Short Fiction

By Aleksandr Kuprin.

Translated by S. Koteliansky, J. M. Murry, Stephen Graham, Rosa Savory Graham, Leo Pasvolsky, Douglas Ashby, The Living Age, B. Guilbert Guerney, Alexander Gagarine, and Malcolm W. Davis.


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This edition of Alexsandr Kuprin’s Short Fiction was produced from various translations. “The River of Life,” “Captain Ribnikov,” “The Outrage,” and “The Witch” were translated by S. Koteliansky and J. M. Murry and originally published in 1916. “A Slav Soul,” “The Song and the Dance,” “Easter Day,” “The Idiot,” “The Picture,” “Hamlet,” “Mechanical Justice,” “The Last Word,” “The White Poodle,” “The Elephant,” “Dogs’ Happiness,” “A Clump of Lilacs,” “Tempting Providence,” and “Cain” were translated by Stephen Graham and Rosa Savory Graham and also originally published in 1916. “The Bracelet of Garnets,” “The Horse-Thieves,” “Anathema,” “The Laestrygonians,” “The Park of Kings,” “An Evening Guest,” “A Legend,” “Demir-Kayá,” and “The Garden of the Holy Virgin” were translated by Leo Pasvolsky and originally published in 1919. “Sasha,” “A Sentimental Romance,” “The Army Ensign,” “Autumn Flowers,” “Emerald,” “Happiness,” “How I Became an Actor,” “Allez!,” “Black Fog,” “The Murderer,” “Measles,” and “The Jewess” were translated by Douglas Ashby and originally published in 1920. “Le Coq d’Or” was translated by The Living Age and originally published in 1922. “Sulamith” was translated by B. Guilbert Guerney and originally published in 1923. “The Piebald Horses” was translated by Alexander Gagarine and also originally published in 1923. “The Little Red Christmas Tree” was translated by Malcolm W. Davis and also originally published in 1923. “Monte Carlo,” “Roach Hole,” “The Disciple,” and “The Old City of Marseilles” were translated by B. Guilbert Guerney and originally published in 1925.

Robin Whittleton

Malmö, Sweden, October 2021

Short Fiction

The River of Life


The landlady’s room in the “Serbia.” Yellow wallpaper; two windows with dirty muslin curtains; between them an oval squinting mirror, stuck at an angle of forty-five degrees, reflects a painted floor and chair legs; on the windowsills dusty, pimply cactuses; a cage with a canary hangs from the ceiling. The room is partitioned off by red screens of printed calico: the smaller part on the left is the bedroom of the landlady and her children; that on the right is blocked up with varied odds and ends of furniture⁠—bedridden, rickety, and lame. In the corners all kinds of rubbish are in chaotic cobwebbed heaps: a sextant in a ginger leather case, and with it a tripod and a chain, some old trunks and boxes, a guitar without strings, hunting boots, a sewing machine, a “Monopan” musical box, a camera, about five lamps, piles of books, dresses, bundles of linen, and a great many things besides. All these things had been detained at various times by the landlady for rent unpaid, or left behind by runaway lodgers. You cannot move in the room because of them.

The “Serbia” is a third-rate hotel. Permanent lodgers are a rarity, and those are prostitutes. Mostly they are casual passengers who float up to town on the Dnieper: small farmers, Jewish commission agents, distant provincials, pilgrims, and village priests who come to town to inform, or are returning home when the information has been lodged. Rooms in the “Serbia” are also occupied by couples from the town for the night or a few days.

Spring. About three in the afternoon. The curtains of the open windows stir gently, and the room smells of kerosene and baked cabbage. It is the landlady warming up on her stove a bigoss à la Polonaise of cabbage, pork fat, and sausage, with a great deal of pepper and bay leaves. She is a widow between thirty-six and forty, a strong, quick, good-looking woman. The hair that she wears in curls over her forehead has a strong tinge of grey; but her face is fresh, her big sensual mouth red, and her young dark eyes moist and playfully sly. Her name is Anna Friedrichovna. She is half German, half Pole, and comes from the Baltic Provinces; but her close friends call her Friedrich simply, which suits her determined character better. She is quick-tempered, scolds and talks bawdy. Sometimes she fights with her porters and the lodgers who have been on the spree; she drinks as well as any man, and has a mad passion for dancing. She changes from abuse to laughing in a second. She has but small respect for the law, receives lodgers without passports, and with her own hands, as she says, “chucks into the street” those who don’t pay up⁠—that is, she unlocks his door while he is out, and puts all his things in the passage or on the stairs, and sometimes in her own room. The police are friendly with her for her hospitality, her cheerful character, and particularly for the gay, easy, unceremonious, disinterested complaisance with which she responds to man’s passing emotions.

She has four children. The two eldest, Romka and Alychka, have not yet come back from school, and the younger, Adka, seven, and Edka, five, strong brats with cheeks mottled with mud, blotches, tear-stains, and the sunburn of early spring, are always to be found near their mother. Both of them hold on to the table leg and beg. They are perpetually hungry, because their mother does not pay much attention to food; they eat anyhow, at different times, sending into a little general shop for anything they want. Sticking out his lips in a circle, frowning, and looking out under his forehead, Adka roars in a loud bass: “That’s what you’re like. You won’t give me a taste.” “Let me try,” Edka speaks through his nose, scratching his calf with his bare foot.

At the table by the window sits Lieutenant Valerian Ivanovich Tchijhevich of the Army Reserve. Before him is the register, in which he enters the lodgers’ passports. But after yesterday’s affair the work goes badly; the letters wave about and crawl away. His trembling fingers quarrel with the pen. There is a roaring in his ears like the telegraph poles in autumn. At times it seems to him that his head is beginning to swell, to swell⁠ ⁠… and the table, the book, the inkstand, and the lieutenant’s hand go terribly far away and become quite tiny. Then again the book comes up to his very eyes, the inkstand grows and repeats itself, and his head grows small, turns to queer strange sizes.

Lieutenant Tchijhevich’s appearance speaks of former beauty and lost position; his black hair bristles, and a bald patch shows on the nape of his neck. His beard is fashionably trimmed to a sharp point. His face is lean, dirty, pale, dissipated. On it is, as it were written, the full history of the lieutenant’s obvious weaknesses and secret diseases.

His situation in the “Serbia” is complicated. He goes to the magistrates on Anna Friedrichovna’s behalf. He hears the children’s lessons and teaches them deportment, keeps the house register, makes out the lodgers’ accounts, reads the newspaper aloud in the morning and talks of politics. He usually sleeps in one of the vacant rooms and, in case of an influx of guests, in the passage on an ancient sofa, whose springs and stuffing stick out together. When this happens the lieutenant carefully hangs all his property on nails above the sofa: his overcoat, cap, his morning coat, shiny with age and white in the seams but tolerably clean, a “Monopole” paper collar, an officer’s cap with a blue band; but he puts his notebook and his handkerchief with someone else’s initials under his pillow.

The widow keeps her lieutenant under her thumb. “Marry me and I’ll do anything for you,” she promises. “Full equipment, all the linen you want, a fine pair of boots and goloshes as well. You’ll have everything, and on holidays I’ll let you wear my late husband’s watch with the chain.” But the lieutenant is still thinking about it. He values his freedom, and sets high store by his former dignity as an officer. However, he is wearing out some of the older portions of the deceased’s linen.


From time to time storms break out in the landlady’s room. Sometimes it happens that the lieutenant, with the assistance of his pupil Romka, sells a heap of somebody else’s books to a secondhand dealer. Sometimes he takes advantage of the landlady’s absence to intercept the payment for a room by day. Or he secretly begins to have playful relations with the servant-maid. Just the other day the lieutenant abused Anna Friedrichovna’s credit in the public-house over the way. This came to light, and a quarrel raged, with abuse and a fight in the corridor. The doors of all the rooms opened, and men and women poked their heads out in curiosity. Anna Friedrichovna shouted so loud that she was heard in the street:

“You get out of here, you blackguard, get out, you tramp! I’ve spent on you every penny of the money I’ve earned by sweating blood. You fill your belly with the farthings I sweat for my children!”

“You fill your belly with our farthings,” squalled the schoolboy Romka, making faces at him from behind his mother’s skirt.

“You fill your belly!” Adka and Edka accompanied from a distance.

Arseny the porter, in stony silence, pressed his chest against the lieutenant. From room No. 9, the valiant possessor of a magnificently parted black beard leaned out to his waist in his underclothes, with a round hat for some reason perched on his head, and resolutely gave his advice:

“Arseny, give him one between the eyes.”

Thus the lieutenant was driven to the stairs; but there was a broad window opening on to these very stairs from the corridor. Anna Friedrichovna hung out of it and still went on shouting after the lieutenant:

“You dirty beast⁠ ⁠… you murderer⁠ ⁠… scoundrel⁠ ⁠… Kiev gutter-sweeping!”

“Gutter-sweeping!” “Gutter-sweeping!” the brats in the corridor strained their voices, shouting.

“Don’t come eating here any more! Take your filthy things away with you. Take them. Take them!”

The things the lieutenant had left upstairs in his haste descended on him: a stick, his paper collar, and his notebook. The lieutenant halted on the bottom stair, raised his head, and brandished his fist. His face was pale, a bruise showed red beneath his left eye.

“You just wait, you scum. I tell everything in the proper quarter. Ah! ah.⁠ ⁠… They’re a lot of pimps, robbing the lodgers!”

“You just sling your hook while you’ve got a whole skin,” said Arseny sternly, pressing on the lieutenant from behind and pushing him with his shoulder.

“Get away, you swine! You’ve not the right to lay a finger on an officer,” the lieutenant proudly exclaimed. “I know about everything! You let people in here without passports! You receive⁠—you receive stolen goods.⁠ ⁠… You keep a broth⁠—”

At this point Arseny seized the lieutenant adroitly from behind. The door slammed with a shattering noise. The two men rolled out into the street together like a ball, and thence came an angry: “Brothel!”

This morning, as it had always happened before, Lieutenant Tchijhevich came back penitent, with a bouquet of lilac torn out of somebody’s garden. His face was weary. A dim blue surrounded his hollow eyes. His forehead was yellow, his clothes unbrushed, and there were feathers in his hair. The reconciliation goes slowly. Anna Friedrichovna hasn’t yet had her fill of her lover’s submissive look and repentant words. Besides, she is a little jealous of the three nights her Valerian has passed, she knows not where.

“Anna, darling,⁠ ⁠… where⁠ ⁠…” the lieutenant began in an extraordinarily meek and tender falsetto, slightly tremulous even.

“Wha-at! Who’s Anna darling, I’d like to know,” the landlady contemptuously cut him short. “I’m not Anna darling to any scum of a road sweeper!”

“But I only wanted to ask what address I was to write for ‘Praskovia Uvertiesheva, 34 years old,’ there’s nothing written down here.”

“Put her down at the Rag-market, and put yourself there, too. You’re a pretty pair. Or put yourself in a dosshouse.”

“Dirty beast,” thinks the lieutenant, but he only gives a deep, submissive sigh. “You’re very nervous today, Anna, darling!”

“Nervous! Whatever I am, I know I’m an honest, hardworking woman.⁠ ⁠… Get out of the way, you bastards,” she shouts at the children, and suddenly, “Shlop, shlop”⁠—two well-aimed smacks with the spoon come down on Adka’s and Edka’s foreheads. The boys begin to snivel.

“There’s a curse on my business, and on me,” the landlady growls angrily. “When I lived with my husband I never had any sorrows. Now, all the porters are drunkards, and all the maids are thieves. Sh! you cursed brats!⁠ ⁠… That Proska⁠ ⁠… she hasn’t been here two days when she steals the stockings from the girl in No. 12. Other people go off to pubs with other people’s money, and never do a stroke.⁠ ⁠…”

The lieutenant knew perfectly who Anna Friedrichovna was speaking about, but he maintained a concentrated silence. The smell of the bigoss inspired him with some faint hopes. Then the door opened and Arseny the porter entered without taking off his hat with the three gold braids. He looks like an Albino eunuch, and his dirty face is pitted. This is at least the fortieth time he has had this place with Anna Friedrichovna. He keeps it until the first fit of drinking, when the landlady herself beats him and puts him into the streets, first having taken away the symbol of his authority, his three-braided cap.

Then Arseny puts a white Caucasian fur hat on his head and a dark blue pince-nez on his nose, and swaggers in the public-house opposite until he’s drunk everything on him away, and at the end of his spree he will cry on the bosom of the indifferent waiter about his hopeless love for Friedrich and threaten to murder Lieutenant Tchijhevich. When he sobers down he comes to the “Serbia” and falls at his landlady’s feet. And she takes him back again, because the porter who succeeded Arseny had already managed in this short time to steal from her, to get drunk, to make a row and be taken off to the police station.

“You⁠ ⁠… have you come from the steamer?” Anna Friedrichovna asked.

“Yes. I’ve brought half a dozen pilgrims. It was a job to get ’em away from Jacob⁠—the ‘Commercial.’ He was just leading them off, when I comes up to him and says, ‘It’s all the same to me, I says, go wherever you like. But as there are people who don’t know these places, and I’m very sorry for you, I tell you straight you’d better not go with that man. In their hotel last week they put some powder in a pilgrim’s food and robbed him.’ So I got them away. Afterwards Jacob shook his fist at me in the distance, and called out: ‘You just wait, Arseny. I’ll get you. You won’t get away from me!’ But when that happens, I’ll do it myself.⁠ ⁠…”

“All right,” the landlady interrupted. “I don’t care twopence about your Jacob. What price did you fix?”

“Thirty kopeks. I did my best, but I couldn’t make them give more.”

“You fool. You can’t do anything.⁠ ⁠… Give them No. 2.”

“All in the one room?”

“You fool. Two rooms, each.⁠ ⁠… Of course, all in one room. Bring three mattresses from the old ones, and tell them that they’re not to lie on the sofa. These pilgrims have always got bugs. Get along!”

When he had gone the lieutenant said in a tender and solicitous undertone: “Anna, darling, I wonder why you allow him to enter the room in his hat. It is disrespectful to you, both as a lady and proprietress. And then⁠—consider my position. I’m an officer in Reserve, and he is a private. It’s rather awkward.”

But Anna Friedrichovna leapt upon him in fresh exasperation: “Don’t you poke your nose in where it’s not wanted. Officer indeed! There are plenty of officers like you spending the night in a shelter. Arseny’s a working man. He earns his bread⁠ ⁠… not like.⁠ ⁠… Get away, you lazy brats, take your hands away!”

“Ye-es, but give us something to eat,” roars Adka.

“Give us something to eat.⁠ ⁠…”

Meanwhile the bigoss is ready. Anna Friedrichovna clatters the dishes on the table. The lieutenant keeps his head busily down over the register. He is completely absorbed in his business.

“Well, sit down,” the landlady abruptly invited him.

“No thanks, Anna, darling. Eat, yourself. I’m not very keen,” Tchijhevich said, without turning round, in a stifled voice, loudly swallowing.

“You do what you are told.⁠ ⁠… He’s giving himself airs, too.⁠ ⁠… Come on!”

“Immediately, this very minute. I’ll just finish the last page. ‘The certificate issued by the Bilden Rural District Council⁠ ⁠… of the province⁠ ⁠… number 2039.⁠ ⁠…’ Ready.” The lieutenant rose and rubbed his hands. “I love working.”

“H’m. You call that work,” the landlady snorted in disdain. “Sit down.”

“Anna, darling, just one⁠ ⁠… little.⁠ ⁠…”

“You can manage without.”

But since peace is already almost restored, Anna Friedrichovna takes a small, fat-bodied cut-glass decanter from the cupboard, out of which the deceased’s father used to drink. Adka spreads his cabbage all over his plate and teases his brother because he has more. Edka is upset and screams:

“Adka’s got more. You gave him⁠—”

Shlop! Edka gets a sounding smack with the spoon upon his forehead. Immediately Anna Friedrichovna continues the conversation as if nothing had happened:

“Tell us another of your lies. I bet you were with some woman.”

“Anna, darling!” the lieutenant exclaimed reproachfully. Then he stopped eating and pressed his hands⁠—in one of which was a fork with a piece of sausage⁠—to his chest. “I⁠ ⁠… oh, how little you know me. I’d rather have my head cut off than let such a thing happen. When I went away that time, I felt so bitter, so hard! I just walked in the street, and you can imagine, I was drowned in tears. My God,” I thought, “and I’ve let myself insult that woman⁠—the one woman whom I love sacredly, madly.⁠ ⁠…”

“That’s a pretty story,” put in the landlady, gratified, but still somewhat suspicious.

“You don’t believe me,” the lieutenant replied in a quiet, deep, tragic voice. “Well, I’ve deserved it. Every night I came to your window and prayed for you in my soul.” The lieutenant instantly tipped the glass into his mouth, took a bite, and went on with his mouth full and his eyes watering:

“I was thinking that if a fire were to break out suddenly or murderers attack, I would prove to you then.⁠ ⁠… I’d have given my life joyfully. Alas! my life is short without that. My days are numbered.⁠ ⁠…”

Meanwhile the landlady fumbled in her purse.

“Go on!” she replied, coquettishly. “Adka, here’s the money. Run to Vasily Vasilich’s and get a bottle of beer. But tell him it’s got to be fresh. Quick!”

Breakfast is finished, the bigoss eaten, and the beer all drunk, when Romka, the depraved member of the preparatory class of the gymnasium, appears covered in chalk and ink. Still standing at the door he pouts and looks angrily. Then he flings his satchel down on the floor and begins to howl:

“There!⁠ ⁠… you’ve been and eaten everything without me. I’m as hungry as a do-og.”

“I’ve got some more. But I shan’t give you any,” Adka teases him, showing him his plate across the room.

“There!⁠ ⁠… it’s a dirty trick,” Romka drags out the words. “Mother, tell Adka⁠—”

“Be quiet!” Anna Friedrichovna cries in a piercing voice. “Dawdle till it’s dark, why don’t you? Take twopence. Buy yourself some sausage. That’ll do for you.”

“Ye-es, twopence! You and Valerian Ivanich eat bigoss, and you make me go to school. I’m just like a do-o-o-g.”

“Get out!” Anna Friedrichovna shouts in a terrible voice, and Romka precipitately disappears. Still he managed to pick his satchel up from the floor. A thought had suddenly come into his head. He would go and sell his books in the Rag-market. In the doorway he ran into his elder sister Alychka, and seized the opportunity to pinch her arm very hard. Alychka entered grumbling aloud:

“Mamma! tell Romka not to pinch.”

She is a handsome girl of thirteen, beginning to develop early, a swarthy, olive brunette, with beautiful dark eyes, which are not at all childish. Her lips are red, full and shining, and on her upper lip, which is lightly covered with a fine black down, there are two delightful moles. She is a general favourite in the house. The men give her chocolates, often invite her into their rooms, kiss her and say impudent things to her. She knows as much as any grownup, but in these cases she never blushes, but just casts down her long black eyelashes which throw a blue shade on her amber cheeks, and smiles with a strange, modest, tender yet voluptuous, and somehow expectant smile. Her best friend is the woman Eugenia who lives in No. 12⁠—a quiet girl, punctual in paying for her room, a stout blonde, who is kept by a timber merchant, but on her free days invites her cavaliers from the street. Anna Friedrichovna holds her in high esteem, and says of her: “Well, what does it matter if Eugenia is not quite respectable, she’s an independent woman anyhow.”

Seeing that breakfast is over Alychka gives one of her constrained smiles and says aloud in her thin voice, rather theatrically: “Ah! you’ve finished already. I’m too late. Mamma! may I go to Eugenia Nicolaievna?”

“Go wherever you like!”


She goes away. After breakfast complete peace reigns. The lieutenant whispers the most ardent words into the widow’s ear, and presses her generous knee under the table. Flushing with the food and beer, she presses her shoulder close to him, then pushes him away and sighs with nervous laughter.

“Yes, Valerian. You’re shameless. The children!”

Adka and Edka look at them, with their fingers in their mouths and their eyes wide open. Their mother suddenly springs upon them.

“Go for a run, you ruffians. Sitting there like dummies in a museum. Quick march!”

“But I don’t want to,” roars Adka.

“I don’ wan’⁠—”

“I’ll teach you ‘Don’t want to.’ A halfpenny for candy, and out you go.”

She locks the door after them, sits on the lieutenant’s knee, and they begin to kiss.

“You’re not cross, my treasure?” the lieutenant whispers in her ear.

But there is a knock at the door. They have to open. The new chambermaid enters, a tall, gloomy woman with one eye, and says hoarsely, with a ferocious look:

No. 12 wants a samovar, some tea, and some sugar.”

Anna Friedrichovna impatiently gives out what is wanted. The lieutenant says languidly, stretched on the sofa:

“I would like to rest a bit, Anna, dear. Isn’t there a room empty? People are always knocking about here.”

There is only one room empty, No. 5, and there they go. Their room is long, narrow, and dark, like a skittle-alley, with one window. A bed, a chest of drawers, a blistered brown washstand, and a commode are all its furniture. The landlady and the lieutenant once more begin to kiss; and they moan like doves on the roof in springtime.

“Anna, darling, if you love me, send for a packet of ten Cigarettes Plaisir, six kopeks,” says the lieutenant coaxingly, while he undresses.


The spring evening darkens quickly, and it is already night. Through the window comes the whistling of the steamers on the Dnieper, and with it creeps a faint smell of hay, dust, lilac and warm stone. The water falls into the washstand, dripping regularly. There is another knock.

“Who’s there? What the devil are you prowling about for?” cries Anna Friedrichovna awakened. She jumps barefoot from the bed and angrily opens the door. “Well, what do you want?”

Lieutenant Tchijhevich modestly pulls the blanket over his head.

“A student wants a room,” Arseny says behind the door in a stage whisper.

“What student? Tell him there’s only one room, and that’s two roubles. Is he alone, or with a woman?”


“Tell him then: passport and money in advance. I know these students.”

The lieutenant dressed hurriedly. From habit he takes ten seconds over his toilette. Anna Friedrichovna tidies the bed quickly and cleverly. Arseny returns.

“He’s paid in advance,” he said gloomily. “And here’s the passport.”

The landlady went out into the corridor. Her hair was dishevelled and a fringe was sticking to her forehead. The folds of the pillow were imprinted on her crimson cheeks. Her eyes were unnaturally brilliant. The lieutenant, under cover of her back, slipped into the landlady’s room as noiseless as a shadow.

The student was waiting by the window on the stairs. He was already no longer a young man. He was thin and fair-haired, and his face was long and pale, tender and sickly. His good-natured, shortsighted blue eyes, with the faintest shade of a squint, look out as through a mist. He bowed politely to the landlady, at which she smiled in confusion and fastened the top hook of her blouse.

“I should like a room,” he said softly, as if his courage was ebbing. “I have to go on from here. But I should be obliged for a candle and pen and ink.”

He was shown the skittle-alley.

“Excellent,” he said. “I couldn’t want anything better. It’s wonderful here. Just let me have a pen and ink, please.” He did not require tea or bed-linen.


The lamp was burning in the landlady’s room. Alychka sat Turkish fashion in the open window, watching the dark heavy mass of water, lit by electric lamps, wavering below, and the gentle motion of the scant dead green of the poplars along the quay. Two round spots of bright red were burning in her cheeks, and there was a moist and weary light in her eyes. In the cooling air the petulant sound of a valse graciously floated from far away on the other side of the river, where the lights of the café chantant were shining.

They were drinking tea with shop bought raspberry jam. Adka and Edka crumbled pieces of black bread into their saucers, and made a kind of porridge. They smeared their faces, foreheads, and noses with it. They blew bubbles in their saucers. Romka, returned with a black eye, was hastily taking noisy sups of tea from a saucer. Lieutenant Tchijhevich had unbuttoned his waistcoat, extruding his paper dickey, and half lay on the sofa, perfectly happy in this domestic idyll.

“Thank God, all the rooms are taken,” Anna Friedrichovna sighed dreamily.

“You see, it’s all due to my lucky touch,” said the lieutenant. “When I came back, everything began to look up.”

“There, tell us another.”

“No, really, my touch is amazingly lucky. By God, it is! In the regiment, when Captain Gorojhevsky took the bank, he always used to make me sit beside him. My God! how those men used to play! That same Gorojhevsky, when he was still a subaltern, at the time of the Turkish War, won twelve thousand. Our regiment came to Bukarest. Of course, the officers had pots of money⁠—nothing to do with it⁠—no women. They began cards. Suddenly, Gorojhevsky pounced on a sharp. You could see he was a crook by the cut of his lug. But he faked the cards so cleverly that you couldn’t possibly get hold of him.⁠ ⁠…”

“Wait a second. I’ll be back in a moment,” interrupted the landlady. “I only want to give out a towel.”

She went out. The lieutenant stealthily came near to Alychka and bent close to her. Her beautiful profile, dark against the background of night, took on a subtle, tender outline of silver in the radiance of the electric lamps.

“What are you thinking about, Alychka⁠—perhaps I should say, whom?” he asked in a sweet tremolo.

She turned away from him. But he quickly lifted the thick plait of her hair and kissed her beneath her hair on her warm thin neck, greedily smelling the perfume of her skin.

“I’ll tell mother,” whispered Alychka, without drawing away.

The door opened. It was Anna Friedrichovna returned. Immediately the lieutenant began to talk, unnaturally loud and free.

“Really, it would be wonderful to be on a boat with your beloved or your dearest friend on a spring night like this.⁠ ⁠… Well, to continue, Anna, darling. So Gorojhevsky dropped a cool six thousand, if you’ll believe me! At last someone gave him a word of advice. He said: ‘Basta⁠—I’m not having any more of this. You won’t mind if we put a nail through the pack to the table and tear off our cards?’ The fellow wanted to get out of it. Gorojhevsky took out his revolver: ‘You’ll play, you dog, or I’ll blow a hole in your head!’ There was nothing for it. The crook sat down, so flustered that he clean forgot there was a mirror behind him. Gorojhevsky could see every one of his cards. So Gorojhevsky not only got his own back, but raked in a clear eleven thousand into the bargain. He even had the nail mounted in gold, and he wears it as a charm on his watch chain.”


At the moment the student was sitting on the bed in No. 5. On the commode before him stood a candle and a sheet of writing paper. The student was writing quickly; then he stopped for a moment, whispered to himself, shook his head, smiled a constrained smile and wrote again. He had just dipped his pen deep in the ink. He spooned up the liquid wax round the wick with it and poked the mixture into the flame. It crackled and splashed about everywhere with little blue darting flames. The firework reminded the student of something funny, dimly remembered from his distant childhood. He looked at the flame of the candle, his eyes narrowed, and a sad, distracted smile formed upon his lips. Then suddenly as though awakened he shook his head, sighed, wiped his pen on the sleeve of his blue blouse, and continued to write:

“Tell them everything in my letter, which you will believe, I know. They will not understand me all the same; but you will have simple words that will be intelligible to them. One thing is very strange. Here am I writing to you, yet I know that in ten or fifteen minutes I shall shoot myself⁠—and the thought does not frighten me at all. But when that huge grey colonel of the gendarmes went red all over and stamped his feet and swore, I was quite lost. When he cried that my obstinacy was useless, and only ruined my comrades and myself, that Bieloussov as well as Knigge and Soloveitchik had confessed, I confessed too. I, who am not afraid of death, was afraid of the shouting of this dull, narrow-minded clod, petrified with professional conceit. What is more disgusting still, he dared not shout at the others. He was courteous, obliging, and sugary to them, like a suburban dentist. He was even a Liberal. But in me he saw at once a weak, yielding will. You can feel it in people at a mere glance⁠—there’s no need of words.

“Yes, I confess that it was all mad and contemptible and ridiculous and loathsome. But it could not be otherwise. And if it were to be again, it would happen as before. Desperately brave generals are often frightened of mice. Sometimes they even boast of their little weakness. But I say with sorrow that I fear these wooden people, whose view of the world is rigid and unchangeable, who are stupidly self-confident, and have no hesitations, worse than death. If you knew how timid and uncomfortable I am before huge policemen, ugly Petersburg porters, typists in the editorial offices of magazines, magistrates’ clerks, and snarling stationmasters! Once I had to have my signature witnessed at the police station, and the mere look of the fat inspector, with his ginger moustache as big as a palm tree, his important chest and his fish eyes, who interrupted me continually, would not hear me out, forgot me altogether for minutes on end, or suddenly pretended that he could not understand the simplest Russian words⁠—his mere look made me so disgustingly frightened that I could catch an insinuating, servile inflection in my voice.

“Who’s to blame for it? I’ll tell you. My mother. She was the original cause of the fouling and corruption of my soul with a vile cowardice. She became a widow when she was still young, and my first impressions as a child are indissolubly mixed up with wandering in other people’s houses, servile smiles, petty intolerable insults, complaisance, lying, whining pitiful grimaces, the vile phrases: ‘a little drop, a little bit, a little cup of tea.’⁠ ⁠… I was made to kiss my benefactors’ hands⁠—men and women. My mother protested that I did not like this dainty or that; she lied that I had a weak stomach, because she knew that the children of the house would have more, and the host would like it. The servants sneered at us on the sly. They called me hunchback, because I had a stoop from childhood. They called my mother a hanger-on and a beggar in my presence. And to make the kind people laugh my mother herself would put her shabby old leather cigarette case to her nose and bend it double: ‘That’s my darling Levoushka’s nose.’ They laughed, and I blushed and suffered endlessly for her and for myself; but I kept silent, because I must not speak in the presence of my benefactors. I hated them, for looking at me as though I were a stone, idly and lazily thrusting their hand to my mouth for me to kiss. I hated and feared them, as I still hate and fear all decided, self-satisfied, rigid, sober people, who know everything beforehand⁠—club orators; old red-faced hairy professors, who flirt with their harmless Liberalism; imposing, anointed canons of cathedrals; colonels of the gendarmerie; radical lady-doctors, who everlastingly repeat bits out of manifestoes, whose soul is as cold, as cruel, and as flat as a marble tabletop. When I speak to them I feel that there is on my face a loathsome mark, a servile officious smile that is not mine, and I despise myself for my thin wheedling voice, in which I can catch the echo of my mother’s note. These people’s souls are dead: their thoughts are fixed in straight inflexible lines; and they are merciless as only a convinced and stupid man can be.

“I spent the years between seven and ten in a state charity school on the Froebel system. The mistresses were all soured old maids, all suffering from inflammations, and they instilled into us respect for the generous authorities, taught us how to spy on each other and tell tales, how to envy the favourites, and, most important of all, how to behave as quietly as possible. But we boys educated ourselves in thieving and abuses. Later on⁠—still charity⁠—I was taken as a state boarder into a gymnasium. The inspectors visited and spied on us. We learnt like parrots: smoking in the third form; drinking in the fourth; in the fifth, the first prostitute and the first vile disease.

“Then suddenly there arose new, young words like a wind, impetuous dreams, free, fiery, thoughts. My mind opened eagerly to meet them, but my soul was already ruined forever, soiled and dead. It had been bitten by a mean, weak-nerved timidity, like a tick in a dog’s ear: you tear it off, but the small head remains to grow again into a complete, loathsome insect.

“I was not the only one to die of the moral contagion, though perhaps I was the weakest of all. But all the past generation has grown up in an atmosphere of sanctimonious tranquillity, of forced respect to its elders, of lack of all individuality and dumbness. A curse on this vile age, of silence and poverty, this peaceful prosperous life under the dumb shadow of pious reaction: for the quiet degradation of the human soul is more horrible than all the barricades and slaughter in the world.

“Strange that when I am alone with my own will, I am not only no coward, but there are few people I know who are more ready to risk their lives. I have walked from one windowsill to another five stories above ground and looked down below; I’ve swum so far out into the sea that my hands and feet would move no more, and I had to lie on my back and rest to avoid cramp. And many things besides. Finally, in ten minutes I shall kill myself⁠—and that is something. But I am afraid of people. I fear people! When from my room I hear drunken men swearing and fighting in the street I go pale with terror. When I imagine at night as I lie in bed, an empty square with a squadron of Cossacks galloping in with a roar, my heart stops beating, my body grows cold all over, and my fingers contract convulsively. I am always frightened of something which exists in the majority of people, but which I cannot explain. The young generation of the period of transition were like me. In our mind we despised our slavery, but we ourselves became cowardly slaves. Our hatred was deep and passionate, but barren, like the mad love of a eunuch.

“But you will understand everything, and explain it all to the comrades to whom I say before I die, that in spite of all, I love and respect them. Perhaps they will believe you when you tell them that I did not die wholly because I had betrayed them vilely and against my will. I know that there is in the world nothing more horrible than the horrible word ‘Traitor.’ It moves from lips to ears, from lips to ears, and kills a man alive. Oh, I could set right my mistake were I not born and bred a slave of human impudence, cowardice, and stupidity. But because I am this slave, I die. In these great fiery days it is disgraceful, difficult, no, quite impossible for men like me to live.

“Yes, my darling, I have heard, seen, and read much in the last year. I tell you there came a moment of awful volcanic eruption. The flame of long pent-up anger broke out and overwhelmed everything: fear of the morrow, respect for parents, love of life, peaceful joys of family happiness. I know of boys, hardly more than children, who refused to have a bandage on their eyes when they were executed. I myself saw people who underwent tortures, yet uttered not a word. It was all born suddenly, in a tempestuous wind. Eagles awoke out of turkey eggs. Let who will arrest their flight!

“I am quite certain that a sixth-form boy of today would proclaim the demands of his party, firmly, intelligently, perhaps with a touch of arrogance, in the presence of all the crowned heads and all the chiefs of police in Europe, in any throne room. It is true the precious schoolboy is very nearly ridiculous, but a sacred respect for his proud free self is already growing up within him, a respect for everything that has been corroded in us by spiritual poverty and anxious paternal morality. We must go to the devil.

“It is just eight minutes to nine. At nine exactly it will be all over with me. A dog barks outside⁠—one, two⁠—then is silent for a little and⁠—one, two, three. Perhaps, when my consciousness has been put out, and with it everything has disappeared from me forever: towns, public squares, hooting steamers, mornings and nights, apartment rooms, ticking clocks, people, animals, the air the light and dark, time and space, and there is nothing⁠—then there will be no thought of this ‘nothing’! Perhaps the dog will go on barking for a long while tonight, first twice, then three times.⁠ ⁠…

“Five minutes to nine. A funny idea is occupying me. I think that a human thought is like a current from some electric centre, an intense, radiating vibration of the imponderable ether, poured out in the spaces of the world, and passing with equal ease through the atoms of stone, iron, and air. A thought springs from my brain and all the sphere of the universe begins to tremble, to ripple round me like water into which a stone is flung, like a sound about a vibrating string. And I think that when a man passes away his consciousness is put out, but his thought still remains, trembling in its former place. Perhaps the thoughts and dreams of all the people who were before me in this long, gloomy room are still hovering round me, directing my will in secret; and perhaps tomorrow a casual tenant of this room will suddenly begin to think of life, of death, and suicide, because I leave my thoughts behind me here. And who can say whether my thoughts, independent of weight and time and the obstacles of matter, are not at the same moment being caught by mysterious, delicate, but unconscious receivers in the brain of an inhabitant of Mars as well as in the brain of the dog who barks outside? Ah, I think that nothing in the world vanishes utterly⁠—nothing⁠—not only what is said, but what is thought. All our deeds and words and thoughts are little streams, trickling springs underground. I believe, I see, they meet, flow together into river-heads, ooze to the surface, run into rivulets, and now they rush in the wild, broad stream of the harmonious River of Life. The River of Life⁠—how great it is! Sooner or later it will bear everything away, and wash down all the strongholds which imprisoned the freedom of the spirit. Where a shoal of triviality was before, there will be the profoundest depth of heroism. In a moment it will bear me away to a cold, remote, and inconceivable land, and perhaps within a year it will pour in torrents over all this mighty town and flood it and carry away in its waters not merely its ruins, but its very name.

“Perhaps what I am writing is all ridiculous. I have two minutes left. The candle is burning and the clock ticking hurriedly in front of me. The dog is still barking. What if there remain nothing of me⁠—nothing of me, or in me, but one thing only, the last sensation, perhaps pain, perhaps the sound of the pistol, perhaps wild naked terror; but it will remain forever, for thousands of millions of centuries, in the millionth degree.

“The hand has reached the hour. We’ll know it all now. No, wait. Some ridiculous modesty made me get up and lock the door. Goodbye. One word more. Surely the obscure soul of the dog must be far more susceptible to the vibrations of thought than the human.⁠ ⁠… Do they not bark because they feel the presence of a dead man? This dog that barks downstairs too. But in a second, new monstrous currents will rush out of the central battery of my brain and touch the poor brain of the dog. It will begin to howl with a queer, intolerable terror.⁠ ⁠… Goodbye, I’m going!”

The student sealed the letter⁠—for some reason he carefully closed the inkpot with a cork⁠—and took a Browning out of his jacket pocket. He turned the safety catch from sur to feu. He put his legs apart so that he could stand firm, and closed his eyes. Suddenly, with both hands he swiftly raised the revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger.

“What’s that?” Anna Friedrichovna asked in alarm.

“That’s your student shooting himself,” the lieutenant said carelessly. “They’re such canaille⁠—these students.⁠ ⁠…”

But Anna Friedrichovna jumped up and ran into the corridor, the lieutenant following at his leisure. From room No. 5 came a sour smell of gas and smokeless powder. They looked through the keyhole. The student lay on the floor.

Within five minutes there was a thick, black, eager crowd standing in the street outside the hotel. In exasperation Arseny drove the outsiders away from the stairs. Commotion was everywhere in the hotel. A locksmith broke open the door of the room. The caretaker ran for the police; the chambermaid for the doctor. After some time appeared the police inspector, a tall thin young man with white hair, white eyelashes, and a white moustache. He was in uniform. His wide trousers were so full that they fell half way down over his polished jackboots. Immediately he pressed his way through the public, and roared with the voice of authority, sticking out his bright eyes:

“Get back! Clear off! I can’t understand what it is you find so curious here. Nothing at all. You, sir!⁠ ⁠… I ask you once more. And he looks like an intellectual, in a bowler hat.⁠ ⁠… What’s that? I’ll show you ‘police tyranny.’ Mikhailtchuk, just take note of that man! Hi, where are you crawling to, boy? I’ll⁠—”

The door was broken open. Into the room burst Anna Friedrichovna, the police inspector, the lieutenant, the four children; for witnesses, one policeman and two caretakers; and after them, the doctor. The student lay on the floor, with his face buried in the strip of grey carpet by the bed. His left arm was bent beneath his chest, his right flung out. The pistol lay on one side. Under his head was a pool of dark blood, and a little round hole in his left temple. The candle was still burning, and the clock on the commode ticked hurriedly.

A short procès-verbal was composed in wooden official terms, and the suicide’s letter attached to it.⁠ ⁠… The two caretakers and the policeman carried the corpse downstairs. Arseny lighted the way, lifting the lamp above his head. Anna Friedrichovna, the police inspector and the lieutenant looked on through the window in the corridor upstairs. The bearers’ movements got out of step at the turning; they jammed between the wall and the banisters, and the one who was supporting the head from behind let go his hands. The head knocked sharply against the stairs⁠—one, two, three.⁠ ⁠…

“Serves him right, serves him right,” angrily cried the landlady from the window. “Serves him right, the scoundrel! I’ll give you a good tip for that!”

“You’re very bloodthirsty, Madame Siegmayer,” the police inspector remarked playfully, twisting his moustache, and looking sideways at the end of it.

“Why, he’ll get me into the papers, now. I’m a poor working woman; and now, all along of him, people will keep away from my hotel.”

“Naturally,” the inspector kindly agreed. “I can’t understand these student fellows. They don’t want to study. They brandish a red flag, and then shoot themselves. They don’t want to understand what their parents must feel. They’re bought by Jewish money, damn them! But there are decent men at the same game, sons of noblemen, priests, merchants.⁠ ⁠… A nice lot! However, I give you my compliments.⁠ ⁠…”

“No, no, no, no! Not for anything in the world!” The landlady pulled herself together. “We’ll have supper in a moment. A nice little bit of herring. Otherwise, I won’t let you go, for anything.”

“To tell the truth⁠—” The inspector spoke in perplexity. “Very well. As a matter of fact, I was going to drop in to Nagourno’s opposite for something. Our work,” he said, politely making way for the landlady through the door, “is hard. Sometimes we don’t get a bite all day long.”

All three had a good deal of vodka at supper. Anna Friedrichovna, red all over, with shining eyes and lips like blood, slipped off one of her shoes beneath the table and pressed the inspector’s foot. The lieutenant frowned, became jealous, and all the while tried to begin a story of “In the regiment⁠—” The inspector did not listen, but interrupted with terrific tales of “In the police⁠—” Each tried to be as contemptuous of and inattentive to the other as he could. They were both like a couple of young dogs that have just met in the yard.

“You’re everlastingly talking of ‘In the regiment,’ ” said the inspector, looking not at the lieutenant, but the landlady. “Would you mind my asking what was the reason why you left the service?”

“Well,⁠ ⁠…” the lieutenant replied, offended. “Would you like me to ask you how you came to be in the police; how you came to such a life?”

Here Anna Friedrichovna brought the “Monopan” musical box out of the corner and made Tchijhevich turn the handle. After some invitation the inspector danced a polka with her⁠—she jumped about like a little girl, and the curls on her forehead jumped with her. Then the inspector turned the handle while the lieutenant danced, pressing the landlady’s arm to his left side, with his head flung back. Alychka also danced with downcast eyes, and her tender dissipated smile on her lips. The inspector was saying his last goodbye, when Romka appeared.

“There, I’ve been seeing the student off, and while I was away you’ve been⁠—I’m treated like a do-o-og.”

And what was once a student now lay in the cold cellar of an anatomical theatre, in a zinc box, standing on ice⁠—lit by a yellow gas flame, yellow and repulsive. On his bare right leg above the knee in gross ink figures was written “14.” That was his number in the anatomical theatre.

Captain Ribnikov


On the very day when the awful disaster to the Russian fleet at Tsushima was nearing its end, and the first vague and alarming reports of that bloody triumph of the Japanese were being circulated over Europe, Staff-Captain Ribnikov, who lived in an obscure alley in the Pieski quarter, received the following telegram from Irkutsk: Send lists immediately watch patient pay debts.

Staff-Captain Ribnikov immediately informed his landlady that he was called away from Petersburg on business for a day or two, and told her not to worry about his absence. Then he dressed himself, left the house, and never returned to it again.

Only five days had passed when the landlady was summoned to the police station to give evidence about her missing lodger. She was a tall woman of forty-five, the honest widow of an ecclesiastical official, and in a simple and straightforward manner she told all that she knew of him. Her lodger was a quiet, poor, simple man, a moderate eater, and polite. He neither drank nor smoked, rarely went out of the house, and had no visitors. She could say nothing more, in spite of all her respectful terror of the inspector of gendarmerie, who moved his luxurious moustaches in a terrifying way and had a fine stock of abuse on hand.

During this five days’ interval Staff-Captain Ribnikov ran or drove over the whole of Petersburg. Everywhere, in the streets, restaurants, theatres, tramcars, the railway stations, this dark lame little officer appeared. He was strangely talkative, untidy, not particularly sober, dressed in an infantry uniform, with an allover red collar⁠—a perfect type of the rat attached to military hospitals, or the commissariat, or the War Office. He also appeared more than once at the Staff Office, the Committee for the Care of the Wounded, at police stations, at the office of the Military Governor, at the Cossack headquarters, and at dozens of other offices, irritating the officials by his senseless grumbling and complaints, by his abject begging, his typical infantry rudeness, and his noisy patriotism. Already everyone knew by heart that he had served in the Army Transport, had been wounded in the head at Liao-Yang, and touched in the leg in the retreat from Mukden. “Why the devil hasn’t he received a gratuity before now! Why haven’t they given him his daily money and his travelling expenses! And his last two months pay! He is absolutely ready to give his last drop of blood⁠—damn it all⁠—for the Czar, the throne, and the country, and he will return to the Far East the moment his leg has healed. But the cursed leg won’t heal⁠—a hundred devils take it. Imagine only⁠—gangrene! Look yourself⁠—” and he put his wounded leg on a chair, and was already eagerly pulling up his trouser; but he was stopped every time by a squeamish and compassionate shyness. His bustling and nervous familiarity, his startled, frightened look, which bordered strangely on impertinence, his stupidity, his persistent and frivolous curiosity taxed to the utmost the patience of men occupied in important and terribly responsible scribbling.

In vain it was explained to him in the kindest possible way that he had come to the wrong place; that he ought to apply at such and such a place; that he must produce certain papers; that they will let him know the result. He understood nothing, absolutely nothing. But it was impossible to be very angry with him; he was so helpless, so easily scared and simple, and if anyone lost patience and interrupted him, he only smiled and showed his gums with a foolish look, bowed hastily again and again, and rubbed his hands in confusion. Or he would suddenly say in a hoarse, ingratiating tone:

“Couldn’t you give me one small smoke? I’m dying to smoke. And I haven’t a cent to buy them. ‘Blessed are the poor.⁠ ⁠… Poverty’s no crime,’ as they say⁠—but sheer indecency.”

With that he disarmed the most disagreeable and dour officials. He was given a cigarette, and allowed to sit by the extreme corner of the table. Unwillingly, and of course in an offhand way, they would answer his importunate questions about what was happening at the war. But there was something very affecting and childishly sincere in the sickly curiosity with which this unfortunate, grubby, impoverished wounded officer of the line followed the war. Quite simply, out of mere humanity, they wanted to reassure, to inform, and encourage him; and therefore they spoke to him more frankly than to the rest.

His interest in everything which concerned Russo-Japanese events was so deep that while they were making some complicated inquiry for him he would wander from room to room, and table to table, and the moment he caught a couple of words about the war he would approach and listen with his habitual strained and silly smile.

When he finally went away, as well as a sense of relief he would leave a vague, heavy and disquieting regret behind him. Often well-groomed, dandified staff-officers referred to him with dignified acerbity:

“And that’s a Russian officer! Look at that type. Well, it’s pretty plain why we’re losing battle after battle. Stupid, dull, without the least sense of his own dignity⁠—poor old Russia!”

During these busy days Captain Ribnikov took a room in a dirty little hotel near the railway station.

Though he had with him a Reserve officer’s proper passport, for some reason he found it necessary to declare that his papers were at present in the Military Governor’s office. Into the hotel he took his things, a holdall containing a rug and pillow, a travelling bag, and a cheap, new box, with some underclothing and a complete outfit of mufti.

Subsequently, the servants gave evidence that he used to come to the hotel late and as if a little the worse for drink, but always regularly gave the door porter twopence for a tip. He never used to sleep more than three or four hours, sometimes without undressing. He used to get up early and pace the room for hours. In the afternoon he would go off.

From time to time he sent telegrams to Irkutsk from various post offices, and all the telegrams expressed a deep concern for someone wounded and seriously ill, probably a person very dear to the captain’s heart.

It was with this same curious busy, uncouth man that Vladimir Ivanovich Schavinsky, a journalist on a large Petersburg paper, once met.


Just before he went off to the races, Schavinsky dropped into the dingy little restaurant called “The Glory of Petrograd,” where the reporters used to gather at two in the afternoon to exchange thoughts and information. The company was rough and ready, gay, cynical, omniscient, and hungry enough; and Schavinsky, who was to some degree an aristocrat of the newspaper world, naturally did not belong to it. His bright and amusing Sunday articles, which were not too deep, had a considerable success with the public. He made a great deal of money, dressed well, and had plenty of friends. But he was welcome at “The Glory of Petrograd” as well, on account of his free sharp tongue and the affable generosity with which he lent his fellow-writers half sovereigns. On this day the reporters had promised to procure a race-card for him, with mysterious annotations from the stable.

Vassily, the porter, took off Schavinsky’s overcoat, with a friendly and respectful smile.

“If you please, Vladimir Ivanovitch, company’s all there. In the big saloon, where Prokhov waits.”

And Prokhov, stout, close-cropped, and red-moustached, also gave him a kindly and familiar smile, as usual not looking straight into the eyes of a respectable customer, but over his head.

“A long time since you’ve honoured us, Vladimir Ivanovich! This way, please. Everybody’s here.”

As usual his fellow-writers sat round the long table hurriedly dipping their pens in the single inkpot and scribbling quickly on long slips of paper. At the same time, without interrupting their labours, they managed to swallow pies, fried sausages and mashed potatoes, vodka and beer, to smoke and exchange the latest news of the town and newspaper gossip that cannot be printed. Someone was sleeping like a log on the sofa with his face in a handkerchief. The air in the saloon was blue, thick and streaked with tobacco smoke.

As he greeted the reporters, Schavinsky noticed the captain, in his ordinary army uniform, among them. He was sitting with his legs apart, resting his hands and chin upon the hilt of a large sword. Schavinsky was not surprised at seeing him, as he had learned not to be surprised at anything in the reporting world. He had often seen lost for weeks in that reckless noisy company⁠—landowners from the provinces, jewellers, musicians, dancing-masters, actors, circus proprietors, fishmongers, café-chantant managers, gamblers from the clubs, and other members of the most unexpected professions.

When the officer’s turn came, he rose, straightened his shoulders, stuck out his elbows, and introduced himself in the proper hoarse, drink-sodden voice of an officer of the line:

“H’m!⁠ ⁠… Captain Ribnikov.⁠ ⁠… Pleased to meet you.⁠ ⁠… You’re a writer too?⁠ ⁠… Delighted.⁠ ⁠… I respect the writing fraternity. The press is the sixth great power. Eh, what?”

With that he grinned, clicked his heels together, shook Schavinsky’s hand violently, bowing all the while in a particularly funny way, bending and straightening his body quickly.

“Where have I seen him before?” the uneasy thought flashed across Schavinsky’s mind. “He’s wonderfully like someone. Who can it be?”

Here in the saloon were all the celebrities of the Petersburg reporting world. The Three Musketeers⁠—Kodlubtzov, Riazhkin, and Popov⁠—were never seen except in company. Even their names were so easily pronounced together that they made an iambic tetrameter. This did not prevent them from eternally quarrelling, and from inventing stories of incredible extortion, criminal forgery, slander, and blackmail about each other. There was present also Sergey Kondrashov, whose unrestrained voluptuousness had gained him the name of “A Pathological Case, not a man.” There was also a man whose name had been effaced by time, like one side of a worn coin, to whom remained only the general nickname “Matanya,” by which all Petersburg knew him. Concerning the dour-looking Svischov, who wrote paragraphs “In the police courts,” they said jokingly: “Svischov is an awful blackmailer⁠—never takes less than three roubles.” The man asleep on the sofa was the long-haired poet Piestrukhin, who supported his fragile, drunken existence by writing lyrics in honour of the imperial birthdays and the twelve Church holidays. There were others besides of no less celebrity, experts in municipal affairs, fires, inquests, in the opening and closing of public gardens.

Said lanky, shock-headed, pimply Matanya: “They’ll bring you the card immediately, Vladimir Ivanovich. Meanwhile, I commend our brave captain to your attention. He has just returned from the Far East, where, I may say, he made mincemeat of the yellow-faced, squinting, wily enemy.⁠ ⁠… Now, General, fire away!”

The officer cleared his throat and spat sideways on the floor.

“Swine!” thought Schavinsky, frowning.

“My dear chap, the Russian soldier’s not to be sneezed at!” Ribnikov bawled hoarsely, rattling his sword. “ ‘Epic heroes!’ as the immortal Suvorov said. Eh, what? In a word,⁠ ⁠… but I tell you frankly, our commanders in the East are absolutely worthless! You know the proverb: ‘Like master, like man.’ Eh, what? They thieve, play cards, have mistresses⁠ ⁠… and everyone knows, where the devil can’t manage himself he sends a woman.”

“You were talking about plans, General,” Matanya reminded him.

“Ah! Plans! Merci!⁠ ⁠… My head.⁠ ⁠… I’ve been on the booze all day.” Ribnikov threw a quick, sharp glance at Schavinsky. “Yes, I was just saying.⁠ ⁠… They ordered a certain colonel of the general staff to make a reconnaissance, and he takes with him a squadron of Cossacks⁠—daredevils. Hell take ’em!⁠ ⁠… Eh, what? He sets off with an interpreter. Arrives at a village, ‘What’s the name?’ The interpreter says nothing. ‘At him, boys!’ The Cossacks instantly use their whips. The interpreter says: ‘Butundu!’ And ‘Butundu’ is Chinese for ‘I don’t understand.’ Ha-ha! He’s opened his mouth⁠—the son of a bitch! The colonel writes down ‘village, Butundu.’ They go further to another village. ‘What’s the name?’ ‘Butundu.’ ‘What! Butundu again?’ ‘Butundu.’ Again the colonel enters it ‘village, Butundu.’ So he entered ten villages under the name of ‘Butundu,’ and turned into one of Chekhov’s types⁠—‘Though you are Ivanov the seventh,’ says he, ‘you’re a fool all the same.’ ”

“Oh, you know Chekhov?” asked Schavinsky.

“Who? Chekhov? old Anton? You bet⁠—damn him.⁠ ⁠… We’re friends⁠—we’re often drunk together.⁠ ⁠… ‘Though you are the seventh,’ says he, ‘you’re a fool all the same.’ ”

“Did you meet him in the East?” asked Schavinsky quickly.

“Yes, exactly, in the East, Chekhov and I, old man.⁠ ⁠… ‘Though you are the seventh⁠—’ ”

While he spoke Schavinsky observed him closely. Everything in him agreed with the conventional army type: his voice, manner, shabby uniform, his coarse and threadbare speech. Schavinsky had had the chance of observing hundreds of such debauched captains. They had the same grin, the same “Hell take ’em,” twisted their moustaches to the left and right with the same bravado; they hunched their shoulders, stuck out their elbows, rested picturesquely on their sword and clanked imaginary spurs. But there was something individual about him as well, something different, as it were, locked away, which Schavinsky had never seen, neither could he define it⁠—some intense, inner, nervous force. The impression he had was this: Schavinsky would not have been at all surprised if this croaking and drunken soldier of fortune had suddenly begun to talk of subtle and intellectual matters, with ease and illumination, elegantly; neither would he have been surprised at some mad, sudden, frenzied, even bloody prank on the captain’s part.

What struck Schavinsky chiefly in the captain’s looks was the different impression he made full face and in profile. Side face, he was a common Russian, faintly Kalmuck, with a small, protruding forehead under a pointed skull, a formless Russian nose, shaped like a plum, thin stiff black moustache and sparse beard, the grizzled hair cropped close, with a complexion burnt to a dark yellow by the sun.⁠ ⁠… But when he turned full face Schavinsky was immediately reminded of someone. There was something extraordinarily familiar about him, but this “something” was impossible to grasp. He felt it in those narrow coffee-coloured bright eagle eyes, slit sideways; in the alarming curve of the black eyebrows, which sprang upwards from the bridge of the nose; in the healthy dryness of the skin strained over the huge cheekbones; and, above all, in the general expression of the face⁠—malicious, sneering, intelligent, perhaps even haughty, but not human, like a wild beast rather, or, more truly, a face belonging to a creature of another planet.

“It’s as if I’d seen him in a dream!” the thought flashed through Schavinsky’s brain. While he looked at the face attentively he unconsciously screwed up his eyes, and bent his head sideways.

Ribnikov immediately turned round to him and began to giggle loudly and nervously.

“Why are you admiring me, Mr. Author. Interested? I!” He raised his voice and thumped his chest with a curious pride. “I am Captain Ribnikov. Rib-ni-kov! An orthodox Russian warrior who slaughters the enemy, without number. That’s a Russian soldier’s song. Eh, what?”

Kodlubtzov, running his pen over the paper, said carelessly, without looking at Ribnikov, “and without number, surrenders.”

Ribnikov threw a quick glance at Kodlubtzov, and Schavinsky noticed that strange yellow green fires flashed in his little brown eyes. But this lasted only an instant. The captain giggled, shrugged, and noisily smacked his thighs.

“You can’t do anything; it’s the will of the Lord. As the fable says, Set a thief to catch a thief. Eh, what?”

He suddenly turned to Schavinsky, tapped him lightly on the knee, and with his lips uttered a hopeless sound: “Phwit! We do everything on the off-chance⁠—higgledy-piggledy⁠—anyhow! We can’t adapt ourselves to the terrain; the shells never fit the guns; men in the firing line get nothing to eat for four days. And the Japanese⁠—damn them⁠—work like machines. Yellow monkeys⁠—and civilisation is on their side. Damn them! Eh, what?”

“So you think they may win?” Schavinsky asked.

Again Ribnikov’s lips twitched. Schavinsky had already managed to notice this habit of his. All through the conversation, especially when the captain asked a question and guardedly waited the answer, or nervously turned to face a fixed glance from someone, his lips would twitch suddenly, first on one side then on the other, and he would make strange grimaces, like convulsive, malignant smiles. At the same time he would hastily lick his dry, cracked lips with the tip of his tongue⁠—thin bluish lips like a monkey’s or a goat’s.

“Who knows?” said the captain. “God only.⁠ ⁠… You can’t set foot on your own doorstep without God’s help, as the proverb goes. Eh, what? The campaign isn’t over yet. Everything’s still to come. The Russian’s used to victory. Remember Poltava and the unforgettable Suvorov⁠ ⁠… and Sebastopol!⁠ ⁠… and how we cleared out Napoleon, the greatest captain in the world, in 1812. Great is the God of Russia. What?”

As he began to talk the corners of his lips twitched into strange smiles, malignant, sneering, inhuman, and an ominous yellow gleam played in his eyes, beneath the black frowning eyebrows.

At that moment they brought Schavinsky coffee.

“Wouldn’t you like a glass of cognac?” he asked the captain.

Ribnikov again tapped him lightly on the knee. “No thanks, old man. I’ve drunk a frightful lot today, damn it. My noddle’s fairly splitting. Damn it all, I’ve been pegging since the early morning. ‘Russia’s joy’s in the bottle!’ Eh, what?” he cried suddenly, with an air of bravado and an unexpectedly drunken note in his voice.

“He’s shamming,” Schavinsky instantly thought. But for some reason he did not want to leave off, and he went on treating the captain.

“What do you say to beer⁠ ⁠… red wine?”

“No thanks. I’m drunk already without that. Gran’ merci.

“Have some soda?”

The captain cheered up.

“Yes, yes, please. Soda, certainly. I could do with a glass.”

They brought a siphon. Ribnikov drank a glass in large greedy gulps. Even his hands began to tremble with eagerness. He poured himself out another immediately. At once it could be seen that he had been suffering a long torment of thirst.

“He’s shamming,” Schavinsky thought again. “What an amazing man! Excited and tired, but not the least bit drunk.”

“It’s hot⁠—damn it,” Ribnikov said hoarsely. “But I think, gentlemen, I’m interfering with your business.”

“No, it’s all right. We’re used to it,” said Riazhkin shortly.

“Haven’t you any fresh news of the war?” Ribnikov asked. “A-ah, gentlemen,” he suddenly cried and banged his sword. “What a lot of interesting copy I could give you about the war! If you like, I’ll dictate, you need only write. You need only write. Just call it: Reminiscences of Captain Ribnikov, returned from the Front. No, don’t imagine⁠—I’ll do it for nothing, free, gratis. What do you say to that, my dear authors?”

“Well, it might be done,” came Matanya’s lazy voice from somewhere. “We’ll manage a little interview for you somehow. Tell me, Vladimir Ivanovich, do you know anything of the Fleet?”

“No, nothing.⁠ ⁠… Is there any news?”

“There’s an incredible story, Kondrashov heard from a friend on the Naval Staff. Hi! Pathological Case! Tell Schavinsky.”

The Pathological Case, a man with a black tragedy beard and a chewed-up face, spoke through his nose:

“I can’t guarantee it, Vladimir Ivanovich. But the source seems reliable. There’s a nasty rumour going about the Staff that the great part of our Fleet has surrendered without fighting⁠—that the sailors tied up the officers and ran up the white flag⁠—something like twenty ships.”

“That’s really terrible,” said Schavinsky in a quiet voice. “Perhaps it’s not true, yet? Still⁠—nowadays, the most impossible things are possible. By the way, do you know what’s happening in the naval ports⁠—in all the ships’ crews there’s a terrible underground ferment going on. The naval officers ashore are frightened to meet the men in their command.”

The conversation became general. This inquisitive, ubiquitous, cynical company was a sensitive receiver, unique of its kind, for every conceivable rumour and gossip of the town, which often reached the private saloon of “The Glory of Petrograd” quicker than the minister’s sanctum. Each one had his news. It was so interesting that even the Three Musketeers, who seemed to count nothing in the world sacred or important, began to talk with unusual fervour.

“There’s a rumour going about that the reserves in the rear of the army refuse to obey orders. The soldiers are shooting the officers with their own revolvers.”

“I heard that the general in command hanged fifty sisters of mercy. Well, of course, they were only dressed as sisters of mercy.”

Schavinsky glanced round at Ribnikov. Now the talkative captain was silent. With his eyes screwed and his chest pressed upon the hilt of his sword, he was intently watching each of the speakers in turn. Under the tight-stretched skin of his cheekbones the sinews strongly played, and his lips moved as if he were repeating every word to himself.

“My God, whom does he remind me of?” the journalist thought impatiently for the tenth time. This so tormented him that he tried to make use of an old familiar trick⁠ ⁠… to pretend to himself that he had completely forgotten the captain, and then suddenly to give him a quick glance. Usually that trick soon helped him to recall a name or a meeting-place, but now it was quite ineffective.

Under his stubborn look, Ribnikov turned round again, gave a deep sigh and shook his head sadly.

“Awful news! Do you believe it? What? Even if it is true we need not despair. You know what we Russians say: ‘Whom God defends the pigs can’t eat,’⁠—that’s to say, I mean that the pigs are the Japanese, of course.”

He held out stubbornly against Schavinsky’s steady look, and in his yellow animal eyes the journalist noticed a flame of implacable, inhuman hatred.

Piestrukhin, the poet asleep on the sofa, suddenly got up, smacked his lips, and stared at the officer with dazed eyes.

“Ah!⁠ ⁠… you’re still here, Jap mug,” he said drunkenly, hardly moving his mouth. “You just get out of it!”

And he collapsed on the sofa again, turning on to his other side.

“Japanese!” Schavinsky thought with anxious curiosity, “That’s what he’s like,” and drawled meaningly: “You are a jewel, Captain!”

“I?” the latter cried out. His eyes lost their fire, but his lips still twitched nervously. “I am Captain Ribnikov!” He banged himself on the chest again with curious pride. “My Russian heart bleeds. Allow me to shake your hand. My head was grazed at Liao-Yang, and I was wounded in the leg at Mukden. You don’t believe it? I’ll show you now.”

He put his foot on a chair and began to pull up his trousers.

“Don’t!⁠ ⁠… stop! we believe you,” Schavinsky said with a frown. Nevertheless, his habitual curiosity enabled him to steal a glance at Ribnikov’s leg and to notice that this infantry captain’s underclothing was of expensive spun silk.

A messenger came into the saloon with a letter for Matanya.

“That’s for you, Vladimir Ivanovich,” said Matanya, when he had torn the envelope. “The race-card from the stable. Put one on Zenith both ways for me. I’ll pay you on Tuesday.”

“Come to the races with me, Captain?” said Schavinsky.

“Where? To the races? With pleasure.” Ribnikov got up noisily, upsetting his chair. “Where the horses jump? Captain Ribnikov at your service. Into battle, on the march, to the devil’s dam! Ha, ha, ha! That’s me! Eh, what?”

When they were sitting in the cab, driving through Cabinetsky Street, Schavinsky slipped his arm through the officer’s, bent right down to his ear, and said, in a voice hardly audible:

“Don’t be afraid. I shan’t betray you. You’re as much Ribnikov as I am Vanderbilt. You’re an officer on the Japanese Staff. I think you’re a colonel at least, and now you’re a military agent in Russia.⁠ ⁠…”

Either Ribnikov did not hear the words for the noise of the wheels or he did not understand. Swaying gently from side to side, he spoke hoarsely with a fresh drunken enthusiasm:

“We’re fairly on the spree now! Damn it all, I adore it. I’m not Captain Ribnikov, a Russian soldier, if I don’t love Russian writers! A magnificent lot of fellows! They drink like fishes, and know all about life. ‘Russia’s joy is in the bottle.’ And I’ve been at it from the morning, old man!”


By business and disposition Schavinsky was a collector of human documents, of rare and strange manifestations of the human spirit. Often for weeks, sometimes for months together, he watched an interesting type, tracking him down with the persistence of a passionate sportsman or an eager detective. It would happen that the prize was found to be, as he called it, “a knight of the black star”⁠—a sharper, a notorious plagiarist, a pimp, a souteneur, a literary maniac, the terror of every editor, a plunging cashier or bank messenger, who spends public money in restaurants and gambling hells with the madness of a man rushing down the steep; but no less the objects of his sporting passion were the lions of the season⁠—pianists, singers, littérateurs, gamblers with amazing luck, jockeys, athletes, and cocottes coming into vogue. By hook or crook Schavinsky made their acquaintance and then, enveloping them in his spider’s toils, tenderly and gently secured his victim’s attention. Then he was ready for anything. He would sit for whole sleepless nights with vulgar, stupid people, whose mental equipment, like the Hottentots’, consisted of a dozen or two animal conceptions and clichés; he stood drinks and dinners to damnable fools and scoundrels, waiting patiently for the moment when in their drunkenness they would reveal the full flower of their villainy. He flattered them to the top of their bent, with his eyes open; gave them monstrous doses of flattery, firmly convinced that flattery is the key to open every lock; he lent them money generously, knowing well that he would never receive it back again. In justification of this precarious sport he could say that the inner psychological interest for him considerably surpassed the benefits he subsequently acquired as a realistic writer. It gave him a subtle and obscure delight to penetrate into the mysterious inaccessible chambers of the human soul, to observe the hidden springs of external acts, springs sometimes petty, sometimes shameful, more often ridiculous than affecting⁠—as it were, to hold in his hand for a while, a live, warm human heart and touch its very pulse. Often in this inquisitive pursuit it seemed to him that he was completely losing his own “ego,” so much did he begin to think and feel with another’s soul, even speaking in his language with his peculiar words until at last he even caught himself using another’s gesture and tone. But when he had saturated himself in a man he threw him aside. It is true that sometimes he had to pay long and heavily for a moment’s infatuation.

But no one for a long time had so deeply interested him, even to agitation, as this hoarse, tippling infantry captain. For a whole day Schavinsky did not let him go. As he sat by his side in the cab and watched him surreptitiously, Schavinsky resolved:

“No, I can’t be mistaken;⁠—this yellow, squinting face with the cheekbones, these eternal bobs and bows, and the incessant hand washing; above all this strained, nervous, uneasy familiarity.⁠ ⁠… But if it’s all true, and Captain Ribnikov is really a Japanese spy, then what extraordinary presence of mind the man must have to play with this magnificent audacity, this diabolically true caricature of a broken-down officer in broad daylight in a hostile capital. What awful sensations he must have, balanced every second of the day on the very edge of certain death!”

Here was something completely inexplicable to Schavinsky⁠—a fascinating, mad, cool audacity⁠—perhaps the very noblest kind of patriotic devotion. An acute curiosity, together with a reverent fear, drew the journalist’s mind more and more strongly towards the soul of this amazing captain.

But sometimes he pulled himself up mentally: “Suppose I’ve forced myself to believe in a ridiculous preconceived idea? Suppose I’ve just let myself be fooled by a disreputable captain in my inquisitive eagerness to read men’s souls? Surely there are any number of yellow Mongol faces in the Ural or among the Oremburg Cossacks.” Still more intently he looked into every motion and expression of the captain’s face, listened intently to every sound of his voice.

Ribnikov did not miss a single soldier who gave him a salute as he passed. He put his hand to the peak of his cap with a peculiarly prolonged and exaggerated care. Whenever they drove past a church he invariably raised his hat and crossed himself punctiliously with a broad sweep of his arm, and as he did it he gave an almost imperceptible side-glance to his companion⁠—is he noticing or not?

Once Schavinsky could hold out no longer, and said: “But you’re pious, though, Captain.”

Ribnikov threw out his hands, hunched his shoulders up funnily, and said in his hoarse voice: “Can’t be helped, old man. I’ve got the habit of it at the Front. The man who fights learns to pray, you know. It’s a splendid Russian proverb. You learn to say your prayers out there, whether you like it or not. You go into the firing line. The bullets are whirring, terribly⁠—shrapnel, bombs⁠ ⁠… those cursed Japanese shells.⁠ ⁠… But it can’t be helped⁠—duty, your oath, and off you go! And you say to yourself: ‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy Will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.⁠ ⁠…’ ”

And he said the whole prayer to the end, carefully shaping out each sound.

“Spy!” Schavinsky decided.

But he would not leave his suspicion halfway. For hours on end he went on watching and goading the captain. In a private room of a restaurant at dinner he bent right over the table and looked into Ribnikov’s very pupils.

“Listen, Captain. No one can hear us now.⁠ ⁠… What’s the strongest oath I can give you that no one will ever hear of our conversation?⁠ ⁠… I’m convinced, absolutely and beyond all doubt, that you’re a Japanese.”

Ribnikov banged himself on the chest again.

“I am Capt⁠—”

“No, no. Let’s have done with these tricks. You can’t hide your face, however clever you are. The line of your cheekbones, the cut of your eyes, your peculiar head, the colour of your skin, the stiff, straggling growth on your face⁠—everything points beyond all shadow of doubt to you belonging to the yellow race. But you’re safe. I shan’t tell on you, whatever offers they make me, however they threaten me for silence. I shan’t do you any harm, if it’s only because I’m full of admiration for your amazing courage. I say more⁠—I’m full of reverence, terror if you like. I’m a writer⁠—that’s a man of fancy and imagination. I can’t even imagine how it’s possible for a man to make up his mind to it: to come thousands of miles from your country to a city full of enemies that hate you, risking your life every second⁠—you’ll be hanged without a trial if you’re caught, I suppose you know? And then to go walking about in an officer’s uniform, to enter every possible kind of company, and hold the most dangerous conversations. The least mistake, one slip will ruin you in a second. Half an hour ago you used the word ‘holograph’ instead of ‘manuscript.’ A trifle, but very characteristic. An army captain would never use this word of a modern manuscript, but only of an archive or a very solemn document. He wouldn’t even say ‘manuscript,’ but just a ‘book’⁠—but these are trifles. But the one thing I don’t understand is the incessant strain of the mind and will, the diabolical waste of spiritual strength. To forget to think in Japanese, to forget your name utterly, to identify yourself completely with another’s personality⁠—no, this is surely greater than any heroism they told us of in school. My dear man, don’t try to play with me. I swear I’m not your enemy.”

He said all this quite sincerely, for his whole being was stirred to flame by the heroic picture of his imagination. But the captain would not let himself be flattered. He listened to him, and stared with eyes slightly closed at his glass, which he quietly moved over the tablecloth, and the corners of his blue lips twisted nervously. And in his face Schavinsky recognised the same hidden mockery, the same deep, stubborn, implacable hatred, the peculiar hatred that a European can perhaps never understand, felt by a wise, cultured, civilised beast, made man, for a being of another species.

“Keep your kindness in your pocket,” replied Ribnikov carelessly. “Let it go to hell. They teased me in the regiment too with being a Jap. Chuck it! I’m Captain Ribnikov. You know there’s a Russian proverb, ‘The face of a beast with the soul of a man.’ I’ll just tell you there was once a case in our regiment⁠—”

“What was your regiment?” Schavinsky asked suddenly.

But the captain seemed not to have heard. He began to tell the old, threadbare dirty stories that are told in camp, on manoeuvres, and in barracks, and in spite of himself Schavinsky began to feel insulted. Once during the evening as they sat in the cab Schavinsky put his arm round his waist, and drew him close and said in a low voice:

“Captain⁠ ⁠… no, Colonel, at least, or you would never have been given such a serious mission. Let’s say Colonel, then. I do homage to your daring, that is to the boundless courage of the Japanese nation. Sometimes when I read or think of individual cases of your diabolical bravery and contempt of death, I tremble with ecstasy. What immortal beauty, what divine courage there is, for instance, in the action of the captain of the shattered warship who answered the call to surrender by quietly lighting a cigarette, and went to the bottom with a cigarette in his lips! What titanic strength, what thrilling contempt for the enemy! And the naval cadets on the fireships who went to certain death, delighted as though they were going to a ball! And do you remember how a lieutenant, all by himself, towed a torpedo in a boat at night to make an end of the mole at Port Arthur? The searchlights were turned on and all there remained of the lieutenant and his boat was a bloody stain on the concrete wall. But the next day all the midshipmen and lieutenants of the Japanese Fleet overwhelmed Admiral Togo with applications, offering to repeat the exploit. What amazing heroes! But still more magnificent is Togo’s order that the officers under him should not so madly risk their lives, which belong to their country and not to them. It’s damnably beautiful, though!”

“What’s this street we’re in?” interrupted Ribnikov, yawning. “After the dugouts in Manchuria I’ve completely lost my sense of direction in the street. When we were in Kharbin.⁠ ⁠…”

But the ecstatic Schavinsky went on, without listening to him.

“Do you remember the case of an officer who was taken prisoner and battered his head to pieces on a stone? But the most wonderful thing is the signatures of the Samurai. Of course, you’ve never heard of it, Captain Ribnikov?” Schavinsky asked with sarcastic emphasis. “It’s understood, you haven’t heard of it.⁠ ⁠… You see General Nogi asked for volunteers to march in the leading column in a night attack on the Port Arthur forts. Nearly the whole brigade offered themselves for this honourable death. Since there were too many and they pressed in front of each other for the opportunity of death, they had to make application in writing, and some of them, according to an old custom, cut off the first finger of their left hand and fixed it to their signature for a seal of blood. That’s what the Samurai did!”

“Samurai,” Ribnikov dully repeated. There was a noise in his throat as if something had snapped and spread. Schavinsky gave a quick glance to his profile. An expression such as he had never seen in the captain’s face before suddenly played about his mouth and on his chin, which trembled once; and his eyes began to shine with the warm, tremulous light which gleams through sudden, brimming tears. But he pulled himself together instantly, shut his eyes for a second, and turned a naive and stupid face to Schavinsky, and suddenly uttered a long, filthy, Russian oath.

“Captain, Captain, what’s the matter with you?” Schavinsky cried, almost in fright.

“That’s all newspaper lies,” Ribnikov said unconcernedly. “Our Russian Tommy is not a bit behind. There’s a difference, of course. They fight for their life, however, independence⁠—and what have we mixed ourselves up in it for? Nobody knows! The devil alone knows why. ‘There was no sorrow till the devil pumped it up,’ as we say in Russian. What! Ha, ha, ha!”

On the racecourse the sport distracted Schavinsky’s attention a little, and he could not observe the captain all the while. But in the intervals between the events, he saw him every now and then in one or another of the stands, upstairs or downstairs, in the buffet or by the parimutuel. That day the word Tsushima was on everybody’s lips⁠—backers, jockeys, bookmakers, even the mysterious, ragged beings that are inevitable on every racecourse. The word was used to jeer at a beaten horse, by men who were annoyed at losing, with indifferent laughter and with bitterness. Here and there it was uttered with passion. Schavinsky saw from a distance how the captain in his easy, confident way picked a quarrel with one man, shook hands with others, and tapped others on the shoulder. His small, limping figure appeared and disappeared everywhere.

From the races they drove to a restaurant, and from there to Schavinsky’s house. The journalist was rather ashamed of his role of voluntary detective; but he felt it was out of his power to throw it up, though he had already begun to feel tired, and his head ached with the strain of this stealthy struggle with another man’s soul. Convinced that flattery had been of no avail, he now tried to draw the captain to frankness, by teasing and rousing his feelings of patriotism.

“Still, I’m sorry for these poor Japs,” he said with ironical pity. “When all is said, Japan has exhausted all her national genius in this war. In my opinion she’s like a feeble little man who lifts a half dozen hundredweight on his shoulders, either in ecstasy or intoxication, or out of mere bravado, and strains his insides, and is already beginning to die a lingering death. You see Russia’s an entirely different country. She’s a Colossus. To her the Manchurian defeats are just the same as cupping a full-blooded man. You’ll see how she will recover and begin to blossom when the war is over. But Japan will wither and die. She’s strained herself. Don’t tell me they have civilisation, universal education, European technique: at the end of it all, a Japanese is an Asiatic, half-man, half-monkey. Even in type he approaches a Bushman, a Touareg, or a Blackfellow. You have only to look at his facial angle. It all comes to this, they’re just Japs! It wasn’t your civilisation or your political youth that conquered us at all, but simply a fit of madness. Do you know what a seizure is, a fit of frenzy? A feeble woman tears chains to pieces and tosses strong men about like straws. The next day she hasn’t even the power to lift her hand. It’s the same with Japan. Believe me, after the heroic fit will follow impotence and decay; but certainly before that she will pass through a stage of national swagger, outrageous militarism and insane Chauvinism.”

“Really?” cried Ribnikov in stupid rapture. “You can’t get away from the truth. Shake hands, Mr. Author. You can always tell a clever man at once.”

He laughed hoarsely, spat about, tapped Schavinsky’s knee, and shook his hand, and Schavinsky suddenly felt ashamed of himself and the tricks of his stealthy searching into human souls.

“What if I’m mistaken and this Ribnikov is only the truest type of the drunken infantryman. No, it’s impossible. But if it is possible, then what a fool I’m making of myself, my God!”

At his house he showed the captain his library, his rare engravings, a collection of old china, and a couple of small Siberian dogs. His wife, who played small parts in musical comedy, was out of town. Ribnikov examined everything with a polite, uninterested curiosity, in which his host caught something like boredom, and even cold contempt. Ribnikov casually opened a magazine and read some lines aloud.

“He’s made a blunder now,” Schavinsky thought, when he heard his extraordinary correct and wooden reading, each separate letter pronounced with exaggerated precision like the head boy in a French class showing off. Evidently Ribnikov noticed it himself, for he soon shut the book and asked:

“But you’re a writer yourself?”

“Yes.⁠ ⁠… I do a bit.”

“What newspapers do you write for?”

Schavinsky named them. It was the sixth time he had been asked the question that day.

“Oh, yes, yes, yes. I forgot, I’ve asked you before. D’you know what, Mr. Author?”

“What is it?”

“Let us do this. You write and I’ll dictate. That is, I won’t dictate⁠ ⁠… oh, no, I shall never dare.” Ribnikov rubbed his hands and bowed hurriedly. “You’ll compose it yourself, of course. I’ll only give you some thoughts and⁠—what shall I call them⁠—reminiscences of the war? Oh, what a lot of interesting copy I have!⁠ ⁠…”

Schavinsky sat sideways on the table and glanced at the captain, cunningly screwing up one eye.

“Of course, I shall give your name?”

“Why, you may. I’ve no objection. Put it like this: ‘This information was supplied to me by Captain Ribnikov who has just returned from the Front.’ ”

“Very well. Why do you want this?”


“Having your name in it. Do you want it for future evidence that you inspired the Russian newspapers? What a clever fellow, I am, eh?”

But the captain avoided a direct answer, as usual.

“But perhaps you haven’t time? You are engaged in other work. Well, let the reminiscences go to hell! You won’t be able to tell the whole story. As they say: ‘There’s a difference between living a life and crossing a field.’ Eh, what? Ha, ha, ha!”

An interesting fancy came into Schavinsky’s head. In his study stood a big, white table of unpainted ash. On the clean virgin surface of this table all Schavinsky’s friends used to leave their autographs in the shape of aphorisms, verses, drawings, and even notes of music. He said to Ribnikov: “See, here is my autograph-book, Captain. Won’t you write me something in memory of our pleasant meeting, and our acquaintance which”⁠—Schavinsky bowed politely⁠—“I venture to hope will not be short-lived?”

“With pleasure,” Ribnikov readily agreed. “Something from Pushkin or Gogol?”

“No⁠ ⁠… far better something of your own.”

“Of my own? Splendid.”

He took the pen and dipped it, thought and prepared to write, but Schavinsky suddenly stopped him.

“We’d better do this. Here’s a piece of a paper. There are drawing-pins in the box at the corner. Please write something particularly interesting and then cover it with the paper and fasten the corners with the drawing-pins. I give you my word of honour as an author, that for two months I won’t put a finger on the paper and won’t look at what you’ve written. Is that all right? Well, write then. I’ll go out of the room so as not to hinder you.”

After five minutes Ribnikov shouted to him: “Please come in.”

“Ready?” Schavinsky asked, entering.

Ribnikov drew himself up, put his hand to his forehead in salute and shouted like a soldier: “Very good, sir.”

“Thanks. Now we’ll go to the ‘Buff,’ or somewhere else,” Schavinsky said. “There we’ll think what we’ll do next. I shan’t let you out of my sight today, Captain.”

“With the greatest pleasure,” Ribnikov said in a hoarse bass, clicking his heels. He lifted up his shoulders and gave a military twist to his moustaches on either side.

But Schavinsky, against his own will, did not keep his word. At the last moment before leaving his house the journalist remembered that he had left his cigarette-case in the study and went back for it, leaving Ribnikov in the hall. The piece of white paper, carefully fastened with drawing-pins, aroused his curiosity. He could not resist the temptation; he turned back stealthily and after lifting a corner of the paper quickly read the words written in a thin, distinct and extraordinary elegant hand:

“Though you are Ivanov the seventh, you’re a fool all the same.”


Long after midnight they were coming out of a suburban café chantant accompanied by the well-known musical comedy actor Zhenin-Lirsky, the young assistant Crown-Prosecutor Sashka Strahlmann, who was famous all over Petersburg for his incomparable skill in telling amusing stories about the topic of the day, and Karyukov, the merchant’s son, a patron of the arts.

It was neither bright nor dark. It was a warm, white, transparent night, with soft chatoyant colours and water like mother-of-pearl in the calm canals, which plainly reflected the grey stone of the quay and the motionless foliage of the trees. The sky was pale as though tired and sleepless, and there were sleepy clouds in the sky, long, thin and woolly like clews of ravelled cotton-wool.

“Where shall we go, now?” said Schavinsky, stopping at the gate of the gardens. “Field-Marshal Oyama! Give us your enlightened opinion.”

All five lingered on the pavement for a while, caught by a moment of the usual early morning indecision, when the physical fatigue of the reveller struggles with the irresistible and irritating yearning after new and piquant sensations. From the garden continually came patrons, laughing, whistling, noisily shuffling their feet over the dry, white cobblestones. Walking hurriedly, boldly rustling the silk of their petticoats emerged the artistes wearing huge hats, with diamonds trembling in their ears, escorted by dashing gentlemen, smartly dressed, with flowers in their buttonholes. With the porters’ respectful assistance these ladies fluttered into carriages and panting automobiles, freely arranging their dresses round their legs, and flew away holding the brims of their hats in their hands. The chorus-girls and the filles du jardin of the higher class drove off alone or two together in ordinary cabs with a man beside them. The ordinary women of the street appeared everywhere at once, going round the wooden fence, following close on the men who left on foot, giving special attention to the drunken. They ran beside the men for a long while, offering themselves in a whisper with impudent submissiveness, naming that which was their profession with blunt, coarse, terrible words. In the bright, white twilight of May, their faces seemed like coarse masks, blue from the white of their complexions, red with crimson colour, and one’s eyes were struck with the blackness, the thickness and the extraordinary curve of their eyebrows. These naively bright colours made the yellow of their wrinkled temples appear all the more pitiable, their thin, scraggy necks, and flabby, feeble chins. A couple of mounted policemen, obscenely swearing, rode them down now and then with their horses’ mouths afoam. The girls screamed, ran away, and clutched at the sleeves of the passersby. Near the railing of the canal was gathered a group of about twenty men⁠—it was the usual early morning scandal. A short, beardless boy of an officer was dead-drunk and making a fuss, looking as though he wanted to draw his sword; a policeman was assuring him of something in a convincing falsetto with his hand on his heart.

A sharp, suspicious-looking type, drunk, in a cap with a ragged peak, spoke in a sugary, obsequious voice: “Spit on ’em, yer honour. They ain’t worth looking at. Give me one in the jaw, if you like. Allow me to kiss yer ’and.”

A thin, stern gentleman at the back, whose thick, black whiskers could alone be seen, because his bowler was tilted over his face, drawled in a low, indistinct voice: “What do you stand about talking for? Pitch him into the water and have done with it!”

“But really, Major Fukushima,” said the actor, “we must put a decent finish to the day of our pleasant acquaintance. Let’s go off with the little ladies. Where shall it be, Sashka?”

“Bertha?” Strahlmann asked in reply.

Ribnikov giggled and rubbed his hands in joyful agitation.

“Women? ‘Even a Jew hanged himself for company’s sake,’ as the Russian proverb says. Where the world goes there go we. Eh, what? ‘If we’re going, let’s go,’ as the parrot said. What? Ha, ha, ha!”

Schavinsky had introduced him to the young men, and they had all had supper in the café chantant, listened to the Romanian singers, drinking champagne and liqueurs. At one time they found it amusing to call Ribnikov by the names of different Japanese generals, particularly because the captain’s good nature was evidently unlimited. Schavinsky it was who began this rude, familiar game. True he felt at times that he was behaving in an ugly, perhaps even treacherous, way to Ribnikov, but he calmed his conscience by the fact that he had not breathed a word of his suspicions, which never entered his friends’ heads at all.

At the beginning of the evening he was watching Ribnikov. The captain was noisier and more talkative than anybody: he was incessantly drinking healths, jumping up, sitting down, pouring the wine over the tablecloth, lighting his cigarette the wrong end. Nevertheless, Schavinsky noticed that he was drinking very little.

Ribnikov had to sit next the journalist again in the cab. Schavinsky was almost sober. He was generally distinguished for a hard head in a spree, but it was light and noisy now, as though the foam of the champagne was bubbling in it. He gave the captain a side-glance. In the uncertain, drowsy light of the white night Ribnikov’s face wore a dark, earthy complexion. All the hollows were sharp and black, the little wrinkles on his forehead and the lines round his nose and mouth were deepened. The captain himself sat with a weary stoop, his hands tucked into the sleeves of his uniform, breathing heavily through his open mouth. Altogether it gave him a worn, suffering look. Schavinsky could even smell his breath, and thought that gamblers after several nights at cards have just the same stale, sour breath as men tired out with insomnia or the strain of long brain work. A wave of kindly emotion and pity welled up in Schavinsky’s heart. The captain suddenly appeared to him very small, utterly worn out, affecting and pitiable. He embraced Ribnikov, drew him close, and said affably: “Very well, Captain, I surrender. I can’t do anything with you, and I apologise if I’ve given you some uncomfortable minutes. Give me your hand.”

He unfastened the rose he wore in his coat which a girl in the garden had made him buy, and fixed it in the buttonhole of the captain’s greatcoat.

“This is my peace-offering, Captain. We won’t tease each other any more.”

The cab drew up at a two-storied stone house standing apart in a pleasant approach. All the windows were shuttered. The others had gone in advance and were waiting for them. A square grille, a handsbreadth wide, set in the heavy door, was opened from inside, and a pair of cold, searching grey eyes appeared in it for a few seconds. Then the door was opened.

This establishment was something between an expensive brothel and a luxurious club. There was an elegant entrance, a stuffed bear in the hall, carpets, silk curtains and lustre-chandeliers, and lackeys in evening dress and white gloves. Men came here to finish the night after the restaurants were shut. Cards were played, expensive wines kept, and there was always a generous supply of fresh, pretty women who were often changed.

They had to go up to the first floor, where was a wide landing adorned by palms in tubs and separated from the stairs by a balustrade. Schavinsky went upstairs arm-in-arm with Ribnikov. Though he had promised himself that he would not tease him any more, he could not restrain himself: “Let’s mount the scaffold, Captain!”

“I’m not afraid,” said he lazily. “I walk up to death every day of my life.”

Ribnikov waved his hand feebly and smiled with constraint. The smile made his face suddenly weary, grey and old.

Schavinsky gave him a look of silent surprise. He was ashamed of his importunity. But Ribnikov passed it off immediately.

“Yes, to death.⁠ ⁠… A soldier’s always ready for it. There’s nothing to be done. Death is the trifling inconvenience attached to our profession.”

Schavinsky and Karyukov the art-patron were assiduous guests and honoured habitués of the house. They were greeted with pleasant smiles and low bows.

A big, warm cabinet was given them, in red and gold with a thick, bright green carpet on the floor, with sconces in the corners and on the table. They were brought champagne, fruit and bonbons. Women came⁠—three at first, then two more⁠—then they were passing in and out continually. Without exception they were pretty, well provided with bare, white arms, neck, bosom, in bright, expensive, glittering dresses. Some wore ballet skirts; one was in a schoolgirl’s brown uniform, another in tight riding-breeches and a jockey’s cap. A stout elderly lady in black also came, rather like a landlady or a housekeeper. Her appearance was decent; her face flabby and yellow. She laughed continually the pleasant laugh of an elderly woman, coughed continually and smoked incessantly. She behaved to Schavinsky, the actor, and the art-patron with the unconstrained coquetterie of a lady old enough to be their mother, flicking their hands with her handkerchief, and she called Strahlmann, who was evidently her favourite, Sashka.

