits down to talk to me. Just as in the morning, I know
beforehand what our conversation is going to be about.

"I must talk to you seriously, Nikolay Stepanovitch," she begins.
"I mean about Liza. . . . Why don't you pay attention to it?"

"To what?"

"You pretend to notice nothing. But that is not right. We can't
shirk responsibility. . . . Gnekker has intentions in regard to
Liza. . . . What do you say?"

"That he is a bad man I can't say, because I don't know him, but
that I don't like him I have told you a thousand times already."

"But you can't . . . you can't!"

She gets up and walks about in excitement.

"You can't take up that attitude to a serious step," she says.
"When it is a question of our daughter's happiness we must lay
aside all personal feeling. I know you do not like him. . . .
Very good . . . if we refuse him now, if we break it all off, how
can you be sure that Liza will not have a grievance against us
all her life? Suitors are not plentiful nowadays, goodness knows,
and it may happen that no other match will turn up. . . . He is
very much in love with Liza, and she seems to like him. . . . Of
course, he has no settled position, but that can't be helped.
Please God, in time he will get one. He is of good family and
well off."

"Where did you learn that?"

"He told us so. His father has a large house in Harkov and an
estate in the neighbourhood. In short, Nikolay Stepanovitch, you
absolutely must go to Harkov."

"What for?"

"You will find out all about him there. . . . You know the
professors there; they will help you. I would go myself, but I am
a woman. I cannot. . . ."

"I am not going to Harkov," I say morosely.

My wife is frightened, and a look of intense suffering comes into
her face.

"For God's sake, Nikolay Stepanovitch," she implores me, with
tears in her voice --"for God's sake, take this burden off me! I
am so worried!"

It is painful for me to look at her.

"Very well, Varya," I say affectionately, "if you wish it, then
certainly I will go to Harkov and do all you want."

She presses her handkerchief to her eyes and goes off to her room
to cry, and I am left alone.

A little later lights are brought in. The armchair and the
lamp-shade cast familiar shadows that have long grown wearisome
on the walls and on the floor, and when I look at them I feel as
though the night had come and with it my accursed sleeplessness.
I lie on my bed, then get up and walk about the room, then lie
down again. As a rule it is after dinner, at the approach of
evening, that my nervous excitement reaches its highest pitch.
For no reason I begin crying and burying my head in the pillow.
At such times I am afraid that some one may come in; I am afraid
of suddenly dying; I am ashamed of my tears, and altogether there
is something insufferable in my soul. I feel that I can no longer
bear the sight of my lamp, of my books, of the shadows on the
floor. I cannot bear the sound of the voices coming from the
drawing-room. Some force unseen, uncomprehended, is roughly
thrusting me out of my flat. I leap up hurriedly, dress, and
cautiously, that my family may not notice, slip out into the
street. Where am I to go?

The answer to that question has long been ready in my brain. To


As a rule she is lying on the sofa or in a lounge-chair reading.
Seeing me, she raises her head languidly, sits up, and shakes

"You are always lying down," I say, after pausing and taking
breath. "That's not good for you. You ought to occupy yourself
with something."


"I say you ought to occupy yourself in some way."

"With what? A woman can be nothing but a simple workwoman or an

"Well, if you can't be a workwoman, be an actress."

She says nothing.

"You ought to get married," I say, half in jest.

"There is no one to marry. There's no reason to, either."

"You can't live like this."

"Without a husband? Much that matters; I could have as many men
as I like if I wanted to."

"That's ugly, Katya."

"What is ugly?"

"Why, what you have just said."

Noticing that I am hurt and wishing to efface the disagreeable
impression, Katya says:

"Let us go; come this way."

She takes me into a very snug little room, and says, pointing to
the writing-table:

"Look . . . I have got that ready for you. You shall work here.
Come here every day and bring your work with you. They only
hinder you there at home. Will you work here? Will you like to?"

Not to wound her by refusing, I answer that I will work here, and
that I like the room very much. Then we both sit down in the snug
little room and begin talking.

The warm, snug surroundings and the presence of a sympathetic
person does not, as in old days, arouse in me a feeling of
pleasure, but an intense impulse to complain and grumble. I feel
for some reason that if I lament and complain I shall feel

"Things are in a bad way with me, my dear -- very bad. . . ."

"What is it?"

"You see how it is, my dear; the best and holiest right of kings
is the right of mercy. And I have always felt myself a king,
since I have made unlimited use of that right. I have never
judged, I have been indulgent, I have readily forgiven every one,
right and left. Where others have protested and expressed
indignation, I have only advised and persuaded. All my life it
has been my endeavour that my society should not be a burden to
my family, to my students, to my colleagues, to my servants. And
I know that this attitude to people has had a good influence on
all who have chanced to c ome into contact with me. But now I am
not a king. Something is happening to me that is only excusable
in a slave; day and night my brain is haunted by evil thoughts,
and feelings such as I never knew before are brooding in my soul.
I am full of hatred, and contempt, and indignation, and loathing,
and dread. I have become excessively severe, exacting, irritable,
ungracious, suspicious. Even things that in old days would have
provoked me only to an unnecessary jest and a good-natured laugh
now arouse an oppressive feeling in me. My reasoning, too, has
undergone a change: in old days I despised money; now I harbour
an evil feeling, not towards money, but towards the rich as
though they were to blame: in old days I hated violence and
tyranny, but now I hate the men who make use of violence, as
though they were alone to blame, and not all of us who do not
know how to educate each other. What is the meaning of it? If
these new ideas and new feelings have come from a change of
convictions, what is that change due to? Can the world have grown
worse and I better, or was I blind before and indifferent? If
this change is the result of a general decline of physical and
intellectual powers -- I am ill, you know, and every day I am
losing weight -- my position is pitiable; it means that my new
ideas are morbid and abnormal; I ought to be ashamed of them and
think them of no consequence. . . ."

