Part 4 out of 5
"Nikolay Stepanovitch," she said imploringly, stretching out both
hands to me, "my precious friend, I beg you, I implore you. . . .
If you don't despise my affection and respect for you, consent to
what I ask of you."
"What is it?"
"Take my money from me!"
"Come! what an idea! What do I want with your money?"
"You'll go away somewhere for your health. . . . You ought to go
for your health. Will you take it? Yes? Nikolay Stepanovitch
She looked greedily into my face and repeated: "Yes, you will
"No, my dear, I won't take it . . " I said. "Thank you."
She turned her back upon me and bowed her head. Probably I
refused her in a tone which made further conversation about money
"Go home to bed," I said. "We will see each other tomorrow."
"So you don't consider me your friend?" she asked dejectedly.
"I don't say that. But your money would be no use to me now."
"I beg your pardon . . ." she said, dropping her voice a whole
octave. "I understand you . . . to be indebted to a person like
me . . . a retired actress. . . . But, good-bye. . . ."
And she went away so quickly that I had not time even to say
I am in Harkov.
As it would be useless to contend against my present mood and,
indeed, beyond my power, I have made up my mind that the last
days of my life shall at least be irreproachable externally. If I
am unjust in regard to my wife and daughter, which I fully
recognize, I will try and do as she wishes; since she wants me to
go to Harkov, I go to Harkov. Besides, I have become of late so
indifferent to everything that it is really all the same to me
where I go, to Harkov, or to Paris, or to Berditchev.
I arrived here at midday, and have put up at the hotel not far
from the cathedral. The train was jolting, there were draughts,
and now I am sitting on my bed, holding my head and expecting tic
douloureux. I ought to have gone today to see some professors of
my acquaintance, but I have neither strength nor inclination.
The old corridor attendant comes in and asks whether I have
brought my bed-linen. I detain him for five minutes, and put
several questions to him about Gnekker, on whose account I have
come here. The attendant turns out to be a native of Harkov; he
knows the town like the fingers of his hand, but does not
remember any household of the surname of Gnekker. I question him
about the estate -- the same answer.
The clock in the corridor strikes one, then two, then three. . .
. These last months in which I am waiting for death seem much
longer than the whole of my life. And I have never before been so
ready to resign myself to the slowness of time as now. In the old
days, when one sat in the station and waited for a train, or
presided in an examination-room, a quarter of an hour would seem
an eternity. Now I can sit all night on my bed without moving,
and quite unconcernedly reflect that tomorrow will be followed by
another night as long and colourless, and the day after tomorrow.
In the corridor it strikes five, six, seven. . . . It grows dark.
There is a dull pain in my cheek, the tic beginning. To occupy
myself with thoughts, I go back to my old point of view, when I
was not so indifferent, and ask myself why I, a distinguished
man, a privy councillor, am sitting in this little hotel room, on
this bed with the unfamiliar grey quilt. Why am I looking at that
cheap tin washing-stand and listening to the whirr of the
wretched clock in the corridor? Is all this in keeping with my
fame and my lofty position? And I answer these questions with a
jeer. I am amused by the naivete with which I used in my youth to
exaggerate the value of renown and of the exceptional position
which celebrities are supposed to enjoy. I am famous, my name is
pronounced with reverence, my portrait has been both in the
_Niva_ and in the _Illustrated News of the World_; I have read my
biography even in a German magazine. And what of all that? Here I
am sitting utterly alone in a strange town, on a strange bed,
rubbing my aching cheek with my hand. . . . Domestic worries, the
hard-heartedness of creditors, the rudeness of the railway
servants, the inconveniences of the passport system, the
expensive and unwholesome food in the refreshment-rooms, the
general rudeness and coarseness in social intercourse -- all
this, and a great deal more which would take too long to reckon
up, affects me as much as any working man who is famous only in
his alley. In what way, does my exceptional position find
expression? Admitting that I am celebrated a thousand times over,
that I am a hero of whom my country is proud. They publish
bulletins of my illness in every paper, letters of sympathy come
to me by post from my colleagues, my pupils, the general public;
but all that does not prevent me from dying in a strange bed, in
misery, in utter loneliness. Of course, no one is to blame for
that; but I in my foolishness dislike my popularity. I feel as
though it had cheated me.
At ten o'clock I fall asleep, and in spite of the tic I sleep
soundly, and should have gone on sleeping if I had not been
awakened. Soon after one came a sudden knock at the door.
"Who is there?"
"You might have waited till tomorrow," I say angrily, taking the
telegram from the attendant. "Now I shall not get to sleep
"I am sorry. Your light was burning, so I thought you were not
I tear open the telegram and look first at the signature. From my
"What does she want?"
"Gnekker was secretly married to Liza yesterday. Return."
I read the telegram, and my dismay does not last long. I am
dismayed, not by what Liza and Gnekker have done, but by the
indifference with which I hear of their marriage. They say
philosophers and the truly wise are indifferent. It is false:
indifference is the paralysis of the soul; it is premature death.
I go to bed again, and begin trying to think of something to
occupy my mind. What am I to think about? I feel as though
everything had been thought over already and there is nothing
which could hold my attention now.
When daylight comes I sit up in bed with my arms round my knees,
and to pass the time I try to know myself. "Know thyself" is
excellent and useful advice; it is only a pity that the ancients
never thought to indicate the means of following this precept.
When I have wanted to understand somebody or myself I have
considered, not the actions, in which everything is relative, but
"Tell me what you want, and I will tell you what manner of man
And now I examine myself: what do I want?
I want our wives, our children, our friends, our pupils, to love
in us, not our fame, not the brand and not the label, but to love
us as ordinary men. Anything else? I should like to have had
helpers and successors. Anything else? I should like to wake up
in a hundred years' time and to have just a peep out of one eye
at what is happening in science. I should have liked to have
lived another ten years. . . What further? Why, nothing further.
I think and think, and can think of nothing more. And however
much I might think, and however far my thoughts might travel, it
is clear to me that there is nothing vital, nothing of great
importance in my desires. In my passion for science, in my desire
to live, in this sitting on a strange bed, and in this striving
to know myself -- in all the thoughts, feelings, and ideas I form
about everything, there is no common bond to connect it all into
one whole. Every feeling and every thought exists apart in me;
and in all my criticisms of science, the theatre, literature, my
pupils, and in all the pictures my imagination draws, even the
most skilful analyst could not find what is called a general
idea, or the god of a living man.
And if there is not that, then there is nothing.
In a state so poverty-stricken, a serious ailment, the fear of
death, the influences of circumstance and men were enough to turn
upside down and scatter in fragments all which I had once looked
upon as my theory of life, and in which I had seen the meaning
and joy of my existence. So there is nothing surprising in the
fact that I have over-shadowed the last months of my life with
thoughts and feelings only worthy of a slave and barbarian, and
that now I am indifferent and take no heed of the dawn. When a
man has not in him what is loftier and mightier than all external
impressions a bad cold is really enough to upset his equilibrium
and make him begin to see an owl in every bird, to hear a dog
howling in every sound. And all his pessimism or optimism with
his thoughts great and small have at such times significance as
symptoms and nothing more.
I am vanquished. If it is so, it is useless to think, it is
useless to talk. I will sit and wait in silence for what is to
In the morning the corridor attendant brings me tea and a copy of
the local newspaper. Mechanically I read the advertisements on
the first page, the leading article, the extracts from the
newspapers and journals, the chronicle of events. . . . In the
latter I find, among other things, the following paragraph: "Our
distinguished savant, Professor Nikolay Stepanovitch So-and-so,
arrived yesterday in Harkov, and is staying in the So-and-so
Apparently, illustrious names are created to live on their own
account, apart from those that bear them. Now my name is
promenading tranquilly about Harkov; in another three months,
printed in gold letters on my monument, it will shine bright as
the sun itself, while I s hall be already under the moss.
A light tap at the door. Somebody wants me.
"Who is there? Come in."
The door opens, and I step back surprised and hurriedly wrap my
dressing-gown round me. Before me stands Katya.
"How do you do?" she says, breathless with running upstairs. "You
didn't expect me? I have come here, too. . . . I have come, too!"
She sits down and goes on, hesitating and not looking at me.
"Why don't you speak to me? I have come, too . . . today. . . . I
found out that you were in this hotel, and have come to you."
"Very glad to see you," I say, shrugging my shoulders, "but I am
surprised. You seem to have dropped from the skies. What have you
"Oh . . . I've simply come."
Silence. Suddenly she jumps up impulsively and comes to me.
"Nikolay Stepanovitch," she says, turning pale and pressing her
hands on her bosom -- "Nikolay Stepanovitch, I cannot go on
living like this! I cannot! For God's sake tell me quickly, this
minute, what I am to do! Tell me, what am I to do?"
"What can I tell you?" I ask in perplexity. "I can do nothing."
"Tell me, I beseech you," she goes on, breathing hard and
trembling all over. "I swear that I cannot go on living like
this. It's too much for me!"
She sinks on a chair and begins sobbing. She flings her head
back, wrings her hands, taps with her feet; her hat falls off and
hangs bobbing on its elastic; her hair is ruffled.
"Help me! help me! "she implores me. "I cannot go on!"
She takes her handkerchief out of her travelling-bag, and with it
pulls out several letters, which fall from her lap to the floor.
I pick them up, and on one of them I recognize the handwriting of
Mihail Fyodorovitch and accidentally read a bit of a word
"passionat. . ."
"There is nothing I can tell you, Katya," I say.
"Help me!" she sobs, clutching at my hand and kissing it. "You
are my father, you know, my only friend! You are clever,
educated; you have lived so long; you have been a teacher! Tell
me, what am I to do?"
"Upon my word, Katya, I don't know. . . ."
I am utterly at a loss and confused, touched by her sobs, and
hardly able to stand.
"Let us have lunch, Katya," I say, with a forced smile. "Give
And at once I add in a sinking voice:
"I shall soon be gone, Katya. . . ."
"Only one word, only one word!" she weeps, stretching out her
hands to me.
"What am I to do?"
"You are a queer girl, really . . ." I mutter. "I don't
understand it! So sensible, and all at once crying your eyes out.
. . ."