“General Kuroki, let’s drink to the success of the grand Manchurian army. You’ll be getting mildewy, sitting in your corner,” said Karyukov.

Schavinsky interrupted him with a yawn: “Steady, gentlemen. I think you ought to be bored with it by now. You’re just abusing the captain’s good nature.”

“I’m not offended,” replied Ribnikov. “Gentlemen! Let us drink the health of our charming ladies.”

“Sing us something, Lirsky!” Schavinsky asked.

The actor cheerfully sat down to the piano and began a gipsy song. It was more recitation than singing. He never moved the cigar from his lips, stared at the ceiling, with a parade of swinging to and fro on his chair. The women joined in, loud and out of tune. Each one tried to race the others with the words. Then Sashka Strahlmann gave an admirable imitation of a gramophone, impersonated an Italian opera, and mimicked animals. Karyukov danced a fandango and called for bottle after bottle.

He was the first to disappear from the room, with a red-haired Polish girl. After him followed Strahlmann and the actor. Only Schavinsky remained, with a swarthy, white-toothed Hungarian girl on his knees, and Ribnikov, by the side of a tall blonde in a blue satin blouse, cut square and open halfway down her breast.

“Well, Captain, let’s say goodbye for a little while,” said Schavinsky, getting up and stretching himself. “It’s late⁠—we’d better say early. Come and have breakfast with me at one o’clock, Captain. Put the wine down to Karyukov, Madame. If he loves sacred art, then he can pay for the honour of having supper with its priests. Mes compliments!

The blonde put her bare arm round the captain’s neck and kissed him, and said simply: “Let us go too, darling. It really is late.”


She had a little gay room with a bright blue paper, a pale blue hanging lamp. On the toilet-table stood a round mirror in a frame of light blue satin. There were two oleographs on one wall, Girls Bathing and The Royal Bridegroom, on the other a hanging, with a wide brass bed alongside.

The woman undressed, and with a sense of pleasant relief passed her hands over her body, where her chemise had been folded under her corset. Then she turned the lamp down and sat on the bed, and began calmly to unlace her boots.

Ribnikov sat by the table with his elbows apart and his head resting in his hands. He could not tear his eyes from her big, handsome legs and plump calves, which her black, transparent stockings so closely fitted.

“Why don’t you undress, officer?” the woman asked. “Tell me, darling, why do they call you Japanese General?”

Ribnikov gave a laugh, with his eyes still fixed upon her legs.

“Oh, it’s just nonsense. Only a joke. Do you know the verses:

‘It hardly can be called a sin,
If something’s funny and you grin!⁠ ⁠…’ ”

“Will you stand me some champagne, darling.⁠ ⁠… Since you’re so stingy, oranges will do. Are you going soon or staying the night?”

“Staying the night. Come to me.”

She lay down with him, hastily threw her cigarette over on to the floor and wriggled beneath the blanket.

“Do you like to be next to the wall?” she asked. “Do if you want to. O-oh, how cold your legs are! You know I love army men. What’s your name?”

“Mine?” He coughed and answered in an uncertain tone: “I am Captain Ribnikov. Vassily Alexandrovich Ribnikov!”

“Ah, Vasya! I have a friend called Vasya, a little chap from the Lycée. Oh, what a darling he is!”

She began to sing, pretending to shiver under the bedclothes, laughing and half-closing her eyes:

“ ‘Vasya, Vasya, Vasinke,
It’s a tale you’re telling me.’

“You are like a Japanese, you know, by Jove. Do you know who? The Mikado. We take in the Niva and there’s a picture of him there. It’s late now⁠—else I’d get it to show you. You’re as like as two peas.”

“I’m very glad,” said Ribnikov, quietly kissing her smooth, round shoulder.

“Perhaps you’re really a Japanese? They say you’ve been at the war. Is it true? O-oh, darling, I’m afraid of being tickled⁠—Is it dreadful at the war?”

“Dreadful⁠ ⁠… no, not particularly.⁠ ⁠… Don’t let’s talk about it,” he said wearily. “What’s your name?”

“Clotilde.⁠ ⁠… No, I’ll tell you a secret. My name’s Nastya. They only called me Clotilde here because my name’s so ugly. Nastya, Nastasya⁠—sounds like a cook.”

“Nastya,” he repeated musingly, and cautiously kissed her breast. “No, it’s a nice name. Na⁠—stya,” he repeated slowly.

“What is there nice about it? Malvina, Wanda, Zhenia, they’re nice names⁠—especially Irma.⁠ ⁠… Oh, darling,” and she pressed close to him. “You are a dear⁠ ⁠… so dark. I love dark men. You’re married, surely?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Oh, tell us another. Everyone here says he’s a bachelor. You’ve got six children for sure!”

It was dark in the room, for the windows were shuttered and the lamp hardly burned. Her face was quite close to his head, and showed fantastic and changing on the dim whiteness of the pillow. Already it was different from the simple, handsome, round grey-eyed, Russian face of before. It seemed to have grown thinner, and, strangely changing its expression every minute, seemed now tender, kind, mysterious. It reminded Ribnikov of someone infinitely familiar, long beloved, beautiful and fascinating.

“How beautiful you are!” he murmured. “I love you.⁠ ⁠… I love you.⁠ ⁠…”

He suddenly uttered an unintelligible word, completely foreign to the woman’s ear.

“What did you say?” she asked in surprise.

“Nothing.⁠ ⁠… Nothing.⁠ ⁠… Nothing at all.⁠ ⁠… My dear! Dear woman⁠ ⁠… you are a woman⁠ ⁠… I love you.⁠ ⁠…”

He kissed her arms, her neck, trembling with impatience, which it gave him wonderful delight to suppress. He was possessed by a tender and tempestuous passion for the well-fed, childless woman, for her big young body, so cared for and beautiful. His longing for woman had been till now suppressed by his austere, ascetic life, his constant weariness, by the intense exertion of his mind and will: now it devoured him suddenly with an intolerable, intoxicating flame.

“Your hands are cold,” she said, awkward and shy. In this man was something strange and alarming which she could in no way understand. “Cold hands and a warm heart.”

“Yes, yes, yes.⁠ ⁠… My heart,” he repeated it like a madman, “My heart is warm, my heart.⁠ ⁠…”

Long ago she had grown used to the outward rites and the shameful details of love; she performed them several times every day⁠—mechanically, indifferently, and often with silent disgust. Hundreds of men, from the aged and old, who put their teeth in a glass of water for the night, to youngsters whose voice was only beginning to break and was bass and soprano at once, civilians, army men, priests in mufti, baldheads and men overgrown with hair from head to foot like monkeys, excited and impotent, morphomaniacs who did not conceal their vice from her, beaux, cripples, rakes, who sometimes nauseated her, boys who cried for the bitterness of their first fall⁠—they all embraced her with shameful words, with long kisses, breathed into her face, moaned in the paroxysm of animal passion, which, she knew beforehand, would then and there be changed to unconcealed and insuperable disgust. Long ago all men’s faces had in her eyes lost every individual trait⁠—as though they had united into one lascivious, inevitable face, eternally bent over her, the face of a he-goat with stubbly, slobbering lips, clouded eyes, dimmed like frosted glass, distorted and disfigured by a voluptuous grimace, which sickened her because she never shared it.

Besides, they were all rude, exacting and devoid of the elements of shame. They were ludicrously ugly, as only the modern man can be in his underclothes. But this elderly little officer made a new, peculiar, attractive impression on her. His every movement was distinguished by a gentle, insinuating discretion. His kiss, his caress, and his touch were strangely gentle. At the same time he surrounded her imperceptibly with the nervous atmosphere of real and intense passion which even from a distance and against her will arouses a woman’s sensuality, makes her docile, and subject to the male’s desire. But her poor little mind had never passed beyond the round of everyday life in the house, and could not perceive this strange and agitating spell. She could only whisper shyly, happy and surprised, the usual trivial words: “What a nice man you are! You’re my sweet, aren’t you?”

She got up, put the lamp out, and lay beside him again. Through the chinks between the shutters and the wall showed thin threads of the whitening dawn, which filled the room with a misty blue half-light. Behind the partition, somewhere an alarm-clock hurriedly rang. Far away someone was singing sadly in the distance.

“When will you come again?” the woman asked.

“What?” Ribnikov asked sleepily, opening his eyes. “When am I coming? Soon⁠—tomorrow.⁠ ⁠…”

“I know all about that. Tell me the truth. When are you coming? I’ll be lonely without you.”

“M’m.⁠ ⁠… We will come and be alone.⁠ ⁠… We will write to them. They will stay in the mountains⁠ ⁠…” he murmured incoherently.

A heavy slumber enlocked his body; but, as always with men who have long deprived themselves of sleep, he could not sleep at once. No sooner was his consciousness overcast with the soft, dark, delightful cloud of oblivion than his body was shaken by a terrible inward shock. He moaned and shuddered, opened his eyes wide in wild terror, and straightway plunged into an irritating, transitory state between sleep and wakefulness, like a delirium crowded with threatening and confused visions.

The woman had no desire to sleep. She sat up in bed in her chemise, clasping her bended knees with her bare arms, and looked at Ribnikov with timid curiosity. In the bluish half-light his face grew sharper still and yellower, like the face of a dead man. His mouth stood open, but she could not hear his breathing. All over his face, especially about the eyes and mouth, was an expression of such utter weariness and profound human suffering as she had never seen in her life before. She gently passed her hand back over his stiff hair and forehead. The skin was cold and covered all over with clammy sweat. Ribnikov trembled at the touch, cried out in terror, and with a quick movement raised himself from the pillow.

“Ah! Who’s that, who?” he cried abruptly, wiping his face with his shirtsleeve.

“What’s the matter, darling?” the woman asked with sympathy. “You’re not well? Shall I get you some water?”

But Ribnikov had mastered himself, and lay down once more.

“Thanks. It’s all right now. I was dreaming.⁠ ⁠… Go to sleep, dear, do.”

“When do you want me to wake you, darling?” she asked.

“Wake.⁠ ⁠… In the morning.⁠ ⁠… The sun will rise early.⁠ ⁠… And the horsemen will come.⁠ ⁠… We will go in a boat.⁠ ⁠… And sail over the river.⁠ ⁠…” He was silent and lay quiet for some minutes. Suddenly his still, dead face was distorted with terrible pain. He turned on his back with a moan, and there came in a stream from his lips mysterious, wild-sounding words of a strange language.

The woman held her breath and listened, possessed by the superstitious terror which always comes from a sleeper’s delirium. His face was only a couple of inches from hers, and she could not tear her eyes away. He was silent for a while and then began to speak again, many words and unintelligible. Then he was silent again, as though listening attentively to someone’s speech. Suddenly the woman heard the only Japanese word she knew, from the newspapers, pronounced aloud with a firm, clear voice:


Her heart beat so violently that the velvet coverlet lifted again and again with the throbbing. She remembered how they had called Ribnikov by the names of Japanese generals in the red cabinet that day, and a far faint suspicion began to stir in the obscurity of her mind.

Someone lightly tapped on the door. She got up and opened.

“Clotilde dear, is that you?” a woman’s gentle whisper was heard. “Aren’t you asleep? Come in to me for a moment. Leonka’s with me, and he’s standing some apricot wine. Come on, dear!”

It was Sonya, the Karaim,1 Clotilde’s neighbour, bound to her by the cloying, hysterical affection which always pairs off the women in these establishments.

“All right. I’ll come now. Oh, I’ve something very interesting to tell you. Wait a second. I’ll dress.”

“Nonsense. Don’t. Who are you nervous about? Leonka? Come, just as you are!”

She began to put on her petticoat.

Ribnikov roused out of sleep.

“Where are you going to?” he asked drowsily.

“Only a minute.⁠ ⁠… Back immediately⁠ ⁠… I must⁠ ⁠…” she answered, hurriedly tying the tape round her waist. “You go to sleep. I’ll be back in a second.”

He had not heard her last words. A dark heavy sleep had instantly engulfed him.


Leonka was the idol of the whole establishment, beginning with Madame, and descending to the tiniest servant. In these places where boredom, indolence, and cheap literature produce feverishly romantic tastes, the extreme of adoration is lavished on thieves and detectives, because of their heroic lives, which are full of fascinating risks, dangers and adventures. Leonka used to appear in the most varied costumes, at times almost made up. Sometimes he kept a meaning and mysterious silence. Above all everyone remembered very well that he often proclaimed that the local police had an unbounded respect for him and fulfilled his orders blindly. In one case he had said three or four words in a mysterious jargon, and that was enough to send a few thieves who were behaving rowdily in the house crawling into the street. Besides there were times when he had a great deal of money. It is easy to understand that Henrietta, whom he called Genka and with whom he had an assiduous affair, was treated with a jealous respect.

He was a young man with a swarthy, freckled face, with black moustaches that pointed up to his very eyes. His chin was short, firm and broad; his eyes were dark, handsome and impudent. He was sitting on the sofa in his shirtsleeves, his waistcoat unbuttoned and his necktie loose. He was small but well proportioned. His broad chest and his muscles, so big that his shirt seemed ready to tear at the shoulder, were eloquent of his strength. Genka sat close to him with her feet on the sofa; Clotilde was opposite. Sipping his liqueur slowly with his red lips, in an artificially elegant voice he told his tale unconcernedly:

“They brought him to the station. His passport⁠—Korney Sapietov, resident in Kolpin or something of the kind. Of course the devil was drunk, absolutely. ‘Put him into a cold cell and sober him down.’ General rule. That very moment I happened to drop into the inspector’s office. I had a look. By Jove, an old friend: Sanka the Butcher⁠—triple murder and sacrilege. Instantly I gave the constable on duty a wink, and went out into the corridor as though nothing had happened. The constable came out to me. ‘What’s the matter, Leonti Spiridonovich?’ ‘Just send that gentleman round to the Detective Bureau for a minute.’ They brought him. Not a muscle in his face moved. I just looked him in the eyes and said”⁠—Leonka rapped his knuckles meaningly on the table⁠—“ ‘Is it a long time, Sanka, since you left Odessa and decided to honour us here?’ Of course he’s quite indifferent⁠—playing the fool. Not a word. Oh, he’s a bright one, too. ‘I haven’t any idea who Sanka the Butcher is. I am⁠ ⁠… so-and-so.’ So I come up to him, catch hold of him by the beard⁠—hey, presto⁠—the beard’s left in my hand. False!⁠ ⁠… ‘Will you own up now, you son of a bitch?’ ‘I haven’t any idea.’ Then I let fly straight at his nose⁠—once, twice⁠—a bloody mess. ‘Will you own up?’ ‘I haven’t any idea.’ ‘Ah, that’s your game, is it? I gave you a decent chance before. Now, you’ve got yourself to thank. Bring Arsenti the Flea here.’ We had a prisoner of that name. He hated Sanka to death. Of course, my dear, I knew how they stood. They brought the Flea. ‘Well, Flea, who’s this gentleman?’ The Flea laughs. ‘Why Sanka the Butcher, of course? How do you do, Sanichka? Have you been honouring us a long while? How did you get on in Odessa?’ Then the Butcher gave in. ‘All right, Leonti Spiridonovich. I give in. Nothing can get away from you. Give us a cigarette.’ Of course I gave him one. I never refuse them, out of charity. The servant of God was taken away. He just looked at the Flea, no more. I thought, well, the Flea will have to pay for that. The Butcher will do him in for sure.”

“Do him in?” Genka asked with servile confidence, in a terrified whisper.

“Absolutely. Do him in. That’s the kind of man he is!”

He sipped his glass complacently. Genka looked at him with fixed, frightened eyes, so intently that her mouth even opened and watered. She smacked her hands on her lips.

“My God, how awful! Just think, Clotilduchka! And you weren’t afraid, Leonya?”

“Well, am I to be frightened of every vagabond?”

The rapt attention of the woman excited him, and he began to invent a story that students had been making bombs somewhere on Vassiliev Island, and that the Government had instructed him to arrest the conspirators. Bombs there were⁠—it was proved afterwards⁠—twelve thousand of them. If they’d all exploded then not only the house they were in, but half Petersburg, perhaps, would have been blown to atoms.⁠ ⁠… Next came a thrilling story of Leonka’s extraordinary heroism, when he disguised himself as a student, entered the “devil’s workshop,” gave a sign to someone outside the window, and disarmed the villains in a second. He caught one of them by the sleeve at the very moment when he was going to explode a lot of bombs.

Genka groaned, was terror-stricken, slapped her legs, and continually turned to Clotilde with exclamations:

“Ah! what do you think of all that? Just think what scoundrels these students are, Clotilduchka! I never liked them.”

At last, stirred to her very depths by her lover, she hung on his neck and began to kiss him loudly.

“Leonichka, my darling! It’s terrible to listen to, even! And you aren’t frightened of anything!”

He complacently twisted his left moustache upwards, and let drop carelessly: “Why be afraid? You can only die once. That’s what I’m paid for.”

Clotilde was tormented all the while by jealous envy of her friend’s magnificent lover. She vaguely suspected that there was a great deal of lying in Leonka’s stories; while she now had something utterly extraordinary in her hands, such as no one had ever had before, something that would immediately take all the shine out of Leonka’s exploits. For some minutes she hesitated. A faint echo of the tender pity for Ribnikov still restrained her. But a hysterical yearning to shine took hold of her, and she said in a dull, quiet voice: “Do you know what I wanted to tell you, Leonya? I’ve got such a queer visitor today.”

“H’m. You think he’s a sharper?” he asked condescendingly. Genka was offended.

“A sharper, you say! That’s your story. Some drunken officer.”

“No, you mustn’t say that,” Leonka pompously interrupted. “It happens that sharpers get themselves up as officers. What was it you were going to say, Clotilde?”

Then she told the story of Ribnikov with every detail, displaying a petty and utterly feminine talent for observation: she told how they called him General Kuroki, his Japanese face, his strange tenderness and passion, his delirium, and finally now he said “Banzai!”

“You’re not lying?” Leonka said quickly. Keen points of fire lit in his eyes.

“I swear it’s true! May I be rooted to the ground if it’s a lie! You look through the keyhole, I’ll go in and open the shutter. He’s as like a Japanese as two peas.”

Leonka rose. Without haste, with a serious look, he put on his overcoat, carefully feeling his left inside pocket.

“Come on,” he said resolutely. “Who did he arrive with?”

Only Karyukov and Strahlmann remained of the all-night party. Karyukov could not be awakened, and Strahlmann muttered something indistinctly. He was still half drunk and his eyes were heavy and red.

“What officer? Blast him to hell! He came up to us when we were in the ‘Buff,’ but where he came from nobody knows.”

He began to dress immediately, snorting angrily. Leonka apologised and went out. He had already managed to get a glimpse of Ribnikov’s face through the keyhole, and though he had some doubts remaining, he was a good patriot, distinguished for impertinence and not devoid of imagination. He decided to act on his own responsibility. In a moment he was on the balcony whistling for help.


Ribnikov woke suddenly as though an imperative voice within him had said “Wake up.” An hour and a half of sleep had completely refreshed him. First of all he stared suspiciously at the door: it seemed to him that someone was watching him from there with a fixed stare. Then he looked round. The shutter was half open so that every little thing in the room could be seen. The woman was sitting by the table opposite the bed, silent and pale, regarding him with big, bright eyes.

“What’s happened?” Ribnikov asked in alarm. “Tell me, what’s been happening here?”

She did not answer, but her chin began to tremble and her teeth chattered.

A suspicious, cruel light came into the officer’s eyes. He bent his whole body from the bed with his ear to the door. The noise of many feet, of men evidently unused to moving cautiously, approached along the corridor, and suddenly was quiet before the door.

Ribnikov with a quick, soft movement leapt from the bed and twice turned the key. There was an instant knock at the door. With a cry the woman turned her face to the table and buried her head in her hands.

In a few seconds the captain was dressed. Again they knocked at the door. He had only his cap with him; he had left his sword and overcoat below. He was pale but perfectly calm. Even his hands did not tremble while he dressed himself, and all his movements were quite unhurried and adroit. Doing up the last button of his tunic, he went over to the woman, and suddenly squeezed her arm above the wrist with such terrible strength that her face purpled with the blood that rushed to her head.

“You!” he said quietly, in an angry whisper, without moving his jaws. “If you move or make a sound, I’ll kill you.⁠ ⁠…”

Again they knocked at the door, and a dull voice came: “Open the door, if you please.”

The captain now no longer limped. Quickly and silently he ran to the window, jumped on to the window-ledge with the soft spring of a cat, opened the shutters and with one sweep flung wide the window frames. Below him the paved yard showed white with scanty grass between the stones, and the branches of a few thin trees pointed upwards. He did not hesitate for a second; but at the very moment that he sat sideways on the iron frame of the windowsill, resting on it with his left hand, with one foot already hanging down, and prepared to leap with his whole body, the woman threw herself upon him with a piercing cry and caught him by the left arm. Tearing himself away, he made a false movement and suddenly, with a faint cry as though of surprise, fell in an awkward heap straight down on the stones.

Almost at the very second the old door fell flat into the room. First Leonka ran in, out of breath, showing his teeth; his eyes were aflame. After him came huge policemen, stamping and holding their swords in their left hands. When he saw the open window and the woman holding on the frame and screaming without pause, Leonka quickly understood what had happened. He was really a brave man, and without a thought or a word, as though he had already planned it, he took a running leap through the window.

He landed two steps away from Ribnikov, who lay motionless on his side. In spite of the drumming in his head, and the intense pain in his belly and his heels from the fall, he kept his head, and instantly threw himself heavily with the full weight of his body on the captain.

“A-ah. I’ve got you now,” he uttered hoarsely, crushing his victim in mad exasperation.

The captain did not resist. His eyes burned with an implacable hatred. But he was pale as death, and a pink froth stood in bubbles on his lips.

“Don’t crush me,” he whispered. “My leg’s broken.”

The Outrage

A True Story

It was five o’clock on a July afternoon. The heat was terrible. The whole of the huge stone-built town breathed out heat like a glowing furnace. The glare of the white-walled house was insufferable. The asphalt pavements grew soft and burned the feet. The shadows of the acacias spread over the cobbled road, pitiful and weary. They too seemed hot. The sea, pale in the sunlight, lay heavy and immobile as one dead. Over the streets hung a white dust.

In the foyer of one of the private theatres a small committee of local barristers who had undertaken to conduct the cases of those who had suffered in the last pogrom against the Jews was reaching the end of its daily task. There were nineteen of them, all juniors, young, progressive and conscientious men. The sitting was without formality, and white ducks, flannels and white alpaca were in the majority. They sat anywhere, at little marble tables, and the chairman stood in front of an empty counter where chocolates were sold in the winter.

The barristers were quite exhausted by the heat which poured in through the windows, with the dazzling sunlight and the noise of the streets. The proceedings went lazily and with a certain irritation.

A tall young man with a fair moustache and thin hair was in the chair. He was dreaming voluptuously how he would be off in an instant on his new-bought bicycle to the bungalow. He would undress quickly, and without waiting to cool, still bathed in sweat, would fling himself into the clear, cold, sweet-smelling sea. His whole body was enervated and tense, thrilled by the thought. Impatiently moving the papers before him, he spoke in a drowsy voice.

“So, Joseph Moritzovich will conduct the case of Rubinchik.⁠ ⁠… Perhaps there is still a statement to be made on the order of the day?”

His youngest colleague, a short, stout Karaim, very black and lively, said in a whisper so that everyone could hear: “On the order of the day, the best thing would be iced kvass.⁠ ⁠…”

The chairman gave him a stern side-glance, but could not restrain a smile. He sighed and put both his hands on the table to raise himself and declare the meeting closed, when the doorkeeper, who stood at the entrance to the theatre, suddenly moved forward and said: “There are seven people outside, sir. They want to come in.”

The chairman looked impatiently round the company.

“What is to be done, gentlemen?”

Voices were heard.

“Next time. Basta!”

“Let ’em put it in writing.”

“If they’ll get it over quickly.⁠ ⁠… Decide it at once.”

“Let ’em go to the devil. Phew! It’s like boiling pitch.”

“Let them in.” The chairman gave a sign with his head, annoyed. “Then bring me a Vichy, please. But it must be cold.”

The porter opened the door and called down the corridor: “Come in. They say you may.”

Then seven of the most surprising and unexpected individuals filed into the foyer. First appeared a full-grown, confident man in a smart suit, of the colour of dry sea-sand, in a magnificent pink shirt with white stripes and a crimson rose in his buttonhole. From the front his head looked like an upright bean, from the side like a horizontal bean. His face was adorned with a strong, bushy, martial moustache. He wore dark blue pince-nez on his nose, on his hands straw-coloured gloves. In his left hand he held a black walking-stick with a silver mount, in his right a light blue handkerchief.

The other six produced a strange, chaotic, incongruous impression, exactly as though they had all hastily pooled not merely their clothes, but their hands, feet and heads as well. There was a man with the splendid profile of a Roman senator, dressed in rags and tatters. Another wore an elegant dress waistcoat, from the deep opening of which a dirty little-Russian shirt leapt to the eye. Here were the unbalanced faces of the criminal type, but looking with a confidence that nothing could shake. All these men, in spite of their apparent youth, evidently possessed a large experience of life, an easy manner, a bold approach, and some hidden, suspicious cunning.

The gentleman in the sandy suit bowed just his head, neatly and easily, and said with a half-question in his voice: “Mr. Chairman?”

“Yes. I am the chairman,” said the latter. “What is your business?”

“We⁠—all whom you see before you,” the gentleman began in a quiet voice and turned round to indicate his companions, “we come as delegates from the United Rostov-Kharkov-and-Odessa-Nicolaiev Association of Thieves.”

The barristers began to shift in their seats.

The chairman flung himself back and opened his eyes wide. “Association of what?” he said, perplexed.

“The Association of Thieves,” the gentleman in the sandy suit coolly repeated. “As for myself, my comrades did me the signal honour of electing me as the spokesman of the deputation.”

“Very⁠ ⁠… pleased,” the chairman said uncertainly.

“Thank you. All seven of us are ordinary thieves⁠—naturally of different departments. The Association has authorised us to put before your esteemed Committee”⁠—the gentleman again made an elegant bow⁠—“our respectful demand for assistance.”

“I don’t quite understand⁠ ⁠… quite frankly⁠ ⁠… what is the connection.⁠ ⁠…” The chairman waved his hands helplessly. “However, please go on.”

“The matter about which we have the courage and the honour to apply to you, gentlemen, is very clear, very simple, and very brief. It will take only six or seven minutes. I consider it my duty to warn you of this beforehand, in view of the late hour and the 115 degrees that Fahrenheit marks in the shade.” The orator expectorated slightly and glanced at his superb gold watch. “You see, in the reports that have lately appeared in the local papers of the melancholy and terrible days of the last pogrom, there have very often been indications that among the instigators of the pogrom who were paid and organised by the police⁠—the dregs of society, consisting of drunkards, tramps, souteneurs, and hooligans from the slums⁠—thieves were also to be found. At first we were silent, but finally we considered ourselves under the necessity of protesting against such an unjust and serious accusation, before the face of the whole of intellectual society. I know well that in the eye of the law we are offenders and enemies of society. But imagine only for a moment, gentlemen, the situation of this enemy of society when he is accused wholesale of an offence which he not only never committed, but which he is ready to resist with the whole strength of his soul. It goes without saying that he will feel the outrage of such an injustice more keenly than a normal, average, fortunate citizen. Now, we declare that the accusation brought against us is utterly devoid of all basis, not merely of fact but even of logic. I intend to prove this in a few words if the honourable committee will kindly listen.”

“Proceed,” said the chairman.

“Please do.⁠ ⁠… Please⁠ ⁠…” was heard from the barristers, now animated.

“I offer you my sincere thanks in the name of all my comrades. Believe me, you will never repent your attention to the representatives of our⁠ ⁠… well, let us say, slippery, but nevertheless difficult, profession. ‘So we begin,’ as Giraldoni sings in the prologue to Pagliacci.

“But first I would ask your permission, Mr. Chairman, to quench my thirst a little.⁠ ⁠… Porter, bring me a lemonade and a glass of English bitter, there’s a good fellow. Gentlemen, I will not speak of the moral aspect of our profession nor of its social importance. Doubtless you know better than I the striking and brilliant paradox of Proudhon: La propriété c’est le vol⁠—a paradox if you like, but one that has never yet been refuted by the sermons of cowardly bourgeois or fat priests. For instance: a father accumulates a million by energetic and clever exploitation, and leaves to his son⁠—a rickety, lazy, ignorant, degenerate idiot, a brainless maggot, a true parasite. Potentially a million roubles is a million working days, the absolutely irrational right to labour, sweat, life, and blood of a terrible number of men. Why? What is the ground or reason? Utterly unknown. Then why not agree with the proposition, gentlemen, that our profession is to some extent as it were a correction of the excessive accumulation of values in the hands of individuals, and serves as a protest against all the hardships, abominations, arbitrariness, violence, and negligence of the human personality, against all the monstrosities created by the bourgeois capitalistic organisation of modern society? Sooner or later, this order of things will assuredly be overturned by the social revolution. Property will pass away into the limbo of melancholy memories and with it, alas! we will disappear from the face of the earth, we, les braves chevaliers d’industrie.”

The orator paused to take the tray from the hands of the porter, and placed it near to his hand on the table.

“Excuse me, gentlemen.⁠ ⁠… Here, my good man, take this⁠ ⁠… and by the way, when you go out shut the door close behind you.”

“Very good, your Excellency!” the porter bawled in jest.

The orator drank off half a glass and continued: “However, let us leave aside the philosophical, social, and economic aspects of the question. I do not wish to fatigue your attention. I must nevertheless point out that our profession very closely approaches the idea of that which is called art. Into it enter all the elements which go to form art⁠—vocation, inspiration, fantasy, inventiveness, ambition, and a long and arduous apprenticeship to the science. From it is absent virtue alone, concerning which the great Karamzin wrote with such stupendous and fiery fascination. Gentlemen, nothing is further from my intention than to trifle with you and waste your precious time with idle paradoxes; but I cannot avoid expounding my idea briefly. To an outsider’s ear it sounds absurdly wild and ridiculous to speak of the vocation of a thief. However, I venture to assure you that this vocation is a reality. There are men who possess a peculiarly strong visual memory, sharpness and accuracy of eye, presence of mind, dexterity of hand, and above all a subtle sense of touch, who are as it were born into God’s world for the sole and special purpose of becoming distinguished cardsharpers. The pickpockets’ profession demands extraordinary nimbleness and agility, a terrific certainty of movement, not to mention a ready wit, a talent for observation and strained attention. Some have a positive vocation for breaking open safes: from their tenderest childhood they are attracted by the mysteries of every kind of complicated mechanism⁠—bicycles, sewing machines, clockwork toys and watches. Finally, gentlemen, there are people with an hereditary animus against private property. You may call this phenomenon degeneracy. But I tell you that you cannot entice a true thief, and thief by vocation, into the prose of honest vegetation by any gingerbread reward, or by the offer of a secure position, or by the gift of money, or by a woman’s love: because there is here a permanent beauty of risk, a fascinating abyss of danger, the delightful sinking of the heart, the impetuous pulsation of life, the ecstasy! You are armed with the protection of the law, by locks, revolvers, telephones, police and soldiery; but we only by our own dexterity, cunning and fearlessness. We are the foxes, and society⁠—is a chicken-run guarded by dogs. Are you aware that the most artistic and gifted natures in our villages become horse-thieves and poachers? What would you have? Life has been so meagre, so insipid, so intolerably dull to eager and high-spirited souls!

“I pass on to inspiration. Gentlemen, doubtless you have had to read of thefts that were supernatural in design and execution. In the headlines of the newspapers they are called ‘An Amazing Robbery,’ or ‘An Ingenious Swindle,’ or again ‘A Clever Ruse of the Mobsmen.’ In such cases our bourgeois paterfamilias waves his hands and exclaims: ‘What a terrible thing! If only their abilities were turned to good⁠—their inventiveness, their amazing knowledge of human psychology, their self-possession, their fearlessness, their incomparable histrionic powers! What extraordinary benefits they would bring to the country!’ But it is well known that the bourgeois paterfamilias was specially devised by Heaven to utter commonplaces and trivialities. I myself sometimes⁠—we thieves are sentimental people, I confess⁠—I myself sometimes admire a beautiful sunset in Alexandra Park or by the seashore. And I am always certain beforehand that someone near me will say with infallible aplomb: ‘Look at it. If it were put into a picture no one would ever believe it!’ I turn round and naturally I see a self-satisfied, full-fed paterfamilias, who delights in repeating someone else’s silly statement as though it were his own. As for our dear country, the bourgeois paterfamilias looks upon it as though it were a roast turkey. If you’ve managed to cut the best part of the bird for yourself, eat it quietly in a comfortable corner and praise God. But he’s not really the important person. I was led away by my detestation of vulgarity and I apologise for the digression. The real point is that genius and inspiration, even when they are not devoted to the service of the Orthodox Church, remain rare and beautiful things. Progress is a law⁠—and theft too has its creation.

“Finally, our profession is by no means as easy and pleasant as it seems to the first glance. It demands long experience, constant practice, slow and painful apprenticeship. It comprises in itself hundreds of supple, skilful processes that the cleverest juggler cannot compass. That I may not give you only empty words, gentlemen, I will perform a few experiments before you, now. I ask you to have every confidence in the demonstrators. We are all at present in the enjoyment of legal freedom, and though we are usually watched, and every one of us is known by face, and our photographs adorn the albums of all detective departments, for the time being we are not under the necessity of hiding ourselves from anybody. If any one of you should recognise any of us in the future under different circumstances, we ask you earnestly always to act in accordance with your professional duties and your obligations as citizens. In grateful return for your kind attention we have decided to declare your property inviolable, and to invest it with a thieves’ taboo. However, I proceed to business.”

The orator turned round and gave an order: “Sesoi the Great, will you come this way!”

An enormous fellow with a stoop, whose hands reached to his knees, without a forehead or a neck, like a big, fair Hercules, came forward. He grinned stupidly and rubbed his left eyebrow in his confusion.

“Can’t do nothin’ here,” he said hoarsely.

The gentleman in the sandy suit spoke for him, turning to the committee.

“Gentlemen, before you stands a respected member of our association. His speciality is breaking open safes, iron strong boxes, and other receptacles for monetary tokens. In his night work he sometimes avails himself of the electric current of the lighting installation for fusing metals. Unfortunately he has nothing on which he can demonstrate the best items of his repertoire. He will open the most elaborate lock irreproachably.⁠ ⁠… By the way, this door here, it’s locked, is it not?”

Everyone turned to look at the door, on which a printed notice hung: “Stage Door. Strictly Private.”

“Yes, the door’s locked, evidently,” the chairman agreed.

“Admirable. Sesoi the Great, will you be so kind?”

“ ’Tain’t nothin’ at all,” said the giant leisurely.

He went close to the door, shook it cautiously with his hand, took out of his pocket a small bright instrument, bent down to the keyhole, made some almost imperceptible movements with the tool, suddenly straightened and flung the door wide in silence. The chairman had his watch in his hands. The whole affair took only ten seconds.

“Thank you, Sesoi the Great,” said the gentleman in the sandy suit politely. “You may go back to your seat.”

But the chairman interrupted in some alarm: “Excuse me. This is all very interesting and instructive, but⁠ ⁠… is it included in your esteemed colleague’s profession to be able to lock the door again?”

“Ah, mille pardons.” The gentleman bowed hurriedly. “It slipped my mind. Sesoi the Great, would you oblige?”

The door was locked with the same adroitness and the same silence. The esteemed colleague waddled back to his friends, grinning.

“Now I will have the honour to show you the skill of one of our comrades who is in the line of picking pockets in theatres and railway-stations,” continued the orator. “He is still very young, but you may to some extent judge from the delicacy of his present work of the heights he will attain by diligence. Yasha!” A swarthy youth in a blue silk blouse and long glacé boots, like a gipsy, came forward with a swagger, fingering the tassels of his belt, and merrily screwing up his big, impudent black eyes with yellow whites.

“Gentlemen,” said the gentleman in the sandy suit persuasively, “I must ask if one of you would be kind enough to submit himself to a little experiment. I assure you this will be an exhibition only, just a game.”

He looked round over the seated company.

The short plump Karaim, black as a beetle, came forward from his table.

“At your service,” he said amusingly.

“Yasha!” The orator signed with his head.

Yasha came close to the solicitor. On his left arm, which was bent, hung a bright-coloured, figured scarf.

“Suppose yer in church, or at a bar in one of the ’alls⁠—or watchin’ a circus,” he began in a sugary, fluent voice. “I see straight off⁠—there’s a toff.⁠ ⁠… Excuse me, sir. Suppose you’re the toff. There’s no offence⁠—just means a rich gent, decent enough, but don’t know his way about. First⁠—what’s he likely to ’ave about ’im? All sorts. Mostly, a ticker and a chain. Whereabouts does ’e keep ’em. Somewhere in ’is top weskit pocket⁠—’ere. Others ’ave ’em in the bottom pocket. Just ’ere. Purse⁠—most always in the trousers, except when a greeny keeps it in ’is jacket. Cigar-case. ’Ave a look first what it is⁠—gold, silver⁠—with a monogram. Leather⁠—wot decent man ’d soil ’is ’ands? Cigar-case. Seven pockets: ’ere, ’ere ’ere, up there, there, ’ere and ’ere again. That’s right, ain’t it? That’s ’ow you go to work.”

As he spoke the young man smiled. His eyes shone straight into the barrister’s. With a quick, dexterous movement of his right hand he pointed to various portions of his clothes.

“Then agen you might see a pin ’ere in the tie. ’Owever we do not appropriate. Such gents nowadays⁠—they ’ardly ever wear a reel stone. Then I comes up to ’im. I begin straight off to talk to ’im like a gent: ‘Sir, would you be so kind as to give me a light from your cigarette’⁠—or something of the sort. At any rate, I enter into conversation. Wot’s next? I look ’im straight in the peepers, just like this. Only two of me fingers are at it⁠—just this and this.” Yasha lifted two fingers of his right hand on a level with the solicitor’s face, the forefinger and the middle finger and moved them about.

“D’ you see? With these two fingers I run over the ’ole pianner. Nothin’ wonderful in it: one, two, three⁠—ready. Any man who wasn’t stupid could learn easily. That’s all it is. Most ordinary business. I thank you.”

The pickpocket swung on his heel as if to return to his seat.

“Yasha!” The gentleman in the sandy suit said with meaning weight. “Yasha!” he repeated sternly.

Yasha stopped. His back was turned to the barrister, but he evidently gave his representative an imploring look, because the latter frowned and shook his head.

“Yasha!” he said for the third time, in a threatening tone.

“Huh!” The young thief grunted in vexation and turned to face the solicitor. “Where’s your little watch, sir?” he said in a piping voice.

“Ach,” the Karaim brought himself up sharp.

“You see⁠—now you say ‘Ach,’ ” Yasha continued reproachfully. “All the while you were admiring me right ’and, I was operatin’ yer watch with my left. Just with these two little fingers, under the scarf. That’s why we carry a scarf. Since your chain’s not worth anything⁠—a present from some mamselle and the watch is a gold one, I’ve left you the chain as a keepsake. Take it,” he added with a sigh, holding out the watch.

“But.⁠ ⁠… That is clever,” the barrister said in confusion. “I didn’t notice it at all.”

“That’s our business,” Yasha said with pride.

He swaggered back to his comrades. Meantime the orator took a drink from his glass and continued.

“Now, gentlemen, our next collaborator will give you an exhibition of some ordinary card tricks, which are worked at fairs, on steamboats and railways. With three cards, for instance, an ace, a queen, and a six, he can quite easily.⁠ ⁠… But perhaps you are tired of these demonstrations, gentlemen.”⁠ ⁠…

“Not at all. It’s extremely interesting,” the chairman answered affably. “I should like to ask one question⁠—that is if it is not too indiscreet⁠—what is your own speciality?”

“Mine.⁠ ⁠… H’m.⁠ ⁠… No, how could it be an indiscretion?⁠ ⁠… I work the big diamond shops⁠ ⁠… and my other business is banks,” answered the orator with a modest smile. “Don’t think this occupation is easier than others. Enough that I know four European languages, German, French, English, and Italian, without speaking of Polish, Ukrainian and Yiddish. But shall I show you some more experiments, Mr. Chairman?”

The chairman looked at his watch.

“Unfortunately the time is too short,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better to pass on to the substance of your business? Besides the experiments we have just seen have amply convinced us of the talent of your esteemed associates.⁠ ⁠… Am I not right, Isaac Abramovich?”

“Yes, yes⁠ ⁠… absolutely,” the Karaim barrister readily confirmed.

“Admirable,” the gentleman in the sandy suit kindly agreed. “My dear Count”⁠—he turned to a blonde, curly-haired man, with a face like a billiard-maker on a bank-holiday⁠—“put your instruments away. They will not be wanted. I have only a few words more to say, gentlemen. Now that you have convinced yourselves that our art, although it does not enjoy the patronage of high-placed individuals, is nevertheless an art; and you have probably come to my opinion that this art is one which demands many personal qualities besides constant labour, danger, and unpleasant misunderstandings⁠—you will also, I hope, believe that it is possible to become attached to its practice and to love and esteem it, however strange that may appear at first sight. Picture to yourselves that a famous poet of talent, whose tales and poems adorn the pages of our best magazines, is suddenly offered the chance of writing verses at a penny a line, signed into the bargain, as an advertisement for ‘Cigarettes Jasmine’⁠—or that a slander was spread about one of you distinguished barristers, accusing him of making a business of concocting evidence for divorce cases, or of writing petitions from the cabmen to the governor in public-houses! Certainly your relatives, friends and acquaintances wouldn’t believe it. But the rumour has already done its poisonous work, and you have to live through minutes of torture. Now picture to yourselves that such a disgraceful and vexatious slander, started by God knows whom, begins to threaten not only your good name and your quiet digestion, but your freedom, your health, and even your life!

“This is the position of us thieves, now being slandered by the newspapers. I must explain. There is in existence a class of scum⁠—passez-moi le mot⁠—whom we call their ‘Mothers’ Darlings.’ With these we are unfortunately confused. They have neither shame nor conscience, a dissipated riffraff, mothers’ useless darlings, idle, clumsy drones, shop assistants who commit unskilful thefts. He thinks nothing of living on his mistress, a prostitute, like the male mackerel, who always swims after the female and lives on her excrements. He is capable of robbing a child with violence in a dark alley, in order to get a penny: he will kill a man in his sleep and torture an old woman. These men are the pests of our profession. For them the beauties and the traditions of the art have no existence. They watch us real, talented thieves like a pack of jackals after a lion. Suppose I’ve managed to bring off an important job⁠—we won’t mention the fact that I have to leave two-thirds of what I get to the receivers who sell the goods and discount the notes, or the customary subsidies to our incorruptible police⁠—I still have to share out something to each one of these parasites, who have got wind of my job, by accident, hearsay, or a casual glance.

“So we call them Motients, which means ‘half,’ a corruption of moitié.⁠ ⁠… Original etymology. I pay him only because he knows and may inform against me. And it mostly happens that even when he’s got his share he runs off to the police in order to get another half-sovereign. We, honest thieves.⁠ ⁠… Yes, you may laugh, gentlemen, but I repeat it: we honest thieves detest these reptiles. We have another name for them, a stigma of ignominy; but I dare not utter it here out of respect for the place and for my audience. Oh, yes, they would gladly accept an invitation to a pogrom. The thought that we may be confused with them is a hundred times more insulting to us even than the accusation of taking part in a pogrom.

“Gentlemen! While I have been speaking, I have often noticed smiles on your faces. I understand you: our presence here, our application for your assistance, and above all the unexpectedness of such a phenomenon as a systematic organisation of thieves, with delegates who are thieves, and a leader of the deputation, also a thief by profession⁠—it is all so original that it must inevitably arouse a smile. But now I will speak from the depth of my heart. Let us be rid of our outward wrappings, gentlemen, let us speak as men to men.

“Almost all of us are educated, and all love books. We don’t only read the adventures of Roqueambole, as the realistic writers say of us. Do you think our hearts did not bleed and our cheeks did not burn from shame, as though we had been slapped in the face, all the time that this unfortunate, disgraceful, accursed, cowardly war lasted. Do you really think that our souls do not flame with anger when our country is lashed with Cossack-whips, and trodden underfoot, shot and spit at by mad, exasperated men? Will you not believe that we thieves meet every step towards the liberation to come with a thrill of ecstasy?

“We understand, every one of us⁠—perhaps only a little less than you barristers, gentlemen⁠—the real sense of the pogroms. Every time that some dastardly event or some ignominious failure has occurred, after executing a martyr in a dark corner of a fortress, or after deceiving public confidence, someone who is hidden and unapproachable gets frightened of the people’s anger and diverts its vicious element upon the heads of innocent Jews. Whose diabolical mind invents these pogroms⁠—these titanic blood-lettings, these cannibal amusements for the dark, bestial souls?

“We all see with certain clearness that the last convulsions of the bureaucracy are at hand. Forgive me if I present it imaginatively. There was a people that had a chief temple, wherein dwelt a bloodthirsty deity, behind a curtain, guarded by priests. Once fearless hands tore the curtain away. Then all the people saw, instead of a god, a huge, shaggy, voracious spider, like a loathsome cuttlefish. They beat it and shoot at it: it is dismembered already; but still in the frenzy of its final agony it stretches over all the ancient temple its disgusting, clawing tentacles. And the priests, themselves under sentence of death, push into the monster’s grasp all whom they can seize in their terrified, trembling fingers.

“Forgive me. What I have said is probably wild and incoherent. But I am somewhat agitated. Forgive me. I continue. We thieves by profession know better than anyone else how these pogroms were organised. We wander everywhere: into public houses, markets, teashops, dosshouses, public places, the harbour. We can swear before God and man and posterity that we have seen how the police organise the massacres, without shame and almost without concealment. We know them all by face, in uniform or disguise. They invited many of us to take part; but there was none so vile among us as to give even the outward consent that fear might have extorted.

“You know, of course, how the various strata of Russian society behave towards the police? It is not even respected by those who avail themselves of its dark services. But we despise and hate it three, ten times more⁠—not because many of us have been tortured in the detective departments, which are just chambers of horror, beaten almost to death, beaten with whips of ox-hide and of rubber in order to extort a confession or to make us betray a comrade. Yes, we hate them for that too. But we thieves, all of us who have been in prison, have a mad passion for freedom. Therefore we despise our gaolers with all the hatred that a human heart can feel. I will speak for myself. I have been tortured three times by police detectives till I was half dead. My lungs and liver have been shattered. In the mornings I spit blood until I can breathe no more. But if I were told that I will be spared a fourth flogging only by shaking hands with a chief of the detective police, I would refuse to do it!

“And then the newspapers say that we took from these hands Judas-money, dripping with human blood. No, gentlemen, it is a slander which stabs our very soul, and inflicts insufferable pain. Not money, nor threats, nor promises will suffice to make us mercenary murderers of our brethren, nor accomplices with them.”

“Never⁠ ⁠… No⁠ ⁠… No⁠ ⁠… ,” his comrades standing behind him began to murmur.

“I will say more,” the thief continued. “Many of us protected the victims during this pogrom. Our friend, called Sesoi the Great⁠—you have just seen him, gentlemen⁠—was then lodging with a Jewish braid-maker on the Moldavanka. With a poker in his hands he defended his landlord from a great horde of assassins. It is true, Sesoi the Great is a man of enormous physical strength, and this is well known to many of the inhabitants of the Moldavanka. But you must agree, gentlemen, that in these moments Sesoi the Great looked straight into the face of death. Our comrade Martin the Miner⁠—this gentleman here”⁠—the orator pointed to a pale, bearded man with beautiful eyes who was holding himself in the background⁠—“saved an old Jewess, whom he had never seen before, who was being pursued by a crowd of these canaille. They broke his head with a crowbar for his pains, smashed his arm in two places and splintered a rib. He is only just out of hospital. That is the way our most ardent and determined members acted. The others trembled for anger and wept for their own impotence.

“None of us will forget the horrors of those bloody days and bloody nights lit up by the glare of fires, those sobbing women, those little children’s bodies torn to pieces and left lying in the street. But for all that not one of us thinks that the police and the mob are the real origin of the evil. These tiny, stupid, loathsome vermin are only a senseless fist that is governed by a vile, calculating mind, moved by a diabolical will.

“Yes, gentlemen,” the orator continued, “we thieves have nevertheless merited your legal contempt. But when you, noble gentlemen, need the help of clever, brave, obedient men at the barricades, men who will be ready to meet death with a song and a jest on their lips for the most glorious word in the world⁠—Freedom⁠—will you cast us off then and order us away because of an inveterate revulsion? Damn it all, the first victim in the French Revolution was a prostitute. She jumped up on to a barricade, with her skirt caught elegantly up into her hand and called out: ‘Which of you soldiers will dare to shoot a woman?’ Yes, by God.” The orator exclaimed aloud and brought down his fist on to the marble table top: “They killed her, but her action was magnificent, and the beauty of her words immortal.

“If you should drive us away on the great day, we will turn to you and say: ‘You spotless Cherubim⁠—if human thoughts had the power to wound, kill, and rob man of honour and property, then which of you innocent doves would not deserve the knout and imprisonment for life?’ Then we will go away from you and build our own gay, sporting, desperate thieves’ barricade, and will die with such united songs on our lips that you will envy us, you who are whiter than snow!

“But I have been once more carried away. Forgive me. I am at the end. You now see, gentlemen, what feelings the newspaper slanders have excited in us. Believe in our sincerity and do what you can to remove the filthy stain which has so unjustly been cast upon us. I have finished.”

He went away from the table and joined his comrades. The barristers were whispering in an undertone, very much as the magistrates of the bench at sessions. Then the chairman rose.

“We trust you absolutely, and we will make every effort to clear your association of this most grievous charge. At the same time my colleagues have authorised me, gentlemen, to convey to you their deep respect for your passionate feelings as citizens. And for my own part I ask the leader of the deputation for permission to shake him by the hand.”

The two men, both tall and serious, held each other’s hands in a strong, masculine grip.

The barristers were leaving the theatre; but four of them hung back a little by the clothes peg in the hall. Isaac Abramovich could not find his new, smart grey hat anywhere. In its place on the wooden peg hung a cloth cap jauntily flattened in on either side.

“Yasha!” The stern voice of the orator was suddenly heard from the other side of the door. “Yasha! It’s the last time I’ll speak to you, curse you!⁠ ⁠… Do you hear?”

The heavy door opened wide. The gentleman in the sandy suit entered. In his hands he held Isaac Abramovich’s hat; on his face was a well-bred smile.

“Gentlemen, for Heaven’s sake forgive us⁠—an odd little misunderstanding. One of our comrades exchanged his hat quite by accident.⁠ ⁠… Oh, it is yours! A thousand pardons. Doorkeeper! Why don’t you keep an eye on things, my good fellow, eh? Just give me that cap, there. Once more, I ask you to forgive me, gentlemen.”

With a pleasant bow and the same well-bred smile he made his way quickly into the street.

The Witch


Yarmola the gamekeeper, my servant, cook, and fellow-hunter, entered the room with a load of wood on his shoulder, threw it heavily on the floor, and blew on his frozen fingers.

“What a wind there is outside, sir,” he said, squatting on his heels in front of the oven door. “We must make a good fire in the stove. Will you give me a match, please?”

“It means we shan’t have a chance at the hares tomorrow, eh? What do you think, Yarmola?”

“No.⁠ ⁠… Out of the question.⁠ ⁠… Do you hear the snowstorm? The hares lie still⁠—no sound.⁠ ⁠… You won’t see a single track tomorrow.”

Fate had thrown me for a whole six months into a dull little village in Volhymnia, on the border of Polyessie, and hunting was my sole occupation and delight. I confess that at the time when the business in the village was offered me, I had no idea that I should feel so intolerably dull. I went even with joy. “Polyessie⁠ ⁠… a remote place⁠ ⁠… the bosom of Nature⁠ ⁠… simple ways⁠ ⁠… primitive natures,” I thought as I sat in the railway carriage, “completely unfamiliar people, with strange customs and a curious language⁠ ⁠… and there are sure to be thousands of romantic legends, traditions, and songs!” At that time⁠—since I have to confess, I may as well confess everything⁠—I had already published a story with two murders and one suicide in an unknown newspaper, and I knew theoretically that it was useful for writers to observe customs.

But⁠—either the peasants of Perebrod were distinguished by a particularly obstinate uncommunicativeness, or I myself did not know how to approach them⁠—my relations with them went no further than that when they saw me a mile off they took off their caps, and when they came alongside said sternly, “God with you,” which should mean “God help you.” And when I attempted to enter into conversation with them they looked at me in bewilderment, refused to understand the simplest questions, and tried all the while to kiss my hands⁠—a habit that has survived from their Polish serfdom.

I read all the books I had with me very soon. Out of boredom⁠—though at first it seemed to me very unpleasant⁠—I made an attempt to get to know the local “intellectuals,” a Catholic priest who lived fifteen versts away, the gentleman organist who lived with him, the local police-sergeant, and the bailiff of the neighbouring estate, a retired noncommissioned officer. But nothing came of it.

Then I tried to occupy myself with doctoring the inhabitants of Perebrod. I had at my disposal castor-oil, carbolic acid, boracic, and iodine. But here, besides the scantiness of my knowledge, I came up against the complete impossibility of making a diagnosis, because the symptoms of all patients were exactly the same: “I’ve got a pain inside,” and “I can’t take bite nor sup.”

For instance an old woman comes to me. With a disturbed look she wipes her nose with the forefinger of her right hand. I catch a glimpse of her brown skin as she takes a couple of eggs from her bosom, and puts them on the table. Then she begins to seize my hands in order to plant a kiss on them. I hide them and persuade the old woman: “Come, granny⁠ ⁠… don’t.⁠ ⁠… I’m not a priest.⁠ ⁠… I have no right.⁠ ⁠… What’s the matter with you?”

“I’ve got a pain in the inside, sir; just right inside, so that I can’t take nor bite nor sup.”

“Have you had it long?”

“How do I know?” she answers with a question. “It just burns, burns all the while. Not a bite, nor a sup.”

However much I try, I can get no more definite symptoms.

“Don’t you worry,” the non.-com. bailiff once said to me. “They’ll cure themselves. It’ll dry on them like a dog. I beg you to note I use only one medicine⁠—sal-volatile. A peasant comes to me. ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘I’m ill,’ says he. I just run off for the bottle of sal-volatile. ‘Sniff!’⁠ ⁠… he sniffs.⁠ ⁠… ‘Sniff again⁠ ⁠… go on!’ He sniffs again. ‘Feel better?’ ‘I do seem to feel better.’ ‘Well, then, be off, and God be with you.’ ”

Besides I did not at all like the kissing of my hands. (Some just fell at my feet and did all they could to kiss my boots.) For it wasn’t by any means the emotion of a grateful heart, but simply a loathsome habit, rooted in them by centuries of slavery and brutality. And I could only wonder at the non.-com. bailiff and the police-sergeant when I saw the imperturbable gravity with which they shoved their enormous red hands to the peasants’ lips.⁠ ⁠…

Only hunting was left. But with the end of January came such terrible weather that even hunting was impossible. Every day there was an awful wind, and during the night a hard icy crust formed on the snow, on which the hares could run without leaving a trace. As I sat shut up in the house listening to the howling wind, I felt terribly sad, and I eagerly seized such an innocent distraction as teaching Yarmola the gamekeeper to read and write.

It came about quite curiously. Once I was writing a letter, when suddenly I felt that someone was behind me. Turning round I saw Yarmola, who had approached noiselessly, as his habit was, in his soft bast shoes.

“What d’you want, Yarmola?” I asked.

“I was only looking how you write. I wish I could.⁠ ⁠… No, no⁠ ⁠… not like you,” he began hastily, seeing me smile. “I only wish I could write my name.”

“Why do you want to do that?” I was surprised. (It must be remembered that Yarmola is supposed to be the poorest and laziest peasant in the whole of Perebrod. His wages and earnings go in drink. There isn’t such another scarecrow even among the local oxen. I thought that he would have been the last person to find reading and writing necessary.) I asked him again, doubtfully:

“What do you want to know how to write your name for?”

“You see how it stands, sir.” Yarmola answered with extraordinary softness. “There isn’t a single man who can read and write in the village. When there’s a paper to be signed or some business to be done on the council or anything⁠ ⁠… nobody can.⁠ ⁠… The mayor only puts the seal; but he doesn’t know what’s in the paper. It would be a good thing for everybody if one of us could write his name.”

Yarmola’s solicitude⁠—Yarmola, a known poacher, an idle vagabond, whose opinion the village council would never dream of considering⁠—this solicitude of his for the public interest of his native village somehow moved me. I offered to give him lessons myself. What a job it was⁠—my attempt to teach him to read and write! Yarmola, who knew to perfection every path in the forest, almost every tree; who could find his whereabouts day and night, no matter where he was; who could distinguish all the wolves, hares, and foxes of the neighbourhood by their spoor⁠—this same Yarmola could not for the life of him see why, for instance, the letters m and a together make ma. In front of that problem he usually thought painfully for ten minutes and more, and his lean swarthy face with its sunken black eyes, which had been completely absorbed into a stiff black beard and a generous moustache, betrayed an extremity of mental strain.

“Come, Yarmola, say ma. Just say ma simply,” I urged him. “Don’t look at the paper. Look at me, so. Now say ma.”

Yarmola would then heave a deep sigh, put the hornbook on the table, and announce with sad determination:

“No, I can’t.⁠ ⁠…”

“Why can’t you? It’s so easy. Just say ma simply, just as I say it.”

“No, sir, I cannot⁠ ⁠… I’ve forgotten.”

All my methods, my devices and comparisons were being shattered by this monstrous lack of understanding. But Yarmola’s longing for knowledge did not weaken at all.

“If I could only write my name!” Yarmola begged me bashfully. “I don’t want anything else. Only my name: Yarmola Popruzhuk⁠—that’s all.”

When I finally abandoned the idea of teaching him to read and write properly, I began to show him how to sign his name mechanically. To my amazement this method seemed to be the easiest for Yarmola, and at the end of two months he had very nearly mastered his name. As for his Christian name we had decided to make the task easier by leaving it out altogether.

Every evening, after he had finished filling the stoves, Yarmola waited on patiently until I called him.

“Well, Yarmola, let’s have a go at it,” I would say. He would sidle up to the table, lean on it with his elbows, thrust his pen through his black, shrivelled, stiff fingers, and ask me, raising his eyebrows:

“Shall I write?”

“Yes, write.”

Yarmola drew the first letter quite confidently⁠—P.2 (This letter was called “a couple of posts and a crossbeam on top.”) Then he looked at me questioningly.

“Why don’t you go on writing? Have you forgotten?”

“I’ve forgotten.” Yarmola shook his head angrily.

“Heavens, what a fellow you are! Well, make a wheel.”

“Ah, a wheel, a wheel!⁠ ⁠… I know.⁠ ⁠…” Yarmola cheered up, and diligently drew an elongated figure on the paper, in outline very like the Caspian Sea. After this labour he admired the result in silence for some time, bending his head now to the left, then to the right, and screwing up his eyes.

“Why have you stopped there? Go on.”

“Wait a little, sir⁠ ⁠… presently.”

He thought for a couple of minutes and then asked timidly:

“Same as the first?”

“Right. Just the same.”

So little by little we came to the last letter k, which we knew as “a stick with a crooked twig tilted sideways in the middle of it.”

“What do you think, sir?” Yarmola would say sometimes after finishing his work and looking at it with great pride; “if I go on learning like this for another five or six months I shall be quite a learned chap. What’s your idea?”


Yarmola was squatting on his heels in front of the stove door, poking the coals in the stove, while I walked from corner to corner of the room. Of all the twelve rooms of the huge country house I occupied only one⁠—the lounge that used to be. The other rooms were locked up, and there, grave and motionless, mouldered the old brocaded furniture, the rare bronzes, and the eighteenth-century portraits.

The wind was raging round the walls of the house like an old naked, frozen devil. Towards evening the snowstorm became more violent. Someone outside was furiously throwing handfuls of fine dry snow at the windowpanes. The forest near by moaned and roared with a dull, hidden, incessant menace.⁠ ⁠…

The wind stole into the empty rooms and the howling chimneys. The old house, weak throughout, full of holes and half decayed, suddenly became alive with strange sounds to which I listened with involuntary anxiety. Into the white drawing-room there broke a deep-drawn sigh, in a sad worn-out voice. In the distance somewhere the dry and rotten floorboards began to creak under someone’s heavy, silent tread. I think that someone in the corridor beside my room is pressing with cautious persistence on the door-handle, and then, suddenly grown furious, rushes all over the house madly shaking all the shutters and doors. Or he gets into the chimney and whines so mournfully, wearily, incessantly⁠—now raising his voice higher and higher, thinner and thinner, all the while, till it becomes a wailing shriek, then lowering it again to a wild beast’s growling. Sometimes this terrible guest would rush into my room too, run with a sudden coldness over my back and flicker the lamp flame, which gave a dim light from under a green paper shade, scorched at the top.

There came upon me a strange, vague uneasiness. I thought: Here am I sitting, this bad, stormy night, in a rickety house, in a village lost in woods and snowdrifts, hundreds of miles from town life, from society, from woman’s laughter and human conversation.⁠ ⁠… And I began to feel that this stormy evening would drag on for years and tens of years. The wind will whine outside the windows, as it is whining now; the lamp will burn dimly under the paltry green shade, as it burns now; I will walk just as breathlessly up and down my room, and the silent, intent Yarmola will sit so by the stove, a strange creature, alien to me, indifferent to everything in the world, indifferent that his family has nothing to eat, to the raging wind, and my own vague consuming anxiety.

Suddenly I felt an intolerable desire to break this anxious silence with some semblance of a human voice, and I asked:

“Why is there such a wind today? What do you think, Yarmola?”

“The wind?” Yarmola muttered, lazily lifting his head. “Don’t you really know?”

“Of course I don’t. How could I?”

“Truly, you don’t know?” Yarmola livened suddenly. “I’ll tell you,” he continued with a mysterious note in his voice. “I’ll tell you this. Either a witch is being born, or a wizard is having a wedding-party.”

“A witch?⁠ ⁠… Does that mean a sorceress in your place?”

“Exactly⁠ ⁠… a sorceress.”

I caught up Yarmola eagerly. “Who knows,” I thought, “perhaps I’ll manage to get an interesting story out of him presently, all about magic, and buried treasure, and devils.”

“Have you got witches here, in Polyessie?” I asked.

“I don’t know⁠ ⁠… may be,” Yarmola answered with his usual indifference, bending down to the stove again. “Old folks say there were once.⁠ ⁠… May be it’s not true.⁠ ⁠…”

I was disappointed. Yarmola’s characteristic trait was a stubborn silence, and I had already given up hope of getting anything more out of him on this interesting subject. But to my surprise he suddenly began to talk with a lazy indifference as though he was addressing the roaring stove instead of me.

“There was a witch here, five years back.⁠ ⁠… But the boys drove her out of the village.”

“Where did they drive her to?”

“Where to? Into the forest, of course⁠ ⁠… where else? And they pulled her cottage down as well, so that there shouldn’t be a splinter of the cursed den left.⁠ ⁠… And they took her to the cross roads.⁠ ⁠…”

“Why did they treat her like that?”

“She did a great deal of harm. She quarrelled with everybody, poured poison beneath the cottages, tied knots in the corn.⁠ ⁠… Once she asked a village woman for fifteen kopeks. ‘I haven’t got a sixpence,’ says she. ‘Right,’ she says, ‘I’ll teach you not to give me a sixpence.’ And what do you think, sir? That very day the woman’s child began to be ill. It grew worse and worse and then died. Then it was that the boys drove her out⁠—curse her for a witch.”

“Well⁠ ⁠… where’s the witch now?” I was still curious.

“The witch?” Yarmola slowly repeated the question, as his habit was. “How should I know?”

“Didn’t she leave any relatives in the village?”

“No, not one. She didn’t come from our village; she came from the Big Russians, or the gipsies. I was still a tiny boy when she came to our village. She had a little girl with her, a daughter or grandchild.⁠ ⁠… They were both driven out.”

“Doesn’t anyone go to her now⁠—to get their fortunes told or to get medicine?”

“The womenfolk do,” Yarmola said scornfully.

“Ah, so it’s known where she lives?”

“I don’t know.⁠ ⁠… Folks say she lives somewhere near the Devil’s Corner.⁠ ⁠… You know the place⁠—the marsh behind the Trine road. She lives in that same marsh. May her mother burn in hell!”

“A witch living ten versts from my house⁠ ⁠… a real live Polyessie witch!” The idea instantly intrigued and excited me.

“Look here, Yarmola,” I said to the forester. “How could I get to know the witch?”

“Foo!” Yarmola spat in indignation. “That’s a nice thing!”

“Nice or nasty, I’m going to her all the same. As soon as it gets a little warmer, I’ll go off at once. You’ll come with me, of course?”

Yarmola was so struck by my last words that he jumped right off the floor.

“Me?” he cried indignantly. “Not for a million! Come what may, I’m not going with you.”

“Nonsense; of course, you’ll come.”

“No, sir, I will not⁠ ⁠… not for anything.⁠ ⁠… Me?” he cried again, seized with a new exasperation, “go to a witch’s den? God forbid! And I advise you not to either, sir.”

“As you please.⁠ ⁠… I’ll go all the same.⁠ ⁠… I’m very curious to see her.”

“There’s nothing curious there,” grunted Yarmola, angrily slamming the door of the stove.

An hour later, when he had taken the samovar off the table and drunk his tea in the dark passage and was preparing to go home, I asked him:

“What’s the witch’s name?”

“Manuilikha,” replied Yarmola with sullen rudeness.

Though he had never expressed his feelings, he seemed to have grown greatly attached to me. His affection came from our mutual passion for hunting, from my simple behaviour, the help I occasionally gave his perpetually hungry family, and above all, because I was the only person in the world who did not scold him for his drunkenness⁠—a thing intolerable to Yarmola. That was why my determination to make the acquaintance of the witch put him into such an ugly temper, which he relieved only by sniffing more vigorously, and finally by going off to the back-staircase and kicking his dog Riabchik with all his might. Riabchik jumped aside and began to howl desperately, but immediately ran after Yarmola, still whining.


About three days after the weather grew warmer. Very early one morning Yarmola came into my room and said carelessly:

“We shall have to clean the guns, sir.”

“Why?” I asked, stretching myself under the blankets.

“The hares have been busy in the night. There are any amount of tracks. Shall we go after them?”

I saw that Yarmola was waiting impatiently to go to the forest, but he hid his hunter’s passion beneath an assumed indifference. In fact, his single-barrelled gun was in the passage already. From that gun not a single woodcock had ever escaped, for all that it was adorned with a few tin patches, and spliced over the places where rust and powder gas had corroded the iron.

No sooner had we entered the forest than we came on a hare’s track. The hare broke out into the road, ran about fifty yards along it, and then made a huge leap into the fir plantation.

“Now, we’ll get him in a moment,” Yarmola said. “Since he’s shown himself, he’ll die here. You go, sir.⁠ ⁠…” He pondered, considering by certain signs known only to himself where he should post me. “You go to the old inn. And I’ll get round him from Zanilin. As soon as the dog starts him I’ll give you a shout.”

He disappeared instantly, as it were, plunging into a thick jungle of brushwood. I listened. Not a sound betrayed his poacher movements; not a twig snapped under his feet, in their bast shoes. Without hurrying myself I came to the inn, a ruined and deserted hut, and I stopped on the edge of a young pine forest beneath a tall fir with a straight bare trunk. It was quiet as it can be quiet only in a forest on a windless winter day. The branches were bent with the splendid lumps of snow which clung to them, and made them look wonderful, festive, and cold. Now and then a thin little twig broke off from the top, and with extreme clearness one could hear it as it fell with a tiny cracking noise, touching other twigs in its fall. The snow glinted rose in the sun and blue in the shadow. I fell under the quiet spell of the grave cold silence, and I seemed to feel time passing by me, slowly and noiselessly.

Suddenly far away in the thicket came the sound of Riabchik’s bark⁠—the peculiar bark of a dog following a scent, a thin, nervous, trilling bark that passes almost into a squeak. I heard Yarmola’s voice immediately, calling angrily after the dog: “Get him! Get him!” the first word in a long-drawn falsetto, the second in a short bass note.

Judging from the direction of the bark, I thought the dog must be running on my left, and I ran quickly across the meadow to get level with the hare. I hadn’t made twenty steps when a huge grey hare jumped out from behind a stump, laid back his long ears and ran leisurely across the road with high delicate leaps, and hid himself in a plantation. After him came Riabchik at full tilt. When he saw me he wagged his tail faintly, snapped at the snow several times with his teeth, and chased the hare again.

Suddenly Yarmola plunged out from the thicket as noiselessly as the dog.

“Why didn’t you get across him, sir?” he exclaimed, clicking his tongue reproachfully.

“But it was a long way⁠ ⁠… more than a couple of hundred yards.” Seeing my confusion, Yarmola softened.

“Well, it doesn’t matter.⁠ ⁠… He won’t get away from us. Go towards the Irenov road. He’ll come out there presently.”

I went towards the Irenov road, and in a couple of minutes I heard the dog on a scent again somewhere near me. I was seized with the excitement of the hunt and began to run, keeping my gun down, through a thick shrubbery, breaking the branches and giving no heed to the smart blows they dealt me. I ran for a very long time, and was already beginning to lose my wind, when the dog suddenly stopped barking. I slowed my pace. I had the idea that if I went straight on I should be sure to meet Yarmola on the Irenov road. But I soon realised that I had lost my way as I ran, turning the bushes and the stumps without a thought of where I was going. Then I began to shout to Yarmola. He made no answer.

Meanwhile I was going further. Little by little the forest grew thinner. The ground fell away and became full of little hillocks. The prints of my feet on the snow darkened and filled with water. Several times I sank in it to my knees. I had to jump from hillock to hillock; my feet sank in the thick brown moss which covered them as it were with a soft carpet.

Soon the shrubbery came to an end. In front of me there was a large round swamp, thinly covered with snow; out of the white shroud a few little mounds emerged. Among the trees on the other side of the swamp, the white walls of a hut could be seen. “It’s the Irenov gamekeeper lives there, probably,” I thought. “I must go in and ask the way.”

But it was not so easy to reach the hut. Every minute I sank in the bog. My high boots filled with water and made a loud sucking noise at every step, so that I could hardly drag them along.

Finally I managed to get through the marsh, climbed on top of a hillock from whence I could examine the hut thoroughly. It was not even a hut, but one of the chicken-legged erections of the fairy tales. The floor was not built on to the ground, but was raised on piles, probably because of the flood-water which covers all the Irenov forest in the spring. But one of the sides had subsided with age, and this gave the hut a lame and dismal appearance. Some of the window panes were missing; their place was filled by some dirty rags that bellied outwards.

I pressed the latch and opened the door. The room was very dark and violet circles swam before my eyes, which had so long been looking at the snow. For a long time I could not see whether there was anyone in the hut.

“Ah! good people, is anyone at home?” I asked aloud.

Something moved near the stove. I went closer and saw an old woman, sitting on the floor. A big heap of hen feathers lay before her. The old woman was taking each feather separately, tearing off the down into a basket. The quills she threw on to the floor.

“But it’s Manuilikha, the Irenov witch.” The thought flashed into my mind, as soon as I examined her a little more attentively. She had all the features of a witch, according to the folktales; her lean hollow cheeks descended to a long, sharp, hanging chin, which almost touched her hook nose. Her sunken, toothless mouth moved incessantly as though she were chewing something. Her faded eyes, once blue, cold, round, protruding, looked exactly like the eyes of a strange, ill-boding bird.

“How d’you do, granny?” I said as affably as I could. “Your name’s Manuilikha, isn’t it?”

Something began to bubble and rattle in the old woman’s chest by way of reply. Strange sounds came out of her toothless, mumbling mouth, now like the raucous cawing of an ancient crow, then changing abruptly into a hoarse, broken falsetto.

“Once, perhaps, good people called me Manuilikha.⁠ ⁠… But now they call me What’s-her-name, and duck’s the name they gave me. What do you want?” she asked in a hostile tone, without interrupting her monotonous occupation.

“You see, I’ve lost my way, granny. Do you happen to have any milk?”

“There’s no milk,” the old woman cut me short, angrily. “There’s a pack of people come straggling about the forest here.⁠ ⁠… You can’t keep them all in food and drink.⁠ ⁠…”

“You’re unkind to your guests, granny.”

“Quite true, my dear sir. I’m quite unkind. We don’t keep a store cupboard for you. If you’re tired, sit down a while. Nobody will turn you out. You know what the proverb says: ‘You can come and sit by our gate, and listen to the noise of a feasting; but we are clever enough to come to you for a dinner.’ That’s how it is.”

These turns of speech immediately convinced me that the old woman really was a stranger in those parts. The people there have no love for the expressive speech, adorned with curious words, which a Russian of the north so readily displays. Meanwhile the old woman continued her work mechanically, mumbling under her nose, quicker and more indistinctly all the while. I could catch only separate disconnected words. “There now, Granny Manuilikha.⁠ ⁠… And who he is nobody knows.⁠ ⁠… My years are not a few.⁠ ⁠… He fidgets his feet, chatters and gossips⁠—just like a magpie.⁠ ⁠…”

I listened for some time, and the sudden thought that I was with a mad woman aroused in me a feeling of revolting fear.

However, I had time to catch a glimpse of everything round me. A huge blistered stove occupied the greater part of the hut. There was no icon in the place of honour. On the walls, instead of the customary huntsmen with green moustaches and violet-coloured dogs, and unknown generals, hung bunches of dried herbs, bundles of withered stalks and kitchen utensils. I saw neither owl nor black cat; instead, two speckled fat starlings glanced at me from the stove with a surprised, suspicious air.

“Can’t I even have something to drink, granny?” I asked, raising my voice.

“It’s there, in the tub,” the old woman nodded.

The water tasted brackish, of the marsh. Thanking the old woman, though she paid me not the least attention, I asked her how I could get back to the road.

She suddenly lifted up her head, stared at me with her cold birdlike eyes, and murmured hurriedly:

“Go, go⁠ ⁠… young man, go away. You have nothing to do here. There’s a time for guests and a time for none.⁠ ⁠… Go, my dear sir, go.”

So nothing was left to me but to go. But there flashed into my mind a last resource to soften the sternness of the old woman, if only a little. I took out of my pocket a new silver sixpence and held it out to Manuilikha. I was not mistaken; at the sight of the money the old woman began to stir, her eyes widened, and she stretched out her crooked, knotted, trembling fingers for the coin.

“Oh no, Granny Manuilikha, I shan’t give it to you for nothing,” I teased, hiding the coin. “Tell me my fortune.”

The brown wrinkled face of the witch changed to a discontented grimace. She hesitated and looked irresolutely at my hand that closed over the coin. Her greed prevailed.

“Very well then, come on,” she mumbled, getting up from the floor with difficulty. “I don’t tell anybody’s fortune nowadays, my dear.⁠ ⁠… I have forgotten.⁠ ⁠… I am old, my eyes don’t see. But I’ll do it for you.”

Holding on to the wall, her bent body shaking at every step, she got to the table, took a pack of dirty cards, thick with age, and pushed them over to me.

“Take the cards, cut with your left hand.⁠ ⁠… Nearest the heart.”

Spitting on her fingers she began to spread the surround. As they fell on the table the cards made a noise like lumps of dough and arranged themselves in a correct eight-pointed star.⁠ ⁠… When the last card fell on its back and covered the king, Manuilikha stretched out her hand to me.

“Cross it with gold, my dear, and you will be happy, you will be rich,” she began to whine in a gipsy beggar’s voice.

I pushed the coin I had ready into her hand. Quick as a monkey, the old woman stowed it away in her jaw.

“Something very important is coming to you from afar off,” she began in the usual voluble way. “A meeting with the queen of diamonds, and some pleasant conversation in an important house. Very soon you will receive unexpected news from the king of clubs. Certain troubles are coming, and then a small legacy. You will be with a number of people; you will get drunk.⁠ ⁠… Not very drunk, but I can see a spree is there. Your life will be a long one. If you don’t die when you are sixty-seven, then.⁠ ⁠…”

Suddenly she stopped, and lifted up her head as though listening. I listened too. A woman’s voice sounded fresh, clear, and strong, approaching the hut singing. And I recognised the words of the charming Little Russian song:

“Ah, is it the blossom or not the bloom
That bends the little white hazel-tree?
Ah, is it a dream or not a dream
That bows my little head.⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, now, be off, my dear.” The old woman began to bustle about anxiously, pushing me away from the table. “You must not be knocking about in other people’s huts. Go your way.⁠ ⁠…”

She even seized me by the sleeve of my jacket and pulled me to the door. Her face showed an animal anxiety.

The singing came to an end abruptly, quite close to the hut. The iron latch rattled loudly, and in the open door a tall laughing girl appeared. With both hands she carefully held up her striped apron, out of which there peeped three tiny birds’ heads with red necks and black shiny eyes.

“Look, granny, the finches hopped after me again,” she cried, laughing. “Look, how funny they are. And, just as if on purpose, I had no bread with me.”

But seeing me she became silent and blushed crimson. Her thick black eyebrows frowned, and her eyes turned questioningly to the old woman.

“The gentleman came in here to ask the way,” the old woman explained. “Now, dear sir,” she turned to me, with a resolute look, “you have rested long enough. You have drunk some water, had a chat, and it’s time to go. We are not the folk for you.⁠ ⁠…”

“Look here, my dear,” I said to the girl. “Please show me the way to the Irenov road; otherwise I’ll stick in this marsh forever.”

It must have been that the kindly pleading tone in which I spoke impressed her. Carefully she put her little finches on the stove, side by side with the starlings, flung the overcoat which she had already taken off on to the bench, and silently left the hut.

I followed her.

“Are all your birds tame?” I asked, overtaking the girl.

“All tame,” she answered abruptly, not even glancing at me. “Now look,” she said, stopping by the wattle hedge. “Do you see the little footpath there, between the fir-trees? Can you see it?”

“Yes, I see.”

“Go straight along it. When you come to the oak stump, turn to your left. You must go straight on through the forest. Then you will come out on the Irenov road.”

All the while she directed me, pointing with her right hand, involuntarily I admired her. There was nothing in her like the local girls, whose faces have such a scared, monotonous look under the ugly headbands which cover their forehead, mouth, and chin. My unknown was a tall brunette from twenty to twenty-five years old, free and graceful. Her white shirt covered her strong young bosom loosely and charmingly. Once seen, the peculiar beauty of her face could not be forgotten; it was even difficult to get accustomed to it, to describe it. The charm lay in her large, shining, dark eyes, to which the thin arched eyebrows gave an indescribable air, shy, queenly, and innocent, and in the dusky pink of her skin, in the self-willed curl of her lips. Her underlip was fuller, and it was pushed forward a little, giving her a determined and capricious look.

“Are you really not afraid to live by yourselves in such a lonely spot?” I asked, stopping by the hedge.

She shrugged her shoulders indifferently.

“Why should we be afraid? The wolves do not come near us.”

“Wolves are not everything. Your hut might be smothered under the snow. The hut might catch on fire. Anything might happen. You two are there alone, no one could come to your assistance.”

“Thank God for that!” she waved her hand scornfully. “If granny and I were left alone entirely, it would be much better, but⁠—”


“You will get old, if you want to know so much,” she cut me short. “And who are you?” she asked anxiously.

I realised that probably the old woman and the girl were afraid of persecution from the authorities, and I hastened to reassure her.

“Oh, don’t be alarmed. I’m not the village policeman, or the clerk, or the exciseman.⁠ ⁠… I’m not an official at all.”

“Is that really true?”

“On my word of honour. Believe me, I am the most private person. I’ve simply come to stay here a few months, and then I’m going away. If you like, I won’t tell a soul that I’ve been here and seen you. Do you believe me?”

The girl’s face brightened a little.

“Well, then, if you’re not lying, you’re telling the truth. But tell me: had you heard about us, or did you come across us by accident?”

“I don’t quite know how to explain it myself.⁠ ⁠… Yes, I had heard, and I even wanted to call on you some time. But it was an accident that I came today, I lost my way. Now tell me: why are you afraid of people? What harm do they do you?”

She glanced at me with suspicion. But my conscience was clear, and I endured her scrutiny without a tremor. Then she began to speak, with increasing agitation.

“They do bad things.⁠ ⁠… Ordinary people don’t matter, but the officials.⁠ ⁠… The village policeman comes⁠—he must be bribed. The inspector⁠—pay again. And before he takes the bribe he insults my grandmother; says she’s a witch, a hag, a convict.⁠ ⁠… But what’s the good of talking?⁠ ⁠…”

“But don’t they touch you?” The imprudent question escaped my lips.

She drew up her head with proud self-confidence, and angry triumph flashed in her half-closed eyes.

“They don’t touch me.⁠ ⁠… Once a surveyor came near to me.⁠ ⁠… He wanted a kiss.⁠ ⁠… I don’t think he will have forgotten yet how I kissed him.”

So much harsh independence sounded in these proud, derisive words, that I involuntarily thought:

“You haven’t been bred in the Polyessie forest for nothing. You’re really a dangerous person to joke with.⁠ ⁠…”

“Do we touch anybody?” she continued as her confidence in me grew. “We do not want people. Once a year I go to the little town to buy soap and salt⁠ ⁠… and some tea for granny. She loves tea. Otherwise, I could do without them forever.”

“Well, I see you and your granny are not fond of people.⁠ ⁠… But may I come to see you sometimes for a little while?”

She laughed. How strange and unexpected was the change in her pretty face! There was no trace of her former sternness in it. It had in an instant become bright, shy, and childish.

“Whatever will you do with us? Granny and I are dull.⁠ ⁠… Why, come, if you like, and if you are really a good man. But⁠ ⁠… if you do happen to come, it would be better if you came without a gun.⁠ ⁠…”

“You’re afraid?”

“Why should I be afraid? I’m afraid of nothing.” Again I could catch in her voice her confidence in her strength. “But I don’t like it. Why do you kill birds, or hares even? They do nobody any harm, and they want to live as much as you or I. I love them; they are so tiny, and such little stupids.⁠ ⁠… Well, goodbye.” She began to hurry. “I don’t know your name.⁠ ⁠… I’m afraid granny will be cross with me.”

With easy swiftness she ran to the hut. She bent her head, and with her hands caught up her hair, blown loose in the wind.

“Wait, wait a moment,” I called. “What is your name? Let us be properly introduced.”

“My name’s Alyona.⁠ ⁠… Hereabouts they call me Olyessia.”

I shouldered my gun and went the way I had been shown. I climbed a small mound from whence a narrow, hardly visible, forest path began, and looked back. Olyessia’s red skirt, fluttering in the wind, could still be seen on the steps of the hut, a spot of bright colour on the smooth and blinding background of the snow.

An hour later Yarmola returned. As usual he avoided idle conversation, and asked me not a word of how and where I lost my way. He just said, casually:

“There.⁠ ⁠… I’ve left a hare in the kitchen.⁠ ⁠… Shall we roast it, or do you want to send it to anyone?”

“But you don’t know where I’ve been today, Yarmola?” I said, anticipating his surprise.

“How do you mean, I don’t know?” he muttered gruffly. “You went to the witch’s for sure.⁠ ⁠…”

“How did you find that out?”

“How could I help it? I heard no answer from you, so I went back on your tracks.⁠ ⁠… Sir!” he added in reproachful vexation, “you shouldn’t do such things.⁠ ⁠… It’s a sin!⁠ ⁠…”


That year spring came early. It was violent and, as always in Polyessie, unexpected. Brown, shining, turbulent streams began to run down the village streets, foaming angrily round the stones, whirling splinters and feathers along with it. In the huge pools of water was reflected the azure sky, with the round, spinning white clouds that swam in it. Heavy drops pattered noisily from the eaves. Flights of sparrows covered the roadside willows, and chattered with such noisy excitement that nothing could be heard above the clamour. Everywhere was felt the joyous, quick alarm of life.

The snow disappeared. Dirty yellow patches remained here and there in the hollows and the shady thickets. From beneath it peeped the warm wet soil, full of new sap after its winter sleep, full of thirst for a new maternity. Over the black fields swung a light vapour, filling the air with the scent of the thawed earth, with the fresh, penetrating, mighty smell of the spring, which one can distinguish even in the town from a hundred other smells. Together with this scent I felt that the sweet and tender sadness of spring poured into my soul, exuberant with restless expectations and vague presentiments, that romantic sadness which makes all women beautiful in one’s eyes, and is always tinged with indefinite regrets for the springs of the past. The nights grew warmer. In their thick moist darkness pulsed the unseen and urgent creation of Nature.

In those spring days the image of Olyessia never left me. Alone, I loved to lie down and close my eyes that I might better concentrate upon her. Continually in my imagination I summoned her up, now stern, now cunning, now with a tender smile resplendent in her face, her young body nurtured on the richness of the old forest to be as harmonious and mighty as a young fir-tree, her fresh voice with its sudden low velvety notes.⁠ ⁠… “In all her movements, and her words,” I thought, “there is a nobility, some native grace of modulation.” I was drawn to Olyessia also by the halo of mystery which surrounded her, her superstitious reputation as a witch, her life in the forest thicket amid the marsh, and above all her proud confidence in her own powers, that had shown through the few words she said to me.

Surely there is nothing strange in it that, so soon as the forest paths were dry, I set out for the hut with the chicken legs. In case it should be necessary to placate the querulous old woman I bore with me a half-pound of tea and a few handfuls of sugar.

I found them both at home. The old woman was moving about by the bright burning stove, and Olyessia was sitting on a very tall bench spinning flax. I banged the door as I entered, and she turned round. The thread snapped and the spindle rolled on to the floor.

For some time the old woman stared at me with angry intentness, frowning, and screening her face from the heat of the stove with her hand.

“How do you do, granny?” I said in a loud, hearty voice. “It must be you don’t recognise me. You remember I came in here last month to ask my way? You told me my fortune too.”

“I don’t remember anything, sir,” the old woman began to mumble, shaking her head with annoyance. “I remember nothing. I can’t make out at all what you’ve forgotten here. We are no company for you. We’re simple, plain folk.⁠ ⁠… There’s nothing for you here. The forest is wide, there’s room enough to wander.⁠ ⁠…”

Taken aback by the hostile reception, and utterly nonplussed, I found myself in the foolish situation of not knowing what to do: whether to turn the rudeness to a joke, or to take offence, or finally to turn and go back without a word. Involuntarily I turned to Olyessia with a look of helplessness. She gave me the faintest trace of a smile of derision, that was not wholly malicious, rose from the spinning-wheel and went to the old woman.

“Don’t be afraid, granny,” she said reassuringly. “He’s not a bad man. He won’t do us any harm. Please sit down,” she added, pointing me to a bench in the corner of honour, and paying no more attention to the old woman’s grumbling.

Encouraged by her attention, I suddenly decided to adopt the most decisive measures.

“But you do get angry, granny.⁠ ⁠… No sooner does a guest appear in your doorway than you begin to abuse him. And I had brought you a present,” I said, taking the parcels out of my bag.

The old woman threw a swift glance at the parcels; but instantly turned her back upon me.

Immediately, I handed her the tea and sugar. This soothed the old woman somewhat, for though she continued to grumble, it was no longer in the old implacable tone. Olyessia sat down to her yarn again, and I placed myself near to her, on a small, low, rickety stool. With her left hand Olyessia was swiftly twisting a white thread of flax, silky soft, and in her right the spindle whirled with an easy humming. Now she would let it fall almost to the floor; then she would catch it neatly, and with a quick movement of her fingers send it spinning round again. In her hands this work (which at the first glance appears so simple, but in truth demands the habit and dexterity of centuries), went like lightning. I could not help turning my eyes to those hands. They were coarsened and blackened by the work, but they were small and of shape so beautiful that many a princess would have envied them.

“You never told me that granny had told your fortune,” said Olyessia, and, seeing that I gave a cautious glance behind me, she added: “It’s quite all right, she’s rather deaf. She won’t hear. It’s only my voice she understands well.”

“Yes, she did. Why?”

“I just asked⁠ ⁠… nothing more.⁠ ⁠… And do you believe in it?” She gave a quick, stealthy glance.

“Believe what? The fortune your granny told me, or generally?”

“I mean generally.”

“I don’t quite know. It would be truer to say, I don’t believe in it, but still who knows? They say there are cases.⁠ ⁠… They write about it in clever books even. But I don’t believe what your granny told me at all. Any village woman could tell me as much.”

Olyessia smiled.

“Yes, nowadays she tells fortunes badly, it’s true. She’s old, and besides she’s very much afraid. But what did the cards say?”

“Nothing interesting. I can’t even remember it now. The usual kind of thing: a distant journey, something with clubs.⁠ ⁠… I’ve quite forgotten.”

“Yes, she’s a bad fortune-teller now. She’s grown so old that she has forgotten a great many words.⁠ ⁠… How could she? And she’s scared as well. It’s only the sight of money makes her consent to tell.”

“What’s she scared of?”