"Illness has nothing to do with it," Katya interrupts me; "it's
simply that your eyes are opened, that's all. You have seen what
in old days, for some reason, you refused to see. To my thinking,
what you ought to do first of all, is to break with your family
for good, and go away."

"You are talking nonsense."

"You don't love them; why should you force your feelings? Can you
call them a family? Nonentities! If they died today, no one would
notice their absence tomorrow."

Katya despises my wife and Liza as much as they hate her. One can
hardly talk at this date of people's having a right to despise
one another. But if one looks at it from Katya's standpoint and
recognizes such a right, one can see she has as much right to
despise my wife and Liza as they have to hate her.

"Nonentities," she goes on. "Have you had dinner today? How was
it they did not forget to tell you it was ready? How is it they
still remember your existence?"

"Katya," I say sternly, "I beg you to be silent."

"You think I enjoy talking about them? I should be glad not to
know them at all. Listen, my dear: give it all up and go away. Go
abroad. The sooner the better."

"What nonsense! What about the University?"

"The University, too. What is it to you? There's no sense in it,
anyway. You have been lecturing for thirty years, and where are
your pupils? Are many of them celebrated scientific men? Count
them up! And to multiply the doctors who exploit ignorance and
pile up hundreds of thousands for themselves, there is no need to
be a good and talented man. You are not wanted."

"Good heavens! how harsh you are!" I cry in horror. "How harsh
you are! Be quiet or I will go away! I don't know how to answer
the harsh things you say!"

The maid comes in and summons us to tea. At the samovar our
conversation, thank God, changes. After having had my grumble
out, I have a longing to give way to another weakness of old age,
reminiscences. I tell Katya about my past, and to my great
astonishment tell her incidents which, till then, I did not
suspect of being still preserved in my memory, and she listens to
me with tenderness, with pride, holding her breath. I am
particularly fond of telling her how I was educated in a seminary
and dreamed of going to the University.

"At times I used to walk about our seminary garden . . ." I would
tell her. "If from some faraway tavern the wind floated sounds of
a song and the squeaking of an accordion, or a sledge with bells
dashed by the garden-fence, it was quite enough to send a rush of
happiness, filling not only my heart, but even my stomach, my
legs, my arms. . . . I would listen to the accordion or the bells
dying away in the distance and imagine myself a doctor, and paint
pictures, one better than another. And here, as you see, my
dreams have come true. I have had more than I dared to dream of.
For thirty years I have been the favourite professor, I have had
splendid comrades, I have enjoyed fame and honour. I have loved,
married from passionate love, have had children. In fact, looking
back upon it, I see my whole life as a fine composition arranged
with talent. Now all that is left to me is not to spoil the end.
For that I must die like a man. If death is really a thing to
dread, I must meet it as a teacher, a man of science, and a
citizen of a Christian country ought to meet it, with courage and
untroubled soul. But I am spoiling the end; I am sinking, I fly
to you, I beg for help, and you tell me 'Sink; that is what you
ought to do.' "

But here there comes a ring at the front-door. Katya and I
recognize it, and say:

"It must be Mihail Fyodorovitch."

And a minute later my colleague, the philologist Mihail
Fyodorovitch, a tall, well-built man of fifty, clean-shaven, with
thick grey hair and black eyebrows, walks in. He is a
good-natured man and an excellent comrade. He comes of a
fortunate and talented old noble family which has played a
prominent part in the history of literature and enlightenment. He
is himself intelligent, talented, and very highly educated, but
has his oddities. To a certain extent we are all odd and all
queer fish, but in his oddities there is something exceptional,
apt to cause anxiety among his acquaintances. I know a good many
people for whom his oddities completely obscure his good

Coming in to us, he slowly takes off his gloves and says in his
velvety bass:

"Good-evening. Are you having tea? That's just right. It's
diabolically cold."

Then he sits down to the table, takes a glass, and at once begins
talking. What is most characteristic in his manner of talking is
the continually jesting tone, a sort of mixture of philosophy and
drollery as in Shakespeare's gravediggers. He is always talking
about serious things, but he never speaks seriously. His
judgments are always harsh and railing, but, thanks to his soft,
even, jesting tone, the harshness and abuse do not jar upon the
ear, and one soon grows used to them. Every evening he brings
with him five or six anecdotes from the University, and he
usually begins with them when he sits down to table.

"Oh, Lord!" he sighs, twitching his black eyebrows ironically.
"What comic people there are in the world!"

"Well?" asks Katya.

"As I was coming from my lecture this morning I met that old
idiot N. N---- on the stairs. . . . He was going along as usual,
sticking out his chin like a horse, looking for some one to
listen to his grumblings at his migraine, at his wife, and his
students who won't attend his lectures. 'Oh,' I thought, 'he has
seen me -- I am done for now; it is all up. . . .' "

And so on in the same style. Or he will begin like this:

"I was yesterday at our friend Z. Z----'s public lecture. I
wonder how it is our alma mater -- don't speak of it after dark
-- dare display in public such noodles and patent dullards as
that Z. Z---- Why, he is a European fool! Upon my word, you could
not find another like him all over Europe! He lectures -- can you
imagine? -- as though he were sucking a sugar-stick -- sue, sue,
sue; . . . he is in a nervous funk; he can hardly decipher his
own manuscript; his poor little thoughts crawl along like a
bishop on a bicycle, and, what's worse, you can never make out
what he is trying to say. The deadly dulness is awful, the very
flies expire. It can only be compared with the boredom in the
assembly-hall at the yearly meeting when the traditional address
is read -- damn it!"