A silence follows. Katya straightens her hair, puts on her hat,
then crumples up the letters and stuffs them in her bag -- and
all this deliberately, in silence. Her face, her bosom, and her
gloves are wet with tears, but her expression now is cold and
forbidding. . . . I look at her, and feel ashamed that I am
happier than she. The absence of what my philosophic colleagues
call a general idea I have detected in myself only just before
death, in the decline of my days, while the soul of this poor
girl has known and will know no refuge all her life, all her
"Let us have lunch, Katya," I say.
"No, thank you," she answers coldly. Another minute passes in
silence. "I don't like Harkov," I say; "it's so grey here -- such
a grey town."
"Yes, perhaps. . . . It's ugly. I am here not for long, passing
through. I am going on today."
"To the Crimea . . . that is, to the Caucasus."
"Oh! For long?"
"I don't know."
Katya gets up, and, with a cold smile, holds out her hand without
looking at me.
I want to ask her, "Then, you won't be at my funeral?" but she
does not look at me; her hand is cold and, as it were, strange. I
escort her to the door in silence. She goes out, walks down the
long corridor without looking back; she knows that I am looking
after her, and most likely she will look back at the turn.
No, she did not look back. I've seen her black dress for the last
time: her steps have died away. Farewell, my treasure!
THE PRIVY COUNCILLOR
AT the beginning of April in 1870 my mother, Klavdia Arhipovna,
the widow of a lieutenant, received from her brother Ivan, a
privy councillor in Petersburg, a letter in which, among other
things, this passage occurred: "My liver trouble forces me to
spend every summer abroad, and as I have not at the moment the
money in hand for a trip to Marienbad, it is very possible, dear
sister, that I may spend this summer with you at Kotchuevko. . .
On reading the letter my mother turned pale and began trembling
all over; then an expression of mingled tears and laughter came
into her face. She began crying and laughing. This conflict of
tears and laughter always reminds me of the flickering and
spluttering of a brightly burning candle when one sprinkles it
with water. Reading the letter once more, mother called together
all the household, and in a voice broken with emotion began
explaining to us that there had been four Gundasov brothers: one
Gundasov had died as a baby; another had gone to the war, and he,
too, was dead; the third, without offence to him be it said, was
an actor; the fourth . . .
"The fourth has risen far above us," my mother brought out
tearfully. "My own brother, we grew up together; and I am all of
a tremble, all of a tremble! . . . A privy councillor with the
rank of a general! How shall I meet him, my angel brother? What
can I, a foolish, uneducated woman, talk to him about? It's
fifteen years since I've seen him! Andryushenka," my mother
turned to me, "you must rejoice, little stupid! It's a piece of
luck for you that God is sending him to us!"
After we had heard a detailed history of the Gundasovs, there
followed a fuss and bustle in the place such as I had been
accustomed to see only before Christmas and Easter. The sky above
and the water in the river were all that escaped; everything else
was subjected to a merciless cleansing, scrubbing, painting. If
the sky had been lower and smaller and the river had not flowed
so swiftly, they would have scoured them, too, with bath-brick
and rubbed them, too, with tow. Our walls were as white as snow,
but they were whitewashed; the floors were bright and shining,
but they were washed every day. The cat Bobtail (as a small child
I had cut off a good quarter of his tail with the knife used for
chopping the sugar, and that was why he was called Bobtail) was
carried off to the kitchen and put in charge of Anisya; Fedka was
told that if any of the dogs came near the front-door "God would
punish him." But no one was so badly treated as the poor sofas,
easy-chairs, and rugs! They had never, before been so violently
beaten as on this occasion in preparation for our visitor. My
pigeons took fright at the loud thud of the sticks, and were
continually flying up into the sky.
The tailor Spiridon, the only tailor in the whole district who
ventured to make for the gentry, came over from Novostroevka. He
was a hard-working capable man who did not drink and was not
without a certain fancy and feeling for form, but yet he was an
atrocious tailor. His work was ruined by hesitation. . . . The
idea that his cut was not fashionable enough made him alter
everything half a dozen times, walk all the way to the town
simply to study the dandies, and in the end dress us in suits
that even a caricaturist would have called _outre_ and grotesque.
We cut a dash in impossibly narrow trousers and in such short
jackets that we always felt quite abashed in the presence of
This Spiridon spent a long time taking my measure. He measured me
all over lengthways and crossways, as though he meant to put
hoops round me like a barrel; then he spent a long time noting
down my measurements with a thick pencil on a bit of paper, and
ticked off all the measurements with triangular signs. When he
had finished with me he set to work on my tutor, Yegor
Alexyevitch Pobyedimsky. My beloved tutor was then at the stage
when young men watch the growth of their moustache and are
critical of their clothes, and so you can imagine the devout awe
with which Spiridon approached him. Yegor Alexyevitch had to
throw back his head, to straddle his legs like an inverted V,
first lift up his arms, then let them fall. Spiridon measured him
several times, walking round him during the process like a
love-sick pigeon round its mate, going down on one knee, bending
double. . . . My mother, weary, exhausted by her exertions and
heated by ironing, watched these lengthy proceedings, and said:
"Mind now, Spiridon, you will have to answer for it to God if you
spoil the cloth! And it will be the worse for you if you don't
make them fit!"
Mother's words threw Spiridon first into a fever, then into a
perspiration, for he was convinced that he would not make them
fit. He received one rouble twenty kopecks for making my suit,
and for Pobyedimsky's two roubles, but we provided the cloth, the
lining, and the buttons. The price cannot be considered
excessive, as Novostroevka was about seven miles from us, and the
tailor came to fit us four times. When he came to try the things
on and we squeezed ourselves into the tight trousers and jackets
adorned with basting threads, mother always frowned
contemptuously and expressed her surprise:
"Goodness knows what the fashions are coming to nowadays! I am
positively ashamed to look at them. If brother were not used to
Petersburg I would not get you fashionable clothes!"
Spiridon, relieved that the blame was thrown on the fashion and
not on him, shrugged his shoulders and sighed, as though to say:
"There's no help for it; it's the spirit of the age!"
The excitement with which we awaited the arrival of our guest can
only be compared with the strained suspense with which
spiritualists wait from minute to minute the appearance of a
ghost. Mother went about with a sick headache, and was
continually melting into tears. I lost my appetite, slept badly,
and did not learn my lessons. Even in my dreams I was haunted by
an impatient longing to see a general -- that is, a man with
epaulettes and an embroidered collar sticking up to his ears, and
with a naked sword in his hands, exactly like the one who hung
over the sofa in the drawing-room and glared with terrible black
eyes at everybody who dared to look at him. Pobyedimsky was the
only one who felt himself in his element. He was neither
terrified nor delighted, and merely from time to time, when he
heard the history of the Gundasov family, said:
"Yes, it will be pleasant to have some one fresh to talk to."
My tutor was looked upon among us as an exceptional nature. He
was a young man of twenty, with a pimply face, shaggy locks, a
low forehead, and an unusually long nose. His nose was so big
that when he wanted to look close at anything he had to put his
head on one side like a bird. To our thinking, there was not a
man in the province cleverer, more cultivated, or more stylish.
He had left the high-school in the class next to the top, and had
then entered a veterinary college, from which he was expelled
before the end of the first half-year. The reason of his
expulsion he carefully concealed, which enabled any one who
wished to do so to look upon my instructor as an injured and to
some extent a mysterious person. He spoke little, and only of
intellectual subjects; he ate meat during the fasts, and looked
with contempt and condescension on the life going on around him,
which did not prevent him, however, from taking presents, such as
suits of clothes, from my mother, and drawing funny faces with
red teeth on my kites. Mother disliked him for his "pride," but
stood in awe of his cleverness.
Our visitor did not keep us long waiting. At the beginning of May
two wagon-loads of big boxes arrived from the station. These
boxes looked so majestic that the drivers instinctively took off
their hats as they lifted them down.
"There must be uniforms and gunpowder in those boxes," I thought.
Why "gunpowder"? Probably the conception of a general was closely
connected in my mind with cannons and gunpowder.
When I woke up on the morning of the tenth of May, nurse told me
in a whisper that "my uncle had come." I dressed rapidly, and,
washing after a fashion, flew out of my bedroom without saying my
prayers. In the vestibule I came upon a tall, solid gentleman
with fashionable whiskers and a foppish-looking overcoat. Half
dead with devout awe, I went up to him and, remembering the
ceremonial mother had impressed upon me, I scraped my foot before
him, made a very low bow, and craned forward to kiss his hand;
but the gentleman did not allow me to kiss his hand: he informed
me that he was not my uncle, but my uncle's footman, Pyotr. The
appearance of this Pyotr, far better dressed than Pobyedimsky or
me, excited in me the utmost astonishment, which, to tell the
truth, has lasted to this day. Can such dignified, respectable
people with stern and intellectual faces really be footmen? And
Pyotr told me that my uncle was in the garden with my mother. I
rushed into the garden.
Nature, knowing nothing of the history of the Gundasov family and
the rank of my uncle, felt far more at ease and unconstrained
than I. There was a clamour going on in the garden such as one
only bears at fairs. Masses of starlings flitting through the air
and hopping about the walks were noisily chattering as they
hunted for cockchafers. There were swarms of sparrows in the
lilac-bushes, which threw their tender, fragrant blossoms
straight in one's face. Wherever one turned, from every direction
came the note of the golden oriole and the shrill cry of the
hoopoe and the red-legged falcon. At any other time I should have
begun chasing dragon-flies or throwing stones at a crow which was
sitting on a low mound under an aspen-tree, with his blunt beak
turned away; but at that moment I was in no mood for mischief. My
heart was throbbing, and I felt a cold sinking at my stomach; I
was preparing myself to confront a gentleman with epaulettes,
with a naked sword, and with terrible eyes!
But imagine my disappointment! A dapper little foppish gentleman
in white silk trousers, with a white cap on his head, was walking
beside my mother in the garden. With his hands behind him and his
head thrown back, every now and then running on ahead of mother,
he looked quite young. There was so much life and movement in his
whole figure that I could only detect the treachery of age when I
came close up behind and saw beneath his cap a fringe of
close-cropped silver hair. Instead of the staid dignity and
stolidity of a general, I saw an almost schoolboyish nimbleness;
instead of a collar sticking up to his ears, an ordinary light
blue necktie. Mother and my uncle were walking in the avenue
talking together. I went softly up to them from behind, and
waited for one of them to look round.