“The authorities, of course.⁠ ⁠… The village policeman comes, and threatens her every time. ‘I can have you put away at any minute,’ he says. ‘You know what people like you get for witchcraft? Penal servitude for life on Hawk Island.’ Tell me what you think. Is it true?”

“It’s not altogether a lie. There is some punishment for doing it, but not so bad as all that.⁠ ⁠… And you, Olyessia, can you tell fortunes?”

It was as though she were perplexed, but only for a second.

“I can.⁠ ⁠… But not for money,” she added hastily.

“You might put out the cards for me?”

“No,” she answered with quiet resolution, shaking her head.

“Why won’t you? Very well, some other time.⁠ ⁠… Somehow I believe you will tell me the truth.”

“No. I will not. I won’t do it for anything.”

“Oh, that’s not right, Olyessia. For first acquaintance’ sake you can’t refuse.⁠ ⁠… Why don’t you want to?”

“Because I’ve put out the cards for you already. It’s wrong to do it twice.”

“Wrong? But why? I don’t understand it.”

“No, no, it’s wrong, wrong,” she began to whisper with superstitious dread. “It’s forbidden to ask twice of Fate. It’s not right. Fate will discover, overhear.⁠ ⁠… She does not like to be asked. That’s why all fortune-tellers are unhappy.”

I wanted to make a jesting reply to Olyessia; but I could not. There was too much sincere conviction in her words; and when she turned her head to the door in a strange fear as she uttered the word Fate, in spite of myself I turned with her.

“Well, if you won’t want to tell me my fortune now, tell me what the cards have told you already,” I begged.

Olyessia suddenly gave a turn to the spinning-wheel, and with her hand touched mine.

“No!⁠ ⁠… better not,” she said. A childlike, imploring look came into her eyes. “Please, don’t ask me.⁠ ⁠… There was nothing good in it.⁠ ⁠… Better not ask.”

But I insisted. I could not understand whether her refusal and her dark allusions to Fate were the deliberate trick of a fortune-teller, or whether she herself really believed what she said. But I became rather uneasy; what was almost a dread took hold of me.

“Well, I’ll tell you, perhaps,” Olyessia finally consented. “But listen; a bargain’s better than money; don’t be angry if you don’t like what I say. The cards said that though you are a good man, you are only a weak one.⁠ ⁠… Your goodness is not sound, nor quite sincere. You are not master of your word. You love to have the whip-hand of people, and yet, though you yourself do not want to, you submit to them. You are fond of wine and⁠—Well, if I’ve got to say, I’ll say everything right to the last.⁠ ⁠… You are very fond of women, and because of that you will have much evil in your life.⁠ ⁠… You do not value money and you cannot save. You will never be rich.⁠ ⁠… Shall I go on?”

“Go on, go on, say everything you know!”

“The cards said too that your life will not be a happy one. You will never love with your heart, because your heart is cold and dull, and you will cause great sorrow to those who love you. You will never marry; you will die a bachelor. There will be no great joys in your life, but much weariness and depression.⁠ ⁠… There will come a time when you will want to put an end to your life.⁠ ⁠… That will come to you, but you will not dare, you will go on enduring. You will suffer great poverty, but towards the end your fate will be changed through the death of someone near you, quite unexpected. But all this will be in years to come; but this year⁠ ⁠… I don’t know exactly when⁠ ⁠… the cards say very soon⁠ ⁠… maybe this very month⁠—”

“What will happen this year?” I asked when she stopped again.

“I’m afraid to tell you any more.⁠ ⁠… A great love will come to you through the queen of clubs. Only I can’t see whether she is married or a girl, but I know that she has dark hair.⁠ ⁠…”

Involuntarily I gave a swift glance to Olyessia’s head.

“Why are you looking at me?” she blushed suddenly, feeling my glance, with the sensitiveness peculiar to some women. “Well, yes, something like mine,” she continued, mechanically arranging her hair, and blushing still more.

“So you say, a great love from clubs?” I laughed.

“Don’t laugh. It’s no use laughing,” Olyessia said seriously, almost sternly. “I’m only telling you the truth.”

“Well, I won’t laugh any more, I promise. What is there more?”

“More.⁠ ⁠… Oh! Evil will come upon the queen of clubs, worse than death. She will suffer a great disgrace through you, one that she will never be able to forget; she will have an everlasting sorrow.⁠ ⁠… In her planet no harm comes to you.”

“Tell me, Olyessia. Couldn’t the cards deceive you? Why should I do so many unpleasant things to the queen of clubs? I am a quiet unassuming fellow, yet you’ve said so many awful things about me.”

“I don’t know that.⁠ ⁠… The cards showed that it’s not you will do it⁠—I mean, not on purpose⁠—but all this misfortune will come through you.⁠ ⁠… You’ll remember my words, when they come true.”

“The cards told you all this, Olyessia?”

She did not answer at once, and then as though evasive and reluctant:

“The cards as well.⁠ ⁠… But even without them I learn a great deal, just by the face alone. If, for instance, someone is going to die soon by an ugly death, I can read it immediately in his face. I need not speak to him, even.”

“What do you see in his face?”

“I don’t know myself. I suddenly feel afraid, as though he were a dead man standing before me. Just ask granny, she will tell you that it’s the truth I’m saying. The year before last, Trophim the miller hung himself in his mill. Only two days before I saw him and said to granny: ‘Just look, granny, Trophim will die an ugly death soon.’ And so it was. Again, last Christmas Yashka the horse thief came to us and asked granny to tell his fortune. Granny put out the cards for him and began. He asked, joking: ‘Tell me what sort of death will I have?’ and he laughed. The moment I glanced at him, I could not move. I saw Yashka sitting there, but his face was dead, green.⁠ ⁠… His eyes were shut, his lips black.⁠ ⁠… A week afterwards we heard that the peasants had caught Yashka just as he was trying to take some horses off.⁠ ⁠… They beat him all night long.⁠ ⁠… They are bad people here, merciless.⁠ ⁠… They drove nails into his heels, smashed his ribs with stakes, and he gave up the ghost about dawn.”

“Why didn’t you tell him that misfortune was waiting for him?”

“Why should I tell?” Olyessia replied. “Can a man escape what Fate has doomed? It is useless for a man to be anxious the last days of his life.⁠ ⁠… And I loathe myself for seeing these things. I am disgusted with my own self.⁠ ⁠… But what can I do? It is mine by Fate. When granny was younger she could see Death, too; so could my mother and granny’s mother⁠—we are not responsible. It is in our blood.⁠ ⁠…”

She left off her spinning, bent her head and quietly placed her hands upon her knees. In her arrested, immobile eyes and her wide pupils was reflected some dark terror, an involuntary submission to mysterious powers and supernatural knowledge which cast a shadow upon her soul.


Then the old woman spread a clean cloth with embroidered ends on the table, and placed a steaming pot upon it.

“Come to supper, Olyessia,” she called to her granddaughter, and after a moment’s hesitation added, turning to me: “Perhaps you will eat with us too, sir? Our food is very plain; we have no soup, only plain groats.⁠ ⁠…”

I cannot say there was any particular insistence in her invitation, and I was already minded to refuse had not Olyessia in her turn invited me with such simplicity and a smile so kind, that in spite of myself I agreed. She herself poured me out a plateful of groats, a porridge of buckwheat and fat, onion, potato and chicken, an amazingly tasty and nourishing dish. Neither grandmother nor granddaughter crossed themselves as they sat down to table. During supper I continually watched both women, because up till now I have retained a deep conviction that a person is nowhere revealed so clearly as when he eats. The old woman swallowed the porridge with hasty greed, chewing aloud and pushing large pieces of bread into her mouth, so that big lumps rose and moved beneath her flabby cheeks. In Olyessia’s manner of eating even there was a native grace.

An hour later, after supper, I took my leave of my hostesses of the chicken-legged hut.

“I will walk with you a little way, if you like,” Olyessia offered.

“What’s this walking out you’re after?” the old woman mumbled angrily. “You can’t stay in your place, you gadfly.⁠ ⁠…”

But Olyessia had already put a red cashmere shawl on. Suddenly she ran up to her grandmother, embraced her and gave her a loud kiss.

“Dear little precious granny.⁠ ⁠… It’s only a moment. I’ll be back in a second.”

“Very well, then, madcap.” The old woman feebly wrenched herself away. “Don’t misunderstand her, sir; she’s very stupid.”

Passing a narrow path we came out into the forest road, black with mud, all churned with hoof marks and rutted with wheel tracks, full of water, in which the fire of the evening star was reflected. We walked at the side of the road, covered everywhere with the brown leaves of last year, not yet dry after the snow. Here and there through the dead yellow big wakening bluebells⁠—the earliest flowers in Polyessie⁠—lifted their lilac heads.

“Listen, Olyessia,” I began; “I very much want to ask you something, but I am afraid you will be cross.⁠ ⁠… Tell me, is it true what they say about your grandmother?⁠ ⁠… How shall I express it?”

“She’s a witch?” Olyessia quietly helped me out.

“No.⁠ ⁠… Not a witch,” I caught her up. “Well, yes, a witch if you like.⁠ ⁠… Certainly, people say such things. Why shouldn’t one know certain herbs, remedies, and charms?⁠ ⁠… But if you find it unpleasant, you need not answer.”

“But why not?” she answered simply. “Where’s the unpleasantness? Yes, it’s true, she’s a witch. But now she’s grown old and can no longer do what she did before.”

“And what did she do before?” I was curious.

“All kinds of things. She could cure illness, heal toothache, put a spell on a mine, pray over anyone who was bitten by a mad dog or a snake, she could find out treasure trove.⁠ ⁠… It is impossible to tell one everything.”

“You know, Olyessia, you must forgive me, but I don’t believe it all. Be frank with me. I shan’t tell anybody; but surely this is all a pretence in order to mystify people?”

She shrugged her shoulders indifferently.

“Think what you like. Of course, it’s easy to mystify a woman from the village, but I wouldn’t deceive you.”

“You really believe in witchcraft, then?”

“How could I disbelieve? Charms are in our destiny. I can do a great deal myself.”

“Olyessia, darling,⁠ ⁠… if you only knew how interested I was.⁠ ⁠… Won’t you really show me anything?”

“I’ll show you, if you like.” Olyessia readily consented. “Would you like me to do it now?”

“Yes, at once, if possible.”

“You won’t be afraid?”

“What next? I might be afraid at night perhaps, but it is still daylight.”

“Very well. Give me your hand.”

I obeyed. Olyessia quickly turned up the sleeve of my overcoat and unfastened the button of my cuff. Then she took a small Finnish knife about three inches long out of her pocket, and removed it from its leather case.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, for a mean fear had awakened in me.

“You will see immediately.⁠ ⁠… But you said you wouldn’t be afraid.”

Suddenly her hand made a slight movement, hardly perceptible. I felt the prick of the sharp blade in the soft part of my arm a little higher than the pulse. Instantly blood showed along the whole width of the cut, flowed over my hand, and began to drop quickly on to the earth. I could hardly restrain a cry, and I believe I grew pale.

“Don’t be afraid. You won’t die,” Olyessia smiled.

She seized my arm above the cut, bent her face down upon it, and began to whisper something quickly, covering my skin with her steady breathing. When she stood up again unclasping her fingers, on the wounded place only a red graze remained.

“Well, have you had enough?” she asked with a sly smile, putting her little knife away. “Would you like some more?”

“Certainly, I would. Only if possible not quite so terrible and without bloodshed, please.”

“What shall I show you?” she mused. “Well, this will do. Walk along the road in front of me. But don’t look back.”

“This won’t be terrible?” I asked, trying to conceal my timid apprehensions of an unpleasant surprise with a careless smile.

“No, no.⁠ ⁠… Quite trifling.⁠ ⁠… Go on.”

I went ahead, very much intrigued by the experiment, feeling Olyessia’s steady glance behind my back. But after about a dozen steps I suddenly stumbled on a perfectly even piece of ground and fell flat.

“Go on, go on!” cried Olyessia. “Don’t look back! It’s nothing at all. It will be all right before your wedding day.⁠ ⁠… Keep a better grip on the ground next time, when you’re going to fall.”

I went on. Another ten steps, and a second time I fell my full length.

Olyessia began to laugh aloud and to clap her hands.

“Well, are you satisfied now?” she cried, her white teeth gleaming. “Do you believe it now? It’s nothing, nothing.⁠ ⁠… You flew down instead of up.”

“How did you manage that?” I asked in surprise, shaking the little clinging twigs and blades of grass from my clothes. “Is it a secret?”

“Not at all. I’ll tell you with pleasure. Only I’m afraid that perhaps you won’t understand.⁠ ⁠… I shan’t be able to explain.⁠ ⁠…”

Indeed, I did not understand her altogether. But, as far as I can make out, this odd trick consists in her following my footsteps, step by step, in time with me. She looks at me steadily, trying to imitate my every movement down to the least; as it were, she identifies herself with me. After a few steps she begins to imagine a rope drawn across the road a certain distance in front of me⁠—a yard from the ground. The moment my foot is touching this imaginary rope, Olyessia suddenly pretends to fall, and then, as she says, the strongest man must infallibly fall.⁠ ⁠… I remembered Olyessia’s confused explanation long afterwards when I read Charcot’s report on the experiments which he made on two women patients in the Salpêtrière, who were professional witches suffering from hysteria. I was greatly surprised to discover that French witches who came from the common people employed exactly the same science in the same cases as the beautiful witch of Polyessie.

“Oh, I can do a great many things besides,” Olyessia boldly declared. “For instance, I can put a fear into you.⁠ ⁠…”

“What does that mean?”

“I’ll act so that you feel a great dread. Suppose you are sitting in your room in the evening. Suddenly for no reason at all such a fear will take hold of you that you will begin to tremble and won’t dare to turn round. But for this I must know where you live and see your room beforehand.”

“Well, that’s quite a simple affair.” I was sceptical. “You only have to come close to the window, tap on it, call out something or other.⁠ ⁠…”

“Oh no!⁠ ⁠… I shall be in the forest at the time. I won’t go out of the hut.⁠ ⁠… But I will sit down and think all the while: I’ll think that I am walking along the road, entering your house, opening the door, coming into your room.⁠ ⁠… You’re sitting somewhere; at the table, say.⁠ ⁠… I walk up to you from behind quietly and stealthily.⁠ ⁠… You don’t hear me.⁠ ⁠… I seize your shoulder with my hands and begin to squeeze⁠ ⁠… stronger, stronger, stronger.⁠ ⁠… I stare at you, just like this. Look!⁠ ⁠…”

Her thin eyebrows suddenly closed together. Her eyes were fixed upon me in a stare, fascinating, threatening. Her pupils dilated and became blue. Instantly I remembered a Medusa’s head, the work of a painter I have forgotten, in the Trietyakov Gallery in Moscow. Beneath this strange look I was seized by a cold terror of the supernatural.

“Well, that’ll do, Olyessia.⁠ ⁠… That’s enough,” I said with a forced laugh. “I much prefer you when you smile. Your face is so kind and childlike.”

We went on. I suddenly recollected the expressiveness of Olyessia’s conversation⁠—elegance even for a simple girl⁠—and I said:

“Do you know what surprises me in you, Olyessia? You’ve grown up in the forest without seeing a soul.⁠ ⁠… Of course, you can’t read very much.⁠ ⁠…”

“I can’t read at all.”

“Well, that makes it all the more.⁠ ⁠… Yet you speak as well as a real lady. Tell me, where did you learn it? You understand what I mean?”

“Yes, I understand. It’s from granny. You mustn’t judge her by her appearance. She is so clever! Some day she may speak when you are there, when she has become used to you. She knows everything, everything on earth that you can ask her. It’s true she’s old now.”

“Then she has seen a great deal in her lifetime. Where does she come from? Where did she live before?”

It seemed that these questions did not please Olyessia. She hesitated to answer, evasive and reluctant.

“I don’t know.⁠ ⁠… She doesn’t like to talk of that herself. If ever she says anything about it, she asks you to forget it, to put it quite out of mind.⁠ ⁠… But it’s time for me.⁠ ⁠…” Olyessia hastened, “Granny will be cross. Goodbye.⁠ ⁠… Forgive me, but I don’t know your name.”

I gave her my name.

“Ivan Timofeyevich? Well, that’s all right. Goodbye, Ivan Timofeyevich! Don’t disdain our hut. Come sometimes.”

I held out my hand at parting, and her small strong hand responded with a vigorous friendly grip.


From that day I began to be a frequent visitor to the chicken-legged house. Every time I came Olyessia met me with her usual dignified reserve. But I always could tell, by the first involuntary she made on seeing me, that she was glad that I had come. The old woman still went on grumbling as she used, muttering under her nose, but she expressed no open malevolence, owing to her granddaughter’s intercession, of which I was certain though I had not witnessed it. Also, the presents I would bring her from time to time made a considerable impression in my favour⁠—a warm shawl, a pot of jam, a bottle of cherry brandy. As though by tacit consent, Olyessia began to make a habit of accompanying me as far as the Irenov road as I went home. And there always began such a lively interesting conversation, that involuntarily we both made an effort to prolong the journey, walking as slowly as possible in the silent fringes of the forest. When we came to the Irenov road, I went back half a mile with her, and even then before we parted we would stand talking for a long while beneath the fragrant shade of the pine branches.

It was not only Olyessia’s beauty that fascinated me, but her whole free independent nature, her mind at once clear and enwrapped in unshakable ancestral superstitions, childlike and innocent, yet not wholly devoid of the sly coquetry of the handsome woman. She never tired of asking me every detail concerning things which stirred her bright unspoiled imagination⁠—countries and peoples, natural phenomena, the order of the earth and the universe, learned men, large towns.⁠ ⁠… Many things seemed to her wonderful, fairy, incredible. But from the very beginning of our acquaintance I took such a serious, sincere, and simple tone with her that she readily put a complete trust in all my stories. Sometimes when I was at a loss for an explanation of something which I thought was too difficult for her half-savage mind⁠—it was often by no means clear to my own⁠—I answered her eager questions with, “You see.⁠ ⁠… I shan’t be able to explain this to you.⁠ ⁠… You won’t understand me.”

Then she would begin to entreat me.

“Please tell me, please, I’ll try.⁠ ⁠… Tell me somehow, though⁠ ⁠… even if it’s not clear.”

She forced me to have recourse to preposterous comparisons and incredibly bold analogies, and when I was at a loss for a suitable expression she would help me out with a torrent of impatient conclusions, like those which we offer to a stammerer. And, indeed, in the end her pliant mobile mind and her fresh imagination triumphed over my pedagogic impotence. I became convinced that, considering her environment and her education (rather, lack of education) her abilities were amazing.

Once I happened in passing to mention Petersburg. Olyessia was instantly intrigued.

“What is Petersburg? A small town?”

“No, it’s not a small one. It’s the biggest Russian city.”

“The biggest? The very largest of all? There isn’t one bigger?” she insisted naively.

“The largest of all. The chief authorities live there⁠ ⁠… the big folks. The houses there are all made of stone; there aren’t any wooden ones.”

“Of course, it’s much bigger than our Stiepany?” Olyessia asked confidently.

“Oh, yes. A good bit bigger. Say five hundred times as big. There are houses there so big that twice as many people live in a single one of them as in the whole of Stiepany.”

“My God! What kind of houses can they be?” Olyessia asked almost in fright.

“Terrible houses. Five, six, even seven stories. You see that fir tree there?”

“The tall one. I see.”

“Houses as tall as that, and they’re crammed with people from top to bottom. The people live in wretched little holes, like birds in cages, ten people in each, so that there isn’t enough air to breathe. Some of them live downstairs, right under the earth, in the damp and cold. They don’t see the sun from one end of the year to the other, some of them.”

“Nothing would make me change my forest for your city,” Olyessia said, shaking her head. “Even when I go to the market at Stiepany, I’m disgusted. They push, shout, swear⁠ ⁠… and I have such a longing for the forest, that I want to throw everything away and run and never look back. God may have your city: I don’t want to live there.”

“But what if your husband comes from a town?” I asked with the trace of a smile.

Her eyebrows frowned and her nostrils trembled.

“What next!” she said with scorn. “I don’t want a husband.”

“You say that now, Olyessia. Nearly every girl says the same, but still they marry. You wait a bit: you’ll meet somebody and you’ll fall in love⁠—and you’ll follow him, not only to town, but to the end of the earth.”

“No, no.⁠ ⁠… We won’t talk of that, please,” she cut me short in vexation. “Why should we talk like this? I ask you not to.”

“How funny you are, Olyessia. Do you really believe you’ll never love a man in your life? You’re so young, handsome, strong. If your blood once catches fire, no oaths of yours will help you.”

“Well,⁠ ⁠… then, I’ll love,” Olyessia answered with a challenge in her flashing eyes. “I shan’t ask anybody’s leave.”

“So you’ll have to marry too,” I teased her.

“I suppose you’re meaning the church?” she guessed.

“Exactly⁠—the church. The priest will lead you round the altar; the deacon will sing, ‘Isaiah, rejoice!’ they’ll put a crown on your head.⁠ ⁠…”

Olyessia cast down her eyes and shook her head, faintly smiling.

“No, dear.⁠ ⁠… Perhaps you won’t like what I say, but in our family no one was ever married in church. My mother and my grandmother before her managed to live without that.⁠ ⁠… Besides, we must not enter a church.⁠ ⁠…”

“All because of your witchery?”

“Yes, because of our witchery,” Olyessia replied with a calm seriousness. “How could I dare to appear in a church? From my very birth my soul was sold to Him.”

“Olyessia, dear.⁠ ⁠… Believe me, you’re deceiving yourself. It’s wild and ridiculous what you say.”

Once more there appeared on Olyessia’s face the strange expression of convinced and gloomy submissiveness to her mysterious destiny, which I had noticed before.

“No, no.⁠ ⁠… You can’t understand it.⁠ ⁠… But I feel it.⁠ ⁠… Just here.⁠ ⁠…” She pressed her hand strongly to her heart. “I feel it in my soul. All our family is cursed for ever and ever. But think yourself, who is it that helps us if it is not He? Can an ordinary person do the things I can do? All our power comes from Him.”

Every time our conversation touched upon this strange theme it ended in the same way. In vain I exhausted every argument to which Olyessia was sensible; in vain I spoke in simple terms of hypnotism, suggestion, mental doctors, and Indian fakirs; in vain I endeavoured to explain certain of her experiments by physiology, such, for instance, as blood charming, which is easily produced by skilful pressure on a vein. Still Olyessia, who believed me so implicitly in all else, refuted all my arguments and explanations with obstinate insistence.

“Very well, I’ll make you a present of blood charming,” she said, raising her voice in the heat of the discussion. “But where do the other things come from? Is blood charming the only thing I know? Would you like me to take away all the mice and beetles from a hut in a single day? If you like, I’ll cure the most violent fever in two days with plain cold water, even though all your doctors give the patient up. I can make you forget any word you like, completely? And how is it I interpret dreams? How is it I can see the future?”

The discussion always ended by our mutual silence, from which a certain inward irritation against each other was not wholly absent. Indeed, for much of her black art I could find no explanation in my small science. I do not know and cannot say whether Olyessia possessed one half the secrets of which she spoke with such naive belief. But the things which I frequently witnessed planted an unshakable conviction in me that Olyessia had access to that strange knowledge, unconscious, instinctive, dim, acquired only by accidental experience, which has outrun exact science for centuries, and lives intertwined with wild and ridiculous superstitions, in the obscure impenetrable heart of the masses, where it is transmitted from one generation to another as the greatest of all secrets.

For all our disagreement on this single point, we became more and more strongly attached to one another. Not a word had been spoken between us of love as yet, but it had become a necessity for us to be together; and often in moments of silence I saw Olyessia’s eyes moisten, and a thin blue vein on her temple begin to pulse.

But my relations with Yarmola were quite ruined. Evidently my visits to the chicken-legged hut were no secret to him, nor were my evening walks with Olyessia. With amazing exactness, he always knew everything that went on in the forest. For some time I noticed that he had begun to avoid me. His black eyes watched me from a distance, with reproach and discontent every time I went out to walk in the forest, though he did not express his reproof by so much as a single word. Our comically serious studies in reading and writing came to an end; and if I occasionally called Yarmola in to learn during the evening he would only wave his hand.

“What’s the good? It’s a peggling business, sir!” he would say with lazy contempt.

Our hunting also ceased. Every time I began to talk of it, Yarmola found some excuse or other for refusing. Either his gun was out of order, or his dog was ill, or he was too busy. “I have no time, sir.⁠ ⁠… I have to be ploughing today,” was Yarmola’s usual answer to my invitation; but I knew quite well that he would do no ploughing at all, but spend a good hour outside the inn in the doubtful hope of somebody standing him a drink. This silent, concealed animosity began to weary me, and I began to think of dispensing with Yarmola’s services, on the first suitable occasion.⁠ ⁠… I was restrained only by a sense of pity for his enormous poverty-stricken family, whom Yarmola’s four weekly roubles just saved from starvation.


Once when I came to the chicken-legged hut, as my habit was, just before dark, I was immediately struck by the anxiety of its occupants. The old woman sat with her feet on the bed, hunched up, and swayed to and fro with her head in her hands, murmuring something I could not catch. She paid no attention to my greeting. Olyessia welcomed me kindly as always, but our conversation made no headway. She listened to me absently and answered me inconsequently. On her beautiful face lay the shadow of some unceasing secret trouble.

“Something bad has happened to you, Olyessia, I can see,” I said cautiously, touching her hand which lay on the bench.

Olyessia quickly turned her face to the window, as though she were examining something. She tried to look calm, but her eyebrows drew together and trembled, and her teeth violently bit her under lip.

“No,⁠ ⁠… what could have happened to us?” she said with a dull voice. “Everything is just as it was.”

“Olyessia, why don’t you tell me the truth? It’s wrong of you.⁠ ⁠… I thought that we had become real friends.”

“It’s nothing, really.⁠ ⁠… Nothing.⁠ ⁠… Our troubles⁠ ⁠… trifles.”

“No, Olyessia, they don’t seem to be trifles. You’re not like yourself.”

“That’s only your fancy.”

“Be frank with me, Olyessia. I don’t know whether I can help, but I can give you some advice perhaps.⁠ ⁠… And, anyhow, you’ll feel better when you’ve shared your trouble.”

“But it’s really not worth talking about,” Olyessia replied impatiently. “You can’t possibly help us at all, now.”

Suddenly, with unexpected passion, the old woman broke into the conversation.

“Why are you so stubborn, you little fool? Someone talks business to you, and you hold up your nose. As if nobody in the world was cleverer than you! If you please, sir, I’ll tell you the whole story,” she said, turning towards me, “beginning with the beginning.”

The trouble appeared much more considerable than I could have supposed from Olyessia’s proud words. The evening before, the local policeman had come to the chicken-legged hut.

“First he sat down, nice and politely, and asked for vodka,” Manuilikha said, “and then he began and went on and on. ‘Clear out of the hut in twenty-four hours with all your belongings. If I come next time,’ he says, ‘and find you here, then I tell you, you’ll go to jail. I’ll send you away with a couple of soldiers to your native place, curse you.’ But you know, sir, my native place is hundreds of miles away, the town of Amchensk.⁠ ⁠… I haven’t a soul there now who knows me. Our passports have been out of date for years, and besides they aren’t in order. Ah, my God, what misfortune!”

“Then why did he let you live here before, and only just now made up his mind?”

“How can I tell?⁠ ⁠… He shouted out something or other, but I confess I couldn’t understand it. You see how it is: this hole we live in isn’t ours. It belongs to the landlord. Olyessia and I used to live in the village before, but the⁠—”

“Yes, yes, I know, granny. I’ve heard about that. The peasants got angry with you⁠—”

“That’s it, exactly. So I begged this hut from the old landlord, Mr. Abrossimov. Now, they say a new landlord has bought the forest, and it seems he wants to drain some marshes. But what can I do?”

“Perhaps it’s all a lie, granny,” I said. “And the sergeant only wants to get a pound out of you.”

“But I offered it to him, I offered it, sir. He wouldn’t take it. It’s a strange business.⁠ ⁠… I offered him three pounds, but he wouldn’t take it.⁠ ⁠… It was awful. He swore at me so badly that I didn’t know where I was. All the while he went on saying: ‘Be off with you, be off!’ What can we do now? We’re alone in the world. Good sir, you might manage to help us in some way. You could speak to him; his belly’s never satisfied. I’m sure I’d be grateful to you eternally.”

“Granny!” said Olyessia, in a slow reproachful voice.

“What do you mean, ‘Granny!’ ” The old woman was annoyed. “Twenty-five years I’ve been a granny to you. And what’s your opinion; it’s better to carry a beggar’s pack? No, don’t listen to her, sir! Of your charity, do something for us if you can.”

I gave her vague promises to take some steps, though, to tell the truth I could see but little hope. If our sergeant wouldn’t take money, then the affair must be very serious. That evening Olyessia parted from me coldly, and, quite against her usual habit, did not walk with me. I could see that the proud girl was angry with me for interfering, and rather ashamed of her grandmother’s whimpering.


It was a warm, greyish morning. Several times already there had been brief showers of heavy fruitful rain, which makes the young grass grow before your eyes and the new shoots stretch out. After the rain the sun peeped out for a moment, pouring its joyous glitter over the tender green of the lilac bushes, sodden with the rain, which made all my hedge. The sparrows’ impetuous chirrup grew louder among the lush gardenbeds, and the scent of the sticky brown poplar buds came sweeter. I was sitting at the table, drawing a plan of timber to be felled, when Yarmola entered the room.

“The sergeant’s here,” he said gloomily.

At the moment I had completely forgotten that I had ordered him a couple of days ago to let me know in case the sergeant were to pass. It was impossible for me to understand immediately what was the connection between me and the delegate of authority.

“What?” I said in confusion.

“I say the sergeant’s here,” Yarmola repeated in the same hostile tone that he normally assumed towards me during the last days. “I saw him on the dam just now. He’s coming here.”

There was a rumble of wheels on the road outside. A long thin chocolate-coloured gelding with a hanging under lip, and an insulted look on its face, gravely trotted up with a tall, jolting, basket gig. There was only a single trace. The place of the other was supplied by a piece of stout rope. (Malicious tongues asserted that the sergeant had put this miserable contraption together on purpose to avoid any undesirable comments.) The sergeant himself held the reins, filling both seats with his enormous body, which was wrapped in a grey uniform made of smart military cloth.

“Good day to you, Evpsychyi Afrikanovich!” I called, leaning out of the window.

“Ah, good day! How do you do?” he answered in a loud, courteous, official baritone.

He drew up his horse, saluted with straightened palm, and bent his body forward with elephantine grace.

“Come in for a moment. I’ve got a little business with you.”

The sergeant spread his hands wide and shook his head.

“Can’t possibly. I’m on duty. I’ve got to go to Volocha for an inquest⁠—man drowned.”

But I knew Evpsychyi’s weak points; so I said with assumed indifference:

“It’s a pity⁠ ⁠… a great pity⁠ ⁠… and I’ve got a couple of bottles of the best from Count Vortzel’s cellar.⁠ ⁠…”

“Can’t manage it.⁠ ⁠… Duty.”

“The butler sold them to me, because he’s an acquaintance of mine. He’d brought them up in the cellar, like his own children.⁠ ⁠… You ought to come in.⁠ ⁠… I’ll tell them to give the horse a feed.”

“You’re a nice one, you are,” the sergeant said in reproof. “Don’t you know that duty comes first of all?⁠ ⁠… What’s in the bottles, though? Plum wine?”

“Plum wine!” I waved my hand. “It’s the real old stuff, that’s what it is, my dear sir!”

“I must confess I’ve just had a bite and a drop.” The sergeant scratched his cheek regretfully, wrinkling his face incredibly.

I continued with the same calm.

“I don’t know whether it’s true; but the butler swore it was two hundred years old. It smells just like an old cognac, and it’s as yellow as amber.”

“Ah, what are you doing with me?” said the sergeant. “Who’ll hold my horse?”

I really had some bottles of the old liqueur, though it was not quite so old as I made out; but I thought that suggestion might easily add a hundred years to its age.⁠ ⁠… At any rate it was the real home-distilled, omnipotent stuff, the pride of a ruined magnate’s cellar. (Evpsychyi Afrikanovich, who was the son of a parson, immediately begged a bottle from me, in case, as he put it, he were to catch a bad cold.) Besides, I had some very conducive hors d’oeuvre: young radishes, with fresh churned butter.

“Now, what’s the little business?” the sergeant asked after his fifth glass, throwing himself back in the old chair which groaned under him.

I began to explain the position of the poor old woman; I dwelt on her hopeless despair; spoke lightly of useless formalities. The sergeant listened to me with his head bent down, methodically clearing the small roots from the succulent red radishes, and chewing and crunching them with relish. Now and then he gave me a quick glance with his cloudy, indifferent, preposterously little blue eyes; but I could read nothing on his great red face, neither sympathy nor opposition. When I finally became silent, he only asked.

“Well, what is it you want from me?”

“What do you mean?” I became agitated. “Look at their position, please⁠—two poor defenceless women living there⁠—”

“And one of them’s a perfect little bud!” the sergeant put in maliciously.

“Bud or no bud⁠—that doesn’t come into it. But why shouldn’t you take some interest in them? As though you really need to turn them out in such a hurry? Just wait a day or two until I’ve been to the landlord. What do you stand to lose, even if you waited for a month?”

“What do I stand to lose?” The sergeant rose in his chair. “Good God! I stand to lose everything⁠—my job, first of all. Who knows what sort of a man this new landlord, Ilyashevich is? Perhaps he’s an underhand devil, one of the sort who get hold of a bit of paper and a pen on the slightest provocation, and send a little report to Petersburg? There are men of the kind!”

I tried to reassure the agitated sergeant.

“That’s enough, Evpsychyi Afrikanovich! You’re exaggerating the whole affair. After all, a risk’s a risk, and gratitude’s gratitude.”

Ph-e-w!” The sergeant gave a long-drawn whistle and thrust his hands into his trouser-pockets. “It’s gratitude, is it? Do you think I’m going to stake my official position for three pounds? No, you’ve got a wrong idea of me.”

“But what are you getting warm about, Evpsychyi Afrikanovich? The amount isn’t the point, just simply⁠—well, let’s say, for humanity’s sake⁠—”

“For hu-man-i-ty’s sake?” He hammered out each syllable. “I’m full up to here with your humanity!” He tapped vigorously on the bronzed nape of his mighty neck which hung down over his collar in a fat, hairless fold.

“That’s a bit too strong, Evpsychyi Afrikanovich.”

“Not a bit too strong! ‘They’re the plague of the place,’ as Mr. Krylov, the famous fable-writer, said. That’s what these two ladies are. You don’t happen to have read that splendid work, by His Excellency Count Urussov, called The Police Sergeant?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well, you ought to have. A brilliant work, highly moral. I would advise you to make its acquaintance when you have the time⁠—”

“Right, I’ll do so with pleasure. But still I don’t see what this book’s got to do with these two poor women.”

“What’s it got to do with them? A great deal. Firstly” (Evpsychyi Afrikanovich ticked off the fat hairy forefinger of his left hand): “ ‘It is the duty of a police sergeant to take the greatest care that all the people go to the Church of God, without, however, compelling them by force to remain there.⁠ ⁠…’ I ask you, does she go⁠—what’s her name; Manuilikha, isn’t it?⁠ ⁠… Does she ever go to church?”

I was silent, surprised by the unexpected turn of his speech. He gave me a look of triumph, and ticked off his second finger. “Secondly: ‘False prophecies and prognostications are everywhere forbidden.⁠ ⁠…’ Do you notice that? Then, thirdly: ‘It is illegal to profess to be a sorcerer or a magician, or to employ similar deceptions.’ What do you say to that? And suppose all this becomes known, or gets round to the authorities by some back way, who has to pay for it? I do. Who gets sacked from the service? I do. Now you see what a business it is.”

He sat down in his chair again. His raised eyes wandered absently over the walls of the room and his fingers drummed loudly on the table.

“Well, what if I ask you, Evpsychyi Afrikanovich,” I began once more in a gentle voice. “Of course I know your duties are complicated and troublesome, but you’ve got a heart, I know, a heart of gold. What will it cost you to promise me not to touch these women?”

The sergeant’s eyes suddenly stopped, over my head.

“That’s a nice little gun you’ve got,” he said carelessly, still drumming his fingers. “A splendid little gun. Last time I came to see you and you were out, I admired it all the while. A splendid gun!”

“Yes, it’s not a bad gun,” I agreed. “It’s an old pattern, made by Gastin-Rennet; but last year I had it converted into a hammerless. You just look at the barrels.”

“Yes, yes⁠ ⁠… it was the barrels I admired most.⁠ ⁠… A magnificent piece of work. I’d call it a perfect treasure.”

Our eyes met, and I saw the trace of a meaning smile flickering in the corner of the sergeant’s lips. I rose from my seat, took the gun off the wall and approached Evpsychyi Afrikanovich with it.

“The Circassians have an admirable custom,” I said courteously, “of presenting a guest with anything that he praises. Though we are not Circassians, Evpsychyi Afrikanovich, I entreat you to accept this from me as a memento.”

For appearance’ sake the sergeant blushed.

“My goodness, what a beauty! No, no.⁠ ⁠… That custom is far too generous.”

However, I did not have to entreat him long. The sergeant accepted the gun, carefully put it between his knees and with a clean handkerchief lovingly wiped away the dust that had settled on the lock; and I was rather mollified when I saw that the gun had at least passed into the hands of an expert and an amateur. Almost immediately Evpsychyi Afrikanovich got up and began to hurry away.

“Business won’t wait, and here I’ve been gossiping with you,” he said, noisily banging on the floor with his reluctant goloshes. “When you happen to come our way, you’ll be most welcome.”

“Well, what about Manuilikha, my dear Authority?” I reminded him delicately.

“We’ll see, we’ll see,⁠ ⁠…” Evpsychyi Afrikanovich vaguely muttered. “There was something else I wanted to ask you.⁠ ⁠… Your radishes are magnificent.⁠ ⁠…”

“I grew them myself.”

“Mag‑nificent radishes! You know, my wife is terribly partial to garden-stuff. So, you know, one little bundle.⁠ ⁠…”

“With the greatest pleasure, Evpsychyi Afrikanovich. I consider it an obligation.⁠ ⁠… This very day I’ll send a basket by messenger. Let me send some butter as well.⁠ ⁠… My butter’s quite a special thing.”

“Well, butter too,⁠ ⁠…” the sergeant graciously permitted. “And you can tip those women the wink that I shan’t touch them for the time being. But you’d better let them know”⁠—he raised his voice suddenly⁠—“that they can’t settle me with a ‘Thank you.’⁠ ⁠… Now, I wish you goodbye. Once more, merci for the present and the entertainment.”

He clicked his heels together like a soldier, and walked to his carriage with the ponderous gait of a full-fed, important person. By his carriage were already gathered the village policeman, the mayor and Yarmola, in respectful attitudes, with their heads bare.


Evpsychyi Afrikanovich kept his word and left the people of the forest hut in peace indefinitely. But my relations with Olyessia suffered an acute and curious change. Not a trace of her old naive and confident kindness remained in her attitude to me, nor any of the old animation wherein the coquetry of a beautiful girl so beautifully blended with the playful wantonness of a child. An awkward constraint beyond which we could not pass began to appear in our conversation.⁠ ⁠… With an instant timidity Olyessia avoided the lively themes which used to give such boundless scope to our curiosity.

In my presence she gave herself up to her work in a strained, stern, businesslike way; but I often noticed that in the middle of her work her hands would suddenly drop weakly on her knees, and her eyes be fixed, vague and immovable, downwards upon the floor. And when at such a moment I called her by name, “Olyessia,” or put some question to her, she shivered and turned her face slowly towards me: in it was reflected fright and the effort to understand the meaning of my words. Sometimes it seemed to me that she was burdened and embarrassed by my company, but I could not reconcile that with the deep interest that every remark and phrase of mine used to arouse in her only a few days ago. I could only think that Olyessia was unwilling to forgive my patronage in the affair with the sergeant, which so revolted her independent nature. But this solution did not satisfy me either, and I still asked myself from whence did this simple girl, who had grown up in the midst of the forest, derive her inordinately sensitive pride?

All this demanded explanations; but Olyessia avoided every favourable occasion for frank conversation. Our evening walks came to an end. In vain I cast eloquent imploring glances at Olyessia each day, when I was on the point of leaving; she made as though she did not understand their meaning, and in spite of the old woman’s deafness, her presence disturbed me.

At times I revolted against my own weakness and the habit which now drew me every day to Olyessia. I myself did not suspect with what subtle, strong, invisible threads my heart was bound to this fascinating, incomprehensible girl. As yet I had no thought of love; but I was already living through a disturbing period of unconscious anticipation, full of vague and oppressive sadnesses. Wherever I was, with whatever I tried to amuse myself, my every thought was occupied with the image of Olyessia, my whole being craved for her, and each separate memory of her most insignificant words, her gestures and her smiles, contracted my heart with a sweet and gentle pain. But evening came and I sat long beside her on a low rickety little bench, to my grief finding myself every time more timid, more awkward and foolish.

Once I passed a whole day thus at Olyessia’s side. I had begun to feel unwell from the morning onward, though I could not clearly define wherein my sickness consisted. It grew worse towards evening. My head grew heavy; I felt a dull incessant pain in the crown of my head, exactly as though someone were pressing down upon it with a soft, strong hand. My mouth was parched, and an idle, languid weakness poured over my whole body. My eyes pained me just as though I had been staring fixedly, close to a glimmering point.

As I was returning late in the evening, midway I was suddenly seized and shaken by a tempestuous chill. I could hardly see the way as I went on; I was almost unconscious of where I was going; I reeled like a drunken man, and my jaws beat out a quick loud tattoo, each against the other.

Till this day I do not know who brought me into the house. For exactly six days I was stricken by a terrible racking Polyessian fever. During the day the sickness seemed to abate, and consciousness returned to me. Then, utterly exhausted by the disease, I could hardly walk across the room, such was the pain and weakness of my knees; at each stronger movement the blood rushed in a hot wave to my head, and covered everything before my eyes with darkness.

In the evening, and usually at about seven o’clock, the approach of the disease overwhelmed me like a storm, and on my bed I passed a terrible, century-long night, now shaking with cold beneath the blankets, now blazing with intolerable heat. Hardly had I been touched by a drowsy slumber, when strange, grotesque, painfully motley dreams began to play with my inflamed brain. Every dream was filled with tiny microscopic details, which piled up and clutched each at the other in ugly chaos. Now I seemed to be unpacking some boxes, coloured with stripes and of fantastic form, taking small ones out of the big, and from the small still smaller. I could not by any means interrupt the unending labour, although it had long been disgusting to me. Then there flashed before my eyes with stupefying speed long bright stripes from the wallpaper, and with amazing distinctness I saw on them, instead of patterns, whole garlands of human faces⁠—beautiful, kind, and smiling, then horribly grimacing, thrusting out their tongues, showing their teeth, and rolling their eyes. Then I entered into a confused and extraordinarily complicated abstract dispute with Yarmola. Every minute the arguments which we brought up against each other became subtler and more profound: separate words and even individual letters of words suddenly took on a mysterious and unfathomable meaning, and at the same time I was seized by a revolting terror of the unknown, unnatural force that wound out one monstrous sophism after another out of my brain, and would not let me break off the dispute which had long been loathsome to me.⁠ ⁠…

It was like a seething whirlwind of human and animal figures, landscapes, things of the most wonderful forms and colours, words and phrases whose meaning was apprehended by every sense.⁠ ⁠… But the strange thing was that I never lost sight of a bright regular circle reflected on to the ceiling by the lamp with the scorched green shade. And somehow I knew that within the indistinct line of that quiet circle was concealed a silent, monotonous, mysterious, terrible life, yet more awful and oppressive than the mad chaos of my dreams.

Then I awoke, or more truly did not awake, but suddenly forced myself to sit up. Consciousness almost returned to me. I understood that I was lying in bed, that I was ill, that I had just been in delirium, but the bright circle on the ceiling still terrified me by its hidden, ominous menace. With weak hands I slowly reached for the watch, looked at it, and saw with melancholy perplexity that all the endless sequence of my ghastly dreams had taken no longer than two or three minutes. “My God, will the dawn ever come?” I thought in despair, tossing my head over the hot pillows and feeling my short heavy breathing burn my lips.⁠ ⁠… But again a slight drowsiness possessed me, and again my brain became the sport of a motley nightmare, and again within two minutes I woke, racked by a mortal anguish.

In six days my vigorous constitution, aided by quinine and an infusion of buckthorn, overcame my disease. I rose from my bed completely crushed, with difficulty standing upright on my legs. But my convalescence passed with eager quickness. In my head, weary with six days’ feverish delirium, I felt now an idle, pleasant absence of any thought at all. My appetite returned with double force, and hourly my body gathered strength, in each moment imbibing its particle of health and of the joy of life. And with that a new and stronger craving came upon me for the forest and the lonely, tumble-down hut. But my nerves had not yet recovered, and every time that I called up Olyessia’s face and voice in my memory, I wanted to cry.


Only five more days had passed, when I was so much recovered that I reached the chicken-legged hut on foot without the least fatigue. As I stepped on the threshold my heart palpitated with breathless fear. I had not seen Olyessia for almost two weeks, and I now perceived how near and dear she was to me. Holding the latch of the door, I waited some seconds, breathing with difficulty. In my irresolution I even shut my eyes for some time before I could push the door open.⁠ ⁠…

It is always impossible to analyse impressions like those which followed my entrance.⁠ ⁠… Can one remember the words uttered in the first moment of meeting between a mother and son, husband and wife, or lover and lover? The simplest, most ordinary, even ridiculous words are said, if they were put down exactly upon paper. But each word is opportune and infinitely dear because it is uttered by the dearest voice in all the world.

I remember⁠—very clearly I remember⁠—only one thing: Olyessia’s beautiful pale face turned quickly towards me, and on that beautiful face, so new to me, were in one second reflected, in changing succession, perplexity, fear, anxiety, and a tender radiant smile of love.⁠ ⁠… The old woman was mumbling something, clattering round me, but I did not hear her greetings. Olyessia’s voice reached me like a sweet music:

“What has been the matter with you? You’ve been ill? Ah, how thin you’ve grown, my poor darling!”

For a long while I could make no answer, and we stood silent face to face, clasping hands and looking straight into the depths of each other’s eyes, happily. Those few silent seconds I have always considered the happiest in my life: never, never before or since, have I tasted such pure, complete, all-absorbing ecstasy. And how much I read in Olyessia’s big dark eyes!⁠—the excitement of the meeting, reproach for my long absence, and a passionate declaration of love. In that look I felt that Olyessia gave me her whole being joyfully without doubt or reservation.

She was the first to break the spell, pointing to Manuilikha with a slow movement of her eyelids. We sat down side by side, and Olyessia began to ask me anxiously for the details of my illness, the medicines I had taken, what the doctor had said and thought⁠—he came twice to see me from the little town; she made me tell about the doctor time after time, and I could catch a fleeting, sarcastic smile on her lips.

“Oh, why didn’t I know that you were ill!” she exclaimed with impatient regret. “I would have set you on your feet again in a single day.⁠ ⁠… How can they be trusted, when they don’t understand anything at all, nothing at all? Why didn’t you send for me?”

I was at a loss for an answer.

“You see, Olyessia⁠ ⁠… it happened so suddenly⁠ ⁠… besides, I was afraid to trouble you. Towards the end you had become strange towards me, as though you were angry with me, or bored.⁠ ⁠… Olyessia,” I added, lowering my voice, “we’ve got ever so much to say to each other, ever so much⁠ ⁠… just we two⁠ ⁠… you understand?”

She quietly cast down her eyes in token of consent, and then whispered quickly, looking round timidly at her grandmother:

“Yes.⁠ ⁠… I want to, as well⁠ ⁠… later⁠ ⁠… wait⁠—”

As soon as the sun began to set, Olyessia began to urge me to go home.

“Make haste, be quick and get ready,” she said, pulling my hand from the bench. “If the damp catches you now, the fever will be on you again, immediately.”

“Where are you going, Olyessia?” Manuilikha asked suddenly, seeing that her granddaughter had thrown a large grey shawl hurriedly over her head.

“I’m going part of the way with him,” answered Olyessia.

She said the words with indifference, looking not at her grandmother but at the window; but in her voice I could detect on almost imperceptible note of irritation.

“You’re really going?” the old woman once more asked, meaningly.

Olyessia’s eyes flashed, and she stared steadily into Manuilikha’s face.

“Yes, I am going,” she replied proudly. “We talked it out and talked it out long ago.⁠ ⁠… It’s my affair, and my own responsibility.”

“Ah, you⁠—” the old woman exclaimed in reproach and annoyance. She wanted to add more, but only waved her hand and dragged her trembling legs away into the corner, and began to busy herself with a basket, groaning.

I understood that the brief unpleasant conversation which I had just witnessed was a continuation of a long series of mutual quarrels and bursts of anger. As I walked to the forest at Olyessia’s side, I asked her:

“Granny doesn’t want you to go for a walk with me, does she?”

Olyessia shrugged her shoulders in vexation.

“Please, don’t take any notice of it.⁠ ⁠… No, she doesn’t like it.⁠ ⁠… Surely I’m free to do as I like?”

Suddenly I conceived an irresistible desire to reproach Olyessia with her former sternness.

“But you could have done it before my illness as well.⁠ ⁠… Only then you didn’t want to be alone with me.⁠ ⁠… I thought, every evening I thought, perhaps you would come with me again. But you used to pay no attention; you were so unresponsive, and cross.⁠ ⁠… How you tormented me, Olyessia!⁠ ⁠…”

“Don’t, darling.⁠ ⁠… Forget it,⁠ ⁠…” Olyessia entreated with a tender apology in her voice.

“No, I’m not saying it to blame you. It just slipped out. Now, I understand why it was.⁠ ⁠… But before⁠—it’s funny to talk about it even now⁠—I thought you were offended because of the sergeant. The thought made me terribly sad. I couldn’t help thinking that you considered me so remote and foreign to you, that you found it hard to accept a simple kindness from me.⁠ ⁠… It was very bitter to me.⁠ ⁠… I never even suspected that granny was the cause of it all, Olyessia.”

Olyessia’s face suddenly flamed bright red.

“But it wasn’t granny at all.⁠ ⁠… It was me. I didn’t want it, myself,” she exclaimed with a passionate challenge.

“But why didn’t you want it, Olyessia, why?” I asked. My voice broke for agitation, and I caught her by the hand and made her stop. We were just in the middle of a long narrow path, straight as an arrow through the forest. On either side we were surrounded by tall slender pines, that formed a gigantic corridor, receding into the distance, vaulted with fragrant interwoven branches. The bare peeled trunks were tinged with the purple glow of the burnt-out red of the evening sky.

“Tell me why, Olyessia, why?” I whispered again, pressing her hand closer and closer.

“I could not⁠ ⁠… I was afraid,” Olyessia said so low that I could hardly hear. “I thought it was possible to escape one’s destiny.⁠ ⁠… But, now⁠ ⁠… now.”

Her breath failed her, as though there were no air; and suddenly her hands twined quick and vehement about my neck, and my lips were sweetly burnt by Olyessia’s quick trembling whisper:

“But it’s all the same, now⁠ ⁠… all the same!⁠ ⁠… Because I love you, my dear, my joy, my beloved!”

She pressed closer and closer to me, and I could feel how her strong, vigorous, fervent body pulsed beneath my hands, how quickly her heart beat against my chest. Her passionate kisses poured like intoxicating wine into my head, still weak with disease, and I began to lose my hold upon myself.

“Olyessia, for God’s sake, don’t⁠ ⁠… leave me,” I said, trying to unclasp her hands. “Now I am afraid.⁠ ⁠… I’m afraid of myself.⁠ ⁠… Let me go, Olyessia.”

She raised her head. Her face was all lighted with a slow, languid smile.

“Don’t be afraid, my darling,” she said with an indescribable expression of tender passion and touching fearlessness. “I shall never reproach you, never be jealous of anyone.⁠ ⁠… Tell me only, do you love me?”

“I love you, Olyessia. I loved you long ago, and I love you passionately. But⁠ ⁠… don’t kiss me any more.⁠ ⁠… I grow weak, my head swims, I can’t answer for myself.⁠ ⁠…”

Her lips were once more pressed to mine in a long, painful sweetness. I did not hear, rather I divined her words.

“Then don’t be afraid. Don’t think of anything besides.⁠ ⁠… Today is ours; no one can take it from us.”

And the whole night melted into a magical fairy tale. The moon rose, and its radiance poured fantastically in motley and mysterious colours over the forest. It lay amid the darkness in pale blue stains upon the gnarled tree-trunks, on the bent branches and the soft carpet of moss. The high birch-trunks showed clear and keenly white, and it seemed that a silvery transparent veil of gauze had been thrown over the thin leaves. In places the light could by no means penetrate the thick canopy of pine branches. There was complete, impenetrable darkness, save only that in the middle a ray slipped in unknown from somewhere and suddenly shone brightly on a long row of trees, casting a straight narrow path on the earth, as bright and trim and beautiful as a path fashioned by fairies for the triumphant procession of Oberon and Titania. And we walked with our arms enlocked through this vivid, smiling fairy tale, without a single word, under the weight of our happiness and the dreadful silence of the night.

“Darling, I’ve forgotten quite that you must hurry home,” Olyessia suddenly remembered. “What a wicked girl I am! You’re only just recovering from your illness and I’ve kept you all this while in the forest.”

I kissed her, and threw back the shawl from her thick dark hair, and asked her in the softest whisper, bending to her ear:

“You don’t regret it, Olyessia? You don’t repent?”

She shook her head slowly.

“No, no.⁠ ⁠… Come what may, I shan’t regret.⁠ ⁠… I am so happy!”

“Is something bound to happen, then?”

There appeared in her eyes a flash of the mystical terror I had grown to recognise.

“Yes, it is certain. You remember I told you about the queen of clubs. That queen of clubs is me, myself; the misfortune that the cards told of will happen to me.⁠ ⁠… You know I thought of asking you not to come and see us any more. But then you fell ill, and I never saw you for nearly a fortnight.⁠ ⁠… I was so anxious and sad for you that I felt I could have given the whole world to be with you, just one little minute. Then I thought that I would not give up my happiness, whatever should come of it.⁠ ⁠…”

“It’s true, Olyessia. That’s how it was with me, too,” I said, touching her forehead with my lips. “I never knew that I loved you until I parted from you. It seems that man was right who said that parting to love is like wind to a fire: it blows out a small one, and makes a large one blaze.”

“What did you say? Say it again, again, please.” Olyessia was interested.

I repeated the words again. I do not know whose they are. Olyessia mused over them, and I could see by the movement of her lips that she was saying the words over to herself.

I looked closely into her pale face, thrown back, her large black eyes with glimmering bright lights within them from the moon; and with a sudden chill a vague foreboding of imminent calamity crept into my soul.


The naive enchanting tale of our love lasted for nearly a month. To this day there live with undiminished potency in my soul Olyessia’s beautiful face and those blazing twilights, those dewy mornings fragrant with lilies and honey, full of vigorous freshness and the sonorous noise of birds, those hot, languid, idle days of June. In that time neither weariness, nor fatigue, nor my eternal passion for a wandering life ever touched my soul. I was a pagan god or a strong, young animal, delighting in the light and warmth and conscious joy of life, and in calm, pure, sensuous love.

After my recovery old Manuilikha became so intolerably snappish, met me with such undisguised malice, and, while I was sitting in the hut, moved the pots on the stove with such noisy exasperation, that Olyessia and I preferred to meet in the forest every evening.⁠ ⁠… And the stately green beauty of the pine-forest was the precious setting which adorned our tranquil love.

Every day with deeper and deeper wonder I discovered that Olyessia, the child of the forest who could not even read, showed in many things of life a delicate sensitiveness and a peculiar native refinement. There are always horrible sides to love, in its direct and coarser meaning, which are a torment and a shame to nervous artistic natures. But Olyessia could avoid them with such naive chastity that our love was never once spoiled by a single ugly thought, or one moment of cynicism.

Meanwhile the time of my departure was approaching. To tell the truth, all my official business at Perebrod was already at an end; but I had deliberately delayed my return to town. I had not yet breathed a word of this to Olyessia, for I was afraid even to imagine to myself how she would receive the news that I must go away. Habit had taken roots too deep in me. To see Olyessia every day, to hear her dear voice and musical laughter, to feel the tender beauty of her caresses, had come to be more than a necessity for me. On the rare days when stress of weather prevented us from meeting I felt exactly as though I had been lost, and deprived of what was chief and all-important in my life. Every occupation was tedious and useless to me, and my whole being craved for the forest, the warmth and the light, and Olyessia’s dear familiar face.

The idea of marrying Olyessia entered my head more and more insistently. At first it had only presented itself to me but rarely as a possible, and in extremities an honest, issue to our relationship. Only one thing alarmed and checked me. I dared not even imagine to myself what Olyessia would be like, fashionably dressed, chatting to the wives of my colleagues in the drawing-room, snatched away from the fascinating setting of the old forest, full of legends and mysterious powers.

But the nearer came the time for me to depart, the greater was the anguish and horror of loneliness which possessed me. My resolution to marry grew daily stronger in my soul, and finally I could no longer see it as a bold defiance of society. “Decent, well-educated men marry dressmakers and servant-maids,” I consoled myself, “and they live happily together, and to the day of their death they thank the fate which urged them to this resolution. Shall I be unhappier than the others?”

Once in mid-June, towards evening, I was waiting for Olyessia, according to my habit, at the turn of a narrow forest path among the flowering whitethorn bushes. When she was far in the distance I made out the easy, quick sound of her steps.

“How are you, my darling?” Olyessia said, embracing me and breathing heavily. “Have I kept you waiting too long?⁠ ⁠… It was so hard to get away at the last.⁠ ⁠… Fighting with granny all the while.”

“Isn’t she reconciled yet?”

“Never! She says to me: ‘He’ll ruin you.⁠ ⁠… He’ll play with you at his pleasure and then desert you.⁠ ⁠… He doesn’t love you at all⁠—’ ”

“So that’s what she says about me?”

“Yes, darling, about you.⁠ ⁠… But I don’t believe a single word of it all the same.⁠ ⁠…”

“Does she know everything?”

“I couldn’t say for sure.⁠ ⁠… But I believe she knows.⁠ ⁠… I’ve never spoken to her about it⁠—she guesses. But what’s the good of thinking about that.⁠ ⁠… Come.”

She plucked a twig of whitethorn with a superb spray of blossom and thrust it into her hair. We walked slowly along the path which showed faintly rosy beneath the evening sun.

The night before I had decided that I would speak out at all costs this evening. But a strange timidity lay like a weight upon my tongue. “If I tell Olyessia that I am going away and going to marry her,” I thought, “will she not think that my proposal is only made to soothe the pain of the first wound?⁠ ⁠… But I’ll begin the moment we reach that maple with the peeled trunk,” I fixed in my mind. We were already on a level with the maple. Pale with agitation I had begun to draw a deep breath to begin to speak, when my courage suddenly failed, and ended in a nervous painful beating of my heart and a chill on my lips. “Twenty-seven is my number,” I thought a few moments later. “I’ll count up to twenty-seven, and then!⁠ ⁠…” I began to count to myself, but when I reached twenty-seven I felt that the resolution had not yet matured in me. “No,” I said to myself, “I’d better go on counting to sixty⁠ ⁠… that will make just a minute, and then without fail, without fail⁠—”

“What’s the matter with you today?” Olyessia suddenly asked. “You’re thinking of something unpleasant. What has happened to you?”

Then I began to speak, but with a tone repugnant to myself, with an assumed unnatural carelessness, just as though it were a trifling affair.

“Yes, it really is rather unpleasant.⁠ ⁠… You have guessed it, Olyessia.⁠ ⁠… You see, my service here is finished, and the authorities have summoned me back to town.”

I took a quick side-glance at Olyessia. The colour died away from her face and her lips quivered. She said not a word in reply. Some minutes I walked in silence by her side. The grasshoppers chattered noisily in the grass, and the strained monotonous note of a corncrake sounded somewhere afar.

“Of course you understand, yourself, Olyessia,” I again began, “that it’s no good my staying here, besides there’s nowhere to stay.⁠ ⁠… And I can’t neglect my duty⁠—”

“No⁠ ⁠… why⁠ ⁠… what’s the good of talking?” Olyessia said, in a voice outwardly calm, but so deep and lifeless that terror seized me. “If it’s your duty, of course⁠ ⁠… you must go⁠—”

She stopped by the tree and leaned against the trunk, her face utterly pale, her hands hanging limply by her body, a poignant pitiful smile on her lips. Her pallor frightened me. I rushed to her and pressed her hands vehemently.

“What’s the matter, Olyessia⁠ ⁠… darling!”

“Nothing⁠ ⁠… forgive me.⁠ ⁠… It will pass⁠—now.⁠ ⁠… My head is dizzy.” She controlled herself with an effort and went on, leaving her hand in mine.

“You’re thinking ill of me, Olyessia,” I said reproachfully. “You should be ashamed. Do you think, as well, that I could cast you off and leave you? No, my darling. That’s why I began this conversation⁠—so that you should go this very day to your grandmother and tell her you will be my wife.”

Quite contrary to my expectation, Olyessia showed hardly a trace of surprise at my words.

“Your wife?” She shook her head slowly and sadly. “No, it’s impossible, Vanichka dear.”

“Why, Olyessia? Why?”

“No, no.⁠ ⁠… You can see yourself, it’s funny to think of it even. What kind of wife could I be for you? You are a gentleman, clever, educate⁠—and I? I can’t even read. I don’t know how to behave. You will be ashamed to be my husband.⁠ ⁠…”

“What nonsense, Olyessia,” I replied fervently. “In six months you won’t know yourself. You don’t even suspect the natural wit and genius for observation you have in you. We’ll read all sorts of good books together; we’ll make friends with decent, clever people; we’ll see the whole wide world together, Olyessia. We’ll go together arm in arm just like we are now until old age, to the grave itself; and I shan’t be ashamed of you, but proud and grateful.⁠ ⁠…”

Olyessia answered my passionate speech with a grateful clasp of the hand, but she persisted:

“That’s not everything.⁠ ⁠… Perhaps you don’t know, yet.⁠ ⁠… I never told you.⁠ ⁠… I haven’t a father.⁠ ⁠… I’m illegitimate.⁠ ⁠…”

“Don’t, Olyessia.⁠ ⁠… That’s the last thing I care about. What have I got to do with your family, when you yourself are more precious to me than my father and mother, than the whole world even? No, this is all trifling⁠—just excuses!⁠ ⁠…”

Olyessia pressed her shoulder against mine with a gentle submissive caress.

“Darling!⁠ ⁠… You’d better not have begun to talk at all.⁠ ⁠… You are young, free.⁠ ⁠… Would I ever dare to tie you hand and foot for all your life?⁠ ⁠… What if you fall in love with another woman afterwards? Then you will despise me, and curse the day and hour when I agreed to marry you. Don’t be angry, darling!” she cried out in entreaty, seeing by my face that the words had offended me, “I don’t want to hurt you.⁠ ⁠… I’m only thinking of your happiness. And you’ve forgotten granny. Well, ask yourself, could I leave her alone?”

“Why⁠ ⁠… she’ll come with us, too.” (I confess the idea of granny made me uneasy.) “And even if she didn’t want to live with us⁠ ⁠… there are houses in every town⁠ ⁠… called alms-houses, where such old women are given rest, and carefully looked after.”

“No, what are you saying? She will never go away from the forest. She is afraid of people.”

“Well, think of something better yourself, Olyessia. You must choose between me and granny. But I tell you this one thing⁠—that life will be hideous to me without you.”

“You darling!” Olyessia said with profound tenderness. “Just for those words I am grateful.⁠ ⁠… You have warmed my heart.⁠ ⁠… But still I shan’t marry you.⁠ ⁠… I rather go with you without being married, if you don’t send me away.⁠ ⁠… But don’t be in a hurry, please don’t hurry me. Give me a day or two. I’ll think it over well.⁠ ⁠… Besides, I must speak to granny, as well.”

“Tell me, Olyessia,” I asked, for the shadow of a new thought was upon my mind. “Perhaps you are still⁠ ⁠… afraid of the church?”

Perhaps I should have begun with this question. Almost every day I used to quarrel with Olyessia over it, trying to shake her belief in the imaginary curse that hung over her family for the possession of magic powers. There is something of the preacher essential in every Russian intellectual. It is in our blood; it has been instilled by the whole of Russian literature in the last generations. Who could say but, if Olyessia had had a profound belief, and strictly observed the fasts, and never missed a single service, it is quite possible I would have begun to speak ironically (but only a little, for I was always a believer myself) of her piety and to develop a critical curiosity of mind in her. But with a firm, naive conviction she professed her communion with the powers of darkness, and her estrangement from God, of whom she was afraid to speak.

In vain I tried to shake Olyessia’s superstition. All my logical arguments, all my mockery, sometimes rude and wicked, were broken against her submissive confidence in her mysterious, fatal vocation.

“You’re afraid of the church, Olyessia?” I repeated.

She bent her head in silence.

“You think God will not accept you?” I continued with growing passion. “That He will not have mercy on you; He who, though He commands millions of angels, yet came down to earth and suffered a horrible infamous death for the salvation of all men? He who did not disdain the repentance of the worst woman, and promised a highway murderer that on that very day he would sit together with Him in Paradise?”

This interpretation of mine was already familiar to Olyessia; but this time she did not even listen to me. With a quick movement she took off her shawl, rolled it up and flung it in my face. A struggle began. I tried to snatch her nosegay of whitethorn away. She resisted, fell on the ground and dragged me down with her, laughing joyfully and holding out to me her darling lips, moist and opened by her quick breathing.⁠ ⁠…

Late at night, when we had said goodbye and were already a good distance away from each other, I suddenly heard Olyessia’s voice behind me: “Vanichka! Wait a moment.⁠ ⁠… I want to tell you something.”

I turned and went to meet her. Olyessia quickly ran up to me. Already the thin notched silver sickle of the young moon stood in the sky, and by its light I saw that Olyessia’s eyes were full of big brimming tears.

“What is it, Olyessia?” I asked anxiously.

She seized my hands and began to kiss them in turn.

“Darling⁠ ⁠… how sweet you are! How good you are!” she said with a trembling voice. “I was just walking and thinking how much you love me.⁠ ⁠… You see I want awfully to do something that you would like very, very much.”

“Olyessia⁠ ⁠… my precious girl, be calm⁠—”

“Tell me,” she continued, “would you be very glad if I went to church some time? Tell me the truth, the real truth.”

I was thinking. A superstitious thought suddenly crossed my mind that some misfortune would come of it.

“Why don’t you answer? Tell me quickly; would you be glad, or is it all the same to you?”

“How can I say, Olyessia?” I began doubtfully. “Well, yes.⁠ ⁠… I would be glad. I’ve said many times that a man may disbelieve, doubt, even laugh finally. But a woman⁠ ⁠… a woman must be religious without any sophistication. I always feel something touching, feminine, beautiful in the simple tender confidence with which a woman surrenders herself to the protection of God.”

I was silent; neither did Olyessia make any answer, but nestled her head in my bosom.

“Why did you ask me this?” I was curious.

She started suddenly.

“Nothing.⁠ ⁠… I just asked.⁠ ⁠… Don’t take any notice. Now, goodbye, darling. Come tomorrow.”

She disappeared. I stood still for a long while, looking into the darkness, listening eagerly to the quick steps going away from me. A sudden dread foreboding seized me. I had an irresistible desire to run after Olyessia, to take hold of her and ask, implore, demand, if need be, that she should not go to church. But I checked the sudden impulse, and I remember that as I went my way I even said aloud:

“It seems to me, my dear Vanichka, that the superstition’s touched you as well.”

My God, why did I not listen then to the dim voice of the heart, which⁠—I now believe it implicitly⁠—never errs in its momentary mysterious presentiments?


The day after this meeting was Whitsuntide, which that year fell on the day of the great martyr Timothy, when, according to the folk legends, the omens of a bad harvest befall. Ecclesiastically the village of Perebrod was considered auxiliary; that is to say, that though there was a church there it had no priest of its own. On rare occasions, in fast time and on the great festivals, it was served by the priest of the village of Volchye.

That day my official duties took me to the neighbouring town, and I set off thither on horseback about eight o’clock, in the chill of the morning. A good time before I had bought a small cob for doing my rounds, a beast six or seven years old, which came from the rough local breed, but had been carefully looked after and made a pet of by the former owner, the district surveyor. The horse’s name was Taranchik. I became greatly attached to the dear beast, with its strong, thin, chiselled legs, with its shaggy mane, from beneath which peeped fiery eyes, with firm, close-pressed lips. Its colour was rare and curious, a grey mouse-colour all over the body save for a piebald rump.

I had to pass right through the village. The big green that ran from the church to the inn was completely covered by long rows of carts in which the peasants of the neighbouring villages had come with their wives and children for the holiday⁠—from Volocha, Zoulnya, and Pechalovka. People were roaming about among the carts. Notwithstanding the early hour and the strict regulations one could already see drunken people among them. (On holidays and at night Shroul, the former innkeeper, sold vodka on the quiet.) The morning was windless and close. The air was sultry and the day promised to be insufferably hot. There was not a single cloud to be seen in the glowing sky, which looked exactly as though it were covered with a silver dust.

When I had done all my business in the little town I had a light hasty meal of pike, stuffed and cooked in the Jewish fashion, washed down with some very inferior muddy beer, and set out for home. As I passed by the smithy I recollected that Taranchik’s off fore-shoe had been loose for some time, and I stopped to have him shod. That took me another hour and a half, so that by the time I was nearing Perebrod it was already between four and five o’clock in the afternoon.

The whole square was packed with drunken, shouting people. The yard and porch of the inn were literally choked by jostling, pushing customers; the Perebrod men were mixed up with strangers, sitting on the grass and in the shade of the carts. Everywhere were heads thrown back and lifted bottles. There was not a single man sober; and the general intoxication had reached the point at which the peasant begins noisily boasting and exaggerating his own drunkenness, and all his movements acquire a feeble, ponderous freedom, when, for instance, in order to nod “yes” he bows his whole body down, bends his knees, and, suddenly losing his balance completely, draws back helplessly. The children were pushing and screaming in the same place beneath the horses’ legs, while the horses munched their hay unconcerned. Elsewhere, a woman who could hardly stand on her feet herself dragged her reluctant husband, foully drunk, home by the sleeve.⁠ ⁠… In the shade of a fence about twenty men and women peasants were pressed close round a blind harpist, whose tremulous, snuffling tenor, accompanied by the monotonous, jingling drone of his instrument, rose sharp above the dull murmur of the crowd. At a distance I could hear the familiar words of the Little Russian song:

“Oh, there rose the star, the evening star,
And stood over Pochah monastery.
Oh, there came out the Turkish troops
Like unto a black cloud.”

This song goes on to tell how the Turks, failing in their attack upon the Pochayev monastery, resolved to take it by cunning. With this end they sent, as it were a gift to the monastery, a huge candle filled with gunpowder. The candle was dragged by twelve yoke of oxen, and the delighted monks were eager to light it before the icon of the Virgin; but God did not allow the wicked design to be accomplished.

“And the elder dreamt a dream
That he should not take the candle,
But bear it away to the open field,
And hew it down with an axe.”

And the monks:

“Took it into the open field,
And began to chop it,
Oh, then bullets and balls began
To scatter on every side.”

It seemed that the insufferably hot air was wholly saturated with a disgusting smell, compounded of vodka dregs, onions, sheepskins, strong shag, and the vapours of dirty human bodies. As I made my way through the people, hardly holding in Taranchik who tossed his head continually, I could not help noticing that unceremonious, curious, and hostile looks were bent on me from every side. Not a single man doffed his cap, which was quite unusual, but the noise grew still at my approach. Suddenly from the very middle of the crowd came a hoarse, drunken shout which I could not clearly distinguish; but it was answered by a restrained giggle. A frightened woman’s voice began to rebuke the brawler.

“Hush, you fool.⁠ ⁠… What are you shouting for? He’ll hear you⁠—”

“What if he does hear?” the peasant replied tauntingly. “What the hell’s he got to do with me? Is he an official? He’s only in the forest with his⁠—”

A long, filthy, horrible phrase hung in the air, with a burst of frantic, roaring laughter. I quickly turned my horse round, and seized the handle of my whip convulsively, overwhelmed by the mad fury which sees nothing, thinks of nothing, and is afraid of nothing. In a flash, a strange, anxious, painful thought went through my mind: “All this has happened once before in my life, many years ago.⁠ ⁠… The sun blazed just as it does now.⁠ ⁠… The whole of the big square was overflowing with a noisy, excited crowd just as it is now.⁠ ⁠… I turned back in a paroxysm of wild anger just in the same way.⁠ ⁠… But where was it? When? When?” I lowered my whip and madly galloped home.

Yarmola came out of the kitchen at his leisure, and said rudely, as he took my horse: “The bailiff of the Marenov farm is sitting in your room.”

I had the fancy that he wanted to add something more that was important to me and painful too; I even imagined that a fleeting expression of evil derision sped over his face. Intentionally I stopped dead in the doorway and gave Yarmola a look of challenge, but without looking at me he was already dragging the horse away by the rein. The horse’s head was stretched forward, and it stepped delicately.

In my room I found the agent of the neighbouring estate, Nikita Nazarich Mishtchenko. He was dressed in a grey jacket with large ginger checks, in narrow cornflower blue trousers, and a fiery red necktie. There was a deep parting down the middle of his hair, which shone with pomade, and from the whole of him exuded the scent of Persian lilac. When he saw me he jumped up from his chair and began to curtsy, not bowing, but somehow breaking at the waist, and at the same time unsheathing the pale gums of both his jaws.

“Extremely delighted to have the honour,” Nikita Nazarich jabbered courteously. “Very glad indeed to see you. I’ve been waiting for you here ever since the service. I hadn’t seen you for so long that I was bored, and missed you very much. Why is it you never look us up? The girls in Stiepany laugh at you nowadays.”

Suddenly he was seized by an instantaneous recollection, and broke out into an irresistible giggle.

“What fun it was today!” he cried out, choking and chuckling. “Ha, ha, ha, ha.⁠ ⁠… I fairly split my sides with laughing.”

“What do you mean? What fun?” I asked without troubling to conceal my annoyance.

“There was a row after service,” Nikita Nazarich continued, punctuating his words with volleys of laughter. “The Perebrod girls.⁠ ⁠… No, by God, I really can’t.⁠ ⁠… The Perebrod girls caught a witch in the marketplace here. Of course, it’s only their peasant ignorance that makes them think she’s a witch.⁠ ⁠… But they did give her a thrashing! They were going to tar her all over, but somehow she slipped from them and got away⁠—”

A ghastly surmise entered my head. I rushed towards the bailiff, and forgetting myself completely in my agitation, gripped him violently by the shoulders.

“What’s that you say?” I cried in a furious voice. “Stop your giggling, damn you? Who’s this witch you’re talking about?”

Instantly his laughing ceased, and he stared with his round, frightened eyes.⁠ ⁠…

“I⁠ ⁠… I⁠ ⁠… really don’t know,” he began to stammer in confusion. “I believe it was someone called Samoilikha⁠ ⁠… Manuilikha, was it?⁠ ⁠… Yes, that’s it, the daughter of someone called Manuilikha.⁠ ⁠… The peasants were shouting something or other, but honestly I don’t remember what it was.”

I made him tell me everything he had seen and heard in order. He told his tale absurdly, incoherently, confusing details, and every moment I interrupted him with impatient questions and exclamations, almost with abuse. I could understand very little from his story, and it was only two months later that I could piece together the real order of the vile happening from the words of an eyewitness, the wife of the forester of the Crown Lands, who was also present at Mass that day.

I had not been deceived by my foreboding. Olyessia had broken down her fears and come to church. Though she did not reach the church until the service was half done, and stopped in the entry, her arrival was instantly noticed by every peasant in church. All through the service the women were whispering to each other and glancing behind them.

However Olyessia had strength enough in herself to stand out the Mass right to the end. Perhaps she did not understand the real meaning of those hostile looks; perhaps she despised them out of pride. But when she came out of the church she could get no farther than the church fence before she was surrounded by a crowd of women, which grew larger and larger every minute, and pressed closer and closer upon Olyessia. At first they only examined the helpless girl in silence and without ceremony, while she looked everywhere about her in fright. Then there came a shower of rude insults, hard words, abuse, accompanied by roars of laughter; then all separate words disappeared into one general piercing women’s shriek, wherein everything was confused and the nerves of the agitated crowd became more and more tightly strung. Several times Olyessia attempted to pass through this horrible living ring, but every time she was pushed back into the middle again. Suddenly the squeaking voice of some old hag shrieked from somewhere at the back of the crowd: “Smear the slut with tar⁠—tar the slut!” (Everybody knows that in Little Russia to smear with tar even the gates of the house where a girl lives is considered as a mark of the greatest, the most indelible, disgrace to her.) Almost the same second a pot of tar and a brush appeared over the heads of the raging furies, passed from hand to hand.

Then Olyessia, seized by a paroxysm of anger, horror and despair, rushed on the nearest of her tormentors with such impetuous force that she was thrown to the ground. Immediately a fight burst forth, and innumerable bodies were confused in one general shouting mass. But by some miracle Olyessia succeeded in slipping out from among the tangle, and rushed headlong down the road, without her shawl, her clothes torn to ribbons, through which in many places her naked body could be seen. Stones, vile abuse, laughter and shouts sped after her.⁠ ⁠… When she had run fifty paces Olyessia stopped, turned her pale, scratched, bleeding face to the crowd, and said so loud that each word could be heard all through the square: “Very well.⁠ ⁠… You will remember this. You will weep your fill for this, all of you!”

The eyewitness of the happening told me afterwards that this threat was pronounced with such passionate hatred, in such a determined tone of prophecy, that for a moment the whole crowd was as it were benumbed; but only for a moment, because a fresh explosion of curses was heard immediately.

I say again that it was not till long after that I came to know many details of this story. I had neither strength nor patience to hear Mishtchenko’s tale to the end. I suddenly remember that Yarmola had probably not had time yet to unsaddle my horse, and without a word to the astounded bailiff, I rushed out into the yard. Yarmola was still leading Taranchik along by the fence. I quickly slipped the bridle on, tightened the girths, and raced away into the forest by circuitous paths in order to avoid having to pass through the drunken crowd again.


I cannot possibly describe my state during that wild gallop. There were moments when I utterly forgot where and why I was riding; only a dim consciousness remained that something irreparable had happened, something grotesque and horrible; a consciousness like the heavy, causeless anxiety which will possess a person in a feverish nightmare. And all the while strangely rang in my head, in time with the horse’s hoof-beat, the snuffling, broken voice of the harpist:

“Oh, there came out the Turkish troops
Like unto a black cloud.”

When I reached the narrow footpath that led straight to Manuilikha’s hut, I jumped off Taranchik and led him by the rein. By the edge of the saddle pads, and wherever the girths and bridle touched him, stood out white lumps of thick froth. From the violent heat of the day and the speed of my gallop, the blood roared in my head as though forced by some immense, unceasing pump.

I tied my horse to the wattle hedge and entered the hut. At first I thought that Olyessia was not there, and my heart and lips were chilled with fear; but a minute later I saw her lying on the bed with her face to the wall and her head hidden in the pillows. She did not even turn at the noise of the opening door.

Manuilikha was squatting on the floor by her side. When she saw me she rose with effort to her feet and shook her hand at me.

“Sh! Don’t make a noise, curse you!” she said in a menacing whisper, coming close to me. She glanced with her cold, faded eyes straight into mine and hissed malignantly: “Yes! You’ve done that beautifully, my darling!”

“Look here, granny!” I answered sternly. “This isn’t the time to settle our account and abuse each other. What’s the matter with Olyessia?”

“Sh.⁠ ⁠… Sh! Olyessia’s lying there unconscious; that’s what’s the matter with Olyessia! If you hadn’t poked your nose in where you had no business, and talked a pack of nonsense to the girl, nothing wrong would have happened. And I just looked on and indulged it, blind fool that I am.⁠ ⁠… But my heart scented misfortune.⁠ ⁠… It scented misfortune from the very first day when you broke into our house, almost by force. Do you mean to say that it wasn’t you who persuaded her to go trailing off to church?” Suddenly the old woman looked at me with her face distorted with hatred. “Wasn’t it you, you cursed gentleman! Don’t lie⁠—don’t put me off with your cunning tricks, you shameless hound! What did you go enticing her to church for?”

“I didn’t entice her, granny.⁠ ⁠… I give you my word. She wanted to, herself.”

“Ah, my grief, my misfortune!” Manuilikha clasped her hands. “She came running back from there⁠—with no face left at all, and all her skirt in rags⁠ ⁠… without a shawl to her head.⁠ ⁠… She tells me how it happened⁠ ⁠… then she laughs, or cries.⁠ ⁠… Just possessed simply.⁠ ⁠… She lay on the bed⁠ ⁠… weeping all the while, and then I saw that she’d fallen into a sleep, I thought.⁠ ⁠… And I was happy like an old fool. ‘She’ll sleep it all away now, for good,’ I thought. I saw her hand hanging down, and I thought I’d better put it right, or it would swell.⁠ ⁠… I felt for the darling’s hand and it was burning, blazing.⁠ ⁠… That meant the fever had begun.⁠ ⁠… For an hour she never stopped speaking, fast, and so pitifully.⁠ ⁠… She only stopped this very minute, a moment ago.⁠ ⁠… What have you done? What have you done to her?”

Suddenly her brown face writhed into a monstrous, disgusting grimace of weeping. Her lips tightened and drooped at the corners: all the muscles of her face stiffened and trembled, her eyelids lifted and wrinkled her forehead into deep folds, and from her eyes came a quick rain of big tears, big as peas. She held her head in her hands, and with her elbows on the table began to rock her whole body to and fro and to whine in a low, drawn-out voice.

“My little daught‑er! My darling grand-daught‑er! Oh, it is so hard for me, so bit‑te‑r!”

“Don’t roar, you old fool!” I coarsely broke in on Manuilikha. “You’ll wake her!”

The old woman kept silence, but with the same terrible contortion of her face she went on swinging to and fro, while the big tears splashed on to the table.⁠ ⁠… About ten minutes passed in this way. I sat by Manuilikha’s side and anxiously listened to a fly knocking against the windowpane with a broken yet monotonous buzzing.⁠ ⁠…

“Granny!” suddenly a faint, barely audible voice came from Olyessia: “Granny, who’s here?”

Manuilikha hastily hobbled to the bed, and straightway began to whine once more.

“Oh, my granddaughter, my own! Oh, it is so hard for me, so bit‑t‑e‑r!”

“Ah, stop, granny, stop!” Olyessia said with complaining entreaty and suffering in her voice. “Who’s sitting here?”

Cautiously, I approached the bed on tiptoe, with the awkward, guilty conscience of my own gross health which one always feels by a sick bed.

“It’s me, Olyessia,” I said, lowering my voice. “I’ve just come from the village on horseback.⁠ ⁠… I was in the town all the morning.⁠ ⁠… You’re ill, Olyessia?”

Without moving her face from the pillow, she stretched out her bare hand, as though she were feeling for something in the air. I understood the movement and took her hot hand into mine. Two huge blue marks, one on the wrist, the other above the elbow, stood out sharp on her tender white skin.

“My darling,” Olyessia began to speak slowly, with difficulty separating one word from another. “I want⁠ ⁠… to look at you⁠ ⁠… but I cannot.⁠ ⁠… They’ve maimed me.⁠ ⁠… All over, my whole body.⁠ ⁠… You remember.⁠ ⁠… You loved my face, so much.⁠ ⁠… You loved it, darling, didn’t you?⁠ ⁠… It made me so glad, always.⁠ ⁠… And now it will disgust you⁠ ⁠… even to look at me.⁠ ⁠… That is why⁠ ⁠… I do not want⁠—”

“Forgive me, Olyessia!” I whispered, bending down to her ear.

Her burning hand pressed mine hard and held it long.

“But what are you saying? Why should I forgive you, my darling? Aren’t you ashamed to think of it even? How could it be your fault? It’s all my own⁠—stupid me.⁠ ⁠… Why did I go?⁠ ⁠… No, my precious, don’t blame yourself.⁠ ⁠…”

“Olyessia, will you let me.⁠ ⁠… Promise me first, that you will⁠—”

“I’ll promise, darling⁠ ⁠… anything you want⁠—”

“Let me send for a doctor.⁠ ⁠… I implore you.⁠ ⁠… Well, you needn’t do anything he tells you, if you like.⁠ ⁠… But say ‘yes’⁠—only for my sake, Olyessia.”

“Oh⁠ ⁠… you’ve caught me in a terrible trap! No, you’d better let me free of my promise. Even if I were really ill, dying⁠—I wouldn’t let the doctor come near me. And am I ill now? It’s only fright that brought it on; it will go off when the evening comes. If it doesn’t, granny will give an infusion of lilies or make some raspberry-tea. What’s the good of the doctor? You⁠—you’re my best doctor. You’ve only just come⁠—and I feel better already.⁠ ⁠… Ah, there’s only one thing wrong, I want to look at you, even if it were only with one eye, but I’m afraid.⁠ ⁠…”

With a gentle effort I lifted Olyessia’s head from the pillow. Her face blazed with feverish redness; her dark eyes shone unnaturally bright; her dry lips trembled nervously. Long, red scratches ploughed her forehead, cheeks, and neck. There were dark bruises on her forehead and under her eyes.

“Don’t look at me.⁠ ⁠… I implore you.⁠ ⁠… I’m ugly now,” Olyessia besought me in a whisper, trying to cover my eyes with her hand.

My heart overflowed with pity. I nestled my lips on Olyessia’s hand, which lay motionless on the blanket, and began to cover it with long, quiet kisses. In the time before I used to kiss her hands too, but she always would draw them away from me in hasty, bashful fright. But now she made no resistance to my caress and with her other hand she gently smoothed my hair.

“You know it all?” she asked in a whisper.

I bent my head in silence. It is true I had not understood everything from Nikita Nazarich’s story. Only I did not want Olyessia to be agitated by having to recall the events of the morning. Suddenly a wave of irrepressible fury overwhelmed me at the idea of the outrage to which she had been subjected.

“Oh, why wasn’t I there!” I cried, holding myself straight and clenching my fists. “I would⁠ ⁠… I would have⁠—”

“Well, don’t worry⁠ ⁠… don’t worry.⁠ ⁠… Don’t be angry, darling.⁠ ⁠…” Olyessia interrupted me meekly.

I could not keep back the tears any more which had been choking my throat and burning my eyes. I pressed my face close to Olyessia’s shoulder, and I began to cry bitterly, silently, trembling all over my body.

“You are crying? You are crying?” There was surprise, tenderness, and compassion in her voice. “My darling⁠ ⁠… don’t⁠ ⁠… please don’t.⁠ ⁠… Don’t torment yourself, my darling.⁠ ⁠… I feel so happy near you.⁠ ⁠… Don’t let us cry while we are together. Let us be happy for the last days, then it won’t be so hard for us to part.”

I raised my head in amazement. A vague presentiment began slowly to press upon my heart.

“The last days, Olyessia? What do you mean⁠—the last? Why should we part?”

Olyessia shut her eyes and kept silence for some seconds. “We must part, Vanichka,” she said resolutely. “When I’m a little bit better, we’ll go away from here, granny and I. We must not stay here any longer.”

“Are you afraid of anything?”

“No, my darling, I’m not afraid of anything, if it comes to that. But why should I tempt people into mischief? Perhaps you don’t know.⁠ ⁠… Over there⁠—in Perebrod.⁠ ⁠… I was so angry and ashamed that I threatened them.⁠ ⁠… And now if anything happens, they will inform on us. If the cattle begin to die or a hut is set on fire⁠—we shall be the guilty ones. Granny”⁠—she turned to Manuilikha, raising her voice⁠—“isn’t it true what I say?”

“What did you say, little granddaughter? I confess I didn’t hear,” the old woman mumbled, coming closer and putting her hand to her ear.

“I said that whatever misfortune happens in Perebrod now they’ll put all the blame on us.”

“That’s true, that’s true, Olyessia⁠—they’ll throw everything on us, the miserable wretches.⁠ ⁠… We are no dwellers in this world. They will destroy us both, destroy us utterly, the cursed.⁠ ⁠… Besides, how did they drive me out of the village?⁠ ⁠… Why?⁠ ⁠… Wasn’t it just the same? I threatened them⁠ ⁠… just out of vexation, too.⁠ ⁠… One stupid fool of a woman⁠—and lo and behold her child died. It was no fault of mine at all⁠—not a dream of my dreaming or a spirit of my calling; but they nearly killed me all the same, the devils.⁠ ⁠… They began to stone me.⁠ ⁠… I ran away and only just managed to protect you⁠—you were a little tiny child then.⁠ ⁠… Well, I thought, it doesn’t matter if they give it to me, but why should an innocent child be injured.⁠ ⁠… No, it all comes to the same thing⁠—they’re savages, a dirty lot of gallows’-birds.”

“But where will you go? You haven’t any relations or friends anywhere.⁠ ⁠… Finally, you’ll have to have money to settle in a new place.”