And at once an abrupt transition:

"Three years ago -- Nikolay Stepanovitch here will remember it --
I had to deliver that address. It was hot, stifling, my uniform
cut me under the arms -- it was deadly! I read for half an hour,
for an hour, for an hour and a half, for two hours. . . . 'Come,'
I thought; 'thank God, there are only ten pages left!' And at the
end there were four pages that there was no need to read, and I
reckoned to leave them out. 'So there are only six really,' I
thought; 'that is, only six pages left to read.' But, only fancy,
I chanced to glance before me, and, sitting in the front row,
side by side, were a general with a ribbon on his breast and a
bishop. The poor beggars were numb with boredom; they were
staring with their eyes wide open to keep awake, and yet they
were trying to put on an expression of attention and to pretend
that they understood what I was saying and liked it. 'Well,' I
thought, 'since you like it you shall have it! I'll pay you out;'
so I just gave them those four pages too."

As is usual with ironical people, when he talks nothing in his
face smiles but his eyes and eyebrows. At such times there is no
trace of hatred or spite in his eyes, but a great deal of humour,
and that peculiar fox-like slyness which is only to be noticed in
very observant people. Since I am speaking about his eyes, I
notice another peculiarity in them. When he takes a glass from
Katya, or listens to her speaking, or looks after her as she goes
out of the room for a moment, I notice in his eyes something
gentle, beseeching, pure. . . .

The maid-servant takes away the samovar and puts on the table a
large piece of cheese, some fruit, and a bottle of Crimean
champagne -- a rather poor wine of which Katya had grown fond in
the Crimea. Mihail Fyodorovitch takes two packs of cards off the
whatnot and begins to play patience. According to him, some
varieties of patience require great concentration and attention,
yet while he lays out the cards he does not leave off distracting
his attention with talk. Katya watches his cards attentively, and
more by gesture than by words helps him in his play. She drinks
no more than a couple of wine-glasses of wine the whole evening;
I drink four glasses, and the rest of the bottle falls to the
share of Mihail Fyodorovitch, who can drink a great deal and
never get drunk.

Over our patience we settle various questions, principally of the
higher order, and what we care for most of all -- that is,
science and learning -- is more roughly handled than anything.

"Science, thank God, has outlived its day," says Mihail
Fyodorovitch emphatically. "Its song is sung. Yes, indeed.
Mankind begins to feel impelled to replace it by something
different. It has grown on the soil of superstition, been
nourished by superstition, and is now just as much the
quintessence of superstition as its defunct granddames, alchemy,
metaphysics, and philosophy. And, after all, what has it given to
mankind? Why, the difference between the learned Europeans and
the Chinese who have no science is trifling, purely external. The
Chinese know nothing of science, but what have they lost

"Flies know nothing of science, either," I observe, "but what of

"There is no need to be angry, Nikolay Stepanovitch. I only say
this here between ourselves. . . I am more careful than you
think, and I am not going to say this in public -- God forbid!
The superstition exists in the multitude that the arts and
sciences are superior to agriculture, commerce, superior to
handicrafts. Our sect is maintained by that superstition, and it
is not for you and me to destroy it. God forbid!"

After patience the younger generation comes in for a dressing

"Our audiences have degenerated," sighs Mihail Fyodorovitch. "Not
to speak of ideals and all the rest of it, if only they were
capable of work and rational thought! In fact, it's a case of 'I
look with mournful eyes on the young men of today.' "

"Yes; they have degenerated horribly," Katya agrees. "Tell me,
have you had one man of distinction among them for the last five
or ten years?"

"I don't know how it is with the other professors, but I can't
remember any among mine."

"I have seen in my day many of your students and young scientific
men and many actors -- well, I have never once been so fortunate
as to meet -- I won't say a hero or a man of talent, but even an
interesting man. It's all the same grey mediocrity, puffed up
with self-conceit."

All this talk of degeneration always affects me as though I had
accidentally overheard offensive talk about my own daughter. It
offends me that these charges are wholesale, and rest on such
worn-out commonplaces, on such wordy vapourings as degeneration
and absence of ideals, or on references to the splendours of the
past. Every accusation, even if it is uttered in ladies' society,
ought to be formulated with all possible definiteness, or it is
not an accusation, but idle disparagement, unworthy of decent

I am an old man, I have been lecturing for thirty years, but I
notice neither degeneration nor lack of ideals, and I don't find
that the present is worse than the past. My porter Nikolay, whose
experience of this subject has its value, says that the students
of today are neither better nor worse than those of the past.

If I were asked what I don't like in my pupils of today, I should
answer the question, not straight off and not at length, but with
sufficient definiteness. I know their failings, and so have no
need to resort to vague generalities. I don't like their smoking,
using spirituous beverages, marrying late, and often being so
irresponsible and careless that they will let one of their number
be starving in their midst while they neglect to pay their
subscriptions to the Students' Aid Society. They don't know
modern languages, and they don't express themselves correctly in
Russian; no longer ago than yesterday my colleague, the professor
of hygiene, complained to me that he had to give twice as many
lectures, because the students had a very poor knowledge of
physics and were utterly ignorant of meteorology. They are
readily carried away by the influence of the last new writers,
even when they are not first-rate, but they take absolutely no
interest in classics such as Shakespeare, Marcus Aurelius,
Epictetus, or Pascal, and this inability to distinguish the great
from the small betrays their ignorance of practical life more
than anything. All difficult questions that have more or less a
social character (for instance the migration question) they
settle by studying monographs on the subject, but not by way of
scientific investigation or experiment, though that method is at
their disposal and is more in keeping with their calling. They
gladly become ward-surgeons, assistants, demonstrators, external
teachers, and are ready to fill such posts until they are forty,
though independence, a sense of freedom and personal initiative,
are no less necessary in science than, for instance, in art or
commerce. I have pupils and listeners, but no successors and
helpers, and so I love them and am touched by them, but am not
proud of them. And so on, and so on. . . .