"What a delightful place you have here, Klavdia!" said my uncle.
"How charming and lovely it is! Had I known before that you had
such a charming place, nothing would have induced me to go abroad
all these years."
My uncle stooped down rapidly and sniffed at a tulip. Everything
he saw moved him to rapture and excitement, as though he had
never been in a garden on a sunny day before. The queer man moved
about as though he were on springs, and chattered incessantly,
without allowing mother to utter a single word. All of a sudden
Pobyedimsky came into sight from behind an elder-tree at the turn
of the avenue. His appearance was so unexpected that my uncle
positively started and stepped back a pace. On this occasion my
tutor was attired in his best Inverness cape with sleeves, in
which, especially back-view, he looked remarkably like a
windmill. He had a solemn and majestic air. Pressing his hat to
his bosom in Spanish style, he took a step towards my uncle and
made a bow such as a marquis makes in a melodrama, bending
forward, a little to one side.
"I have the honour to present myself to your high excellency," he
said aloud: "the teacher and instructor of your nephew, formerly
a pupil of the veterinary institute, and a nobleman by birth,
This politeness on the part of my tutor pleased my mother very
much. She gave a smile, and waited in thrilled suspense to hear
what clever thing he would say next; but my tutor, expecting his
dignified address to be answered with equal dignity -- that is,
that my uncle would say "H'm!" like a general and hold out two
fingers -- was greatly confused and abashed when the latter
laughed genially and shook hands with him. He muttered something
incoherent, cleared his throat, and walked away.
"Come! isn't that charming?" laughed my uncle. "Just look! he has
made his little flourish and thinks he's a very clever fellow! I
do like that -- upon my soul I do! What youthful aplomb, what
life in that foolish flourish! And what boy is this?" he asked,
suddenly turning and looking at me.
"That is my Andryushenka," my mother introduced me, flushing
crimson. "My consolation. . ."
I made a scrape with my foot on the sand and dropped a low bow.
"A fine fellow . . . a fine fellow . . ." muttered my uncle,
taking his hand from my lips and stroking me on the head. "So
your name is Andrusha? Yes, yes. . . . H'm! . . . upon my soul! .
. . Do you learn lessons?"
My mother, exaggerating and embellishing as all mothers do, began
to describe my achievements in the sciences and the excellence of
my behaviour, and I walked round my uncle and, following the
ceremonial laid down for me, I continued making low bows. Then my
mother began throwing out hints that with my remarkable abilities
it would not be amiss for me to get a government nomination to
the cadet school; but at the point when I was to have burst into
tears and begged for my uncle's protection, my uncle suddenly
stopped and flung up his hands in amazement.
"My goo-oodness! What's that?" he asked.
Tatyana Ivanovna, the wife of our bailiff, Fyodor Petrovna, was
coming towards us. She was carrying a starched white petticoat
and a long ironing-board. As she passed us she looked shyly at
the visitor through her eyelashes and flushed crimson.
"Wonders will never cease . . ." my uncle filtered through his
teeth, looking after her with friendly interest. "You have a
fresh surprise at every step, sister . . . upon my soul!"
"She's a beauty . . ." said mother. "They chose her as a bride
for Fyodor, though she lived over seventy miles from here. . . ."
Not every one would have called Tatyana a beauty. She was a plump
little woman of twenty, with black eyebrows and a graceful
figure, always rosy and attractive-looking, but in her face and
in her whole person there was not one striking feature, not one
bold line to catch the eye, as though nature had lacked
inspiration and confidence when creating her. Tatyana Ivanovna
was shy, bashful, and modest in her behaviour; she moved softly
and smoothly, said little, seldom laughed, and her whole life was
as regular as her face and as flat as her smooth, tidy hair. My
uncle screwed up his eyes looking after her, and smiled. Mother
looked intently at his smiling face and grew serious.
"And so, brother, you've never married!" she sighed.
"No; I've not married."
"Why not?" asked mother softly.
"How can I tell you? It has happened so. In my youth I was too
hard at work, I had no time to live, and when I longed to live --
I looked round -- and there I had fifty years on my back already.
I was too late! However, talking about it . . . is depressing."
My mother and my uncle both sighed at once and walked on, and I
left them and flew off to find my tutor, that I might share my
impressions with him. Pobyedimsky was standing in the middle of
the yard, looking majestically at the heavens.
"One can see he is a man of culture!" he said, twisting his head
round. "I hope we shall get on together."
An hour later mother came to us.
"I am in trouble, my dears!" she began, sighing. "You see brother
has brought a valet with him, and the valet, God bless him, is
not one you can put in the kitchen or in the hall; we must give
him a room apart. I can't think what I am to do! I tell you what,
children, couldn't you move out somewhere -- to Fyodor's lodge,
for instance -- and give your room to the valet? What do you
We gave our ready consent, for living in the lodge was a great
deal more free than in the house, under mother's eye.
"It's a nuisance, and that's a fact!" said mother. "Brother says
he won't have dinner in the middle of the day, but between six
and seven, as they do in Petersburg. I am simply distracted with
worry! By seven o'clock the dinner will be done to rags in the
oven. Really, men don't understand anything about housekeeping,
though they have so much intellect. Oh, dear! we shall have to
cook two dinners every day! You will have dinner at midday as
before, children, while your poor old mother has to wait till
seven, for the sake of her brother."
Then my mother heaved a deep sigh, bade me try and please my
uncle, whose coming was a piece of luck for me for which we must
thank God, and hurried off to the kitchen. Pobyedimsky and I
moved into the lodge the same day. We were installed in a room
which formed the passage from the entry to the bailiff's bedroom.
Contrary to my expectations, life went on just as before,
drearily and monotonously, in spite of my uncle's arrival and our
move into new quarters. We were excused lessons "on account of
the visitor. "Pobyedimsky, who never read anything or occupied
himself in any way, spent most of his time sitting on his bed,
with his long nose thrust into the air, thinking. Sometimes he
would get up, try on his new suit, and sit down again to relapse
into contemplation and silence. Only one thing worried him, the
flies, which he used mercilessly to squash between his hands.
After dinner he usually "rested," and his snores were a cause of
annoyance to the whole household. I ran about the garden from
morning to night, or sat in the lodge sticking my kites together.
For the first two or three weeks we did not see my uncle often.
For days together he sat in his own room working, in spite of the
flies and the heat. His extraordinary capacity for sitting as
though glued to his table produced upon us the effect of an
inexplicable conjuring trick. To us idlers, knowing nothing of
systematic work, his industry seemed simply miraculous. Getting
up at nine, he sat down to his table, and did not leave it till
dinner-time; after dinner he set to work again, and went on till
late at night. Whenever I peeped through the keyhole I invariably
saw the same thing: my uncle sitting at the table working. The
work consisted in his writing with one hand while he turned over
the leaves of a book with the other, and, strange to say, he kept
moving all over -- swinging his leg as though it were a pendulum,
whistling, and nodding his head in time. He had an extremely
careless and frivolous expression all the while, as though he
were not working, but playing at noughts and crosses. I always
saw him wearing a smart short jacket and a jauntily tied cravat,
and he always smelt, even through the keyhole, of delicate
feminine perfumery. He only left his room for dinner, but he ate
"I can't make brother out!" mother complained of him. "Every day
we kill a turkey and pigeons on purpose for him, I make a
_compote_ with my own hands, and he eats a plateful of broth and
a bit of meat the size of a finger and gets up from the table. I
begin begging him to eat; he comes back and drinks a glass of
milk. And what is there in that, in a glass of milk? It's no
better than washing up water! You may die of a diet like that. .
. . If I try to persuade him, he laughs and makes a joke of it. .
. . No; he does not care for our fare, poor dear!"
We spent the evenings far more gaily than the days. As a rule, by
the time the sun was setting and long shadows were lying across
the yard, we -- that is, Tatyana Ivanovna, Pobyedimsky, and I --
were sitting on the steps of the lodge. We did not talk till it
grew quite dusk. And, indeed, what is one to talk of when every
subject has been talked over already? There was only one thing
new, my uncle's arrival, and even that subject was soon
exhausted. My tutor never took his eyes off Tatyana Ivanovna 's
face, and frequently heaved deep sighs. . . . At the time I did
not understand those sighs, and did not try to fathom their
significance; now they explain a great deal to me.
When the shadows merged into one thick mass of shade, the bailiff
Fyodor would come in from shooting or from the field. This Fyodor
gave me the impres sion of being a fierce and even a terrible
man. The son of a Russianized gipsy from Izyumskoe, swarthy-faced
and curly-headed, with big black eyes and a matted beard, he was
never called among our Kotchuevko peasants by any name but "The
Devil." And, indeed, there was a great deal of the gipsy about
him apart from his appearance. He could not, for instance, stay
at home, and went off for days together into the country or into
the woods to shoot. He was gloomy, ill-humoured, taciturn, was
afraid of nobody, and refused to recognize any authority. He was
rude to mother, addressed me familiarly, and was contemptuous of
Pobyedimsky's learning. All this we forgave him, looking upon him
as a hot-tempered and nervous man; mother liked him because, in
spite of his gipsy nature, he was ideally honest and industrious.
He loved his Tatyana Ivanovna passionately, like a gipsy, but
this love took in him a gloomy form, as though it cost him
suffering. He was never affectionate to his wife in our presence,
but simply rolled his eyes angrily at her and twisted his mouth.
When he came in from the fields he would noisily and angrily put
down his gun, would come out to us on the steps, and sit down
beside his wife. After resting a little, he would ask his wife a
few questions about household matters, and then sink into
"Let us sing," I would suggest.
My tutor would tune his guitar, and in a deep deacon's bass
strike up "In the midst of the valley." We would begin singing.
My tutor took the bass, Fyodor sang in a hardly audible tenor,
while I sang soprano in unison with Tatyana Ivanovna.
When the whole sky was covered with stars and the frogs had left
off croaking, they would bring in our supper from the kitchen. We
went into the lodge and sat down to the meal. My tutor and the
gipsy ate greedily, with such a sound that it was hard to tell
whether it was the bones crunching or their jaws, and Tatyana
Ivanovna and I scarcely succeeded in getting our share. After
supper the lodge was plunged in deep sleep.
One evening, it was at the end of May, we were sitting on the
steps, waiting for supper. A shadow suddenly fell across us, and
Gundasov stood before us as though he had sprung out of the
earth. He looked at us for a long time, then clasped his hands
and laughed gaily.