“We’ll make shift somehow,” Olyessia said negligently. “There’ll be money as well. Granny has saved something.”

“Money as well!” the old woman echoed angrily, going away from the bed. “Widows’ mites, washed in tears⁠—”

“Olyessia.⁠ ⁠… What’s to become of me? You don’t want even to think of me!” I exclaimed, feeling a bitter, sick, ugly reproach against Olyessia rising within me.

She raised herself a little, and, careless of her grandmother’s presence, took my head into her hands, and kissed me on the cheeks and forehead several times in succession.

“I think of you most of all, my own! Only⁠ ⁠… you see⁠ ⁠… it’s not our fate to be together⁠ ⁠… that is it.⁠ ⁠… You remember, I spread out the cards for you? Everything happened as they foretold. It means that Fate does not will our happiness.⁠ ⁠… If it were not for this, do you think I would be frightened of anything?”

“Olyessia, you’re talking of fate again!” I cried impatiently. “I don’t want to believe in it⁠ ⁠… and I never will believe.”

“Oh no, no, no!⁠ ⁠… Don’t say that.” Olyessia began in a frightened whisper. “It’s not for me I’m afraid, but you. No you’d better not start us talking about it.”

In vain I tried to dissuade Olyessia; in vain I painted glowing pictures of unbroken happiness for her, which neither curious fate nor ugly, wicked people could disturb. Olyessia only kissed my hands and shook her head.

“No⁠ ⁠… no⁠ ⁠… no.⁠ ⁠… I know. I see,” she repeated persistently. “There’s nothing but sorrow awaits us⁠ ⁠… nothing⁠ ⁠… nothing.”

Disconcerted and baffled by this superstitious obstinacy, I asked at length, “At least you will let me know the day you are going away?”

Olyessia pondered. Suddenly the shadow of a smile flickered over her lips. “I’ll tell you a little story for that. Once upon a time a wolf was running through the forest when he saw a little hare and said to him: ‘Hi, you hare! I’ll eat you!’ The hare began to implore him: ‘Have mercy on me. I want to live. I have little children at home.’ The wolf did not agree, so the hare said: ‘Well, let me live another three days in the world; then you can eat me, but still I shall feel it easier to die.’ The wolf gave him his three days. He didn’t eat him, but only kept a watch on him. One day passed, then the second, and at last the third was coming to an end. ‘Well, get ready now,’ said the wolf, ‘I’m going to eat you at once.’ Then my hare began to weep with bitter tears. ‘Oh, why did you give me those three days, wolf? It would have been far better if you had eaten the first moment that you saw me. The whole of these three days it hasn’t been life for me, but torment.’

“Darling, that little hare spoke the truth. Don’t you think so?”

I was silent, distraught by an anxious foreboding of the loneliness that threatened me. Olyessia suddenly raised herself and sat up in bed. Her face grew serious at once. “Listen, Vanya.⁠ ⁠…” she said slowly. “Tell me, were you happy while you were with me? Did you feel that it was good?”

“Olyessia! Can you still ask?”

“Wait.⁠ ⁠… Did you regret having met me? Were you thinking of another woman while you were with me?”

“Never for one single second! Not only when I was with you, but when I was alone, I never had a thought for anyone but you.”

“Were you jealous of me? Were you ever angry with me? Were you ever wretched when you were with me?”

“Never, Olyessia, never!”

She put both her hands upon my shoulders, and looked into my eyes with love indescribable.

“Then I tell you, my darling, that you will never think evilly or sadly of me when you remember me,” she said with conviction, as though she were reading the future in my eyes. “When we part you will be miserable, terribly miserable.⁠ ⁠… You will cry, you will not find a place to rest anywhere. And then everything will pass and fade away, and you will think of me without sorrow, easily and happily.”

She let her head fall back on the pillows again and whispered in a feeble voice:

“Now go, my darling.⁠ ⁠… Go home, my precious.⁠ ⁠… I am a little bit tired. No, wait⁠ ⁠… kiss me.⁠ ⁠… Don’t be frightened of granny⁠ ⁠… she won’t mind. You don’t mind, do you, granny?”

“Say goodbye. Part, as you should,” the old woman muttered in discontent.⁠ ⁠… “Why should you want to hide from me? I’ve known it a long while.”

“Kiss me here and here⁠ ⁠… and here,” Olyessia said, touching her eyes, cheeks and mouth with her fingers.

“Olyessia, you’re saying goodbye to me as though we shall never see each other again!” I cried in terror.

“I don’t know, I don’t know, my darling. I don’t know anything. Now, go and God be with you. No, wait⁠ ⁠… just one little moment more.⁠ ⁠… Bend down to me.⁠ ⁠… You know what I regret?” she began to whisper, touching my cheeks with her lips. “That you haven’t given me a child.⁠ ⁠… Oh, how happy I should be!”

I went out into the passage, escorted by Manuilikha. Half the heaven was covered by a black cloud with sharp, curly edges, but the sun was still shining, bending to the east. There was something ominous in this mixing of light and oncoming darkness. The old woman looked up, shading her eyes with her hand as it were an umbrella, and shook her head meaningly.

“There’ll be a thunderstorm over Perebrod, today,” she said with conviction. “And hail as well, most likely.”


I had almost reached Perebrod when a sudden whirlwind rose, driving columns of dust before it on the road. The first heavy, scattered drops of rain began to fall.

Manuilikha was not mistaken. The storm which had been gathering all through the insufferable heat of the day burst with extraordinary force over Perebrod. The lightning flashed almost without intermission, and the window panes of my room trembled and rang with the roll of the thunder. At about eight o’clock in the evening the storm abated for some minutes, but only to begin again with new exasperation. Suddenly something poured down on to the roof with a deafening crash, and on to the walls of the old house. I rushed to the window. Huge hailstones, as big as a walnut, were falling furiously on to the earth and bouncing high in the air again. I glanced at the mulberry bush which grew against the house. It stood quite bare; every leaf had been beaten off by the blows of the awful hail. Beneath the window appeared Yarmola’s figure, hardly visible in the darkness. He had covered his head in his sheepskin and run out of the kitchen to close the shutters. But he was too late. A huge piece of ice suddenly struck one of the windows with such force that it was smashed, and the tinkling splinters of glass were scattered over the floor of the room.

A fatigue came over me, and I lay down on the bed in my clothes. I thought I would never be able to sleep at all that night, but would toss from side to side in impotent anguish until the morning. So I decided it would be better not to undress; later I might be able to tire myself if only a little by walking up and down the room, over and over again. But a strange thing happened to me. It seemed to me that I had shut my eyes only a second; but when I opened them, long, bright sunbeams were already stretching through the chinks of the shutters, and innumerable motes of golden dust were turning round and round within them.

Yarmola was standing over my bed. On his face was written stern anxiety and impatient expectation. Probably he had been waiting long for me to wake.

“Sir,” he said in a dull voice, in which one could distinguish his uneasiness. “You’d better go away from here, sir.”

I put my feet out of bed and looked at Yarmola with amazement. “Better go away? Where to? Why? You’re mad, surely.”

“No, I’m not mad,” Yarmola snarled. “You didn’t hear what happened through yesterday’s hail? Half the corn of the village is like as though it had been trodden underfoot⁠—cripple Maxim’s, the Goat’s, old Addlepate’s, the brothers Prokopchuk’s, Gordi Olefir’s.⁠ ⁠… She put the mischief on us, the devilish witch.⁠ ⁠… May she rot in hell!”

In an instant I remember what had happened yesterday, the threat Olyessia had made by the church, and her apprehensions.

“And all the village is in a riot now,” Yarmola continued. “They got drunk first thing in the morning, and now they’re fighting.⁠ ⁠… They’ve got something bad to say of you, too, sir.⁠ ⁠… You know what our people are like?⁠ ⁠… If they do something to the witches, that won’t matter, it’ll serve ’em to rights; but you, sir⁠—I’ll just say this one word of warning, you get out of here as quick as you can.”

So Olyessia’s fears had come true. I must let her know at once of the danger that threatened her and Manuilikha. I got up hurriedly, rinsed my face without ever standing still, and in half an hour I was riding full gallop towards the Devil’s Corner.

The nearer I came to the chicken-legged hut the stronger grew the vague melancholy anxiety within me. I said to myself that in a moment a new, unexpected misfortune would certainly befall me.

I almost galloped over the narrow footpath that wound up the sandy hill. The windows of the hut were open, the door wide.

“My God, what has happened?” I whispered, and my heart sank as I entered the passage.

The hut was empty. Over it all reigned the sad, dirty disorder that always remains after a hurried departure. Heaps of dust and rags lay about the floor, and the wooden frame of a bed stood in the corner.

My heart was utterly sad, overflowing with tears; I wanted to get out of the hut already, when my eye was caught by something bright, hung, as if on purpose, in a corner of the window-frame. It was a string of the cheap red beads which they call “corals” in Polyessie⁠—the only thing that remained to me in memory of Olyessia and her tender, greathearted love.

A Slav Soul

The farther I go back in my memory of the past, and the nearer I get to remembering incidents connected with my childhood, the more confused and doubtful do my recollections become. Much, no doubt, was told me afterwards, in a more conscious stage of my existence, by those who, with loving care, noticed my early doings. Perhaps many of the things that I recall never happened to me; I heard or read them some time or other and their remembrance grew to be part of myself. Who can guarantee which of these recollections are of real facts and which of tales told so long ago that they have all the appearance of truth⁠—who can know where one ends and the other begins?

My imagination recalls with special vividness the eccentric figure of Yasha and the two companions⁠—I might almost call them friends⁠—who accompanied him along the path of life: Matsko, an old rejected cavalry horse, and the yard-dog Bouton.

Yasha was distinguished by the deliberate slowness of his speech and actions, and he always had the air of a man whose thoughts were concentrated on himself. He spoke very seldom and considered his speech; he tried to speak good Russian, though at times when he was moved he would burst out in his native dialect of Little-Russian. Owing to his dress of a dark colour and sober cut, and to the solemn and almost melancholy expression of his shaven face and thin pursed lips, he always gave the impression that he was an old servant of a noble family of the good old times.

Of all the human beings that he knew, Yasha seemed to find my father the only one besides himself worthy of his veneration. And though to us children, to my mother, and to all our family and friends, his manner was respectful, it was mingled with a certain pity and slighting condescension. It was always an enigma to me⁠—whence came this immeasurable pride of his. Servants have often a well-known form of insolence; they take upon themselves some of that attractive authority which they have noticed in their masters. But my father, a poor doctor in a little Jewish village, lived so modestly and quietly that Yasha could never have learnt from him to look down upon his neighbours. And in Yasha himself there was none of the ordinary insolence of a servant⁠—he had no metropolitan polish and could not overawe people by using foreign words, he had no overbearing manners towards country chambermaids, no gentle art of tinkling out touching romances on the guitar, an art by which so many inexperienced souls have been ruined. He occupied his leisure hours in lying in sheer idleness full-length on the box in which he kept his belongings. He not only did not read books, but he sincerely despised them. All things written, except in the Bible, were, in his opinion, written not for truth’s sake but just to get money, and he therefore preferred to any book those long rambling thoughts which he turned over in his mind as he lay idly on his bed.

Matsko, the horse, had been rejected from military service on account of many vices, the chief of which was that he was old, far too old. Then his forelegs were crooked, and at the places where they joined the body were adorned with bladder-like growths; he strutted on his hind legs like a cock. He held his head like a camel, and from old military habit tossed it upward and thrust his long neck forward. This, combined with his enormous size and unusual leanness, and the fact that he had only one eye, gave him a pitiful warlike and seriocomic expression. Such horses are called in the regiments “stargazers.”

Yasha prized Matsko much more than Bouton, who sometimes displayed a frivolity entirely out of keeping with his size. He was one of those shaggy, long-haired dogs who at times remind one of ferrets, but being ten times as large, they sometimes look like poodles; they are by nature the very breed for yard-dogs. At home Bouton was always overwhelmingly serious and sensible in all his ways, but in the streets his behaviour was positively disgraceful. If he went out with my father he would never run modestly behind the carriage as a well-behaved dog should do. He would rush to meet all other dogs, jump about them and bark loudly in their very noses, only springing away to one side in affright if one of them with a snort of alarm bent his head quickly and tried to bite him. He ran into other people’s yards and came tearing out again after a second or so, chased by a dozen angry dogs of the place. He wandered about on terms of deepest friendship with dogs of a known bad reputation.

In our districts of Podolia and Volhynia nothing was thought so much of as a person’s way of setting out from his house. A squire might long since have mortgaged and re-mortgaged his estate, and be only waiting for the officers of the Crown to take possession of his property, but let him only on a Sunday go out to “Holy Church,” it must be in a light tarantass drawn by four or six splendid fiery Polish horses, and driving into the market square of the village he must cry to the coachman⁠—“Lay on with the whip, Joseph.” Yet I am sure that none of our rich neighbours started off in such pomp as Yasha was able to impart to our equipage when my father made up his mind to journey forth. Yasha would put on a shining hat with a shade in front and behind, and a broad yellow belt. Then the carriage would be taken out about a hundred yards from the house⁠—an antique coach of the old Polish days⁠—and Matsko put in. Hardly would my father show himself at the house-door than Yasha would give a magnificent crack with his whip, Matsko would wave his tail some time in hesitation and then start at a sober trot, flinging out and raising his hind legs, and strutting like a cock. Coming level with the house-door Yasha would pretend that only with great difficulty could he restrain the impatient horses, stretching out both his arms and pulling back the reins with all his might. All his attention would seem to be swallowed up by the horses, and whatever might happen elsewhere round about him, Yasha would never turn his head. Probably he did all this to sustain our family honour.

Yasha had an extraordinarily high opinion of my father. It would happen upon occasion that some poor Jew or peasant would be waiting his turn in the anteroom while my father was occupied with another patient. Yasha would often enter into a conversation with him, with the simple object of increasing my father’s popularity as a doctor.

“What do you think?” he would ask, taking up a position of importance on a stool and surveying the patient before him from head to foot. “Perhaps you fancy that coming to my master is like asking medical advice of the clerk at the village police-station. My master not only stands higher than such a one, brother, but higher than the chief of police himself. He knows about everything in the world, my brother. Yes, he does. Now, what’s the matter with you?”

“There’s something wrong with my inside⁠ ⁠…” the sick person would say, “my chest burns.⁠ ⁠…”

“Ah, you see⁠—what causes that? What will cure you? You don’t know, and I don’t. But my master will only throw a glance at you and he’ll tell you at once whether you’ll live or die.”

Yasha lived very economically, and he spent his money in buying various things which he carefully stored away in his large tin-bound wooden trunk. Nothing gave us children greater pleasure than for Yasha to let us look on while he turned out these things. On the inside of the lid of the trunk were pasted pictures of various kinds. There, side by side with portraits of terrifying green-whiskered generals who had fought for the fatherland, were pictures of martyrs, engravings from the Neva,3 studies of women’s heads, and fairytale pictures of the robber-swallow in an oak, opening wide his right eye to receive the arrow of Ilya-Muromets. Yasha would bring out from the trunk a whole collection of coats, waistcoats, topcoats, fur-caps, cups and saucers, wire boxes ornamented with false pearls and with transfer pictures of flowers, and little circular mirrors. Sometimes, from a side pocket of the trunk, he would bring out an apple or a couple of buns strewn with poppy-seed, which we always found especially appetising.

Yasha was usually very precise and careful. Once he broke a large decanter and my father scolded him for it. The next day Yasha appeared with two new decanters. “I daresay I shall break another one,” he explained, “and anyhow we can find a use for the two somehow.” He kept all the rooms of the house in perfect cleanliness and order. He was very jealous of all his rights and duties, and he was firmly convinced that no one could clean the floors as well as he. At one time he had a great quarrel with a new housemaid, Yevka, as to which of them could clean out a room better. We were called in as expert judges, and in order to tease Yasha a little we gave the palm to Yevka. But children as we were, we didn’t know the human soul, and we little suspected what a cruel blow this was to Yasha. He went out of the room without saying a word, and next day everybody in the village knew that Yasha was drunk.

Yasha used to get drunk about two or three times a year, and these were times of great unhappiness for him and for all the family. There was nobody then to chop wood, to feed the horses, to bring in water. For five or six days we lost sight of Yasha and heard nothing of his doings. On the seventh day he came back without hat or coat and in a dreadful condition. A crowd of noisy Jews followed about thirty paces behind him, and ragged urchins called names after him and made faces. They all knew that Yasha was going to hold an auction.

Yasha came into the house, and then in a minute or so ran out again into the street, carrying in his arms almost all the contents of his trunk. The crowd came round him quickly.

“How’s that? You won’t give me any more vodka, won’t you?” he shouted, shaking out trousers and waistcoats and holding them up in his hands. “What, I haven’t any more money, eh? How much for this? and this, and this?”

And one after another he flung his garments among the crowd, who snatched at them with tens of rapacious fingers.

“How much’ll you give?” Yasha shouted to one of the Jews who had possessed himself of a coat⁠—“how much’ll you give, mare’s head?”

“We‑ll, I’ll give you fifty copecks,” drawled the Jew, his eyes staring.

“Fifty copecks, fifty?” Yasha seemed to fall into a frenzy of despair. “I don’t want fifty copecks. Why not say twenty? Give me gold! What’s this? Towels? Give me ten copecks for the lot, eh? Oh that you had died of fever! Oh that you had died when you were young!”

Our village has its policeman, but his duties consist mainly in standing as godfather to the farmers’ children, and on such an occasion as this “the police” took no share in quelling the disorder, but acted the part of a modest and silent looker-on. But my father, seeing the plunder of Yasha’s property, could no longer restrain his rage and contempt. “He’s got drunk again, the idiot, and now he’ll lose all his goods,” said he, unselfishly hurling himself into the crowd. In a second the people were gone and he found himself alone with Yasha, holding in his hands some pitiful-looking razor-case or other. Yasha staggered in astonishment, helplessly raising his eyebrows, and then he suddenly fell heavily on his knees.

“Master! My own dear master! See what they’ve done to me!”

“Go off into the shed,” ordered my father angrily, pulling himself away from Yasha, who had seized the tail of his coat and was kissing it. “Go into the shed and sleep off your drunkenness so that tomorrow even the smell of you may be gone!”

Yasha went away humbly into the shed, and then began for him those tormenting hours of getting sober, the deep and oppressive torture of repentance. He lay on his stomach and rested his head on the palms of his hands, staring fixedly at some point in front of him. He knew perfectly well what was taking place in the house. He could picture to himself how we were all begging my father to forgive him, and how my father would impatiently wave his hands and refuse to listen. He knew very well that probably this time my father would be implacable.

Every now and then we children would be impelled by curiosity to go and listen at the door of the shed, and we would hear strange sounds as of bellowing and sobbing.

In such times of affliction and degradation Bouton counted it his moral duty to be in attendance upon the suffering Yasha. The sagacious creature knew very well that ordinarily when Yasha was sober he would never be allowed to show any sign of familiarity towards him. Whenever he met the stern figure of Yasha in the yard Bouton would put on an air of gazing attentively into the distance of being entirely occupied in snapping at flies. We children used to fondle Bouton and feed him occasionally, we used to pull the burrs out of his shaggy coat while he stood in patient endurance, we even used to kiss him on his cold, wet nose. And I always wondered that Bouton’s sympathy and devotion used to be given entirely to Yasha, from whom he seemed to get nothing but kicks. Now, alas! when bitter experience has taught me to look all round and on the under side of things, I begin to suspect that the source of Bouton’s devotion was not really enigmatical⁠—it was Yasha who fed Bouton every day, and brought him his dish of scraps after dinner.

In ordinary times, I say, Bouton would never have risked forcing himself upon Yasha’s attention. But in these days of repentance he went daringly into the shed and planted himself by the side of Yasha, staring into a corner and breathing deeply and sympathetically. If this seemed to do no good, he would begin to lick his patron’s face and hands, timidly at first, but afterwards boldly and more boldly. It would end by Yasha putting his arms round Bouton’s neck and sobbing, then Bouton would insinuate himself by degrees under Yasha’s body, and the voices of the two would mingle in a strange and touching duet.

Next day Yasha came into the house at early dawn, gloomy and downcast. He cleaned the floor and the furniture and put everything into a state of shining cleanliness ready for the coming of my father, the very thought of whom made Yasha tremble. But my father was not to be appeased. He handed Yasha his wages and his passport and ordered him to leave the place at once. Prayers and oaths of repentance were vain.

Then Yasha resolved to take extreme measures.

“So it means you’re sending me away, sir, does it?” he asked boldly.

“Yes, and at once.”

“Well then, I won’t go. You send me away now, and you’ll simply all die off like beetles. I won’t go. I’ll stay years!”

“I shall send for the policeman to take you off.”

“Take me off,” said Yasha in amazement. “Well, let him. All the town knows that I’ve served you faithfully for twenty years, and then I’m sent off by the police. Let them take me. It won’t be shame to me but to you, sir!”

And Yasha really stayed on. Threats had no effect upon him. He paid no attention to them, but worked untiringly in an exaggerated way, trying to make up for lost time. That night he didn’t go into the kitchen to sleep, but lay down in Matsko’s stall, and the horse stood up all night, afraid to move and unable to be down in his accustomed place. My father was a good-natured and indolent man, who easily submitted himself to surrounding circumstances and to people and things with which he was familiar. By the evening he had forgiven Yasha.

Yasha was a handsome man, of a fair, Little-Russian, melancholy type. Young men and girls looked admiringly at him, but not one of them running like a quail across the yard would have dared to give him a playful punch in the side or even an inviting smile⁠—there was too much haughtiness in him and icy contempt for the fair sex. And the delights of a family hearth seemed to have little attraction for him. “When a woman establishes herself in a cottage,” he used to say intolerantly, “the air becomes bad at once.” However, he did once make a move in that direction, and then he surprised us more than ever before. We were seated at tea one evening when Yasha came into the dining-room. He was perfectly sober, but his face wore a look of agitation, and pointing mysteriously with his thumb over his shoulder towards the door, he asked in a whisper, “Can I bring them in?”

“Who is it?” asked father. “Let them come in.”

All eyes were turned in expectation towards the door, from behind which there crept a strange being. It was a woman of over fifty years of age, ragged, drunken, degraded and foolish-looking.

“Give us your blessing, sir, we’re going to be married,” said Yasha, dropping on his knees. “Get down on your knees, fool,” cried he, addressing the woman and pulling her roughly by the sleeve.

My father with difficulty overcame his astonishment. He talked to Yasha long and earnestly, and told him he must be going out of his mind to think of marrying such a creature. Yasha listened in silence, not getting up from his knees; the silly woman knelt too all the time.

“So you don’t allow us to marry, sir?” asked Yasha at last.

“Not only do I not allow you, but I’m quite sure you won’t do such a thing,” answered my father.

“That means that I won’t,” said Yasha resolutely. “Get up, you fool,” said he, turning to the woman. “You hear what the master says. Go away at once.”

And with these words he hauled the unexpected guest away by the collar, and they both went quickly out of the room.

This was the only attempt Yasha made towards the state of matrimony. Each of us explained the affair to ourselves in our own way, but we never understood it fully, for whenever we asked Yasha further about it, he only waved his hands in vexation.

Still more mysterious and unexpected was his death. It happened so suddenly and enigmatically and had apparently so little connection with any previous circumstance in Yasha’s life that if I were forced to recount what happened I feel I couldn’t do it at all well. Yet all the same, I am confident that what I say really took place, and that none of the clear impression of it is at all exaggerated.

One day, in the railway station three versts from the village, a certain well-dressed young man, a passenger from one of the trains, hanged himself in a lavatory. Yasha at once asked my father if he might go and see the body.

Four hours later he returned and went straight into the dining-room⁠—we had visitors at the time⁠—and stood by the door. It was only two days after one of his drinking bouts and repentance in the shed, and he was quite sober.

“What is it?” asked my mother.

Yasha suddenly burst into a guffaw. “He⁠—he⁠—he,” said he. “His tongue was all hanging out.⁠ ⁠… The gentleman.⁠ ⁠…”

My father ordered him into the kitchen. Our guests talked a little about Yasha’s idiosyncrasies and then soon forgot about the little incident. Next day, about eight o’clock in the evening, Yasha went up to my little sister in the nursery and kissed her.

“Goodbye, missy.”

“Goodbye, Yasha,” answered the little one, not looking up from her doll.

Half an hour later Yevka, the housemaid, ran into my father’s study, pale and trembling.

“Oh, sir⁠ ⁠… there⁠ ⁠… in the attic⁠ ⁠… he’s hanged himself⁠ ⁠… Yasha.⁠ ⁠…”

And she fell down in a swoon.

On a nail in the attic hung the lifeless body of Yasha.

When the coroner questioned the cook, she said that Yasha’s manner had been very strange on the day of his death.

“He stood before the looking-glass,” said she, “and pressed his hands so tightly round his neck that his face went quite red and his tongue stuck out and his eyes bulged.⁠ ⁠… He must have been seeing what he would look like.”

The coroner brought in a verdict of “suicide while in a state of unsound mind.”

Yasha was buried in a special grave dug for the purpose in the ravine on the other side of the wood. Next day Bouton could not be found anywhere. The faithful dog had run off to the grave and lay there howling, mourning the death of his austere friend. Afterwards he disappeared and we never saw him again.

And now that I myself am nearly what may be called an old man, I go over my varied recollections now and then, and when I come to the thought of Yasha, every time I say to myself: “What a strange soul⁠—faithful, pure, contradictory, absurd⁠—and great. Was it not a truly Slav soul that dwelt in the body of Yasha?”

The Song and the Dance

We lived at that time in the Government of Riazan, some 120 versts from the nearest railway station and even 25 versts from the large trading village of Tuma. “Tuma is iron and its people are of stone,” as the local inhabitants say of themselves. We lived on an old untenanted estate, where in 1812 an immense house of wood had been constructed to accommodate the French prisoners. The house had columns, and a park with lime trees had been made around it to remind the prisoners of Versailles.

Imagine our comical situation. There were twenty-three rooms at our disposal, but only one of them had a stove and was warmed, and even in that room it was so cold that water froze in it in the early morning and the door was frosted at the fastenings. The post came sometimes once a week, sometimes once in two months, and was brought by a chance peasant, generally an old man with the packet under his shaggy snow-strewn coat, the addresses wet and smudged, the backs unsealed and stuck again by inquisitive postmasters. Around us was an ancient pine wood where bears prowled, and whence even in broad daylight the hungry wolves sallied forth and snatched away yawning dogs from the street of the hamlet near by. The local population spoke in a dialect we did not understand, now in a singsong drawl, now coughing and hooting, and they stared at us surlily and without restraint. They were firmly convinced that the forest belonged to God and the muzhik alone, and the lazy German steward only knew how much wood they stole. There was at our service a splendid French library of the eighteenth century, though all the magnificent bindings were mouse-eaten. There was an old portrait gallery with the canvases ruined from damp, mould, and smoke.

Picture to yourself the neighbouring hamlet all overblown with snow, and the inevitable village idiot, Serozha, who goes naked even in the coldest weather; the priest who does not play “preference” on a fast day, but writes denunciations to the starosta, a stupid, artful man, diplomat and beggar, speaking in a dreadful Petersburg accent. If you see all this you understand to what a degree of boredom we attained. We grew tired of encompassing bears, of hunting hares with hounds, of shooting with pistols at a target through three rooms at a distance of twenty-five paces, of writing humorous verses in the evening. Of course we quarrelled.

Yes, and if you had asked us individually why we had come to this place I should think not one of us would have answered the question. I was painting at that time; Valerian Alexandrovitch wrote symbolical verses, and Vaska amused himself with Wagner and played Tristan and Iseult on the old, ruined, yellow-keyed clavicordia.

But about Christmas-time the village began to enliven, and in all the little clearings round about, in Tristenka, in Borodina, Breslina, Shustova, Nikiforskaya and Kosli the peasants began to brew beer⁠—such thick beer that it stained your hands and face at the touch, like lime bark. There was so much drunkenness among the peasants, even before the festival, that in Dagileva a son broke his father’s head, and in Kruglitsi an old man drank himself to death. But Christmas was a diversion for us. We started paying the customary visits and offering congratulations to all the local officials and peasants of our acquaintance. First we went to the priest, then to the psalm-singer of the church, then to the church watchman, then to the two schoolmistresses. After the schoolmistresses we fared more pleasantly. We turned up at the doctor’s at Tuma, then trooped off to the district clerk, where a real banquet awaited us, then to the policeman, then to the lame apothecary, then to the local peasant tyrant who had grown rich and held a score of other peasants in his own grasp, and possessed all the cord, linen, grain, wood, whips in the neighbourhood. And we went and went on!

It must be confessed, however, that we felt a little awkward now and then. We couldn’t manage to get into the tempo of the life there. We were really out of it. This life had creamed and mantled for years without number. In spite of our pleasant manners and apparent ease we were, all the same, people from another planet. Then there was a disparity in our mutual estimation of one another: we looked at them as through a microscope, they at us as through a telescope. Certainly we made attempts to accommodate ourselves, and when the psalm-singer’s servant, a woman of forty, with warty hands all chocolate colour from the reins of the horse she put in the sledge when she went with a bucket to the well, sang of an evening, we did what we thought we ought to do. She would look ashamed, lower her eyes, fold her arms and sing:

“Andray Nikolaevitch
We have come to you,
We wish to trouble you.
But we have come
And please to take
The one of us you love.”

Then we would boldly make to kiss her on the lips, which we did in spite of feigned resistance and screams.

And we would make a circle. One day there were a lot of us there; four students on holiday from an ecclesiastical college, the psalm-singer, a housekeeper from a neighbouring estate, the two schoolmistresses, the policeman in his uniform, the deacon, the local horse-doctor, and we three aesthetes. We went round and round in a dance, and sang, roared, swinging now this way, now that, and the lion of the company, a student named Vozdvizhensky, stood in the middle and ordered our movements, dancing himself the while and snapping his fingers over his head:

“The queen was in the town, yes, the town,
And the prince, the little prince, ran away.
Found a bride, did the prince, found a bride.
She was nice, yes she was, she was nice,
And a ring got the prince for her, a ring.”

After a while the giddy whirl of the dance came to an end, and we stopped and began to sing to one another, in solemn tones:

“The royal gates were opened,
Bowed the king to the queen,
And the queen to the king,
But lower bowed the queen.”

And then the horse-doctor and the psalm-singer had a competition as to who should bow lower to the other.

Our visiting continued, and at last came to the schoolhouse at Tuma. That was inevitable, since there had been long rehearsals of an entertainment which the children were going to give entirely for our benefit⁠—Petersburg guests. We went in. The Christmas tree was lit simultaneously by a touch-paper. As for the programme, I knew it by heart before we went in. There were several little tableaux, illustrative of songs of the countryside. It was all poorly done, but it must be confessed that one six-year-old mite playing the part of a peasant, wearing a huge cap of dogskin and his father’s great leather gloves with only places for hand and thumb, was delightful, with his serious face and hoarse little bass voice⁠—a born artist.

The remainder was very disgusting. All done in the false popular style.

I had long been familiar with the usual entertainment items: Little-Russian songs mispronounced to an impossible point; verses and silly embroidery patterns: “There’s a Christmas tree, there’s Petrushka, there’s a horse, there’s a steam-engine.” The teacher, a little consumptive fellow, got up for the occasion in a long frock-coat and stiff shirt, played the fiddle in fits and starts, or beat time with his bow, or tapped a child on the head with it now and then.

The honorary guardian of the school, a notary from another town, chewed his gums all the time and stuck out his short parrot’s tongue with sheer delight, feeling that the whole show had been got up in his honour.

At last the teacher got to the most important item on his programme. We had laughed up till then, our turn was coming to weep. A little girl of twelve or thirteen came out, the daughter of a watchman, her face, by the way, not at all like his horse-like profile. She was the top girl in the school and she began her little song:

“The jumping little grasshopper sang the summer through,
Never once considering how the winter would blow in his eyes.”

Then a shaggy little boy of seven, in his father’s felt boots, took up his part, addressing the watchman’s daughter:

“That’s strange, neighbour. Didn’t you work in the summer?”
“What was there to work for? There was plenty of grass.”

Where was our famous Russian hospitality?

To the question, “What did you do in the summer?” the grasshopper could only reply, “I sang all the time.”

At this answer the teacher, Kapitonitch, waved his bow and his fiddle at one and the same time⁠—oh, that was an effect rehearsed long before that evening!⁠—and suddenly in a mysterious half-whisper the whole choir began to sing:

“You’ve sung your song, you call that doing,
You’ve sung all the summer, then dance all the winter,
You’ve sung your song, then dance all the winter,
Dance all the winter, dance all the winter.
You’ve sung the song, then dance the dance.”

I confess that my hair stood on end as if each individual hair were made of glass, and it seemed to me as if the eyes of the children and of the peasants packing the schoolroom were all fixed on me as if repeating that d⁠⸺⁠d phrase:

“You’ve sung the song, you call that doing,
You’ve sung the song, then dance the dance.”

I don’t know how long this drone of evil boding and sinister recitation went on. But I remember clearly that during those minutes an appalling idea went through my brain. “Here we stand,” thought I, “a little band of intelligentsia, face to face with an innumerable peasantry, the most enigmatical, the greatest, and the most abased people in the world. What connects us with them? Nothing. Neither language, nor religion, nor labour, nor art. Our poetry would be ridiculous to their ears, absurd, incomprehensible. Our refined painting would be simply useless and senseless smudging in their eyes. Our quest for gods and making of gods would seem to them stupidity, our music merely a tedious noise. Our science would not satisfy them. Our complex work would seem laughable or pitiful to them, the austere and patient labourers of the fields. Yes. On the dreadful day of reckoning what answer shall we give to this child, wild beast, wise man, and animal, to this many-million-headed giant?” We shall only be able to say sorrowfully, “We sang all the time. We sang our song.”

And he will reply with an artful peasant smile, “Then go and dance the dance.”

And I know that my companions felt as I did. We went out of the entertainment-room silent, not exchanging opinions.

Three days later we said goodbye, and since that time have been rather cold towards one another. We had been suddenly chilled in our consciences and made ashamed, as if these innocent mouths of sleepy children had pronounced death sentence upon us. And when I returned from the post of Ivan Karaulof to Goreli, and from Goreli to Koslof, and from Koslof to Zintabrof, and then further by railroad there followed me all the time that ironical, seemingly malicious phrase, “Then dance the dance.”

God alone knows the destiny of the Russian people.⁠ ⁠… Well, I suppose, if it should be necessary, we’ll dance it!

I travelled a whole night to the railway station.

On the bare frosted branches of the birches sat the stars, as if the Lord Himself had with His own hands decorated the trees. And I thought, “Yes, it’s beautiful.” But I could not banish that ironical thought, “Then dance the dance.”

Easter Day

On his way from Petersburg to the Crimea Colonel Voznitsin purposely broke his journey at Moscow, where his childhood and youth had been spent, and stayed there two days. It is said that some animals when they feel that they are about to die go round to all their favourite and familiar haunts, taking leave of them, as it were. Voznitsin was not threatened by the near approach of death; at forty years of age he was still strong and well-preserved. But in his tastes and feelings and in his relations with the world he had reached the point from which life slips almost imperceptibly into old age. He had begun to narrow the circle of his enjoyments and pleasures; a habit of retrospection and of sceptical suspicion was manifest in his behaviour; his dumb, unconscious, animal love of Nature had become less and was giving place to a more refined appreciation of the shades of beauty; he was no longer agitated and disturbed by the adorable loveliness of women, but chiefly⁠—and this was the first sign of spiritual blight⁠—he began to think about his own death. Formerly he had thought about it in a careless and transient fashion⁠—sooner or later death would come, not to him personally, but to some other, someone of the name of Voznitsin. But now he thought of it with a grievous, sharp, cruel, unwavering, merciless clearness, so that at nights his heart beat in terror and his blood ran cold. It was this feeling which had impelled him to visit once more those places familiar to his youth, to live over again in memory those dear, painfully sweet recollections of his childhood, overshadowed with a poetical sadness, to wound his soul once more with the sweet grief of recalling that which was forever past⁠—the irrevocable purity and clearness of his first impressions of life.

And so he did. He stayed two days in Moscow, returning to his old haunts. He went to see the boardinghouse where once he had lived for six years in the charge of his form mistress, being educated under the Froebelian system. Everything there was altered and reconstituted; the boys’ department no longer existed, but in the girls’ classrooms there was still the pleasant and alluring smell of freshly varnished tables and stools; there was still the marvellous mixture of odours in the dining-room, with a special smell of the apples which now, as then, the scholars hid in their private cupboards. He visited his old military school, and went into the private chapel where as a cadet he used to serve at the altar, swinging the censer and coming out in his surplice with a candle at the reading of the Gospel, but also stealing the wax candle-ends, drinking the wine after Communion, and sometimes making grimaces at the funny deacon and sending him into fits of laughter, so that once he was solemnly sent away from the altar by the priest, a magnificent and plump greybeard, strikingly like the picture of the God of Sabaoth behind the altar. He went along all the old streets, and purposely lingered in front of the houses where first of all had come to him the naive and childish languishments of love; he went into the courtyards and up the staircases, hardly recognising any of them, so much alteration and rebuilding had taken place in the quarter of a century of his absence. And he noticed with irritation and surprise that his staled and life-wearied soul remained cold and unmoved, and did not reflect in itself the old familiar grief for the past, that gentle grief, so bright, so calm, reflective and submissive.

“Yes, yes, yes⁠—it’s old age,” he repeated to himself, nodding his head sadly.⁠ ⁠… “Old age, old age, old age.⁠ ⁠… It can’t be helped.⁠ ⁠…”

After he left Moscow he was kept in Kiev for a whole day on business, and only arrived at Odessa at the beginning of Holy Week. But it had been bad weather for some days, and Voznitsin, who was a very bad sailor, could not make up his mind to embark. It was only on the morning of Easter Eve that the weather became fine and the sea calm.

At six o’clock in the evening the steamer Grand Duke Alexis left the harbour. Voznitsin had no one to see him off, for which he was thankful. He had no patience with the somewhat hypocritical and always difficult comedy of farewell, when God knows why one stands a full half-hour at the side of the boat and looks down upon the people standing on the pier, smiling constrained smiles, throwing kisses, calling out from time to time in a theatrical tone foolish and meaningless phrases for the benefit of the bystanders, till at last, with a sigh of relief, one feels the steamer begin slowly and heavily to move away.

There were very few passengers on board, and the majority of them were third-class people. In the first-class there were only two others besides himself: a lady and her daughter, as the steward informed him. “That’s good,” thought he to himself.

Everything promised a smooth and easy voyage. His cabin was excellent, large and well lighted, with two divans and no upper berths at all. The sea, though gently tossing, grew gradually calmer, and the ship did not roll. At sunset, however, there was a fresh breeze on deck.

Voznitsin slept that night with open windows, and more soundly than he had slept for many months, perhaps for a year past. When the boat arrived at Eupatoria he was awakened by the noise of the cranes and by the running of the sailors on the deck. He got up, dressed quickly, ordered a glass of tea, and went above.

The steamer was at anchor in a half-transparent mist of a milky rose tint, pierced by the golden rays of the rising sun. Scarcely noticeable in the distance, the flat shore lay glimmering. The sea was gently lapping the steamer’s sides. There was a marvellous odour of fish, pitch and seaweed. From a barge alongside they were lading packages and bales. The captain’s directions rang out clearly in the pure air of morning: “Maina, véra, véra po malu, stop!”

When the barge had gone off and the steamer began to move again, Voznitsin went down into the dining saloon. A strange sight met his gaze. The tables were placed flat against the walls of the long room and were decorated with gay flowers and covered with Easter fare. There were lambs roasted whole, and turkeys, with their long necks supported by unseen rods and wire, raised their foolish heads on high. Their thin necks were bent info the form of an interrogation mark, and they trembled and shook with every movement of the steamer. They might have been strange antediluvian beasts, like the brontozauri or ichthauri one sees in pictures, lying there upon the large dishes, their legs bent under them, their heads on their twisted necks looking around with a comical and cautious wariness. The clear sunlight streamed through the portholes and made golden circles of light on the tablecloths, transforming the colours of the Easter eggs into purple and sapphire, and making the flowers⁠—hyacinths, pansies, tulips, violets, wallflowers, forget-me-nots⁠—glow with living fire.

The other first-class passenger also came down for tea. Voznitsin threw a passing glance at her. She was neither young nor beautiful, but she had a tall, well-preserved, rather stout figure, and was well and simply dressed in an ample light-coloured cloak with silk collar and cuffs. Her head was covered with a light-blue, semitransparent gauze scarf. She drank her tea and read a book at the same time, a French book Voznitsin judged by its small compact shape and pale yellow cover.

There was something strangely and remotely familiar about her, not so much in her face as in the turn of her neck and the lift of her eyebrows when she cast an answering glance at him. But this unconscious impression was soon dispersed and forgotten.

The heat of the saloon soon sent the passengers on deck, and they sat down on the seats on the sheltered side of the boat. The lady continued to read, though she often let her book fall on to her knee while she gazed upon the sea, on the dolphins sporting there, on the distant cliffs of the shore, purple in colour or covered with a scant verdure.

Voznitsin began to pace up and down the deck, turning when he reached the cabin. Once, as he passed the lady, she looked up at him attentively with a kind of questioning curiosity, and once more it seemed to him that he had met her before somewhere. Little by little this insistent feeling began to disquiet him, and he felt that the lady was experiencing the same feelings. But try as he would he could not remember meeting her before.

Suddenly, passing her for the twentieth time, he almost involuntarily stopped in front of her, saluted in military fashion, and lightly clicking his spurs together said:

“Pardon my boldness⁠ ⁠… but I can’t get rid of a feeling that I know you, or rather that long ago I used to know you.”

She was quite a plain woman, of blonde almost red colouring, grey hair⁠—though this was only noticeable at a near view owing to its original light colour⁠—pale eyelashes over blue eyes, and a faded freckled face. Her mouth only seemed fresh, being full and rosy, with beautifully curved lips.

“And I also,” said she. “Just fancy, I’ve been sitting here and wondering where we could have met. My name is Lvova⁠—does that remind you of anything?”

“I’m sorry to say it doesn’t,” answered he, “but my name is Voznitsin.”

The lady’s eyes gleamed suddenly with a gay and familiar smile, and Voznitsin saw that she knew him at once.

“Voznitsin, Kolya Voznitsin,” she cried joyfully, holding out her hand to him. “Is it possible I didn’t recognise you? Lvova, of course, is my married name.⁠ ⁠… But no, no, you will remember me in time.⁠ ⁠… Think: Moscow, Borisoglebsky Street, the house belonging to the church.⁠ ⁠… Well? Don’t you remember your school chum, Arkasha Yurlof⁠ ⁠… ?”

Voznitsin’s hand trembled as he pressed hers. A flash of memory enlightened him.

“Well, I never!⁠ ⁠… It can’t be Lenotchka? I beg your pardon, Elena⁠ ⁠… Elena.⁠ ⁠…”

“Elena Vladimirovna,” she put in. “You’ve forgotten.⁠ ⁠… But you, Kolya, you’re just the same Kolya, awkward, shy, touchy Kolya. How strange for us to meet like this! Do sit down.⁠ ⁠… How glad I am.⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes,” muttered Voznitsin, “the world is really so small that everyone must of necessity meet everyone else”⁠—a by no means original thought. “But tell me all that has happened. How is Arkasha⁠—and Alexandra Millievna⁠—and Oletchka?”

At school Voznitsin had only been intimate with one of his companions⁠—Arkasha Yurlof. Every Sunday he had leave he used to visit the family, and at Easter and Christmas-time he had sometimes spent his holidays with them. Before the time came for them to go to college, Arkasha had fallen ill and had been ordered away into the country. And from that time Voznitsin had lost sight of him. Many years ago he had heard by chance that Lenotchka had been betrothed to an officer having the unusual surname of Jenishek, who had done a thing at once foolish and unexpected⁠—shot himself.

“Arkasha died at our country house in 1890,” answered the lady, “of cancer. And mother only lived a year after. Oletchka took her medical degree and is now a doctor in the Serdobsky district⁠—before that she was assistant in our village of Jemakino. She has never wished to marry, though she’s had many good offers. I’ve been married twenty years,” said she, a gleam of a smile on her compressed lips. “I’m quite an old woman.⁠ ⁠… My husband has an estate in the country, and is a member of the Provincial Council. He hasn’t received many honours, but he’s an honest fellow and a good husband, is not a drunkard, neither plays cards nor runs after women, as others do.⁠ ⁠… God be praised for that!⁠ ⁠…”

“Do you remember, Elena Vladimirovna, how I was in love with you at one time?” Voznitsin broke in suddenly.

She smiled, and her face at once wore a look of youth. Voznitsin saw for a moment the gleam of the gold stopping in her teeth.

“Foolishness!⁠ ⁠… Just lad’s love.⁠ ⁠… But you weren’t in love with me at all; you fell in love with the Sinyelnikofs, all four of them, one after the other. When the eldest girl married you placed your heart at the feet of the next sister, and so on.”

“Ah-ha! You were just a little jealous, eh?” remarked Voznitsin with jocular self-satisfaction.

“Oh, not at all!⁠ ⁠… You were like Arkasha’s brother.⁠ ⁠… Afterwards, later, when you were about seventeen perhaps, I was a little vexed to think you had changed towards me.⁠ ⁠… You know, its ridiculous, but girls have hearts like women. We may not love a silent adorer, but we are jealous if he pays attentions to others.⁠ ⁠… But that’s all nonsense. Tell me more about yourself, where you live, and what you do.”

He told her of his life⁠—at college, in the army, about the war, and his present position. No, he had never married⁠—at first he had feared poverty and the responsibility of a family, and now it was too late. He had had flirtations, of course, and even some serious romances.

The conversation ceased after a while, and they sat silent, looking at one another with tender, tear-dimmed eyes. In Voznitsin’s memory the long past of thirty years ago came swiftly again before him. He had known Lenotchka when he was eleven years old. She had been a naughty, fidgetty sort of girl, fond of telling tales and liking to make trouble. Her face was covered with freckles, she had long arms and legs, pale eyelashes, and disorderly red hair hanging about her face in long wisps. Her sister Oletchka was different; she had always kept apart, and behaved like a sensible girl. On holidays they all went together to dances at the Assembly Rooms, to the theatre, the circus, to the skating rink. They got up Christmas parties and children’s plays together; they coloured eggs at Easter and dressed up at Christmas. They quarrelled and carried on together like young puppies.

There were three years of that. Lenotchka used to go away every summer with her people to their country house at Jemakino, and that year, when she returned to Moscow in the autumn, Voznitsin opened both eyes and mouth in astonishment. She was changed; you couldn’t say that she was beautiful, but there was something in her face more wonderful than actual beauty, a rosy radiant blossoming of the feminine being in her. It is so sometimes. God knows how the miracle takes place, but in a few weeks, an awkward, undersized, gawky schoolgirl will develop suddenly into a charming maiden. Lenotchka’s face still kept her summer sunburn, under which her ardent young blood flowed gaily, her shoulders had filled out, her figure rounded itself, and her soft breasts had a firm outline⁠—all her body had become willowy, graceful, gracious.

And their relations towards one another had changed also. They became different after one Saturday evening when the two of them, frolicking together before church service in a dimly lighted room, began to wrestle together and fight. The windows were wide open, and from the garden came the clear freshness of autumn and a slight winey odour of fallen leaves, and slowly one after another rang out the sounds of the church bells.

They struggled together; their arms were round each other so that their bodies were pressed closely together and they were breathing in each other’s faces. Suddenly Lenotchka, her face flaming crimson even in the darkening twilight, her eyes dilated, began to whisper angrily and confusedly:

“Let me go⁠ ⁠… let go.⁠ ⁠… I don’t want to⁠ ⁠… ,” adding with a malicious gleam in her wet eyes: “Nasty, horrid boy.”

The nasty, horrid boy released her and stood there, awkwardly stretching out his trembling arms. His legs trembled also, and his forehead was wet with a sudden perspiration. He had just now felt in his arms the slender responsive waist of a woman, broadening out so wonderfully to the rounded hips; he had felt on his bosom the pliant yielding contact of her firm, high, girlish breasts and breathed the perfume of her body⁠—that pleasant intoxicating scent of opening poplar buds and young shoots of black-currant bushes which one smells on a clear damp evening of spring after a slight shower, when the sky and the rain-pools flame with crimson and the may beetles hum in the air.

Thus began for Voznitsin that year of love languishment, of bitter passionate dreams, of secret and solitary tears. He became wild, unsociable, rude and awkward in consequence of his torturing shyness; he was always knocking over chairs and catching his clothes on the furniture, upsetting the tea-table with all the cups and saucers⁠—“Our Kolinka’s always getting into trouble,” said Lenotchka’s mother good-naturedly.

Lenotchka laughed at him. But he knew nothing of it, he was continually behind her watching her draw or write or embroider, and looking at the curve of her neck with a strange mixture of happiness and torture, watching her white skin and flowing golden hair, seeing how her brown school-blouse moved with her breathing, becoming large and wrinkling up into little pleats when she drew in her breath, then filling out and becoming tight and elastic and round again. The sight of her girlish wrists and pretty arms, and the scent of opening poplar buds about her, remained with the boy and occupied his thoughts in class, in church, in detention rooms.

In all his notebooks and textbooks Voznitsin drew beautifully-twined initials E and Y, and cut them with a knife on the lid of his desk in the middle of a pierced and flaming heart. The girl, with her woman’s instinct, no doubt guessed his silent adoration, but in her eyes he was too everyday, too much one of the family. For him she had suddenly been transformed into a blooming, dazzling, fragrant wonder, but in her sight he was still the same impetuous boy as before, with a deep voice and hard rough hands, wearing a tight uniform and wide trousers. She coquetted innocently with her schoolboy friends and with the young son of the priest at the church, and, like a kitten sharpening its claws, she sometimes found it amusing to throw on Voznitsin a swift, burning, cunning glance. But if he in a momentary forgetfulness squeezed her hand too tightly, she would threaten him with a rosy finger and say meaningly:

“Take care, Kolya. I shall tell mother.” And Voznitsin would shiver with unfeigned terror.

It was no wonder that Kolya had to spend two years in the sixth form; no wonder either that in the summer he fell in love with the eldest of the Sinyelnikof girls, with whom he had once danced at a party.⁠ ⁠… But at Easter his full heart of love knew a moment of heavenly blessedness.

On Easter Eve he went with the Yurlofs to Borisoglebsky Church, where Alexandra Millievna had an honoured place, with her own kneeling-mat and soft folding chair. And somehow or other he contrived to come home alone with Lenotchka. The mother and Oletchka stayed for the consecration of the Easter cakes, and Lenotchka, Arkasha and Kolya came out of church together. But Arkasha diplomatically vanished⁠—he disappeared as suddenly as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up. The two young people found themselves alone.

They went arm in arm through the crowd, their young legs moving easily and swiftly. Both were overcome by the beauty of the night, the joyous hymns, the multitude of lights, the Easter kisses, the smiles and greetings in the church. Outside there was a cheerful crowd of people; the dark and tender sky was full of brightly twinkling stars; the scent of moist young leaves was wafted from gardens, and they, too, were unexpectedly so near to one another they seemed lost together in the crowd, and they were out at an unusually late hour.

Pretending to himself that it was by accident, Voznitsin pressed Lenotchka’s elbow to his side, and she answered with a barely noticeable movement in return. He repeated the secret caress, and she again responded. Then in the darkness he felt for her fingertips and gently stroked them, and her hand made no objection, was not snatched away.

And so they came to the gate of the church house. Arkasha had left the little gate open for them. Narrow wooden planks placed over the mud led up to the house between two rows of spreading old lime trees. When the gate closed after them, Voznitsin caught Lenotchka’s hand and began to kiss her fingers, so warm, so soft, so full of life.

“Lenotchka, I love you; I love you.⁠ ⁠…”

He put his arms around her and kissed her in the darkness, somewhere just below her ear. His hat fell off on to the ground, but he did not stop to pick it up. He kissed the girl’s cool cheek, and whispered as in a dream:

“Lenotchka, I love you, I love you.⁠ ⁠…”

“No, no,” said she in a whisper, and hearing the whisper he sought her lips. “No, no, let me go; let me.⁠ ⁠…”

Dear lips of hers, half childish, simple, innocent lips. When he kissed her she made no opposition, yet she did not return his kisses; she breathed in a touching manner, quickly, deeply, submissively. Down his cheeks there flowed cool tears, tears of rapture. And when he drew his lips away from hers and looked up into the sky, the stars shining through the lime branches seemed to dance and come towards one another, to meet and swim together in silvery clusters, seen through his flowing tears.

“Lenotchka, I love you.⁠ ⁠…”

“Let me go.⁠ ⁠…”


But suddenly she cried out angrily: “Let me go, you nasty, horrid boy. You’ll see, I’ll tell mother everything; I’ll tell her all about it. Indeed, I will.”

She didn’t say anything to her mother, but after that night she never allowed Voznitsin to be alone with her. And then the summertime came.⁠ ⁠…

“And do you remember, Elena Vladimirovna, how one beautiful Easter night two young people kissed one another just inside the church-house gate?” asked Voznitsin.

“No, I don’t remember anything.⁠ ⁠… Nasty, horrid boy,” said the lady, smiling gently. “But look, here comes my daughter. You must make her acquaintance.”

“Lenotchka, this is Nikolai Ivanitch Voznitsin, my old, old friend. I knew him as a child. And this is my Lenotchka. She’s just exactly the same age as I was on that Easter night.⁠ ⁠…”

“Big Lenotchka and little Lenotchka,” said Voznitsin.

“No, old Lenotchka and young Lenotchka,” she answered, simply and quietly.

Lenotchka was very much like her mother, but taller and more beautiful than she had been in her youth. Her hair was not red, but the colour of a hazel nut with a brilliant lustre; her dark eyebrows were finely and clearly outlined; her mouth full and sensitive, fresh and beautiful.

The young girl was interested in the floating lightships, and Voznitsin explained their construction and use. Then they talked about stationary lighthouses, the depth of the Black Sea, about divers, about collisions of steamers, and so on. Voznitsin could talk well, and the young girl listened to him with lightly parted lips, never taking her eyes from his face.

And he⁠ ⁠… the longer he looked at her the more his heart was overcome by a sweet and tender melancholy⁠—sympathy for himself, pleasure in her, in this new Lenotchka, and a quiet thankfulness to the elder one. It was this very feeling for which he had thirsted in Moscow, but clearer, brighter, purified from all self-love.

When the young girl went off to look at the Kherson monastery he took the elder Lenotchka’s hand and kissed it gently.

“Life is wise, and we must submit to her laws,” he said thoughtfully. “But life is beautiful too. It is an eternal rising from the dead. You and I will pass away and vanish out of sight, but from our bodies, from our thoughts and actions, from our minds, our inspiration and our talents, there will arise, as from our ashes, a new Lenotchka and a new Kolya Voznitsin. All is connected, all linked together. I shall depart and yet I shall also remain. But one must love Life and follow her guidance. We are all alive together⁠—the living and the dead.”

He bent down once more to kiss her hand, and she kissed him tenderly on his white-haired brow. They looked at one another, and their eyes were wet with tears; they smiled gently, sadly, tenderly.

The Idiot

We were seated in a little park, driven there by the unbearable heat of the noonday sun. It was much cooler there than in the streets, where the paving stones, steeped in the rays of the July sun, burnt the soles of one’s feet, and the walls of the buildings seemed red-hot. The fine scorching dust of the roadway did not penetrate through the close border of leafy old limes and spreading chestnuts, the latter with their long upright pyramids of rosy flowers looking like gigantic imperial candelabra. The park was full of frolicsome well-dressed children, the older ones playing with hoops and skipping-ropes, chasing one another or going together in pairs, their arms entwined as they walked about with an air of importance, stepping quickly upon the sidewalk. The little ones played at choosing colours, “My lady sent me a hundred roubles,” and “King of the castle.” And then a group of all the smallest ones gathered together on a large heap of warm yellow sand, moulding it into buckwheat cakes and Easter loaves. The nurses stood round in groups, gossiping about their masters and mistresses; the governesses sat stiffly upright on the benches, deep in their reading or their needlework.

Suddenly the children stopped their playing and began to gaze intently in the direction of the entrance gate. We also turned to look. A tall bearded peasant was wheeling in before him a bath-chair in which sat a pitiful helpless being, a boy of about eighteen or twenty years, with a flabby pale face, thick, wet, crimson hanging lips, and the appearance of an idiot. The bearded peasant pushed the chair past us and disappeared down a side path. I noticed as he passed that the enormous sharp-pointed head of the boy moved from side to side, and that at each movement of the chair it fell towards his shoulder or dropped helplessly in front of him.

“Poor man!” exclaimed my companion in a gentle voice.

I heard such deep and sincere sympathy in his words that I involuntarily looked at him in astonishment. I had known Zimina for a long time⁠—he was a strong, good-natured, jolly, virile type of man serving in one of the regiments quartered in our town. To tell the truth, I shouldn’t have expected from him such sincere compassion towards a stranger’s misfortune.

“Poor, of course he is, but I shouldn’t call him a man,” said I, wishing to get into conversation with Zimina.

“Why wouldn’t you?” asked he in his turn.

“Well, it’s difficult to say. But surely it’s clear to everybody.⁠ ⁠… An idiot has none of the higher impulses and virtues which distinguish man from the animal⁠ ⁠… no reason or speech or will.⁠ ⁠… A dog or a cat possesses these qualities in a much higher degree.⁠ ⁠…”

But Zimina interrupted me.

“Pardon me, please,” said he. “I am deeply convinced, on the contrary, that idiots are not lacking in human instincts. These instincts are only clouded over⁠ ⁠… they exist deep below their animal feelings.⁠ ⁠… You see, I once had an experience which gives me, I think, the right to say this. The remembrance of it will never leave me, and every time I see such an afflicted person I feel touched almost to tears.⁠ ⁠… If you’ll allow me, I’ll tell you why the sight of an idiot moves me to such compassion.”

I hastened to beg him to tell his story, and he began.

“In the year 18⁠—, in the early autumn, I went to Petersburg to sit for an examination at the Academy of the General Staff. I stopped in the first hotel I came to, at the corner of Nevsky Prospect and the Fontanka. From my windows I could see the bronze horses on the parapet of the Anitchka Bridge⁠—they were always wet and gleaming as if they had been covered over with new oilcloth. I often drew them on the marble window-seats of my room.

“Petersburg struck me as an unpleasant place, it seemed to be always enveloped in a melancholy grey veil of drizzling rain. But when I went into the Academy for the first time I was overwhelmed and overawed by its grandeur. I remember now its immense broad staircase with marble balustrades, its high-roofed amphilades, its severely proportioned lecture-hall, and its waxed parquet floor, gleaming like a mirror, upon which my provincial feet stepped warily. There were four hundred officers there that day. Against the modest background of green Armenian uniforms there flashed the clattering swords of the Cuirassiers, the scarlet breasts of the Lancers, the white jackets of the Cavalry Guards, waving plumes, the gold of eagles on helmets, the various colours of facings, the silver of swords. These officers were all my rivals, and as I watched them in pride and agitation I pulled at the place where I supposed my moustache would grow by and by. When a busy colonel of the General Staff, with his portfolio under his arm, hurried past us, we shy foot soldiers stepped on one side with reverent awe.

“The examination was to last over a month. I knew no one in all Petersburg, and in the evening, returning to my lodging, I experienced the dullness and wearisomeness of solitude. It was no good talking to any of my companions; they were all immersed in sines and tangents, in the qualities determining good positions for a battle ground, in calculations about the declination of a projectile. Suddenly I remembered that my father had advised me to seek out in Petersburg our distant relative, Alexandra Ivanovna Gratcheva, and go and visit her. I got a directory, found her address, and set out for a place somewhere on the Gorokhavaya. After some little difficulty I found Alexandra Ivanovna’s room; she was living in her sister’s house.

“I opened the door and stood there, hardly seeing anything at first. A stout woman was standing with her back to me, near the single small window of dull green glass. She was bending over a smoky paraffin stove. The room was filled with the odour of paraffin and burning fat. The woman turned round and saw me, and from a corner a barefooted boy, wearing a loose-belted blouse, jumped up and ran quickly towards me. I looked closely at him, and saw at once that he was an idiot, and, though I did not recoil before him, in reality there was a feeling in my heart like that of fear. The idiot looked unintelligently at me, uttering strange sounds, something like oorli, oorli, oorli.⁠ ⁠…

“ ‘Don’t be afraid, he won’t touch it,’ said the woman to the idiot, coming forward. And then to me⁠—‘What can I do for you?’ she added.

“I gave my name and reminded her of my father. She was glad to see me, her face brightened up, she exclaimed in surprise and began to apologise for not having the room in order. The idiot boy came closer to me, and cried out more loudly, oorli, oorli.⁠ ⁠…

“ ‘This is my boy, he’s been like that from birth,’ said Alexandra Ivanovna with a sad smile. ‘What of it.⁠ ⁠… It’s the will of God. His name is Stepan.’

“Hearing his name the idiot cried out in a shrill, birdlike voice:


“Alexandra Ivanovna patted him caressingly on the shoulder.

“ ‘Yes, yes, Stepan, Stepan.⁠ ⁠… You see, he guessed we were speaking about him and so he introduced himself.’

‘Papan!’ cried the idiot again, turning his eyes first on his mother and then on me.

“In order to show some interest in the boy I said to him, ‘How do you do, Stepan,’ and took him by the hand. It was cold, puffy, lifeless. I felt a certain aversion, and only out of politeness went on:

“ ‘I suppose he’s about sixteen.’

“ ‘Oh, no,’ answered the mother. ‘Everybody thinks he’s about sixteen, but he’s over twenty-nine.⁠ ⁠… His beard and moustache have never grown.’

“We talked together. Alexandra Ivanovna was a quiet, timid woman, weighed down by need and misfortune. Her sharp struggle against poverty had entirely killed all boldness of thought in her and all interest in anything outside the narrow bounds of this struggle. She complained to me of the high price of meat, and about the impudence of the cab drivers; told me of some people who had won money in a lottery, and envied the happiness of rich people. All the time of our conversation Stepan kept his eyes fixed on me. He was apparently struck by and interested in my military overcoat. Three times he put out his hand stealthily to touch the shining buttons, but drew it back each time as if he were afraid.

“ ‘Is it possible your Stepan cannot say even one word?’ I asked.

“Alexandra Ivanovna shook her head sadly.

“ ‘No, he can’t speak. He has a few words of his own, but they’re not really words⁠—just mutterings. For example, he calls himself Papan; when he wants something to eat he says mnya; he calls money teki. Stepan,’ she continued, turning to her son, ‘where is your teki; show us your teki.’

“Stepan jumped up quickly from his chair, ran into a dark corner, and crouched down on his heels. I heard the jingling of some copper coins and the boy’s voice saying oorli, oorli, but this time in a growling, threatening tone.

“ ‘He’s afraid,’ explained the mother; ‘though he doesn’t understand what money is, he won’t let anyone touch it⁠ ⁠… he won’t even let me.⁠ ⁠… Well, well, we won’t touch your money, we won’t touch it,’ she went to her son and soothed him.⁠ ⁠…

“I began to visit them frequently. Stepan interested me, and an idea came to me to try and cure him according to the system of a certain Swiss doctor, who tried to cure his feebleminded patients by the slow road of logical development. ‘He has a few weak impressions of the outer world and of the connection between phenomena,’ I thought. ‘Can one not combine two or three of these ideas, and so give a fourth, a fifth, and so on? Is it not possible by persistent exercise to strengthen and broaden this poor mind a little?’

“I brought him a doll dressed as a coachman. He was much pleased with it, and laughed and exclaimed, showing the doll and saying Papan! The doll, however, seemed to awaken some doubt in his mind, and that same evening Stepan, who was usually well-disposed to all that was small and weak, tried to break the doll’s head on the floor. Then I brought him pictures, tried to interest him in boxes of bricks, and talked to him, naming the different objects and pointing them out to him. But either the Swiss doctor’s system was not a good one or I didn’t know how to put it into practice⁠—Stepan’s development seemed to make no progress at all.

“He was very fond of me in those days. When I came to visit them he ran to meet me, uttering rapturous cries. He never took his eyes off me, and when I ceased to pay him special attention he came up and licked my hands, my shoes, my uniform, just like a dog. When I went away he stood at the window for a long time, and cried so pitifully that the other lodgers in the house complained of him to the landlady.

“But my personal affairs were in a bad way. I failed at the examination, failed unusually badly in the last but one examination in fortifications. Nothing remained but to collect my belongings and go back to my regiment. I don’t think that in all my life I shall ever forget that dreadful moment when, coming out of the lecture-hall, I walked across the great vestibule of the Academy. Good Lord! I felt so small, so pitiful and so humbled, walking down those broad steps covered with grey felt carpet, having a crimson stripe at the side and a white linen tread down the middle.

“It was necessary to get away as quickly as possible. I was urged to this by financial considerations⁠—in my purse I had only ten copecks and one ticket for a dinner at a student’s restaurant.

“I thought to myself: ‘I must get my “dismissal” quickly and set out at once. Oh, the irony of that word “dismissal.” ’ But it seemed the most difficult thing in the world. From the Chancellor of the Academy I was sent to the General Staff, thence to the Commandant’s office, then to the local intendant, then back to the Academy, and at last to the Treasury. All these places were open only at special times: some from nine to twelve, some from three to five. I was late at all of them, and my position began to appear critical.

“When I used my dinner ticket I had thoughtlessly squandered my ten copecks also. Next day, when I felt the pangs of hunger, I resolved to sell my textbooks. Thick Baron Bego, adapted by Bremiker, bound, I sold for twenty-five copecks; Professor Lobko for twenty; solid General Durop no one would buy.

“For two days I was half starved. On the third day there only remained to me three copecks. I screwed up my courage and went to ask a loan from some of my companions, but they all excused themselves by saying there was a Torricellian vacuum in their pockets, and only one acknowledged having a few roubles, but he never lent money. As he explained, with a gentle smile, ‘ “Loan oft loses both itself and friend,” as Shakespeare says in one of his immortal works.’

“Three copecks! I indulged in tragic reflections. Should I spend them all at once on a box of ten cigarettes, or should I wait until my hunger became unbearable, and then buy bread?

“How wise I was to decide on the latter! Towards evening I was as hungry as Robinson Crusoe on his island, and I went out on to the Nevsky Prospect. Ten times I passed and repassed Philipof’s the baker’s, devouring with my eyes the immense loaves of bread in the windows. Some had yellow crust, some red, and some were strewn with poppy-seed. At last I resolved to go in. Some schoolboys stood there eating hot pies, holding them in scraps of grey greasy paper. I felt a hatred against them for their good fortune.

“ ‘What would you like?’ asked the shopman.

“I put on an indifferent air, and answered superciliously:

“ ‘Cut me off a pound of black bread.⁠ ⁠…’

“I was far from being at my ease while the man skilfully cut the bread with his broad knife. And suddenly I thought to myself: ‘Suppose it’s more than two and a half copecks a pound, what shall I do if the man cuts it overweight? I know it’s possible to owe five or ten roubles in a restaurant, and say to the waiter, “Put it down to my account, please,” but what can one do if one hasn’t enough by one copeck?’

“Hurrah! The bread cost exactly three copecks. I shifted about from one foot to another while it was being wrapped up in paper. As soon as I got out of the shop and felt in my pocket the soft warmth of the bread, I wanted to cry out for joy and begin to munch it, as children do those crusts which they steal from the table after a long day’s romping, to eat as they lie in their beds. And I couldn’t restrain myself. Even in the street I thrust into my mouth two large tasty morsels.

“Yes. I tell you all this in almost a cheerful tone. But I was far from cheerful then. Add to my torture of hunger the stinging shame of failure; the near prospect of being the laughingstock of my regimental companions; the charming amiability of the official on whom depended my cursed ‘dismissal’.⁠ ⁠… I tell you frankly, in those days I was face to face all the time with the thought of suicide.

“Next day my hunger again seemed unbearable. I went along to Alexandra Ivanovna. As soon as Stepan saw me he went into an ecstasy. He cried out, jumped about me, and licked my coat-sleeve. When at length I sat down he placed himself near me on the floor and pressed up against my legs. Alexandra Ivanovna was obliged to send him away by force.

“It was very unpleasant to have to ask a loan from this poor woman, who herself found life so difficult, but I resolved I must do so.

“ ‘Alexandra Ivanovna,’ said I. ‘I’ve nothing to eat. Lend me what money you can, please.’

“She wrung her hands.

“ ‘My dear boy, I haven’t a copeck. Yesterday I pawned my brooch.⁠ ⁠… Today I was able to buy something in the market, but tomorrow I don’t know what I shall do.’

“ ‘Can’t you borrow a little from your sister?’ I suggested.

“Alexandra Ivanovna looked round with a frightened air, and whispered, almost in terror:

“ ‘What are you saying? What! Don’t you know I live here on her charity? No, we’d better think of some other way of getting it.’

“But the more we thought the more difficult it appeared. After a while we became silent. Evening came on, and the room was filled with a heavy wearisome gloom. Despair and hate and hunger tortured me. I felt as if I were abandoned on the edge of the world, alone and humiliated.

“Suddenly something touched my side. I turned. It was Stepan. He held out to me on his palm a little pile of copper money, and said: ‘Teki, teki, teki.⁠ ⁠…

“I did not understand. Then he threw his money on to my knee, called out once more⁠—teki⁠—and ran off into his corner.

“Well, why should I hide it? I wept like a child; sobbed out, long and loudly. Alexandra Ivanovna wept also, out of pity and tenderness, and from his far corner Stepan uttered his pitiful, unmeaning cry of oorli, oorli, oorli.

“When I became quieter I felt better. The unexpected sympathy of the idiot boy had suddenly warmed and soothed my heart, and shown me that it is possible to live, and that one ought to live, as long as there is love and compassion in the world.”

“That is why,” concluded Zimina, finishing his story, “that is why I pity all these unfortunates, and why I can’t deny that they are human beings.” Yes, and by the way, his sympathy brought me happiness. Now I’m very glad I didn’t become a “moment”⁠—that’s our nickname for the officers of the General Staff. Since that time I have had a full and broad life, and promises to be as full in the future. I’m superstitious about it.

The Picture


One evening, at the house of a well-known literary man, after supper, there arose among the company an unusually heated discussion as to whether there could exist in this time of ours, so barren of exalted feelings, a lasting and unalterable friendship. Everyone said that such friendship did not exist; that there were many trials which the friendship of our days was quite unable to support. It was in the statement of the causes through which friendship was broken, that the company disagreed. One said that money stood in the way of friendship; another that woman stood in the way; a third, similarity of character; a fourth, the cares of family life, and so on.

When the talking and shouting had died down, and the people were tired, though nothing had been explained and no conclusion arrived at, one respected guest, who till that moment had not taken part in the discussion, suddenly broke silence and took up the conversation.

“Yes, gentlemen, all that you have said is both weighty and remarkable. Still I could give you an example from life where friendship triumphed over all the obstacles which you have mentioned, and remained inviolate.”

“And do you mean,” asked the host, “that this friendship endured to the grave?”

“No, not to the grave. But it was broken off for a special reason.”

“What sort of a reason?” asked the host.

“A very simple reason, and at the same time an astonishing one. The friendship was broken by St. Barbara.”

None of the company could understand how, in our commercial days, St. Barbara could sever a friendship, and they all begged Afanasy Silitch⁠—for such was the respected man’s name⁠—to explain his enigmatical words.

Afanasy Silitch smiled as he answered:

“There’s nothing enigmatical about the matter. It’s a simple and sad story, the story of the suffering of a sick heart. And if you would really like to hear, I’ll tell you about it at once with pleasure.”

Everyone prepared to listen, and Afanasy Silitch began his tale.


In the beginning of the present century there was a family of princes, Belokon Belonogof, famous on account of their illustrious birth, their riches and their pride. But fate destined this family to die out, so that now there is hardly any remembrance of them. The last of these princes, and he was not of the direct line, finished his worldly career quite lately in the Arzhansky, a well-known night house and gambling den in Moscow, among a set of drunkards, wastrels and thieves. But my story is not about him, but about Prince Andrey Lvovitch, with whom the direct line ended.

During his father’s lifetime⁠—this was before the emancipation of the serfs⁠—Prince Andrey had a commission in the Guards, and was looked upon as one of the most brilliant officers. He had plenty of money, was handsome, and a favourite with the ladies, a good dancer, a duellist⁠—and what not besides? But when his father died, Prince Andrey threw up his commission in spite of all entreaties from his comrades to remain. “No,” said he, “I shall be lost among you, and I’m curious to know all that fate has in store for me.”

He was a strange man, of peculiar and, one might say, fantastic habits. He flattered himself that his every dream could at once be realised. As soon as he had buried his father he took himself off abroad. Astonishing to think of the places he went to! Money was sent to him through every agency and banking house, now in Paris, now in Calcutta, then in New York, then Algiers. I know all this on unimpeachable authority, I must tell you, because my father was the chief steward of his estate of two hundred thousand desiatines.4

After four years the prince returned, thin, his face overgrown with a beard and brown from sunburn⁠—it was difficult to recognise him. As soon as he arrived he established himself on his estate at Pneestcheva. He went about in his dressing-gown. He found it very dull on the whole.

I was always welcome in his house at that time, for the prince liked my cheerful disposition, and as I had received some sort of education I could be somewhat of a companion to him. And then again, I was a free person, for my father had been ransomed in the old prince’s time.

The prince always greeted me affectionately, and made me sit down with him. He even treated me to cigars. I soon got used to sitting down in his presence, but I could never accustom myself to smoking the cigars⁠—they always gave me a kind of seasickness.

I was very curious to see all the things which the prince had brought back with him from his travels. Skins of lions and tigers, curved swords, idols, stuffed animals of all kinds, precious stones and rich stuffs. The prince used to lie on his enormous divan and smoke, and though he laughed at my curiosity he would explain everything I asked about. Then, if he could get himself into the mood, he would begin to talk of his adventures until, as you may well believe, cold shivers ran down my back. He would talk and talk, and then all at once would frown and become silent. I would be silent also. And then he would say, all of a sudden:

“It’s dull for me, Afanasy. See, I’ve been all round the world and seen everything; I’ve caught wild horses in Mexico and hunted tigers in India; I’ve journeyed on the sea and been in danger of drowning; I’ve crossed deserts and been buried in sand⁠—what more is there for me? Nothing, I say; there’s nothing new under the sun.”

I said to him once, quite simply, “You might get married, prince.”

But he only laughed.

“I might marry if I could find the woman whom I could love and honour. I’ve seen all nations and all classes of women, and since I’m not ugly, not stupid, and I’m a rich man, they have all shown me special attention, but I’ve never seen the sort of woman that I need. All of them were either mercenary or depraved, or stupid or just a little too much given to good works. But the fact remains, that I feel bored with life. It would be another matter if I had any sort of talent or gift.”

And to this I generally used to answer: “But what more talent do you want, prince? Thank God for your good looks, for your land⁠—which, as you say yourself, is more than belongs to any German prince⁠—and for the powers with which God has blessed you. I shouldn’t ask for any other talent.”

The prince laughed at this, and said: “You’re a stupid, Afanasy, and much too young as yet. Live a little longer, and if you don’t become an utter scoundrel, you’ll remember these words of mine.”


Prince Andrey had, however, a gift of his own, in my opinion, a very great gift, for painting, which had been evident even in his childhood. During his stay abroad he had lived for nearly a year in Rome, and had there learnt to paint pictures. He had even thought at one time, he told me, that he might become a real artist, but for some reason he had given up the idea, or he had become idle. Now he was living on his estate at Pneestcheva, he called to mind his former occupation and took to painting pictures again. He painted the river, the mill, an icon of St. Nicholas for the church⁠—and painted them very well.

Besides this occupation the prince had one other diversion⁠—bear hunting. In our neighbourhood there were a fearful number of these animals. He always went as a mouzhik, with hunting pole and knife, and only took with him the village hunter Nikita Dranny. They called him Dranny because on one occasion a bear had torn a portion of his scalp from his skull, and his head had remained ragged ever since.5

With the peasants the prince was quite simple and friendly. He was so easy to approach that if a man wanted wood for his cottage, or if his horse had had an accident, all he had to do was to go straight to the prince and ask for what he wanted. He knew that he would not be refused. The only things the prince could not stand were servility and lying. He never forgave a lie.

And, moreover, the serfs loved him because he made no scandals with their women folk. The maids of our countryside had a name for their good looks, and there were landowners in those days who lived worse than Turks, with a harem for themselves and for their friends. But with us, no⁠—no, nothing of that sort. That is, of course, nothing scandalous. There were occasions, as there always must be, man being so weak, but these were quiet and gentle affairs of the heart, and no one was offended.

But though Prince Andrey was simple and friendly towards his inferiors, he was proud and insolent in his bearing towards his equals and to those in authority, even needlessly so. He especially disliked officials. Sometimes an official would come to our estate to see about the farming arrangements, or in connection with the police or with the excise department⁠—at that time the nobility reckoned any kind of service, except military service, as a degradation⁠—and he would act as a person new to office sometimes does: he would strut about with an air of importance, and ask “Why aren’t things so and so?” The steward would inform him politely that everything was in accordance with the prince’s orders and mustn’t be altered. That meant, of course⁠—You take your regulation bribe and be off with you. But the official would not be daunted. “And what’s your prince to me?” he would say. “I’m the representative of the law here.” And he would order the steward to take him at once to the prince. My father would warn him out of pity. “Our prince,” he would say, “has rather a heavy hand.” But the official would not listen. “Where is the prince?” he would cry. And he would rush into the prince’s presence exclaiming, “Mercy on us, what’s all this disorder on your estate! Where else can one see such a state of things? I⁠ ⁠… we⁠ ⁠…” The prince would let him go on, and say nothing, then suddenly his face would become purple and his eyes would flash⁠—he was terrible to look at when he was angry. “Take the scoundrel to the stables!” he would cry. And then the official would naturally receive a flogging. At that time many landowners approved of this, and for some reason or other the floggings always took place in the stables, according to the custom of their ancestors. But after two or three days the prince would secretly send my father into the town with a packet of banknotes for the official who had been chastised. I used to dare to say to him sometimes, “You know, prince, the official will complain about you, and you’ll have to answer for your doings.” And he would say: “Well, how can that be? Let me be brought to account before God and my Emperor, but I’m bound to punish impudence.”

But better than this, if you please, was his behaviour towards the Governor at one time. One day a workman from the ferry came running up to him to tell him that the Governor was on the other side of the river.

“Well, what of it?” said the prince.

“He wants the ferryboat, your Excellency,” said the peasant. He was a sensible man, and knew the prince’s character.

“How did he ask for it?” said the prince.

“The captain of the police sent to say that the ferryboat was wanted immediately.”

The prince at once gave the order:

“Don’t let him have it.”

And he didn’t. Then the Governor guessed what had happened, and he wrote a little note and sent it, asking dear Andrey Lvovitch⁠—they were really distant cousins⁠—to be so kind as to let him use the ferry, and signing the note simply with his Christian and surname. On this the prince himself kindly went down to the river to meet the Governor, and gave him such a feast in welcome that he couldn’t get away from Pneestcheva for a whole week.

To people of his own class, even to the most impoverished of them, the prince never refused to “give satisfaction” in cases where a misunderstanding had arisen. But people were generally on their guard, knowing his indomitable character and that he had fought in his time eighteen duels. Duels among the aristocracy were very common at that time.


The prince lived in this way on his estate at Pneestcheva for more than two years. Then the Tsar sent out his manifesto granting freedom to the serfs, and there commenced a time of alarm and disturbance among the landowners. Many of them were not at all pleased about it, and sat at home on their faraway estates and took to writing reports on the matter. Others, more avaricious and farsighted, were on the watch with the freed peasants, trying to turn everything to their own advantage. And some were very much afraid of a rising of the peasants, and applied to the authorities for any kind of troops to defend their estates.

When the manifesto arrived, Prince Andrey called his peasants together and explained the matter to them in very simple words, without any insinuations. “You,” he said, “are now free, as free as I am. And this is a good thing to have happened. But don’t use your freedom to do wrong, because the authorities will always keep an eye on you. And, remember, that as I have helped you in the past I shall continue to do so. And take as much land as you can cultivate for your ransom.”

Then he suddenly left the place and went off to Petersburg.

I think you know very well what happened at that time, gentlemen, both in Moscow and in Petersburg. The aristocracy turned up immediately, with piles of money, and went on the spree. The farmers and the holders of concessions and the bankers had amazed all Russia, but they were only as children or puppies in comparison with the landowners. It’s terrible to think what took place. Many a time a man’s whole fortune was thrown to the winds for one supper.

Prince Andrey fell into this very whirlpool, and began to whirl about. Added to that, he fell in again with his old regimental friends, and then he let himself go altogether. However, he didn’t stay long in Petersburg, for he was quickly forced to leave the city against his will. It was all because of some horses.


He was having supper one evening with his officer friends in one of the most fashionable restaurants. They had had very much to drink, champagne above all. Suddenly the talk turned on horses⁠—it’s well known to be an eternal subject of conversation with officers⁠—as to who owned the most spirited team in Petersburg. One Cossack⁠—I don’t remember his name, I only know that he was one of the reigning princes in the Caucasus⁠—said that at that time the most spirited horses were a pair of black stallions belonging to ⸻, and he named a lady in an extremely high position.

“They are not horses,” said he, “but wild things. It’s only Ilya who can manage them, and they won’t allow themselves to be outdistanced.”

But Prince Andrey laughed at this.

“I’d pass them with my bays.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” said the Cossack.

“Yes, I would.”

“You wouldn’t race them.”

“Yes, I would.”

“Well, in that case,” said the Cossack, “we’ll lay a wager about it at once.”

And the wager was laid. It was agreed that if Prince Andrey were put to shame he should give the Cossack his pair of bay horses, and with them a sledge and a carriage with silver harness, and if the prince got in front of Ilya’s team, then the Cossack would buy up all the tickets in the theatre for an opera when Madame Barba was to sing, so that they could walk about in the gallery and not allow anyone else in the theatre. At that time Madame Barba had captivated all the beau-monde.

Very well, then. On the next day, when the prince woke up, he ordered the bay horses to be put into the carriage. The horses were not very much to look at, hairy country horses, but they were sufficiently fast goers; the most important thing about them was that they liked to get in front of other horses, and they were exceptionally long-winded.

As soon as his companions saw that the prince was really in earnest about the matter, they tried to dissuade him. “Give up this wager,” urged they, “you can’t escape getting into some trouble over it.” But the prince would not listen, and ordered his coachman, Bartholomew, to be called.

The coachman, Bartholomew, was a gloomy and, so to speak, absentminded man. God had endowed him with such extraordinary strength that he could even stop a troika when the horses were going at full gallop. The horses would fall back on their hind legs. He drank terribly, had no liking for conversation with anyone, and, though he adored the prince with all his soul, he was rude and supercilious towards him, so that he sometimes had to receive a flogging. The prince called Bartholomew to him and said: “Do you think, Bartholomew, you could race another pair of horses with our bays?”

“Which pair?” asked Bartholomew.

The prince told him which horses they were. Bartholomew scratched the back of his head.

“I know that pair,” he said, “and I know Ilya, their driver, pretty well. He’s a dangerous man. However, if your Excellency wishes it, we can race them. Only, if the bay horses are ruined, don’t be angry.”

“Very well,” said the prince. “And now, how much vodka shall we pour down your throat?”

But Bartholomew wouldn’t have any vodka.

“I can’t manage the horses if I’m drunk,” said he.

The prince got in the carriage, and they started. They took up their position at the end of the Nevsky Prospect, and waited. It was known beforehand that the important personage would drive out at midday. And so it happened. At twelve o’clock the pair of black horses were seen. Ilya was driving, and the lady was in the sledge.

The prince let them just get in front, and then he said to the coachman:

“Drive away!”

Bartholomew let the horses go. As soon as Ilya heard the tramping of the horses behind, he turned round; the lady looked round also. Ilya gave his horses the reins, and Bartholomew also whipped up his. But the owner of the blacks was a woman of an ardent and fearless temperament, and she had a passion for horses. She said to Ilya, “Don’t dare to let that scoundrel pass us!”

What began to happen then I can’t describe. Both the coachmen and the horses were as if mad; the snow rose up above them in clouds as they raced along. At first the blacks seemed to be gaining, but they couldn’t last out for a long time, they got tired. The prince’s horses went ahead. Near the railway station, Prince Andrey jumped out of his carriage, and the personage threatened him angrily with her finger.

Next day the governor of Petersburg⁠—His Serene Highness Prince Suvorof⁠—sent for the prince, and said to him:

“You must leave Petersburg at once, prince. If you’re not punished and made an example of, it’s only because the lady whom you treated in such a daring fashion yesterday has a great partiality for bold and desperate characters. And she knows also about your wager. But don’t put your foot in Petersburg again, and thank the Lord that you’ve got off so cheaply.”

But, gentlemen, I’ve been gossiping about Prince Andrey and I haven’t yet touched on what I promised to tell you. However, I’m soon coming to the end of my story. And, though it has been in rather a disjointed fashion, I have described the personality of the prince as best I can.


After his famous race the prince went off to Moscow, and there continued to behave as he had done in Petersburg, only on a larger scale. At one time the whole town talked of nothing but his caprices. And it was there that something happened to him which caused all the folks at Pneestcheva to mock. A woman came into his life.

But I must tell you what sort of a woman she was. A queen of women! There are none like her in these days. Of a most marvellous beauty.⁠ ⁠… She had formerly been an actress, then she had married a merchant millionaire, and when he died⁠—she didn’t want to marry anyone else⁠—she said that she preferred to be free.

What specially attracted the prince to her was her carelessness. She didn’t wish to know anyone, neither rich nor illustrious people, and she seemed to think nothing of her own great wealth. As soon as Prince Andrey saw her he fell in love with her. He was used to having women run after him, and so he had very little respect for them. But in this case the lady paid him no special attention at all. She was gay and affable, she accepted his bouquets and his presents, but directly he spoke of his feelings she laughed at him. The prince was stung by this treatment. He nearly went out of his mind.

Once the prince went with Marya Gavrilovna⁠—that was the lady’s name⁠—to the “Yar,” to hear some gipsy singers. The party numbered fifteen. At that time the prince was surrounded and fawned upon by a whole crowd of hangers-on⁠—his Belonogof company, as he called them⁠—his own name was Belonogof. They were all seated at a table drinking wine, and the gipsies were singing and dancing. Suddenly, Marya Gavrilovna wanted to smoke. She took a packetoska⁠—the sort of twisted straw cigarette they used to smoke in those days⁠—and looked round for a light. The prince noticed this, and in a moment he pulled out a banknote for a thousand roubles, lighted it at a candle and handed it to her. Everybody in the company exclaimed; the gipsies even stopped singing, and their eyes gleamed with greed. And then someone at a neighbouring table said, not very loudly, but with sufficient distinctness, “Fool!”

The prince jumped up as if he had been shot. At the other table sat a small sickly-looking man, who looked straight at the prince in the calmest manner possible. The prince went over to him at once.

“How dare you call me a fool? Who are you?”

The little man regarded him very coolly.

“I,” said he, “am the artist Rozanof. And I called you a fool because, with that money you burnt just to show off, you might have paid for the support of four sick people in the hospital for a whole year.”

Everybody sat and waited for what would happen. The unrestrained character of the prince was well known. Would he at once chastise the little man, or call him out to a duel, or simply order him to be whipped?

But, after a little silence, the prince suddenly turned to the artist with these unexpected words:

“You’re quite right, Mr. Rozanof. I did indeed act as a fool before this crowd. But now if you don’t at once give me your hand, and accept five thousand roubles for the Marinskaya Hospital, I shall be deeply offended.”

And Rozanof answered: “I’ll take the money, and I’ll give you my hand with equal pleasure.”

Then Marya Gavrilovna whispered to the prince, “Ask the artist to come and talk to us, and send away these friends of yours.”

The prince turned politely to Rozanof and begged him to join them, and then he turned to the officers and said, “Be off with you!”


From that time the prince and Rozanof were bound together in a close friendship. They couldn’t spend a day without seeing one another. Either the artist came to visit the prince or Prince Andrey went to see the artist. Rozanof was living then in two rooms on the fourth floor of a house in Mestchanskaya Street⁠—one he used as a studio, the other was his bedroom. The prince invited the artist to come and live with him, but Rozanof refused. “You are very dear to me,” said he, “but in wealthy surroundings I might be idle and forget my art.” So he wouldn’t make any change.

They were interested in everything that concerned one another. Rozanof would begin to talk of painting, of various pictures, of the lives of great artists⁠—and the prince would listen and not utter a word. Then afterwards he would tell about his adventures in wild countries, and the artist’s eyes would glisten.

“Wait a little,” he would say. “I think I shall soon paint a great picture. Then I shall have plenty of money, and we’ll go abroad together.”

“But why do you want money?” asked the prince. “If you like, we can go tomorrow. Everything I have I will share with you.”

But the artist remained firm.