Such shortcomings, however numerous they may be, can only give
rise to a pessimistic or fault-finding temper in a faint-hearted
and timid man. All these failings have a casual, transitory
character, and are completely dependent on conditions of life; in
some ten years they will have disappeared or given place to other
fresh defects, which are all inevitable and will in their turn
alarm the faint-hearted. The students' sins often vex me, but
that vexation is nothing in comparison with the joy I have been
experiencing now for the last thirty years when I talk to my
pupils, lecture to them, watch their relations, and compare them
with people not of their circle.

Mihail Fyodorovitch speaks evil of everything. Katya listens, and
neither of them notices into what depths the apparently innocent
diversion of finding fault with their neighbours is gradually
drawing them. They are not conscious how by degrees simple talk
passes into malicious mockery and jeering, and how they are both
beginning to drop into the habits and methods of slander.

"Killing types one meets with," says Mihail Fyodorovitch. "I went
yesterday to our friend Yegor Petrovitch's, and there I found a
studious gentleman, one of your medicals in his third year, I
believe. Such a face! . . . in the Dobrolubov style, the imprint
of profound thought on his brow; we got i nto talk. 'Such doings,
young man,' said I. 'I've read,' said I, 'that some German --
I've forgotten his name -- has created from the human brain a new
kind of alkaloid, idiotine.' What do you think? He believed it,
and there was positively an expression of respect on his face, as
though to say, 'See what we fellows can do!' And the other day I
went to the theatre. I took my seat. In the next row directly in
front of me were sitting two men: one of 'us fellows' and
apparently a law student, the other a shaggy-looking figure, a
medical student. The latter was as drunk as a cobbler. He did not
look at the stage at all. He was dozing with his nose on his
shirt-front. But as soon as an actor begins loudly reciting a
monologue, or simply raises his voice, our friend starts, pokes
his neighbour in the ribs, and asks, 'What is he saying? Is it
elevating?' 'Yes,' answers one of our fellows. 'B-r-r-ravo!'
roars the medical student. 'Elevating! Bravo!' He had gone to the
theatre, you see, the drunken blockhead, not for the sake of art,
the play, but for elevation! He wanted noble sentiments."

Katya listens and laughs. She has a strange laugh; she catches
her breath in rhythmically regular gasps, very much as though she
were playing the accordion, and nothing in her face is laughing
but her nostrils. I grow depressed and don't know what to say.
Beside myself, I fire up, leap up from my seat, and cry:

"Do leave off! Why are you sitting here like two toads, poisoning
the air with your breath? Give over!"

And without waiting for them to finish their gossip I prepare to
go home. And, indeed, it is high time: it is past ten.

"I will stay a little longer," says Mihail Fyodorovitch. "Will
you allow me, Ekaterina Vladimirovna?"

"I will," answers Katya.

"_Bene!_ In that case have up another little bottle."

They both accompany me with candles to the hall, and while I put
on my fur coat, Mihail Fyodorovitch says:

"You have grown dreadfully thin and older looking, Nikolay
Stepanovitch. What's the matter with you? Are you ill?"

"Yes; I am not very well."

"And you are not doing anything for it. . ." Katya puts in

"Why don't you? You can't go on like that! God helps those who
help themselves, my dear fellow. Remember me to your wife and
daughter, and make my apologies for not having been to see them.
In a day or two, before I go abroad, I shall come to say
good-bye. I shall be sure to. I am going away next week."

I come away from Katya, irritated and alarmed by what has been
said about my being ill, and dissatisfied with myself. I ask
myself whether I really ought not to consult one of my
colleagues. And at once I imagine how my colleague, after
listening to me, would walk away to the window without speaking,
would think a moment, then would turn round to me and, trying to
prevent my reading the truth in his face, would say in a careless
tone: "So far I see nothing serious, but at the same time,
_collega_, I advise you to lay aside your work. . . ." And that
would deprive me of my last hope.

Who is without hope? Now that I am diagnosing my illness and
prescribing for myself, from time to time I hope that I am
deceived by my own illness, that I am mistaken in regard to the
albumen and the sugar I find, and in regard to my heart, and in
regard to the swellings I have twice noticed in the mornings;
when with the fervour of the hypochondriac I look through the
textbooks of therapeutics and take a different medicine every
day, I keep fancying that I shall hit upon something comforting.
All that is petty.

Whether the sky is covered with clouds or the moon and the stars
are shining, I turn my eyes towards it every evening and think
that death is taking me soon. One would think that my thoughts at
such times ought to be deep as the sky, brilliant, striking. . .
. But no! I think about myself, about my wife, about Liza,
Gnekker, the students, people in general; my thoughts are evil,
petty, I am insincere with myself, and at such times my theory of
life may be expressed in the words the celebrated Araktcheev said
in one of his intimate letters: "Nothing good can exist in the
world without evil, and there is more evil than good." That is,
everything is disgusting; there is nothing to live for, and the
sixty-two years I have already lived must be reckoned as wasted.
I catch myself in these thoughts, and try to persuade myself that
they are accidental, temporary, and not deeply rooted in me, but
at once I think:

"If so, what drives me every evening to those two toads?"

And I vow to myself that I will never go to Katya's again, though
I know I shall go next evening.

Ringing the bell at the door and going upstairs, I feel that I
have no family now and no desire to bring it back again. It is
clear that the new Araktcheev thoughts are not casual, temporary
visitors, but have possession of my whole being. With my
conscience ill at ease, dejected, languid, hardly able to move my
limbs, feeling as though tons were added to my weight, I get into
bed and quickly drop asleep.