"An idyll!" he said. "They sing and dream in the moonlight! It's
charming, upon my soul! May I sit down and dream with you?"
We looked at one another and said nothing. My uncle sat down on
the bottom step, yawned, and looked at the sky. A silence
followed. Pobyedimsky, who had for a long time been wanting to
talk to somebody fresh, was delighted at the opportunity, and was
the first to break the silence. He had only one subject for
intellectual conversation, the epizootic diseases. It sometimes
happens that after one has been in an immense crowd, only some
one countenance of the thousands remains long imprinted on the
memory; in the same way, of all that Pobyedimsky had heard,
during his six months at the veterinary institute, he remembered
only one passage:
"The epizootics do immense damage to the stock of the country. It
is the duty of society to work hand in hand with the government
in waging war upon them."
Before saying this to Gundasov, my tutor cleared his throat three
times, and several times, in his excitement, wrapped himself up
in his Inverness. On hearing about the epizootics, my uncle
looked intently at my tutor and made a sound between a snort and
"Upon my soul, that's charming!" he said, scrutinizing us as
though we were mannequins. "This is actually life. . . . This is
really what reality is bound to be. Why are you silent, Pelagea
Ivanovna?" he said, addressing Tatyana Ivanovna.
She coughed, overcome with confusion.
"Talk, my friends, sing . . . play! . . . Don't lose time. You
know, time, the rascal, runs away and waits for no man! Upon my
soul, before you have time to look round, old age is upon you. .
. . Then it is too late to live! That's how it is, Pelagea
Ivanovna. . . . We mustn't sit still and be silent. . . ."
At that point supper was brought out from the kitchen. Uncle went
into the lodge with us, and to keep us company ate five curd
fritters and the wing of a duck. He ate and looked at us. He was
touched and delighted by us all. Whatever silly nonsense my
precious tutor talked, and whatever Tatyana Ivanovna did, he
thought charming and delightful. When after supper Tatyana
Ivanovna sat quietly down and took up her knitting, he kept his
eyes fixed on her fingers and chatted away without ceasing.
"Make all the haste you can to live, my friends. . ." he said.
"God forbid you should sacrifice the present for the future!
There is youth, health, fire in the present; the future is smoke
and deception! As soon as you are twenty begin to live."
Tatyana Ivanovna dropped a knitting-needle. My uncle jumped up,
picked up the needle, and handed it to Tatyana Ivanovna with a
bow, and for the first time in my life I learnt that there were
people in the world more refined than Pobyedimsky.
"Yes . . ." my uncle went on, "love, marry, do silly things.
Foolishness is a great deal more living and healthy than our
straining and striving after rational life."
My uncle talked a great deal, so much that he bored us; I sat on
a box listening to him and dropping to sleep. It distressed me
that he did not once all the evening pay attention to me. He left
the lodge at two o'clock, when, overcome with drowsiness, I was
From that time forth my uncle took to coming to the lodge every
evening. He sang with us, had supper with us, and always stayed
on till two o'clock in the morning, chatting incessantly, always
about the same subject. His evening and night work was given up,
and by the end of June, when the privy councillor had learned to
eat mother's turkey and _compote_, his work by day was abandoned
too. My uncle tore himself away from his table and plunged into
"life." In the daytime he walked up and down the garden, he
whistled to the workmen and hindered them from working, making
them tell him their various histories. When his eye fell on
Tatyana Ivanovna he ran up to her, and, if she were carrying
anything, offered his assistance, which embarrassed her
As the summer advanced my uncle grew more and more frivolous,
volatile, and careless. Pobyedimsky was completely disillusioned
in regard to him.
"He is too one-sided," he said. "There is nothing to show that he
is in the very foremost ranks of the service. And he doesn't even
know how to talk. At every word it's 'upon my soul.' No, I don't
From the time that my uncle began visiting the lodge there was a
noticeable change both in Fyodor and my tutor. Fyodor gave up
going out shooting, came home early, sat more taciturn than ever,
and stared with particular ill-humour at his wife. In my uncle's
presence my tutor gave up talking about epizootics, frowned, and
even laughed sarcastically.
"Here comes our little bantam cock!" he growled on one occasion
when my uncle was coming into the lodge.
I put down this change in them both to their being offended with
my uncle. My absent-minded uncle mixed up their names, and to the
very day of his departure failed to distinguish which was my
tutor and which was Tatyana Ivanovna's husband. Tatyana Ivanovna
herself he sometimes called Nastasya, sometimes Pelagea, and
sometimes Yevdokia. Touched and delighted by us, he laughed and
behaved exactly as though in the company of small children. . . .
All this, of course, might well offend young men. It was not a
case of offended pride, however, but, as I realize now, subtler
I remember one evening I was sitting on the box struggling with
sleep. My eyelids felt glued together and my body, tired out by
running about all day, drooped sideways. But I struggled against
sleep and tried to look on. It was about midnight. Tatyana
Ivanovna, rosy and unassuming as always, was sitting at a little
table sewing at her husband's shirt. Fyodor, sullen and gloomy,
was staring at her from one corner, and in the other sat
Pobyedimsky, snorting angrily and retreating into the high collar
of his shi rt. My uncle was walking up and down the room
thinking. Silence reigned; nothing was to be heard but the
rustling of the linen in Tatyana Ivanovna's hands. Suddenly my
uncle stood still before Tatyana Ivanovna, and said:
"You are all so young, so fresh, so nice, you live so peacefully
in this quiet place, that I envy you. I have become attached to
your way of life here; my heart aches when I remember I have to
go away. . . . You may believe in my sincerity!"
Sleep closed my eyes and I lost myself. When some sound waked me,
my uncle was standing before Tatyana Ivanovna, looking at her
with a softened expression. His cheeks were flushed.
"My life has been wasted," he said. "I have not lived! Your young
face makes me think of my own lost youth, and I should be ready
to sit here watching you to the day of my death. It would be a
pleasure to me to take you with me to Petersburg."
"What for?" Fyodor asked in a husky voice.
"I should put her under a glass case on my work-table. I should
admire her and show her to other people. You know, Pelagea
Ivanovna, we have no women like you there. Among us there is
wealth, distinction, sometimes beauty, but we have not this true
sort of life, this healthy serenity. . . ."
My uncle sat down facing Tatyana Ivanovna and took her by the
"So you won't come with me to Petersburg?" he laughed. "In that
case give me your little hand. . . . A charming little hand! . .
. You won't give it? Come, you miser! let me kiss it, anyway. . .
At that moment there was the scrape of a chair. Fyodor jumped up,
and with heavy, measured steps went up to his wife. His face was
pale, grey, and quivering. He brought his fist down on the table
with a bang, and said in a hollow voice:
"I won't allow it!
At the same moment Pobyedimsky jumped up from his chair. He, too,
pale and angry, went up to Tatyana Ivanovna, and he, too, struck
the table with his fist.
"I . . . I won't allow it!" he said.
"What, what's the matter?" asked my uncle in surprise.
"I won't allow it!" repeated Fyodor, banging on the table.
My uncle jumped up and blinked nervously. He tried to speak, but
in his amazement and alarm could not utter a word; with an
embarrassed smile, he shuffled out of the lodge with the hurried
step of an old man, leaving his hat behind. When, a little later,
my mother ran into the lodge, Fyodor and Pobyedimsky were still
hammering on the table like blacksmiths and repeating, "I won't
"What has happened here?" asked mother. "Why has my brother been
taken ill? What's the matter?"
Looking at Tatyana's pale, frightened face and at her infuriated
husband, mother probably guessed what was the matter. She sighed
and shook her head.
"Come! give over banging on the table!" she said. "Leave off,
Fyodor! And why are you thumping, Yegor Alexyevitch? What have
you got to do with it?"
Pobyedimsky was startled and confused. Fyodor looked intently at
him, then at his wife, and began walking about the room. When
mother had gone out of the lodge, I saw what for long afterwards
I looked upon as a dream. I saw Fyodor seize my tutor, lift him
up in the air, and thrust him out of the door.
When I woke up in the morning my tutor's bed was empty. To my
question where he was nurse told me in a whisper that he had been
taken off early in the morning to the hospital, as his arm was
broken. Distressed at this intelligence and remembering the scene
of the previous evening, I went out of doors. It was a grey day.
The sky was covered with storm-clouds and there was a wind
blowing dust, bits of paper, and feathers along the ground. . . .
It felt as though rain were coming. There was a look of boredom
in the servants and in the animals. When I went into the house I
was told not to make such a noise with my feet, as mother was ill
and in bed with a migraine. What was I to do? I went outside the
gate, sat down on the little bench there, and fell to trying to
discover the meaning of what I had seen and heard the day before.
From our gate there was a road which, passing the forge and the
pool which never dried up, ran into the main road. I looked at
the telegraph-posts, about which clouds of dust were whirling,
and at the sleepy birds sitting on the wires, and I suddenly felt
so dreary that I began to cry.
A dusty wagonette crammed full of townspeople, probably going to
visit the shrine, drove by along the main road. The wagonette was
hardly out of sight when a light chaise with a pair of horses
came into view. In it was Akim Nikititch, the police inspector,
standing up and holding on to the coachman's belt. To my great
surprise, the chaise turned into our road and flew by me in at
the gate. While I was puzzling why the police inspector had come
to see us, I heard a noise, and a carriage with three horses came
into sight on the road. In the carriage stood the police captain,
directing his coachman towards our gate.
"And why is he coming?" I thought, looking at the dusty police
captain. "Most probably Pobyedimsky has complained of Fyodor to
him, and they have come to take him to prison."
But the mystery was not so easily solved. The police inspector
and the police captain were only the first instalment, for five
minutes had scarcely passed when a coach drove in at our gate. It
dashed by me so swiftly that I could only get a glimpse of a red
Lost in conjecture and full of misgivings, I ran to the house. In
the passage first of all I saw mother; she was pale and looking
with horror towards the door, from which came the sounds of men's
voices. The visitors had taken her by surprise in the very throes
"Who has come, mother?" I asked.
"Sister," I heard my uncle's voice, "will you send in something
to eat for the governor and me?"
"It is easy to say 'something to eat,' " whispered my mother,
numb with horror. "What have I time to get ready now? I am put to
shame in my old age!"