“No, wait a little,” said he. “I’ll paint the picture and then we can talk about it.”

There was a real friendship between them. It was even marvellous⁠—for Rozanof had such an influence over the prince that he restrained him from many of the impetuous and thoughtless actions to which, with his fiery temperament, he was specially prone.


The prince’s love for Marya Gavrilovna did not become less, it even increased in fervency, but he had no success with the lady. He pressed his hands to his heart, and went down on his knees to her many times, but she had only one answer for him: “But what can I do if I don’t love you?” “Well, don’t love me,” said the prince; “perhaps you will love me by and by, but I can’t be happy without you.” Then she would say, “I’m very sorry for you, but I can’t help your unhappiness.” “You love someone else, perhaps,” said the prince. “Perhaps I love someone else,” said she, and she laughed.

The prince grew very sad about it. He would lie at home on the sofa, gloomy and silent, turn his face to the wall, and even refuse to take any food. Everybody in the house went about on tiptoe.⁠ ⁠… One day Rozanof called when the prince was in this state, and he too looked out of sorts. He came into the prince’s room, said “Good morning,” and nothing more. They were both silent. At length the artist pulled himself together and said to the prince, “Listen, Andrey Lvovitch. I’m very sorry that with my friendly hand I have got to deal you a blow.”

The prince, who was lying with his face to the wall, said, “Please come straight to the point without any introduction.”

Then the artist explained what he meant.

“Marya Gavrilovna is going to live with me as my wife,” said he.

“You’re going out of your mind,” said the prince.

“No,” said the artist, “I’m not going out of my mind. I have loved Marya Gavrilovna for a long time, but I never dared tell her so. But today she said to me: ‘Why do we hide things from one another? I’ve seen for a long time that you love me, and I also love you. I won’t marry you, but we can live together.⁠ ⁠…’ ”

The artist told the whole story, and the prince lay on the sofa neither moving nor saying a word. Rozanof sat there and looked at him, and presently he went quietly away.


However, after a week, the prince overcame his feelings, though it cost him a good deal, for his hair had begun to turn grey. He went to Rozanof and said:

“I see love can’t be forced, but I don’t want to lose my only friend for the sake of a woman.”

Rozanof put his arms about his friend and wept. And Marya Gavrilovna gave him her hand⁠—she was there at the time⁠—and said:

“I admire you very much, Andrey Lvovitch, and I also want to be your friend.”

Then the prince was quite cheered up, and his face brightened. “Confess now,” said he, “if Rozanof hadn’t called me a fool that time in the Yar, you wouldn’t have fallen in love with him?”

She only smiled.

“That’s very probable,” said she.

Then, in another week, something else happened. Prince Andrey came in one day, dull and absentminded. He spoke of one thing and another, but always as if he had some persistent idea in the background. The artist, who knew his character, asked what was the matter.

“Oh, nothing,” said the prince.

“Well, but all the same, what is it?”

“Oh, it’s nothing, I tell you. The stupid bank in which my money is.⁠ ⁠…”


“It’s failed. And now I’ve nothing of all my property except what I have here with me.”

“Oh, that’s really nothing,” said Rozanof, and he at once called Marya Gavrilovna, and they had the upper part of their house put in order so that the prince might come and live with them.


So the prince settled down to live with Rozanof. He used to lie on the sofa all day, read French novels and polish his nails. But he soon got tired of this, and one day he said to his friend:

“Do you know, I once learnt to paint!”

Rozanof was surprised. “No, did you?”

“Yes, I did. I can even show you some of my pictures.”

Rozanof looked at them, and then he said:

“You have very good capabilities, but you have been taught in a stupid school.”

The prince was delighted.

“Well,” he asked, “if I began to study now, do you think I should ever paint anything good?”

“I think it’s very probable indeed.”

“Even if I’ve been an idler up till now?”

“Oh, that’s nothing. You can overcome it by work.”

“When my hair is grey?”

“That doesn’t matter either. Other people have begun later than you. If you like, I’ll give you lessons myself.”

So they began to work together. Rozanof could only marvel at the great gift for painting which the prince displayed. And the prince was so taken up by his work that he never wanted to leave it, and had to be dragged away by force.

Five months passed. Then, one day, Rozanof came to the prince and said:

“Well, my colleague, you are ripening in your art, and you already understand what a drawing is and the school. Formerly you were a savage, but now you have developed a refined taste. Come with me and I will show you the picture I once gave you a hint about. Until now I’ve kept it a secret from everybody, but now I’ll show you, and you can tell me your opinion of it.”

He led the prince into his studio, placed him in a corner from whence he could get a good view, and drew a curtain which hung in front of the picture. It represented St. Barbara washing the sores on the feet of lepers.

The prince stood for a long time and looked at the picture, and his face became gloomy as if it had been darkened.

“Well, what do you think of it?” asked Rozanof.

“This⁠—” answered the prince, with rancour, “that I shall never touch a paintbrush again.”


Rozanof’s picture was the outcome of the highest inspiration and art. It showed St. Barbara kneeling before the lepers and bathing their terrible feet, her face radiant and joyful, and of an unearthly beauty. The lepers looked at her in prayerful ecstasy and inexpressible gratitude. The picture was a marvel. Rozanof had designed it for an exhibition, but the newspapers proclaimed its fame beforehand. The public flocked to the artist’s studio. People came, looked at St. Barbara and the lepers, and stood there for an hour or more. And even those who knew nothing about art were moved to tears. An Englishman, who was in Moscow at the time, a Mr. Bradley, offered fifteen thousand roubles for the picture as soon as he looked at it. Rozanof, however, would not agree to sell it.

But something strange was happening to the prince at that time. He went about with a sullen look, seemed to get thinner, and talked to no one. He took to drink. Rozanof tried to get him to talk, but he only got rude answers, and when the public had left the studio, the prince would seat himself before the easel and remain there for hours, immovable, gazing at the holy Barbara, gazing.⁠ ⁠…

So it went on for more than a fortnight, and then something unexpected happened⁠—to tell the truth, something dreadful.

Rozanof came home one day and asked if Prince Andrey were in. The servant said that the prince had gone out very early that morning, and had left a note.

The artist took the note and read it. And this was what was written. “Forgive my terrible action. I was mad, and in a moment I have repented of my deed. I am going away, never to return, because I haven’t strength to kill myself.” The note was signed with his name.

Then the artist understood it all. He rushed into his studio and found his divine work lying on the floor, torn to pieces, trampled upon, cut into shreds with a knife.⁠ ⁠…

Then he began to weep, and said:

“I’m not sorry for the picture, but for him. Why couldn’t he tell me what was in his mind? I would have sold the picture at once, or given it away to someone.”

But nothing more was ever heard of Prince Andrey, and no one knew how he lived after his mad deed.



Hamlet was being played.

All tickets had been sold out before the morning of the performance. The play was more than usually attractive to the public because the principal part was to be taken by the famous Kostromsky, who, ten years before, had begun his artistic career with a simple walking-on part in this very theatre, and since then had played in all parts of Russia, and gained a resounding fame such as no other actor visiting the provinces had ever obtained. It was true that, during the last year, people had gossiped about him, and there had even appeared in the Press certain vague and only half-believed rumours about him. It was said that continual drunkenness and debauch had unsettled and ruined Kostromsky’s gigantic talent, that only by being “on tour” had he continued to enjoy the fruit of his past successes, that impresarios of the great metropolitan theatres had begun to show less of their former slavish eagerness to agree to his terms. Who knows, there may have been a certain amount of truth in these rumours? But the name of Kostromsky was still great enough to draw the public. For three days in succession, in spite of the increased prices of seats, there had been a long line of people waiting at the box office. Speculative buyers had resold tickets at three, four, and even five times their original value.

The first scene was omitted, and the stage was being prepared for the second. The footlights had not yet been turned up. The scenery of the queen’s palace was hanging in strange, rough, variegated cardboard. The stage carpenters were hastily driving in the last nails.

The theatre had gradually filled with people. From behind the curtain could be heard a dull and monotonous murmur.

Kostromsky was seated in front of the mirror in his dressing-room. He had only just arrived, but was already dressed in the traditional costume of the Danish prince; black-cloth buckled shoes, short black velvet jacket with wide lace collar. The theatrical barber stood beside him in a servile attitude, holding a wig of long fair hair.

“He is fat and pants for breath,” declaimed Kostromsky, rubbing some cold cream on his palm and beginning to smear his face with it.

The barber suddenly began to laugh.

“What’s the matter with you, fool?” asked the actor, not taking his eyes from the mirror.

“Oh, I⁠ ⁠… er⁠ ⁠… nothing⁠ ⁠… er.⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, it’s evident you’re a fool. They say that I’m too fat and flabby. And Shakespeare himself said that Hamlet was fat and panted for breath. They’re all good-for-nothings, these newspaper fellows. They just bark at the wind.”

Having finished with the cold cream, Kostromsky put the flesh tints on to his face in the same manner, but looking more attentively into the mirror.

“Yes, makeup is a great thing; but all the same, my face is not what it used to be. Look at the bags under my eyes, and the deep folds round my mouth⁠ ⁠… cheeks all puffed out⁠ ⁠… nose lost its fine shape. Ah, well, we’ll struggle on a bit longer.⁠ ⁠… Kean drank, Mochalof drank⁠ ⁠… hang it all. Let them talk about Kostromsky and say that he’s a bloated drunkard. Kostromsky will show them in a moment⁠ ⁠… these youngsters⁠ ⁠… these water-people⁠ ⁠… he’ll show them what real talent can do.”

“You, Ethiop, have you ever seen me act?” he asked, turning suddenly on the barber.

The man trembled all over with pleasure.

“Mercy on us, Alexander Yevgrafitch.⁠ ⁠… Yes, I⁠ ⁠… O Lord!⁠ ⁠… is it possible for me not to have seen the greatest, one may say, of Russian artists? Why, in Kazan I made a wig for you with my own hands.”

“The devil may know you. I don’t remember,” said Kostromsky, continuing to make long and narrow lines of white down the length of his nose, “there are so many of you.⁠ ⁠… Pour out something to drink!”

The barber poured out half a tumblerful of vodka from the decanter on the marble dressing-table, and handed it to Kostromsky.

The actor drank it off, screwed up his face, and spat on the floor.

“You’d better have a little something to eat, Alexander Yevgrafitch,” urged the barber persuasively. “If you take it neat⁠ ⁠… it goes to your head.⁠ ⁠…”

Kostromsky had almost finished his makeup; he had only to put on a few streaks of brown colouring, and the “clouds of grief” overshadowed his changed and ennobled countenance.

“Give me my cloak!” said he imperiously to the barber, getting up from his chair.

From the theatre there could already be heard, in the dressing-room, the sounds of the tuning of the instruments in the orchestra.

The crowds of people had all arrived. The living stream could be heard pouring into the theatre and flowing into the boxes stalls and galleries with the noise and the same kind of peculiar rumble as of a far-off sea.

“It’s a long time since the place has been so full,” remarked the barber in servile ecstasy; “there’s n‑not an empty seat!”

Kostromsky sighed.

He was still confident in his great talent, still full of a frank self-adoration and the illimitable pride of an artist, but, although he hardly dared to allow himself to be conscious of it, he had an uneasy feeling that his laurels had begun to fade. Formerly he had never consented to come to the theatre until the director had brought to his hotel the stipulated five hundred roubles, his night’s pay, and he had sometimes taken offence in the middle of a play and gone home, swearing with all his might at the director, the manager, and the whole company.

The barber’s remark was a vivid and painful reminder of these years of his extraordinary and colossal successes. Nowadays no director would bring him payment in advance, and he could not bring himself to contrive to demand it.

“Pour out some more vodka,” said he to the barber.

There was no more vodka left in the decanter. But the actor had received sufficient stimulus. His eyes, encircled by fine sharp lines of black drawn along both eyelids, were larger and more full of life, his bent body straightened itself, his swollen legs, in their tight-fitting black, looked lithe and strong.

He finished his toilet by dusting powder over his face, with an accustomed hand, then slightly screwing up his eyes he regarded himself in the mirror for the last time, and went out of the dressing-room.

When he descended the staircase, with his slow self-reliant step, his head held high, every movement of his was marked by that easy gracious simplicity which had so impressed the actors of the French company, who had seen him when he, a former draper’s assistant, had first appeared in Moscow.


The stage manager had already rushed forward to greet Kostromsky.

The lights in the theatre blazed high. The chaotic disharmony of the orchestra tuning their instruments suddenly died down. The noise of the crowd grew louder, and then, as it were, suddenly subsided a little.

Out broke the sounds of a loud triumphal march. Kostromsky went up to the curtain and looked through a little round hole made in it at about a man’s height. The theatre was crowded with people. He could only see distinctly the faces of those in the first three rows, but beyond, wherever his eye turned, to left, to right, above, below, there moved, in a sort of bluish haze, an immense number of many-coloured human blobs. Only the side boxes, with their white and gold arabesques and their crimson barriers, stood out against all this agitated obscurity. But as he looked through the little hole in the curtain, Kostromsky did not experience in his soul that feeling⁠—once so familiar and always singularly fresh and powerful⁠—of a joyous, instantaneous uplifting of his whole moral being. It was just a year since he had ceased to feel so, and he explained his indifference by thinking he had grown accustomed to the stage, and did not suspect that this was the beginning of paralysis of his tired and worn-out soul.

The manager rushed on to the stage behind him, all red and perspiring, with dishevelled hair.

“Devil! Idiocy! All’s gone to the devil! One might as well cut one’s throat,” he burst out in a voice of fury, running up to Kostromsky. “Here you, devils, let me come to the curtain! I must go out and tell the people at once that there will be no performance. There’s no Ophelia. Understand! There’s no Ophelia.”

“How do you mean there’s no Ophelia?” said the astonished Kostromsky, knitting his brows. “You’re joking, aren’t you, my friend?”

“There’s no joking in me,” snarled the manager. “Only just this moment, five minutes before she’s wanted, I receive this little billet-doux from Milevskaya. Just look, look, what this idiot writes! ‘I’m in bed with a feverish cold and can’t play my part.’ Well? Don’t you understand what it means? This is not a pound of raisins, old man, pardon the expression, it means we can’t produce the play.”

“Someone else must take her place,” Kostromsky flashed out. “What have her tricks to do with me?”

“Who can take her place, do you think? Bobrova is Gertrude, Markovitch and Smolenskaya have a holiday and they’ve gone off to the town with some officers. It would be ridiculous to make an old woman take the part of Ophelia. Don’t you think so? Or there’s someone else if you like, a young girl student. Shall we ask her?”

He pointed straight in front of him to a young girl who was just walking on to the stage; a girl in a modest coat and fur cap, with gentle pale face and large dark eyes.

The young girl, astonished at such unexpected attention, stood still.

“Who is she?” asked Kostromsky in a low voice, looking with curiosity at the girl’s face.

“Her name’s Yureva. She’s here as a student. She’s smitten with a passion for dramatic art, you see,” answered the manager, speaking loudly and without any embarrassment.

“Listen to me, Yureva. Have you ever read Hamlet?” asked Kostromsky, going nearer to the girl.

“Of course I have,” answered she in a low confused voice.

“Could you play Ophelia here this evening?”

“I know the part by heart, but I don’t know if I could play it.”

Kostromsky went close up to her and took her by the hand.

“You see⁠ ⁠… Milevskaya has refused to play, and the theatre’s full. Make up your mind, my dear! You can be the saving of us all!”

Yureva hesitated and was silent, though she would have liked to say much, very much, to the famous actor. It was he who, three years ago, by his marvellous acting, had unconsciously drawn her young heart, with an irresistible attraction, to the stage. She had never missed a performance in which he had taken part, and she had often wept at nights after seeing him act in Cain, in The Criminal’s Home, or in Uriel da Costa. She would have accounted it her greatest happiness, and one apparently never to be attained⁠ ⁠… not to speak to Kostromsky; no, of that she had never dared to dream, but only to see him nearer in ordinary surroundings.

She had never lost her admiration of him, and only an actor like Kostromsky, spoilt by fame and satiated by the attentions of women, could have failed to notice at rehearsals the two large dark eyes which followed him constantly with a frank and persistent adoration.

“Well, what is it? Can we take your silence for consent?” insisted Kostromsky, looking into her face with a searching, kindly glance, and putting into the somewhat nasal tones of his voice that irresistible tone of friendliness which he well knew no woman could withstand.

Yureva’s hand trembled in his, her eyelids drooped, and she answered submissively:

“Very well. I’ll go and dress at once.”


The curtain rose, and no sooner did the public see their favourite than the theatre shook with sounds of applause and cries of ecstasy.

Kostromsky standing near the king’s throne, bowed many times, pressed his hand to his heart, and sent his gaze over the whole assembly.

At length, after several unsuccessful attempts, the king, taking advantage of a moment when the noise had subsided a little, raised his voice and began his speech:

“Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe;
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him.⁠ ⁠…”

The enthusiasm of the crowd had affected Kostromsky, and when the king turned to him, and addressed him as “brother and beloved son,” the words of Hamlet’s answer:

“A little more than kin and less than kind,”

sounded so gloomily ironical and sad that an involuntary thrill ran through the audience.

And when the queen, with hypocritical words of consolation, said:

“Thou knowst ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity,”

he slowly raised his long eyelashes, which he had kept lowered until that moment, looked reproachfully at her, and then answered with a slight shake of the head:

“Ay, madam, it is common.”

After these words, expressing so fully his grief for his dead father, his own aversion from life and submission to fate, and his bitter scorn of his mother’s light-mindedness, Kostromsky, with the special, delicate, inexplicable sensitiveness of an experienced actor, felt that now he had entirely gripped his audience and bound them to him with an inviolable chain.

It seemed as if no one had ever before spoken with such marvellous force that despairing speech of Hamlet at the exit of the king and queen:

“O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!”

The nasal tones of Kostromsky’s voice were clear and flexible. Now it rang out with a mighty clang, then sank to a gentle velvety whisper or burst into hardly restrained sobs.

And when, with a simple yet elegant gesture, Kostromsky pronounced the last words:

“But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue!”

the audience roared out its applause.

“Yes, the public and I understand one another,” said the actor as he went off the stage into the wings after the first act. “Here, you crocodile, give me some vodka!” he shouted at once to the barber who was coming to meet him.


“Well, little father, don’t you think he’s fine?” said a young actor-student to Yakovlef, the patriarch of provincial actors, who was taking the part of the king.

The two were standing together on the staircase which led from the dressing-rooms to the stage.

Yakovlef pursed and bit his full thick lips.

“Fine! Fine! But all the same, he acts as a boy. Those who saw Mochalof play Hamlet wouldn’t marvel at this. I, brother, was just such a little chap as you are when I had the happiness of seeing him first. And when I come to die, I shall look back on that as the most blessed moment of my life. When he got up from the floor of the stage and said:

“ ‘Let the stricken deer go weep’

the audience rose as one man, hardly daring to breathe. And now watch carefully how Kostromsky takes that very scene.”

“You’re very hard to please, Valerie Nikolaitch.”

“Not at all. But you watch him; to tell you the truth, I can’t. Do you think I am watching him?”

“Well, who then?”

“Ah, brother, look at Ophelia. There’s an actress for you!”

“But Valerie Nikolaitch, she’s only a student.”

“Idiot! Don’t mind that. You didn’t notice how she said the words:

“ ‘He spoke to me of love, but was so tender,
So timid, and so reverent.’6

Of course you didn’t. And I’ve been nearly thirty years on the stage, and I tell you I’ve never heard anything like it. She’s got talent. You mark my words, in the fourth act she’ll have such a success that your Kostromsky will be in a fury. You see!”


The play went on. The old man’s prophecy was abundantly fulfilled. The enthusiasm of Kostromsky only lasted out the first act. It could not be roused again by repeated calls before the curtain, by applause, or by the gaze of his enormous crowd of admirers, who thronged into the wings to look at him with gentle reverence. There now remained in him only the very smallest store of that energy and feeling which he had expended with such royal generosity three years ago on every act.

He had wasted his now insignificant store in the first act, when he had been intoxicated by the loud cries of welcome and applause from the public. His will was weakened, his nerves unbraced, and not even increased doses of alcohol could revive him. The imperceptible ties which had connected him with his audience at first were gradually weakening, and, though the applause at the end of the second act was as sincere as at the end of the first, yet it was clear that the people were applauding, not him, but the charm of his name and fame.

Meanwhile, each time she appeared on the stage, Ophelia⁠—Yureva⁠—progressed in favour. This hitherto unnoticed girl, who had previously played only very minor parts, was now, as it were, working a miracle. She seemed a living impersonation of the real daughter of Polonius, a gentle, tender, obedient daughter, with deep hidden feeling and great love in her soul, empoisoned by the venom of grief.

The audience did not yet applaud Yureva, but they watched her, and whenever she came on the stage the whole theatre calmed down to attention. She herself had no suspicion that she was in competition with the great actor, and taking from him attention and success, and even the spectators themselves were unconscious of the struggle.

The third act was fatal for Kostromsky. His appearance in it was preceded by the short scene in which the king and Polonius agree to hide themselves and listen to the conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia, in order to judge of the real reason of the prince’s madness. Kostromsky came out from the wings with slow steps, his hands crossed upon his breast, his head bent low, his stockings unfastened and the right one coming down.

“To be or not to be⁠—that is the question.”

He spoke almost inaudibly, all overborne by serious thought, and did not notice Ophelia, who sat at the back of the stage with an open book on her knee.

This famous soliloquy had always been one of Kostromsky’s show places. Some years ago, in this very town and this very theatre, after he had finished this speech by his invocation to Ophelia, there had been for a moment that strange and marvellous silence which speaks more eloquently than the noisiest applause. And then everyone in the theatre had gone into an ecstasy of applause, from the humblest person in the back row of the gallery to the exquisites in the private boxes.

Alas, now both Kostromsky himself and his audience remained cold and unmoved, though he was not yet conscious of it.

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution,
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action,”

he went on, gesticulating and changing his intonation from old memory. And he thought to himself that when he saw Ophelia he would go down on his knees in front of her and say the final words of his speech, and that the audience would weep and cry out with a sweet foolishness.

And there was Ophelia. He turned to the audience with a cautious warning “Soft you, now!” and then walking swiftly across the stage he knelt down and exclaimed:

“⁠—Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d,”

and then got up immediately, expecting a burst of applause.

But there was no applause. The public were puzzled, quite unmoved, and all their attention was turned on Ophelia.

For some seconds he could think of nothing; it was only when he heard at his side a gentle girl’s voice asking, “Prince, are you well?”⁠—a voice which trembled with the tears of sorrow for a love destroyed⁠—that, in a momentary flash, he understood all.

It was a moment of awful enlightenment. Kostromsky recognised it clearly and mercilessly⁠—the indifference of the public; his own irrevocable past; the certainty of the near approach of the end to his noisy but short-lived fame.

Oh, with what hatred did he look upon this girl, so graceful, beautiful, innocent, and⁠—tormenting thought⁠—so full of talent. He would have liked to throw himself upon her, beat her, throw her on the ground and stamp with his feet upon that delicate face, with its large dark eyes looking up at him with love and pity. But he restrained himself, and answered in lowered tones:

“I humbly thank you; well, well, well.”

After this scene Kostromsky was recalled, but he heard, much louder than his own name, the shouts from the gallery, full with students, for Yureva, who, however, refused to appear.


The strolling players were playing The Murder of Gonzago. Kostromsky was half sitting, half lying on the floor opposite to the court, his head on Ophelia’s knees. Suddenly he turned his face upward to her, and giving forth an overwhelming odour of spirit, whispered in drunken tones:

“Listen, madam. What’s your name? Listen!”

She bent down a little towards him, and said in an answering whisper:

“What is it?”

“What pretty feet you have!” said he. “Listen! You must be pretty⁠ ⁠… everywhere.”

Yureva turned away her face in silence.

“I mean it, by heaven!” Kostromsky went on, nothing daunted. “No doubt you have a lover here, haven’t you?”

She made no reply.

Kostromsky wanted to insult her still more, to hurt her, and her silence was a new irritation to him.

“You have? Oh, that’s very very foolish of you. Such a face as yours is⁠ ⁠… is your whole capital.⁠ ⁠… You will pardon my frankness, but you’re no actress. What are you doing on the stage?”

Fortunately, it was necessary for him to take part in the acting. Yureva was left in peace, and she moved a little away from him. Her eyes filled with tears. In Kostromsky’s face she had seen a spiteful and merciless enemy.

But Kostromsky became less powerful in each scene, and when the act was finished there was very slight applause to gratify him. But no one else was clapped.


The fourth act commenced. As soon as Ophelia came on to the stage in her white dress, adorned with flowers and straw, her eyes wide open and staring, a confused murmur ran through the audience, and was followed by an almost painful silence.

And when Ophelia sang her little songs about her dear love, in gentle, naive tones, there was a strange breathing among the audience as if a deep and general sigh had burst from a thousand breasts:

“How should I your true love know,
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff,
And his sandal shoon.”

“Oh, poor Ophelia! What are you singing?” asked the queen sympathetically.

The witless eyes of Ophelia were turned on the queen in wonder, as if she had not noticed her before.

“What am I singing?” she asked in astonishment. “Listen to my song:

“ ‘He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.’ ”

No one in the theatre could look on with indifference, all were in the grip of a common feeling, all sat as if enchanted, never moving their eyes from the stage.

But more persistently, and more eagerly than anyone else, Kostromsky stood in the wings and watched her every movement. In his soul, his sick and proud soul, which had never known restraint or limit to its own desires and passions, there now blazed a terrible and intolerable hatred. He felt that this poor and modest girl-student had definitely snatched from his hands the evening’s success. His drunkenness had, as it were, quite gone out of his head. He did not yet know how this envious spite which boiled in him could expend itself, but he awaited impatiently the time when Ophelia would come off the stage.

“I hope all will be well. We must be patient; but I cannot choose but weep to think they should lay him in the cold ground,”

he heard Ophelia say, in a voice choked with the madness of grief.

“My brother shall know of it, and so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my coach! Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies; good night, good night.”

Yureva came out in the wings, agitated, breathing deeply, pale even under her makeup. She was followed by deafening cries from the audience. In the doorway she stumbled up against Kostromsky. He purposely made no way for her, but she, even when her shoulder brushed against his, did not notice him, so excited was she by her acting and the rapturous applause of the public.

“Yureva! Yureva! Brav‑o‑o!”

She went back and bowed.

As she returned again to the wings she again stumbled against Kostromsky, who would not allow her to pass. Yureva looked at him with a terrified glance, and said timidly:

“Please allow me to pass!”

“Be more careful please, young person!” answered he, with malicious haughtiness. “If you are applauded by a crowd of such idiots, it doesn’t mean you can push into people with impunity.” And seeing her silent and frightened, he became still more infuriated, and taking her roughly by the arm he pushed her on one side and cried out:

“Yes, you can pass, devil take you, blockhead that you are!”


When Kostromsky had quieted down a little after this rude outburst of temper, he at once became weaker, slacker and more drunken than before; he even forgot that the play had not yet finished. He went into his dressing-room, slowly undressed, and began lazily to rub the paint from his face with vaseline.

The manager, puzzled by his long absence, ran into his room at last and stared in amazement.

“Alexander Yevgrafitch! Please! What are you doing? It’s time for you to go on!”

“Go away, go away!” muttered Kostromsky tearfully, speaking through his nose, and wiping his face with the towel. “I’ve finished everything⁠ ⁠… go away and leave me in peace!”

“What d’you mean, go away? Have you gone out of your mind? The audience is waiting!”

“Leave me alone!” cried Kostromsky.

The manager shrugged his shoulders and went out. In a few moments the curtain was raised, and the public, having been informed of Kostromsky’s sudden illness, began to disperse slowly and silently as if they were going away from a funeral.

They had indeed been present at the funeral of a great and original talent, and Kostromsky was right when he said that he had “finished.” He had locked the door, and sat by himself in front of the mirror in his dressing-room between two gas burners, the flames of which flared with a slight noise. From old habit he was carefully wiping his face, all smeared over with drunken but bitter tears. His mind recalled, as through a mist, the long line of splendid triumphs which had accompanied the first years of his career. Wreaths⁠ ⁠… bouquets⁠ ⁠… thousands of presents⁠ ⁠… the eternal raptures of the crowd⁠ ⁠… the flattery of newspapers⁠ ⁠… the envy of his companions⁠ ⁠… the fabulous benefits⁠ ⁠… the adoration of the most beautiful of women.⁠ ⁠… Was it possible that all this was past? Could his talent really have gone⁠—vanished? Perhaps it had left him long ago, two or three years back! And he, Kostromsky, what was he now? A theme for dirty theatrical gossip; an object of general mockery and ill-will; a man who had alienated all his friends by his unfeeling narrow-mindedness, his selfishness, his impatience, his unbridled arrogance.⁠ ⁠… Yes, it was all past!

“And if the Almighty”⁠—the well-known lines flashed into his memory⁠—“had not fixed his canon ’gainst self-slaughter.⁠ ⁠… Oh, my God, my God!” The burning, helpless tears trickled down his erstwhile beautiful face and mingled with the colours of the paint.

All the other actors had left the theatre when Kostromsky came out of his dressing-room. It was almost dark on the stage. Some workmen were wandering about, removing the last decorations. He walked along gropingly, with quiet footfalls, avoiding the heaps of property rubbish which were scattered everywhere about, and making his way towards the street.

Suddenly he was arrested by the sound of the restrained sobbing of a woman.

“Who is there?” he cried, going into a corner, with an undefined impulse of pity.

The dark figure made no answer; the sobs increased.

“Who’s crying there?” he asked again, in fear, and at once recognised that it was Yureva who was sobbing there.

The girl was weeping, her thin shoulders heaving with convulsive shudders.

It was strange. For the first time in his life Kostromsky’s hard heart suddenly overflowed with a deep pity for this unprotected girl, whom he had so unjustifiably insulted. He placed his hand on her head and began to speak to her in an impressive and affectionate voice, quite naturally and unaffectedly.

“My child! I was dreadfully rude to you today. I won’t ask your forgiveness; I know I could never atone for your tears. But if you could have known what was happening in my soul, perhaps you would forgive me and be sorry for me.⁠ ⁠… Today, only today, I have understood that I have outlived my fame. What grief is there to compare with that? What, in comparison with that, would mean the loss of a mother, of a beloved child, of a lover? We artists live by terrible enjoyments; we live and feel for those hundreds and thousands of people who come to look at us. Do you know⁠ ⁠… oh, you must understand that I’m not showing off, I’m speaking quite simply to you.⁠ ⁠… Yes. Do you know that for the last five years there’s not been an actor in the world whose name was greater than mine? Crowds have lain at my feet, at the feet of an illiterate draper’s assistant. And suddenly, in one moment, I’ve fallen headlong from those marvellous heights.⁠ ⁠…” He covered his face with his hands. “It’s terrible!”

Yureva had stopped weeping, and was looking at Kostromsky with deep compassion.

“You see, my dear,” he went on, taking her cold hands in his. “You have a great and undoubted talent. Keep on the stage. I won’t talk to you about such trivialities as the envy and intrigues of those who cannot act, or about the equivocal protection afforded by patrons of dramatic art, or about the gossip of that marsh which we call Society. All these are trifles, and not to be compared with those stupendous joys which a contemptible but adoring crowd can give to us. But”⁠—Kostromsky’s voice trembled nervously⁠—“but do not outlive your fame. Leave the stage directly you feel that the sacred flame in you is burning low. Do not wait, my child, for the public to drive you away.”

And turning quickly away from Yureva, who was trying to say something and even holding out her hands to him, he hurriedly walked off the stage.

“Wait a moment, Alexander Yevgrafitch,” the manager called after him as he went out into the street, “come into the office for your money.”

“Get away!” said Kostromsky, waving his hand, in vexation, irritably. “I have finished. I have finished with it all.”

Mechanical Justice

The large hall of the principal club of one of our provincial towns was packed with people. Every box, every seat in pit and stalls was taken, and in spite of the excitement the public was so attentive and quiet that, when the lecturer stopped to take a mouthful of water, everyone could hear a solitary belated fly buzzing at one of the windows.

Amongst the bright dresses of the ladies, white and pink and blue, amongst their bare shoulders and gentle faces shone smart uniforms, dress coats, and golden epaulettes in plenty.

The lecturer, who was clad in the uniform of the Department of Education⁠—a tall man whose yellow face seemed to be made up of a black beard only and glimmering black spectacles⁠—stood at the front of the platform resting his hand on a table.

But the attentive eyes of the audience were directed, not so much on him as on a strange, high, massive-looking contrivance which stood beside him, a grey pyramid covered with canvas, broad at its base, pointed at the top.

Having quenched his thirst, the lecturer went on:

“Let me briefly sum up. What do we see, ladies and gentlemen? We see that the encouraging system of marks, prizes, distinctions, leads to jealousy, pride and dissatisfaction. Pedagogic suggestion fails at last through repetition. Standing culprits in the corner, on the form, under the clock, making them kneel, is often quite ineffectual as an example, and the victim is sometimes the object of mirth. Shutting in a cell is positively harmful, quite apart from the fact that it uses up the pupil’s time without profit. Forced work, on the other hand, robs the work of its true value. Punishment by hunger affects the brain injuriously. The stopping of holidays causes malice in the mind of pupils, and often evokes the dissatisfaction of parents. What remains? Expulsion of the dull or mischievous child from the school⁠—as advised in Holy Writ⁠—the cutting off of the offending member lest, through him, the whole body of the school be infected. Yes, alas! such a measure is, I admit, inevitable on certain occasions now, as inevitable as is capital punishment, I regret to say, even in the best of states. But before resorting to this last irreparable means, let us see what else there may be.⁠ ⁠…”

“And flogging!” cried a deep bass voice from the front row of the stalls. It was the governor of the town fortress, a deaf old man, under whose chair a pug-dog growled angrily and hoarsely. The governor was a familiar figure about town with his stick, ear trumpet, and old panting pug-dog.

The lecturer bowed, showing his teeth pleasantly.

“I did not intend to express myself as shortly and precisely, but in essence his Excellency has guessed my thought. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is one good old Russian method of which we have not yet spoken⁠—corporal punishment. Yes, corporal punishment is part and parcel of the very soul of the great Russian people, of its mighty national sense, its patriotism and deep faith in Providence. Even the apostle said: ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’ The unforgotten monument of medieval culture⁠—Domostroi⁠—enjoins the same with paternal firmness. Let us call to mind our inspired Tsar-educator, Peter the Great, with his famous cudgel. Let us call to mind the speech of our immortal Pushkin:

“ ‘Our fathers, the further back you go,
The more the cudgels they used up.’

“Finally, let us call to mind our wonderful Gogol, who put into the mouth of a simple, unlearned serving-man the words: ‘The peasant must be beaten, for the peasant is being spoiled.’ Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I boldly affirm that punishment with rods upon the body goes like a red thread throughout the whole immense course of Russian history, and takes its rise from the very depths of primitive Russian life.

“Thus delving in thought into the past, ladies and gentlemen, I appear a conservative, yet I go forward with outstretched hands to meet the most liberal of humanitarians. I freely allow, loudly confess, that corporal punishment, in the way in which it has been practised until now, has much in it that is insulting for the person being chastised as well as humiliating for the person chastising. The personal confrontment of the two men inevitably awakens hate, fear, irritation, revengefulness, contempt, and what is more, a competitive stubbornness in the repetition of crime and punishment. So you no doubt imagine that I renounce corporal punishment. Yes, I do renounce it, though only to introduce it anew, replacing man by a machine. After the labours, thoughts and experiments of many years, I have at last worked out a scheme of mechanical justice, and have realised it in a machine. Whether I have been successful or not I shall in a minute leave this most respected audience to judge.”

The lecturer nodded towards the wings of the stage. A fine-looking attendant came forward and took off the canvas cover from the strange object standing at the footlights. To the eyes of those present, the bright gleaming machine was rather like an automatic weighing-machine, though it was obviously more complex and was much larger. There was a murmur of astonishment among the audience in the hall.

The lecturer extended his hand, and pointed to the apparatus.

“There is my offspring,” said he in an agitated voice. “There is an apparatus which may fairly be called the instrument of mechanical justice. The construction is uncommonly simple, and in price it would be within the reach of even a modest village school. Pray consider its construction. In the first place you remark the horizontal platform on springs, and the wooden platform leading to it. On the platform is placed a narrow chair, the back of which has also a powerful spring and is covered with soft leather. Under the chair, as you see, is a system of crescent-shaped levers turning on a hinge. Proportionately with the pressure on the springs of the chair and platform these levers, departing from their equipoise, describe half circles, and close in pairs at a height of from five to eighteen vershoks7 above the level of the chair⁠—varying with the force of pressure. Behind the chair rises a vertical cast-iron pillar, with a cross bar. Within the pillar is contained a powerful mechanism resembling that of a watch, having a 160 lb. balance and a spiral spring. On the side of the column observe a little door, that is for cleaning or mending the mechanism. This door has only two keys, and I ask you to note, ladies and gentlemen, that these keys are kept, one by the chief district inspector of mechanical flogging machines, and the other by the head master of the school. So this apparatus, once brought into action, cannot be stopped until it has completed the punishment intended⁠—except, of course, in the eventuality of its being forcibly broken, which is a hardly likely possibility seeing the simplicity and solidity of every part of the machine.

“The watch mechanism, once set going, communicates with a little horizontally-placed axle. The axle has eight sockets in which may be mounted eight long supple bamboo or metal rods. When worn out these can be replaced by new ones. It must be explained also that, by a regulation of the axle, the force of the strokes may be varied.

“And so we see the axle in motion, and moving with it the eight rods. Each rod goes downward perfectly freely, but coming upward again it meets with an obstacle⁠—the crossbeam⁠—and meeting it, bends and is at tension from its point, bulges to a half-circle, and then, breaking free, deals the blow. Then, since the position of the crossbeam can be adjusted, raised or lowered, it will be evident that the tension of the bending rods can be increased or decreased, and the blow given with a greater or less degree of severity. In that way it has been possible to make a scale of severity of punishment from 0 degrees to 24 degrees. No. 0 is when the crossbeam is at its highest point, and is only employed when the punishment bears a merely nominal, or shall I say, symbolical, character. By the time we come to No. 6, a certain amount of pain has become noticeable. We indicate a maximum for use in elementary schools, that would be up to No. 10; in secondary schools up to 15. For soldiers, village prisons, and students, the limit is set at 20 degrees, and, finally, for houses of correction and workmen on strike, the maximum figure, namely, 24.

“There, ladies and gentlemen, is the substance of my invention. There remain the details. That handle at the side, like the handle of a barrel organ, serves to wind up the spiral spring of the mechanism. The arrow here in this slot regulates the celerity of the strokes. At the height of the pillar, in a little glass case, is a mechanical meter or indicator. This enables one to check the accuracy of the working of the machine, and is also useful for statistical and revisionary purposes. In view of this latter purpose, the indicator is constructed to show a maximum total of 60,000 strokes. Finally, ladies and gentlemen, please to observe something in the nature of an urn at the foot of the pillar. Into this are thrown metal coupons with numbers on them, and this momentarily sets the whole machine in action. The coupons are of various weights and sizes. The smallest is about the size of a silver penny,8 and effects the minimum punishment⁠—five strokes. The largest is about the size of a hundred-copeck bit⁠—a rouble⁠—and effects a punishment of just one hundred strokes. By using various combinations of metal coupons you can effect a punishment of any number of strokes in a multiple of five, from five to three hundred and fifty. But”⁠—and here the lecturer smiled modestly⁠—“but we should not consider that we had completely solved our problem if it were necessary to stop at that limited figure.

“I will ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to note the figure at which the indicator at present stands, and that which it reaches after the punishment has been effected. What is more, the respected public will observe that, up to the moment when the coupons are thrown into the urn, there is no danger whatever in standing on the platform.

“And so⁠ ⁠… the indicator shows 2,900. Consequently, having thrown in all the coupons, the pointer will show, at the end of the execution⁠ ⁠… 3,250.⁠ ⁠… I fancy I make no mistake!

“And it will be quite sufficient to throw into the urn anything round, of whatever size, and the machine will go on to infinity, if you will, or, if not to infinity, to 780 or 800, at which point the spring would have run down and the machine need re-winding. What I had in view in using these small coupons was that they might commonly be replaced by coins, and each mechanical self-flogger has a comparative table of the stroke values of copper, silver and gold money. Observe the table here at the side of the main pillar.

“It seems I have finished.⁠ ⁠… There remain just a few particulars concerning the construction of the revolving platform, the swinging chair, and the crescent-shaped levers. But as it is a trifle complicated, I will ask the respected public to watch the machine in action, and I shall now have the honour to give a demonstration.

“The whole procedure of punishment consists in the following. First of all, having thoroughly sifted and got to the bottom of the motives of the crime, we fix the extent of the punishment, that is, the number of strokes, the celerity with which they shall be given, and the force and, in some cases, the material of the rods. Then we send a note to the man in charge of the machine, or communicate with him by telephone. He puts the machine in readiness and then goes away. Observe, the man goes, the machine remains alone, the impartial, unwavering, calm and just machine.

“In a minute I shall come to the experiment. Instead of a human offender we have, on this occasion, a leather mannequin. In order to show the machine at its best we will imagine that we have before us a criminal of the most stubborn type. ‘Officer!’ ” cried the lecturer to someone behind the scenes. “ ‘Prepare the machine, force 24, minimum celerity.’ ”

In a tense silence the audience watched the attendant wind the handle, push down the crossbeam, turn round the celerity arrow, and then disappear behind the scenes again.

“Now all is in order,” the lecturer went on, “and the room in which the flogging machine stands is quite empty. There only remains to call up the man who is to be punished, explain to him the extent of his guilt and the degree of his punishment, and he himself⁠—remark, ladies and gentlemen, himself!⁠—takes from the box the corresponding coupon. Of course, it might be arranged that he, there and then, drops the coupon through a slot in the table and lets it fall into the urn; that is a mere detail.

“From that moment the offender is entirely in the hands of the machine. He goes to the dressing-room, he opens the door, stands on the platform, throws the coupon or coupons into the urn, and⁠ ⁠… done! The door shuts mechanically after him, and cannot be reopened. He may stand a moment, hesitating, on the brink, but in the end he simply must throw the coupons in. For, ladies and gentlemen”⁠—exclaimed the pedagogue with a triumphant laugh⁠—“for the machine is so constructed that the longer he hesitates the greater becomes the punishment, the number of strokes increasing in a ratio of from five to thirty per minute according to the weight of the person hesitating.⁠ ⁠… However, once the offender is off, he is caught by the machine at three points, neck, waist and feet, and the chair holds him. All this is accomplished literally in one moment. The next moment sounds the first stroke, and nothing can stop the action of the machine, nor weaken the blows, nor increase or diminish the celerity, until that moment when justice has been accomplished. It would be physically impossible, not having the key.

“Officer! Bring in the mannequin!

“Will the esteemed audience kindly indicate the number of the strokes.⁠ ⁠… Just a number, please⁠ ⁠… three figures if you wish, but not more than 350. Please.⁠ ⁠…”

“Five hundred,” shouted the governor of the fortress.

Reff,” barked the dog under his chair.

“Five hundred is too many,” gently objected the lecturer, “but to go as far as we can towards meeting his Excellency’s wish let us say 350. We throw into the urn all the coupons.”

Whilst he was speaking, the attendant brought in under his arm a monstrous-looking leathern mannequin, and stood it on the floor, holding it up from behind. There was something suggestive and ridiculous in the crooked legs, outstretched arms, and forward-hanging head of this leathern dummy.

Standing on the platform of the machine, the lecturer continued:

“Ladies and gentlemen, one last word. I do not doubt that my mechanical self-flogger will be most widely used. Slowly but surely it will find its way into all schools, colleges and seminaries. It will be introduced in the army and navy, in the village, in military and civil prisons, in police stations and for fire-brigades, and in all truly Russian families.

“The coupons are inevitably replaced by coins, and in that way not only is the cost of the machine redeemed, but a fund is commenced which can be used for charitable and educative ends. Our eternal financial troubles will pass, for, by the aid of this machine, the peasant will be forced to pay his taxes. Sin will disappear, crime, laziness, slovenliness, and in their stead will flourish industry, temperance, sobriety and thrift.

“It is difficult to probe further the possible future of this machine. Did Gutenberg foresee the contribution which book-printing was going to make to the history of human progress when he made his first naive wooden printing-press? But I am, however, far from airing a foolish self-conceit in your eyes, ladies and gentlemen. The bare idea belongs to me. In the practical details of the invention I have received most material help from Mr. N⁠⸺, the teacher of physics in the Fourth Secondary School of this town, and from Mr. X⁠⸺, the well-known engineer. I take the opportunity of acknowledging my indebtedness.”

The hall thundered with applause. Two men in the front of the stalls stood up timidly and awkwardly, and bowed to the public.

“For me personally,” continued the lecturer, “there has been the greatest satisfaction to consider the good I was doing my beloved fatherland. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a token which I have lately received from the governor and nobility of Kursk⁠—with the motto: Similia similibus.”

He detached from its chain and held aloft an immense antique chronometer, about half a pound in weight. From the watch dangled also a massive gold medal.

“I have finished, ladies and gentlemen,” added the lecturer in a low and solemn voice, bowing as he spoke.

But the applause had not died down before there happened something incredible, appalling. The chronometer suddenly slipped from the raised hand of the pedagogue, and fell with a metallic clash right into the urn.

At once the machine began to hum and click. The platform inverted, and the lecturer was suddenly hoist with his own petard. His coattails waved in the air; there was a sudden thwack and a wild cry.

2,901, indicated the mechanical reckoner.

It is difficult to describe rapidly and definitely what happened in the meeting. For a few seconds everyone was turned to stone. In the general silence sounded only the cries of the victim, the whistling of the rods, and the clicking of the counting machine. Then suddenly everyone rushed up on to the stage.

“For the love of the Lord!” cried the unfortunate man, “for the love of the Lord!”

But it was impossible to help him. The valorous physics teacher put out a hand to catch one of the rods as they came, but drew it back at once, and the blood on his fingers was visible to all. No efforts could raise the crossbeam.

“The key! Quick, the key!” cried the pedagogue. “In my trouser pocket.”

The devoted attendant dashed in to search his pockets, with difficulty avoiding blows from the machine. But the key was not to be found.

2,950, 2,951, 2,952, 2,953, clicked the counting machine.

“Oh, your honour!” cried the attendant through his tears. “Let me take your trousers off. They are quite new, and they will be ruined.⁠ ⁠… Ladies can turn the other way.”

“Go to blazes, idiot! Oey, o, o!⁠ ⁠… Gentlemen, for God’s sake!⁠ ⁠… Oey, oey!⁠ ⁠… I forgot.⁠ ⁠… The keys are in my overcoat.⁠ ⁠… Oey! Quickly!”

They ran to the anteroom for his overcoat. But neither was there any key there. Evidently the inventor had left it at home. Someone was sent to fetch it. A gentleman present offered his carriage.

And the sharp blows registered themselves every second with mathematical precision; the pedagogue shouted; the counting machine went indifferently on.

3,180, 3,181, 3,182.⁠ ⁠…

One of the garrison lieutenants drew his sword and began to hack at the apparatus, but after the fifth blow there remained only the hilt, and a jumping splinter hit the president of the Zemstvo. Most dreadful of all was the fact that it was impossible to guess to what point the flogging would go on. The chronometer was proving itself weighty. The man sent for the key still did not return, and the counter, having long since passed the figure previously indicated by the inventor, went on placidly.

3,999, 4,000, 4,001.

The pedagogue jumped no longer. He just lay with gaping mouth and protruding eyes, and only twitched convulsively.

At last, the governor of the fortress, boiling with indignation, roared out to the accompaniment of the barking of his dog:

“Madness! Debauch! Unheard of! Order up the fire-brigade!”

This idea was the wisest. The governor of the town was an enthusiast for the fire-brigade, and had smartened the firemen to a rare pitch. In less than five minutes, and at that moment when the indicator showed stroke No. 4,550, the brave young fellows of the fire-brigade broke on the scene with choppers and hooks.

The magnificent mechanical self-flogger was destroyed for ever and ever. With the machine perished also the idea. As regards the inventor, it should be said that, after a considerable time of feeling sore in a corporal way and of nervous weakness, he returned to his occupation. But the fatal occasion completely changed his character. He became for the rest of his life a calm, sweet, melancholy man, and though he taught Latin and Greek he was a favourite with the schoolboys.

He has never returned to his invention.

The Last Word

Yes, gentlemen, I killed him!

In vain do you try to obtain for me a medical certificate of temporary aberration. I shall not take advantage of it.

I killed him soberly, conscientiously, coldly, without the least regret, fear or hesitation. Were it in your power to resurrect him, I would repeat my crime.

He followed me always and everywhere. He took a thousand human shapes, and did not shrink⁠—shameless creature⁠—to dress in women’s clothes upon occasion. He took the guise of my relative, my dear friend, colleague, good acquaintance. He could dress to look any age except that of a child (as a child he only failed and looked ridiculous). He has filled up my life with himself, and poisoned it.

What has been most dreadful was that I have always foreseen in advance all his words, gestures and actions.

When I met him he would drawl, crushing my hand in his:

“Aha! Whom⁠—do⁠—I⁠—see? Dear me! You must be getting on in years now. How’s your health?”

Then he would answer as for himself, though I had not asked him anything:

“Thank you. So so. Nothing to boast of. Have you read in today’s paper⁠ ⁠… ?”

If he by any chance noticed that I had a flushed cheek, flushed by the vexation of having met him, he would be sure to croak:

“Eh, neighbour, how red you’re getting.”

He would come to me just at those moments when I was up to the neck in work, would sit down and say:

“Ah! I’m afraid I’ve interrupted you.”

For two hours he would bore me to death, prattling of himself and his children. He would see I was tearing my hair and biting my lips till the blood came, and would simply delight in my torments.

Having poisoned my working mood for a whole month in advance, he would stand, yawn a little, and then murmur:

“Lord knows why I stay here talking. I’ve got lots to do.”

When I met him in a railway carriage he always began:

“Permit me to ask, are you going far?” And then:

“On business or⁠ ⁠… ?”

“Where do you work?”


Oh, well do I know all his ways. Closing my eyes I see him. He strikes me on the shoulder, on the back, on the knees. He gesticulates so closely to my eyes and nose that I wince, as if about to be struck. Catching hold of the lappet of my coat, he draws himself up to me and breathes in my face. When he visits me he allows his foot to tremble on the floor Under the table, so that the shade of the lamp tinkles. At an “at home” he thrums on the back of my chair with his fingers, and in pauses of the conversation drawls, “y‑e‑s, y‑es.” At cards he calls out, knocks on the table and quacks as he loses: “What’s that? What? What?”

Start him in an argument, and he always begins by:

“Eh, neighbour, it’s humbug you’re talking.”

“Why humbug?” you ask timidly.

“Because it is nonsense.”

What evil have I done to this man? I don’t know. He set himself to spoil my existence, and he spoiled it. Thanks to him, I now feel a great aversion from the sea, the moon, the air, poetry, painting, music.

“Tolstoy”⁠—he bawled orally, and in print⁠—“made his estate over to his wife, and he himself.⁠ ⁠… Compared with Turgenief, he.⁠ ⁠… He sewed his own jackboots⁠ ⁠… great writer of the Russian earth.⁠ ⁠… Hurrah!⁠ ⁠…

“Pushkin? He created the language, didn’t he? Do you remember ‘Calm was the Ukraine night, clear was the sky’? You remember what they did to the woman in the third act. Hsh! There are no ladies present, do you remember?

“ ‘In our little boat we go,
Under the little boat the water.’

“Dostoevsky⁠ ⁠… have you read how he went one night to Turgenief to confess⁠ ⁠… Gogol, do you know the sort of disease he had?”

Should I go to a picture gallery, and stand before some quiet evening landscape, he would be sure to be on my heels, pushing me forward, and saying to a girl on his arm:

“Very sweetly drawn⁠ ⁠… distance⁠ ⁠… atmosphere⁠ ⁠… the moon to the life.⁠ ⁠… Do you remember Nina⁠—the coloured supplement of the Neva9⁠—it was something like it.⁠ ⁠…”

I sit at the opera listening to Carmen. He is there, as everywhere. He is behind me, and has his feet on the lower bar of my fauteuil. He hums the tune of the duet in the last act, and through his feet communicates to my nerves every movement of his body. Then, in the entr’act, I hear him speaking in a voice pitched high enough for me to hear:

“Wonderful gramophone records the Zadodadofs have. Shalapin absolutely. You couldn’t tell the difference.”

Yes, it was he or someone like him who invented the barrel organ, the gramophone, the bioscope, the photophone, the biograph, the phonograph, the pathephone, the musical box, the pianino, the motor car, paper collars, oleographs, and newspapers.

There’s no getting away from him. I flee away at night to the wild seashore, and lie down in solitude upon a cliff, but he steals after me in the shadow, and suddenly the silencers broken by a self-satisfied voice which says:

“What a lovely night, Katenka, isn’t it? The clouds, eh, look at them! Just as in a picture. And if a painter painted them just like it, who would say it was true to Nature?”

He has killed the best minutes of my life⁠—minutes of love, the dear sweet nights of youth. How often, when I have wandered arm in arm with the most beauteous creation of Nature, along an avenue where, upon the ground, the silver moonlight was in pattern with the shadows of the trees, and he has suddenly and unexpectedly spoken up to me in a woman’s voice, has rested his head on my shoulder and cried out in a theatrical tone:

“Tell me, do you love to dream by moonlight?”


“Tell me, do you love Nature? As for me, I madly adore Nature.”

He was many shaped and many faced, my persecutor, but was always the same underneath. He took upon occasion the guise of professor, doctor, engineer, lady doctor, advocate, girl-student, author, wife of the excise inspector, official, passenger, customer, guest, stranger, spectator, reader, neighbour at a country house. In early youth I had the stupidity to think that these were all separate people. But they were all one and the same. Bitter experience has at last discovered to me his name. It is⁠—the Russian intelligent.

If he has at any time missed me personally, he has left everywhere his traces, his visiting cards. On the heights of Barchau and Machuka I have found his orange peelings, sardine tins, and chocolate wrappings. On the rocks of Aloopka, on the top of the belfry of St. John, on the granites of Imatra, on the walls of Bakhchisari, in the grotto of Lermontof, I have found the following signatures and remarks:⁠—

“Pusia and Kuziki .”


A. M. Plokhokhostof (Bad-tail) from Saratof.”


“Pechora girl.”


M.D.⁠ ⁠… P.A.P.⁠ ⁠… Talotchka and Achmet.”


“Trophim Sinepupof. Samara Town.”


“Adel Soloveitchik from Minsk.”


“From this height I delighted in the view of the sea.⁠—C. Nicodemus Ivanovitch Bezuprechny.”


I have read his verses and remarks in all visiting books, and in Puskhin’s house, at Lermontof’s Cliff, and in the ancient monasteries have read: “The Troakofs came here from Penza, drank kvass and ate sturgeon. We wish the same to you,” or “Visited the natal ashtray of the great Russian poet, Chichkin, teacher of caligraphy, Voronezh High School for Boys,” or⁠—

“Praise to thee, Ai Petri, mountain white,
In dress imperial of fir.
I climbed up yesterday unto thy height,
Retired Staff-Captain Nikoli Profer.”

I needed but to pick up my favourite Russian book, and I came upon him at once. “I have read this book.⁠—Pafnutenko.” “The author is a blockhead.” “Mr. Author hasn’t read Karl Marx.” I turn over the pages, and I find his notes in all the margins. Then, of course, no one like he turns down corners and makes dog-ears, tears out pages, or drops grease on them from tallow candles.

Gentlemen, judges, it is hard for me to go on. This man has abused, fouled, vulgarised all that was dear to me, delicate and touching. I struggled a long while with myself. Years went by. My nerves became more irritable I saw there was not room for both of us in the world. One of us had to go.

I foresaw for a long while that it would be just some little trifle that would drive me to the crime. So it was.

You know the particulars. In the compartment there was a crush; the passengers were sitting on one another’s heads. He, with his wife, his son, a schoolboy in the preparatory class, and a pile of luggage, were occupying four seats. Upon this occasion he was wearing the uniform of the Department of Popular Education. I went up to him and asked:

“Is there not a free seat here?”

He answered like a bulldog with a bone, not looking at me:

“No. This seat is taken by another gentleman. These are his things. He’ll be back in a minute.”

The train began to move.

I waited, standing, where I was. We went on about ten miles. The gentleman didn’t come. I was silent, and I looked into the face of the pedagogue, thinking that there might yet be in him some gleam of conscience.

But no. We went another fifteen miles. He got down a basket of provisions and began to eat. He went out with a kettle for hot water, and made himself tea. A little domestic scandal arose over the sugar for the tea.

“Peter, you’ve taken a lump of sugar on the sly!”

“Word of honour, by God, I haven’t! Look in my pockets, by God!”

“Don’t swear, and don’t lie. I counted them before we set out, on purpose.⁠ ⁠… There were eighteen and now there are seventeen.”

“By God!!”

“Don’t swear. It is shameful to lie. I will forgive you everything, only tell me straight out the truth. But a lie I can never forgive. Only cowards lie. One who is capable of lying is capable of murdering, of stealing, of betraying his king and his country.⁠ ⁠…”

So he ran on and ran on. I had heard such utterances from him in my earliest childhood, when he was my governess, afterwards when he was my class teacher, and again when he wrote in the newspaper.

I interrupted.

“You find fault with your son for lying, and yet you yourself have, in his presence, told a whopping lie. You said this seat was occupied by a gentleman. Where is that gentleman? Show him to me.”

The pedagogue went purple, and his eyes dilated.

“I beg you, don’t interfere with people who don’t interfere with you. Mind your own business. How scandalous! Conductor, please warn this passenger that he will not be allowed to interfere with other people in the railway carriage. Please take measures, or I’ll report the matter to the gendarme, and write in the complaint book.”

The conductor screwed up his eyes in a fatherly expression, and went out. But the pedagogue went on, unconsoled:

“No one speaks to you. No one was interfering with you. Good Lord! a decent-looking man too, in a hat and a collar, clearly one of the intelligentia.⁠ ⁠… A peasant now, or a workman⁠ ⁠… but no, an intelligent!”

Intel‑li‑gent! The executioner had named me executioner! It was ended.⁠ ⁠… He had pronounced his own sentence.

I took out of the pocket of my overcoat a revolver, examined the charge, pointed it at the pedagogue between the eyes, and said calmly:

“Say your prayers.”

He turned pale and shrieked:

“Guard‑d‑d!⁠ ⁠…”

That was his last word. I pulled the trigger.

I have finished, gentlemen. I repeat: I do not repent. There is no sorrow for him in my soul. One desolating doubt remains, however, and it will haunt me to the end of my days, should I finish them in prison or in an asylum.

He has a son left! What if he takes on his father’s nature?

The White Poodle


By narrow mountain paths, from one villa to another, a small wandering troupe made their way along the southern shore of the Crimea. Ahead commonly ran the white poodle, Arto, with his long red tongue hanging out from one side of his mouth. The poodle was shorn to look like a lion. At crossways he would stop, wag his tail, and look back questioningly. He seemed to obtain some sort of sign, known to him alone, and without waiting for the troupe to catch up he would bound forward on the right track, shaking his shaggy ears, never making a mistake. Following the dog came the twelve-year-old Sergey, carrying under his left arm a little mattress for his acrobatic exercises, and holding in his right hand a narrow dirty cage, with a goldfinch, taught to pull out from a case various coloured papers on which were printed predictions of coming fortune. Last of all came the oldest member of the troupe, grandfather Martin Lodishkin, with a barrel organ on his bent back.

The organ was an old one, very hoarse, and suffering from a cough; it had undergone, in the century of its existence, some scores of mendings. It played two things: a melancholy German waltz of Launer and a galop from A Trip to China Town, both in fashion thirty to forty years ago, but now forgotten by all. Beyond these drawbacks it must be said that the organ had two false tubes; one of them, a treble, was absolutely mute, did not play, and therefore when its turn came the whole harmony would, as it were, stutter, go lame and stumble. The other tube, giving forth a bass note, had something the matter with the valve, which would not shut, and having once been played it would not altogether stop, but rolled onward on the same bass note, deafening and confusing the other sounds, till suddenly, at its own caprice, it would stop. Grandfather himself acknowledged the deficiencies of his instrument, and might sometimes be heard to remark jocosely, though with a tinge of secret grief:

“What’s to be done?⁠ ⁠… An ancient organ⁠ ⁠… it has a cold.⁠ ⁠… When you play it the gentry take offence. ‘Tfu,’ they say, ‘what a wretched thing!’ And these pieces were very good in their time, and fashionable, but people nowadays by no means adore good music. Give them ‘The Geisha,’ ‘Under the Double-headed Eagle,’ please, or the waltz from The Seller of Birds. Of course, these tubes.⁠ ⁠… I took the organ to the shop, but they wouldn’t undertake to mend it. ‘It needs new tubes,’ said they. ‘But, best of all, if you’ll take our advice, sell the rusty thing to a museum⁠ ⁠… as a sort of curio.⁠ ⁠…’ Well, well, that’s enough! She’s fed us till now, Sergey and me, and if God grant, she will go on feeding us.”

Grandfather Martin Lodishkin loved his organ as it is only possible to love something living, near, something actually akin, if it may be so expressed. Having lived with his organ for many years of a trying vagabond life, he had at last come to see in it something inspired, come to feel as if it were almost a conscious being. It would happen sometimes at night, when they were lying on the floor of some dirty inn, that the barrel organ, placed beside the old man’s pillow, would suddenly give vent to a faint note, a sad melancholy quavering note, like an old man’s sigh. And Lodishkin would put out his hand to its carved wooden side and whisper caressingly:

“What is it, brother? Complaining, eh!⁠ ⁠… Have patience, friend.⁠ ⁠…”

And as much as Lodishkin loved his organ, and perhaps even a little more, he loved the other two companions of his wanderings, Arto, the poodle, and little Sergey. He had hired the boy five years before from a bad character, a widower cobbler, promising to pay him two roubles a month. Shortly afterwards the cobbler had died, and Sergey remained with grandfather, bound to him forever by their common life and the little daily interests of the troupe.


The path went along a high cliff over the sea, and wandered through the shade of ancient olive trees, The sea gleamed between the trunks now and then, and seemed at times to stand like a calm and mighty wall on the horizon; its colour was the more blue, the more intense, because of the contrast seen through the trellis-work of silver verdant leaves. In the grass, amongst the kizil shrubs, wild roses and vines, and even on the branches of the trees, swarmed the grasshoppers, and the air itself trembled from the monotonously sounding and unceasing murmur of their legs and wing-cases. The day turned out to be a sultry one; there was no wind, and the hot earth burnt the soles of the feet.

Sergey, going as usual ahead of grandfather, stopped, and waited for the old man to catch up to him.

“What is it, Serozha?” asked the organ-grinder.

“The heat, grandfather Lodishkin⁠ ⁠… there’s no bearing it! To bathe would be good.⁠ ⁠…”

The old man wiped his perspiring face with his sleeve, and hitched the organ to a more comfortable position on his back.

“What would be better?” he sighed, looking eagerly downward to the cool blueness of the sea. “Only, after bathing, one gets more hungry, you know. A village doctor once said to me: ‘Salt has more effect on man than anything else⁠ ⁠… that means, it weakens him⁠ ⁠… sea-salt.⁠ ⁠…’ ”

“He lied, perhaps,” remarked Sergey, doubtfully.

“Lied! What next? Why should he lie? A solid man, nondrinker⁠ ⁠… having a little house in Sevastopol. What’s more, there’s no getting down to the sea here. Wait a bit, we’ll get to Miskhor, and there rinse our sinful bodies. It’s fine to bathe before dinner⁠ ⁠… and afterwards to sleep, we three⁠ ⁠… and a splendid bit of work.⁠ ⁠…”

Arto, hearing conversation behind him, turned and ran back, his soft blue eyes, half shut from the heat, looked up appealingly, and his hanging tongue trembled from quick breathing.

“What is it, brother doggie? Warm, eh?” asked grandfather.

The dog yawned, straining his jaws and curling his tongue into a little tube, shook all his body, and whimpered.

“Yes, yes, little brother, but it can’t be helped,” continued Lodishkin. “It is written, ‘In the sweat of thy face,’ though, as a matter of fact, it can hardly be said that you have a face, or anything more than a muzzle.⁠ ⁠… Be off! Go off with you.⁠ ⁠… As for me, Serozha, I must confess I just like this heat. Only the organ’s a bit of a nuisance, and if there were no work to do I’d just lie down somewhere in the grass in the shade, and have a good morning of it. For old bones this sunshine is the finest thing in the world.”

The footpath turned downward to a great highway, broad and hard and blindingly white. At the point where the troupe stepped on to it commenced an ancient baronial estate, in the abundant verdure of which were beautiful villas, flowerbeds, orangeries and fountains. Lodishkin knew the district well, and called at each of the villas every year, one after another, during the vine-harvesting season, when the whole Crimea is filled with rich, fashionable, and pleasure-loving visitors. The bright magnificence of southern Nature did not touch the old man, but it enraptured Sergey, who was there for the first time. The magnolias, with their hard and shiny leaves, shiny as if lacquered or varnished, with their large white blossoms, each almost as big as a dinner-plate; the summerhouses of interwoven vines hanging with heavy clusters of fruit; the enormous century-old plane trees, with their bright trunks and mighty crowns; tobacco plantations, rivulets, waterfalls, and everywhere, in flowerbeds, gardens, on the walls of the villas, bright sweet-scented roses⁠—all these things impressed unceasingly the naive soul of the boy. He expressed his admiration of the scene, pulling the old man’s sleeve and crying out every minute:

“Grandfather Lodishkin, but, grandfather, just look, goldfish in the fountain!⁠ ⁠… I swear, grandfather, goldfish, if I die for it!” cried the boy, pressing his face to a railing and staring at a large tank in the middle of a garden. “I say, grandfather, look at the peaches! Good gracious, what a lot there are. Look, how many! And all on one tree.”

“Leave go, leave go, little stupid. What are you stretching your mouth about?” joked the old man. “Just wait till we get to the town of Novorossisk, and give ourselves to the South. Now, that’s a place indeed; there you’ll see something. Sotchi, Adler, Tuapse, and then, little brother, Sukhum, Batum.⁠ ⁠… Your eyes’ll drop out of your head.⁠ ⁠… Palms, for instance. Absolutely astonishing; the trunks all shaggy like felt, and each leaf so large that we could hide ourselves in one.”

“You don’t mean it!” cried Sergey, joyfully.

“Wait a bit and you’ll see for yourself. Is there little of anything there? Now, oranges for instance, or, let us say, lemons.⁠ ⁠… You’ve seen them, no doubt, in the shops?”


“Well, you see them simply as if they were growing in the air. Without anything, just on the tree, as up here you see an apple or a pear.⁠ ⁠… And the people down there, little brother, are altogether out of the way: Turks, Persians, different sorts of Cherkesses, and all in gowns and with daggers, a desperate sort of people! And, little brother, there are even Ethiopians. I’ve seen them many times in Batum!”

“Ethiopians, I know. Those with horns,” cried Sergey, confidently.

“Well, horns I suppose they have not,” said grandfather; “that’s nonsense. But they’re black as a pair of boots, and shine even. Thick, red, ugly lips, great white eyes, and hair as curly as the back of a black sheep.”

“Oi, oi, how terrible!⁠ ⁠… Are Ethiopians like that?”

“Well, well, don’t be frightened. Of course, at first, before you’re accustomed, it’s alarming. But when you see that other people aren’t afraid, you pick up courage.⁠ ⁠… There’s all sorts there, little brother. When we get there you’ll see. Only one thing is bad⁠—the fever. All around lie marshes, rottenness; then there is such terrible heat. The people who live there find it all right, but it’s bad for newcomers. However, we’ve done enough tongue-wagging, you and I, Sergey, so just climb over that stile and go up to the house. There are some really fine people living there.⁠ ⁠… If ever there’s anything you want to know, just ask me; I know all.”

But the day turned out to be a very unsuccessful one for them. At one place the servants drove them away almost before they were seen even from a distance by the mistress; at another the organ had hardly made its melancholy beginning in front of the balcony when they were waved away in disgust; at a third they were told that the master and mistress had not yet arrived. At two villas they were indeed paid for their show, but very little. Still, grandfather never turned his nose up even at the smallest amounts. Coming out at the gate on to the road he would smile good-naturedly and say:

“Two plus five, total seven⁠ ⁠… hey hey, brother Serozhenka, that’s money. Seven times seven, and you’ve pretty well got a shilling, and that would be a good meal and a night’s lodging in our pockets, and p’raps, old man Lodishkin might be allowed a little glass on account of his weakness.⁠ ⁠… Ai, ai, there’s a sort of people I can’t make out; too stingy to give sixpence, yet ashamed to put in a penny⁠ ⁠… and so they surlily order you off. Better to give, were it only three farthings.⁠ ⁠… I wouldn’t take offence, I’m nobody⁠ ⁠… why take offence?”

Generally speaking, Lodishkin was of a modest order, and even when he was hounded out of a place he would not complain. However, on this day of which we are writing, he was, as it happened, disturbed out of his usual equanimity by one of the people of these Crimean villas, a lady of a very kind appearance, the owner of a beautiful country house surrounded by a wonderful flower-garden. She listened attentively to the music; watched Sergey’s somersaults and Arto’s tricks even more attentively; asked the little boy’s age, what was his name, where he’d learned gymnastics, how grandfather had come by him, what his father had done for a living, and so on, and had then bidden them wait, and had gone indoors apparently to fetch them something.

Ten minutes passed, a quarter of an hour, and she did not appear, but the longer she stayed the greater became the vague hopes of the troupe. Grandfather even whispered to Sergey, shielding his mouth with his palm the while:

“Eh, Sergey, this is good, isn’t it? Ask me if you want to know anything. Now we’re going to get some old clothes or perhaps a pair of boots. A sure thing!⁠ ⁠…”

At last the lady came out on her balcony again, and flung into Sergey’s held-out hat a small silver coin. And then she went in again. The coin turned out to be an old worn-out threepenny bit with a hole in it. No use to buy anything with. Grandfather held it in his hand and considered it a long while distrustfully. He left the house and went back to the road, and all the while he still held the bit of money in his open and extended palm, as if weighing it as he went.

“Well, well.⁠ ⁠… That’s smart!” said he at last, stopping suddenly. “I must say.⁠ ⁠… And didn’t we three blockheads do our best. It’d a-been better if she’d given us a button. That, at least, we could have sewn on somewhere. What’s the use of this bit of rubbish? The lady, no doubt, thought that it would be all the same as a good coin to me. I’d pass it off on someone at night. No, no, you’re deeply mistaken, my lady. Old man Lodishkin is not going to descend so low. Yes, m’lady, there goes your precious threepenny bit! There!”

And with indignation and pride he flung the coin on to the road, and it gently jingled and was lost in the dust.

So the morning passed, and the old man and the boy, having passed all the villas on the cliff, prepared to go down to the sea. There remained but one last estate on the way. This was on the left-hand side.

The house itself was not visible, the wall being high, and over the wall loomed a fine array of dusty cypresses. Only through the wide cast-iron gate, whose fantastical design gave it the appearance of lace, was it possible to get a glimpse of the lovely lawn. Thence one peered upon fresh green grass, flowerbeds, and in the background a winding pergola of vines. In the middle of the lawn stood a gardener watering the roses. He put a finger to the pipe in his hand, and caused the water in the fountain to leap in the sun, glittering in myriads of little sparkles and flashes.

Grandfather was going past, but looking through the gate he stopped in doubt.

“Wait a bit, Sergey,” said he. “Surely there are no folk here! There’s a strange thing! Often as I’ve come along this road, I’ve never seen a soul here before. Oh, well, brother Sergey, get ready!”

A notice was fixed on the wall:

“Friendship Villa: Trespassers will be prosecuted,” and Sergey read this out aloud.

“Friendship?” questioned grandfather, who himself could not read. “Vo-vo! That’s one of the finest of words⁠—friendship. All day we’ve failed, but this house will make up for it. I smell it with my nose, as if I were a hunting dog. Now, Arto, come here, old fellow. Walk up bravely, Serozha. Keep your eye on me, and if you want to know anything just ask me. I know all.”


The paths were made of a well-rolled yellow gravel, crunching under the feet; and at the sides were borders of large rose-coloured shells. In the flowerbeds, above a carpet of various coloured grasses, grew rare plants with brilliant blossoms and sweet perfume. Crystal water rose and splashed continually from the fountains, and garlands of beautiful creeping plants hung downward from beautiful vases, suspended in midair from wires stretched between the trees. On marble pillars just outside the house stood two splendid spheres of mirror glass, and the wandering troupe, coming up to them, saw themselves reflected feet upwards in an amusing twisted and elongated picture.

In front of the balcony was a wide, much-trampled platform. On this Sergey spread his little mattress, and grandfather, having fixed the organ on its stick, prepared to turn the handle. But just as he was in the act of doing this, a most unexpected and strange sight suddenly attracted his attention.

A boy of nine or ten rushed suddenly out of the house on to the terrace like a bomb, giving forth piercing shrieks. He was in a sailor suit, with bare arms and legs. His fair curls hung in a tangle on his shoulders. Away he rushed, and after him came six people; two women in aprons, a stout old lackey, without moustache or beard but with grey side-whiskers, wearing a frock coat, a lean, carrotty-haired, red-nosed girl in a blue-checked dress, a young sickly-looking but very beautiful lady in a blue dressing-jacket trimmed with lace, and, last of all, a stout, bald gentleman in a suit of Tussore silk, and with gold spectacles. They were all very much excited, waved their arms, spoke loudly, and even jostled one another. You could see at one that the cause of all their anxiety was the boy in the sailor suit, who had so suddenly rushed on to the terrace.

And the boy, the cause of all this hurly-burly, did not cease screaming for one second, but threw himself down on his stomach, turned quickly over on to his back, and began to kick out with his legs on all sides. The little crowd of grownups fussed around him. The old lackey in the frock coat pressed his hands to his starched shirtfront and begged and implored the boy to be quiet, his long side-whiskers trembling as he spoke:

“Little father, master!⁠ ⁠… Nikolai Apollonovitch!⁠ ⁠… Do not vex your little mamma. Do get up, sir; be so good, so kind⁠—take a little, sir. The mixture’s sweet as sweet, just syrup, sir. Now let me help you up.⁠ ⁠…”

The women in the aprons clapped their hands and chirped quickly-quickly, in seemingly passionate and frightened voices. The red-nosed girl made tragic gestures, and cried out something evidently very touching, but completely incomprehensible, as it was in a foreign language. The gentleman in the gold spectacles made speeches to the boy in a reasoning bass voice, wagged his head to and fro as he spoke, and slowly waved his hands up and down. And the beautiful, delicate⁠—looking lady moaned wearily, pressing a lace handkerchief to her eyes.

“Ah, Trilly, ah, God in Heaven!⁠ ⁠… Angel mine, I beseech you, listen, your own mother begs you. Now do, do take the medicine, take it and you’ll see, you’ll feel better at once, and the stomachache will go away and the headache. Now do it for me, my joy! Oh, Trilly, if you want it, your mamma will go down on her knees. See, darling, I’m on my knees before you. If you wish it, I’ll give you gold⁠—a sovereign, two sovereigns, five sovereigns. Trilly, would you like a live ass? Would you like a live horse? Oh, for goodness’ sake, say something to him, doctor.”

“Pay attention, Trilly. Be a man!” droned the stout gentleman in the spectacles.

Ai-yai-yai-ya-a-a-a!” yelled the boy, squirming on the ground, and kicking about desperately with his feet.

Despite his extreme agitation he managed to give several kicks to the people around him, and they, for their part, got out of his way sufficiently cleverly.

Sergey looked upon the scene with curiosity and astonishment, and at last nudged the old man in the side and said:

“Grandfather Lodishkin, what’s the matter with him? Can’t they give him a beating?”

“A beating⁠—I like that.⁠ ⁠… That sort isn’t beaten, but beats everybody else. A crazy boy; ill, I expect.”

“Insane?” enquired Sergey.

“How should I know? Hst, be quiet!⁠ ⁠…”

Ai-yai-ya-a! Scum, fatheads!” shouted the boy, louder and louder.

“Well, begin, Sergey. Now’s the time, for I know!” ordered Lodishkin suddenly, taking hold of the handle of his organ and turning it with resolution. The snuffling and false notes of the ancient galop rose in the garden. All the people stopped suddenly and looked round; even the boy became silent for a few seconds.

“Ah, God in heaven, they will upset my poor Trilly still more!” cried the lady in the blue dressing-jacket, with tears in her eyes. “Chase them off, quickly, quickly. Drive them away, and the dirty dog with them. Dogs have always such dreadful diseases. Why do you stand there helplessly, Ivan, as if you were turned to stone?” She shook her handkerchief wearily in the direction of grandfather and the little boy; the lean, red-nosed girl made dreadful eyes; someone gave a threatening whisper; the lackey in the dress coat ran swiftly from the balcony on his tiptoes, and, with an expression of horror on his face, cried to the organ grinder, spreading out his arms like wings as he spoke:

“Whatever does it mean⁠—who permitted them⁠—who let them through? March! Clear out!⁠ ⁠…”

The organ became silent in a melancholy whimper.

“Fine gentleman, allow us to explain,” began the old man delicately.

“No explanations whatever! March!” roared the lackey in a hoarse, angry whisper.

His whole fat face turned purple, and his eyes protruded to such a degree that they looked as if they would suddenly roll out and run away like wheels. The sight was so dreadful that grandfather involuntarily took two steps backward.

“Put the things up, Sergey,” said he, hurriedly jolting the organ on to his back. “Come on!”

But they had not succeeded in taking more than ten steps when the child began to shriek even worse than ever:

Ai-yai-yai! Give it me! I wa‑ant it! A-a-a! Give it! Call them back! Me!”

“But, Trilly!⁠ ⁠… Ah, God in heaven, Trilly; ah, call them back!” moaned the nervous lady. “Tfu, how stupid you all are!⁠ ⁠… Ivan, don’t you hear when you’re told? Go at once and call those beggars back!⁠ ⁠…”

“Certainly! You! Hey, what d’you call yourselves? Organ grinders! Come back!” cried several voices at once.

The stout lackey jumped across the lawn, his side-whiskers waving in the wind, and, overtaking the artistes, cried out:

Pst! Musicians! Back! Don’t you hear, friends, you’re called back?” cried he, panting and waving both arms. “Venerable old man!” said he at last, catching hold of grandfather’s coat by the sleeve. “Turn the shafts round. The master and mistress will be pleased to see your pantomime.”

“Well, well, business at last!” sighed grandfather, turning his head round. And the little party went back to the balcony where the people were collected, and the old man fixed up his organ on the stick and played the hideous galop from the very point at which it had been interrupted.

The rumpus had died down. The lady with her little boy, and the gentleman in the gold spectacles, came forward. The others remained respectfully behind. Out of the depths of the shrubbery came the gardener in his apron, and stood at a little distance. From somewhere or other the yard-porter made his appearance, and stood behind the gardener. He was an immense bearded peasant with a gloomy face, narrow brows, and pockmarked cheeks. He was clad in a new rose-coloured blouse, on which was a pattern of large black spots.

Under cover of the hoarse music of the galop, Sergey spread his little mattress, pulled off his canvas breeches⁠—they had been cut out of an old sack, and behind, at the broadest part, were ornamented by a quadrilateral trade mark of a factory⁠—threw from his body his torn shirt, and stood erect in his cotton underclothes. In spite of the many mends on these garments he was a pretty figure of a boy, lithe and strong. He had a little programme of acrobatic tricks which he had learnt by watching his elders in the arena of the circus. Running to the mattress he would put both hands to his lips, and, with a passionate gesture, wave two theatrical kisses to the audience. So his performance began.

Grandfather turned the handle of the organ without ceasing, and whilst the boy juggled various objects in the air the old music-machine gave forth its trembling, coughing tunes. Sergey’s repertoire was not a large one, but he did it well and with enthusiasm. He threw up into the air an empty beer-bottle, so that it revolved several times in its flight, and suddenly catching it neck downward on the edge of a tray he balanced it there for several seconds; he juggled four balls and two candles, catching the latter simultaneously in two candlesticks; he played with a fan, a wooden cigar and an umbrella, throwing them to and fro in the air, and at last having the open umbrella in his hand shielding his head, the cigar in his mouth, and the fan coquettishly waving in his other hand. Then he turned several somersaults on the mattress; did “the frog”; tied himself into an American knot; walked on his hands, and having exhausted his little programme sent once more two kisses to the public, and, panting from the exercise, ran to grandfather to take his place at the organ.

Now was Arto’s turn. This the dog perfectly well knew, and he had for some time been prancing round in excitement, and barking nervously. Perhaps the clever poodle wished to say that, in his opinion, it was unreasonable to go through acrobatic performances when Réaumur showed thirty-two degrees in the shade. But grandfather Lodishkin, with a cunning grin, pulled out of his coattail pocket a slender kizil switch. Arto’s eyes took a melancholy expression. “Didn’t I know it!” they seemed to say, and he lazily and insubmissively raised himself on his hind paws, never once ceasing to look at his master and blink.

“Serve, Arto! So, so, so⁠ ⁠… ,” ordered the old man, holding the switch over the poodle’s head. “Over. So. Turn⁠ ⁠… again⁠ ⁠… again.⁠ ⁠… Dance, doggie, dance! Sit! Wha‑at? Don’t want to? Sit when you’re told! A-a.⁠ ⁠… That’s right! Now look! Salute the respected public. Now, Arto!” cried Lodishkin threateningly.

Gaff!” barked the poodle in disgust. Then he followed his master mournfully with his eyes, and added twice more, “Gaff, gaff.

“No, my old man doesn’t understand me,” this discontented barking seemed to say.

“That’s it, that’s better. Politeness before everything. Now we’ll have a little jump,” continued the old man, holding out the twig at a short distance above the ground. “Allez! There’s nothing to hang out your tongue about, brother. Allez! Gop! Splendid! And now, please, noch ein mal⁠ ⁠… Allez!⁠ ⁠… Gop! Allez! Gop! Wonderful doggie. When you get home you shall have carrots. You don’t like carrots, eh? Ah, I’d completely forgotten. Then take my silk topper and ask the folk. P’raps they’ll give you something a little more tasty.”

Grandfather raised the dog on his hind legs and put in his mouth the old greasy cap which, with such delicate irony, he had named a silk topper. Arto, standing affectedly on his grey hind legs, and holding the cap in his teeth, came up to the terrace. In the hands of the delicate lady there appeared a small mother-of-pearl purse. All those around her smiled sympathetically.

“What? Didn’t I tell you?” asked the old man of Sergey, teasingly. “Ask me if you ever want to know anything, brother, for I know. Nothing less than a rouble.”

At that moment there broke out such an inhuman yowl that Arto involuntarily dropped the cap and leapt off with his tail between his legs, looked over his shoulders fearfully, and came and lay down at his master’s feet.

“I wa‑a‑a‑nt him,” cried the curly-headed boy, stamping his feet. “Give him to me! I want him. The dog, I tell you! Trilly wa‑ants the do‑og!”

“Ah, God in heaven! Ah, Nikolai Apollonovitch!⁠ ⁠… Little father, master!⁠ ⁠… Be calm, Trilly, I beseech you,” cried the voices of the people.

“The dog! Give me the dog; I want him! Scum, demons, fatheads!” cried the boy, fairly out of his mind.

“But, angel mine, don’t upset your nerves,” lisped the lady in the blue dressing-jacket. “You’d like to stroke the doggie? Very well, very well, my joy, in a minute you shall. Doctor, what do you think, might Trilly stroke this dog?”

“Generally speaking, I should not advise it,” said the doctor, waving his hands. “But if we had some reliable disinfectant as, for instance, boracic acid or a weak solution of carbolic, then⁠ ⁠… generally⁠ ⁠…”

“The do‑og!”

“In a minute, my charmer, in a minute. So, doctor, you order that we wash the dog with boracic acid, and then.⁠ ⁠… Oh, Trilly, don’t get into such a state! Old man, bring up your dog, will you, if you please. Don’t be afraid, you will be paid for it. And, listen a moment⁠—is the dog ill? I wish to ask, is the dog suffering from hydrophobia or skin disease?”

“Don’t want to stroke him, don’t want to,” roared Trilly, blowing out his mouth like a bladder. “Fatheads! Demons! Give it to me altogether! I want to play with it.⁠ ⁠… For always.”

“Listen, old man, come up here,” cried the lady, trying to outshout the child. “Ah, Trilly, you’ll kill your own mother if you make such a noise. Why ever did they let these music people in? Come nearer⁠—nearer still; come when you’re told!⁠ ⁠… That’s better.⁠ ⁠… Oh, don’t take offence! Trilly, your mother will do all that you ask. I beseech you, miss, do try and calm the child.⁠ ⁠… Doctor, I pray you.⁠ ⁠… How much d’you want, old man?”

Grandfather removed his cap, and his face took on a respectfully piteous expression.

“As much as your kindness will think fit, my lady, your Excellency.⁠ ⁠… We are people in a small way, and anything is a blessing for us.⁠ ⁠… Probably you will not do anything to offend an old man.⁠ ⁠…”

“Ah, how senseless! Trilly, you’ll make your little throat ache.⁠ ⁠… Don’t you grasp the fact that the dog is yours and not mine.⁠ ⁠… Now, how much do you say? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?”

A-a-a; I wa‑ant it, give me the dog, give me the dog,” squealed the boy, kicking the round stomach of the lackey who happened to be near.

“That is⁠ ⁠… forgive me, your Serenity,” stuttered Lodishkin. “You see, I’m an old man, stupid.⁠ ⁠… It’s difficult to understand at once.⁠ ⁠… What’s more, I’m a bit deaf⁠ ⁠… so I ought to ask, in short, what were you wishing to say?⁠ ⁠… For the dog?⁠ ⁠…”

“Ah, God in heaven! It seems to me you’re playing the idiot on purpose,” said the lady, boiling over. “Nurse, give Trilly some water at once! I ask you, in the Russian language, for how much do you wish to sell your dog? Do you understand⁠—your dog, dog?⁠ ⁠…”

“The dog! The do‑og!” cried the boy, louder than ever.

Lodishkin took offence, and put his hat on again.

“Dogs, my lady, I do not sell,” said he coldly and with dignity. “And, what is more, madam, that dog, it ought to be understood, has been for us two”⁠—he pointed with his middle finger over his shoulder at Sergey⁠—“has been for us two, feeder and clother. It has fed us, given us drink, and clothed us. I could not think of anything more impossible than, for example, that we should sell it.”

Trilly all the while was giving forth piercing shrieks like the whistle of a steam-engine. They gave him a glass of water, but he splashed it furiously all over the face of his governess.

“Listen, you crazy old man!⁠ ⁠… There are no things which are not for sale, if only a large enough price be offered,” insisted the lady, pressing her palms to her temples. “Miss, wipe your face quickly and give me my headache mixture. Now, perhaps your dog costs a hundred roubles! What then, two hundred? Three hundred? Now answer, image. Doctor, for the love of the Lord, do say something to him!”

“Pack up, Sergey,” growled Lodishkin morosely. “Image, im‑a‑age.⁠ ⁠… Here, Arto!⁠ ⁠…”

“Hey, wait a minute, if you please,” drawled the stout gentleman in the gold spectacles in an authoritative bass. “You’d better not be obstinate, dear man, now I’m telling you. For your dog, ten roubles would be a beautiful price, and even for you into the bargain.⁠ ⁠… Just consider, ass, how much the lady is offering you.”

“I most humbly thank you, sir,” mumbled Lodishkin, hitching his organ on to his shoulders. “Only I can’t see how such a piece of business could ever be done, as, for instance, to sell. Now, I should think you’d better seek some other dog somewhere else.⁠ ⁠… So good day to you.⁠ ⁠… Now, Sergey, go ahead!”

“And have you got a passport?” roared the doctor in a rage. “I know you⁠—canaille.”

“Porter! Semyon! Drive them out!” cried the lady, her face distorted with rage.

The gloomy-looking porter in the rose-coloured blouse rushed threateningly towards the artistes. A great hubbub arose on the terrace, Trilly roaring for all he was worth, his mother sobbing, the nurse chattering volubly to her assistant, the doctor booming like an angry cockchafer. But grandfather and Sergey had no time to look back or to see how all would end. The poodle running in front of them, they got quickly to the gates, and after them came the yard porter, punching the old man in the back, beating on his organ, and crying out:

“Out you get, you rascals! Thank God that you’re not hanging by your neck, you old scoundrel. Remember, next time you come here, we shan’t stand on ceremony with you, but lug you at once to the police station. Charlatans!”

For a long time the boy and the old man walked along silently together, but suddenly, as if they had arranged the time beforehand, they both looked at one another and laughed. Sergey, simply burst into laughter, and then Lodishkin smiled, seemingly in some confusion.

“Eh, grandfather Lodishkin, you know everything?” teased Sergey.