And then -- insomnia!


Summer comes on and life is changed.

One fine morning Liza comes in to me and says in a jesting tone:

"Come, your Excellency! We are ready."

My Excellency is conducted into the street, and seated in a cab.
As I go along, having nothing to do, I read the signboards from
right to left. The word "Traktir" reads " Ritkart"; that would
just suit some baron's family: Baroness Ritkart. Farther on I
drive through fields, by the graveyard, which makes absolutely no
impression on me, though I shall soon lie in it; then I drive by
forests and again by fields. There is nothing of interest. After
two hours of driving, my Excellency is conducted into the lower
storey of a summer villa and installed in a small, very cheerful
little room with light blue hangings.

At night there is sleeplessness as before, but in the morning I
do not put a good face upon it and listen to my wife, but lie in
bed. I do not sleep, but lie in the drowsy, half-conscious
condition in which you know you are not asleep, but dreaming. At
midday I get up and from habit sit down at my table, but I do not
work now; I amuse myself with French books in yellow covers, sent
me by Katya. Of course, it would be more patriotic to read
Russian authors, but I must confess I cherish no particular
liking for them. With the exception of two or three of the older
writers, all our literature of today strikes me as not being
literature, but a special sort of home industry, which exists
simply in order to be encouraged, though people do not readily
make use of its products. The very best of these home products
cannot be called remarkable and cannot be sincerely praised
without qualification. I must say the same of all the literary
novelties I have read during the last ten or fifteen years; not
one of them is remarkable, and not one of them can be praised
without a "but." Cleverness, a good tone, but no talent; talent,
a good tone, but no cleverness; or talent, cleverness, but not a
good tone.

I don't say the French books have talent, cleverness, and a good
tone. They don't satisfy me, either. But they are not so tedious
as the Russian, and it is not unusual to find in them the chief
element of artistic creation -- the feeling of personal freedom
which is lacking in the Russian authors. I don't remember one new
book in which the author does not try from the first page to
entangle himself in all sorts of conditions and contracts with
his conscience. One is afraid to speak of the naked body; another
ties himself up hand and foot in psychological analysis; a third
must have a "warm attitude to man"; a fourth purposely scrawls
whole descriptions of nature that he may not be suspected of
writing with a purpose. . . . One is bent upon being middle-class
in his work, another must be a nobleman, and so on. There is
intentionalness, circumspection, and self-will, but they have
neither the independence nor the manliness to write as they like,
and therefore there is no creativeness.

All this applies to what is called belles-lettres.

As for serious treatises in Russian on sociology, for instance,
on art, and so on, I do not rea d them simply from timidity. In
my childhood and early youth I had for some reason a terror of
doorkeepers and attendants at the theatre, and that terror has
remained with me to this day. I am afraid of them even now. It is
said that we are only afraid of what we do not understand. And,
indeed, it is very difficult to understand why doorkeepers and
theatre attendants are so dignified, haughty, and majestically
rude. I feel exactly the same terror when I read serious
articles. Their extraordinary dignity, their bantering lordly
tone, their familiar manner to foreign authors, their ability to
split straws with dignity -- all that is beyond my understanding;
it is intimidating and utterly unlike the quiet, gentlemanly tone
to which I am accustomed when I read the works of our medical and
scientific writers. It oppresses me to read not only the articles
written by serious Russians, but even works translated or edited
by them. The pretentious, edifying tone of the preface; the
redundancy of remarks made by the translator, which prevent me
from concentrating my attention; the question marks and "sic" in
parenthesis scattered all over the book or article by the liberal
translator, are to my mind an outrage on the author and on my
independence as a reader.

Once I was summoned as an expert to a circuit court; in an
interval one of my fellow-experts drew my attention to the
rudeness of the public prosecutor to the defendants, among whom
there were two ladies of good education. I believe I did not
exaggerate at all when I told him that the prosecutor s manner
was no ruder than that of the authors of serious articles to one
another. Their manners are, indeed, so rude that I cannot speak
of them without distaste. They treat one another and the writers
they criticize either with superfluous respect, at the sacrifice
of their own dignity, or, on the contrary, with far more
ruthlessness than I have shown in my notes and my thoughts in
regard to my future son-in-law Gnekker. Accusations of
irrationality, of evil intentions, and, indeed, of every sort of
crime, form an habitual ornament of serious articles. And that,
as young medical men are fond of saying in their monographs, is
the _ultima ratio!_ Such ways must infallibly have an effect on
the morals of the younger generation of writers, and so I am not
at all surprised that in the new works with which our literature
has been enriched during the last ten or fifteen years the heroes
drink too much vodka and the heroines are not over-chaste.

I read French books, and I look out of the window which is open;
I can see the spikes of my garden-fence, two or three scraggy
trees, and beyond the fence the road, the fields, and beyond them
a broad stretch of pine-wood. Often I admire a boy and girl, both
flaxen-headed and ragged, who clamber on the fence and laugh at
my baldness. In their shining little eyes I read, "Go up, go up,
thou baldhead!" They are almost the only people who care nothing
for my celebrity or my rank.

Visitors do not come to me every day now. I will only mention the
visits of Nikolay and Pyotr Ignatyevitch. Nikolay usually comes
to me on holidays, with some pretext of business, though really
to see me. He arrives very much exhilarated, a thing which never
occurs to him in the winter.

"What have you to tell me?" I ask, going out to him in the hall.

"Your Excellency!" he says, pressing his hand to his heart and
looking at me with the ecstasy of a lover -- "your Excellency!
God be my witness! Strike me dead on the spot! _Gaudeamus egitur

And he greedily kisses me on the shoulder, on the sleeve, and on
the buttons.