Mother clutched at her head and ran into the kitchen. The
governor's sudden visit stirred and overwhelmed the whole
household. A ferocious slaughter followed. A dozen fowls, five
turkeys, eight ducks, were killed, and in the fluster the old
gander, the progenitor of our whole flock of geese and a great
favourite of mother's, was beheaded. The coachmen and the cook
seemed frenzied, and slaughtered birds at random, without
distinction of age or breed. For the sake of some wretched sauce
a pair of valuable pigeons, as dear to me as the gander was to
mother, were sacrificed. It was a long while before I could
forgive the governor their death.
In the evening, when the governor and his suite, after a
sumptuous dinner, had got into their carriages and driven away, I
went into the house to look at the remains of the feast. Glancing
into the drawing-room from the passage, I saw my uncle and my
mother. My uncle, with his hands behind his back, was walking
nervously up and down close to the wall, shrugging his shoulders.
Mother, exhausted and looking much thinner, was sitting on the
sofa and watching his movements with heavy eyes.
"Excuse me, sister, but this won't do at all," my uncle grumbled,
wrinkling up his face. "I introduced the governor to you, and you
didn't offer to shake hands. You covered him with confusion, poor
fellow! No, that won't do. . . . Simplicity is a very good thing,
but there must be limits to it. . . . Upon my soul! And then that
dinner! How can one give people such things? What was that mess,
for instance, that they served for the fourth course?"
"That was duck with sweet sauce . . ." mother answered softly.
"Duck! Forgive me, sister, but . . . but here I've got heartburn!
I am ill!"
My uncle made a sour, tearful face, and went on:
"It was the devil sent that governor! As though I wanted his
visit! Pff! . . . heartburn! I can't work or sleep . . . I am
completely out of sorts. . . . And I can't understand how you can
live here without anything to do . . . in this boredom! Here I've
got a pain coming under my shoulder-blade! . . ."
My uncle frowned, and walked about more rapidly than ever.
"Brother," my mother inquired softly, "what would it cost to go
"At least three thousand . . ." my uncle answered in a te arful
voice. "I would go, but where am I to get it? I haven't a
farthing. Pff! . . . heartburn!"
My uncle stopped to look dejectedly at the grey, overcast
prospect from the window, and began pacing to and fro again.
A silence followed. . . . Mother looked a long while at the ikon,
pondering something, then she began crying, and said:
"I'll give you the three thousand, brother. . . ."
Three days later the majestic boxes went off to the station, and
the privy councillor drove off after them. As he said good-bye to
mother he shed tears, and it was a long time before he took his
lips from her hands, but when he got into his carriage his face
beamed with childlike pleasure. . . . Radiant and happy, he
settled himself comfortably, kissed his hand to my mother, who
was crying, and all at once his eye was caught by me. A look of
the utmost astonishment came into his face.
"What boy is this?" he asked.
My mother, who had declared my uncle's coming was a piece of luck
for which I must thank God, was bitterly mortified at this
question. I was in no mood for questions. I looked at my uncle's
happy face, and for some reason I felt fearfully sorry for him. I
could not resist jumping up to the carriage and hugging that
frivolous man, weak as all men are. Looking into his face and
wanting to say something pleasant, I asked:
"Uncle, have you ever been in a battle?"
"Ah, the dear boy . . ." laughed my uncle, kissing me. "A
charming boy, upon my soul! How natural, how living it all is,
upon my soul! . . ."
The carriage set off. . . . I looked after him, and long
afterwards that farewell "upon my soul" was ringing in my ears.
THE MAN IN A CASE
AT the furthest end of the village of Mironositskoe some belated
sportsmen lodged for the night in the elder Prokofy's barn. There
were two of them, the veterinary surgeon Ivan Ivanovitch and the
schoolmaster Burkin. Ivan Ivanovitch had a rather strange
double-barrelled surname -- Tchimsha-Himalaisky -- which did not
suit him at all, and he was called simply Ivan Ivanovitch all
over the province. He lived at a stud-farm near the town, and had
come out shooting now to get a breath of fresh air. Burkin, the
high-school teacher, stayed every summer at Count P-----'s, and
had been thoroughly at home in this district for years.
They did not sleep. Ivan Ivanovitch, a tall, lean old fellow with
long moustaches, was sitting outside the door, smoking a pipe in
the moonlight. Burkin was lying within on the hay, and could not
be seen in the darkness.
They were telling each other all sorts of stories. Among other
things, they spoke of the fact that the elder's wife, Mavra, a
healthy and by no means stupid woman, had never been beyond her
native village, had never seen a town nor a railway in her life,
and had spent the last ten years sitting behind the stove, and
only at night going out into the street.
"What is there wonderful in that!" said Burkin. "There are plenty
of people in the world, solitary by temperament, who try to
retreat into their shell like a hermit crab or a snail. Perhaps
it is an instance of atavism, a return to the period when the
ancestor of man was not yet a social animal and lived alone in
his den, or perhaps it is only one of the diversities of human
character -- who knows? I am not a natural science man, and it is
not my business to settle such questions; I only mean to say that
people like Mavra are not uncommon. There is no need to look far;
two months ago a man called Byelikov, a colleague of mine, the
Greek master, died in our town. You have heard of him, no doubt.
He was remarkable for always wearing goloshes and a warm wadded
coat, and carrying an umbrella even in the very finest weather.
And his umbrella was in a case, and his watch was in a case made
of grey chamois leather, and when he took out his penknife to
sharpen his pencil, his penknife, too, was in a little case; and
his face seemed to be in a case too, because he always hid it in
his turned-up collar. He wore dark spectacles and flannel vests,
stuffed up his ears with cotton-wool, and when he got into a cab
always told the driver to put up the hood. In short, the man
displayed a constant and insurmountable impulse to wrap himself
in a covering, to make himself, so to speak, a case which would
isolate him and protect him from external influences. Reality
irritated him, frightened him, kept him in continual agitation,
and, perhaps to justify his timidity, his aversion for the
actual, he always praised the past and what had never existed;
and even the classical languages which he taught were in reality
for him goloshes and umbrellas in which he sheltered himself from
" 'Oh, how sonorous, how beautiful is the Greek language!' he
would say, with a sugary expression; and as though to prove his
words he would screw up his eyes and, raising his finger, would
"And Byelikov tried to hide his thoughts also in a case. The only
things that were clear to his mind were government circulars and
newspaper articles in which something was forbidden. When some
proclamation prohibited the boys from going out in the streets
after nine o'clock in the evening, or some article declared
carnal love unlawful, it was to his mind clear and definite; it
was forbidden, and that was enough. For him there was always a
doubtful element, something vague and not fully expressed, in any
sanction or permission. When a dramatic club or a reading-room or
a tea-shop was licensed in the town, he would shake his head and
"It is all right, of course; it is all very nice, but I hope it
won't lead to anything!"
"Every sort of breach of order, deviation or departure from rule,
depressed him, though one would have thought it was no business
of his. If one of his colleagues was late for church or if
rumours reached him of some prank of the high-school boys, or one
of the mistresses was seen late in the evening in the company of
an officer, he was much disturbed, and said he hoped that nothing
would come of it. At the teachers' meetings he simply oppressed
us with his caution, his circumspection, and his characteristic
reflection on the ill-behaviour of the young people in both male
and female high-schools, the uproar in the classes.
"Oh, he hoped it would not reach the ears of the authorities; oh,
he hoped nothing would come of it; and he thought it would be a
very good thing if Petrov were expelled from the second class and
Yegorov from the fourth. And, do you know, by his sighs, his
despondency, his black spectacles on his pale little face, a
little face like a pole-cat's, you know, he crushed us all, and
we gave way, reduced Petrov's and Yegorov's marks for conduct,
kept them in, and in the end expelled them both. He had a strange
habit of visiting our lodgings. He would come to a teacher's,
would sit down, and remain silent, as though he were carefully
inspecting something. He would sit like this in silence for an
hour or two and then go away. This he called 'maintaining good
relations with his colleagues'; and it was obvious that coming to
see us and sitting there was tiresome to him, and that he came to
see us simply because he considered it his duty as our colleague.
We teachers were afraid of him. And even the headmaster was
afraid of him. Would you believe it, our teachers were all
intellectual, right-minded people, brought up on Turgenev and
Shtchedrin, yet this little chap, who always went about with
goloshes and an umbrella, had the whole high-school under his
thumb for fifteen long years! High-school, indeed -- he had the
whole town under his thumb! Our ladies did not get up private
theatricals on Saturdays for fear he should hear of it, and the
clergy dared not eat meat or play cards in his presence. Under
the influence of people like Byelikov we have got into the way of
being afraid of everything in our town for the last ten or
fifteen years. They are afraid to speak aloud, afraid to send
letters, afraid to make acquaintances, afraid to read books,
afraid to help the poor, to teach people to read and write. . .
Ivan Ivanovitch cleared his throat, meaning to say something, but
first lighted his pipe, g azed at the moon, and then said, with
"Yes, intellectual, right minded people read Shtchedrin and
Turgenev, Buckle, and all the rest of them, yet they knocked
under and put up with it. . . that's just how it is."
"Byelikov lived in the same house as I did," Burkin went on, "on
the same storey, his door facing mine; we often saw each other,
and I knew how he lived when he was at home. And at home it was
the same story: dressing-gown, nightcap, blinds, bolts, a perfect
succession of prohibitions and restrictions of all sorts, and
--'Oh, I hope nothing will come of it!' Lenten fare was bad for
him, yet he could not eat meat, as people might perhaps say
Byelikov did not keep the fasts, and he ate freshwater fish with
butter -- not a Lenten dish, yet one could not say that it was
meat. He did not keep a female servant for fear people might
think evil of him, but had as cook an old man of sixty, called
Afanasy, half-witted and given to tippling, who had once been an
officer's servant and could cook after a fashion. This Afanasy
was usually standing at the door with his arms folded; with a
deep sigh, he would mutter always the same thing:
" 'There are plenty of _them_ about nowadays!'
"Byelikov had a little bedroom like a box; his bed had curtains.