“Ye‑s brother, we’ve been nicely fooled, haven’t we,” said the old organ grinder, nodding his head. “A nasty bit of a boy, however.⁠ ⁠… How they’ll bring up such a creature, the Lord only knows. Yes, if you please, twenty-five men and women standing around him, dancing dances for his sake. Well, if he’d been in my power, I’d have taught him a lesson. ‘Give me the dog,’ says he. What then? If he asks for the moon out of the sky, give him that also, I suppose. Come here, Arto, come here, my little doggie doggie. Well, and what money we’ve taken today⁠—astonishing!”

“Better than money,” continued Sergey, “one lady gave us clothes, another a whole rouble. And doesn’t grandfather Lodishkin know everything in advance?”

“You be quiet,” growled the old man good-naturedly. “Don’t you remember how you ran from the porter? I thought I should never catch you up. A serious man, that porter!”

Leaving the villas, the wandering troupe stepped downward by a steep and winding path to the sea. At this point the mountains, retiring from the shore, left a beautiful level beach covered with tiny pebbles, which lisped and chattered as the waves turned them over. Two hundred yards out to sea dolphins turned somersaults, showing for moments their curved and glimmering backs. Away on the horizon of the wide blue sea, standing as it were on a lovely velvet ribbon of dark purple, were the sails of fishing boats, tinted to a rose colour by the sunlight.

“Here we shall bathe, grandfather Lodishkin,” said Sergey decisively. And he took off his trousers as he walked, jumping from one leg to the other to do so. “Let me help you to take off the organ.”

He swiftly undressed, smacking his sunburnt body with the palms of his hands, ran down to the waves, took a handful of foam to throw over his shoulders, and jumped into the sea.

Grandfather undressed without hurry. Shielding his eyes from the sun with his hands, and wrinkling his brows, he looked at Sergey and grinned knowingly.

“He’s not bad; the boy is growing,” thought Lodishkin to himself. “Plenty of bones⁠—all his ribs showing; but all the same, he’ll be a strong fellow.”

“Hey, Serozhska, don’t you get going too far. A sea pig’ll drag you off!”

“If so, I’ll catch it by the tail,” cried Sergey from a distance.

Grandfather stood a long time in the sunshine, feeling himself under his armpits. He went down to the water very cautiously, and before going right in, carefully wetted his bald red crown and the sunken sides of his body. He was yellow, wizened and feeble, his feet were astonishingly thin, and his back, with sharp protruding shoulder-blades, was humped by the long carrying of the organ.

“Look, grandfather Lodishkin!” cried Sergey, and he turned a somersault in the water.

Grandfather, who had now gone into the water up to his middle, sat down with a murmur of pleasure, and cried out to Sergey:

“Now, don’t you play about, piggy. Mind what I tell you or I’ll give it you.”

Arto barked unceasingly, and jumped about the shore. He was very much upset to see the boy swimming out so far. “What’s the use of showing off one’s bravery?” worried the poodle. “Isn’t there the earth, and isn’t that good enough to go on, and much calmer?”

He went into the water two or three times himself, and lapped the waves with his tongue. But he didn’t like the salt water, and was afraid of the little waves rolling over the pebbles towards him. He jumped back to dry sand, and at once set himself to bark at Sergey. “Why these silly, silly tricks? Why not come and sit down on the beach by the side of the old man? Dear, dear, what a lot of anxiety that boy does give us!”

“Hey, Serozha, time to come out, anyway. You’ve had enough,” cried the old man.

“In a minute, grandfather Lodishkin,” the boy cried back. “Just look how I do the steamboat. U-u-u-ukh!

At last he swam in to the shore, but, before dressing, he caught Arto in his arms, and returning with him to the water’s edge, flung him as far as he could. The dog at once swam back, leaving above the surface of the water his nostrils and floating ears alone, and snorting loudly and offendedly. Reaching dry sand, he shook his whole body violently, and clouds of water flew on the old man and on Sergey.

“Serozha, boy, look, surely that’s for us!” said Lodishkin suddenly, staring upwards towards the cliff.

Along the downward path they saw that same gloomy-looking yard porter in the rose-coloured blouse with the speckled pattern, waving his arms and crying out to them, though they could not make out what he was saying, the same fellow who, a quarter of an hour ago, had driven the vagabond troupe from the villa.

“What does he want?” asked grandfather mistrustfully.


The porter continued to cry, and at the same time to leap awkwardly down the steep path, the sleeves of his blouse trembling in the wind and the body of it blown out like a sail.

“O-ho-ho! Wait, you three!”

“There’s no finishing with these people,” growled Lodishkin angrily. “It’s Artoshka they’re after again.”

“Grandfather, what d’you say? Let’s pitch into him!” proposed Sergey bravely.

“You be quiet! Don’t be rash! But what sort of people can they be? God forgive us.⁠ ⁠…”

“I say, this is what you’ve got to do⁠ ⁠… ,” began the panting porter from afar. “You’ll sell that dog. Eh, what? There’s no peace with the little master. Roars like a calf: ‘Give me, give me the dog.⁠ ⁠…’ The mistress has sent. ‘Buy it,’ says she, ‘however much you have to pay.’ ”

“Now that’s pretty stupid on your mistress’s part,” cried Lodishkin angrily, for he felt considerably more sure of himself here on the shore than he did in somebody else’s garden. “And I should like to ask how can she be my mistress? She’s your mistress, perhaps, but to me further off than a third cousin, and I can spit at her if I want to. And now, please, for the love of God⁠ ⁠… I pray you⁠ ⁠… be so good as to go away⁠ ⁠… and leave us alone.”

But the porter paid no attention. He sat down on the pebbles beside the old man, and, awkwardly scratching the back of his neck with his fingers, addressed him thus:

“Now, don’t you grasp, fool?⁠ ⁠…”

“I hear it from a fool,” interrupted the old man.

“Now, come⁠ ⁠… that’s not the point.⁠ ⁠… Just put it to yourself. What’s the dog to you? Choose another puppy; all your expense is a stick, and there you have your dog again. Isn’t that sense? Don’t I speak the truth? Eh?”

Grandfather meditatively fastened the strap which served him as a belt. To the obstinate questions of the porter he replied with studied indifference.

“Talk on, say all you’ve got to say, and then I’ll answer you at once.”

“Then, brother, think of the number,” cried the porter hotly. “Two hundred, perhaps three hundred roubles in a lump! Well, they generally give me something for my work⁠ ⁠… but just you think of it. Three whole hundred! Why, you know, you could open a grocer’s shop with that.⁠ ⁠…”

Whilst saying this the porter plucked from his pocket a piece of sausage, and threw it to the poodle. Arto caught it in the air, swallowed it at a gulp, and ingratiatingly wagged his tail.

“Finished?” asked Lodishkin sweetly.

“Doesn’t take long to say what I had to say. Give the dog, and the money will be in your hands.”

“So‑o,” drawled grandfather mockingly. “That means the sale of the dog, I suppose?”

“What else? Just an ordinary sale. You see, our little master is so crazy. That’s what’s the matter. Whatever he wants, he turns the whole house upside down. ‘Give,’ says he, and it has to be given. That’s how it is without his father. When his father’s here⁠ ⁠… holy Saints!⁠ ⁠… we all walk on our heads. The father is an engineer; perhaps you’ve heard of Mr. Obolyaninof? He builds railway lines all over Russia. A millionaire! They’ve only one boy, and they spoil him. ‘I want a live pony,’ says he⁠—here’s a pony for you. ‘I want a boat,’ says he⁠—here’s a real boat. There is nothing that they refuse him.⁠ ⁠…”

“And the moon?”

“That is, in what sense?” asked the porter.

“I say, has he never asked for the moon from the sky?”

“The moon. What nonsense is that?” said the porter, turning red. “But come now, we’re agreed, aren’t we, dear man?”

By this time grandfather had succeeded in putting on his old green-seamed jacket, and he drew himself up as straight as his bent back would permit.

“I’ll ask you one thing, young man,” said he, not without dignity. “If you had a brother, or, let us say, a friend, that had grown up with you from childhood⁠—Now stop, friend, don’t throw sausage to the dog⁠ ⁠… better eat it yourself.⁠ ⁠… You can’t bribe the dog with that, brother⁠—I say, if you had a friend, the best and truest friend that it’s possible to have⁠ ⁠… one who from childhood⁠ ⁠… well, then, for example, for how much would you sell him?”

“I’d find a price even for him!⁠ ⁠…”

“Oh, you’d find a price. Then go and tell your master who builds the railroads,” cried grandfather in a loud voice⁠—“Go and tell him that not everything that ordinarily is for sale is also to be bought. Yes! And you’d better not stroke the dog. That’s to no purpose. Here, Arto, dog, I’ll give it you. Come on, Sergey.”

“Oh, you old fool!” cried the porter at last.

“Fool; yes, I was one from birth, but you, bit of rabble, Judas, soul-seller!” shouted Lodishkin. “When you see your lady-general, give her our kind respects, our deepest respects. Sergey, roll up the mattress. Ai, ai, my back, how it aches! Come on.”

“So‑o, that’s what it means,” drawled the porter significantly.

“Yes. That’s what it is. Take it!” answered the old man exasperatingly. The troupe then wandered off along the shore, following on the same road. Once, looking back accidentally, Sergey noticed that the porter was following them; his face seemed cogitative and gloomy, his cap was over his eyes, and he scratched with five fingers his shaggy carrotty-haired neck.


A certain spot between Miskhor and Aloopka had long since been put down by Lodishkin as a splendid place for having lunch, and it was to this that they journeyed now. Not far from a bridge over a rushing mountain torrent there wandered from the cliff side a cold chattering stream of limpid water. This was in the shade of crooked oak trees and thick hazel bushes. The stream had made itself a shallow basin in the earth, and from this overflowed, in tiny snakelike streamlets, glittering in the grass like living silver. Every morning and evening one might see here pious Turks making their ablutions and saying their prayers.

“Our sins are heavy and our provisions are meagre,” said grandfather, sitting in the shade of a hazel bush. “Now, Serozha, come along. Lord, give Thy blessing!”

He pulled out from a sack some bread, some tomatoes, a lump of Bessarabian cheese, and a bottle of olive oil. He brought out a little bag of salt, an old rag tied round with string. Before eating, the old man crossed himself many times and whispered something. Then he broke the crust of bread into three unequal parts: the largest he gave to Sergey (he is growing⁠—he must eat), the next largest he gave to the poodle, and the smallest he took for himself.

“In the name of the Father and the Son. The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord,” whispered he, making a salad of the tomatoes. “Eat, Serozha!”

They ate slowly, not hurrying, in silence, as people eat who work. All that was audible was the working of three pairs of jaws. Arto, stretched on his stomach, ate his little bit at one side, gnawing the crust of bread, which he held between his front paws. Grandfather and Sergey alternately dipped their tomatoes in the salt, and made their lips and hands red with the juice. When they had finished they drank water from the stream, filling a little tin can and putting it to their mouths. It was fine water, and so cold that the mug went cloudy on the outside from the moisture condensing on it. The midday heat and the long road had tired the performers, for they had been up with the sun. Grandfather’s eyes closed involuntarily. Sergey yawned and stretched himself.

“Well now, little brother, what if we were to lie down and sleep for a minute or so?” asked grandfather. “One last drink of water. Ukh! Fine!” cried he, taking his lips from the can and breathing heavily, the bright drops of water running from his beard and whiskers. “If I were Tsar I’d drink that water every day⁠ ⁠… from morning to night. Here, Arto! Well, God has fed us and nobody has seen us, or if anybody has seen us he hasn’t taken offence.⁠ ⁠… Okh⁠—okh⁠—okhonush⁠—kee⁠—ee!

The old man and the boy lay down side by side in the grass, making pillows for their heads of their jackets. The dark leaves of the rugged many-branching oaks murmured above them; occasionally through the shade gleamed patches of bright blue sky; the little streams running from stone to stone chattered monotonously and stealthily as if they were putting someone to sleep by sorcery. Grandfather turned from side to side, muttered something to Sergey, but to Sergey his voice seemed far away in a soft and sleepy distance, and the words were strange, as those spoken in a fairy tale.

“First of all⁠—I buy you a costume, rose and gold⁠ ⁠… slippers also of rose-coloured satin⁠ ⁠… in Kiev or Kharkof, or, perhaps, let us say in the town of Odessa⁠—there, brother, there are circuses, if you like!⁠ ⁠… Endless lanterns⁠ ⁠… all electricity.⁠ ⁠… People, perhaps five thousand, perhaps more⁠ ⁠… how should I know. We should have to make up a name for you⁠—an Italian name, of course. What can one do with a name like Esteepheyef, or let us say, Lodishkin? Quite absurd! No imagination in them whatever. So we’d let you go on the placards as Antonio, or perhaps, also quite good, Enrico or Alphonse.⁠ ⁠…”

The boy heard no more. A sweet and gentle slumber settled down upon him and took possession of his body. And grandfather fell asleep, losing suddenly the thread of his favourite after-dinner thoughts, his dream of Sergey’s magnificent acrobatic future. Once, however, in his dream it appeared to him that Arto was growling at somebody. For a moment through his dreamy brain there passed the half-conscious and alarming remembrance of the porter in the rose-coloured blouse, but overcome with sleep, tiredness and heat, he could not get up, but only idly, with closed eyes, cried out to the dog:

“Arto⁠ ⁠… where’re you going? I’ll g‑give it you, gipsy!”

But at once he forgot what he was talking about, and his mind fell back into the heaviness of sleep and vague dreams.

At last the voice of Sergey woke him up, for the boy was running to and fro just beyond the stream, shouting loudly and whistling, calling anxiously for the dog.

“Here, Arto! Come back! Pheu, pheu! Come back, Arto!”

“What are you howling about, Sergey?” cried Lodishkin in a tone of displeasure, trying to bring the circulation back to a sleeping arm.

“We’ve lost the dog whilst we slept. That’s what we’ve done,” answered the boy in a harsh, scolding note. “The dog’s lost.”

He whistled again sharply, and cried:


“Ah, you’re just making up nonsense! He’ll return,” said grandfather. But all the same, he also got up and began to call the dog in an angry, sleepy, old man’s falsetto:

“Arto! Here, dog!”

The old man hurriedly and tremblingly ran across the bridge and began to go upward along the highway, calling the dog as he went. In front of him lay the bright, white stripe of the road, level and clear for half a mile, but on it not a figure, not a shadow.

“Arto! Ar‑tosh‑enka!” wailed the old man in a piteous voice, but suddenly he stopped calling him, bent down on the roadside and sat on his heels.

“Yes, that’s what it is,” said the old man in a failing voice. “Sergey! Serozha! Come here, my boy!”

“Now what do you want?” cried the boy rudely. “What have you found now? Found yesterday lying by the roadside, eh?”

“Serozha⁠ ⁠… what is it?⁠ ⁠… What do you make of it? Do you see what it is?” asked the old man, scarcely above a whisper. He looked at the boy in a piteous and distracted way, and his arms hung helplessly at his sides.

In the dust of the road lay a comparatively large half-eaten lump of sausage, and about it in all directions were printed a dog’s paw-marks.

“He’s drawn it off, the scoundrel, lured it away,” whispered grandfather in a frightened shiver, still sitting on his heels. “It’s he; no one else, it’s quite clear. Don’t you remember how he threw the sausage to Arto down by the sea?”

“Yes, it’s quite clear,” repeated Sergey sulkily.

Grandfather’s wide-open eyes filled with tears, quickly overflowing down his cheeks. He hid them with his hands.

“Now, what can we do Serozhenka? Eh, boy? What can we do now?” asked the old man, rocking to and fro and weeping helplessly.

“Wha‑at to do, wha‑at to do!” teased Sergey. “Get up, grandfather Lodishkin; let’s be going!”

“Yes, let us go!” repeated the old man sadly and humbly, raising himself from the ground. “We’d better be going, I suppose, Serozhenka.”

Losing patience, Sergey began to scold the old man as if he were a little boy.

“That’s enough drivelling, old man, stupid! Who ever heard of people taking away other folks’ dogs in this way? It’s not the law. What-ye blinking your eyes at me for? Is what I say untrue? Let us go simply and say, ‘Give us back the dog!’ and if they won’t give it, then to the courts with it, and there’s an end of it.”

“To the courts⁠ ⁠… yes⁠ ⁠… of course.⁠ ⁠… That’s correct, to the courts, of course⁠ ⁠… ,” repeated Lodishkin, with a senseless bitter smile. But his eyes looked hither and thither in confusion. “To the courts⁠ ⁠… yes⁠ ⁠… only you know, Serozhenka⁠ ⁠… it wouldn’t work⁠ ⁠… we’d never get to the courts.⁠ ⁠…”

“How not work? The law is the same for everybody. What have they got to say for themselves?” interrupted the boy impatiently.

“Now, Serozha, don’t do that⁠ ⁠… don’t be angry with me. They won’t give us back the dog.” At this point grandfather lowered his voice in a mysterious way. “I fear, on account of the passport. Didn’t you hear what the gentleman said up there? ‘Have you a passport?’ he says. Well, and there, you see, I,”⁠—here grandfather made a wry and seemingly frightened face, and whispered barely audibly⁠—“I’m living with somebody else’s passport, Serozha.”

“How somebody else’s?”

“Somebody else’s. There’s no more about it. I lost my own at Taganrog. Perhaps somebody stole it. For two years after that I wandered about, hid myself, gave bribes, wrote petitions⁠ ⁠… at last I saw there was no getting out of it. I had to live like a hare⁠—afraid of everything. But once in Odessa, in a night house, a Greek remarked to me the following:⁠—‘What you say,’ says he, ‘is nonsense. Put twenty-five roubles on the table, and I’ll give you a passport that’ll last you till doomsday.’ I worried my brain about that. ‘I’ll lose my head for this,’ I thought. However, ‘Give it me,’ said I. And from that time, my dear boy, I’ve been going about the world with another man’s passport.”

“Ah, grandfather, grandfather!” sighed Sergey, with tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry about the dog. It’s a very fine dog, you know.⁠ ⁠…”

“Serozhenka, my darling,” cried the old man trembling. “If only I had a real passport. Do you think it would matter to me even if they were generals? I’d take them by the throat!⁠ ⁠… How’s this? One minute, if you please! What right have you to steal other people’s dogs? What law is there for that? But now there’s a stopper on us, Serozha. If I go to the police station the first thing will be, ‘Show us your passport! Are you a citizen of Samara, by name Martin Lodishkin?’ I, your Excellency, dear me⁠—I, little brother, am not Lodishkin at all, and not a citizen, but a peasant. Ivan Dudkin is my name. And who that Lodishkin might be, God alone knows! How can I tell? Perhaps a thief or an escaped convict. Perhaps even a murderer. No, Serozha, we shouldn’t effect anything that way. Nothing at all.⁠ ⁠…”

Grandfather choked, and tears trickled once more over his sunburnt wrinkles. Sergey, who had listened to the old man in silence, his brows tightly knit, his face pale with agitation, suddenly stood up and cried: “Come on, grandfather. To the devil with the passport! I suppose we don’t intend to spend the night here on the high road?”

“Ah, my dear, my darling,” said the old man, trembling. “ ’Twas a clever dog⁠ ⁠… that Artoshenka of ours. We shan’t find such another.⁠ ⁠…”

“All right, all right. Get up!” cried Sergey imperiously. “Now let me knock the dust off you. I feel quite worn out, grandfather.”

They worked no more that day. Despite his youthful years, Sergey well understood the fateful meaning of the dreadful word “passport.” So he sought no longer to get Arto back, either through the courts or in any other decisive way. And as he walked along the road with grandfather towards the inn, where they should sleep, his face took on a new, obstinate, concentrated expression, as if he had just thought out something extraordinarily serious and great.

Without actually expressing their intention, the two wanderers made a considerable detour in order to pass once more by Friendship Villa, and they stopped for a little while outside the gates, in the vague hope of catching a glimpse of Arto, or of hearing his bark from afar. But the iron gates of the magnificent villa were bolted and locked, and an important, undisturbed and solemn stillness reigned over the shady garden under the sad and mighty cypresses.

“Peo‑ple!” cried the old man in a quavering voice, putting into that one word all the burning grief that filled his heart.

“Ah, that’s enough. Come on!” cried the boy roughly, pulling his companion by the sleeve.

“Serozhenka! Don’t you think there’s a chance that Artoshenka might run away from them?” sighed the old man. “Eh! What do you think, dear?”

But the boy did not answer the old man. He went ahead in firm large strides, his eyes obstinately fixed on the road, his brows obstinately frowning.


They reached Aloopka in silence. Grandfather muttered to himself and sighed the whole way. Sergey preserved in his face an angry and resolute expression. They stopped for the night at a dirty Turkish coffeehouse, bearing the splendid name of Eeldeez, which means in Turkish, a star. In the same room with them slept Greek stone-breakers, Turkish ditch-diggers, a gang of Russian workmen, and several dark-faced, mysterious tramps, the sort of which there are so many wandering about Southern Russia. Directly the coffeehouse closed they stretched themselves out on the benches along the length of the walls, or simply upon the floor, and the more experienced placed their possessions and their clothes in a bundle under their heads.

It was long after midnight when Sergey, who had been lying side by side with grandfather on the floor, got up stealthily and began to dress himself without noise. Through the wide windowpanes poured the full light of the moon, falling on the floor to make a trembling carpet of silver, and giving to the faces of the sleepers an expression of suffering and death.

“Where’s you going to, zis time o’ night?” cried the owner of the coffeehouse, Ibrahim, a young Turk lying at the door of the shop.

“Let me pass; it’s necessary. I’ve got to go out,” answered Sergey in a harsh, businesslike tone. “Get up, Turco!”

Yawning and stretching himself, Ibrahim got up and opened the door, clicking his tongue reproachfully. The narrow streets of the Tartar bazar were enveloped in a dense dark-blue mist, which covered with a tooth-shaped design the whole cobbled roadway; one side of the street lay in shade, the other, with all its white-called houses, was illumined by the moonlight. Dogs were barking at distant points of the village. Somewhere on the upper high road horses were trotting, and the metallic clink of their hoofs sounded in the night stillness.

Passing the white mosque with its green cupola, surrounded by its grove of silent cypresses, Sergey tripped along a narrow, crooked lane to the great highway. In order that he might run quickly the boy was practically in his undergarments only. The moon shone on him from behind, and his shadow ran ahead in a strange foreshortened silhouette. There were mysterious shaggy shrubs on each side of the road, a bird was crying monotonously from the bushes in a gentle, tender tone “Splew! Splew!10 and it seemed as if it thought itself to be a sentry in the night silence, guarding some melancholy secret, and powerlessly struggling with sleep and tiredness, complaining hopelessly, quietly, to someone, “Splew, splew, I sleep, I sleep.”

And over the dark bushes, over the blue headdress of the distant forests, rose with its two peaks to the sky, Ai-Petri⁠—so light, so clear-cut, so ethereal, as if it were something cut from a gigantic piece of silver cardboard in the sky. Sergey felt a little depressed by the majestic silence in which his footsteps sounded so distinctly and daringly, but at the same time there rose in his heart a sort of ticklish, head-whirling, spirit of adventure. At a turn of the road the sea suddenly opened before him, immense and calm, quietly and solemnly breaking on the shore. From the horizon to the beach stretched a narrow, a quivering, silver roadway; in the midst of the sea this roadway was lost, and only here and there the traces of it glittered, but suddenly nearer the shore it became a wide flood of living, glimmering metal, ornamenting the coast like a belt of deep lace.

Sergey slipped noiselessly through the wooden gateway leading to the park. There, under the dense foliage of the trees, it was quite dark. From afar sounded the ceaseless murmur of mountain streams, and one could feel their damp cold breath. The wooden planks of the bridge clacked soundingly as he ran across; the water beneath looked dark and dreadful. In a moment he saw in front of him the high gates with their lace pattern of iron, and the creeping gloxinia hanging over them. The moonlight, pouring from a gap in the trees, outlined the lacework of the iron gates with, as it were, a gentle phosphorescence. On the other side of the gates it was dark, and there was a terrifying stillness.

Sergey hesitated for some moments, feeling in his soul some doubt, even a little fear. But he conquered his feelings and whispered obstinately to himself:

“All the same; I’m going to climb in, all the same!”

The elegant cast-iron design furnished solid stepping places and holding places for the muscular arms and feet of the climber. But over the gateway, at a considerable height, and fitting to the gates, was a broad archway of stone. Sergey felt all over this with his hands, and climbed up on to it, lay on his stomach, and tried to let himself down on the other side. He hung by his hands, but could find no catching place for his feet. The stone archway stood out too far from the gate for his legs to reach, so he dangled there, and as he couldn’t get back, his body grew limp and heavy, and terror possessed his soul.

At last he could hold on no longer; his fingers gave, and he slipped and fell violently to the ground.

He heard the gravel crunch under him, and felt a sharp pain in his knees. He lay crouching on all fours for some moments, stunned by the fall. He felt that in a minute out would come the gloomy-looking porter, raise a cry and make a fearful to do.⁠ ⁠… But the same brooding and self-important silence reigned in the garden as before. Only a sort of strange monotonous buzzing sounded everywhere about the villa and the estate.

Zhu⁠ ⁠… zhzhu⁠ ⁠… zhzhu.⁠ ⁠…

“Ah, that’s the noise in my ears,” guessed Sergey. When he got on his feet again and looked round, all the garden had become dreadful and mysterious, and beautiful as in a fairy tale, a scented dream. On the flowerbeds the flowers, barely visible in the darkness, leaned toward one another as if communicating a vague alarm. The magnificent dark-scented cypresses nodded pensively, and seemed to reflect reproachfully over all. And beyond a little stream the tired little bird struggled with its desire to slumber, and cried submissively and plaintively, “Splew, splew, I sleep, I sleep.”

Sergey could not recognise the place in the darkness for the confusion of the paths and the shadows. He wandered for some time on the crunching gravel before he found the house.

He had never in his whole life felt such complete helplessness and torturesome loneliness and desolation as he did now. The immense house felt as if it must be full of concealed enemies watching him with wicked glee, peering at him from the dark windows. Every moment he expected to hear some sort of signal or wrathful fierce command.

“… Only not in the house⁠ ⁠… he couldn’t possibly be in the house,” whispered the boy to himself as in a dream; “if they put him in the house he would begin to howl, and they’d soon get tired of it.⁠ ⁠…”

He walked right round the house. At the back, in the wide yard, were several outhouses more or less simple and capacious, evidently designed for the accommodation of servants. There was not a light in any of them, and none in the great house itself; only the moon saw itself darkly in the dull dead windows. “I shan’t ever get away from here; no, never!” thought Sergey to himself despairingly, and just for a moment his thoughts went back to the sleeping tavern and grandfather and the old organ, and to the place where they had slept in the afternoon, to their life of the road, and he whispered softly to himself, “Never, never any more of that again,” and so thinking, his fear changed to a sort of calm and despairing conviction.

But then suddenly he became aware of a faint, far-off whimpering. The boy stood still as if spellbound, not daring to move. The whimpering sound was repeated. It seemed to come from the stone cellar near which Sergey was standing, and which was ventilated by a window with no glass, just four rough square openings. Stepping across a flowerbed, the boy went up to the wall, pressed his face to one of the openings, and whistled. He heard a slight cautious movement somewhere in the depths, and then all was silent.

“Arto, Artoshka!” cried Sergey, in a trembling whisper.

At this there burst out at once a frantic burst of barking, filling the whole garden and echoing from all sides. In this barking there was expressed, not only joyful welcome, but piteous complaint and rage, and physical pain. One could hear how the dog was tugging and pulling at something in the dark cellar, trying to get free.

“Arto! Doggikin!⁠ ⁠… Artoshenka!⁠ ⁠…” repeated the boy in a sobbing voice.

“Peace, cursed one! Ah, you convict!” cried a brutal bass voice from below.

There was a sound of beating from the cellar. The dog gave vent to a long howl.

“Don’t dare to kill him! Kill the dog if you dare, you villain!” cried Sergey, quite beside himself, scratching the stone wall with his nails.

What happened after that Sergey only remembered confusedly, like something he had experienced in a dreadful nightmare. The door of the cellar opened wide with a noise, and out rushed the porter. He was only in his pantaloons, barefooted, bearded, pale from the bright light of the moon, which was shining straight in his face. To Sergey he seemed like a giant or an enraged monster, escaped from a fairy tale.

“Who goes there? I shall shoot. Thieves! Robbers!” thundered the voice of the porter.

At that moment, however, there rushed from the door of the cellar out into the darkness Arto, with a broken cord hanging from his neck.

There was no question of the boy following the dog. The sight of the porter filled him with supernatural terror, tied his feet, and seemed to paralyse his whole body. Fortunately, this state of nerves didn’t last long. Almost involuntarily Sergey gave vent to a piercing and despairing shriek, and he took to his heels at random, not looking where he was going, and absolutely forgetting himself from fear.

He went off like a bird, his feet striking the ground as if they had suddenly become two steel springs, and by his side ran Arto, joyfully and effusively barking. After them came the porter, heavily, shouting and swearing at them as he went.

Sergey was making for the gate, but suddenly he had an intuition that there was no road for him that way. Along the white stone wall of the garden was a narrow track in the shelter of the cypress trees, and Sergey flung himself along this path, obedient to the one feeling of fright. The sharp needles of the cypress trees, pregnant with the smell of pitch, struck him in the face. He fell over some roots and hurt his arm so that the blood came, but jumped up at once, not even noticing the pain, and went on as fast as ever, bent double, and still followed by Arto.

So he ran along this narrow corridor, with the wall on one side and the closely ranged file of cypresses on the other, ran as might a crazy little forest animal feeling itself in an endless trap. His mouth grew dry, his breathing was like needles in his breast, yet all the time the noise of the following porter was audible, and the boy, losing his head, ran back to the gate again and then once more up the narrow pathway, and back again.

At last Sergey ran himself tired. Instead of the wild terror, he began to feel a cold, deadly melancholy, a tired indifference to danger. He sat down under a tree, and pressed his tired-out body to the trunk and closed his eyes. Nearer and nearer came the heavy steps of the enemy. Arto whimpered softly, putting his nose between the boy’s knees.

Two steps from where Sergey sat a big branch of a tree bent downward. The boy, raising his eyes accidentally, was suddenly seized with joy and jumped to his feet at a bound, for he noticed that at the place where he was sitting the wall was very low, not more than a yard and a half in height. The top was plastered with lime and broken bottle-glass, but Sergey did not give that a thought. In the twinkling of an eye he grabbed Arto by the body, and lifting him up put him with his forelegs on the top of the wall. The clever poodle understood perfectly, clambered on to the top, wagged his tail and barked triumphantly.

Sergey followed him, making use of the branches of the cypress, and he had hardly got on to the top of the wall before he caught sight of a large, shadowy face. Two supple, agile bodies⁠—the dog’s and the boy’s⁠—went quickly and softly to the bottom, on to the road, and following them, like a dirty stream, came the vile, malicious abuse of the porter.

But whether it was that the porter was less sure on his feet than our two friends, or was tired with running round the garden, or had simply given up hope of overtaking them, he followed them no further. Nevertheless, they ran on as fast as they could without resting, strong, light-footed, as if the joy of deliverance had given them wings. The poodle soon began to exhibit his accustomed frivolity. Sergey often looked back fearfully over his shoulders, but Arto leapt on him, wagging his ears ecstatically, and waving the bit of cord that was hanging from his neck, actually licking Sergey’s face with his long tongue. The boy became calm only by the time they got to the spring where the afternoon before grandfather and he had made their lunch. There both the boy and the dog put their lips to the cold stream, and drank long and eagerly of the fresh and pleasant water. They got in one another’s way with their heads, and thinking they had quenched their thirst, yet returned to the basin to drink more, and would not stop. When at last they got away from the spot the water rolled about in their overfull insides as they ran. The danger past, all the terrors of the night explored, they felt gay now, and lighthearted, going along the white road brightly lit up by the moon, going through the dark shrubs, now wet with morning dew, and exhaling the sweet scent of freshened leaves.

At the door of the coffeehouse Eeldeez, Ibrahim met the boy and whispered reproachfully:

“Where’s you been a-roving, boy? Where’s you been? No, no, no, zat’s not good.⁠ ⁠…”

Sergey did not wish to wake grandfather, but Arto did it for him. He at once found the old man in the midst of the other people sleeping on the floor, and quite forgetting himself, licked him all over his cheeks and eyes and nose and mouth, yelping joyfully. Grandfather awoke, saw the broken cord hanging from the poodle’s neck, saw the boy lying beside him covered with dust, and understood all. He asked Sergey to explain, but got no answer. The little boy was asleep, his arms spread out on the floor, his mouth wide open.

The Elephant


The little girl was unwell. Every day the doctor came to see her, Dr. Michael Petrovitch, whom she had known long, long ago. And sometimes he brought with him two other doctors whom she didn’t know. They turned the little girl over on to her back and then on to her stomach, listened to something, putting an ear against her body, pulled down her under eyelids and looked at them. They seemed very important people, they had stern faces, and they spoke to one another in a language the little girl did not understand.

Afterwards they went out from the nursery into the drawing-room, where mother sat waiting for them. The most important doctor⁠—the tall one with grey hair and gold eyeglasses⁠—talked earnestly to her for a long time. The door was not shut, and the little girl lying on her bed could see and hear all. There was much that she didn’t understand, but she knew the talk was about her. Mother looked up at the doctor with large, tired, tear-filled eyes. When the doctors went away the chief one said loudly:

“The most important thing is⁠—don’t let her be dull. Give in to all her whims.”

“Ah, doctor, but she doesn’t want anything!”

“Well, I don’t know⁠ ⁠… think what she used to like before she was ill. Toys⁠ ⁠… something nice to eat.⁠ ⁠…”

“No, no, doctor; she doesn’t want anything.”

“Well, try and tempt her with something.⁠ ⁠… No matter what it is.⁠ ⁠… I give you my word that if you can only make her laugh and enjoy herself, it would be better than any medicine. You must understand that your daughter’s illness is indifference to life, and nothing more.⁠ ⁠… Good morning, madam!”


“Dear Nadya, my dear little girl,” said mother; “isn’t there anything you would like to have?”

“No, mother, I don’t want anything.”

“Wouldn’t you like me to put out all your dolls on the bed? We’ll arrange the easy chair, the sofa, the little table, and put the tea-service out. The dolls shall have tea and talk to one another about the weather and their children’s health.”

“Thank you, mother.⁠ ⁠… I don’t want it.⁠ ⁠… It’s so dull.⁠ ⁠…”

“Oh, very well, little girlie, we won’t have the dolls. Suppose we ask Katya or Zhenochka to come and see you. You’re very fond of them.”

“I don’t want them, mother. Indeed, I don’t. I don’t want anything, don’t want anything. I’m so dull!”

“Shall I get you some chocolate?”

But the little girl didn’t answer, she lay and stared at the ceiling with steadfast, mournful eyes. She had no pain at all, she wasn’t even feverish. But she was getting thinner and weaker every day. She didn’t mind what was done to her; it made no difference, she didn’t care for anything. She lay like this all day and all night, quiet, mournful. Sometimes she would doze for half an hour, and then in her dreams she would see something long and grey and dull, as if she were looking at rain in autumn.

When the door leading from the nursery into the drawing-room was open, and the other door into the study was open too, the little girl could see her father. Father would walk swiftly from one corner of the room to the other, and all the time he would smoke, smoke. Sometimes he would come into the nursery and sit on the edge of Nadya’s bed and stroke her feet gently. Then he would get up suddenly and go to the window, whistle a little, and look out into the street, but his shoulders would tremble. He would hurriedly press his handkerchief first to one eye and then to the other, and then go back into his study as if he were angry. Then he would begin again to pace up and down and smoke⁠ ⁠… and smoke⁠ ⁠… and smoke. And his study would look all blue from the clouds of tobacco smoke.


One morning the little girl woke to feel a little stronger than usual. She had dreamed something, but she couldn’t remember exactly what she had dreamed, and she looked attentively into her mother’s eyes for a long time.

“What would you like?” asked mother.

But the little girl had suddenly remembered her dream, and she said in a whisper, as if it were a secret:

“Mother⁠ ⁠… could I have⁠ ⁠… an elephant? Only not one that’s painted in a picture.⁠ ⁠… Eh?”

“Of course you can, my child, of course.”

She went into the study and told papa that the little girl wanted an elephant. Papa put on his coat and hat directly, and went off somewhere. In half an hour he came back, bringing with him an expensive beautiful toy. It was a large grey elephant that could move its head and wave its tail; on its back was a red saddle, and on the saddle there was a golden vent with three little men sitting inside. But the little girl paid no attention to the toy; she only looked up at the walls and ceiling, and said languidly:

“No. That’s not at all what I meant. I wanted a real live elephant, and this one’s dead.”

“But only look at it, Nadya,” said mamma. “We’ll wind him up, and he’ll be exactly, exactly like a live one.”

The elephant was wound up with a key, and it then began to move its legs and walk slowly along the table, nodding its head and waving its tail. But the little girl wasn’t interested at all; she was even bored by it, though in order that her father shouldn’t feel hurt she whispered kindly:

“Thank you very very much, dear papa. I don’t think anyone has such an interesting toy as this.⁠ ⁠… Only⁠ ⁠… you remember⁠ ⁠… long ago, you promised to take me to a menagerie to see a real elephant⁠ ⁠… and you didn’t bring it here.⁠ ⁠…”

“But listen, my dear child. Don’t you understand that that’s impossible. An elephant is very big; he’s as high as the ceiling, and we couldn’t get him into our rooms. And what’s more, where could I obtain one?”

“Papa, I don’t want such a big one.⁠ ⁠… You could bring me as little a one as you like, so long as it’s alive. As big as this⁠ ⁠… a baby elephant.”

“My dear child, I should be glad to do anything for you, but this is impossible. It’s just as if you suddenly said to me, ‘Papa, get me the sun out of the sky.’ ”

The little girl smiled sadly.

“How stupid you are, papa! As if I didn’t know it’s impossible to get the sun, it’s all on fire. And the moon, too, you can’t get. No, if only I had a little elephant⁠ ⁠… a real one.”

And she quietly closed her eyes and whispered:

“I’m tired.⁠ ⁠… Forgive me, papa.⁠ ⁠…”

Papa clutched at his hair and ran away to his study, where for some time he marched up and down. Then he resolutely threw his unfinished cigarette on the floor⁠—mamma was always grumbling at him about this⁠—and called out to the maid:

“Olga! Bring me my hat and coat!”

His wife came out into the hall.

“Where are you going, Sasha?” asked she.

He breathed heavily as he buttoned up his coat.

“I don’t know myself, Mashenka, where I’m going.⁠ ⁠… Only I think that this evening I shall actually bring a live elephant here.”

His wife looked anxiously at him.

“My dear, are you quite well?” said she. “Haven’t you got a headache? Perhaps you slept badly last night?”

“I didn’t sleep at all,” he answered angrily. “I see, you want to ask if I’m going out of my mind. Not just yet. Goodbye. You’ll see this evening.”

And he went off, loudly slamming the front door after him.


In two hours’ time he was seated in the front row at the menagerie, and watching trained animals perform their different parts under the direction of the manager. Clever dogs jumped, turned somersaults, danced, sang to music, made words with large cardboard letters. Monkeys⁠—one in a red skirt, the other in blue knickers⁠—walked the tight rope and rode upon a large poodle. An immense tawny lion jumped through burning hoops. A clumsy seal fired a pistol. And at last they brought out the elephants. There were three of them: one large and two quite small ones, dwarfs; but all the same, much larger than a horse. It was strange to see how these enormous animals, apparently so heavy and awkward, could perform the most difficult tricks which would be out of the power of a very skilful man. The largest elephant distinguished himself particularly. He stood up at first on his hind legs, then sat down, then stood on his head with his feet in the air, walked along wooden bottles, then on a rolling cask, turned over the pages of a large picture-book with his tail, and, finally, sat down at a table and, tying a serviette round his neck, had his dinner just like a well-brought-up little boy.

The show came to an end. The spectators went out. Nadya’s father went up to the stout German, the manager of the menagerie. He was standing behind a partition smoking a long black cigar.

“Pardon me, please,” said Nadya’s father. “Would it be possible for you to send your elephant to my house for a short time?”

The German’s eyes opened wide in astonishment, and his mouth also, so that the cigar fell to the ground. He made an exclamation, bent down, picked up the cigar, put it in his mouth again, and then said:

“Send? The elephant? To your house? I don’t understand you.”

It was evident from his look that he also wanted to ask Nadya’s father if he were a little wrong in the head.⁠ ⁠… But the father quickly began to explain the matter: his only daughter, Nadya, was ill with a strange malady which no doctor could understand nor cure. She had lain for a month in her bed, had grown thinner and weaker every day, wasn’t interested in anything, was only dull⁠—she seemed to be slowly dying. The doctors had said she must be roused, but she didn’t care for anything; they had said that all her desires were to be gratified, but she didn’t wish for anything at all. Today she had said she wanted to see a live elephant. Wasn’t it possible to manage that she should?

And he took the German by the button of his coat, and added in a trembling voice:

“Well⁠ ⁠… of course I hope that my little girl will get well again. But suppose⁠ ⁠… God forbid it!⁠ ⁠… her illness should take a sudden turn for the worse⁠ ⁠… and she should die! Just think⁠—shouldn’t I be tortured for all the rest of my life to think that I hadn’t fulfilled her last, her very last wish!”

The German wrinkled up his forehead and thoughtfully scratched his left eyebrow with his little finger. At length he asked:

“H’m.⁠ ⁠… And how old is your little girl?”


“H’m.⁠ ⁠… My Lisa’s six, too. H’m. But you know, it’ll cost you a lot. We’ll have to take the elephant one night, and we can’t bring it back till the next night. It’ll be impossible to do it in the daytime. There’d be such crowds of people, and such a fuss.⁠ ⁠… It means that I should lose a whole day, and you ought to pay me for it.”

“Of course, of course⁠ ⁠… don’t be anxious about that.”

“And then: will the police allow an elephant to be taken into a private house?”

“I’ll arrange it. They’ll allow it.”

“And there’s another question: will the landlord of your house allow the elephant to come in?”

“Yes. I’m my own landlord.”

“Aha! That’s all the better. And still another question: what floor do you live on?”

“The second.”

“H’m.⁠ ⁠… That’s not so good.⁠ ⁠… Have you a broad staircase, a high ceiling, a large room, wide doorways, and a very stout flooring. Because my ‘Tommy’ is three and a quarter arshins in height and five and a half long. And he weighs a hundred and twelve poods.”11

Nadya’s father thought for a moment.

“Do you know what?” said he. “You come with me and look at the place. If it’s necessary, I’ll have a wider entrance made.”

“Very good!” agreed the manager of the menagerie.


That night they brought the elephant to visit the sick girl.

He marched importantly down the very middle of the street, nodding his head and curling up and uncurling his trunk. A great crowd of people came with him, in spite of the late hour. But the elephant paid no attention to the people; he saw hundreds of them every day in the menagerie. Only once did he get a little angry. A street urchin ran up to him under his very legs, and began to make grimaces for the diversion of the sightseers.

Then the elephant quietly took off the boy’s cap with his trunk and threw it over a wall near by, which was protected at the top by projecting nails.

A policeman came up to the people and tried to persuade them:

“Gentlemen, I beg you to go away. What’s there here unusual? I’m astonished at you! As if you never saw an elephant in the street before.”

They came up to the house. On the staircase, and all the way up to the dining-room where the elephant was to go, every door was opened wide; the latches had all been pushed down with a hammer. It was just the same as had been done once when they brought a large wonder-working icon into the house.

But when he came to the staircase the elephant stopped in alarm, and refused to go on.

“You must get him some dainty to eat,” said the German.⁠ ⁠… “A sweet cake or something.⁠ ⁠… But⁠ ⁠… Tommy!⁠ ⁠… Oho-ho⁠ ⁠… Tommy!”

Nadya’s father ran off to a neighbouring confectioner’s and bought a large round pistachio tart. The elephant looked as if he would like to eat it at one gulp, and the cardboard box it was in as well, but the German gave him only a quarter of the tart.⁠ ⁠… Tommy evidently liked it, and stretched out his trunk for a second morsel. But the German was cunning. Holding the tart in his hand he went up the staircase, step by step, and the elephant unwillingly followed him with outstretched trunk and bristling ears. On the landing Tommy was given a second piece.

In this way they brought him into the dining-room, from whence all the furniture had been taken out beforehand, and the floor had been strewn with a thick layer of straw.⁠ ⁠… Tommy was fastened by the leg to a ring which had been screwed into the floor. They put some fresh carrots, cabbages and turnips in front of him. The German stretched himself out on a sofa by Tommy’s side. The lights were put out, and everybody went to bed.


Next morning the little girl woke very early, and asked, first thing:

“The elephant? Has he come?”

“Yes, he’s come,” said mamma; “but he says that Nadya must first of all be washed, and then eat a soft-boiled egg and drink some hot milk.”

“Is he good?”

“Yes, he’s good. Eat it up, dear. We’ll go and see him in a minute.”

“Is he funny?”

“Yes, a little. Put on your warm bodice.”

The egg was quickly eaten, and the milk drunk. Nadya was put in the perambulator in which she used to be taken out when she was too small to walk by herself, and wheeled into the dining-room.

The elephant looked much larger than Nadya had thought when she saw it in a picture. He was only just a little lower than the top of the door, and half as long as the dining-room. He had thick skin, in heavy folds. His legs were thick as pillars. His long tail looked something like a broom at the end. His head had great lumps on it. His ears were as large as shovels, and were hanging down. His eyes were quite tiny, but they looked wise and kind. His tusks had been cut off. His trunk was like a long snake and had two nostrils at the end, with a moving flexible finger between them. If the elephant had stretched out his trunk to its full length, it would probably have reached to the window.

The little girl was not at all frightened. She was only just a little astounded by the enormous size of the animal. But Polya, the sixteen-year-old nursemaid, began to whimper in terror.

The elephant’s master, the German, came up to the perambulator and said:

“Good morning, young lady. Don’t be afraid, please. Tommy’s very good, and he likes children.”

The little girl held out her little white hand to the German.

“Good morning,” she said in answer. “How are you? I’m not in the least afraid. What’s his name?”


“Good morning, Tommy,” said the child, with a bow. “How did you sleep last night?”

She held out her hand to him. The elephant took it cautiously and pressed her thin fingers with his movable strong one, and he did this much more gently than Dr. Michael Petrovitch. Then he nodded his head, and screwed up his little eyes as if he were laughing.

“Does he understand everything?” asked the little girl of the German.

“Oh, absolutely everything, miss.”

“Only he can’t speak.”

“No, he can’t speak. Do you know, I’ve got a little girl just as small as you. Her name’s Lisa. Tommy’s a great, a very great, friend of hers.”

“And you, Tommy, have you had any tea yet?” asked Nadya.

The elephant stretched out his trunk and blew out a warm breath into the little girl’s face, making her hair puff out at each side.

Nadya laughed and clapped her hands. The German laughed out loud too. He was also large and fat, and good-natured like the elephant, and Nadya thought they looked like one another. Perhaps they were relations.

“No, he hasn’t had tea, miss. But he likes to drink sugar-water. And he’s very fond of rolls.”

Some rolls were brought in on a tray. The little girl handed some to her guest. He caught a roll cleverly with his finger, and turning up his trunk into a ring hid the roll somewhere underneath his head, where one could see his funny three-cornered, hairy, lower lip moving, and hear the roll rustling against the dry skin. Tommy did the same with a second roll, and a third, and a fourth and a fifth, nodding his head and wrinkling up his little eyes still more with satisfaction. And the little girl laughed delightedly.

When the rolls were all eaten, Nadya presented her dolls to the elephant.

“Look, Tommy, this nicely-dressed doll is Sonya. She’s a very good child, but a little naughty sometimes, and doesn’t want to eat her soup. This one is Natasha, Sonya’s daughter. She’s begun to learn already, and she knows almost all her letters. And this one is Matreshka. She was my very first doll. Look, she hasn’t got any nose and her head’s been stuck on, and she’s lost all her hair. But I can’t turn an old woman out of the house. Can I, Tommy? She used to be Sonya’s mother, but now she’s the cook. Let’s have a game, Tommy; you be the father and I’ll be the mother, and these shall be our children.”

Tommy agreed. He laughed, took Matreshka by the neck and put her in his mouth. But this was only a joke. After biting the doll a little he put her back again on the little girl’s lap, just a little wet and crumpled.

Then Nadya showed him a large picture-book, and explained:

“This is a horse, this is a canary, this is a gun.⁠ ⁠… Look, there’s a cage with a bird inside; here’s a pail, a looking-glass, a stove, a spade, a raven.⁠ ⁠… And here, just look, here’s an elephant. It’s not at all like you, is it? Is it possible an elephant could be so small, Tommy?”

Tommy thought that there were no elephants in the world as small as that. He didn’t seem to like that picture. He took hold of the edge of the page with his finger and turned it over.

It was dinnertime now, but the little girl couldn’t tear herself away from the elephant. The German came to the rescue.

“If you allow me, I will arrange it all. They can dine together.”

He ordered the elephant to sit down, and the obedient animal did so, shaking all the floor of the whole flat, making all the china on the sideboard jingle, and the people downstairs were sprinkled over with bits of plaster falling from the ceiling. The little girl sat opposite the elephant. The table was put between them. A tablecloth was tied round the elephant’s neck, and the new friends began their dinner. The little girl had chicken broth and cutlets, the elephant had various vegetables and salad. The little girl had a liqueur glass full of sherry, and the elephant had some warm water with a glassful of rum in it, and he sucked up this liquid through his trunk with great pleasure from a soup tureen. Then they had the sweet course⁠—the little girl a cup of cocoa, and the elephant a tart, a walnut one this time. The German, meanwhile, sat with papa in the drawing-room, and, with as much pleasure as the elephant, drank beer, only in greater quantities.

After dinner some visitors came to see papa, and they were warned in the hall about the elephant so that they should not be frightened. At first they couldn’t believe it, but when they saw Tommy they pressed themselves close up against the door.

“Don’t be afraid, he’s good,” said the little girl soothingly.

But the visitors quickly hurried into the drawing-room, and after having sat there for five minutes took their departure.

The evening came. It grew late, and time for the little girl to go to bed. But they couldn’t get her away from the elephant. She dropped asleep by his side presently, and then they carried her off to the nursery. She didn’t wake up, even when she was being undressed.

That night Nadya dreamed that she was married to Tommy and that they had many children, tiny, jolly, little baby elephants. The elephant, whom they took back at night to the menagerie, also dreamed of the sweet and affectionate little girl. He dreamt, too, that he had a large tart with walnuts and pistachios as big as a gate.⁠ ⁠…

Next morning the little girl woke, fresh and healthy, and as she used to do before her illness, cried out, in a voice to be heard all over the house, loudly and impatiently:

“I want some milk.”

Hearing this cry, in her bedroom mamma crossed herself devoutly.

But the little girl remembered what had happened yesterday, and she asked:

“Where’s the elephant?”

They explained to her that the elephant had been obliged to go home, that he had children who couldn’t be left by themselves, but that he had left a message for Nadya to say that he hoped she would come and see him as soon as she was well.

The little girl smiled slyly and said:

“Tell Tommy that I’m quite well now.”

Dogs’ Happiness

It was between six and seven o’clock on a fine September morning when the eighteen-months-old pointer, Jack, a brown, long-eared, frisky animal, started out with the cook, Annushka, to market. He knew the way perfectly well, and so ran confidently on in front of her, sniffing at the curbstones as he went and stopping at the crossings to see if Annushka were following. Finding affirmation in her face, and the direction in which she was going, he would turn again with a decisive movement and rush on in a lively gallop.

On one occasion, however, when he turned round near a familiar sausage-shop, Jack could not see Annushka. He dashed back so hastily that his left ear was turned inside out as he went. But Annushka was not to be seen at the crossroads. So Jack resolved to find his way by scent. He stopped, cautiously raised his wet sensitive nose, and tried in all directions to recognise the familiar scent of Annushka’s dress, the smell of the dirty kitchen-table and mottled soap. But just at that moment a lady came hurriedly past him, and brushing up against his side with her rustling skirt she left behind a strong wave of disgusting Oriental perfume. Jack moved his head from side to side in vexation. The trail of Annushka was entirely lost.

But he was not upset by this. He knew the town well and could always find his way home easily⁠—all he had to do was to go to the sausage-shop, then to the greengrocer’s, then turn to the left and go past a grey house from the basement of which there was always wafted a smell of burning fat, and he would be in his own street. Jack did not hurry. The morning was fresh and clear, and in the pure, softly transparent and rather moist air, all the various odours of the town had an unusual refinement and distinctness. Running past the post-office, with his tail stuck out as stiff as a rod and his nostrils all trembling with excitement, Jack could have sworn that only a moment before a large, mouse-coloured, oldish dog had stopped there, a dog who was usually fed on oatmeal porridge.

And after running along about two hundred paces, he actually saw this dog, a cowardly, sober-looking brute. His ears had been cropped, and a broad, worn, strap was dangling from his neck.

The dog noticed Jack, and stopped, half turning back on his steps. Jack curled his tail in the air provokingly and began to walk slowly round the other, with an air of looking somewhere to one side. The mouse-coloured dog also raised his tail and showed a broad row of white teeth. Then they both growled, turning their heads away from one another as they did so, and trying, as it were, to swallow something which stuck in their throats.

“If he says anything insulting to my honour, or the honour of any well-bred pointer, I shall fasten my teeth in his side, near his left hind-leg,” thought Jack to himself. “Of course, he is stronger than I am, but he is stupid and clumsy. Look how he stands there, like a dummy, and has no idea that all his left flank is open to attack.”

And suddenly⁠ ⁠… something inexplicable and almost supernatural happened. The other dog unexpectedly threw himself on his back and was dragged by some unseen force from the pathway into the road. Directly afterwards this same unseen power grasped Jack by the throat⁠ ⁠… he stood firm on his forelegs and shook his head furiously. But the invisible “something” was pulled so tight round his neck that the brown pointer became unconscious.12

He came to his senses again in a stuffy iron cage, which was jolting and shaking as it was drawn along the cobbled roadway, on a badly-jointed vehicle trembling in all its parts. From its acrid doggy odour Jack guessed at once that this cart must have been used for years to convey dogs of all breeds and all ages. On the box in front sat two men, whose outward appearance was not at all calculated to inspire confidence.

There was already a sufficiently large company in the cart. First of all, Jack noticed the mouse-coloured dog whom he had just met and quarrelled with in the street. He was standing with his head stuck out between two of the iron bars, and he whined pitifully as his body was jolted backwards and forwards by the movement of the cart. In the middle of the cage lay an old white poodle, his wise-looking head lying between his gouty paws. His coat was cut to make him look like a lion, with tufts left on his knees and at the end of his tail. The poodle had apparently resigned himself to his situation with a stoic philosophy, and if he had not sighed occasionally and wrinkled his brows, it might have been thought that he slept. By his side, trembling from agitation and the cold of the early morning, sat a fine well-kept greyhound, with long thin legs and sharp-pointed head. She yawned nervously from time to time, rolling up her rosy little tongue into a tube, accompanying the yawn with a long-drawn-out, high-pitched whine.⁠ ⁠… Near the back of the cage, pressed close up to the bars, was a black dachshund, with smooth skin dappled with yellow on the breast and above the eyes. She could not get over her astonishment at her position, and she looked a strangely comical figure with her flopping paws and crocodile body, and the serious expression of her head with its ears reaching almost to the ground.

Besides this more or less distinguished society, there were in the cage two unmistakable yard dogs. One of them was that sort of dog which is generally called Bouton, and is always noted for its meanness of disposition. She was a shaggy, reddish-coloured animal with a shaggy tail, curled up like the figure 9. She had been the first of the dogs to be captured, and she had apparently become so accustomed to her position that she had for some time past made many efforts to begin an interesting conversation with someone. The last dog of all was out of sight, he had been driven into the darkest corner, and lay there curled up in a heap. He had only moved once all the time, and that had been to growl at Jack when he had found himself near him. Everyone in the company felt a strong antipathy against him. In the first place, he was smeared all over with a violet colour, the work of certain journeyman whitewashers; secondly, his hair was rough and bristly and uncombed; thirdly, he was evidently mangy, hungry, strong and daring⁠—this had been quite evident in the resolute push of his lean body with which he had greeted the arrival of the unconscious Jack.

There was silence for a quarter of an hour. At last Jack, whose healthy sense of humour never forsook him under any circumstances, remarked in a jaunty tone:

“The adventure begins to be interesting. I am curious to know where these gentlemen will make their first stopping place.”

The old poodle did not like the frivolous tone of the brown pointer. He turned his head slowly in Jack’s direction, and said sharply, with a cold sarcasm:

“I can satisfy your curiosity, young man. These gentlemen will make their first stopping place at the slaughterhouse.”

“Where? Pardon me, please, I didn’t catch the word,” muttered Jack, sitting down involuntarily, for his legs had suddenly begun to tremble. “You were pleased to say⁠—at the s‑s⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, at the slaughterhouse,” repeated the poodle coldly, turning his head away.

“Pardon me, but I don’t quite understand.⁠ ⁠… Slaughterhouse?⁠ ⁠… What kind of an institution is that? Won’t you be so good as to explain?”

The poodle was silent. But as the greyhound and the terrier both joined their petition to Jack’s, the old poodle, who did not wish to appear impolite in the presence of ladies, felt obliged to enter into certain details.

“Well, you see mesdames, it is a sort of large courtyard surrounded by a high fence with sharp points, where they shut in all dogs found wandering in the streets. I’ve had the unhappiness to be taken there three times already.”

“I’ve never seen you!” was heard in a hoarse voice from the dark corner. “And this is the seventh time I’ve been there.”

There was no doubt that the voice from the dark corner belonged to the violet-coloured dog. The company was shocked at the interruption of their conversation by this rude person, and so pretended not to hear the remark. But Bouton, with the cringing eagerness of an upstart in society, cried out: “Please don’t interfere in other people’s conversation unless you’re asked,” and then turned at once to the important-looking mouse-coloured dog for approbation.

“I’ve been there three times,” the poodle went on, “but my master has always come and fetched me away again. I play in a circus, and you understand that I am of some value. Well, in this unpleasant place they have a collection of two or three hundred dogs.⁠ ⁠…”

“But, tell me⁠ ⁠… is there good society there?” asked the greyhound affectedly.

“Sometimes. They feed us very badly and give us little to eat. Occasionally one of the dogs disappears, and then they give us a dinner of⁠ ⁠…”

In order to heighten the effect of his words, the poodle made a slight pause, looked round on his audience, and then added with studied indifference:

—“Of dog’s flesh.”

At these words the company was filled with terror and indignation.

“Devil take it⁠ ⁠… what low-down scoundrelism!” exclaimed Jack.

“I shall faint⁠ ⁠… I feel so ill,” murmured the greyhound.

“That’s dreadful⁠ ⁠… dreadful⁠ ⁠…” moaned the dachshund.

“I’ve always said that men were scoundrels,” snarled the mouse-coloured dog.

“What a strange death!” sighed Bouton.

But from the dark corner was heard once more the voice of the violet-coloured dog. With gloomy and cynical sarcasm he said:

“The soup’s not so bad, though⁠—it’s not at all bad, though, of course, some ladies who are accustomed to eat chicken cutlets would find dog’s flesh a little too tough.”

The poodle paid no attention to this rude remark, but went on:

“And afterwards I gathered from the manager’s talk that our late companion’s skin had gone to make ladies’ gloves. But⁠ ⁠… prepare your nerves, mesdames⁠ ⁠… but, this is nothing.⁠ ⁠… In order to make the skin softer and more smooth, it must be taken from the living animal.”

Cries of despair broke in upon the poodle’s speech.

“How inhuman!”

“What mean conduct!”

“No, that can’t be true!”

“O Lord!”


“No, worse than murderers!”

After this outburst there was a strained and melancholy silence. Each of them had a mental picture, a fearful foreboding of what it might be to be skinned alive.

“Ladies and gentlemen, is there no way of getting all honourable dogs free, once and for all, from their shameful slavery to mankind?” cried Jack passionately.

“Be so good as to find a way,” said the old poodle ironically.

The dogs all began to try and think of a way.

“Bite them all, and have an end of it!” said the big dog in his angry bass.

“Yes, that’s the way; we need a radical remedy,” seconded the servile Bouton. “In the end they’ll be afraid of us.”

“Yes, bite them all⁠—that’s a splendid idea,” said the old poodle. “But what’s your opinion, dear sirs, about their long whips? No doubt you’re acquainted with them!”

“H’m.” The dog coughed and cleared his throat.

“H’m,” echoed Bouton.

“No, take my word for it, gentlemen, we cannot struggle against men. I’ve lived in this world for some time, and I’ve not had a bad life.⁠ ⁠… Take for example such simple things as kennels, whips, chains, muzzles⁠—things, I imagine, not unknown to any one of us. Let us suppose that we dogs succeed in thinking out a plan which will free us from these things. Will not man then arm himself with more perfect instruments? There is no doubt that he will. Haven’t you seen what instruments of torture they make for one another? No, we must submit to them, gentlemen, that’s all about it. It’s a law of Nature.”

“Well, he’s shown us his philosophy,” whispered the dachshund in Jack’s ear. “I’ve no patience with these old folks and their teaching.”

“You’re quite right, mademoiselle,” said Jack, gallantly wagging his tail.

The mouse-coloured dog was looking very melancholy and snapping at the flies. He drawled out in a whining tone:

“Eh, it’s a dog’s life!”

“And where is the justice of it all?”⁠—the greyhound, who had been silent up to this point, began to agitate herself⁠—“You, Mr. Poodle, pardon me, I haven’t the honour of knowing your name.”

“Arto, professor of equilibristics, at your service.” The poodle bowed.

“Well, tell me, Mr. Professor, you have apparently had such great experience, let alone your learning⁠—tell me, where is the higher justice of it all? Are human beings so much more worthy and better than we are, that they are allowed to take advantage of so many cruel privileges with impunity?”

“They are not any better or any more worthy than we are, dear young lady, but they are stronger and wiser,” answered Arto, with some heat. “Oh, I know the morals of these two-legged animals very well.⁠ ⁠… In the first place, they are greedy⁠—greedier than any dog on earth. They have so much bread and meat and water that all these monsters could be satisfied and well-fed all their lives. But instead of sharing it out, a tenth of them get all the provisions for life into their hands, and not being able to devour it all themselves, they force the remaining nine-tenths to go hungry. Now, tell me, is it possible that a well-fed dog would not share a gnawed bone with his neighbour?”

“He’d share it, of course he would!” agreed all the listeners.

“H’m,” coughed the dog doubtfully.

“And besides that, people are wicked. Who could ever say that one dog would kill another⁠—on account of love or envy or malice? We bite one another sometimes, that’s true. But we don’t take each other’s lives.”

“No, indeed we don’t,” they all affirmed.

“And more than this,” went on the white poodle. “Could one dog make up his mind not to allow another dog to breathe the fresh air, or to be free to express his thoughts as to the arrangements for the happiness of dogs? But men do this.”

“Devil take them!” put in the mouse-coloured dog energetically.

“And, in conclusion, I say that men are hypocrites; they envy one another, they lie, they are inhospitable, cruel.⁠ ⁠… And yet they rule over us, and will continue to do so⁠ ⁠… because it’s arranged like that. It is impossible for us to free ourselves from their authority. All the life of dogs, and all their happiness, is in the hands of men. In our present position each one of us, who has a good master, ought to thank Fate. Only a master can free us from the pleasure of eating a comrade’s flesh, and of imagining that comrade’s feelings when he was being skinned alive.”

The professor’s speech reduced the whole company to a state of melancholy. No other dog could utter a word. They all shivered helplessly, and shook with the joltings of the cart. The big dog whined piteously. Bouton, who was standing next to him, pressed his own body softly up against him.

But soon they felt that the wheels of the cart were passing over sand. In five minutes more they were driven through wide open gates, and they found themselves in the middle of an immense courtyard surrounded by a close paling. Sharp nails were sticking out at the top of the paling. Two hundred dogs, lean and dirty, with drooping tails and a look of melancholy on their faces, wandered about the yard.

The doors of the cage were flung open. All the seven newcomers came forth and instinctively stood together in one group.

“Here, you professor, how do you feel now?” The poodle heard a bark behind him.

He turned round and saw the violet-coloured dog smiling insolently at him.

“Oh, leave me alone,” growled the old poodle. “It’s no business of yours.”

“I only made a remark,” said the other. “You spoke such words of wisdom in the cart, but you made one mistake. Yes, you did.”

“Get away, devil take you! What mistake?”

“About a dog’s happiness. If you like, I’ll show you in whose hands a dog’s happiness lies.”

And suddenly pressing back his ears and extending his tail, the violet dog set out on such a mad career that the old professor of equilibristics could only stand and watch him with open mouth.

“Catch him! Stop him!” shouted the keepers, flinging themselves in pursuit of the escaping dog. But the violet dog had already gained the paling. With one bound he sprang up from the ground and found himself at the top, hanging on by his forepaws. And in two more convulsive springs he had leaped over the paling, leaving on the nails a good half of his side.

The old white poodle gazed after him for a long time. He understood the mistake he had made.

A Clump of Lilacs

Nikolai Yevgrafovitch Almazof hardly waited for his wife to open the door to him; he went straight to his study without taking off his hat or coat. His wife knew in a moment by his frowning face and nervously-bitten underlip that a great misfortune had occurred.

She followed him in silence. Almazof stood still for a moment when he reached the study, and stared gloomily into one corner, then he dashed his portfolio out of his hand on to the floor, where it lay wide open, and threw himself into an armchair, irritably snapping his fingers together.

He was a young and poor army officer attending a course of lectures at the staff office academy, and had just returned from a class. Today he had taken in to the professor his last and most difficult practical work, a survey of the neighbourhood.

So far all his examinations had gone well, and it was only known to God and to his wife what fearful labour they had cost him.⁠ ⁠… To begin with, his very entrance into the academy had seemed impossible at first. Two years in succession he had failed ignominiously, and only in the third had he by determined effort overcome all hindrances. If it hadn’t been for his wife he would not have had sufficient energy to continue the struggle; he would have given it up entirely. But Verotchka never allowed him to lose heart, she was always encouraging him⁠ ⁠… she met every drawback with a bright, almost gay, front. She denied herself everything so that her husband might have all the little things so necessary for a man engaged in mental labour; she was his secretary, draughtsman, reader, lesson-hearer, and notebook all in one.

For five minutes there was a dead silence, broken only by the sorry sound of their old alarm clock, familiar and tiresome⁠ ⁠… one, two, three-three⁠—two clear ticks, and the third with a hoarse stammer. Almazof still sat in his hat and coat, turning to one side in his chair.⁠ ⁠… Vera stood two paces from him, silent also, her beautiful mobile face full of suffering. At length she broke the stillness with the cautiousness a woman might use when speaking at the bedside of a very sick friend:

“Well, Kolya, what about the work? Was it bad?”

He shrugged his shoulders without speaking.

“Kolya, was it rejected? Tell me; we must talk it over together.”

Almazof turned to his wife and began to speak irritably and passionately, as one generally does speak when telling of an insult long endured.

“Yes, yes. They’ve rejected it, if you want to know. Can’t you see they have? It’s all gone to the devil! All that rubbish”⁠—he kicked the portfolio with his foot⁠—“all that rubbish had better be thrown into the fire. That’s your academy. I shall be back in the regiment with a bang next month, disgraced. And all for a filthy spot⁠ ⁠… damn it!”

“What spot, Kolya?” asked she. “I don’t understand anything about it.”

She sat down on the side of his chair and put her arm round his neck. He made no resistance, but still continued to stare into the corner with an injured expression.

“What spot was it, Kolya?” asked his wife once more.

“Oh, an ordinary spot⁠—of green paint. You know I sat up until three o’clock last night to finish my drawing. The plan was beautifully done. Everyone said so. Well, I sat there last night and I got so tired that my hand shook, and I made a blot⁠—such a big one.⁠ ⁠… I tried to erase it, but I only made it worse.⁠ ⁠… I thought and thought what I had better do, and I made up my mind to put a clump of trees in that place.⁠ ⁠… It was very successful, and no one could guess there had been a blot. Well, today I took it in to the professor. ‘Yes, yes,’ said he, ‘that’s very well. But what have you got here, lieutenant; where have these bushes sprung from?’ Of course, I ought to have told him what had happened. Perhaps he would only have laughed⁠ ⁠… but no, he wouldn’t, he’s such an accurate German, such a pedant. So I said, ‘There are some trees growing there.’ ‘Oh, no, no,’ said he. ‘I know this neighbourhood as well as I know the five fingers of my own hand; there can’t be any trees there.’ So, my word against his, we had a great argument about it; many of our officers were there too, listening. ‘Well,’ he said at last, ‘if you’re so sure that there are trees in this hollow, be so good as to ride over with me tomorrow and see. I’ll prove to you that you’ve either done your work carelessly, or that you’ve copied it from a three versts to the inch map.⁠ ⁠…’ ”

“But why was he so certain that no bushes were there?”

“Oh, Lord, why? What childish questions you do ask! Because he’s known this district for twenty years; he knows it better than his own bedroom. He’s the most fearful pedant in the world, and a German besides.⁠ ⁠… Well, of course, he’ll know in the end that I was lying and so discussed the point with him.⁠ ⁠…”

All the time he spoke he kept picking up burnt matches from the ashtray on the table in front of him, and breaking them to little bits. When he ceased speaking, he threw the pieces on the floor. It was quite evident that, strong man though he was, he was very near weeping.

For a long while husband and wife sat there silent. Then suddenly Verotchka jumped up from her seat.

“Listen, Kolya,” said she. “We must go this very minute. Make haste and get ready.”

Nikolai Yevgrafovitch wrinkled up his face as if he were suffering some intolerable pain.

“Oh, don’t talk nonsense, Vera,” he said. “You don’t think I can go and put matters right by apologising, do you? That would be asking for punishment. Don’t be foolish, please!”

“No, it’s not foolishness,” said Vera, stamping her toot. “Nobody wants you to go and apologise. But, don’t you see, if there aren’t any silly old trees there we’d better go and put some.”

“Put some⁠—trees!” exclaimed Nikolai Yevgrafovitch, his eyes staring.

“Yes, put some there. If you didn’t speak the truth, then you must make it true. Come along, get ready. Give me my hat⁠ ⁠… and coat. No, not there; in the cupboard.⁠ ⁠… Umbrella!”

And while Almazof, finding his objections entirely ignored, began to look for the hat and coat, Vera opened drawers and brought out various little boxes and cases.

“Earrings.⁠ ⁠… No, they’re no good. We shan’t get anything on them. Ah, here’s this ring with the valuable stone. We’ll have to buy that back some time. It would be a pity to lose it. Bracelet⁠ ⁠… they won’t give much for that either, it’s old and bent.⁠ ⁠… Where’s your silver cigar-case, Kolya?”

In five minutes all their valuables were in her handbag, and Vera, dressed and ready, looked round for the last time to assure herself she hadn’t overlooked anything.

“Let us go,” she said at last, resolutely.

“But where?” Almazof tried again to protest. “It’s beginning to get dark already, and the place is ten versts away.”

“Stupid! Come along.”

First of all they went to the pawnshop. The pawnbroker had evidently got accustomed long ago to the sight of people in distress, and could not be touched by it. He was so methodical about his work, and took so long to value the things, that Vera felt she should go crazy. What specially vexed her was that the man should test her ring with acid, and then, after weighing it, he valued it at three roubles only.

“But it’s a real brilliant,” said poor Vera. “It cost thirty-seven roubles, and then it was a bargain.”

The pawnbroker closed his eyes with the air of a man who is frankly bored.

“It’s all the same to us, madam,” said he, putting the next article into the scales. “We don’t take the stones into consideration, only the metals.”

To Vera’s astonishment, her old and bent bracelet was more valuable. Altogether they got about twenty-three roubles, and that was more than was really necessary.

When they got to the gardener’s house, the white Petersburg night had already spread over the heavens, and a pearly light was in the air. The gardener, a Tchekh, a little old man with gold eyeglasses, had only just sat down to supper with his family. He was much surprised at their request, and not altogether willing to take such a late order. He was doubtless suspicious of a practical joke, and answered dryly to Vera’s insistent demands:

“I’m very sorry. But I can’t send my workmen so far at night. If it will do tomorrow morning, I’m quite at your service.”

There was no way out of the difficulty but to tell the man the whole story of the unfortunate blot, and this Verotchka did. He listened doubtfully at first, and was almost unfriendly, but when Vera began to tell him of her plan to plant some bushes on the place, he became more attentive and smiled sympathetically several times.

“Oh, well, it’s not much to do,” he agreed, when Vera had finished her story. “What sort of bushes do you want?”

However, when they came to look at his plants, there was nothing very suitable. The only thing possible to put on the spot was a clump of lilacs.

It was in vain for Almazof to try and persuade his wife to go home. She went all the way with him, and stayed all the time the bushes were planted, feverishly fussing about and hindering the workmen. She only consented to go home when she was assured that the turf under the bushes could not be distinguished from the rest of the grass round about.

Next day Vera felt it impossible to remain in the house. She went out to meet her husband. Quite a long way off she knew, by a slight spring in his walk, that everything had gone well.⁠ ⁠… True, Almazof was covered in dust, and he could hardly move from weariness and hunger, but his face shone with the triumph of victory.

“It’s all right! Splendid!” cried he when within ten paces of his wife, in answer to the anxious expression on her face. “Just think, we went together to those bushes, and he looked and looked at them⁠—he even plucked a leaf and chewed it. ‘What sort of a tree is this?’ says he.”

“ ‘I don’t know, your Excellency,’ said I.

“ ‘It’s a little birch, I suppose,’ says he.

“ ‘Yes, probably, your Excellency.’ ”

Then he turned to me and held out his hand.

“ ‘I beg your pardon, lieutenant,’ he says. ‘I must be getting old, that I didn’t remember those bushes.’ He’s a fine man, that professor, and he knows a lot. I felt quite sorry to deceive him. He’s one of the best professors we have. His learning is simply wonderful. And how quick and accurate he is in marking the plans⁠—marvellous!”

But this meant little to Vera. She wanted to hear over and over again exactly what the professor had said about the bushes. She was interested in the smallest details⁠—the expression on the professor’s face, the tone of his voice when he said he must be growing old, exactly how Kolya felt.⁠ ⁠…

They went home together as if there had been no one in the street except themselves, holding each other by the hand and laughing at nothing. The passersby stopped to look at them; they seemed such a strange couple.

Never before had Nikolai Yevgrafovitch enjoyed his dinner so much as on that day. After dinner, when Vera brought a glass of tea to him in the study, husband and wife suddenly looked at one another, and both laughed.

“What are you laughing at?” asked Vera.

“Well, why did you laugh?” said her husband.

“Oh, only foolishness. I was thinking all about those lilacs. And you?”

“Oh, mine was foolishness too⁠—and the lilacs. I was just going to say that now the lilac will always be my favourite flower.⁠ ⁠…”

Tempting Providence

You’re always saying “accident, accident.⁠ ⁠…” That’s just the point. What I want to say is that on every merest accident it is possible to look more deeply.

Permit me to remark that I am already sixty years old. And this is just the age when, after all the noisy passions of his youth, a man must choose one of three ways of life: moneymaking, ambition, or philosophy. For my part I think there are only two paths. Ambition must, sooner or later, take the form of getting something for oneself⁠—money or power⁠—in acquiring and extending either earthly or heavenly possibilities.

I don’t dare to call myself a philosopher, that’s too high-flown a title for me⁠ ⁠… it doesn’t go with my character. I’m the sort of person who might anytime be called upon to show his credentials. But all the same, my life has been extremely broad and very varied. I have seen riches and poverty and sickness, war and the loss of friends, prison, love, ruin, faith, unbelief. And I’ve even⁠—believe it or not, as you please⁠—I’ve even seen people. Perhaps you think that a foolish remark? But it’s not. For one man to see another and understand him, he must first of all forget his own personality, forget to consider what impression he himself is making on his neighbours and what a fine figure he cuts in the world. There are very few who can see other people, I assure you.

Well, here I am, a sinful man, and in my declining years I love to ponder upon life. I am old, and solitary as well, and you can’t think how long the nights are to us old folk. My heart and my memory have preserved for me thousands of living recollections⁠—of myself and of others. But it’s one thing to chew the cud of recollection as a cow chews nettles, and quite another to consider things with wisdom and judgment. And that’s what I call philosophy.

We’ve been talking of accident and fate. I quite agree with you that the happenings of life seem senseless, capricious, blind, aimless, simply foolish. But over them all⁠—that is, over millions of happenings interwoven together, there reigns⁠—I am perfectly certain of this⁠—an inexorable law. Everything passes and returns again, is born again out of a little thing, out of nothing, burns and tortures itself, rejoices, reaches a height and falls, and then returns again and again, as if twining itself about the spiral curve of the flight of time. And this spiral having been accomplished, it in its turn winds back again for many years, returning and passing over its former place, and then making a new curve⁠—a spiral of spirals.⁠ ⁠… And so on without end.

Of course you’ll say that if this law is really in existence people would long ago have discovered it and would be able to define its course and make a kind of map of it. No, I don’t think so. We are like weavers, sitting close up to an infinitely long and infinitely broad web. There are certain colours before our eyes, flowers, blues, purples, greens, all moving, moving and passing⁠ ⁠… but because we’re so near to it we can’t make out the pattern. Only those who are able to stand above life, higher than we do, gentle scholars, prophets, dreamers, saints and poets, these may have occasional glimpses through the confusion of life, and their keen inspired gaze may see the beginnings of a harmonious design, and may divine its end.

You think I express myself extravagantly? Don’t you now? But wait a little; perhaps I can put it more clearly. You musn’t let me bore you, though.⁠ ⁠… Yet what can one do on a railway journey except talk?

I agree that there are laws of Nature governing alike in their wisdom the courses of the stars and the digestion of beetles. I believe in such laws and I revere them. But there is Something or Somebody stronger than Fate, greater than the world. If it is Something, I should call it the law of logical absurdity, or of absurd logicality, just as you please.⁠ ⁠… I can’t express myself very well. If it is Somebody, then it must be someone in comparison with whom our biblical devil and our romantic Satan are but puny jesters and harmless rogues.

Imagine to yourself an almost godlike Power over this world, having a desperate childish love of playing tricks, knowing neither good nor evil, but always mercilessly hard, sagacious, and, devil take it all, somehow strangely just. You don’t understand, perhaps? Then let me illustrate my meaning by examples.

Take Napoleon: a marvellous life, an almost impossibly great personality, inexhaustible power, and look at his end⁠—on a tiny island, suffering from disease of the bladder, complaining of the doctors, of his food, senile grumblings in solitude.⁠ ⁠… Of course, this pitiful end was simply a mocking laugh, a derisive smile on the face of my mysterious Somebody. But consider this tragic biography thoughtfully, putting aside all the explanations of learned people⁠—they would explain it all simply in accordance with law⁠—and I don’t know how it will appear to you, but here I see clearly existing together this mixture of absurdity and logicality, and I cannot possibly explain it to myself.

Then General Skobelef. A great, a splendid figure. Desperate courage, and a kind of exaggerated belief in his own destiny. He always mocked at death, went into a murderous fire of the enemy with bravado, and courted endless risks in a kind of unappeasable thirst for danger. And see⁠—he died on a common bed, in a hired room in the company of prostitutes. Again I say: absurd, cruel, yet somehow logical. It is as if each of these pitiful deaths by their contrast with the life, rounded off, blended, completed, two splendid beings.

The ancients knew and feared this mysterious Someone⁠—you remember the ring of Polycrates⁠—but they mistook his jest for the envy of Fate.

I assure you⁠—i.e., I don’t assure you, but I am deeply assured of it myself⁠—that sometime or other, perhaps after thirty thousand years, life on this earth will have become marvellously beautiful. There will be palaces, gardens, fountains.⁠ ⁠… The burdens now borne by mankind⁠—slavery, private ownership of property, lies, and oppression⁠—will cease. There will be no more sickness, disorder, death; no more envy, no vice, no near or far, all will have become brothers, And then He⁠—you notice that even in speaking I pronounce the name with a capital letter⁠—He, passing one day through the universe, will look on us, frown evilly, smile, and then breathe upon the world⁠—and the good old Earth will cease to be. A sad end for this beautiful planet, eh? But just think to what a terrible bloody orgiastic end universal virtue might lead, if once people succeeded in getting thoroughly surfeited by it!

However, what’s the use of taking such great examples as our earth, Napoleon, and the ancient Greeks? I myself have, from time to time, caught a glimpse of this strange and inscrutable law in the most ordinary occurrences. If you like, I’ll tell you a simple incident when I myself clearly felt the mocking breath of this god.

I was travelling by train from Tomsk to Petersburg in an ordinary first-class compartment. One of my companions on the journey was a young civil engineer, a very short, stout, good-natured young man: a simple Russian face, round, well-cared for, white eyebrows and eyelashes, sparse hair brushed up from his forehead, showing the red skin beneath⁠ ⁠… a kind, good “Yorkshireman.” His eyes were like the dull blue eyes of a sucking pig.

He proved a very pleasant companion. I have rarely seen anyone with such engaging manners. He at once gave me his lower sleeping-place, helped me to place my trunk on the rack, and was generally so kind that he even made me feel a little awkward. When we stopped at a station he bought wine and food, and had evidently great pleasure in persuading the company to share them with him.

I saw at once that he was bubbling over with some great inward happiness, and that he was desirous of seeing all around him as happy as he was.

And this proved to be the case. In ten minutes he had already began to open his heart to me. Certainly I noticed that directly he spoke of himself the other people in the carriage seemed to wriggle in their seats and take an exaggerated interest in observing the passing landscape. Later on, I realised that each of them had heard the story at least a dozen times before. And now my turn had come.

The engineer had come from the Far East, where he had been living for five years, and consequently he had not seen his family in Petersburg for five years. He had thought to dispatch his business in a year at the most, but at first official duties had kept him, then certain profitable enterprises had turned up, and after it had seemed impossible to leave a business which had become so very large and remunerative. Now everything had been wound up and he was returning home. Who could blame him for his talkativeness; to have lived for five years far from a beloved home, and come back young, healthy, successful, with a heart full of unspent love! What man could have imposed silence upon himself, or overcome that fearful itch of impatience, increasing with every hour, with every passing hundred versts?

I soon learnt from him all about his family. His wife’s name was Susannah or Sannochka, and his daughter bore the outlandish name of Yurochka. He had left her a little three-year-old girl, and “Just imagine!” cried he, “now she must be quite grown up, almost ready to be married.”

He told me his wife’s maiden name, and of the poverty they had experienced together in their early married days, when he had been a student in his last year, and had not even a second pair of trousers to wear, and what a splendid companion, nurse, mother, and sister in one, his wife had been to him then.

He struck his breast with his clenched fist, his face reddened with pride, and his eyes flashed, as he cried:

“If only you knew her! A be‑eauty! If you’re in Petersburg I must introduce you to her. You must certainly come and see us there, you must, indeed, without any ceremony or excuse, Kirochnaya 156. I’ll introduce you to her, and you’ll see my old woman for yourself. A Queen! She was always the belle at our civil-engineers’ balls. You must come and see us, I swear, or I shall be offended.”

And he gave us each one of his visiting cards on which he had pencilled out his Manchurian address, and written in the Petersburg one, telling us at the same time that his sumptuous flat had been taken by his wife only a year ago⁠—he had insisted on it when his business had reached its height.

Yes, his talk was like a waterfall. Four times a day, when we stopped at important stations, he would send home a reply-paid telegram to be delivered to him at the next big stopping-place or simply on the train, addressed to such and such a number, first-class passenger. So-and-so.⁠ ⁠… And you ought to have seen him when the conductor came along shouting in a singsong tone “Telegram for first-class passenger So-and-so.” I assure you there was a shining halo round his head like that of the holy saints. He tipped the conductors royally, and not the conductors only either. He had an insatiable desire to give to everybody, to make people happy, to caress them. He gave us all souvenirs, knicknacks made out of Siberian and Ural stones, trinkets, studs, pins, Chinese rings, jade images, and other trifles. Among them were many things that were very valuable, some on account of their cost, others for their rare and artistic work, yet, do you know, it was impossible to refuse them, though one felt embarrassed and awkward in receiving such valuable gifts⁠—he begged us to accept them with such earnestness and insistence, just as one cannot continue to refuse a child who continues to ask one to take a sweet.

He had with him in his boxes and in his hand luggage a whole store of things, all gifts for Sannochka and Yurochka. Wonderful things they were⁠—priceless Chinese dresses, ivory, gold, miniatures in sardonyx, furs, painted fans, lacquered boxes, albums⁠—and you ought to have seen and heard the tenderness and the rapture with which he spoke of his new ones, when he showed us these gifts. His love may have been somewhat blind, too noisy, and egotistical, perhaps even a little hysterical, but I swear that through these formal and trivial veilings I could see a great and genuine love⁠—love at a sharp and painful tension.

I remember, too, how at one of the stations when another wagon was being attached to the train, a pointsman had his foot cut off. There was great excitement, all the passengers went to look at the injured man⁠—and people travelling by train are the most empty-headed, the wildest, the most cruel in the world. The engineer did not stay in the crowd, he went quietly up to the stationmaster, talked with him for a few moments, and then handed him a note for a sum of money⁠—not a small amount, I expect, for the official cap was lifted in acknowledgment with the greatest respect. He did this very quickly; no one but myself saw his action, but I have eyes that notice such things. And I saw also that he took advantage of the longer stoppage of the train and succeeded in sending off a telegram.

I can see him now as he walked across the platform⁠—his white engineer’s cap pushed to the back of his head; his long blouse of fine tussore, with collar fastening at the side; over one shoulder the strap of his field-glasses, and crossing it, over the other shoulder, the strap of his dispatch-case⁠—coming out of the telegraph office and looking so fresh and plump and strong with such a clear complexion, and the look of a well-fed, simple, country lad.

And at almost every big station he received a telegram. He quite spoilt the conductors⁠—running himself to the office to inquire if there was no message for him. Poor boy! He could not keep his joy to himself, but read his telegrams aloud to us, as if we had nothing else to think about except his family happiness⁠—“Hope you are well. We send kisses and await your arrival impatiently.⁠—Sannochka, Yurochka.” Or: “With watch in hand we follow on the timetable the course of your train from station to station. Our spirits and thoughts are with you.” All the telegrams were of this kind. There was even one like this: “Put your watch to Petersburg time, and exactly at eleven o’clock look at the star Alpha in the Great Bear. I will do the same.”

There was one passenger on the train who was owner or bookkeeper, or manager of a gold mine, a Siberian, with a face like that of Moses the Moor,13 dry and elongated, thick, black, stern brows, and a long, full, greyish beard⁠—a man who looked as if he were exceptionally experienced in all the trials of life. He made a warning remark to the engineer:

“You know, young man, it’s no use you abusing the telegraph service in such a way.”

“What do you mean? How is it no use?”

“Well, it’s impossible for a woman to keep herself all the time in such an exalted and wound-up state of mind. You ought to have mercy on other peoples’ nerves.”

But the engineer only laughed and clapped the wiseacre on the knee.

“Ah, little father, I know you, you people of the Old Testament. You’re always stealing back home unexpectedly and on the quiet. ‘Is everything as it should be on the domestic hearth?’ Eh?”

But the man with the icon face only raised his eyebrows and smiled.

“Well, what of it? Sometimes there’s no harm in that.”

At Nizhni we had new fellow-travellers, and at Moscow new ones again. The agitation of my engineer was still increasing. What could be done with him? He made acquaintance with everybody; talked to married folks of the sacredness of home, reproached bachelors for the slovenliness and disorder of bachelor life, talked to young ladies about a single and eternal love, conversed with mothers about their children, and always led the conversation to talk about his Sannochka and Yurochka. Even now I remember that his daughter used to lisp: “I have thome yellow thlipperth,” and the like. And once, when she was pulling the cat’s tail, and the cat mewed, her mother said, “Don’t do that, Yurochka, you’re hurting the cat,” and the child answered, “No, mother, it liketh it.”

It was all very tender, very touching, but, I’m bound to confess, a little tiresome.

Next morning we were nearing Petersburg. It was a dull, wet, unpleasant day. There was not exactly a fog, but a kind of dirty cloudiness enveloped the rusty, thin-looking pines, and the wet hills looked like hairy warts extending on both sides of the line. I got up early and went along to the lavatory to wash; on the way I ran into the engineer, he was standing by the window and looking alternately at his watch and then out of the window.

“Good morning,” said I. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, good morning,” said he. “I’m just testing the speed of the train; it’s going about sixty versts an hour.”

“You test it by your watch?”

“Yes, it’s very simple. You see, there are twenty-five sazhens between the posts⁠—a twentieth part of a verst. Therefore, if we travel these twenty-five sazhens in four seconds, it means we are going forty-five versts an hour; if in three seconds, we’re going sixty versts an hour; if in two seconds, ninety. But you can reckon the speed without a watch if you know how to count the seconds⁠—you must count as quickly as possible, but quite distinctly, one, two, three, four, five, six⁠—one, two, three, four, five, six⁠—that’s a speciality of the Austrian General Staff.”