"Is everything going well?" I ask him.

"Your Excellency! So help me God! . . ."

He persists in grovelling before me for no sort of reason, and
soon bores me, so I send him away to the kitchen, where they give
him dinner.

Pyotr Ignatyevitch comes to see me on holidays, too, with the
special object of seeing me and sharing his thoughts with me. He
usually sits down near my table, modest, neat, and reasonable,
and does not venture to cross his legs or put his elbows on the
table. All the time, in a soft, even, little voice, in rounded
bookish phrases, he tells me various, to his mind, very
interesting and piquant items of news which he has read in the
magazines and journals. They are all alike and may be reduced to
this type: "A Frenchman has made a discovery; some one else, a
German, has denounced him, proving that the discovery was made in
1870 by some American; while a third person, also a German,
trumps them both by proving they both had made fools of
themselves, mistaking bubbles of air for dark pigment under the
microscope. Even when he wants to amuse me, Pyotr Ignatyevitch
tells me things in the same lengthy, circumstantial manner as
though he were defending a thesis, enumerating in detail the
literary sources from which he is deriving his narrative, doing
his utmost to be accurate as to the date and number of the
journals and the name of every one concerned, invariably
mentioning it in full -- Jean Jacques Petit, never simply Petit.
Sometimes he stays to dinner with us, and then during the whole
of dinner-time he goes on telling me the same sort of piquant
anecdotes, reducing every one at table to a state of dejected
boredom. If Gnekker and Liza begin talking before him of fugues
and counterpoint, Brahms and Bach, he drops his eyes modestly,
and is overcome with embarrassment; he is ashamed that such
trivial subjects should be discussed before such serious people
as him and me.

In my present state of mind five minutes of him is enough to
sicken me as though I had been seeing and hearing him for an
eternity. I hate the poor fellow. His soft, smooth voice and
bookish language exhaust me, and his stories stupefy me. . . . He
cherishes the best of feelings for me, and talks to me simply in
order to give me pleasure, and I repay him by looking at him as
though I wanted to hypnotize him, and think, "Go, go, go! . . ."
But he is not amenable to thought-suggestion, and sits on and on
and on. . . .

While he is with me I can never shake off the thought, "It's
possible when I die he will be appointed to succeed me," and my
poor lecture-hall presents itself to me as an oasis in which the
spring is died up; and I am ungracious, silent, and surly with
Pyotr Ignatyevitch, as though he were to blame for such thoughts,
and not I myself. When he begins, as usual, praising up the
German savants, instead of making fun of him good-humouredly, as
I used to do, I mutter sullenly:

"Asses, your Germans! . . ."

That is like the late Professor Nikita Krylov, who once, when he
was bathing with Pirogov at Revel and vexed at the water's being
very cold, burst out with, "Scoundrels, these Germans!" I behave
badly with Pyotr Ignatyevitch, and only when he is going away,
and from the window I catch a glimpse of his grey hat behind the
garden-fence, I want to call out and say, "Forgive me, my dear

Dinner is even drearier than in the winter. Gnekker, whom now I
hate and despise, dines with us almost every day. I used to
endure his presence in silence, now I aim biting remarks at him
which make my wife and daughter blush. Carried away by evil
feeling, I often say things that are simply stupid, and I don't
know why I say them. So on one occasion it happened that I stared
a long time at Gnekker, and, _a propos_ of nothing, I fired off:

"An eagle may perchance swoop down below a cock,
But never will the fowl soar upwards to the clouds. .

And the most vexatious thing is that the fowl Gnekker shows
himself much cleverer than the eagle professor. Knowing that my
wife and daughter are on his side, he takes up the line of
meeting my gibes with condescending silence, as though to say:

"The old chap is in his dotage; what's the use of talking to

Or he makes fun of me good-naturedly. It is wonderful how petty a
man may become! I am capable of dreaming all dinner-time of how
Gnekker will turn out to be an adventurer, how my wife and Liza
will come to see their mistake, and how I will taunt them -- and
such absurd thoughts at the time when I am standing with one foot
in th e grave!

There are now, too, misunderstandings of which in the old days I
had no idea except from hearsay. Though I am ashamed of it, I
will describe one that occurred the other day after dinner.

I was sitting in my room smoking a pipe; my wife came in as
usual, sat down, and began saying what a good thing it would be
for me to go to Harkov now while it is warm and I have free time,
and there find out what sort of person our Gnekker is.

"Very good; I will go," I assented.

My wife, pleased with me, got up and was going to the door, but
turned back and said:

"By the way, I have another favour to ask of you. I know you will
be angry, but it is my duty to warn you. . . . Forgive my saying
it, Nikolay Stepanovitch, but all our neighbours and
acquaintances have begun talking about your being so often at
Katya's. She is clever and well-educated; I don't deny that her
company may be agreeable; but at your age and with your social
position it seems strange that you should find pleasure in her
society. . . . Besides, she has such a reputation that . . ."

All the blood suddenly rushed to my brain, my eyes flashed fire,
I leaped up and, clutching at my head and stamping my feet,
shouted in a voice unlike my own:

"Let me alone! let me alone! let me alone!"

Probably my face was terrible, my voice was strange, for my wife
suddenly turned pale and began shrieking aloud in a despairing
voice that was utterly unlike her own. Liza, Gnekker, then Yegor,
came running in at our shouts. . . .

"Let me alone!" I cried; "let me alone! Go away!"

My legs turned numb as though they had ceased to exist; I felt
myself falling into someone's arms; for a little while I still
heard weeping, then sank into a swoon which lasted two or three

Now about Katya; she comes to see me every day towards evening,
and of course neither the neighbours nor our acquaintances can
avoid noticing it. She comes in for a minute and carries me off
for a drive with her. She has her own horse and a new chaise
bought this summer. Altogether she lives in an expensive style;
she has taken a big detached villa with a large garden, and has
taken all her town retinue with her -- two maids, a coachman . .
. I often ask her:

"Katya, what will you live on when you have spent your father's

"Then we shall see," she answers.