When he went to bed he covered his head over; it was hot and
stuffy; the wind battered on the closed doors; there was a
droning noise in the stove and a sound of sighs from the kitchen
-- ominous sighs. . . . And he felt frightened under the
bed-clothes. He was afraid that something might happen, that
Afanasy might murder him, that thieves might break in, and so he
had troubled dreams all night, and in the morning, when we went
together to the high-school, he was depressed and pale, and it
was evident that the high-school full of people excited dread and
aversion in his whole being, and that to walk beside me was
irksome to a man of his solitary temperament.
" 'They make a great noise in our classes,' he used to say, as
though trying to find an explanation for his depression. 'It's
"And the Greek master, this man in a case -- would you believe
it? -- almost got married."
Ivan Ivanovitch glanced quickly into the barn, and said:
"You are joking!"
"Yes, strange as it seems, he almost got married. A new teacher
of history and geography, Milhail Savvitch Kovalenko, a Little
Russian, was appointed. He came, not alone, but with his sister
Varinka. He was a tall, dark young man with huge hands, and one
could see from his face that he had a bass voice, and, in fact,
he had a voice that seemed to come out of a barrel -- 'boom,
boom, boom!' And she was not so young, about thirty, but she,
too, was tall, well-made, with black eyebrows and red cheeks --
in fact, she was a regular sugar-plum, and so sprightly, so
noisy; she was always singing Little Russian songs and laughing.
For the least thing she would go off into a ringing laugh --
'Ha-ha-ha!' We made our first thorough acquaintance with the
Kovalenkos at the headmaster's name-day party. Among the glum and
intensely bored teachers who came even to the name-day party as a
duty we suddenly saw a new Aphrodite risen from the waves; she
walked with her arms akimbo, laughed, sang, danced. . . . She
sang with feeling 'The Winds do Blow,' then another song, and
another, and she fascinated us all -- all, even Byelikov. He sat
down by her and said with a honeyed smile:
" 'The Little Russian reminds one of the ancient Greek in its
softness and agreeable resonance.'
"That flattered her, and she began telling him with feeling and
earnestness that they had a farm in the Gadyatchsky district, and
that her mamma lived at the farm, and that they had such pears,
such melons, such _kabaks_! The Little Russians call pumpkins
_kabaks_ (i.e., pothouses), while their pothouses they call
_shinki_, and they make a beetroot soup with tomatoes and
aubergines in it, 'which was so nice -- awfully nice!'
"We listened and listened, and suddenly the same idea dawned upon
" 'It would be a good thing to make a match of it,' the
headmaster's wife said to me softly.
"We all for some reason recalled the fact that our friend
Byelikov was not married, and it now seemed to us strange that we
had hitherto failed to observe, and had in fact completely lost
sight of, a detail so important in his life. What was his
attitude to woman? How had he settled this vital question for
himself? This had not interested us in the least till then;
perhaps we had not even admitted the idea that a man who went out
in all weathers in goloshes and slept under curtains could be in
" 'He is a good deal over forty and she is thirty,' the
headmaster's wife went on, developing her idea. 'I believe she
would marry him.'
"All sorts of things are done in the provinces through boredom,
all sorts of unnecessary and nonsensical things! And that is
because what is necessary is not done at all. What need was there
for instance, for us to make a match for this Byelikov, whom one
could not even imagine married? The headmaster's wife, the
inspector's wife, and all our high-school ladies, grew livelier
and even better-looking, as though they had suddenly found a new
object in life. The headmaster's wife would take a box at the
theatre, and we beheld sitting in her box Varinka, with such a
fan, beaming and happy, and beside her Byelikov, a little bent
figure, looking as though he had been extracted from his house by
pincers. I would give an evening party, and the ladies would
insist on my inviting Byelikov and Varinka. In short, the machine
was set in motion. It appeared that Varinka was not averse to
matrimony. She had not a very cheerful life with her brother;
they could do nothing but quarrel and scold one another from
morning till night. Here is a scene, for instance. Kovalenko
would be coming along the street, a tall, sturdy young ruffian,
in an embroidered shirt, his love-locks falling on his forehead
under his cap, in one hand a bundle of books, in the other a
thick knotted stick, followed by his sister, also with books in
" 'But you haven't read it, Mihalik!' she would be arguing
loudly. 'I tell you, I swear you have not read it at all!'
" 'And I tell you I have read it,' cries Kovalenko, thumping his
stick on the pavement.
" 'Oh, my goodness, Mihalik! why are you so cross? We are arguing
" 'I tell you that I have read it!' Kovalenko would shout, more
loudly than ever.
"And at home, if there was an outsider present, there was sure to
be a skirmish. Such a life must have been wearisome, and of
course she must have longed for a home of her own. Besides, there
was her age to be considered; there was no time left to pick and
choose; it was a case of marrying anybody, even a Greek master.
And, indeed, most of our young ladies don't mind whom they marry
so long as they do get married. However that may be, Varinka
began to show an unmistakable partiality for Byelikov.
"And Byelikov? He used to visit Kovalenko just as he did us. He
would arrive, sit down, and remain silent. He would sit quiet,
and Varinka would sing to him 'The Winds do Blow,' or would look
pensively at him with her dark eyes, or would suddenly go off
into a peal -- 'Ha-ha-ha!'
"Suggestion plays a great part in love affairs, and still more in
getting married. Everybody -- both his colleagues and the ladies
-- began assuring Byelikov that he ought to get married, that
there was nothing left for him in life but to get married; we all
congratulated him, with solemn countenances delivered ourselves
of various platitudes, such as 'Marriage is a serious step.'
Besides, Varinka was good-looking and interesting; she was the
daughter of a civil councillor, and had a farm; and what was
more, she was the first woman who had been warm and friendly in
her manner to him. His head was turned, and he decided that he
really ought to get married."
"Well, at that point you ought to have taken away his goloshes
and umbrella," said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Only fancy! that turned out to be impossible. He put Varinka's
portrait on his table, kept coming to see me and talking about
Varinka, and home life,
saying marriage was a serious step. He was frequently at
Kovalenko's, but he did not alter his manner of life in the
least; on the contrary, indeed, his determination to get married
seemed to have a depressing effect on him. He grew thinner and
paler, and seemed to retreat further and further into his case.
" 'I like Varvara Savvishna,' he used to say to me, with a faint
and wry smile, 'and I know that every one ought to get married,
but . . . you know all this has happened so suddenly. . . . One
must think a little.'
" 'What is there to think over?' I used to say to him. 'Get
married -- that is all.'
" 'No; marriage is a serious step. One must first weigh the
duties before one, the responsibilities . . . that nothing may go
wrong afterwards. It worries me so much that I don't sleep at
night. And I must confess I am afraid: her brother and she have a
strange way of thinking; they look at things strangely, you know,
and her disposition is very impetuous. One may get married, and
then, there is no knowing, one may find oneself in an unpleasant
"And he did not make an offer; he kept putting it off, to the
great vexation of the headmaster's wife and all our ladies; he
went on weighing his future duties and responsibilities, and
meanwhile he went for a walk with Varinka almost every day --
possibly he thought that this was necessary in his position --
and came to see me to talk about family life. And in all
probability in the end he would have proposed to her, and would
have made one of those unnecessary, stupid marriages such as are
made by thousands among us from being bored and having nothing to
do, if it had not been for a _kolossalische scandal_. I must
mention that Varinka's brother, Kovalenko, detested Byelikov from
the first day of their acquaintance, and could not endure him.
" 'I don't understand,' he used to say to us, shrugging his
shoulders --'I don't understand how you can put up with that
sneak, that nasty phiz. Ugh! how can you live here! The
atmosphere is stifling and unclean! Do you call yourselves
schoolmasters, teachers? You are paltry government clerks. You
keep, not a temple of science, but a department for red tape and
loyal behaviour, and it smells as sour as a police-station. No,
my friends; I will stay with you for a while, and then I will go
to my farm and there catch crabs and teach the Little Russians. I
shall go, and you can stay here with your Judas -- damn his
"Or he would laugh till he cried, first in a loud bass, then in a
shrill, thin laugh, and ask me, waving his hands:
" 'What does he sit here for? What does he want? He sits and
"He even gave Byelikov a nickname, 'The Spider.' And it will
readily be understood that we avoided talking to him of his
sister's being about to marry 'The Spider.'
"And on one occasion, when the headmaster's wife hinted to him
what a good thing it would be to secure his sister's future with
such a reliable, universally respected man as Byelikov, he
frowned and muttered:
" 'It's not my business; let her marry a reptile if she likes. I
don't like meddling in other people's affairs.'
"Now hear what happened next. Some mischievous person drew a
caricature of Byelikov walking along in his goloshes with his
trousers tucked up, under his umbrella, with Varinka on his arm;
below, the inscription 'Anthropos in love.' The expression was
caught to a marvel, you know. The artist must have worked for
more than one night, for the teachers of both the boys' and
girls' high-schools, the teachers of the seminary, the government
officials, all received a copy. Byelikov received one, too. The
caricature made a very painful impression on him.
"We went out together; it was the first of May, a Sunday, and all
of us, the boys and the teachers, had agreed to meet at the
high-school and then to go for a walk together to a wood beyond
the town. We set off, and he was green in the face and gloomier
than a storm-cloud.
'What wicked, ill-natured people there are!' he said, and his
"I felt really sorry for him. We were walking along, and all of a
sudden -- would you believe it? -- Kovalenko came bowling along
on a bicycle, and after him, also on a bicycle, Varinka, flushed
and exhausted, but good-humoured and gay.
" 'We are going on ahead,' she called. 'What lovely weather!
"And they both disappeared from our sight. Byelikov turned white
instead of green, and seemed petrified. He stopped short and
stared at me. . . .
" 'What is the meaning of it? Tell me, please!' he asked. 'Can my
eyes have deceived me? Is it the proper thing for high-school
masters and ladies to ride bicycles?'
" 'What is there improper about it?' I said. 'Let them ride and
" 'But how can that be?' he cried, amazed at my calm. 'What are
"And he was so shocked that he was unwilling to go on, and
"Next day he was continually twitching and nervously rubbing his
hands, and it was evident from his face that he was unwell. And
he left before his work was over, for the first time in his life.
And he ate no dinner. Towards evening he wrapped himself up
warmly, though it was quite warm weather, and sallied out to the
Kovalenkos'. Varinka was out; he found her brother, however.
" 'Pray sit down,' Kovalenko said coldly, with a frown. His face
looked sleepy; he had just had a nap after dinner, and was in a
very bad humour.