He talked on, with fidgety movements and restless eyes, and I knew quite well, of course, that all this talk about the counting of the Austrian General Staff was all beside the point, just a simple diversion of his to cheat his impatience.

It became dreadful to watch him after we had passed the station of Luban. He looked to me paler and thinner, and, in a way, older. He even stopped talking. He pretended to read a newspaper, but it was evident that it was a tiresome and distasteful occupation for him; sometimes he even held the paper upside down. He would sit still for about five minutes, then go to the window, sit down for a while and seem as if he were trying to push the train forward, then go again to the window and test the speed of the train, again turning his head, first to the right and then to the left. I know⁠—who doesn’t know?⁠—that days and weeks of expectation are as nothing in comparison with those last half-hours, with the last quarter of an hour.

But at last the signal-box, the endless network of crossing rails, and then the long wooden platform edged with a row of porters in white aprons.⁠ ⁠… The engineer put on his coat, took his bag in his hand, and went along the corridor to the door of the train. I was looking out of the window to hail a porter as soon as the train stopped. I could see the engineer very well, he had got outside the door on to the step. He noticed me, nodded, and smiled, but it struck me, even at that distance, how pale he was.

A tall lady in a sort of silvery bodice and a large velvet hat and blue veil went past our carriage. A little girl in a short frock, with long, white-gaitered legs, was with her. They were both looking for someone, and anxiously scanning every window. But they passed him over. I heard the engineer cry out in a strange, choking, trembling voice:


I think they both turned round. And then, suddenly a sharp and dreadful wail.⁠ ⁠… I shall never forget it. A cry of perplexity, terror, pain, lamentation, like nothing else I’ve ever heard.

The next second I saw the engineer’s head, without a cap, somewhere between the lower part of the train and the platform. I couldn’t see his face, only his bright upstanding hair and the pinky flesh beneath, but only for a moment, it flashed past me and was gone.⁠ ⁠…

Afterwards they questioned me as a witness. I remember how I tried to calm the wife, but what could one say in such a case? I saw him, too⁠—a distorted red lump of flesh. He was dead when they got him out from under the train. I heard afterwards that his leg had been severed first, and as he was trying instinctively to save himself, he fell under the train, and his whole body was crushed under the wheels.

But now I’m coming to the most dreadful point of my story. In those terrible, never-to-be-forgotten moments I had a strange consciousness which would not leave me. “It’s a stupid death,” I thought, “absurd, cruel, unjust,” but why, from the very first moment that I heard his cry, why did it seem clear to me that the thing must happen, and that it was somehow natural and logical? Why was it? Can you explain it? Was it not that I felt here the careless indifferent smile of my devil?

His widow⁠—I visited her afterwards, and she asked me many questions about him⁠—said that they both had tempted Fate by their impatient love, in their certainty of meeting, in their sureness of the morrow. Perhaps so.⁠ ⁠… I can’t say.⁠ ⁠… In the East, that tried well of ancient wisdom, a man never says that he intends to do something either today or tomorrow without adding Insh-Allah, which means, “In the name of God,” or “If God will.”

And yet I don’t think that there was here a tempting of Fate, it seemed to me just the absurd logic of a mysterious god. Greater joy than their mutual expectation, when, in spite of distance, their souls met together⁠—greater joy, perhaps, these two would never have experienced! God knows what might have awaited them later! Dischantment? Weariness? Boredom? Perhaps hate?


The company of soldiers commanded by Captain Markof had come to take part in a punitive expedition. Tired, irritable, weary from their long journey in an uncomfortable train, the men were sullen and morose. On their arrival at a station with a strange-sounding foreign name, beer and vodka were served out to them by men who seemed to be peasants. The soldiers cried “Hurrah!” sang songs and danced, but their faces wore a look of stony indifference.

Then the work began. The company could not be burdened with prisoners, and so all suspected persons whom they came across on the road, and all those who had no passports, were shot without delay. Captain Markof was not mistaken in his psychological analysis; he knew that the steadily increasing irritation of his soldiers would find a certain satisfaction in such bloody chastisement.

On the evening of December 31st the company stopped for the night at a half-ruined baronial farm. They were fifteen versts from the town, and the captain reckoned to get there by three o’clock the next afternoon. He felt certain that his men would have serious and prolonged work there, and he wanted them to get whatever rest was possible, to quiet and strengthen them for it. He therefore gave orders that they be lodged in the various barns and outhouses of the estate. He himself occupied a large hollow-sounding, empty room, with a Gothic fireplace, in which a bed, taken from the local clergyman, had been placed.

A dark, starless night, windy and sleety, came down upon the farm, swiftly and almost unnoticeably. Alone in his immense empty chamber, Markof sat in front of the fireplace, in which some palings from the plundered estate were burning brightly. He put his feet on the grate and spread out a military map upon his bony knees, attentively studying the neighbourhood between the farm and the town. In the red firelight his face, with its high forehead, turned-up moustaches and firm, obstinate chin, seemed more severe than ever.

The sergeant-major came into the room. The water trickled down on to the floor from his waterproof cloak. He stood still for a moment or two, and then, convinced that the captain had not noticed his entrance, coughed discreetly.

“Is it you?” said the captain, bending his head back. “What is it?”

“Everything is in order, your honour. The third platoon is on guard, the first division at the church wall, the second.⁠ ⁠…”

“All right! What else? Is the password given?”

“Yes, your honour.⁠ ⁠…” The sergeant was silent, as if waiting to hear more, but as the captain said nothing, he began in a lower tone,

“What’s to be done, your honour, with the three who.⁠ ⁠…”

“Shoot them at dawn,” interrupted the captain sharply, not allowing the sergeant to finish his sentence, “And afterwards”⁠—he frowned and looked meaningly at the soldier⁠—“don’t ask me any more questions about them. Do you understand?”

“Certainly, your honour,” answered the soldier emphatically.⁠ ⁠… And they were both silent again. The captain lay down on the bed without undressing, and the sergeant remained at the door in the shadow. For some reason or other he delayed his departure.

“Is that all?” asked the captain impatiently, without turning his head.

“Yes, that’s all, your honour.” The soldier fidgeted from one foot to another, and then said suddenly, with a determined resolution,

“Your honour⁠ ⁠… the soldiers want to know⁠ ⁠… what’s to be done with⁠ ⁠… the old man?”

“Get out!” shouted the captain with sudden anger, jumping up from the bed and making as if to strike him.

The sergeant-major turned dexterously in double-quick time, and opened the door. But on the threshold he stopped for a moment and said in an official voice,

“Ah, your honour, permit me to congratulate your honour on the New Year, and to wish.⁠ ⁠…”

“Thanks, brother,” answered the captain dryly. “Don’t forget to have the rifles examined more carefully tomorrow.”

Left alone in the room, Markof, neither undressing nor taking off his sword, flung himself down upon the bed and lay with his face toward the fire. His countenance changed suddenly, taking on an appearance of age, and his closely-cropped head drooped on his shoulders; his half-closed eyes wore an expression of pain and weariness. For a whole week he had suffered tortures of fever and had only overcome his illness by force of will. No one in the company knew that at nights he tossed about in fierce paroxysms, shivering in ague, delirious, only losing consciousness for moments, and then in fantastic hideous nightmares.

He lay on his back and watched the blue flames of the dying fire, feeling every moment the stealthy approaches of dizziness and weakness, the accompaniments of his usual attack of malaria. His thoughts were connected in a strange fashion with the old man who had been taken prisoner that morning, about whom the sergeant-major had just been speaking. Markof’s better judgment divined that the sergeant-major had been right: there was, indeed, something extraordinary about the old man, a certain magnificent indifference to life, mingled with gentleness and a deep melancholy. People of his type, people resembling this old man, though only in a very slight degree, the captain had seen at Lao-Yan and Mukden, among the unmurmuring soldiers dying on the fields of battle. When the three men had been brought before Markof that morning and he had explained to them by the help of cynically-eloquent gestures that they would be dealt with as spies, the faces of the two others had at once turned pale and been distorted by a deadly terror; but the old man had only laughed with a certain strange expression of weariness, indifference, and even⁠ ⁠… even as it were of gentle condescending compassion towards the captain himself, the head of the punitive expedition.

“If he is really one of the rebels,” Markof reflected, closing his inflamed eyes, and feeling as if a soft and bottomless abyss of darkness yawned before him, “then there is no doubt that he occupies an important position among them, and I’ve acted very wisely in ordering him to be shot. But suppose the old man is quite innocent? So much the worse for him. I can’t spare two men to guard him, especially considering what we’ve got to do tomorrow. In any case, why should he escape the destiny of those fifteen whom we shot yesterday? No, it wouldn’t be fair to spare him after what we have done to others.”

The captain’s eyes opened slowly, and he started up suddenly in mortal terror.

Seated on a low stool by the bedside, with bent head, and the palms of his hands resting upon his knees, in a quiet and sadly thoughtful attitude, was the old man who had been sentenced to death.

Markof, though he believed in the supernatural and wore on his breast a little bag containing certain holy bones, was no coward in the general sense of the word. To retire in terror, even in the face of the most mysterious and immaterial phenomenon, the captain would have reckoned as much a disgrace as if he had fled before an enemy or uttered a humiliating appeal for mercy. With a quick, accustomed movement he drew his revolver from its leathern case and pointed it at the head of his unknown visitant, and he shouted like a madman,

“If you move, you’ll go to the devil!”

The old man slowly turned his head. Across his lips there passed that same smile which had engraved itself upon the captain’s memory in the morning.

“Don’t be alarmed, Captain. I have come to you without evil intention,” said he. “Try to abstain from murder till the morning.”

The voice of the strange visitant was as enigmatical as his smile, even monotonous, and as it were without timbre. Long, long ago, in his earliest childhood, Markof had occasionally heard voices like this when he had been left alone in a room, he had heard such voices behind him, voices without colour or expression, calling him by his own name. Obedient to the incomprehensible influence of this smile and this voice, the captain put his revolver under his pillow and lay down again, leaning his head on his elbow, and never taking his eyes from the dark figure of the unknown person. For some minutes the room was filled with a deep and painful silence; there was only heard the ticking of Markof’s watch, hurriedly beating out the seconds, and the burnt-out fuel in the grate falling with a weak, yet resounding and metallic, crackle.

“Tell me, Markof,” began the old man at length, “what would you answer, not to a judge or to the authorities, or even to the emperor, but to your own conscience, should it ask you, ‘Why did you enter upon this terrible, unjust slaughter?’ ”

Markof shrugged his shoulders as if in mockery.

“You speak rather freely, old man,” said he, “for one who is going to be shot in four hours’ time. However, we’ll have a little conversation, if you like. It’s a better occupation for me than to toss about sleeplessly in fever. How shall I answer my conscience? I shall say first that I am a soldier, and that it is my duty to obey orders implicitly; and secondly, I am a Russian by birth, and I would make it clear to the whole world that he who dares to rise up against the might of the great power of Russia shall be crushed as a worm under the heel, and his very tomb shall be made level with the dust.⁠ ⁠…”

“O Markof, Markof, what a wild and bloodthirsty pride speaks in your words!” replied the old man. “And what untruth! If you look at an object and put your eyes quite close to it you see only the smallest of its details, but go further away, and you see it in its true form. Do you really think that your great country is immortal? Did not the Persians think so once, and the Macedonians, and proud Rome, who seized the whole world in her iron claws, and the wild hordes of Huns who overran Europe, and mighty Spain, lord over three-fourths of the globe? Yet ask history what has become of their immeasurable power. And I can tell you that thousands of centuries before these there were great kingdoms, stronger, prouder, and more cultured than yours. But life, which is stronger than nations and more ancient than memorials, has swept them aside in her mysterious path, leaving neither trace nor memory of them.”

“That’s foolishness,” objected the captain, in a feeble voice, lying down again upon his back. “History follows out its own course, and we can neither guide it nor show it the way.”

The old man laughed noiselessly.

“You’re like that African bird which hides its head in the sand when it is pursued by the hunter. Believe me, a hundred years hence your children’s children will be ashamed of their ancestor, Alexander Vassilitch Markof, murderer and executioner.”

“You speak strongly, old man! Yes, I’ve heard of the ravings of those enthusiastic dreamers who want to change swords into ploughshares.⁠ ⁠… Ha-ha-ha! I picture to myself the sort of state these scrofulous neurasthenists and rickety idiots of pacifists would make. No, it is only wax that can forge out an athletic body and an iron character. However⁠ ⁠…”⁠—Markof pressed his hand to his forehead, striving to remember something⁠—“however, this is all unimportant.⁠ ⁠… But what was it I wanted to ask you?⁠ ⁠… Ah, yes! Somehow I don’t think you will tell me untruths. Do you belong to these parts?”

“No.” The old man shook his head.

“But surely you were born in the district?”


“But you are a⁠—European? What are you, French? English? Russian? German?”

“No, no.⁠ ⁠…”

Markof, in exasperation, struck the side of the bed with his fist.

“Well, who are you, then? And why the devil do I know your face so well? Have we ever met anywhere?”

The old man bent his head still lower and sat for a long time saying no word. At last he began to speak, as if hesitating:

“Yes, we have met, Markof, but you have never seen me. Probably you don’t remember, or you’ve forgotten, how once, during an epidemic of plague, your uncle hanged in one morning fifty-nine persons. I was within two paces of him that day, but he didn’t see me.”

“Yes⁠ ⁠… that’s true⁠ ⁠… fifty-nine⁠ ⁠…” muttered Markof, feeling himself overwhelmed by an intolerable heat. “But they⁠ ⁠… were⁠ ⁠… rioters.⁠ ⁠…”

“I saw your father’s cruel exploits at Sevastopol, and your work after the capture of Ismaila,” the old man went on in his hollow voice. “Before my eyes has been shed enough blood to drown the whole world. I was with Napoleon on the fields of Austerlitz, Friedland, Jena, and Borodina. I saw the mob applauding the executioner when he held up before them on the platform of the guillotine the bloody head of Louis XVI. I was present on the eve of St. Bartholomew, when the Catholics, with prayers on their lips, murdered the wives and children of the Huguenots. In the midst of a crowd of enraged fanatics I gazed whilst the holy fathers of the Inquisition burned heretics at the stake, flayed people alive for the glory of God, and poured white-hot lead into their mouths. I followed the hordes of Attila, Genghis Khan, and Solyman the Magnificent, whose paths were marked by mountains of human skulls. I was with the noisy Roman crowd in the circus when they sewed Christians up in the skins of wild animals and hunted them with dogs, when they fed the beasts with the bodies of captive slaves⁠ ⁠… I have seen the wild and bloody orgies of Nero, and heard the wailing of the Jews at the ruined walls of Jerusalem.⁠ ⁠…”

“You’re⁠—only my dream⁠ ⁠… go away⁠ ⁠… you’re⁠—only a figure in my delirium. Go away from me!” Markof’s parched lips uttered the words with difficulty.

The old man got up from the stool. His bent figure became in a moment immensely tall, so that his hair seemed to touch the ceiling. He began to speak again, slowly, monotonously, terribly:

“I saw how the blood of man was first shed upon the earth. There were two brothers. One was gentle, tender, industrious, compassionate; the other, the elder, was proud, cruel, and envious. One day they both brought offerings to the Lord according to the custom of their fathers: the younger brought of the fruits of the earth, the elder of the flesh of animals killed by him in the chase. But the elder cherished in his heart a feeling of ill-will towards his brother, and the smoke of his sacrifice spread itself out over the earth, while that of his brother ascended as an upright column to the heavens. Then the hate and envy which oppressed the soul of the elder overflowed, and there was committed the first murder on the earth.⁠ ⁠…”

“Go away, leave me⁠ ⁠… for God’s sake,” Markof muttered to himself, and tossed about in his crumpled sheets.

“Yes, I saw his eyes grow wide with the terror of death, and his clenched fingers clutch convulsively at the sand, wet with his blood. And when after his last shudder his pale cold body lay still upon the ground, then the murderer was overwhelmed by an unbearable terror. He hid his face in his hands and ran into the depths of the forest, and lay trembling there, until at eventide he heard the voice of his offended God⁠—‘Cain, where is thy brother Abel?’ ”

“Go away; don’t torture me!” Markof’s lips could scarcely move. Yet he seemed to hear the voice continue,

“In fear and trembling I answered the Lord, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And then the Lord pronounced on me an eternal curse:

“ ‘Thou shalt remain among the number of the living as long as the earth shall endure. Thou shalt roam as a homeless wanderer through all centuries, among all nations and in all lands, and thine eyes shall behold nought but the blood shed by thee upon the earth, thine ears shall hear only the moans of the dying⁠—eternal reminders of the brother thou hast slain.’ ”

There was silence for a moment, and when the old man spoke again each word fell into Markof’s soul with pain:

“O Lord, how just and inexorable is Thy judgment! Already many centuries and tens of centuries have I wandered upon the earth, vainly expecting to die. A mighty and merciless power ever calls me to appear where on the battlefields the soldiers lie dead in their blood, where mothers weep, and curses are heaped upon me, the first murderer. There is no end to my sufferings, for every time I see the blood of man flowing from his body I see again my brother, stretched out upon the ground clutching handfuls of sand with his dying fingers⁠ ⁠… And in vain do I desire to cry out, ‘Awake! Awake! Awake!’ ”

“Wake up, your honour, wake!” The insistent voice of the sergeant-major sounded in Markof’s ears. “A telegram!⁠ ⁠…”

The captain was awake and on his feet in a moment. His strong will asserted itself at once, as usual. The fire had long since died out, and the pale light of dawn gleamed through the window.

“What about⁠ ⁠… those⁠ ⁠…” asked Markof, in a trembling voice.

“As you ordered, your honour, just this moment.”

“But the old man? The old man?”

“As well.”

The captain sank down upon the bed as if his strength had suddenly left him. The sergeant-major stood at attention beside him, awaiting orders.

“That’s it, brother,” said the captain in a feeble voice. “You must take the command in my place. I will send in my papers today, for I⁠ ⁠… I⁠ ⁠… ’m absolutely tormented by this cursed fever.⁠ ⁠… And perhaps”⁠—he tried to smile, but only distorted his features by the effort⁠—“perhaps I may soon be entirely at rest.”

The sergeant-major saluted and answered calmly, as if nothing could surprise him,

“Yes, your honour.”

The Bracelet of Garnets

A score for the first four bars of Beethoven’s second Sonata (Op. 2, No. 2). The work is scored for piano, and increases gradually in pitch and volume over the bars.
L. van Beethoven, 2 Son. (Op. 2, No. 2)
Largo Appassionato


In the middle of August, just before the birth of the new moon, the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse and assumed that disagreeable character which is sometimes characteristic of the northern coast of the Black Sea. Sometimes a heavy fog would hang drearily over land and sea, and then the immense siren of the lighthouse would howl day and night like a mad bull. Sometimes it would rain from morning to morning, and the thickly falling raindrops, as fine as dust, would transform the clayey roads and paths into one continuous sheet of mud, in which the passing wagons and carriages stuck for a long time. Sometimes a hurricane-like wind would begin to blow from the steppes lying toward the northwest, and then the tops of the trees would bend down to the ground, and again sweep up, like waves during a storm; the iron roofs of the country houses would rattle at night, as though someone were walking over them in iron-shod boots, the windowpanes would jingle, the doors snap, and the flues howl dismally. Several fishing barks lost their way in the sea, and two of them never returned to shore; it was only a week later that the bodies of the fishermen were washed ashore in different places.

The inhabitants of the shore resort⁠—which lay on the outskirts of a large city⁠—mostly Greeks and Jews, who, like all people of the south, are fond of comforts, hastened to move to the city. And endless lines of wagons, loaded with mattresses, furniture, trunks, washstands, samovars, and all kinds of household goods, stretched down the muddy road. Sad and pitiable, and even disgusting, was the sight of this procession, as one caught glimpses of it through the thick net of rain, for everything seemed so old and worn out and sordid. Maids and cooks were sitting on top of the tarpaulins that covered the vans, holding flatirons, tin boxes, or baskets in their hands; the sweating, almost exhausted horses stopped every little while, their knees shaking, and a cloud of steam rising from their heaving flanks, while the drivers, all covered with rags for protection against the rain, cursed them hoarsely. But even sadder was the sight of the deserted houses, with their suddenly acquired bareness and emptiness, with their mutilated flowerbeds, broken windowpanes, straying dogs, and piles of refuse consisting of cigarette stumps, pieces of paper, boxes, and medicine-bottles.

But toward the middle of September the weather again changed unexpectedly. The days suddenly became calm and cloudless, bright, warm, and sunny, as they had not been even in July. The fields became dry, and on their yellow bristle glistened the autumn spiderweb, like netted mica. The trees were now dropping their yellow leaves, obediently and silently.

Princess Vera Nikolayevna Sheyin, the wife of the president of the local Assembly of the Nobles, could not leave her country house, because the alterations in their city home had not as yet been completed. And now she was happy over the splendid weather that had set in, over the quiet, the fresh air, the chirping of the swallows that were gathering on the telegraph-wires and forming into flocks for their far journey⁠—happy over the gentle, salty breeze slowly coming from the sea.


Moreover, that day, September 17, happened to be her birthday. She was always fond of that day, as it was connected with happy childhood recollections, and she always expected something miraculous and fortunate to happen on her birthday. This time, before leaving for the city, where he had an urgent engagement, her husband had put on her night table a little case, containing beautiful earrings with shapely pearl pendants, and this present made her still happier.

She was all alone in the house. Her bachelor brother Nikolay, who was living with them, had also gone to the city, as he had to appear in court that morning in his capacity of assistant district attorney. Her husband had promised to bring a few intimate friends for dinner. She thought it was well that her birthday came at the time when they were still in their country home. If it had happened in the city, it would have been necessary to provide a formal banquet, while here, on the seashore, a simple dinner would do just as well. Prince Sheyin, despite his prominence in society, or perhaps because of it, had always found it rather difficult to make his financial ends meet. His immense hereditary estate had been reduced almost to the point of bankruptcy by his predecessors, and he was compelled to live beyond his means: to provide entertainments, give to charity, dress well, keep up a good stable. Princess Vera, whose formerly passionate love for her husband had already become transformed into a feeling of lasting, true, sincere friendship, did everything in her power to help her husband ward off financial disaster. Without letting him know, she refused herself many luxuries and economized in her household management as much as she could.

Just now she was in the garden carefully cutting flowers for the dinner-table. The flowerbeds were almost empty and presented a disordered appearance. The many-colored double carnations were in their last bloom; the gillyflowers already had half of their blossoms transformed into thin, green pods, that smelled like cabbage; the rosebushes were blooming for the third time that summer, and their blossoms and buds were small and far between, as though they were degenerating. Only dahlias, peonies, and asters were coldly and haughtily beautiful in their luxuriant bloom, spreading a sad, grassy, autumnal odor in the air. The other flowers, after their sumptuous love and abundant summer motherhood, were now quietly shedding on the ground the numberless seeds of future life.

The sound of an automobile-horn came from the road. It was Princess Vera’s sister, Anna Nikolayevna Friesse, coming to help her with her preparations, as she had promised over the telephone that morning.

Vera’s accurate ear did not deceive her. A few moments later, a beautiful car stopped at the gates, and the chauffeur, jumping down from his seat, quickly opened the door.

The sisters greeted each other joyfully. From early childhood they had been warmly and closely attached to each other. They were strangely unlike in appearance. Vera was the older of the two, and she was like her mother, a beautiful Englishwoman; she was tall and slender, with a cold and proud face, beautiful, somewhat large hands, and that charming slope of the shoulders which one sometimes meets in old miniatures. Anna, on the other hand, inherited the Mongolian blood of her father, a Tartar prince, whose forebears had embraced Christianity only at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and whose ancestry could be traced back to Tamerlane himself, or Lang-Temir, as the father was fond of calling in the Tartar dialect that great bloody tyrant. She was considerably shorter than her sister, rather broad-shouldered, with a lively and light-minded disposition. Her face was of a pronounced Mongolian type, with rather prominent cheekbones, narrow eyes, which she always screwed up a little because of nearsightedness, with a haughty expression of her small, sensuous mouth, that had a slightly protruding, full lower lip. And yet her face was fascinating with some incomprehensible and elusive charm, which lay perhaps in her smile, perhaps in the deep feminacy of all her features, perhaps in her piquant and coquettish mimicry. Her graceful lack of beauty excited and attracted the attention of men much oftener than her sister’s aristocratic beauty.

She had married a very wealthy and very stupid man, who had absolutely nothing to do, but was nominally connected with some charitable institution and had the title of a gentleman of the Emperor’s bedchamber. She did not like her husband, and had only two children; after the birth of her second child, she decided to have no more. Vera, on the other hand, was very anxious to have children, and the more the better, as it seemed to her, but she had none, and was extremely fond of her sister’s pretty and anaemic children, always polite and obedient, with pale faces and curly, light hair, like that of a doll.

Anna was perfectly happy in her haphazard way of doing things, and she was full of contradictions. She was perfectly willing to engage in most risky flirtations in all the capitals and fashionable resorts of Europe, but she was never unfaithful to her husband, whom she, nevertheless, jeered contemptuously both in his presence and absence; she was extravagant, inordinately fond of gambling and dancing, of exciting experiences, of visits to suspicious cafés, and yet she was remarkable for her generosity and kindness, and for her deep, sincere piety, which had even led her to embrace secretly the Catholic faith. She had a wonderfully beautiful bosom, neck, and shoulders. When dressing for balls, she bared her neck and shoulders beyond the limits set by both propriety and fashion, but it was whispered that despite her low décolleté, she always wore a hair shirt.

Vera was characterized by stern simplicity, cold and somewhat condescending politeness, independence, and majestic calmness.


“Goodness, how beautiful it is here! How beautiful!” Anna was saying this, as she walked rapidly with her sister down the path. “Let us sit on this bench by the precipice for a while, if we may. I haven’t seen the sea for such a long time. The air is so exhilarating it makes my heart glad to breathe it. You know, last summer in Crimea, when we were in Miskhora, I made a marvellous discovery. Do you know what is the odor of the water at high tide? Just imagine, it smells like mignonettes!”

Vera smiled affectionately.

“You are a regular dreamer.”

“Why, no, no, not at all. I remember once, when I said that there is a pinkish tint in moonlight, everybody laughed at me. And only a few days ago, Boritsky, the artist who is painting my portrait, told me that I was right and that artists have known about it for a long time.”

“An artist? Is that your new fad?”

“You always imagine things!” said Anna laughingly, as she rapidly walked up to the brink of the precipice, which was sloping down almost perpendicularly into the sea, glanced over it, and suddenly cried out in horror, jumping away, her face turning pale.

“Goodness, how high it is!” she said in a weak and shaking voice. “When I look down from such a stupendous height, I have such a sweetish and disgusting sensation in my chest.⁠ ⁠… And my toes feel as though they were being pinched.⁠ ⁠… And yet I am drawn, drawn toward it.⁠ ⁠…”

She made a motion as though she were again going to look over the brink of the precipice, but her sister stopped her.

“Anna, dear, please don’t do it. I become dizzy myself, when I see you doing it. Won’t you, please, sit down?”

“All right, all right, here I am.⁠ ⁠… But just look how beautiful it all is; I can’t feast my eyes enough on it. If you only knew how thankful I am to God for having created all these marvels for us!”

The sisters remained thoughtful for a moment. Far, far below, under their feet, spread the calm sea. The shore was not visible from the spot where they were sitting, and this merely emphasized the feeling of illimitable grandeur, produced by the vast sheet of water before them. And the water was gently quiet, joyfully blue, shining with occasional, oblique bands of smoothness, that marked the currents, and changing its color into a deeper blue near the horizon line.

Fishermen’s boats, appearing so small that they were scarcely discernible to the naked eye, seemed plunged in slumber upon the motionless surface of the sea, not far from the shore. And a little farther off, a large, three-mast schooner, covered from top to bottom with white sails monotonously expanded by the wind, seemed to be standing in the air, also motionless.

“I think I understand you,” said Vera thoughtfully. “But I feel differently about it. When I see the sea for the first time, after being away for a considerable period, it agitates me and gladdens me and amazes me. It seems to me as though I were beholding for the first time an enormous, majestic miracle.⁠ ⁠… But after a while, when I become used to it, it begins to oppress me with its flat emptiness.⁠ ⁠… I have no more interest in gazing at it, and even try not to look. I simply become tired of it.”

Anna smiled.

“Why do you smile?”

“You know, last summer,” Anna said mischievously, “a large group of us went on horseback from Yalta to the top of Uch-Kosh, over to the spot above the waterfalls. At first we struck a cloud; it was awfully damp and we could hardly see ahead, but we were still going up and up a steep path, winding among pine-trees. And then suddenly, the pine forest came to an end and we came out of the fog. Just imagine: a narrow platform on the rock, and under our feet a deep abyss. The villages down there seemed like matchboxes, and woods and gardens like thin blades of grass. Everything before us sloped down to the sea, like a geographic map. And beyond it was the sea, stretching out fifty or a hundred miles before us. It seemed to me as though I were hanging in the air, ready to fly. You get a feeling of such beauty, such lightness! I turned back to our guide and said to him in rapture, ‘Isn’t it wonderful, Seid-Ogly?’ and he just smacked his tongue and said: ‘If you only knew, lady, how tired I am of all this. I see it every day.’ ”

“Thanks for the comparison,” said Vera, laughing. “No, but I guess that we northerners can never appreciate the beauties of the sea. I like the woods. Remember the woods in our Yegorovsk? You can never get tired of them. The pines! And the mosses! And the fly-agarics! They look as though they were made of crimson satin and embroidered with tiny white beads. And it is so quiet and cool.”

“I don’t care; I like everything,” answered Anna. “But most of all, I like my dear little sister, my sensible little Vera. We two are alone in the world, aren’t we?”

She embraced her sister and pressed her cheek against Vera’s. Suddenly she jumped up.

“My, how stupid I am! Here we are, sitting together, as they do in stories, talking about nature, while I’ve forgotten all about the present I brought you. Here it is⁠—look! I wonder if you’ll like it?”

She took out of her bag a little notebook with a wonderful cover. On old blue velvet, already worn off and grown gray with age, was embroidered in dull gold a filigreed design of rare complexity, delicacy, and beauty⁠—evidently a work of love, executed by the skilful hands of a patient artist. The notebook was attached to a gold chain, as thin as a thread, and thin ivory tablets were substituted for the leaves inside.

“Isn’t it charming!” exclaimed Vera, kissing her sister. “Thank you ever so much. Where did you get such a treasure?”

“Oh, in an antique shop. You know my weakness for rummaging among all kinds of antiques. And once I came across this prayerbook. See, here is where the design is made in the shape of a cross. Of course, I found only the cover, all the rest, the leaves, the clasps, the pencil, I had to think out myself. But Molliner simply refused to understand what I was trying to tell him. The clasps had to be made the same way as the whole design, of dull, old gold, delicately engraved, and he made this thing of it. But the chain is very ancient, really Venetian.”

Vera stroked the beautiful cover affectionately.

“What deep antiquity! How old do you think this book is?” asked she.

“It would be pretty hard to say. Perhaps the end of the seventeenth century, or the middle of the eighteenth.”

“How strange it is,” said Vera with a thoughtful smile, “that I am holding in my hands an object which may have been touched by the hands of the Marquise de Pompadour, or even Queen Antoinette herself.⁠ ⁠… Do you know, Anna, you must be the only person in the world who could conceive of the mad idea of making a lady’s notebook out of a prayerbook. However, let’s go in and see how things are getting on.”

They went into the house through the large brick piazza, covered on all sides by thickly interlaced vines of grapes. The abundant bunches of black grapes, that had a faint odor of strawberries, hung down heavily amidst dark-green leaves, goldened in spots by the sun. The whole piazza was filled with greenish twilight, which made the faces of the two women appear pale.

“Will you have the dinner served here?” asked Anna.

“I thought of doing that at first. But it is rather cool in the evening now. I guess we shall use the dining-room, and the men can come out here to smoke.”

“Will there be any interesting people?”

“I don’t know yet. But I do know that grandpa is coming.”

“Grandpa! Isn’t that fine!” exclaimed Anna. “It seems to me that I haven’t seen him in ages.”

“Vasily’s sister is coming, and I think Professor Speshnikov. Why, I simply lost my head yesterday, Anna. You know that they both like a good dinner, grandpa and the professor, and you cannot get anything, either here or in the city. Luka has gotten some quails and is trying to do something with them now. The roast beef we got isn’t bad. Alas! the inevitable roast beef. The lobsters, too, are pretty good.”

“Well, that isn’t bad at all. Don’t trouble yourself about that. Still, between us two, you must admit that you like a good dinner yourself.”

“And then we’ll have something rare. The fisherman brought us a sea-cock this morning. It’s a monster.”

Anna, interested in everything that concerned her and did not concern her, immediately expressed a desire to see the sea-cock.

The tall, yellow-faced cook, Luka, brought in a large, oval basin of water, holding it carefully so as not to spill the water on the parquet floor.

“Twelve and a half pounds, your Highness,” said he with that pride which is so characteristic of cooks. “We weighed him a few minutes ago.”

The fish was too large for the basin, and was lying on the bottom, with its tail curled up. Its scales had a golden tint, the fins were of bright-scarlet color, while on either side of the ravenous head was a long, fan-shaped wing of light-blue color. The fish was still alive and was breathing heavily.

Anna touched the head of the fish with her little finger. The animal swept up its tail, and Anna drew her hand away in fright.

“Don’t trouble yourself, your Highness,” said Luka, evidently understanding Vera’s worry. “Everything will be first class. The Bulgarian has just brought two fine cantaloupes. And then, may I ask of your Highness, what kind of sauce to serve with the fish, Tartar or Polish, or just toast in butter?”

“Do as you like,” said the princess.


The guests began to arrive after five o’clock. Prince Vasily Lvovich brought his sister, Ludmila Lvovna Durasova, a stout, kindly, and unusually taciturn woman; a very rich young man, familiarly known in society as Vasuchok, who was famous for his ability to sing, recite poetry, organize charity balls and entertainments; the famous pianist, Jennie Reiter, Princess Vera’s school friend; and Vera’s brother, Nikolay Nikolayevich. Then came Anna’s husband in his automobile, bringing with him the clean-shaven, fat Professor Speshnikov, and the Vice-Governor Von Zeck. The last one to arrive was General Anosov, in a fine hired landau, accompanied by two army officers, Ponomarev, a colonel of the staff, and Lieutenant Bakhtinsky, who was famous in Petersburg as a splendid dancer and cotillon leader.

General Anosov was a stout, tall old man with silver hair. He alighted heavily from his carriage, holding on to it with both hands. Usually he had an ear-tube in his left hand and a walking-stick with a rubber head in the right. He had a large, coarse, red face, with a prominent nose and that kindly, majestic, just a little contemptuous expression in his slightly screwed-up eyes, which is characteristic of brave and simple men, who had often seen mortal danger immediately before their eyes. The two sisters, recognizing him at a distance, ran to the carriage just in time to support him by both arms half in jest and half seriously.

“Just like an⁠ ⁠… archbishop,” said the general in a kindly, hoarse bass.

“Grandpa, grandpa,” said Vera in a tone of light reproach, “we wait for you every day almost, and you never show yourself.”

“Grandpa must have lost all conscience down here in the south,” continued Anna. “Might at least have remembered his goddaughter. Shame on you! You behave like a regular Don Juan, and have forgotten entirely about our existence.”

The general, baring his majestic head, kissed their hands, then kissed their cheeks, and then their hands again.

“Wait, wait⁠ ⁠… girls⁠ ⁠… don’t scold me,” he said, alternating his words with deep sighs, resulting from habitual short breathing. “My word of honor⁠ ⁠… those good-for-nothing doctors⁠ ⁠… bathed my rheumatisms⁠ ⁠… all summer⁠ ⁠… in some kind of⁠ ⁠… jelly.⁠ ⁠… Smells awfully.⁠ ⁠… And wouldn’t let me go.⁠ ⁠… You are the first.⁠ ⁠… Ever so glad⁠ ⁠… to see you.⁠ ⁠… How are you?⁠ ⁠… You’ve become⁠ ⁠… an English lady⁠ ⁠… Vera⁠ ⁠… you look so much⁠ ⁠… like your mother.⁠ ⁠… When are we going to have⁠ ⁠… the christening?”

“Never, I am afraid, grandpa.”

“Don’t despair.⁠ ⁠… Pray to God.⁠ ⁠… And you haven’t changed a bit, Anna.⁠ ⁠… I guess when you are sixty⁠ ⁠… you’ll still be the same prattler. Wait a moment. Let me introduce the officers to you.”

“I had the honor long ago,” said Colonel Ponomarev, bowing.

“I was introduced to the princess in Petersburg,” said the hussar.

“Well, then let me introduce to you, Anna, Lieutenant Bakhtinsky, a fine dancer, a good scrapper, and a first-class cavalryman. Will you get that parcel out of the carriage, Bakhtinsky, please? Well, let’s go now.⁠ ⁠… What’ll you give us tonight, Vera? I tell you, after that treatment⁠ ⁠… I have an appetite⁠ ⁠… like a graduating ensign.”

General Anosov was a war comrade and loyal friend of the late Prince Mirza-Bulat-Tuganovsky. After the prince’s death he transferred all his friendship and affection to the two daughters. He had known them since their early childhood, and was Anna’s godfather. At that time, just as at the time of the story, he was the commandant of the large though almost useless Fortress K., and visited the Tuganovsky house almost every day. The children simply adored him for his presents, for the theatre and circus tickets that he used to get for them, and for the fact that nobody could play with them as the old general did. But his greatest fascination lay in the stories that he told them. For hours at a time, he would tell them of marches and battles, victories and defeats, and death and wounds, and bitter cold; they were slow, simple stories, epic-like in their calm, told between the evening tea and the dreary time when the children would be taken to bed.

According to modern ideas, this fragment of the old days was really a gigantic and picturesque figure. In him were brought together those touching and deep characteristics which are more commonly met with among plain soldiers, and not officers⁠—those unadulterated characteristics of a Russian peasant, which, in proper combination, produce that lofty type which often makes our soldier not only unconquerable, but a martyr, almost a saint⁠—those characteristics of unsophisticated, naive faith, a clear, joyful view of life, cool courage, meekness before the face of death, pity for the conquered, boundless patience, and remarkable physical and moral endurance.

Starting with the Polish campaign, Anosov took part in every war except the one against the Japanese. He would have gone to that war, too, but he was not summoned, and he had a rule, really great in its modesty, which was as follows: “Do not tempt death until you are called upon to do so.” During his whole military career, he not only never had a soldier flogged, but never even struck one. During the Polish uprising he refused to shoot some prisoners, although he was ordered to do so by the commander of the regiment. “When it comes to a spy,” he said, “I would not only have him shot, but, if you will order me, I shall kill him myself. But these are prisoners of war; I can’t do it.” And he said this with such simplicity, so respectfully, without a trace of a challenge, looking his superior straight in the face with his clear eyes, that he was let alone, instead of being himself ordered shot for insubordination.

During the war of 1877⁠–⁠9, he quickly reached the colonel’s rank, although he had received no education, having been graduated, in his own words, from the “bears’ academy.” He took part in the crossing of the Danube, went through the Balkans, took part in the defense of Shipka, and the last attack on Plevna. During this campaign he received one serious wound and four slighter ones, besides receiving serious head lacerations through being struck by the fragment of a grenade. Generals Radetzky and Skobelev knew him personally and treated him with singular respect. It was about him that Skobelev said: “I know an officer who is much braver than I am; it is Major Anosov.”

He returned from the war almost deaf, thanks to the head lacerations, with an injured foot⁠—three of the toes were frozen during the crossing of the Balkans and had to be amputated⁠—with severe rheumatism⁠—the results of his service at Shipka. After two years had passed, it was decided that he should leave active service, but Anosov did not wish to leave. The commander of the district, who still remembered his remarkable bravery displayed during the crossing of the Danube, helped him, and the authorities in Petersburg changed their minds, fearing to hurt the old colonel’s feelings. He was given for life the position of commandant of the Fortress K., which was, as a matter of fact, merely an honorary post.

Everybody in the city knew him and made fun, in a kindly way, of his weaknesses, his habits, and his manner of dressing. He always went about unarmed, in an old-fashioned coat, a cap with large rims and huge straight visor, a walking-stick in his right hand, and an ear-horn in the left; he was always accompanied by two fat, lazy dogs, the tips of whose tongues were forever between their teeth. If, during his morning walks he happened to meet his acquaintances, the passersby would hear blocks away the general’s loud voice and the barking of his dogs.

Like many deaf people, he was very fond of the opera, and sometimes, in the course of a love duet, the whole theatre would hear his loud bass, saying: “Didn’t he take that do clear, the devil take him? Just like cracking a nut.” And the whole theatre would restrain its laughter, while the general himself would be entirely unconscious of the whole thing; he would be sure that he had whispered his opinion to his neighbor.

As the commandant of the fortress, he often visited the guardhouse, accompanied by his loudly breathing dogs. There, spending their time rather pleasantly in playing cards, sipping tea, and telling anecdotes, the imprisoned officers rested from the strenuous duties of army life. He would ask each one attentively for his name, the cause of his arrest, by whom ordered, and the period of time to be spent in confinement. Sometimes he would suddenly praise an officer for a brave, though illegal, act; at other times he would suddenly fall to scolding an officer and his voice would be heard far into the street. But the scolding over, he would always make it a point to inquire where the officer gets his meals and how much he pays for them. And if some poor sublieutenant, sent over from some out-of-the-way place for a long period of imprisonment, would admit to him that because of lack of means he was compelled to eat the soldiers’ fare, Anosov would immediately order meals brought to him from the commandant’s house, which was not more than two hundred steps away from the guardhouse.

It was at K. that he had met the family of Prince Tuganovsky and become so attached to the children that it became a matter of necessity with him to visit them every evening. If it happened sometimes that the young ladies would go somewhere in the evening, or that official duties would keep him in the fortress, he would feel actual distress and find no place for himself in the spacious rooms of his large house. Every summer, he would take a leave of absence and spend a whole month in Yegorovsk, the Tuganovsky estate, which was a distance of fifty versts from K.

All the hidden kindness of his soul and his necessity for heartfelt affection he transferred to these children, especially the girls. He himself had married once, but it was so very long ago that he had forgotten about it. Even before the war, his wife had eloped with a travelling actor, charmed by his velvet cloak and his lace cuffs. The general supported her until her death, but never permitted her to enter his house, despite her numerous attempts at reconciliation and her tearful letters to him. They never had any children.


The evening turned out to be quite warm and calm, so that the candles both in the dining-room and on the piazza were giving steady light. At dinner, it was Prince Vasily Lvovich that provided the entertainment. He had a remarkable way of relating stories, really a method all peculiar to himself. The basis of his story would be an actual occurrence, the hero of which would be someone present or well known to those present, but he would change things around in such a way and tell about them with such a serious face and in such a businesslike tone, that the listeners would be kept in constant laughter. That night he was telling the story of Nikolay Nikolayevich’s unsuccessful courtship for a very beautiful and very rich lady. The truth of the story was that the husband of the lady had refused to divorce her. But in the prince’s narrative, the truth was marvellously blended with the fantastic. In the story, the serious and somewhat haughty Nikolay was made to run through the streets at night in his stockinged feet and his shoes under his arm. A policeman stopped the young man somewhere on the corner and it was only after a long and stormy explanation that Nikolay finally succeeded in proving to the officer of the law that he was the assistant district attorney and not a burglar. The marriage, according to the story, came very near being successfully consummated, but in the very critical moment, a band of perjurers, who were taking part in the case, went on strike, demanding an increase in wages. Both because he was miserly (Nikolay was in reality a little closefisted) and because, as a matter of principle, he was opposed to all kinds of strikes, he refused to grant the increase, citing a definite statute confirmed by the verdict of the appellate division. Then the infuriated perjurers, in reply to the customary question, as to whether anyone knows any reasons why the marriage should not take place, answered in chorus: “We know. Everything that we have deposed under oath is false, and we were forced by the district attorney to tell these lies. As for the husband of this lady, we, as persons well informed about these matters, can say that he is the most respectable man in the world, as chaste as Joseph, and of most angelic kindness.”

Continuing on the road of bridal stories, Prince Vasily did not spare Gustav Ivanovich Friesse, either. He told the story of how Anna’s husband, on the day following the marriage ceremony, demanded police aid in forcing his bride to leave her parents’ home, as she did not have a passport of her own, and compelling her to move to the domicile of her legal husband. The only thing that was true in this anecdote was that, during the first few days of her married life, Anna was compelled to stay with her mother, who was suddenly taken ill, while Vera had to leave for her own home in the south, and during this whole time, Gustav Ivanovich was full of distress and despair.

Everybody laughed. Anna, too, smiled. Gustav Ivanovich laughed louder than anybody else, and his thin face, tightly covered with glistening skin, with his carefully brushed, thin, light hair, and deeply sunk eye-sockets, reminded one of a bare skull, displaying two rows of decayed teeth. He was still enchanted by Anna, just as on the first day of their married life, always tried to sit next to her, to touch her, and looked after her with such an amorous and self-satisfied expression, that one often felt sorry and ill at ease to look at him.

Just before rising from the table, Vera Nikolayevna counted the guests, without really meaning to do it. There were thirteen. She was superstitious, and thought to herself: “Now, that’s bad. How is it that I never thought of it before? And it’s all Vasya’s fault; he didn’t tell me anything over the telephone.”

Whenever friends met either at the Sheyins’ or at the Friesses’, it was customary to play poker, as both sisters were very fond of games of chance. Special rules were even worked out in both homes. Each player was given a certain number of bone counters, and the game continued until all the counters fell into one person’s hands. After that the game automatically came to a close, despite all the protestations of the players. It was forbidden to take additional counters. These stern rules were the result of actual practice, as neither of the sisters knew any bounds in games of chance. In this way, the total loss never aggregated to more than one or two hundred roubles.

A game of poker was organized for that evening, too. Vera, who took no part in it, started to go out to the piazza, where the tea-table was being set, when she was stopped by her maid, who asked her with a somewhat mysterious expression to go with her to the little room adjoining the parlor.

“What is it, Dasha?” asked Princess Vera with displeasure. “Why do you look so stupid? And what is it that you have in your hands?”

Dasha placed a small square parcel on the table. It was carefully wrapped up in white paper and bound with pink ribbon.

“It isn’t my fault, your Highness,” said she, blushing at the scolding. “He came and said⁠ ⁠…”

“Who came?”

“The fellow in the red cap, your Highness. The messenger.”


“He came to the kitchen and put this on the table. ‘Give this to your lady,’ says he, ‘and to nobody but herself.’ And when I asked him whom it is from, he says, ‘Everything is marked there.’ And with that he ran away.”

“Send somebody after him.”

“We can’t do it now, your Highness; he was here a half-hour ago, during the dinner, only I didn’t dare to trouble your Highness.”

“All right. You may go.”

She cut the ribbon with a pair of scissors and threw it into the basket together with the wrapper, upon which her address was written. The parcel proved to be a small case of red velvet, coming evidently from a jewelry store. Vera raised the top lined with light-blue silk and found inside an oval gold bracelet, under which was lying a note prettily folded into an eight-cornered figure. She quickly unfolded the paper. The handwriting seemed familiar to her, but, like a real woman, she pushed the note aside and began to examine the bracelet.

It was made of rather base gold and, while very thick, was evidently empty inside. The whole outer rim was studded with small, old garnets, rather poorly polished. But in the centre of the rim there was a small, peculiar-looking, green stone, surrounded by five beautiful, large garnets, each as large as a pea. When Vera accidentally turned the bracelet so that the five large garnets came under the light of the electric lamp, five crimson lights suddenly flared up before her eyes.

“Like blood!” thought she involuntarily, with a sudden, unexpected alarm.

Then she thought of the letter and opened it again. She read the following lines, written in a beautiful, small hand:

“Your Highness, Princess Vera Nikolayevna:

“I take the courage to send you my modest gift, together with my most respectful congratulations upon this joyous and bright occasion of your birthday.”

“Oh, it’s the same man again,” thought the princess with displeasure. Still, she finished the letter:

“I should never had dared to send you as a gift anything chosen by myself, as I have neither the right nor the taste, nor⁠—I admit⁠—the money for this. Moreover, I am sure that there is not a treasure in the world which would be worthy of adorning you.

“But this bracelet was the property of my great-grandmother and was worn last by my late mother. In the middle, among the large stones, you will see a green one. This is a very rare kind of garnet, a green garnet. According to an old tradition, still believed in by our family, it has the property of rendering prophetic the women who carry it and driving away all their painful thoughts, while with men it is a talisman that protects them from violent death.

“All the stones have been carefully transferred from the old silver bracelet, and you may be certain that no one before you had ever worn this bracelet.

“You may immediately throw away this ludicrous toy, or give it to somebody, but I will still be happy when thinking of the fact that your hands touched it.

“I beg you not to be angry with me. I blush at the recollection of the insolence which led me, seven years ago, to write you foolish and wild letters and even to expect you to reply to them. Now nothing remains in me but reverence, eternal devotion, and slavish loyalty. Now I can only wish for your happiness every minute of my life, and to be joyful in the knowledge of your happiness. In my thoughts I bow to the ground before the chairs on which you sit, the floor on which you walk, the trees which you touch, the maid with whom you speak. I do not even envy either human beings or inanimate things.

“Once more I beg your forgiveness for having troubled you with this long and unnecessary letter.

“Your obedient servant, unto death and beyond the grave, G. S. Z.

“I wonder if I ought to show this to Vasya? And if I ought to, would it be better to do it now, or after everybody is gone? No, I guess I’ll wait until everybody is gone; if I do it now, not only this unfortunate fellow will appear ridiculous, but I also.”

So thought Princess Vera as she gazed upon the five crimson lights trembling beneath the surface of the five garnets, unable to turn her gaze away.


It took some time to convince Colonel Ponomarev that he ought to play poker. He said that he did not know the game, that he did not believe in playing games of chance even for fun, that the only games he played with any degree of success were of the milder varieties. Still, he gave in in the end and agreed to learn.

At first he had to be shown every little thing, but it did not take him long to master the rules of poker, and at the end of less than half an hour, all the counters were already in his hands.

“You can’t do that!” said Anna with comical displeasure. “Why didn’t you give us a chance to have a little fun at least?”

Three of the guests, Speshnikov, the colonel, and the vice-governor, a rather stupid and uninteresting German, really couldn’t find anything to do, and Vera was at a loss to provide some kind of entertainment for them. At last she succeeded in getting them to play cards, inviting Gustav Ivanovich to be the fourth partner. Anna looked at her sister and, as if in sign of her gratitude, she lowered her long lashes, and the sister immediately understood her. Everybody knew that if Gustav Ivanovich were not made to play cards, he would keep close to his wife’s side all the time, really spoiling the evening for her.

Now everything ran smoothly and interestingly. Vasuchok was singing popular Italian songs and Rubinstein’s “Eastern Melodies,” accompanied by Jennie Reiter. His voice was not very strong, but it was pleasant and well trained. Jennie Reiter, who was a fine musician herself, was always glad to accompany him. Moreover, it was whispered that Vasuchok was in love with her.

In the corner Anna was flirting with the hussar. Vera walked over to them and began to listen to their conversation with a smile.

“Now, now, please don’t make fun of me,” Anna was saying, smiling with her pretty, Tartar eyes. “Of course, you consider it hard work to gallop in front of your squadron as though you were mad, or to take part in horse-races. But just look at what we have to do. It was only a few days ago that we finally got through with the lottery. You think that was easy, don’t you? My goodness, there was such a crowd there and everybody was smoking and annoying me with all sorts of complaints.⁠ ⁠… And I had to be on my feet the whole day long. And then there is going to be a charity concert for the relief of poor working women, and then a ball.⁠ ⁠…”

“At which, I hope, you will not refuse to dance the mazurka with me?” said Bakhtinsky, jingling his spurs under the chair.

“Thanks.⁠ ⁠… But my main trouble is our asylum, the asylum for depraved children, you know.”

“Oh, yes, I know. It must be awfully funny?”

“Stop it, aren’t you ashamed of yourself, to make fun of such things? But do you know what our main trouble is? We want to take care of these unfortunate children, whose souls are full of hereditary vices and evil examples, we want to take care of them.⁠ ⁠…”


“… to raise their morality, to awaken in their souls the realization of their duties. Do you understand that? Well, every day hundreds and thousands of children are brought to us, and there is not a single depraved child among them! And if we ask the parents whether their child is depraved or not, why, they even get insulted. And there you are, the asylum is all equipped, everything is ready, and not a single inmate. Why, it looks as though we would have to offer a premium for every depraved child brought to us.”

“Anna Nikolayevna,” said the hussar in a serious, though almost insinuating, tone, “why offer the prize? Take me. Upon my word you won’t be able to find a more depraved child than myself.”

“Oh, stop that! You can’t speak seriously about anything,” laughed she, throwing herself back in the chair.

Prince Vasily Lvovich, sitting at a large, round table, was showing his sister, Anosov, and his brother-in-law an album of comical pictures drawn by himself. The four were laughing heartily over the album and this gradually attracted the other guests who were not busy with card-playing.

The album served as a sort of supplement to the satirical stories told by Prince Vasily. With his usual calmness, he was showing for example, “The History of the Love Affairs of the Great General Anosov, Perpetrated in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Other Countries”; or else, “The Adventures of Prince Nikolay-Bulat-Tuganovsky in Monte Carlo,” etc.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, you will see the brief life story of our beloved sister, Ludmila Lvovna,” said he, glancing quickly at his sister. “Part One. Childhood. ‘The child grew, and it was called Lima.’ ”

On the sheet of the album was drawn the figure of a small girl with her face in profile, yet showing two eyes, with broken lines for her legs and long, extended fingers on her hands.

“Nobody ever called me Lima,” laughed Ludmila Lvovna.

“Part Two. Her First Love. A cadet presents the maiden with poetry of his own creation. He is seen kneeling before her. The poetry contains real gems. Here is an example:

“ ‘Your foot, so beautiful and dainty⁠—
A sign of passion sent from Heaven!’

“And here is an actual representation of the foot.

“And in this picture the cadet induces the innocent Lima to elope with him. This is the elopement. And this is the critical situation; the enraged father catches up with the elopers. The cadet, through cowardice, blames everything on poor Lima, in the following lines:

“ ‘You spent an extra hour with rouge and powder,
And now the pursuers are upon us.
Do anything you like, get yourself out of the scrape,
I run away into the nearest bushes.’ ”

The life story of Lima was followed by a new story, entitled, “Princess Vera and the Enamoured Telegraphist.”

“This touching poem has only been illustrated with pen and ink, and in colors,” explained Vasily Lvovich seriously. “The text has not been prepared as yet.”

“That’s something new,” remarked Anosov. “I’ve never seen this before.”

“The latest news. Just out on the market.”

Vera touched his arm.

“Do not show it,” said she.

But Vasily Lvovich either did not hear her, or did not pay attention to her words.

“The beginning of this story runs back into times prehistoric. One beautiful day in May, a maiden by the name of Vera received a letter with two kissing pigeons at the top of the sheet. This is the letter and these are the pigeons.

“The letter contained a declaration of love, written with absolute defiance of all rules of spelling. It begins like this, ‘Oh, beautiful blonde lady, you, who⁠ ⁠… raging sea of flame seething within my bosom.⁠ ⁠… Your glance, like a poisonous snake, has pierced my suffering soul.⁠ ⁠…’ At the end of the letter, there was the following modest signature: ‘According to my branch of service, I am only a poor telegraphist, but my feelings are worthy of the great Lord George. I dare not disclose my full name, as it is not fit to be pronounced. Therefore I sign this with my initials only, viz. P. P. Z. Please address your reply to General Delivery.’ And here, ladies and gentlemen, you can behold the picture of the telegraphist himself, very skilfully done in colors.

“Vera’s heart is pierced. Here is the heart and here, the arrow. But, being a well-behaved and well-brought-up girl, she showed the letter to her parents and also to her friend to whom she was already engaged, a very handsome young man by the name of Vasya Sheyin. This is the illustration. At some future time it will be accompanied by explanation in verse.

“Vasya Sheyin weeps with grief and returns Vera her ring. ‘I dare not stand in the way of your happiness,’ says he, ‘but I implore you not to do anything hastily. Think well before you act. My child, you know not life, and like a butterfly you are flying into the flames. While I, alas! I know well the cold and hypocritical world! Let me warn you that telegraphists are fascinating but crafty. They find inexpressible joy in deceiving their inexperienced victim with their proud beauty and false feelings, and then mocking her most cruelly.’

“Six months go by. In the midst of life’s tempestuous dance, Vera forgets her admirer and is married to handsome young Vasya, but the telegraphist does not forget her. He disguises himself as a flue cleaner and makes his way to Princess Vera’s room. You can still see the traces of his five fingers and two lips on the carpets, the cushions, the wallpaper, and even the parquet floor.

“Then he disguises himself as a peasant woman and is hired as a dishwasher. But the excessive attentions of our cook make him flee.

“Now he is in the lunatic asylum. And now he enters the monastery. But every day, without fail, he sends passionate letters to Vera. And you can still see the blots on the parts of the sheets where his tears fell.

“Finally he dies and before his death wills to Vera two brass buttons torn off his coat and a perfume bottle filled with his tears.⁠ ⁠…”

“Who wants tea?” asked Vera Nikolayevna.


The autumn sun had already set. The last red, thin band of light that was still burning on the horizon line between the dark cloud and the earth disappeared at last. Neither the earth, nor the trees, nor the sky were visible any more. Only the large stars overhead twinkled, and a bluish beam of light rose upward from the lighthouse and spread out into a circle of dull light, as though breaking against the dome of the sky. The night butterflies were flying around the glass covers of the candles. The star-shaped white flowers in the garden had a stronger odor in the midst of the darkness and coolness.

Speshnikov, the vice-governor, and Colonel Ponamarev had left some time ago and promised to send the carriage back from the station to take the commandant over. The remaining guests sat on the piazza. Despite his protests, the general was compelled to put on an overcoat and to agree to have his feet covered with a rug. A bottle of his favorite red Pommard wine was standing before him, while the two sisters were sitting by his side, filling his glass with the old wine, slicing the cheese for him, and striking matches to light his cigar. The old commandant was completely happy.

“Y‑yes.⁠ ⁠… Autumn is here, all right,” he was saying, gazing at the candle flame and thoughtfully shaking his head. “It’s time for me to get back. And I must say, I don’t feel like going. Now is the best time to live at the seashore, in quiet and calm.⁠ ⁠…”

“Why don’t you stay with us, grandpa?” said Vera.

“Can’t do it, my dear, can’t do it. Service won’t let me. My furlough is over.⁠ ⁠… How I should like to stay here, though! The roses have such a fine odor now. In summer only the acacia has any odor, and it smells more like candy.”

Vera took two small roses out of a vase and inserted them into the buttonhole of the general’s coat.

“Thank you, Vera.” Anosov bent his head, smelled the flowers, and then smiled with that fine smile of his.

“This reminds me of how we came to Bukharest. Once I was walking in the street, when a very strong odor of roses stopped me. In front of me were two soldiers holding a beautiful cut-glass bottle of rose oil. They had already rubbed their boots with it and oiled their rifle locks. ‘What have you got there?’ I asked them. ‘Some kind of oil, your Honor. We tried to use it in cooking, but it doesn’t work. And it smells fine!’ I gave them a rouble, and they were very glad to part with the bottle. Although the bottle was no more than half full, the way prices stood then, the oil was worth at least sixty roubles. The soldiers, greatly pleased with the bargain, added: ‘And here is some kind of Turkish peas, your Honor. We tried to cook them but they are as hard as before.’ It was coffee. I said to them: ‘This is good only for the Turks, it will never do for our soldiers!’ It was luck that they didn’t eat any opium. I saw opium tablets in several places.”

“Grandpa, tell me frankly,” said Anna, “were you ever afraid during battles?”

“That’s a funny question to ask, Anna. Of course I was afraid. Don’t you believe the people who tell you that they are not afraid and that the whistle of bullets is the sweetest music in the world to them. A man like that is either crazy or else he is boasting. Everybody is afraid. Only one fellow will lose all self-control, and another holds himself well in hand. You see, the fear always remains the same, but the ability to hold yourself in hand develops with practice; that’s why we have heroes and great men. And yet, there was one occasion when I was almost frightened to death.”

“Won’t you tell us about it, grandpa?” asked both sisters together. They were still fond of listening to Anosov’s stories, just as they had been in early childhood. Anna even placed her elbows on the table and rested her chin on the palms of her hands, just as she had done when she was a child. There was a peculiar charm in his slow and artless manner of narrating. Even the phraseology with which he narrated his reminiscences often assumed a peculiarly awkward, somewhat bookish character. Sometimes it seemed that he had learned a story in some dear old volume.

“It isn’t a long story,” said Anosov. “It was in winter, at Shipka, after I was wounded in the head. There were four of us living in a dugout, and it was there that a peculiar thing happened to me. One morning, as I was getting up, it suddenly appeared to me that my name was not Yakov but Nikolay, and I could not possibly convince myself of the fact that it was Yakov. I realized that I was losing my senses and cried for some water, with which I moistened my head, and that brought me back to myself.”

“I can just imagine how many conquests you made among the women there, Yakov Mikhailovich,” said Jennie Reiter. “You must have been very handsome in your youth.”

“Oh, our grandpa is still handsome!” exclaimed Anna.

“No, I guess I never was very handsome,” said Anosov, with a quiet smile. “But I was never disliked, overmuch, either. A rather touching incident occurred in Bukharest. When we entered the city, the inhabitants met us with salutes of cannon from the public square, which damaged many windowpanes. But the windows, on whose sills stood glasses of water, were not damaged. And this is how I found it out. When I came to the house to which I was billeted, I saw a small cage over which stood a large cut-glass bottle, filled with water. There were fishes swimming in the water, and among them sat a canary. That astonished me. But when I looked closely, I saw that the bottom of the bottle was so blown that it formed an arched space over the open top of the cage, and the canary could fly in and sit on a perch. Afterward I admitted to myself that I was rather slow in grasping things.

“I went into the house and saw a beautiful little Bulgarian girl. I showed her my card, and asked her, by the way, why their windowpanes were not broken. She said that it was on account of the water, and explained to me about the canary, too. That’s how slow I was! Well, during our conversation, our eyes met, and a spark passed between us, just like electricity, and I felt I had fallen in love with her, ardently and irrecoverably.”

The old man became silent for a moment, and slowly sipped the dark wine.

“But you told her of your love, didn’t you?” asked the pianist.

“Hm.⁠ ⁠… Of course.⁠ ⁠… But without⁠ ⁠… words.⁠ ⁠… This is how it happened.⁠ ⁠…”

“Grandpa, I hope you won’t make us blush?” said Anna with a mischievous smile.

“No, no. It is a very decent story. You see, wherever we came the inhabitants of the cities were not equally cordial and responsive. But in Bukharest, they treated us so well that when I started playing the violin once, the girls began to dance, and we repeated this every day.

“One evening, when we were dancing in the moonlight, I went into the hall, and my Bulgarian girl was there. When she saw me, she pretended that she was sorting dry rose-leaves, whole sacks of which were gathered there. But I embraced her and kissed her several times.

“Well, every time the moon and stars appeared in the sky, I hastened to my beloved and with her forgot all my troubles. And when I had to leave, we swore eternal love, and parted forever.”

“Is that all?” asked Ludmila Lvovna, plainly disappointed.

“What more would you want?” replied the commandant.

“You will excuse me, Yakov Mikhailovich, but that was not love; only an ordinary military adventure.”

“Don’t know, my dear, don’t know whether that was love, or some other feeling.⁠ ⁠…”

“But now, tell me, didn’t you ever love with real, true love? You know, love which is⁠ ⁠… well, holy, pure, eternal, heavenly.⁠ ⁠… Didn’t you ever love that way?”

“I really don’t know what to say,” answered the old man hesitatingly, rising from his chair. “I guess I never did love that way. At first, I had no time: youth, cards, wine, the war.⁠ ⁠… It seemed that there would never be an end to life, youth, and health. But before I had time to turn around, I was already a wreck.⁠ ⁠… And now, Vera, don’t keep me any longer. Hussar,” said he, turning to Bakhtinsky, “the night is warm. Let’s walk a little way; we’ll meet the carriage.”

“I’ll go with you, grandpa,” said Vera.

“And I, too,” added Anna.

Before they went away, Vera said to her husband, in a low voice:

“Go up to my room. There is a red case in the drawer of the table, and a note inside. Read it.”


Anna and Bakhtinsky walked ahead, while the commandant and Vera followed, arm in arm, about twenty paces behind. The night was so black that during the first few minutes, before the eyes became accustomed to the darkness after the light of the rooms, it was necessary to feel for the road with the foot. Anosov, who, despite his age, still had very sharp eyes, had to help his companion every little while. From time to time, with his large, cold hand, he stroked affectionately Vera’s hand, that lay lightly on the bend of his overcoat sleeve.

“Isn’t Ludmila Lvovna queer?” suddenly said the general, as if continuing his thought aloud. “I have often noticed that when a woman is fifty, and especially if she is a widow or an old maid, she always likes to make fun of other people’s love. Either she is spying, or gossiping, or rejoicing at other people’s misfortunes, or trying to make others happy, or spreading verbal glue about the higher love. And I say that in our times people don’t know how to love. I don’t see any real love. Didn’t see any in my time, either.”

“Now, now, grandpa,” Vera retorted softly, pressing his hand a little, “why slander yourself? You were married, too. That means that you were in love, doesn’t it?”

“Doesn’t mean anything of the sort, Vera. Do you know how I got married? I saw her, such a fresh, naive girl, you know. And when she breathed, her bosom rose and fell under her waist. She would lower her long, long eyelashes, and suddenly blush. And her skin was so delicate and white, and her hands so warm and soft. Oh, the devil! And papa and mamma walk around, looking at you with such doglike eyes. And when you’d go away, she’d kiss you just once or twice behind the door. And at tea, her foot would touch yours, as though by accident.⁠ ⁠… Well, the thing was done.⁠ ⁠… ‘My dear Nikita Antonych, I came to ask you for your daughter’s hand. Believe me, she is a saint and⁠ ⁠…’ And papa’s eyes are already wet, and he is ready to kiss me. ‘My dear boy, we have been expecting it for a long time.⁠ ⁠… God bless you.⁠ ⁠… Take good care of your treasure.⁠ ⁠…’ Well, three months after the wedding, the ‘sainted treasure’ was already running about the house in a dirty kimono, with slippers on her bare feet, with her thin, uncombed hair all in curl-paper, flirting with servants like a cook, making faces at young officers, talking to them in a strange way, rolling her eyes. In the presence of others, she would insist on calling me ‘Jacque,’ and pronouncing the word with a funny nasal sound. And she was so extravagant, and greedy, and dirty, and false. And I knew that she was always lying with her eyes.⁠ ⁠… Now it is all over, and I can talk about it calmly. In my heart, I am even thankful to that actor.⁠ ⁠… Thank God, there were no children.⁠ ⁠…”

“But you forgave them, grandpa, didn’t you?”

“Forgave? No, that’s not the word, Vera. At first I was like mad. If I had met them then, I would have killed them both, of course. And then, by and by, I calmed down, and nothing remained but contempt. And it was well. God spared me unnecessary bloodshed. And besides, I escaped the usual lot of husbands. What would I have been if it were not for this disgusting business? A beast of burden, a shameful conniver, a cow to be milked, a screen, a convenient piece of household goods.⁠ ⁠… No! It was better that way, Vera.”

“No, no, grandpa. You will forgive me, but I think that it is your outraged feelings that still speak in you.⁠ ⁠… You transfer your unfortunate experience to the rest of mankind. Take Vasya and me, for instance. You would not call our married life unfortunate, would you?”

Anosov was silent for a long time. Then he said slowly, almost unwillingly:

“Well⁠ ⁠… let us say⁠ ⁠… that you are an exception.⁠ ⁠… But look, why do most people marry? Take a woman. She is ashamed of remaining an old maid when all her friends are married. She does not want to remain a burden on her family, wants to be independent, to live for herself.⁠ ⁠… And then, of course, there is the purely physiological necessity of motherhood. Men have other motives. In the first place, he is tired of single life, of lack of order in his room, of restaurants, dirt, cigarette-stumps, torn clothes, debts, unceremonious friends, and so on. In the second place, it is better, healthier, and more economical to live a family life. In the third place, he thinks of the possible children, and says to himself: ‘I shall die, but a part of me will still remain behind.⁠ ⁠…’ Something like the illusion of immortality. Then, again, there is the temptation of innocence, as with me, for instance. Sometimes men think of the dowry. But where is love, disinterested, self-sacrificing, expecting no reward⁠—the love about which it has been said that it is ‘more powerful than death’? Where is the love, for which it is joy, and not labor, to make a sacrifice, give up life, suffer pains? Wait, wait, Vera, I know that you are going to tell me about your Vasya. Yes, I like him. He is a good fellow. And, perhaps, in the future, his love will appear in the light of great beauty. But, think of the kind of love I mean. Love must be a tragedy, the greatest mystery in the world! No life comforts, calculations, or compromises must ever affect it.”

“Did you ever see such love, grandpa?” asked Vera quietly.

“No,” said the old man decisively. “I do know of two cases somewhat like it, though. Still, one of them was the result of foolishness, and the other⁠ ⁠… of weakness. I’ll tell you about them, if you like. It won’t take long.”

“Please, grandpa.”

“Well, the colonel of one of the regiments of our division (not of mine, though) had a wife. The ugliest-looking thing imaginable. Red-haired, and bony, and long, and with a big, big mouth.⁠ ⁠… Plastering used to come from her face, as though it were the wall of an old Moscow residence. You know the kind: temperamental, imperious, full of contempt for everybody, and a passion for variety. A morphine fiend into the bargain.

“Well, once, in the fall, a newly baked ensign was sent to the regiment, a regular yellow-mouthed sparrow just out of a military school. In a month’s time, the old mare had him under her thumb. He was her page, and her servant, and her slave; always danced with her, carried her fan and handkerchief, rushed out into the cold to call her carriage. It is an awful thing when a clean-minded and innocent boy lays his first love at the feet of an old, experienced, and imperious libertine. Even if he comes out unhurt, you can still count him as lost. It’s a stamp for life.

“Toward Christmas, she was already tired of him. She went back to one of her former passions. But he couldn’t give her up. He would trail her, like a ghost. He grew thin and dark. Using exalted language, ‘death already lay upon his lofty brow.’ He was terribly jealous of everybody. It was said that he used to stand for whole nights under her window.

“Once, in the spring, their regiment had an outing or a picnic. I knew both her and him personally, although I was not present when it happened. As usual everybody drank a good deal. They were coming back on foot, along the railroad-tracks. Suddenly a freight-train appeared, coming toward them. It was going up a steep slope, very slowly, signalling all the time. And when the headlights were already very near, she whispered in the ensign’s ears: ‘You always say that you love me. And if I were to order you to throw yourself under the train, I am sure you wouldn’t do it.’ He never said a word, but rushed right under the train. They say that he had calculated correctly to land between the front and the rear wheels of a car, so as to be cut in half, but some idiot started holding him back. Only he wasn’t strong enough to pull the ensign off the rail, which he clutched with his hands. So both of his hands were lopped off.”

“How horrible!” exclaimed Vera.

“The ensign had to leave service. His friends got a little money together and helped him go away. He couldn’t stay in the city and be a constant living reproach to her and the whole regiment. And the man was lost in the most scoundrelly manner; he became a beggar and froze to death somewhere near the Petersburg piers.⁠ ⁠…

“The other case was really pitiful. The woman was of the same sort as the other, only young and pretty. And she behaved very, very badly. It disgusted even us, although we were used to regarding these home romances rather lightly. The husband knew everything and saw everything, but never said a word. His friends hinted about it, but he just said: ‘Oh, let it alone. It is none of my business. As long as Lenochka is happy.⁠ ⁠…’ Such a jackass!

“Finally she tied up with Lieutenant Vishniakov, a subaltern in their company. And so they lived, two husbands and one wife⁠—as though that were the accepted form of wedlock. Then our regiment was sent to war. Our ladies came to see us off, and it was really a shame to look at her. Out of plain decency, she might have looked at her husband at least once. But no, she hung around her lieutenant’s neck, like the devil on a dead willow. When we were in the train, she had the insolence to say to her husband: ‘Remember that you must take care of Volodya. If anything should happen to him, I’ll go away from home and never come back. And I’ll take the children with me.’

“And you might think that this captain was some weakling? A rag? A coward? Not at all. As brave a soldier as ever there was. At Green Mountain he led his men six times to attack the Turkish redoubt. Out of his two hundred men only fourteen remained. He himself was wounded twice, and still refused to go to the hospital. That’s the kind of a fellow he was. His men simply adored him.

“But she told him.⁠ ⁠… His Lenochka told him!

“And he looked after this coward and drone, Vishniakov, like a nurse, like a mother. At night, when they had to sleep in the mud, he covered him with his own coat. He used to take his place when it came to sapper work, while the lieutenant stayed in bed or played cards. At night he took his place at inspecting the outposts. And at that time, Vera, the bashi-bazouks cut down our pickets, as a peasant woman cuts cabbage-heads. I tell you, we all heaved a sigh of relief when we learned that Vishniakov died of typhoid fever.⁠ ⁠…”

“Grandpa, and have you met any women who really loved?”

“Oh, yes, surely, Vera. And I’ll say even more. I am sure that every woman is capable of the loftiest heroism in her love. When she kisses a man, embraces him, becomes his wife, she is already a mother. If she loves, love for her is the whole purpose of life, the whole universe. It is not her fault that love has assumed such disgusting forms and has become degraded simply to a small amusement, a sort of convenience. It is men’s fault, for they become satiated at twenty, and live on, with bodies like those of chickens, and souls like those of hares, incapable of powerful desires, of heroic deeds, of adoration before love. People say that it was different before. And if it wasn’t, did not the best human minds and souls dream of it⁠—the poets, the novelists, the artists, the musicians? A few days ago, I read the story of Manon Lescaut and Cavalier de Grieux.⁠ ⁠… Would you believe me that I wept over it? Now tell me truly, doesn’t every woman, in her inmost soul, dream of such a love, which is all-forgiving, modest, self-sacrificing, self-denying?”

“Oh, surely, surely, grandpa.⁠ ⁠…”

“And if they do not have love like that, women take vengeance. Another thirty years will go by.⁠ ⁠… I shall not see it, but you, Vera, may. In some thirty years from now, women will have an unheard-of power. They will be dressed like Hindu idols. They will trample us men under foot, like contemptible, cringing slaves. Their mad fancies and whims will become painful laws for us. And all this will come about because, in the course of whole generations, we had not learned to adore love. That will be the revenge. You know the law of action and reaction, don’t you?”

After a moment’s silence, he suddenly asked:

“Tell me, Vera, if it isn’t too hard, what kind of a story is that one about the telegraphist, the one that Prince Vasily told tonight? How much of it is truth, and how much is just imagination, as in all his stories?”

“Does it interest you, grandpa?”

“Just as you like, Vera. If you wouldn’t like.⁠ ⁠…”

“Why, no, not at all. I should be very glad to tell you.”

And she told the commandant how some madman began to annoy her with his love two years before her marriage. She had never seen him and did not know his name. He only wrote to her, and signed his letters “G. S. Z.” In one of the letters he mentioned the fact that he was a petty official in some government institution⁠—he had never said anything about being a telegraphist. He was evidently watching all her movements, as in his letters he mentioned accurately the places that she had visited, as well as the dresses she had worn. At first the letters were rather vulgar and curiously passionate. But once Vera sent him a note (this fact should not be mentioned at home, as no one there knows about it), asking him to stop annoying her with his declarations of love. From that time on he never mentioned his love, and wrote but seldom, on New Year’s Day, Easter, and her birthday. Princess Vera told Anosov also about that morning’s present and repeated, almost word for word, the strange letter of her mysterious admirer.⁠ ⁠…

“Ye‑es,” said the general slowly, when she had finished. “Perhaps this fellow is mad, a plain maniac. But then, who knows? Perhaps your life path has been crossed by the kind of love of which all women dream, and of which men are incapable nowadays? Don’t you see any lights over there? That must be my carriage.”

At the same time, the loud snorting of an automobile was heard from behind, and the rough road shone with white acetylene light. It was Gustav Ivanovich’s car.

“I took your things along, Anna. Get in,” said he. “Won’t you allow me to take you over, your Excellency?”

“No, thanks,” said the general. “I don’t like that machine. It only shakes you up and has all sorts of smells, but you can’t enjoy it. Well, good night, Vera. I am going to come often now,” added he, kissing Vera’s hand and forehead.

They parted. Mr. Friesse brought Vera Nikolayevna to the gates of her home, then swung his car around and disappeared in the darkness, together with his snorting and howling automobile.


It was with an unpleasant feeling that Princess Vera came up the steps of the piazza and entered the house. Even at a distance she heard the loud voice of her brother Nikolay, and when she came nearer to the house she saw him walking rapidly from one end of the room to the other. Vasily Lvovich was sitting at the card-table and, his large, light-haired head bent over the table, was drawing figures on the green cloth.

“Haven’t I been insisting on it for a long time?” Nikolay was saying angrily, making a gesture with his right hand as though he was trying to throw a heavy object on the floor. “Haven’t I been insisting for a long time that this whole history of foolish letters must come to an end? Even before you and Vera were married, when I was assuring you that you were both merely amusing yourselves like children, and saw nothing but fun and amusement in them.⁠ ⁠… Oh, here is Vera herself.⁠ ⁠… Why, we were just talking with Vasily Lvovich, about that crazy fellow of yours, that P. P. Z. I consider this correspondence both insolent and disgusting.”

“There was no correspondence at all,” interrupted Prince Sheyin coldly. “He was the only one that wrote.”

Vera blushed at this and sat down on the couch in the shadow of the large house plant.

“I apologize for using that expression,” said Nikolay Nikolayevich and again threw to the ground some invisible, heavy object which he seemed to have torn away from his chest.

“And I do not understand at all why you insist on calling him mine,” added Vera, glad of her husband’s support. “He is just as much yours as mine.”

“All right, I apologize again. But at any rate what I want to say is that it is time to put an end to all this nonsense. It seems to me that things have gone beyond the limit within which one can laugh and draw funny pictures. And believe me, if there is anything that I am worrying about just now, it is the good name of Vera, and yours, too, Vasily Lvovich.”

“Oh, I am afraid that is putting the thing a little bit too strong, Kolya,” replied Sheyin.

“That’s possible, but both of you run a risk of finding yourselves in a very funny situation.”

“I do not see how,” said the prince.

“Just imagine that this idiotic bracelet,” Nikolay picked up the red case from the table and immediately replaced it with a gesture of aversion, “that this monstrous trinket will remain in your hands, or we shall throw it away, or give it to the maid. Then, in the first place, P. P. Z. can boast to his friends of the fact that Princess Vera Nikolayevna Sheyin accepts his presents, and in the second place, he might be encouraged to repeat the same feat. Tomorrow he might send you a diamond ring, the day after tomorrow, a pearl necklace, and then, all of a sudden, he will find himself on trial for embezzlement or forgery, and Prince Sheyin together with his wife will have to appear as witnesses at the trial. That would be a fine situation, indeed.”

“Oh, no, the bracelet must be sent back at once!” exclaimed Vasily Lvovich.

“I think so, too,” said Vera, “and the sooner the better. But how are you going to do it? We know neither his name nor his address.”

“That’s a very small matter,” replied Nikolay Nikolayevich contemptuously. “We know his initials, P. P. Z. Is not that right, Vera?”

G. S. Z.

“That’s fine. Moreover, we know that he’s some kind of an official. That’s quite sufficient. Tomorrow I will get a copy of the city directory and will find there an official with these initials. And if for some reason or other, I do not find him that way, I shall simply call in a detective and order him to find the man for me. In case of difficulty, I shall make use of this note which gives us an idea of his handwriting. At any rate, by two o’clock tomorrow afternoon, I shall know exactly the name and address of this young fellow and even the time when he can be found at home. And once I know this, we can see him tomorrow, return him his treasure, and take proper measures to make sure that he will never again remind us of his existence.”

“What do you propose to do?” asked Prince Vasily Lvovich.

“I will go to the governor and ask him.⁠ ⁠…”

“Oh, no, not to the governor. You know the relations that exist between us two.⁠ ⁠… If you do that, then we shall be sure to find ourselves in a funny situation.”

“All right, then, I will go to the colonel of the gendarmes. We belong to the same club. I will ask him to get this Romeo down to his office and tell him a few things. You know how he does it? He just brings a finger right close to the man’s nose and shakes it there, as though to say: ‘I won’t stand for anything like that, sir.’ ”

“No, no, not through the gendarmes,” said Vera.

“That’s right, Vera,” added the prince. “It would be better not to mix in any outsiders. There would be all sorts of rumors and gossip if we do. We know our town well enough; everybody lives here as though in a glass jar.⁠ ⁠… I guess I myself will go to see this young fellow.⁠ ⁠… Though, the Lord knows, he may be sixty.⁠ ⁠… I will return him the bracelet, and have it out with him.”

“Then I will go with you,” interrupted Nikolay Nikolayevich. “You are not stern enough. Let me do the talking.⁠ ⁠… And now, my friends,” he took out his watch and consulted it, “you will have to excuse me. I shall go up to my room now. I have two cases to look over before tomorrow morning.”

“I begin to feel sorry for this unfortunate fellow, somehow or other,” said Vera indecisively.

“There is nothing to feel sorry for,” said Nikolay sharply turning around, already in the doorway. “If a man of our circle had permitted himself to send this bracelet and the letter, Prince Vasily would have had to challenge him to a duel. And if he would not have done it, I certainly would. And if this had happened a good many years ago, the chances are I would have ordered him taken to my stable and flogged there. Wait for me tomorrow at your office, Vasily⁠—I shall let you know by telephone.”


The filthy staircase smelled of mice, cats, kerosene, and washings. On the sixth floor, Prince Vasily Lvovich stopped for a moment.

“Wait a few seconds,” said he to his brother-in-law. “Let me rest awhile. I am afraid we should not have done this, Kolya.”

They went up another two flights. It was so dark in the hall that Nikolay Nikolayevich had to light two matches before he finally found the number of the apartment he was looking for.

When he rang the bell the door was opened by a stout, gray-haired woman, with her body bent forward a little, as though by some disease.

“Is Mr. Zheltkov in?” asked Nikolay Nikolayevich.

The woman looked hastily and in confusion from one to the other, and back again. The respectable appearance of both of them evidently reassured her.

“Yes, he is in. Step in, please,” said she, opening the door. “First door to the left.”

Bulat-Tuganovsky knocked three times. A rustle was heard inside the room. He knocked again.

“Come in,” was heard weakly from the room.

The room was very low but very large, and almost square in shape. Two round windows, that reminded one of steamer windows, lighted it dimly. The whole room looked more like the cabin of a freight-steamer. A narrow bed stood against one of its walls, a very large and broad divan covered with a worn, though still beautiful carpet, rested against another, and a table with a colored Little-Russian cloth stood in the middle.

The face of the occupant of this room was not visible at first, as he was standing with his back to the light, rubbing his hands in confusion. He was tall and thin, with long, soft hair.

Mr. Zheltkov, if I am not mistaken?” asked Nikolay Nikolayevich haughtily.

“Yes. I am very glad to see you.” He made two steps in the direction toward Tuganovsky with his hand outstretched, but at that moment, as though not noting his greeting, Nikolay Nikolayevich turned around to where Sheyin was standing.

“I told you that we did not make any mistake.”

Zheltkov’s thin, nervous ringers moved rapidly up and down the front of his brown coat, unbuttoning it and buttoning it again. Finally he said, bowing awkwardly and pointing to the divan:

“Won’t you be seated, please?”

Now his face was visible. It was very pale, almost effeminate, with blue eyes and a dimpled chin that indicated stubbornness. He looked about thirty or thirty-five.

“Thank you,” said Prince Sheyin, looking at him attentively.

Merci,” replied Nikolay Nikolayevich. Both remained standing. “We came here only for a few minutes. This is Prince Vasily Lvovich Sheyin, president of the local Assembly of Nobles. My name is Mirza-Bulat-Tuganovsky. I am assistant district attorney. The matter about which I shall have the honor of speaking to you concerns equally both the prince and myself, or, rather, the prince’s wife, and my sister.”

Zheltkov became even more confused, sat down silently on the divan and whispered, “Won’t you be seated?” but, evidently recalling that he had already invited them to be seated, he jumped up to his feet, ran over to the window, and then returned to his old place. And again his trembling fingers moved up and down the front of his coat, tugging at the buttons, then moving up to his face and touching his light mustache.

“I am at your service, your Highness,” said he in a dull voice, looking at Vasily Lvovich with entreaty in his eyes.

But Sheyin remained silent, while Nikolay Nikolayevich began to talk.

“In the first place, allow us to return you this thing,” said he taking the red case out of his pocket and placing it on the table. “No doubt it does honor to your taste, but we would ask you to see that such surprises are not repeated any more.”

“I beg your pardon.⁠ ⁠… I realize myself that I was a fool,” whispered Zheltkov, blushing and looking down on the floor. “May I offer you some tea?”

“Now you see, Mr. Zheltkov,” continued Nikolay Nikolayevich, as though he did not hear Zheltkov’s last words, “I am very glad to find you a gentleman, and one who understands things perfectly. It seems to me that we will be able to come to an understanding very soon. Unless I am mistaken, you have been writing letters to Vera Nikolayevna for seven or eight years?”

“Yes,” answered Zheltkov quietly, lowering his eyelashes reverently.

“Until the present time we did not undertake anything against you, although, as you will yourself agree, we not only could have, but should have done it.”


“Yes. But your last action in sending this bracelet of garnets carried you beyond the limit of our patience. Do you understand? Our patience is at an end. I shall be frank with you. Our first thought was to seek the aid of the authorities. But we did not do that, and I am very glad that we didn’t, because, I repeat, I realized immediately that you are a man of nobleness of mind.”

“I beg your pardon. What did you say just then?” suddenly asked Zheltkov and laughed. “You wanted to seek the aid of the authorities? Isn’t that what you said?” He put his hands in his pockets, sat down comfortably on the divan, then took out a cigarette-case and matches, and lighted a cigarette.

“And so you said that you were going to seek the aid of the authorities? You will excuse me for sitting down, won’t you?” said he, turning to Sheyin. “Yes, I am listening.”

The prince moved the chair over to the table and sat down. He could not take his gaze from the face of this peculiar man and was gazing at him with perplexity and curiosity.

“But you see, my dear fellow, that we can always fall back on this measure,” continued Nikolay Nikolayevich, a little insolently. “To break into another man’s family.⁠ ⁠…”

“I beg your pardon, but I shall have to interrupt you.⁠ ⁠…”

“I beg your pardon, but I shall have to interrupt you, now⁠ ⁠…” almost shouted Tuganovsky.

“Just as you like. Proceed. I am listening to you. But I have a few words to say to Prince Vasily Lvovich.⁠ ⁠…”

And without paying any more attention to Tuganovsky, he said:

“This is the most difficult moment of my life. And I must speak to you, prince, outside of all conventionalities. Will you listen to me?”

“I am listening,” said Sheyin. “Now, won’t you keep quiet for a few minutes, Kolya,” said he impatiently, noting Tuganovsky’s angry gesture. “I am listening.”

For a few seconds it seemed as though Zheltkov was suffocating. Then he suddenly began to talk, though his white lips seemed to be perfectly motionless.

“It is hard to say⁠ ⁠… to say that I love your wife. But seven years of hopeless and perfectly polite love give me a right to say this. I agree with you that I was at fault when I wrote foolish letters to Vera Nikolayevna before she was married, and even expected to receive a reply. I agree also that my last act, in sending this bracelet, was even more foolish. But⁠ ⁠… I am looking you straight in the eyes now, and I feel that you will understand me. I know it is outside of my power to stop loving her.⁠ ⁠… Tell me, prince⁠ ⁠… suppose that this is unpleasant to you⁠ ⁠… tell me, what you would have done in order to make me stop it? Would you have sent me to another city, as Nikolay Nikolayevich has just said? What difference would that make? I would still continue to love Vera Nikolayevna just as before. Would you send me to prison? But even there I will find some way of letting her know of my existence. There is only one thing that remains, and that is death.⁠ ⁠… If you wish it, I shall take death in any form you prescribe.”

“Now, look here, this sounds more like reciting dramatic poetry than doing business,” said Nikolay Nikolayevich, putting on his hat. “The matter is quite simple. You will choose one of the two: either you will stop pestering Vera Nikolayevna with your letters, or else, if you do not stop, we shall have to take measures which our position enables us to take.”

But Zheltkov did not even look at him, although he heard his words. He turned to Prince Vasily Lvovich and said:

“Will you allow me to leave you for ten minutes? I will not conceal from you that I am going to speak to Princess Vera Nikolayevna on the telephone. I assure you that I shall repeat to you everything that I will find it possible to repeat.”

“Go,” said Sheyin.

When Vasily Lvovich and Tuganovsky remained alone, Nikolay Nikolayevich immediately began to scold his brother-in-law.