"That money, my dear, deserves to be treated more seriously. It
was earned by a good man, by honest labour."

"You have told me that already. I know it."

At first we drive through the open country, then through the
pine-wood which is visible from my window. Nature seems to me as
beautiful as it always has been, though some evil spirit whispers
to me that these pines and fir trees, birds, and white clouds on
the sky, will not notice my absence when in three or four months
I am dead. Katya loves driving, and she is pleased that it is
fine weather and that I am sitting beside her. She is in good
spirits and does not say harsh things.

"You are a very good man, Nikolay Stepanovitch," she says. "You
are a rare specimen, and there isn't an actor who would
understand how to play you. Me or Mihail Fyodorovitch, for
instance, any poor actor could do, but not you. And I envy you, I
envy you horribly! Do you know what I stand for? What?"

She ponders for a minute, and then asks me:

"Nikolay Stepanovitch, I am a negative phenomenon! Yes?"

"Yes," I answer.

"H'm! what am I to do?"

What answer was I to make her? It is easy to say "work," or "give
your possessions to the poor," or "know yourself," and because it
is so easy to say that, I don't know what to answer.

My colleagues when they teach therapeutics advise "the individual
study of each separate case." One has but to obey this advice to
gain the conviction that the methods recommended in the textbooks
as the best and as providing a safe basis for treatment turn out
to be quite unsuitable in individual cases. It is just the same
in moral ailments.

But I must make some answer, and I say:

"You have too much free time, my dear; you absolutely must take
up some occupation. After all, why shouldn't you be an actress
again if it is your vocation?"

"I cannot!"

"Your tone and manner suggest that you are a victim. I don't like
that, my dear; it is your own fault. Remember, you began with
falling out with people and methods, but you have done nothing to
make either better. You did not struggle with evil, but were cast
down by it, and you are not the victim of the struggle, but of
your own impotence. Well, of course you were young and
inexperienced then; now it may all be different. Yes, really, go
on the stage. You will work, you will serve a sacred art."

"Don't pretend, Nikolay Stepanovitch," Katya interrupts me. "Let
us make a compact once for all; we will talk about actors,
actresses, and authors, but we will let art alone. You are a
splendid and rare person, but you don't know enough about art
sincerely to think it sacred. You have no instinct or feeling for
art. You have been hard at work all your life, and have not had
time to acquire that feeling. Altogether . . . I don't like talk
about art," she goes on nervously. "I don't like it! And, my
goodness, how they have vulgarized it!"

"Who has vulgarized it?"

"They have vulgarized it by drunkenness, the newspapers by their
familiar attitude, clever people by philosophy."

"Philosophy has nothing to do with it."

"Yes, it has. If any one philosophizes about it, it shows he does
not understand it."

To avoid bitterness I hasten to change the subject, and then sit
a long time silent. Only when we are driving out of the wood and
turning towards Katya's villa I go back to my former question,
and say:

"You have still not answered me, why you don't want to go on the

"Nikolay Stepanovitch, this is cruel!" she cries, and suddenly
flushes all over. "You want me to tell you the truth aloud? Very
well, if . . . if you like it! I have no talent! No talent and .
. . and a great deal of vanity! So there!"

After making this confession she turns her face away from me, and
to hide the trembling of her hands tugs violently at the reins.

As we are driving towards her villa we see Mihail Fyodorovitch
walking near the gate, impatiently awaiting us.

"That Mihail Fyodorovitch again!" says Katya with vexation. "Do
rid me of him, please! I am sick and tired of him . . . bother

Mihail Fyodorovitch ought to have gone abroad long ago, but he
puts off going from week to. week. Of late there have been
certain changes in him. He looks, as it were, sunken, has taken
to drinking until he is tipsy, a thing which never used to happen
to him, and his black eyebrows are beginning to turn grey. When
our chaise stops at the gate he does not conceal his joy and his
impatience. He fussily helps me and Katya out, hurriedly asks
questions, laughs, rubs his hands, and that gentle, imploring,
pure expression, which I used to notice only in his eyes, is now
suffused all over his face. He is glad and at the same time he is
ashamed of his gladness, ashamed of his habit of spending every
evening with Katya. And he thinks it necessary to explain his
visit by some obvious absurdity such as: "I was driving by, and I
thought I would just look in for a minute."

We all three go indoors; first we drink tea, then the familiar
packs of cards, the big piece of cheese, the fruit, and the
bottle of Crimean champagne are put upon the table. The subjects
of our conversation are not new; they are just the same as in the
winter. We fall foul of the University, the students, and
literature and the theatre; the air grows thick and stifling with
evil speaking, and poisoned by the breath, not of two toads as in
the winter, but of three. Besides the velvety baritone laugh and
the giggle like the gasp of a concertina, the maid who waits upon
us hears an unpleasant cracked "He, he!" like the chuckle of a
general in a vaudeville.


There are terrible nights with thunder, lightning, rain, and
wind, such as are called among the people "sparrow nights." There
has been one such night in my personal life.

I woke up after midnight and leaped suddenly out of bed. It
seemed to me for some reason that I was just immedi ately going
to die. Why did it seem so? I had no sensation in my body that
suggested my immediate death, but my soul was oppressed with
terror, as though I had suddenly seen a vast menacing glow of

I rapidly struck a light, drank some water straight out of the
decanter, then hurried to the open window. The weather outside
was magnificent. There was a smell of hay and some other very
sweet scent. I could see the spikes of the fence, the gaunt,
drowsy trees by the window, the road, the dark streak of
woodland, there was a serene, very bright moon in the sky and not
a single cloud, perfect stillness, not one leaf stirring. I felt
that everything was looking at me and waiting for me to die. . .