"Byelikov sat in silence for ten minutes, and then began:
" 'I have come to see you to relieve my mind. I am very, very
much troubled. Some scurrilous fellow has drawn an absurd
caricature of me and another person, in whom we are both deeply
interested. I regard it as a duty to assure you that I have had
no hand in it. . . . I have given no sort of ground for such
ridicule -- on the contrary, I have always behaved in every way
like a gentleman.'
"Kovalenko sat sulky and silent. Byelikov waited a little, and
went on slowly in a mournful voice:
" 'And I have something else to say to you. I have been in the
service for years, while you have only lately entered it, and I
consider it my duty as an older colleague to give you a warning.
You ride on a bicycle, and that pastime is utterly unsuitable for
an educator of youth.'
" 'Why so?' asked Kovalenko in his bass.
" 'Surely that needs no explanation, Mihail Savvitch -- surely
you can understand that? If the teacher rides a bicycle, what can
you expect the pupils to do? You will have them walking on their
heads next! And so long as there is no formal permission to do
so, it is out of the question. I was horrified yesterday! When I
saw your sister everything seemed dancing before my eyes. A lady
or a young girl on a bicycle -- it's awful!'
" 'What is it you want exactly?'
" 'All I want is to warn you, Mihail Savvitch. You are a young
man, you have a future before you, you must be very, very careful
in your behaviour, and you are so careless -- oh, so careless!
You go about in an embroidered shirt, are constantly seen in the
street carrying books, and now the bicycle, too. The headmaster
will learn that you and your sister ride the bicycle, and then it
will reach the higher authorities. . . . Will that be a good
" 'It's no business of anybody else if my sister and I do
bicycle!' said Kovalenko, and he turned crimson. 'And damnation
take any one who meddles in my private affairs!'
"Byelikov turned pale and got up.
" 'If you speak to me in that tone I cannot continue,' he said.
'And I beg you never to express yourself like that about our
superiors in my presence; you ought to be respectful to the
" 'Why, have I said any harm of the authorities?' asked
Kovalenko, looking at him wrathfully. 'Please leave me alone. I
am an honest man, and do not care to talk to a gentleman like
you. I don't like sneaks!'
"Byelikov flew into a nervous flutter, and began hurriedly
putting on his coat, with an expression of horror on his face. It
was the first time in his life he had been spoken to so rudely.
" 'You can say what you please,' he said, as he went out from the
entry to the landing on the staircase. 'I ought only to warn you:
possibly some on e may have overheard us, and that our
conversation may not be misunderstood and harm come of it, I
shall be compelled to inform our headmaster of our conversation .
. . in its main features. I am bound to do so.'
" 'Inform him? You can go and make your report!'
"Kovalenko seized him from behind by the collar and gave him a
push, and Byelikov rolled downstairs, thudding with his goloshes.
The staircase was high and steep, but he rolled to the bottom
unhurt, got up, and touched his nose to see whether his
spectacles were all right. But just as he was falling down the
stairs Varinka came in, and with her two ladies; they stood below
staring, and to Byelikov this was more terrible than anything. I
believe he would rather have broken his neck or both legs than
have been an object of ridicule. 'Why, now the whole town would
hear of it; it would come to the headmaster's ears, would reach
the higher authorities -- oh, it might lead to something! There
would be another caricature, and it would all end in his being
asked to resign his post. . . .
"When he got up, Varinka recognized him, and, looking at his
ridiculous face, his crumpled overcoat, and his goloshes, not
understanding what had happened and supposing that he had slipped
down by accident, could not restrain herself, and laughed loud
enough to be heard by all the flats:
"And this pealing, ringing 'Ha-ha-ha!' was the last straw that
put an end to everything: to the proposed match and to Byelikov's
earthly existence. He did not hear what Varinka said to him; he
saw nothing. On reaching home, the first thing he did was to
remove her portrait from the table; then he went to bed, and he
never got up again.
"Three days later Afanasy came to me and asked whether we should
not send for the doctor, as there was something wrong with his
master. I went in to Byelikov. He lay silent behind the curtain,
covered with a quilt; if one asked him a question, he said 'Yes'
or 'No' and not another sound. He lay there while Afanasy, gloomy
and scowling, hovered about him, sighing heavily, and smelling
like a pothouse.
"A month later Byelikov died. We all went to his funeral -- that
is, both the high-schools and the seminary. Now when he was lying
in his coffin his expression was mild, agreeable, even cheerful,
as though he were glad that he had at last been put into a case
which he would never leave again. Yes, he had attained his ideal!
And, as though in his honour, it was dull, rainy weather on the
day of his funeral, and we all wore goloshes and took our
umbrellas. Varinka, too, was at the funeral, and when the coffin
was lowered into the grave she burst into tears. I have noticed
that Little Russian women are always laughing or crying -- no
"One must confess that to bury people like Byelikov is a great
pleasure. As we were returning from the cemetery we wore discreet
Lenten faces; no one wanted to display this feeling of pleasure
-- a feeling like that we had experienced long, long ago as
children when our elders had gone out and we ran about the garden
for an hour or two, enjoying complete freedom. Ah, freedom,
freedom! The merest hint, the faintest hope of its possibility
gives wings to the soul, does it not?
"We returned from the cemetery in a good humour. But not more
than a week had passed before life went on as in the past, as
gloomy, oppressive, and senseless -- a life not forbidden by
government prohibition, but not fully permitted, either: it was
no better. And, indeed, though we had buried Byelikov, how many
such men in cases were left, how many more of them there will
"That's just how it is," said Ivan Ivanovitch and he lighted his
"How many more of them there will be!" repeated Burkin.
The schoolmaster came out of the barn. He was a short, stout man,
completely bald, with a black beard down to his waist. The two
dogs came out with him.
"What a moon!" he said, looking upwards.
It was midnight. On the right could be seen the whole village, a
long street stretching far away for four miles. All was buried in
deep silent slumber; not a movement, not a sound; one could
hardly believe that nature could be so still. When on a moonlight
night you see a broad village street, with its cottages,
haystacks, and slumbering willows, a feeling of calm comes over
the soul; in this peace, wrapped away from care, toil, and sorrow
in the darkness of night, it is mild, melancholy, beautiful, and
it seems as though the stars look down upon it kindly and with
tenderness, and as though there were no evil on earth and all
were well. On the left the open country began from the end of the
village; it could be seen stretching far away to the horizon, and
there was no movement, no sound in that whole expanse bathed in
"Yes, that is just how it is," repeated Ivan Ivanovitch; "and
isn't our living in town, airless and crowded, our writing
useless papers, our playing _vint_ -- isn't that all a sort of
case for us? And our spending our whole lives among trivial,
fussy men and silly, idle women, our talking and our listening to
all sorts of nonsense -- isn't that a case for us, too? If you
like, I will tell you a very edifying story."
"No; it's time we were asleep," said Burkin. "Tell it tomorrow."
They went into the barn and lay down on the hay. And they were
both covered up and beginning to doze when they suddenly heard
light footsteps -- patter, patter. . . . Some one was walking not
far from the barn, walking a little and stopping, and a minute
later, patter, patter again. . . . The dogs began growling.
"That's Mavra," said Burkin.
The footsteps died away.
"You see and hear that they lie," said Ivan Ivanovitch, turning
over on the other side, "and they call you a fool for putting up
with their lying. You endure insult and humiliation, and dare not
openly say that you are on the side of the honest and the free,
and you lie and smile yourself; and all that for the sake of a
crust of bread, for the sake of a warm corner, for the sake of a
wretched little worthless rank in the service. No, one can't go
on living like this."
"Well, you are off on another tack now, Ivan Ivanovitch," said
the schoolmaster. "Let us go to sleep!
And ten minutes later Burkin was asleep. But Ivan Ivanovitch kept
sighing and turning over from side to side; then he got up, went
outside again, and, sitting in the doorway, lighted his pipe.
THE whole sky had been overcast with rain-clouds from early
morning; it was a still day, not hot, but heavy, as it is in grey
dull weather when the clouds have been hanging over the country
for a long while, when one expects rain and it does not come.
Ivan Ivanovitch, the veterinary surgeon, and Burkin, the
high-school teacher, were already tired from walking, and the
fields seemed to them endless. Far ahead of them they could just
see the windmills of the village of Mironositskoe; on the right
stretched a row of hillocks which disappeared in the distance
behind the village, and they both knew that this was the bank of
the river, that there were meadows, green willows, homesteads
there, and that if one stood on one of the hillocks one could see
from it the same vast plain, telegraph-wires, and a train which
in the distance looked like a crawling caterpillar, and that in
clear weather one could even see the town. Now, in still weather,
when all nature seemed mild and dreamy, Ivan Ivanovitch and
Burkin were filled with love of that countryside, and both
thought how great, how beautiful a land it was.
"Last time we were in Prokofy's barn," said Burkin, "you were
about to tell me a story."
"Yes; I meant to tell you about my brother."
Ivan Ivanovitch heaved a deep sigh and lighted a pipe to begin to
tell his story, but just at that moment the rain began. And five
minutes later heavy rain came down, covering the sky, and it was
hard to tell when it would be over. Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin
stopped in hesitation; the dogs, already drenched, stood with
their tails between their legs gazing at them feelingly.
"We must take shelter somewhere," said Burkin. "Let us go to
Alehin's; it's close by."
They turned aside a nd walked through mown fields, sometimes
going straight forward, sometimes turning to the right, till they
came out on the road. Soon they saw poplars, a garden, then the
red roofs of barns; there was a gleam of the river, and the view
opened on to a broad expanse of water with a windmill and a white
bath-house: this was Sofino, where Alehin lived.
The watermill was at work, drowning the sound of the rain; the
dam was shaking. Here wet horses with drooping heads were
standing near their carts, and men were walking about covered
with sacks. It was damp, muddy, and desolate; the water looked
cold and malignant. Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin were already
conscious of a feeling of wetness, messiness, and discomfort all
over; their feet were heavy with mud, and when, crossing the dam,
they went up to the barns, they were silent, as though they were
angry with one another.
In one of the barns there was the sound of a winnowing machine,
the door was open, and clouds of dust were coming from it. In the
doorway was standing Alehin himself, a man of forty, tall and
stout, with long hair, more like a professor or an artist than a
landowner. He had on a white shirt that badly needed washing, a
rope for a belt, drawers instead of trousers, and his boots, too,
were plastered up with mud and straw. His eyes and nose were
black with dust. He recognized Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin, and
was apparently much delighted to see them.