It was uncanny. I closed the window and ran to my bed. I felt for
my pulse, and not finding it in my wrist, tried to find it in my
temple, then in my chin, and again in my wrist, and everything I
touched was cold and clammy with sweat. My breathing came more
and more rapidly, my body was shivering, all my inside was in
commotion; I had a sensation on my face and on my bald head as
though they were covered with spiders' webs.

What should I do? Call my family? No; it would be no use. I could
not imagine what my wife and Liza would do when they came in to

I hid my head under the pillow, closed my eyes, and waited and
waited. . . . My spine was cold; it seemed to be drawn inwards,
and I felt as though death were coming upon me stealthily from

"Kee-vee! kee-vee!" I heard a sudden shriek in the night's
stillness, and did not know where it was -- in my breast or in
the street -- "Kee-vee! kee-vee!"

"My God, how terrible!" I would have drunk some more water, but
by then it was fearful to open my eyes and I was afraid to raise
my head. I was possessed by unaccountable animal terror, and I
cannot understand why I was so frightened: was it that I wanted
to live, or that some new unknown pain was in store for me?

Upstairs, overhead, some one moaned or laughed. I listened. Soon
afterwards there was a sound of footsteps on the stairs. Some one
came hurriedly down, then went up again. A minute later there was
a sound of steps downstairs again; some one stopped near my door
and listened.

"Who is there?" I cried.

The door opened. I boldly opened my eyes, and saw my wife. Her
face was pale and her eyes were tear-stained.

"You are not asleep, Nikolay Stepanovitch?" she asked.

"What is it? "

"For God's sake, go up and have a look at Liza; there is
something the matter with her. . . ."

"Very good, with pleasure," I muttered, greatly relieved at not
being alone. "Very good, this minute. . . ."

I followed my wife, heard what she said to me, and was too
agitated to understand a word. Patches of light from her candle
danced about the stairs, our long shadows trembled. My feet
caught in the skirts of my dressing-gown; I gasped for breath,
and felt as though something were pursuing me and trying to catch
me from behind.

"I shall die on the spot, here on the staircase," I thought. "On
the spot. . . ." But we passed the staircase, the dark corridor
with the Italian windows, and went into Liza's room. She was
sitting on the bed in her nightdress, with her bare feet hanging
down, and she was moaning.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" she was muttering, screwing up her eyes
at our candle. "I can't bear it."

"Liza, my child," I said, "what is it?"

Seeing me, she began crying out, and flung herself on my neck.

"My kind papa! . . ." she sobbed -- "my dear, good papa . . . my
darling, my pet, I don't know what is the matter with me. . . . I
am miserable!"

She hugged me, kissed me, and babbled fond words I used to hear
from her when she was a child.

"Calm yourself, my child. God be with you," I said. "There is no
need to cry. I am miserable, too."

I tried to tuck her in; my wife gave her water, and we awkwardly
stumbled by her bedside; my shoulder jostled against her
shoulder, and meanwhile I was thinking how we used to give our
children their bath together.

"Help her! help her!" my wife implored me. "Do something!"

What could I do? I could do nothing. There was some load on the
girl's heart; but I did not understand, I knew nothing about it,
and could only mutter:

"It's nothing, it's nothing; it will pass. Sleep, sleep!"

To make things worse, there was a sudden sound of dogs howling,
at first subdued and uncertain, then loud, two dogs howling
together. I had never attached significance to such omens as the
howling of dogs or the shrieking of owls, but on that occasion it
sent a pang to my heart, and I hastened to explain the howl to

"It's nonsense," I thought, "the influence of one organism on
another. The intensely strained condition of my nerves has
infected my wife, Liza, the dog -- that is all. . . . Such
infection explains presentiments, forebodings. . . ."

When a little later I went back to my room to write a
prescription for Liza, I no longer thought I should die at once,
but only had such a weight, such a feeling of oppression in my
soul that I felt actually sorry that I had not died on the spot.
For a long time I stood motionless in the middle of the room,
pondering what to prescribe for Liza. But the moans overhead
ceased, and I decided to prescribe nothing, and yet I went on
standing there. . . .

There was a deathlike stillness, such a stillness, as some author
has expressed it, "it rang in one's ears." Time passed slowly;
the streaks of moonlight on the window-sill did not shift their
position, but seemed as though frozen. . . . It was still some
time before dawn.

But the gate in the fence creaked, some one stole in and,
breaking a twig from one of those scraggy trees, cautiously
tapped on the window with it.

"Nikolay Stepanovitch," I heard a whisper. "Nikolay

I opened the window, and fancied I was dreaming: under the
window, huddled against the wall, stood a woman in a black dress,
with the moonlight bright upon her, looking at me with great
eyes. Her face was pale, stern, and weird-looking in the
moonlight, like marble, her chin was quivering.

"It is I," she said -- " I . . . Katya."

In the moonlight all women's eyes look big and black, all people
look taller and paler, and that was probably why I had not
recognized her for the first minute.

"What is it?"

"Forgive me! " she said. "I suddenly felt unbearably miserable .
. . I couldn't stand it, so came here. There was a light in your
window and . . . and I ventured to knock. . . . I beg your
pardon. Ah! if you knew how miserable I am! What are you doing
just now?"

"Nothing. . . . I can't sleep."

"I had a feeling that there was something wrong, but that is

Her brows were lifted, her eyes shone with tears, and her whole
face was lighted up with the familiar look of trustfulness which
I had not seen for so long.

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