"Go into the house, gentlemen," he said, smiling; "I'll come
directly, this minute."
It was a big two-storeyed house. Alehin lived in the lower
storey, with arched ceilings and little windows, where the
bailiffs had once lived; here everything was plain, and there was
a smell of rye bread, cheap vodka, and harness. He went upstairs
into the best rooms only on rare occasions, when visitors came.
Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin were met in the house by a
maid-servant, a young woman so beautiful that they both stood
still and looked at one another.
"You can't imagine how delighted I am to see you, my friends,"
said Alehin, going into the hall with them. "It is a surprise!
Pelagea," he said, addressing the girl, "give our visitors
something to change into. And, by the way, I will change too.
Only I must first go and wash, for I almost think I have not
washed since spring. Wouldn't you like to come into the
bath-house? and meanwhile they will get things ready here."
Beautiful Pelagea, looking so refined and soft, brought them
towels and soap, and Alehin went to the bath-house with his
"It's a long time since I had a wash," he said, undressing. "I
have got a nice bath-house, as you see -- my father built it --
but I somehow never have time to wash."
He sat down on the steps and soaped his long hair and his neck,
and the water round him turned brown.
"Yes, I must say," said Ivan Ivanovitch meaningly, looking at his
"It's a long time since I washed . . ." said Alehin with
embarrassment, giving himself a second soaping, and the water
near him turned dark blue, like ink.
Ivan Ivanovitch went outside, plunged into the water with a loud
splash, and swam in the rain, flinging his arms out wide. He
stirred the water into waves which set the white lilies bobbing
up and down; he swam to the very middle of the millpond and
dived, and came up a minute later in another place, and swam on,
and kept on diving, trying to touch the bottom.
"Oh, my goodness!" he repeated continually, enjoying himself
thoroughly. "Oh, my goodness!" He swam to the mill, talked to the
peasants there, then returned and lay on his back in the middle
of the pond, turning his face to the rain. Burkin and Alehin were
dressed and ready to go, but he still went on swimming and
diving. "Oh, my goodness! . . ." he said. "Oh, Lord, have mercy
on me! . . ."
"That's enough!" Burkin shouted to him.
They went back to the house. And only when the lamp was lighted
in the big drawing-room upstairs, and Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch,
attired in silk dressing-gowns and warm slippers, were sitting in
arm-chairs; and Alehin, washed and combed, in a new coat, was
walking about the drawing-room, evidently enjoying the feeling of
warmth, cleanliness, dry clothes, and light shoes; and when
lovely Pelagea, stepping noiselessly on the carpet and smiling
softly, handed tea and jam on a tray -- only then Ivan Ivanovitch
began on his story, and it seemed as though not only Burkin and
Alehin were listening, but also the ladies, young and old, and
the officers who looked down upon them sternly and calmly from
their gold frames.
"There are two of us brothers," he began --"I, Ivan Ivanovitch,
and my brother, Nikolay Ivanovitch, two years younger. I went in
for a learned profession and became a veterinary surgeon, while
Nikolay sat in a government office from the time he was nineteen.
Our father, Tchimsha-Himalaisky, was a kantonist, but he rose to
be an officer and left us a little estate and the rank of
nobility. After his death the little estate went in debts and
legal expenses; but, anyway, we had spent our childhood running
wild in the country. Like peasant children, we passed our days
and nights in the fields and the woods, looked after horses,
stripped the bark off the trees, fished, and so on. . . . And,
you know, whoever has once in his life caught perch or has seen
the migrating of the thrushes in autumn, watched how they float
in flocks over the village on bright, cool days, he will never be
a real townsman, and will have a yearning for freedom to the day
of his death. My brother was miserable in the government office.
Years passed by, and he went on sitting in the same place, went
on writing the same papers and thinking of one and the same thing
-- how to get into the country. And this yearning by degrees
passed into a definite desire, into a dream of buying himself a
little farm somewhere on the banks of a river or a lake.
"He was a gentle, good-natured fellow, and I was fond of him, but
I never sympathized with this desire to shut himself up for the
rest of his life in a little farm of his own. It's the correct
thing to say that a man needs no more than six feet of earth. But
six feet is what a corpse needs, not a man. And they say, too,
now, that if our intellectual classes are attracted to the land
and yearn for a farm, it's a good thing. But these farms are just
the same as six feet of earth. To retreat from town, from the
struggle, from the bustle of life, to retreat and bury oneself in
one's farm -- it's not life, it's egoism, laziness, it's
monasticism of a sort, but monasticism without good works. A man
does not need six feet of earth or a farm, but the whole globe,
all nature, where he can have room to display all the qualities
and peculiarities of his free spirit.
"My brother Nikolay, sitting in his government office, dreamed of
how he would eat his own cabbages, which would fill the whole
yard with such a savoury smell, take his meals on the green
grass, sleep in the sun, sit for whole hours on the seat by the
gate gazing at the fields and the forest. Gardening books and the
agricultural hints in calendars were his delight, his favourite
spiritual sustenance; he enjoyed reading newspapers, too, but the
only things he read in them were the advertisements of so many
acres of arable land and a grass meadow with farm-houses and
buildings, a river, a garden, a mill and millponds, for sale. And
his imagination pictured the garden-paths, flowers and fruit,
starling cotes, the carp in the pond, and all that sort of thing,
you know. These imaginary pictures were of different kinds
according to the advertisements which he came across, but for
some reason in every one of them he had always to have
gooseberries. He could not imagine a homestead, he could not
picture an idyllic nook, without gooseberries.
" 'Country life has its conveniences,' he would sometimes say.
'You sit on the verandah and you drink tea, while your ducks swim
on the pond, there is a delicious smell everywhere, and . . . and
the gooseberries are growing.'
"He used to draw a map of his property, and in every map there
were the same things -- (a) house for the family, (b) servants'
quarters, (c) kitchen-ga rden, (d) gooseberry-bushes. He lived
parsimoniously, was frugal in food and drink, his clothes were
beyond description; he looked like a beggar, but kept on saving
and putting money in the bank. He grew fearfully avaricious. I
did not like to look at him, and I used to give him something and
send him presents for Christmas and Easter, but he used to save
that too. Once a man is absorbed by an idea there is no doing
anything with him.
"Years passed: he was transferred to another province. He was
over forty, and he was still reading the advertisements in the
papers and saving up. Then I heard he was married. Still with the
same object of buying a farm and having gooseberries, he married
an elderly and ugly widow without a trace of feeling for her,
simply because she had filthy lucre. He went on living frugally
after marrying her, and kept her short of food, while he put her
money in the bank in his name.
"Her first husband had been a postmaster, and with him she was
accustomed to pies and home-made wines, while with her second
husband she did not get enough black bread; she began to pine
away with this sort of life, and three years later she gave up
her soul to God. And I need hardly say that my brother never for
one moment imagined that he was responsible for her death. Money,
like vodka, makes a man queer. In our town there was a merchant
who, before he died, ordered a plateful of honey and ate up all
his money and lottery tickets with the honey, so that no one
might get the benefit of it. While I was inspecting cattle at a
railway-station, a cattle-dealer fell under an engine and had his
leg cut off. We carried him into the waiting-room, the blood was
flowing -- it was a horrible thing -- and he kept asking them to
look for his leg and was very much worried about it; there were
twenty roubles in the boot on the leg that had been cut off, and
he was afraid they would be lost."
"That's a story from a different opera," said Burkin.
"After his wife's death," Ivan Ivanovitch went on, after thinking
for half a minute, "my brother began looking out for an estate
for himself. Of course, you may look about for five years and yet
end by making a mistake, and buying something quite different
from what you have dreamed of. My brother Nikolay bought through
an agent a mortgaged estate of three hundred and thirty acres,
with a house for the family, with servants' quarters, with a
park, but with no orchard, no gooseberry-bushes, and no
duck-pond; there was a river, but the water in it was the colour
of coffee, because on one side of the estate there was a
brickyard and on the other a factory for burning bones. But
Nikolay Ivanovitch did not grieve much; he ordered twenty
gooseberry-bushes, planted them, and began living as a country
"Last year I went to pay him a visit. I thought I would go and
see what it was like. In his letters my brother called his estate
'Tchumbaroklov Waste, alias Himalaiskoe.' I reached 'alias
Himalaiskoe' in the afternoon. It was hot. Everywhere there were
ditches, fences, hedges, fir-trees planted in rows, and there was
no knowing how to get to the yard, where to put one's horse. I
went up to the house, and was met by a fat red dog that looked
like a pig. It wanted to bark, but it was too lazy. The cook, a
fat, barefooted woman, came out of the kitchen, and she, too,
looked like a pig, and said that her master was resting after
dinner. I went in to see my brother. He was sitting up in bed
with a quilt over his legs; he had grown older, fatter, wrinkled;
his cheeks, his nose, and his mouth all stuck out -- he looked as
though he might begin grunting into the quilt at any moment.
"We embraced each other, and shed tears of joy and of sadness at
the thought that we had once been young and now were both
grey-headed and near the grave. He dressed, and led me out to
show me the estate.
" 'Well, how are you getting on here?' I asked.
" 'Oh, all right, thank God; I am getting on very well.'
"He was no more a poor timid clerk, but a real landowner, a
gentleman. He was already accustomed to it, had grown used to it,
and liked it. He ate a great deal, went to the bath-house, was
growing stout, was already at law with the village commune and
both factories, and was very much offended when the peasants did
not call him 'Your Honour.' And he concerned himself with the
salvation of his soul in a substantial, gentlemanly manner, and
performed deeds of charity, not simply, but with an air of
consequence. And what deeds of charity! He treated the peasants
for every sort of disease with soda and castor oil, and on his
name-day had a thanksgiving service in the middle of the village,
and then treated the peasants to a gallon of vodka -- he thought
that was the thing to do. Oh, those horrible gallons of vodka!
One day the fat landowner hauls the peasants up before the
district captain for trespass, and next day, in honour of a
holiday, treats them to a gallon of vodka, and they drink and
shout 'Hurrah!' and when they are drunk bow down to his feet. A
change of life for the better, and being well-fed and idle