“Now, this is impossible,” he was shouting and making gestures as though he were throwing an object to the ground. “Did I not warn you that I was going to do all of the talking? And there you went, and weakened down, and let him tell all about his feelings. I would have done the thing in two words.”

“Wait a few minutes,” said Prince Vasily Lvovich. “Things will become clear in a few minutes. The main thing is that when I see his face I feel that this man is unable to deceive and to lie. And just think, Kolya, it is not his fault that he cannot control his love. Nobody can do it. You know perfectly well it is a feeling that has not even now been explained.” After a moment’s reflection, the prince continued: “I am sorry for this man. And not only sorry for him, but I feel that we stand in the presence of a great tragedy, and I cannot play the part of the clown.”

“This is decadence and nothing else,” said Nikolay Nikolayevich.

Ten minutes later Zheltkov returned. His eyes were glistening and had an expression of profundity as though filled with unshed tears. It was evident that he had forgotten who was expected to sit and where. And again Sheyin understood.

“I am ready,” said Zheltkov. “Tomorrow you will see nothing more of me. You may consider me dead. But there is one condition⁠—I am saying this to you, Prince Vasily Lvovich⁠—you see, I have spent money that did not belong to me, and I have to leave the city immediately. Will you allow me to write my last letter to Princess Vera Nikolayevna?”

“No. Everything is over now. No more letters,” shouted Nikolay Nikolayevich.

“All right, write it,” said Sheyin.

“That’s all,” said Zheltkov, with a haughty smile. “You will never again hear from me, nor, of course, see me. Princess Vera Nikolayevna did not wish to speak with me. But when I asked her whether I may remain in the city, in order to see her from time to time, without, of course, her seeing me, she replied: ‘Oh, if you only knew how tired I am of all this! Won’t you please put an end to it?’ And now I am putting an end to it. I think I have done all that I can.”

When he returned home that night Vasily Lvovich repeated to his wife all the details of his interview with Zheltkov. He felt himself obliged to do this.

Although she was troubled, Vera did not seem astonished and did not become confused. Only, that night, when her husband came over to her, she suddenly turned her face to the wall and said: “Let me alone. I know that this man is going to kill himself.”


Princess Vera Nikolayevna never read the newspapers; in the first place because they soiled her hands and, in the second, because she could not make anything out of the way the news is reported nowadays.

But fate made her open the newspaper sheet almost at the spot where she read the following:

“A mysterious death. Last night at about seven o’clock, an official of the Department of Control, G. S. Zheltkov, committed suicide. According to the information obtained by the coroner, the suicide came as a result of the late Zheltkov’s embezzlement. This fact was mentioned in a letter left by the suicide. In view of the fact that the testimony of the witnesses made it apparent that the act was committed of his own free will, it was decided not to perform an autopsy.”

Reading this, Vera thought to herself:

“Why is it that I felt this was coming, this very, tragic end? And what was it, love or insanity?”

She walked up and down the garden and the orchard paths all day long. Her restlessness would not let her sit down for a moment. All her thoughts were concentrated on this unknown man, whom she had never seen, and whom, perhaps, she would never see.

“Who knows? Perhaps your life path was crossed by a real, self-sacrificing, true love,” she recalled Anosov’s words.

At six o’clock the mail came. Vera readily recognized Zheltkov’s handwriting, and with a tenderness, which she did not herself expect, she opened the letter. It ran as follows:

“It is not my fault, Vera Nikolayevna, that God has willed to send me such great happiness as my love for you. It so happened that nothing in life interests me, neither politics, nor science, nor care for the future happiness of mankind⁠—my whole life was concentrated in my feeling toward you. And now I feel that I cut into your life like an unwelcome wedge. If you can, forgive me for this. I am leaving today never to return, and there will be nothing that will remind you of me.

“I am only infinitely thankful to you because you are in existence. I have subjected myself to all sorts of tests; this is not a disease, a maniacal delusion, but love which God has granted me to reward me for something or other.

“Even if I should appear ludicrous in your eyes and in those of your brother, Nikolay Nikolayevich⁠—going away forever I still repeat in adoration: ‘May your name be holy forevermore.’ ”

“I saw you for the first time eight years ago in the box of a theatre, and I said to myself in the very first second: ‘I love her because there is nothing in the world that is like her, there is nothing better, there is not an animal, not a plant, not a star, not a human being more beautiful and more delicate than she is.’ The whole beauty of the earth seemed to me to have become embodied in you.

“Just think of what I should have done under the circumstances. To run away to another city? My heart would have still been near you and every moment of my life would have been filled with you, with thoughts of you, with dreams about you⁠—with a sweet delirium. I am very much ashamed because of that foolish bracelet, but that was just a mistake of mine. I can imagine what an impression the whole thing made on your guests!

“In ten minutes I shall be gone. I shall only have time to put a stamp on this letter and drop it in the mailbox, for I would not have anyone else do it. Will you please burn this letter? I have just lit a fire in my stove and am burning up everything that was dearest to me in life: your handkerchief which I stole⁠—you left it on your chair at a ball; your note⁠—oh, how I kissed it!⁠—in which you forbade me to write to you; the programme of an art exhibition which you once held in your hands and left on your chair on going out.⁠ ⁠… Everything is finished. I have put an end to everything, but I still think, and I am even sure of it, that you will remember me sometimes. And if you should happen to remember, then.⁠ ⁠… I know that you are musical, for oftenest of all I saw you at the Beethoven concerts⁠—if you should remember, will you please play or have somebody else play for you the Sonata in D-dur, No. 2, Op. 2.

“I do not know how to finish this letter. From the bottom of my heart I thank you because you were the only joy of my life, my only solace, my only thought. May God grant you happiness, may nothing transient and vain trouble your beautiful soul. I kiss your hand. G. S. Z.

She came to her husband with her eyes red from tears and, showing him the letter, said:

“I do not want to conceal anything from you, but I feel that something terrible has forced itself into our life. You and Nikolay must have done something that should not have been done.”

Prince Sheyin read the letter attentively, folded it carefully, and said, after a long silence:

“I have no doubt that this man was sincere, and what is more, I do not dare to analyze his feelings toward you.”

“Is he dead?” asked Vera.

“Yes, he is dead. I will only say that he did love you and was not mad. I did not take my eyes away from him, and I saw every movement of his face. Life was impossible for him without you. And it seemed to me that I was in the presence of a suffering so colossal, that men die when once stricken by it, and I almost realized that there was a dead man before me. I hardly knew what to do in his presence, how to conduct myself.⁠ ⁠…”

“Would it pain you, Vasya,” interrupted Vera Nikolayevna, “if I should go to the city and see his corpse?”

“No, no, Vera, on the contrary. I would have gone myself, but Nikolay spoiled everything for me. I am afraid I would feel constrained.”


Vera Nikolayevna stepped from her carriage when it came within two blocks of Luther Street. She did not encounter any difficulty in finding the house where Zheltkov lived. She was met by the same gray-eyed old woman, who, again, as on the preceding day, asked:

“Whom did you wish to see?”

Mr. Zheltkov,” said the princess. Her costume, her hat, her gloves, and her somewhat commanding tone must have produced an effect on the lady. She became talkative.

“Step in, step in, please, the first door to the left.⁠ ⁠… He left us in such an awful hurry. Suppose it was an embezzlement⁠—why not tell me about it? Of course you know how rich we are when we have to rent out rooms. But I could have gotten six or seven hundred roubles together and paid for him. If you only knew what a fine man he was, madam! He lived here for over eight years, and always seemed more like a son than a roomer.”

There was a chair in the hall and Vera sat down upon it.

“I was a friend of your late roomer,” said she, choosing each word carefully. “Tell me something about the last minutes of his life, of what he did and said.”

“Two gentlemen came to see him and spoke to him for a long time. Then he told me that they had offered him the position of a superintendent on their estate. Then he ran over to the telephone and came back looking very happy. Then the two gentlemen went away, and he sat down to write a letter. Then he went out and mailed the letter, and when he came back we heard a shot as though somebody was shooting out of a toy pistol. We paid no attention to it. At seven o’clock he always had his tea. Lukerya, our servant, went and knocked at the door, but nobody answered, and so she knocked again and again. Then we had to break down the door, and we found him already dead.”

“Tell me something about the bracelet,” ordered Vera Nikolayevna.

“Oh, yes, about the bracelet, I had forgotten. How do you know about it? Just before he wrote the letter, he came to me and said, ‘Are you a Catholic?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am a Catholic.’ Then he said, ‘You have a beautiful custom,’ that’s just what he said, ‘a beautiful custom to hang rings, necklaces, and other gifts before the image of the Holy Virgin. Will you please take this bracelet and hang it before the image?’ I promised him that I would do it.”

“Will you show me his body?” asked Vera.

“Certainly, certainly, lady. They wanted to take him to the anatomical theatre. But he has a brother who begged them to let him be buried like a Christian. Step in, please.”

Vera opened the door. There were three wax candles burning in the room, which was filled with the odor of some incense. Zheltkov’s body was lying on the table. His head was bent far back, as though somebody had put but a very small pillow under it. There was a profound dignity in his closed eyes, and his lips were smiling with such happiness and calm as though just before leaving life he had learned a deep and sweet secret which solved the whole problem of his life. She recalled that she had seen the same pacified expression on the masks of the great sufferers, Pushkin and Napoleon.

“If you wish it, lady, I can go out of the room,” said the old woman, and there was something extremely intimate in her tone.

“Yes, I will call you later,” said Vera, and immediately took out of the side pocket of her coat a large, red rose. Then, with her left hand, she raised Zheltkov’s head a little and placed the flower under it. At that moment she realized that the love of the kind that is the dream of every woman had gone by her. She recalled the words of General Anosov about love that is exceptional and eternal⁠—words that proved to be almost prophetic. She pushed away the hair on the forehead of the dead man, pressed his temples with her hand, and kissed the cold, moist forehead with a long, friendly kiss.

When she was leaving, the proprietress said to her in that characteristically soft, Polish tone: “Lady, I see that you are not like all the others who come out of curiosity. Mr. Zheltkov told me before his death that if he should happen to die and a lady came to see his corpse, I should tell her that Beethoven’s best work is⁠ ⁠… he wrote it down on a piece of paper. Here it is.⁠ ⁠…”

“Let me see it,” said Vera Nikolayevna, and suddenly burst into tears.

“Excuse me, but his death affected me so much that I cannot help this.”

Then she read the following words, written in the well-known handwriting:

L. Van Beethoven, Sonata No. 2, Op. 2, Largo Appassionato.


It was late in the evening when Vera Nikolayevna returned home, and she was very glad to find that neither her husband nor her brother had arrived.

But she was met by Jennie Reiter, the pianist, and, still under the impression of what she had seen and heard, Vera ran to her and exclaimed, kissing her beautiful hands:

“Jennie, dear, won’t you play something for me now?” And she immediately left the room, went out into the garden and sat on a bench.

She did not doubt for a moment that Jennie would play the very part of the second sonata about which that dead man with such a funny name had told her in his last note.

So it was. She recognized the very first chords as belonging to that remarkable creation of musical genius, unique for its profoundness. And her soul seemed to have split in twain. She was thinking of the great love, which is repeated but once in a thousand years, and which had gone past her. She recalled the words of General Anosov, and asked herself why it was that this man had compelled her to listen to this particular work of Beethoven, even against her wishes? In her mind she began to improvise words. Her thoughts seemed to have so blended with the music, that they really fell into cantos, each of which ended with the words: May your name be holy forevermore.

“Now I will show you in gentle sounds, a love that joyfully and obediently gave itself to pains, sufferings, and death. Not a complaint, not a reproach, not a pain of self-love, did I ever know. Before you, I am this one prayer: May your name be holy forevermore.

“I foresee suffering, blood, and death. I think that it is hard for the body to part with the soul, but my praise for you, my passionate praise, and my silent love are eternal: May your name be holy forevermore.

“I recall your every step, smile, look, the sound of your footsteps. My last recollections are intertwined with a sweet sadness, a beautiful, quiet sadness. But I will cause you no grief. I am parting alone and in silence, for God and Fate have willed this. May your name be holy forevermore.

“In the sad hour of death, I pray but to you. Life might have been beautiful for me, too. Do not complain, my poor heart, do not complain. In my soul I call for death, but my heart is full of prayers for you: May your name be holy forevermore.

“Neither you yourself nor those around you know how beautiful you are. The hour strikes. The time has come. And on the brink of death, in this sorrowful hour of parting from life, I still sing, Glory be to you.

“Here it comes, the all-pacifying death, and I still say, Glory be to you!”

Princess Vera stood under an acacia tree, leaning against it, weeping softly. And the tree was swaying gently under the light wind, which made the leaves rustle, as though to sympathize with her. The star-shaped flowers in the garden exhaled their fragrance. And the wonderful music, as if obeying her grief, rang on:

“Be calm, my dear, be calm. Do you remember me? Do you remember? You were my only and my last love. Be calm, for I am with you. Think about me, and I shall be with you, because we loved each other but for a short instant, yet forever. Do you remember me? Do you remember? Do you remember? Now I feel your tears. Be calm. My sleep is so sweet, sweet, sweet.”

When she had finished playing, Jennie Reiter came out into the garden and saw Princess Vera sitting on the bench in tears.

“What is it?” asked the pianist.

And with her eyes still glistening with tears, Vera began to kiss her face, her lips, her eyes, saying:

“No, no, he has forgiven me now. Everything is well.”

The Horse-Thieves


One evening, in the middle of July, two men were lying in the rushes on the shore of the small Polyesse river Zulnia. One of them was a beggar from the village of Kazimirovka, named Onisim Kozel, while the other one was his grandson, Vasil, a boy of thirteen. The old man was half asleep, his face covered by his torn, sheep-fur cap for protection against the flies, while Vasil lay with his chin resting on the palms of his hands and his screwed-up eyes gazing vacantly at the river, at the warm, cloudless, sky, and at the faraway pine-trees that stood black against the fiery light of the sunset.

The wide river, as still as a swamp, was hidden almost entirely by the firm leaves of pond-lilies, with their beautiful, gentle, white flowers standing out languidly. Only on the other side, near the opposite shore, there was a clear, smooth band of water uncovered by the leaves, and the boy saw reflected in it, with remarkable distinctness, the rushes, the black, broken line of the forest, and the light behind it. On this shore of the river, very close to the water, stood old, hollow, white willows, placed at almost equal distances from one another. Their short, straight branches were rising upward, and the trees themselves, short, large, and crooked, looked like so many old men raising their thin arms toward the sky.

The river birds were whistling sadly. At times a large fish would splash in the water. The thrips flew above the water in a transparent, thin, trembling column. Suddenly Kozel raised his head from the ground and looked at Vasil with a vacant, meaningless glance.

“What did you say?” asked he in a scarcely audible voice.

The boy did not answer. He did not even turn around to look at the old man, only slowly, and with a stubborn, tired expression, lowered and raised again his long eyelashes.

“I guess they will come soon,” continued the old man, as though addressing himself. “Guess I’ll take a smoke.”

Drowsily rolling from side to side, he finally landed in a squatting position. The fingers of both his hands were cut off, with the exception of the thumb of the left hand. And with the use of this finger, he quickly filled his pipe, holding it against his knee with the stump of his right hand, took a box of matches from his cap, and lit the pipe. A sweetish smoke of cheap tobacco, with a faint odor of mignonettes, floated in the air in bluish curls.

“Did you see Buzyga yourself?” asked Vasil, apparently with reluctance, without taking his eyes away from the opposite bank of the river.

Kozel took the pipe out of his mouth, and, bending over to one side, spat on the ground.

“Sure, I did. My, but he is a desperate man. Just the way I was, when I was younger. He gets drunk as the night and then goes out into the village⁠ ⁠… and hires a band of Jewish musicians to walk in front of him and play. Carries a handkerchief in his right hand and has new rubbers on his boots, and wears a nice silver chain. And then he comes to Gripa Kovaleva and demands some whiskey. He throws a silver rouble into the glass, drinks the whiskey, and then gives the money to his musicians. The boys all run after him. Of course, everybody looks at him as though they were dogs and he was a wolf, but they can’t do anything. Just snap their teeth.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the boy with adoration, though almost incredulously.

“Why, sure.⁠ ⁠… What does he care? He just spits on them all. Just tells them to let him alone, because he never stole their horses. Of course, if he had stolen their horses and they had caught him, then they would have the upper hand, then they’d have the right to beat him.⁠ ⁠… But that way, it won’t go.⁠ ⁠…”

The boy gazed at the river in silence. The resounding cries of the frogs were now heard from the nearby bank, at first coming slowly and infrequently. The evening fog was like smoke in the rushes and hung over the water like light steam. The sky grew darker and greenish, and on it was now distinctly visible the hitherto concealed disk of the young moon.

“Kozel, and is it true that Buzyga has double ribs?” asked Vasil meditatively. “Is it true that you can’t kill him?”

“Of course, it’s true. What do you expect? All his ribs are grown together. You can beat a man like Buzyga as much as you want, but you will never hurt his liver. Oh, no! Because his liver is attached to his ribs. And the liver is the first thing in a man’s body. A man can’t live, once you hurt his liver. He’ll get weak, start spitting blood, won’t be able to eat or drink, and then it’s all over.⁠ ⁠…”

The boy touched his narrow chest, his sides, and heaved a long sigh.

“And then they say that people have double backs like horses,” said he sadly. “Is it true, too, Kozel?”

“Yes, that’s true. Happens sometimes.”

“And Buzyga, too?”

“What about Buzyga?”

“Is it true that he’s got a double back?”

“Well, I don’t know about that, can’t say.”

“I think that it must be double.”

“Everything is possible,” and the old man shook his head. “Everything is possible.⁠ ⁠… But the main thing is that Buzyga’s got a clever head. He’s a wonderful man! Once he got caught in Shepelevka.⁠ ⁠… Well, even that time he was not really caught; he was betrayed by another man. It was about some woman or something like that. At any rate, they got him in the open field, and the horses were with him. It was toward evening. So, of course, they brought him to a house, lit the light, and started beating him. And they were at it the whole night long. When the peasants start beating somebody, they have a rule that everybody must take part in it. They even bring their children and wives and make them beat the man, so that everybody would be responsible. So they beat him and beat him, and when they’d get tired, they’d drink a little whiskey, and then start at it again. And Mitro Gundosy saw that Buzyga was already half-dead, and so he says: ‘Wait awhile, boys, the rascal might die here in our house. Wait awhile, I’ll give him a little water.’ But Buzyga is so clever, he knows that if a man is given a little water after being beaten like that, that’s a sure end. So he gets all his strength together and says to them: ‘Won’t you please give me just a little whiskey, and then start beating me again if you like? I feel that my end is coming and I wish I could taste whiskey again before I die.’ Well they all laughed at that and gave him a bottle. After that they did not touch him any more. They thought he was near death anyway. They took him over to Basov Kut and threw him in there, as though he were already dead. They thought that was the end of him, but Levonty got over it. Two months after that Mitro Gundosy missed two fine horses. First-class horses they were.⁠ ⁠…”

“That must have been Buzyga, all right,” exclaimed the boy joyfully.

“Whoever it was, it’s none of our business,” retorted Kozel angrily and significantly. “After that Gundosy went to Buzyga several times and got down on his knees before him and kissed his feet. ‘Take all the money you want, only tell me where the horses are. You know!’ And he would answer him: ‘Why don’t you go and get a drink of water, Mitro?’ That’s the kind of a fellow Buzyga is!”

The old beggar became silent and puffed fiercely at his pipe. But the pipe gave no more smoke. Then Kozel sighed, emptied the pipe over his bare foot, and thrust it into his shirt.

The frogs were now croaking on all sides. It seemed that the whole air trembled with their passionate, ringing cries, accompanied by the dull, prolonged, slow groans of large toads. The sky had changed from green into dark blue and the moon was shining like the curved blade of a silver halberd. It was already dark all around. Only near the very bank of the other side of the river were burning two long, bloody bands.

“Kozel, when I grow up, I’ll be a horse-thief too!” said the boy suddenly, in a low, passionate whisper. “I don’t want to be a beggar, I’ll be like Buzyga.”

“Sh.⁠ ⁠… Wait a minute⁠ ⁠…” said the old man suddenly. He raised upward his terrible thumb, bent his head to one side and listened attentively. “They are coming!”

Vasil jumped to his feet. From the thick rushes that stood near the very waterline came scarcely audible splashes of somebody’s footsteps. Dull, monotonous voices were heard.

“Shout to them, Vasil,” ordered the old man. “Only not very loud.”

Hop-hop!” shouted the boy, but his voice was not very strong because of excitement.

Hop!” came a restrained, calm bass from a distance.


The curly tops of the rushes trembled as they were carefully pushed aside by someone’s hand. A short, stocky, apparently awkward peasant in a torn brown coat appeared from the rushes, and, with body bent forward, stepped upon the trampled down, dry spot where the beggar and the boy were sitting. His straight, hard hair fell down his face, almost covering his black, slanting eyes, which had a gloomy and suspicious look. He held his head bent downward and a little to one side, somewhat like a bear, and when he had to look to one side, he slowly and awkwardly turned with his whole body, as is usually done by men with short necks or diseased throats. This was Akim Shpak, the well-known dealer in stolen goods. He often informed the horse-thieves of likely opportunities and sometimes even helped them.

Shpak looked at the old man and the boy closely, and with an expression of enmity, then turned back with his whole ridiculous body and his immovable neck, and said hoarsely:

“Over here, Buzyga!”

“Here!” came back in a merry, low, self-confident voice, the word being pronounced in a military fashion.

“Good evening to you, gentlemen rascals.”

A tall, red-haired man, dressed in city clothes, with high, elegant boots, stepped into the clearing. He extended his hand to Kozel but drew it back immediately, noting his blunder.

“Oh, the devil⁠ ⁠… I’ve forgotten that you have nothing to shake hands with,” said he carelessly. “Well, good evening anyway. Is this the lad you were talking about?” and he pointed to Vasil.

“Yes, yes,” the old beggar nodded his head hastily. “He is quick, just like a bullet. Well, sit down, Levonty.”

“I will sit down all right, and be a guest, and if I treat you to some whiskey, I will be the host,” jested Buzyga indifferently, sitting down on the ground. “Let’s see what you’ve got there, Akim.”

Akim took from the bag a bottle of whiskey, a few hard-boiled eggs, and half a loaf of bread, and placed them all on the grass in front of Buzyga. Kozel followed every one of his movements greedily, and nervously tugged with his only finger at his grayish mustache.

“And I thought you would never come,” said the old beggar, turning his face toward Buzyga, but without taking his eyes from Akim’s hands. “I saw you in Berezna a few hours ago and you were more drunk than whiskey itself. And I thought that you would not come this evening. But you don’t show it now.”

“Whiskey doesn’t affect me,” said Buzyga slowly. “I was bluffing more than anything else. And besides, I slept until evening.”

“At Gripa’s?”

“Any of your business? And suppose it was there?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing. Only, women like you.”

“Oh, the devil take them. Let them like me.” Buzyga shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “Are you jealous?”

“Who, I? My time is past. I have forgotten how to think about it.⁠ ⁠… I guess she did not want to let you go?”

“Oh, yes, as if she could hold me back!” Buzyga threw up his chin with a self-confident expression on his face. “You had better take a drink of this whiskey, old fellow. I see that you are trying to get somewhere. Why don’t you ask straight out?”

“Oh, I have nothing to ask, nothing at all. I was just wondering.⁠ ⁠… Well, to your health, Buzyga; may God send you health and success in all your enterprises.”

The old man clasped the neck of the bottle with his thumb as though it were a movable hook, and raised the bottle to his mouth with a shaking hand. For a long time he strained the whiskey through his teeth, then returned the bottle to Buzyga, dried his mouth with the sleeve of his coat, and asked:

“Did she ask you where you were going?”



Buzyga looked at the old man seriously and attentively.

“Suppose she did ask. What of that?” he said slowly, knitting his eyebrows.

“Why, I.⁠ ⁠… Nothing at all.⁠ ⁠… I know, anyway, that you would not tell.⁠ ⁠…”

“You had better shut your mouth, Uncle Kozel,” the taciturn Akim advised him weightily, looking off at a distance to one side.

“You are trying to be too smart, you old dog,” said Buzyga, and in his strong voice were suddenly heard tones that reminded one of wild animals. “Look out. It is not for you to teach Buzyga. When Buzyga says that he is going to be in Kresher, that means that they are going to look for him in Filippovichi, and in the meantime Buzyga will be selling his horses at the Stepan fair. Shpak is right. You had better keep still.”

While Buzyga was speaking, Vasil did not take his eyes from him. There was nothing extraordinary in the horse-thief’s appearance. His large face, marked by smallpox, with red mustaches curled in a military fashion, was motionless and seemed weary. His little, blue eyes, surrounded by white lashes, appeared drowsy, and it was only for a moment that a peculiarly keen and cruel expression shone in them. All his motions were slow, lazy, as though his purpose was to expend the least possible effort, but his powerful neck, visible from under his shirt, his long arms with their large hands covered with red hair, and his broad back spoke of gigantic strength.

Under the boy’s persistent gaze, Buzyga involuntarily turned his head toward him. The light in his eyes immediately became extinguished, and his face became indifferent once more.

“Why are you looking at me, boy?” he asked calmly. “What is your name?”

“Vasil,” answered the boy, and coughed. His own voice seemed to him to be so weak and whistling.

Kozel tittered servilely.

He-he-he! Ask him, Buzyga, what he is going to do when he grows up. We were talking about it just before you came. ‘I don’t want to be a beggar like you,’ says he, ‘I am going to be like Buzyga.⁠ ⁠…’ I thought I’d die laughing!” lied Kozel, for some reason or other.

The boy quickly turned to his grandfather. His large gray eyes were dark and glaring with anger.

“All right, all right, you shut up,” said he rudely, in a broken, childish bass.

“You’re a good lad!” exclaimed Buzyga, with astonishment and sudden tenderness in his voice. “Come over here. Do you drink whiskey?”

He put Vasil between his knees and placed his strong, large arms around his thin body.

“Yes,” answered the boy bravely.

“My, but you are going to be a fine thief, by and by. Here, swallow some of this.”

“Maybe it will hurt him?” said Kozel with hypocritical solicitude, gazing at the bottle greedily.

“Shut up, you old fox. There will be enough for you, too,” said Buzyga.

Vasil swallowed some whiskey and began to cough. Something that had the most unpleasant taste and was as hot as fire burned his throat and took away his breath for a moment. He groaned for a few minutes, catching the air with his open mouth like a fish taken out of the water. Tears began to stream from his eyes.

“That’s right. Now sit down, and be a Cossack among other Cossacks,” said Buzyga and pushed Vasil lightly away from him. And, as though he had immediately forgotten all about the boy, he turned again to Kozel.

“I have been wanting for some time to ask you where you lost your fingers.” Buzyga spoke this slowly, in a low, lazy voice.

“Oh, it happened once,” said the old beggar with affected reluctance. “It was about horses.”

“Yes, I know it was.⁠ ⁠… Well?”

“Well.⁠ ⁠… It isn’t very interesting,” replied Kozel slowly. He was anxious to tell in detail of the terrible accident that cut his life into two halves. And he was purposely tuning up the attention of his hearers. “It was some thirty years ago. Maybe the man who did this to me is not alive any more. He was a German colonist.”

Vasil was lying on his back. He felt a pleasant warmth all over his body which appeared very light, while before his eyes countless tiny spots of light were moving to and fro. Around him were heard human voices; human hands and heads were moving over him. The low, black branches of bushes swayed above him while over his head was the dark sky. But he saw and heard all this without understanding it, as though not he, but someone else were lying there on the ground among the rushes. Then, suddenly, he heard with remarkable distinctness the voice of the old beggar and consciousness returned to him with renewed force and aroused in him an unexpectedly profound attention toward everything around him. And the story which he had heard from Kozel at least thirty times again filled his soul with curiosity, excitement, and horror.


“… Over at the roadhouse I saw a pair of horses tied to a post,” Kozel was saying in a doleful singsong. “The moment I looked at the wagon I knew that they were German horses. The colonists always use wagons like that. And they were a fine pair of horses! My heart almost stopped beating when I saw them.⁠ ⁠… And I know something about horses. There they were standing as if their feet were grown into the ground, and their little ears all standing up, and they were looking at me like two beasts.⁠ ⁠… You can’t say that they were very large, would not call them very good just by looking at them either, but I knew immediately what kind of horses they were. You could drive a pair like that for a hundred versts and nothing would happen to them. Just brush their mouths with hay, give them a little water, and go on with your journey. Well, what’s the use of talking! I’ll say one thing. If God himself, or some saint, would come to me now and say: ‘Look here, Onisim, I will give you back your fingers, if you will promise never to steal horses again,⁠ ⁠…’ I’ll tell you, Buzyga, if I saw those horses, I would take them. May God punish me if I wouldn’t.⁠ ⁠…”

“So, what happened?” interrupted Buzyga.

“We’re coming to that. Akim, roll me a cigarette, will you? Yes.⁠ ⁠… So I walked and walked around that wagon, maybe for a whole half-hour. I tell you, the main thing is that a man never knows his own time. If I had untied them right then and there, everything would have been all right. The road was through the woods and it was a dark night; everything was muddy and a good strong wind was blowing. What else could you wish? But I got scared. I just walked around the horses like a fool, thinking to myself: ‘Now I’ve lost my chance. Guess the German will come out of the roadhouse and that will be the end of it.’ Then I would come over again and walk around and think again: ‘Lost my chance again! Can’t do it now at all.’ And I don’t know what it was that made me so scared then.⁠ ⁠…”

“You have got to do it quickly,” said Buzyga resolutely.

“Why weren’t you with me then, Levonty?” exclaimed Kozel in a tone of passionate reproach. “But then!⁠ ⁠… I guess you hadn’t been born yet.⁠ ⁠… Yes. So I walked and walked around those horses and that wagon and could not make up my mind to do anything. Maybe it was because I was sober and hungry at the time. Who knows? At first I just waited and moped there, and then suddenly, as though somebody had hit me on the back of the neck, I ran over to the horses, untied the reins, and began to tie up the bells.⁠ ⁠… And just then out comes the German, all ready for the road. As soon as he saw me, he shouted from the steps: ‘Hey, you there! What are you doing with my horses? Trying to steal them?’ And I answered him: ‘Why should I steal this junk of yours? Haven’t I got enough of my own? You had better thank me for tying your horses to the post, otherwise they would have run away on you.’ ‘All right! All right! I know how you tie horses to posts. Get out of here, you pig!’ Well, of course, I walked over to one side and hid back of the house and started watching him. And I was so angry, I trembled all over. ‘Oh, no,’ thinks I to myself, ‘I won’t let this go.’ ”

“Of course not. How could you let it go?” nodded Buzyga. “I would have stolen those horses on him even if it would have taken me a year.”

“No, Buzyga, you wouldn’t!” replied Kozel with deep conviction. “Not from that German. You wait, don’t get angry.⁠ ⁠… Just listen to what happened after that. So I hid back of the house and watched. The German looked around and then shouted to the tavern-keeper: ‘Hey, Leyba, bring me some oats.’ Leyba brought him some and then asked him: ‘But why don’t you stay here overnight? We would take good care of your horses.’ And he said to him: ‘No, thank you, I have no time and I have far to go. I’ll feed my horses in the woods by the Volchy Razlog. Goodbye.’ ‘Goodbye.’ So the colonist got into his wagon and started out.

“Well, I ran after him. Down as far as Myslovo he kept pretty fast, but I knew the road well, and so I ran across the government woods. As soon as I got out on the road again and hid in a ditch, along came the German, driving slowly. I let him get ahead of me and then started to follow him. As soon as he’d start driving fast, I’d break into a run. And when he would ride slowly, I’d follow him walking. I was only twenty-five then and a pretty strong fellow. No worse than you, Buzyga. And I followed him for thirty versts, down as far as Volchy Razlog. To tell you the truth, I did not hope that he would stop in the woods overnight as he had said. I thought he was saying that just to get me off the track. But he really turned into the woods and stopped at a little clearing. There he unharnessed his horses and fixed up his wagon with the shafts raised up. I crawled along on my belly like a snake, lay down back of some bushes, and watched him. You know, at night, when you look down the hill you can’t see anything, but up the hill everything is plain.⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, I know,” said Buzyga impatiently. “Well?”

“Then I saw that he tied the horses’ legs. And what he used was iron chains, because I heard them jingle even at a distance. Well, that looked as though he were really going to stay there all night. It was terribly cold and windy. I was shaking all over. But I did not give in. I saw that German get into the wagon, move around a bit, and then he still. I waited for a long time after that; maybe for an hour or two. I started to get up from the ground a little and thought to myself, ‘Is the Dutchman really asleep or is he just pretending?’ I picked up a handful of earth and threw it ahead. The Dutchman did not make a noise. And I was angry with him, simply boiling with rage. Every time I recalled how he cursed me over there by the roadhouse, I would get angrier than ever. Well, I got up from the ground, started looking around, and there were the two horses coming along right toward me. They’d stop a moment, pick up a little grass or a dry leaf, and then move toward me again. I tell you, Buzyga, there is not a horse that is afraid of me at night. Because there is a certain word.⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, I know. It’s all nonsense,” replied the horse-thief angrily. “Well, go ahead.”

“All right, just as you like. Pretty soon the horses got so close to me that I could almost touch them. So I moved forward a little and sort of fondled one of them and he stood still. Then I began to cut the irons. I always have a file with me.⁠ ⁠… I worked and worked and kept an eye on the wagon all the time. I decided not to take the other horse because it was very hard to cut the iron. It was thick and new. And I was sure that he would not catch me with one horse, anyway.

“I cut one of the irons to the middle and began to try if I could not break it. And then suddenly somebody touched me on the shoulder. I turned around, and there was the German right behind me. The devil only knows how he ever got there. He stood there looking at me as though he were laughing at me. Then he said: ‘Come along with me. I’ll teach you how to steal horses.’ I was so frightened I could not use my feet, and my tongue seemed to be glued to the roof of my mouth. But he lifted me up from the ground.”

“What then?” exclaimed Buzyga wrathfully.

The old man made a sad gesture with his mutilated hand.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “May God strike me dead on this very spot if I know even now how he did it. He was just a little fellow; not much to look at; only up to my shoulders, head and all. And he dragged me along like a little child. And I let him do it⁠—had a sort of feeling that I could not get away from him. I could not even stir. And he got me as though with a pair of pincers and dragged me toward the wagon. How do I know? Maybe he wasn’t human at all?

“So we got to the wagon. He held me with one hand and started feeling for something with the other. And I think to myself: ‘What is he going to do now?’ He looked for something and then said: ‘Oh, I guess it isn’t here.’ Then he led me over to the other side of the wagon, felt there for a while, and finally got a hatchet. ‘Here it is,’ says he. ‘I’ve found it. Well now, put your hand on the log.’ And he said it quietly, without any anger at all. Then I understood that he was going to cut my hands off. And I began to cry like a child.⁠ ⁠… And he says to me: ‘Don’t cry. It won’t take long.⁠ ⁠…’ So I stood there like an ox that was being slaughtered, could not say anything, only shook all over. And he took my hand, put it on a piece of wood and brought the hatchet down. ‘Don’t steal horses, if you don’t know how.’ Three fingers flew right off. One of them hit me in the face. Then he hit again and again, saying all the time: ‘Don’t steal horses, if you don’t know how.⁠ ⁠…’ Then he told me to give him the other hand; I obeyed him like a little child, and put my left hand there. And he says again, ‘Don’t steal horses,’ and down came the hatchet again. This time he cut off four fingers at one blow; left only this one,” and Kozel stretched before him his mutilated hand with its single finger. “He looked at the thumb, looked at it, and then said: ‘Well, I guess you won’t be able to steal any horses with this one finger. Only you might help another thief with it. Still, I will give it to you so that you can eat and drink with it, light your pipe, and remember me all your life.’ The blood was just spurting out of the nine fingers. I could not stand it any more and almost fainted away. Then he grabbed me again like a kitten and carried me over to a big pool of water. The night was dreadfully cold and the water had frozen over. The German brought me there, broke the ice with his foot and told me to stick my hands into the water. I obeyed him and felt much easier right away. And he said to me: ‘You’d better stay there until morning. It’ll be worse for you if you take your hands out.’ And with that he walked away toward his horses and went off. Then I thought to myself that I ought to go to the doctor. But the moment I took my hands out of the water, I started hollering so that I could be heard all over the woods. The fingers hurt as though somebody were burning them with hot irons. Then I stuck them into the water again and felt better. And I stayed there until morning. As soon as I would take my hands out, it would hurt terribly, but as long as I kept them in the water it did not hurt at all. Toward morning I was almost frozen, and the water became red as blood. Somebody came along, took me into his carriage and brought me to the hospital. Well, they kept me there a month until my hands healed up a little and then let me out. But what was the use?” exclaimed he bitterly. “It would have been a hundred times better if I had died there in the Volchy Razlog!”

He became silent and sat there bent over, with his head bowed low. For a few minutes the horse-thieves sat motionless without saying a word. Suddenly a quiver went through Buzyga’s body as though he had just awakened from terrible dreams. He sighed loudly.

“And what did you do with the German after that?” asked he in a restrained voice, which quivered with fury.

“And what could I have done with him?” asked Kozel sadly. “What would you have done if you were in my place?”

“I? I? Oh!” roared Buzyga, fiercely scratching the ground with his fingernails. He was almost suffocated with anger and his eyes shone in the darkness like those of a wild beast. “I would have cut his throat when he was asleep; I would have torn his throat with my own teeth! I would.⁠ ⁠…”

“You would!” interrupted Kozel with a bitter sneer. “And how would you have found him? Who was he? Where did he live? What was his name? Maybe he was not human at all.⁠ ⁠…”

“That’s a lie,” said Akim Shpak slowly. He had been silent until now. “There is neither God nor devil in the world.⁠ ⁠…”

“It doesn’t make any difference!” shouted Buzyga, striking the ground with his fists. “It doesn’t make any difference. I would have burned all the colonies that I could have laid my hands on; killed their cattle and maimed their children. And I would do that until death.”

Kozel laughed quietly and bent his head still lower.

“Oh, yes!” said he with a biting reproach. “It’s all right to set fire to buildings when you have your ten fingers.⁠ ⁠… But when you have just one left”⁠—the man raised up again his terrible stumps⁠—“there is only one road left open for you, over to the church steps with the beggars.⁠ ⁠…” And he suddenly began to sing in his old, shaky voice the gloomy words of the ancient beggar-song:

“Woe, woe is me, the cripple.⁠ ⁠…
Have pity on me, for the sake of Christ.⁠ ⁠…
You are our benefactors.⁠ ⁠…
Here we sit, armless, legless,
We, poor cripples, here by the road.⁠ ⁠…”

The song ended in a cry of writhing pain, his head dropped on his knees, and the old beggar began to sob.

Not a word was said after that. In the river, in the grass and bushes, the frogs were croaking incessantly as if trying to outdo one another. The half-moon stood in the middle of the sky, lonely and sad. The old willows, outlined ominously against the darkened sky, raised their knotty, dried-up arms toward heaven with an expression of silent grief.


Suddenly, heavy, rapid footsteps were heard in the rushes in the direction from which Buzyga and Akim had come a short while before. Somebody was evidently running in haste without picking his way, splashing the water and breaking dry branches. The horse-thieves pricked up their ears. Akim Shpak stood on his knees. Buzyga, his hands on the ground, crouched down, ready to jump up and rush off in an instant.

“Who is that?” asked Vasil in a whisper.

No one answered him. The heavy steps were nearer and nearer. Someone’s powerful, hoarse, and whistling breathing could already be heard amidst the splashing of the water and the crackling of the branches. Buzyga quickly shoved his hand into his boot, and before Vasil’s eyes glittered a shining knife.

But the noise suddenly stopped. For a moment a remarkably deep silence reigned around. Even the disturbed frogs were silent. Something gigantic and heavy tramped about in the bushes, snorting fiercely, and began to sniff.

“Oh, that must be a boar,” said Buzyga, and the other three shivered at the sound of his loud voice. “Must have come to get a drink.”

“Yes, that’s true,” said Shpak, again lying down.

The boar snorted again angrily and then began to run away. For a long time the branches cracked in the direction in which he took flight. Then everything became quiet. The frogs, as though angered by the momentary interruption, began to croak with redoubled force.

“When are you going, Buzyga?” asked the old man.

Buzyga raised his head and looked at the sky attentively.

“It’s too early yet,” said he, yawning. “I will go before morning. Right before dawn the peasants sleep like chickens.⁠ ⁠…”

Sleep was gradually overcoming Vasil. The earth began to quake under him, rising up and falling down, and then slowly floated away to one side. For an instant, when, with some difficulty, he opened his eyes, the boy saw the dark figures of three men, sitting silently side by side, but he no longer knew who they were and why they were sitting so close to him. Out of the bushes, where wild boars were crowding together, snorting and sniffing angrily, suddenly stepped into the clearing the son of the church elder, Zinka, and said, laughing: “Here are the horses, Vasil. Let’s go out for a ride.” Then they sat down together in a little sleigh and rushed off into the darkness at a very pleasant, rapid pace, following a narrow, white, silent road that wound among tall pine-trees. His grandfather ran after them waving his mutilated hands in the air, but could not catch up with them, and all this was extraordinarily joyful and funny. Little bells were tied to the horses’ manes and tails, and also to the branches of the dark pine-trees, and a monotonous, hasty, and merry ringing sounded on all sides.⁠ ⁠… Then Vasil suddenly struck a dark, soft wall⁠—and everything disappeared.⁠ ⁠…

The cold dampness which made his whole body shiver, woke him. It had become darker and the wind was blowing. Everything seemed to have changed suddenly. Large, black, fluffy clouds with dishevelled and chipped white edges were rushing past overhead, very low to the ground. The tops of the rushes, intertwined by the wind, were hastily bending down and trembling all over.⁠ ⁠… And the old willows, with their thin arms raised upward, were shaking in agitation from one side to the other as if they were trying to tell each other some terrible tidings, but could not do it.

The horse-thieves lay motionless and their bodies appeared black in the darkness. One of them was smoking, and his pipe flashed every little while. The red, momentary flashes ran over the bronzed faces, alternating with long, slanting shadows. The cold and the interrupted sleep gave the boy the sensation of being tired, indifferent, and upset. He listened without any interest to the low conversation of the horse-thieves and, with a dull feeling of outrage, felt that they were not in the least concerned with him, just as they were not concerned with the gigantic, rapidly fleeing clouds and the agitated willows. And that for which he had been preparing that night, and which had formerly filled his soul with excitement and pride, suddenly began to seem to him unnecessary, and small, and tiresome.

“You’re still at it, like a big jackass,” Buzyga was saying in a vexed tone. “What the deuce do I want your bay colt for? Why, they know him in every village around here. A year ago I stole a riding-horse from the bookkeeper of the sugar-refinery. It was all one color, only the left front leg happened to be white; the devil take it! I tried to sell it everywhere, and they all made fun of me, as though I were a fool. ‘We’re not crazy yet,’ they’d say to me. ‘You can’t sell this horse anywhere. Everybody in the province knows him.’ And do you know, Kozel, what I sold it for? For a mug of sour milk. What are you whistling about? I’m telling you the truth. Volka Fishkin got it. He saw that my tongue was almost sticking out on account of the heat, and so he said to me: ‘Look here, Buzyga, come inside and have a glass of milk.’ I went in, and later on he says to me: ‘Now listen, Buzyga, I always liked to deal with you, but it will take a fool to buy this horse from you. You’ll have to leave it somewhere, in the evening, anyhow. Better give it to me. I’ll take it over to the refinery and maybe I’ll get a few pennies for it.’ Well, I gave him the horse and he sold it later in the Podol Province, over at the Yarinolinetzk fair, for one hundred and thirty roubles. That’s what you get out of stealing horses like that, Kozel.”

“Ye‑es.⁠ ⁠… That’s so,” said the old man slowly and thoughtfully, and chewed a little with his toothless gums. “Vikenty Sirota has fine dark horses.⁠ ⁠… And it’s easy to get them, too.⁠ ⁠…”

“Vikenty.⁠ ⁠… Yes, that’s so, of course.⁠ ⁠…” Buzyga agreed with him hesitatingly. “Vikenty, that’s right.⁠ ⁠… Only, do you know, Kozel, that I hate to harm Vikenty? He is not very rich and always treats you so well. How many times did it happen that my head would be aching like blazes, and when I’d say to him, ‘Get us a drink, Vikenty,’ he’d get it right off. No, I am sorry for Vikenty.⁠ ⁠…”

“Nonsense! Don’t be sorry for anybody,” said Akim Shpak angrily.

“No, you let Vikenty alone,” ordered Buzyga firmly. “Any others?”

“Well.⁠ ⁠… Maybe Mikolo Grach?”

“Mikolo Grach? That’s a different brand, only he is as crafty as the devil. Well, at any rate, we’ll keep Grach in mind.”

“You might get Andreyev’s mare, that white one. It’s a pretty good horse.”

“Go to the devil with your white mare!” exclaimed Buzyga angrily. “It’s old and the hair is falling out all over. That’s the first sign.⁠ ⁠… Do you remember how Zhgun got caught with a white horse? Sh.⁠ ⁠… Keep quiet, Kozel.” He waved his hand at the old man. “What’s the matter with the boy over there?”

Vasil was wriggling on the ground, trying to curl up in such a way that as little as possible of the cold and dampness would reach him. His teeth were clattering.

“What is it, boy? What’s the trouble?” he suddenly heard above his head. This was said in a deep voice that expressed an unaccustomed softness. The boy opened his eyes and saw Buzyga’s large face bending over him.

“Wait a minute, I’ll cover you,” the horse-thief said, as he took off his coat. “Why didn’t you say before that you were cold, you fool? Turn around a little⁠ ⁠… like that.⁠ ⁠…”

Buzyga tucked the coat around the boy solicitously, then sat down by his side and put his large, heavy hand on his shoulder. A feeling of inexpressible pleasure and gratitude trembled in Vasil’s bosom, rose like a wave in his throat, and brought tears to his eyes. The coat was very large and very heavy. It was warm and smelled of healthy perspiration and tobacco. The boy soon felt the warmth spreading through his whole body. Curled up in a ball, his eyes tightly closed, he felt for Buzyga’s large and pleasantly heavy hand, and touched it tenderly with his fingers. And again in his clouded consciousness the dark woods and the long white road began to rush by.

He fell fast asleep, so fast that when he opened his eyes it seemed to him that he had closed them only for an instant. But when he did open them, a thin, uncertain twilight was all around and the bushes and trees stood out against it as gray, cold spots. The wind had become stronger. As before, the tops of the rushes bent up and down, and the old willows swayed, but there was no longer anything terrifying or disquieting in this. A fog was rising over the river. Torn into slanting bands, bent over to one side, it was rushing rapidly over the woods, exhaling dampness.

Buzyga’s face was almost blue with cold, but still merry. He touched lightly Vasil’s shoulder and said in a singing voice, imitating the ringing of the bells:

“Priest, oh, priest!
Do you hear?
All the bells are ringing.⁠ ⁠…”

“Get up, boy,” he said when his glance met Vasil’s smiling eyes. “It’s time to go.⁠ ⁠…”

Kozel emitted low, hollow coughs, covering his mouth with his sleeve and choking, as though he were vomiting. The color of his face was grayish-green, like that of a dead body. He waved his mutilated hands helplessly in Vasil’s direction, but the cough prevented him from speaking. Finally, overcoming the paroxysm and still breathing heavily, he said: “So you’ll take Buzyga through the Marinkino swamp over to Perebrod, Vasil.⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, I know,” interrupted the boy impatiently.

“You stop your blab for a minute,” exclaimed the old man angrily, as a new fit of coughing again prevented him from speaking. “Look out when you get into the government woods. There is a deep bog there. See that you don’t fall into a ‘skylight.’⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, I know.⁠ ⁠… You’ve told me that already.⁠ ⁠…”

“Let me finish.⁠ ⁠… Remember, don’t go past the shack. Better go around the hill, because the working men get up earlier in the shack. And right near there a man will be holding four horses for you. So Buzyga will take three and you will ride the other one and go with him as far as Kreshevo. You do everything as Buzyga tells you. Don’t be afraid. And when you come back and somebody asks you where you were, say that you went with your grandfather to the government woods to get some bast. Only, don’t be afraid, Vasil.⁠ ⁠…”

“Oh, go to.⁠ ⁠… I am not afraid of anything,” replied Vasil contemptuously, turning away from the old man. “Come on, Buzyga.”

“Well, but you’re a fiery one!” said Buzyga, laughing. “That’s the way; give it to him, the old dog.⁠ ⁠… Now come, walk ahead.”

Akim Shpak suddenly sniffed and began to strike the ground with his feet. His gloomy face was all wrinkled up after the sleepless night, and seemed turned to one side even more than ever. The whites of his black eyes were yellow and bloodshot, as though filled with dirty slime.

“We share half and half, Buzyga,” said he gloomily; “we’re not going to take advantage of you. You get half, and I, Kozel, and Cubik get the other half.⁠ ⁠… So don’t try to bluff us. We’ll find out anyway.”

“All right, all right,” said Buzyga carelessly. “Goodbye.”

“God be with you!” said Kozel.

Akim Shpak turned to the old man with his whole body, looked at him with hatred and contempt, and spat on the ground.

“You beggar!” he hissed through his clinched teeth.


Onisim Kozel lived with his grandson on the outskirts of the village, in a dilapidated little hut that seemed to have grown into the ground, with a broken flue and chipped whitewashing, behind which one could see the inner layer of yellow clay. The windowpanes, for which rags were substituted in many places, had become dull green with time and now shone with all the colors of the rainbow. Besides the two, the hut was inhabited by Prokhorovna, a deaf, hundred-year-old, insane woman. The three used the hut free of charge through the charity of their neighbors, especially since it was used for the performing of autopsies on suicides, the drowned, and murdered peasants. The very table at which the three village outlaws usually ate was used for the purposes of autopsy.

Vasil returned home tired and excited. Kozel was already there, lying on the stove, his head covered with a torn sheep-fur coat. The boy had succeeded in taking Buzyga safely as far as Perebrod. They had not been seen from the mill, although people were already stirring there and some wagons stood around. They had found the horses in the place indicated. There were four horses, but Cubik was not there. That circumstance disturbed Buzyga a great deal, so that he took with him only the two better horses, leaving the others tied to the post and ordered the boy to run home immediately and not along the road, but straight across the Marinkino swamp and through the government woods.

“Did Buzyga get scared?” asked Kozel hastily.

“No, he didn’t get scared,” answered Vasil, breathing with difficulty. “Only he was very angry, threatened to cut Cubik’s throat.⁠ ⁠… And he got angry with me, too.⁠ ⁠… I said to him: ‘It doesn’t make any difference, Buzyga. I am not afraid. Let’s take all the horses and go.’ And he started shouting at me; I thought he’d beat me, so I ran away from him.⁠ ⁠…”

“And what about me? Did he ask you to tell me anything?”

“Yes. He said: ‘You tell the old man to stay home all day long and not to stir out. And if anybody asks you about Buzyga or the horses, tell them you don’t know anything about it⁠ ⁠…’ ”

“What is it, O Lord?” exclaimed Kozel in a helpless, troubled voice.

Vasil was drinking water greedily out of a wooden dish.

“I guess they went after Buzyga,” said he, raising his face from the dish for a moment. “When I was running across the swamp I heard a lot of people riding down the road, on horseback and in wagons.”

The old man kept winking his red, wet eyes in confusion. His face was almost disfigured with fear, and one end of his mouth was twitching.

“Lie down, Vasil, lie down on the bed quickly!” he said in a broken voice. “Lie down quickly. O Lord, O Lord! Whose horses did he take? Did you see? Lie down, lie down!”

“One of them I did not know, but the other one was that roan mare of Kuzma Sotnik’s.⁠ ⁠…”

“Kuzma’s? O Lord! What are we going to do now? Didn’t I ask Buzyga not to touch any horses from our village? There you are!”

Kozel breathed heavily, moving on top of the stove. “Don’t forget, Vasil, that, if anybody asks you where we went, say that we went to the government woods for bast. And tell them that the guard took it away from us. Do you hear?”

“Yes, I hear,” said the boy roughly.

“O Lord, O Lord!” Kozel kept repeating. “It’s impossible that Cubik betrayed me. He isn’t that kind of a fellow. It’s all Buzyga’s fault, that iron head of his! What the deuce did he want to take the two horses for? You say there were a lot of people going down the road? Lord, O Lord! That’s the way he always is. Doesn’t care for his own head and still less for another man’s. Didn’t he see, the rascal, that the thing was off? Why not run away? No, he was ashamed of the boy and had to show what a brave fellow he was.⁠ ⁠… O Lord, O Lord!⁠ ⁠… Are you asleep, Vasil?”

The boy kept an angry silence. The old man moved about for a long time, groaning and sighing, and talking to himself in a rapid, frightened whisper. He tried to assure himself that there was no danger at all, that Cubik’s absence would be explained by and by as a mere accident, that the galloping riders of the road were simply an illusion of the frightened boy, and although he succeeded in deceiving his mind for a few short moments, he saw clearly and unmistakably in the depth of his soul that a terrible and inevitable death was moving toward him. At times he would break off his senseless whispering and listen with painful attention. And every rustle, every knock, or sound of a voice made him shiver and lie motionless. Once, when under the window a rooster crowed loudly and flapped his wings, the old beggar felt all the blood rushing from his head to his quivering heart, and his body became limp, and was covered with hot perspiration.

An hour went by. The sun rose from behind the yellow fields that stretched to the other side of the bridge. Two columns of merry, golden light in which numberless specks of dust were dancing joyfully, rushed in through the two windows of the dark, smoky hut, filled with an odor of sheep-fur and stale food. Suddenly Kozel threw the coat away and stood up on the stove. His old, colorless eyes were wide open and had an expression of mad fright. His blue lips were trembling, unable to pronounce the word.

“They are coming!” said he finally, through hiccups, shaking his head. “Vasil, they are coming.⁠ ⁠… Our death.⁠ ⁠… Vasil.⁠ ⁠…”

The boy already heard an indistinct, dull, low rumbling which rose and fell like wind-ridden waves, becoming more terrible and more distinct every moment. But it seemed that a faraway barrier held it back. But now this invisible wall suddenly gave way and the sounds rushed from behind it with terrible force.

“They are coming here. They will kill us, Vasil!” cried Kozel wildly.

Now one could hear the sound of a vast crowd of people, frenzied and blinded by the cruel, unbounded, merciless peasant wrath, running down the street, shouting fiercely, and stamping with their heavy, iron-shod boots.

“Drag them over here! Break the door!” howled under the very window of the hut someone’s voice, and it had not a single human tone in it.

The unlocked door, torn off its hinges, opened and struck against the wall, while a black, shouting crowd rushed into the bright oblong formed by its opening. Their faces disfigured with anger, pushing and shoving each other without noticing it, dozens of frenzied men rushed into the hut, forced in from behind. Dishevelled, frenzied faces were looking in through the window, darkening the room and preventing the golden columns of dust from entering.

Vasil sat motionless with his back pressed against the wall, pale and trembling but not frightened. He saw the sheep-fur coat fly down from the stove, and directly after it came Kozel helplessly flying over the heads of the crowd. The old beggar was shouting something, opening wide his toothless mouth, twitching his face into shameless contortions of cringing terror, which made his whole wrinkled face horribly disgusting. He waved his mutilated hands, pointing them at the image, hastily making the sign of the cross, and striking his bosom with them. And from all sides men rushed upon him, their bloodshot eyes almost glassy with anger, their lips twisted out of shape by their mad shouting. The old man was twirling in the midst of their hot, sweating bodies like a splinter of wood in a whirlpool.

“Kill him! Kill him! The scoundrel! No, you won’t get away! Tsypenuk, give it to him! Drag him out into the street, boys, drag him out! You’ve pestered us long enough. We’ll bury you alive!⁠ ⁠… Kill him!” was heard as separate exclamations in the midst of the general uproar.

Suddenly, covering all this tempest of curses and vituperations, was heard the mighty voice of Kuzma Sotnik, who shouted, towering above the crowd, his face red with the effort.

“Wait a moment, brethren, we have to investigate this. Take him over to where Buzyga is!”

“Drag him! Take him! Let’s put an end to them all!⁠ ⁠…”

With the same elemental impetuosity with which it rushed into the hut, the crowd now surged back into the street. Somebody picked up Vasil and threw him into this crowd of wriggling bodies. Crushed in on all sides, deafened by the noise, he was thrown outside by this rushing current.

The village presented an unusual, peculiar sight on that beautiful summer morning. Despite the fact that it was a working day, in the middle of the week, the streets were crowded with people. And wagons and ploughs with horses already harnessed, stood abandoned in front of almost every gate. Children and women were running in one direction, toward the church. Dogs barked all around; hens cackled, flapping their wings and flying to all sides. The crowd was growing fast and occupied the whole width of the street. Crowded in a dense mass, half suffocated, constantly pushing and shoving each other, these men were running along, shouting hoarsely, their mouths foaming as though they were a pack of wild beasts.

On a little meadow in front of the wine-shop, there was a dense, black ring of people. The two crowds joined together, mingled, and pressed against each other. Some monstrously elastic force threw Kozel and Vasil forward.

In the middle of a narrow spot instinctively set apart by the crowd, Buzyga was lying on the grass, which was wet and dark with blood. His face had the appearance of a large piece of bloody meat, torn to shreds. One of his eyes was torn out and was hanging on something that looked like a red rag. The other eye was closed. What had been his nose was now a large bloody, round cake. His mustaches were covered with blood. But what was most terrible, inexpressibly terrible, was the fact that this mutilated and disfigured man was lying on the ground in silence, while around him the wild crowd was shouting and howling, intoxicated with cruelty.

Kuzma Sotnik caught Kozel by the collar of his coat and bent him down with such force that the old man fell on his knees.

“Hey, there! Quiet!” shouted Kuzma, turning around. “Keep quiet there!”

He was the leader on that day and his word was obeyed. The crowd’s roar gradually died away, as though running back from rank to rank.

“Buzyga!” shouted Kuzma when silence set in, bending low over the horse-thief. “Do you hear me? We won’t beat you any more. Will you tell me truly whether Kozel was with you or not?”

Buzyga remained silent and did not open his one eye. His chest rose often and so high that it seemed impossible for a man to breathe in that way, and each breath made something whistle in his throat, as though a fluid were flowing with difficulty through a narrow tube.

“Don’t try to bluff us, you devil!” shouted Kuzma threateningly, and raising his foot, he struck Buzyga on the lower part of the chest with all the force of his iron-shod boot.

Ukh!” the whole crowd sighed in unison, heavily and greedily.

Buzyga groaned and opened his eye slowly. It fell on Vasil’s face.

Buzyga looked at the boy slowly for a long time, closely and indifferently, and then it suddenly seemed to Vasil that the bloody mouth of the horse-thief twisted into a suffering, tender smile, and this seemed so unnatural, so pitiful, and so dreadful that Vasil cried involuntarily, and covered his face with his hands.

“Now, tell us, you Satan!” Sotnik shouted this in Buzyga’s ear. “Listen. If you will tell us who helped you, we’ll let you go immediately. Otherwise, we’ll kill you like a dog. Am I telling the truth or not, boys? Tell him.⁠ ⁠…”

“That’s right.⁠ ⁠… Tell us, Buzyga, and we won’t do anything else to you,” rumbled through the crowd like a dull wave of sound.

Buzyga looked at Vasil with that same long and peculiar gaze and, opening with difficulty his mutilated lips, said in a scarcely audible voice:

“No one⁠ ⁠… was there.⁠ ⁠… I was alone.⁠ ⁠…”

He closed his eye and his chest began to rise and fall.

“Kill him!” came a tremulous, nervous, half-childish voice, shrieking somewhere in the back ranks. The crowd moved forward, howled dully, and closed in on the spot where the horse-thief was lying.

Without rising, Kozel dragged himself over to where Kuzma was standing and threw his arms about his feet.

“My benefactor!” he was saying senselessly and entreatingly. “See, I kiss your feet.⁠ ⁠… God knows that I was home all the time. I went for some bast.⁠ ⁠… God knows and the Holy Virgin. My benefactors! Here I kiss your feet!⁠ ⁠… I am only a poor cripple.⁠ ⁠…”

And he was really dragging himself around on his knees, holding on to Kuzma’s boot and kissing it in such frenzy as though his whole safety lay in this. Kuzma slowly turned around and looked at the crowd.

“Let him go to the devil!” said an old man standing there.

“To the devil with him!” caught up several voices. “Maybe it wasn’t he. It was a Kreshevo horse anyway! What’s the use? Let Kozel go.⁠ ⁠… We’ll ask the elder afterward.”

Kozel was still dragging himself on his knees from one peasant to another. The terror of the imminent and cruel death had now changed to delirious joy. He pretended that he did not understand what was going on. Tears were running down his horribly twisted face. He caught the hands and the boots of the peasants and kissed them greedily. Vasil stood to one side, pale and motionless, with his eyes burning. He could not turn his face away from Buzyga’s terrible face, seeking yet fearing his glance.

“Go away!” Kuzma Sotnik suddenly said and kicked the old man in the back with his boot. “You go away too, Vasil! Buzyga!” he shouted almost immediately, turning to the dying horse-thief, “do you hear? I am asking you for the last time: ‘Who was with you?’ ”

The crowd moved in again. The same force that threw Kozel and the boy forward was now bearing them back, and the people whom they met turned away, made room for them impatiently, as if they were disturbing their strained attention. Through the soft and dense barrier of human bodies, Vasil heard the loud bass of Kuzma who was still questioning Buzyga. Suddenly the same thin, hysterical voice shouted almost above Vasil’s head: “Kill Buzyga!⁠ ⁠…”

All those who were standing behind pushed forward, shoving in those before them. Kozel and Vasil found themselves outside of the crowd.

“Lord be praised!” the old man muttered joyously, drying his tears with one of his stumps and making the sign of the cross with the other. “Vasil, Vasil! O Lord! We have escaped!⁠ ⁠… Vasil! O Lord!⁠ ⁠… We have escaped! Why do you stand there? Let’s run home!”

“You go; I won’t,” said Vasil gloomily.

It seemed that it was outside of his power to draw his burning eyes away from the black, motionless, and dreadfully silent crowd. His blue lips trembled and became distorted, as they whispered unintelligible words.

“Let’s go, Vasil!” Kozel entreated him, dragging his grandson by the hand.

At that moment the black mass suddenly quivered and swayed like a forest that was suddenly struck by the wind. A dull and short groan of fury rolled over it. In an instant it pressed together, then tore apart again, then pressed together once more. And deafening each other with their frenzied cries, the men mingled together in the horrible fray.

“Vasil, for God’s sake!” the old man muttered, “let’s go away.⁠ ⁠… They will kill us!”

It was with great difficulty that he succeeded in dragging the boy away from the mob, but on the corner, struck by the dead silence that suddenly set in, Vasil drew away and glanced back.

“O Lord have mercy on thy sinful slave, Levonty, and take him to Paradise,” Kozel suddenly began to whisper. “They have killed Buzyga,” he said with pretended sadness.

He knew that the people’s wrath was allayed with blood and that death had gone past him. He could not conceal his deep, animal joy. He alternately cried and laughed with noiseless, long laughter. He spoke feverishly, without pauses, without sense, and made idiotic faces at himself. Vasil looked at him from time to time in aversion, knitting his brows with an expression of deep hatred.


“Father Deacon, stop burning that candle. You won’t get far at this rate,” said the archdeacon’s wife. “It’s time to get up.”

This little, thin, sallow-faced woman treated her husband very sternly. When she was still at school, the prevalent opinion there was that all men are rascals, cheats, and tyrants. But the deacon was not a tyrant at all. He was really afraid of his hysterical wife, who was subject to fits. They had no children, as the wife was barren. The archdeacon was of immense stature, weighing over three hundred pounds, with a chest that reminded one of the body of an automobile. He was possessed of a powerful voice and, at the same time, of that gentle condescension, which is so peculiar to exceedingly strong men when they are dealing with very weak persons.

It took the archdeacon a long time to get his voice into proper shape. He had to go through the whole of that painfully long and unpleasant process which is so familiar to all public singers. He, too, had to make local application with cocaine, and with caustic, and gargle his throat with a solution of boric acid. While still in bed, Father Olympy began to try out his voice:

“Via⁠ ⁠… hmm!⁠ ⁠… Via‑a‑a!⁠ ⁠… Halleluja, halleluja⁠ ⁠… maa‑ma⁠ ⁠…”

“Don’t seem to sound well, God bless me. Hm,⁠ ⁠…” thought he to himself.

Just like famous singers, he never trusted his own powers. It is a well-known fact that actors become pale and make the sign of the cross just before coming out. Father Olympy was the same way. And yet, there was not another man in the city, perhaps not in all Russia, who could make the dark, ancient church, with its gilt mosaics, resound to his low notes. He alone could fill every nook and corner of the old building with his mighty voice, and make the cut-glass ornaments on the incense-bowls tinkle in unison.

His wife brought him a glass of weak tea with lemon and, as usual on Sundays, a small glass of vodka. Olympy tested his voice again. “Mi, mi, fa.⁠ ⁠…”

“Strike that D, mother,” said he.

His wife struck a prolonged, melancholy note.

“Hm⁠ ⁠… Pharaoh, driving his chariot.⁠ ⁠… No; doesn’t work. The devil take that writer, what’s his name?”

Father Olympy was a great lover of books. He read them one after another, in any order, never interesting himself much in the writer’s name. His education in the seminary, based mostly on learning things “by heart,” and consisting almost exclusively of memorizing church canons and quotations from the Fathers of the Church, had developed his memory wonderfully. In order to memorize a whole page of the complicated works of such dialecticians as Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, and Basil the Great, all he had to do was to read the lines, and they would become firmly fixed in his memory. Books for reading were supplied by his friend Smirnov, a student at the Academy. The book he had just read was a beautiful story of life in the Caucasus, where soldiers, Cossacks, and Chechens killed each other, drank wine, married, and hunted wild beasts.

The book aroused the archdeacon’s adventurous soul. He read it over three times, and during each reading he cried and laughed with joy, doubled his fists, and turned his huge body from side to side. Of course, it would have been much better if he were a hunter, a fisherman, a horseman; certainly, his place was not in the clergy.

He always came to the church a little later than was necessary; just like the famous barytone at the opera. Approaching the southern gate of the altar, he tested his voice for the last time.

“Hm, hm.⁠ ⁠… Sounds like D, and that rascal of a regent will be sure to strike C-sharp. But I don’t care. I’ll get the choir to sing my tone, anyway.”

The pride of the popular favorite awoke in him. He knew that the whole city adored him, and that even boys in the streets gathered in crowds to gaze at him, as they did upon the gaping mouth of the enormous trumpet in the military orchestra that played in the public square.

The archbishop came in and was solemnly led to his place. His mitre was tilted a little to the left. Two subdeacons were standing on each side, swaying the censers rhythmically. The clergy, in bright holiday vestments, surrounded the archbishop’s seat. Two clergymen brought the images of the Saviour and the Virgin Mary from the altar.

The church was an old one, and, like Catholic churches, it had a little elevated platform in one corner, with a carved-oak railing around it, and a flight of narrow, winding steps leading up to it.

Slowly, feeling each step and carefully supporting himself by the handrail, as he was always afraid to break something through his awkwardness, the archdeacon mounted the platform, coughed, spit over the railing, touched his tuning-fork, went from C to D, and began the service.

“Bless me, your most gracious Eminence!”

“Oh, no, Mr. Regent. You won’t dare to change the pitch as long as the bishop is here,” he thought. He felt with pleasure at that moment that his voice sounded better than ever, went easily from note to note, and made the air of the whole church tremble with its soft, deep sighs.

It was Quadragesima Sunday, in the first week of Lent. At first there was very little work for Father Olympy. The reader monotonously mumbled the psalms; the deacon, an academician and future professor of homiletics, spoke rapidly through his nose.

From time to time the archdeacon roared, “We shall attend,” or, “We shall pray to the Lord.” His huge body, in a surplice embroidered with gold, towered over the crowd. He stood there shaking his black, silvering hair, that was like a lion’s mane, and testing his voice from time to time. The church was filled with old women and gray-bearded little old men who reminded one of fish-traders, or moneylenders.

“It’s funny,” thought Olympy, “that all women’s profiles remind you either of a fish or of a hen’s head!⁠ ⁠… There’s my wife, too.⁠ ⁠…”

But his professional habits compelled him to follow closely the service, which was in accordance with the seventeenth-century mass-book. Finally, the psalm-reader finished his part, concluding it with the words: “The Most High Lord, our Master and Creator, Amen.”

Then began the rite of the affirmation of Orthodoxy.

“Who is more supreme than our Lord? Thou, O Lord, art supreme above all, thou, alone, performest miracles.”

The melody was slow, and not very distinct. The service for Quadragesima Sunday and the rite of anathematization may be varied at will. For example, the Holy Church knows anathemas written for special occasions, e.g., anathemas against Ivashka Mazepa, Stenka Razin, the heretic Arius, the iconoclasts, the Archpriest Habakkuk, etc., etc.

But something peculiar happened to the archdeacon that morning, something that had never happened before. Perhaps it was the whiskey that his wife gave him with his tea.

Somehow his thoughts could not become detached from the story he had read the night before. Simple, beautiful, fascinating pictures rose in his mind with unusual clearness and distinctness. But, through sheer force of habit, he completed this part of the service, pronounced the word “Amen,” and concluded:

“This apostolic faith, this paternal faith, this Orthodox faith, this universal faith, affirm.”

The archbishop was an extreme formalist and pedant. He never permitted any omission in the canons of the most blessed Father Andrew of Crete, or the funeral rites, or any other service. And Father Olympy, making the whole church tremble with his mighty voice, and the glass ornaments on the lustres tinkle in unison with it, cursed, anathematized, and excommunicated the following: all iconoclasts, all heretics, beginning with Arius, all followers of the teachings of Italus, the pseudo-monk Nile, Constantine and Irinika, Varlaam and Akindina, Herontius and Isaac Argira, all Mohammedans, Jews, those who mock the Holy Church, those who blaspheme the Day of Annunciation, tavern-keepers who rob widows and orphans, Old Believers, the traitors and rebels Gregory Otrepiev, Timoshka Akundinov, Stenka Razin, Ivashka Mazepa, Emelka Pugachev, and also all who profess faith contrary to the Holy Orthodox faith.

Then followed categorical anathemas against those who refuse the blessing of redemption, who deny the holy sacraments, who do not recognize the councils of the Fathers of the Church and their traditions.

“All those who dare to presume that the Orthodox rulers are not seated on their thrones by the special grace of God, and that at their anointing and their elevation to that high station the blessings of the Holy Ghost do not descend upon them, and who dare, therefore, to rise in rebellion against them and to betray them.⁠ ⁠… All those who blaspheme and mock the holy images.⁠ ⁠…”

And after each exclamation the choir answered him sadly, the gentle, angelic voices groaning the word, “Anathema.

Hysterics began among the women.

The archdeacon had already finished the “Long Life!” service to all the deceased zealots of the church, when the psalm-reader mounted the platform and handed him a short note from the archpriest, in which he was instructed, by the order of the archbishop, to anathematize the “boyard Leo Tolstoy.”⁠—“See Chapt. L of the mass-book,” was added in the note.

The archdeacon’s throat was already tired after its long exertions. Yet he cleared it again and began: “Bless me, your most gracious Eminence.” He scarcely heard the low whisper of the old archbishop:

“May our Lord God bless you, O archdeacon, to anathematize the blasphemer and the apostate from the faith of Christ, rejecting its holy sacraments, the boyard Leo Tolstoy. In the name of Father, and Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

“Amen,” came from the choir.

Suddenly, Father Olympy felt his hair standing erect on his head, becoming hard and heavy, like steel wire. And at the same moment the beautiful words of the story he had read the night before came to him, clear and distinct:

“… awaking, Eroshka raised his head and began to watch intently the night-butterflies, which were flying around the trembling flame of the candle, and falling into it.

“ ‘You fool,’ said he. ‘Where are you flying? Fool, fool!’ And, sitting up, he began to chase the butterflies away from the flame with his thick fingers.

“ ‘Why, you’ll get burned, you little fools. Fly over there, there’s lots of room,’ he was saying gently, catching butterflies by the wings, holding them carefully in his thick fingers, and then letting them go.

“ ‘You’re hurting yourself, and I’m trying to save you.’

“My God! Whom am I anathematizing?” thought the archdeacon in terror. “Him? Is it possible? Didn’t I weep all night in joy, and rapture, and admiration?”

But, obedient to the traditions of centuries, he continued to hurl those awful, stupefying words of anathema and excommunication, which fell into the crowd like the peals of a huge brass bell.

“… The former priest Nikita, and the monks Sergius, Sabbatius, Dorothius, and Gabriel⁠ ⁠… blaspheme the holy sacraments of the church, and will not repent and accept the true church; may they be cursed for such impious doings.⁠ ⁠…”

He waited a few moments. His face was now red, streaming with perspiration. The arteries of his neck swelled until they were as thick as a finger.⁠ ⁠…

“Once I was sitting by the river and saw a cradle floating down. A perfectly good cradle it was, only one side broken off a little. And then all sorts of thoughts came into my head. Whose cradle is it? Those devils of soldiers of yours must have come to the village, taken the women with them, and some one of them, maybe, killed the child. Just swung him by the feet and dashed him against the corner of the house. As though such things were not done! There is no soul in men! And such thoughts came to me, such thoughts.⁠ ⁠… They must have taken the woman with them, I thought, thrown the cradle away, burned the house. And the man, I guess, took his gun and went over to our side to be a robber.

“… And though he tempt the Holy Spirit, like Simon the Magician, or like Ananias and Saphira, returning like a dog to the matter he has vomited, may his days be short and hard, may his prayer lead to sin, may the devil dwell in his mouth, may he be condemned forever, may his line perish in one generation, may the memory of his name be effaced from the earth. And may double, and triple, and numerous curses and anathemas fall upon him. May he be struck with Cain’s trembling, Giezius’s leprosy, Judas’s strangulation, Simon’s destruction, Arius’s bursting, the sudden end of Ananias and Saphira.⁠ ⁠… Be he excommunicated and anathematized, and forgiven not even unto death, may his body fall to dust and the earth refuse to accept it, and may a part of it descend into eternal Gehenna, and be tortured there day and night.⁠ ⁠…”

And his vivid memory brought to his thought more and more of the beautiful words:

“Everything that God has made is for man’s joy. There is no sin in anything.⁠ ⁠… Take a beast, for example. He lives in the Tartar rushes, and in ours.⁠ ⁠… Wherever he comes, there is his home. He eats whatever God gives him. And our people say that for such doings you will lick hot irons in Hell. Only, I think that it is not true.”

Suddenly the archdeacon stopped and closed the ancient mass-book with a snap. The words that followed on its pages were even more terrible than those that he had spoken. They were words that could have been conceived only by the narrow minds of the monks who lived in the first centuries of our era.

The archdeacon’s face became blue, almost black; his hands clutched convulsively the railing of his platform. For a second he thought that he was going to faint. But he recovered himself. Straining the utmost resources of his mighty voice, he began solemnly:

“To the joy of our earth, to the ornament and the flower of our life, to the true comilitant and servant of Christ, to the boyard Leo.⁠ ⁠…”

He became silent for a second. There was not a whisper, not a cough, not a sound in the crowded church. It was that awful moment of silence when a large crowd is mute, obedient to one will, seized by one feeling. And now, the archdeacon’s eyes reddened and became suffused with tears, his face suddenly became radiant with that beauty which can transform the face of a man when in the ecstasy of inspiration. He coughed again, and suddenly, filling the whole edifice with his terrible voice, roared:

“Lo‑o‑ong li‑i‑ife.”

And, instead of lowering his candle, as is done in the rite of anathematization, he raised it high above his head.

It was in vain that the regent hissed at his choirboys, struck them on the heads with his tuning-fork, closed their mouths with his hand. Joyfully, like the silvery sounds of the archangels’ trumpets, their voices rang out through the church: “Long life! Long life!”

In the meantime, Father Prior, Father Provost, an official of the Consistory, the psalm-reader, and the archdeacon’s wife had mounted on the platform.

“Let me alone.⁠ ⁠… Let me alone⁠ ⁠…” said Father Olympy in a wrathful, hissing whisper, contemptuously brushing aside Father Provost. “I’ve spoiled my voice, but it was for the glory of the Lord. Go away.”

He took off the surplice embroidered with gold, reverently kissed the stole, made the sign of the cross, and came down. He went out through the aisle, towering over the crowd, immense, majestic, and sad, and people involuntarily moved away, experiencing strange fear. As if made of stone, he walked past the archbishop’s place without even glancing at it.

It was only in the churchyard that his wife caught up with him. Crying and pulling him by the sleeve, she began to shriek:

“What have you done, you crazy idiot? Got drunk in the morning, and started up.⁠ ⁠… It’ll be lucky if they only send you to some monastery to clean cesspools. How much trouble I’m going to have now, and all on account of you, you blockhead!”

“Doesn’t make any difference,” said the archdeacon, looking at the ground. “I’ll go as a common laborer, become a switchman or a janitor, but I won’t serve in the church any more. I’ll go tomorrow. Don’t want it any more. My soul can’t stand it. I believe truly, according to the symbol of the faith, yes, I believe in Christ and the Apostolic Church. Yet I feel no wrath.”

And then again, the familiar, beautiful words rushed through his mind:

“Everything that God has made is for man’s joy.”

“Idiot! Blockhead!” shrieked his wife. “I’ll send you to the insane asylum.⁠ ⁠… I’ll go to the governor, to the Tsar.⁠ ⁠… Got drunk out of his senses, the blockhead.”

Then Father Olympy paused, turned around, and, opening wide his large, angry eyes, said sternly and heavily:


For the first time his wife became timidly silent. She turned away from her husband, covered her face with a handkerchief, and burst into tears.

And he walked on, immense, dark, and majestic, like a monument.

The Laestrygonians



At the end of October, or the beginning of November, the city of Balaklava, that most original corner of the variegated Russian Empire, begins to live a life all its own. The days are still warm and pleasant, as they sometimes are in the fall, but at night it grows cold and the ground resounds under your step. The last summer visitors have gone to Sebastopol with their bundles, suitcases, trunks, sickly children, and decadente young ladies. As mementos of the recent guests, there still remain grape-skins which the invalid summer visitors had scattered in abundant quantities on every pier and in every narrow street, all for the purpose of aiding their precious health, and piles of paper, refuse, cigarette stumps, scraps of letters and newspapers, which always remain behind when the summer visitors go away.

And immediately Balaklava becomes roomy, fresh, comfortable, and cozy, as though it were an apartment which had just been left by a crowd of noisy, smoking, arguing, uninvited guests. The old, native Greek population, which had until then concealed itself in back rooms and shacks, now creeps forth and takes possession of the streets.

On the street running along the shore fishing-nets are spread out, stretched across the whole width of the street. Against the rough cobbles of the street they seem thin and delicate as a cobweb, and the fishermen, creeping over them on all fours, appear like black spiders mending their broken, airy traps. Other fishermen are twisting the cord that they will use for catching the sturgeon and the flounder; with a serious and preoccupied air, they run back and forth with the cord thrown over their shoulders, twisting the thread without stopping.

The captains of the fishing-boats are sharpening the sturgeon-hooks, the old, dull copper hooks which, according to an old tradition of fishermen, are always preferred by the fish to the modern steel hooks of the English style. On the other side of the bay the boats, drawn on the shore and turned with the keel up, are being calked, tarred, and painted.

Around the stone fountains, where a thin stream of water runs and murmurs without stopping, the thin, dark-faced Greek women, with large eyes and long noses⁠—so strangely and touchingly like the representations of the Holy Virgin on the old Byzantine images⁠—chatter for hours at a time about their petty household affairs.

And all this is done without any undue haste, in a pleasant, neighborly way, with skill and deftness acquired by age-long habits, beneath the bright and pleasant autumn sun, on the shore of the merry blue bay, under the clear autumn sky, which rests so calmly upon the indented line of the low, bald mountains that surround the bay.

It seems that the summer guests have already been forgotten, as though they had never been there. Two or three rainy days, and the last vestige of their recent presence will be washed away from the streets. The whole senseless summer, passed in absurd haste, with its evening concerts, its dust raised by the women’s skirts, its pitiful flirtations and discussions of political subjects, now seems like a faraway, long-forgotten dream. The whole interest of the fishing town is concentrated upon the fish and their coming.

In the coffeehouses of Ivan Yuryich and Ivan Adamovich, the fishermen form into companies for their future work, while others play dominos. Captains are chosen here, too. The conversation in every corner of the room is concerned with the one subject of shares, fishing-nets, hooks, the possible catch, the mackerel, the flounder, the sturgeon, and other fish caught here. And at nine o’clock the whole town is plunged into profound slumber.

Nowhere in the whole of Russia, and I have travelled much through its width and length⁠—nowhere have I experienced the sensation of such deep, complete, and perfect silence as in Balaklava.

Sometimes I would go out on the balcony and feel immediately swallowed up by the darkness and the silence. The sky is black, the water in the bay is black, the mountains are black. The water is so thick, so heavy, and so calm that the stars reflected in it do not twinkle or break. Not a single human sound interrupts this silence. Now and then, perhaps once a minute, you can hear a tiny wavelet splash upon a rock. But this lonely, melodious sound only deepens, only accentuates the silence. You can hear the blood coursing through the veins in your ears. A rope holding a boat squeaks somewhere. And again everything is silent. You feel that the night and the silence are plunged in one black embrace.

I gaze to the left, where the narrow neck of the bay hemmed in by two mountains, disappears. A long, low mountain lies there, crowned by some ancient ruins. If you look at it attentively it will appear to you like a gigantic monster of the fairytale who lies with his breast on the shore of the bay and, thrusting his dark head with its upstanding ears deep into the water, greedily drinks it, unable to satiate his thirst.

At the very spot where the monster ought to have an eye burns a little red speck that represents the light of the customhouse. I know this light well, for I have passed it a hundred times, touching the lantern with my hand. But in the strange silence and the deep blackness of this autumn night I seem to see more and more distinctly the back and the head of the ancient monster, and I feel that its sly and wicked eye is watching me intently with a feeling of concealed hatred.

Suddenly I recall that verse from Homer in which Odysseus sees bloodthirsty Laestrygonians in a small, narrow-necked Black Sea bay. I also think of the enterprising, supple, handsome Genoese who erected their colossal fortifications upon the brow of this mountain. And in my mind rises the picture of a stormy winter night when a whole English squadron, headed by the haughty flagship, the Black Prince, was dashed to bits against the bosom of the old monster. The Black Prince is now lying on the bottom of the sea, not far away from the spot where I am standing, with its bars of gold still within its hold, that had carried down with it hundreds of human lives.

The old monster in its half-slumber gazes at me with its sharp little red eye. It appears to me like an old, old, forgotten divinity, which dreams its thousand-year-old dreams amidst this black silence. And I feel a strange disquiet.

The slow, lazy footsteps of the night-watchman are heard at a distance, and I distinguish clearly not only every sound of his heavy, iron-shod fisherman’s boots beating against the stones of the sidewalk, but also the shuffling of his heels at every second step. The sounds are so distinct amidst this silence that it seems to me as though I were walking together with him, although I am certain that he is more than a verst away from me. But now he has turned aside into some dark alley, or, perhaps, has sat down on a bench somewhere: his footsteps are heard no more. Everything is silent. Everything is dark.


The Mackerel

The autumn is coming fast. The water becomes colder and colder. Just now one can catch only small fish with dragnets, those large vases of netting which are thrown to the bottom from the boat. But suddenly a rumor is set afloat that Yura Paratino had rigged his boat and had sent it to the spot where his mackerel-nets were placed, between the Capes of Aya and Laspi.

Of course, Yura Paratino is not the Emperor of Germany, or a famous bass, or a fashionable writer, or a singer of gypsy songs, but when I think of the importance and respect that attach to his name along the whole shore of the Black Sea, I always recall his friendship with pleasure and pride.

Yura Paratino is a tall, strong Greek of about forty, with an appearance of having been steeped in brine and tar. He has a bull-neck, a dark complexion, black, curly hair, mustaches, a clean-shaven, square chin, with an indentation in the middle that reminds one of animals⁠—a chin that bespeaks enormous willpower and great cruelty⁠—and thin lips that indicate great energy, all the more so because the corners of his mouth are turned downward. There isn’t a single fisherman on the whole shore more skilful, clever, powerful, and courageous than Yura Paratino. No one could outdo Yura when it came to drinking, and yet he had never been seen drunk. No one had ever been as successful as Yura, not even the famous Theodore of Oleiza himself.

In him, more than in anyone else, was developed that special fisherman’s indifference to the unjust strokes of fate, an indifference which is so highly prized by these seafaring people.

When Yura would be told that the storm had torn to pieces the rigging of his boat, or that one of his boats filled to the top with precious fish had sunk in the storm, Yura would only say lightly, “Oh, let it go to the devil!” And immediately he would seem to have forgotten all about it.

The other fishermen say about Yura: “The mackerel have only begun coming here from Kerch, but Yura already knows where to put his nets.”

These nets are about seventy feet long and thirty-five feet wide. The details of their weaving and placing are hardly interesting. But when large schools of fish swimming along the shore at night are caught in what becomes a trap, because of the nets’ special inclination, the fish cannot get away without being thrown out of the net. The fishermen lift the net out of the water and empty the fish into their boats. It is highly important to note in time the moment when the water about the net begins to seethe as though it were boiling. If this moment is not anticipated, the fish are likely to break through the net and escape.

And now, when some mysterious premonition had informed Yura of the fish’s intentions, the whole of Balaklava was passing through disquieting, annoyingly tense days. Boys were stationed on the tops of the mountains to watch day and night, and the boats were kept in constant readiness. Numbers of fish-dealers had come from Sebastopol. The local canning factory was busily preparing its barns for enormous quantities of fish.

At last, early in the morning, the rumor flashed like lightning through the houses, the restaurants, and the streets.

“The fish have come! The fish have come! Mackerel are being caught in the nets of Ivan Yegorovich, Kota, Khristo, Spiro, Capitanaki, and, of course, of Yura Paratino.”

All the boats are now manned and go out of the harbor.

And the rest of the inhabitants of the town are on the shore. They are all there, the old men, the women, the children, the two fat saloon-keepers, the gray-haired coffeehouse keeper, Ivan Adamovich; the proprietor of the drugstore, who is a very busy man and has come out but for a moment, the good-natured assistant surgeon, Yevsey Markovich, and the two local physicians.

The most important circumstance is the fact that the first boat to enter the bay sells its fish at a higher price than the others, and so the feelings that agitate the crowd gathered on the shore spring from interest and sport and ambition and calculation.

Finally, at the spot where the neck of the bay narrows down between the two mountains, appears the first boat, making a sharp curve around the shore.

“It’s Yura.”

“No, it’s Kolya.”

“No; of course, it is Genali.”

The fishermen have an ambition peculiar to themselves. When the catch is particularly large they consider it a mark of special elegance fairly to fly into the bay instead of entering it slowly. And the three men at the oars, straining their back and arm muscles to the utmost, their necks bent forward, their bodies almost falling back at each of their frequent and measured strokes, send the boat flying across the smooth surface of the bay with short, rapid strokes. The captain, his face turned toward them, is standing up, guiding the direction of the boat.

Of course, it is Yura Paratino! The boat is brimful of white, silvery fish, and the feet of the oarsmen are above them, tramping them down. Carelessly, while the boat is still in motion and the oarsmen have scarcely begun to slow down the motion of the boat, Yura jumps upon the wooden pier.

The bargaining with the fish-dealers immediately begins.

“Thirty!” says Yura and slaps, with the palm of his hand, the long, bony hand of one of the fish-dealers.

This means that he wants to sell his fish at thirty roubles a thousand.

“Fifteen!” shouts the Greek and, in his turn, having liberated his hand, slaps Yura’s palm.



Slap, slap.⁠ ⁠…



“Twenty-five!” says Yura hoarsely. “There’s another of my boats coming along.”

And at that moment another boat appears through the neck of the bay, followed by a second, a third, then two together. They make every effort to overtake one another, as the price of fish is falling and falling. In another half-hour the fish will be worth no more than fifteen roubles a thousand; in an hour, ten roubles, and finally five, and even three.

Toward evening the whole of Balaklava is permeated with the odor of fish. Mackerel is fried or canned in every house. The wide mouths of bread-ovens are full of tile boards on which the fish are being fried in their own juice. This is considered the most delicious food by the local lovers of fish. And all the coffeehouses and saloons are filled with smoke and the odor of fried fish.

Yura Paratino, the most openhanded man in all Balaklava, goes into the coffeehouse where the Balaklava fishermen are gathered surrounded by its heavy clouds of tobacco and fish smoke; he shouts to the proprietor in a tone of command, his voice rising above the uproar:

“A cup of coffee for everybody!”

A moment of universal silence, amazement, and joy sets in.

“With sugar or without?” asks the proprietor of the coffeehouse, the immense and dark Ivan Yuryich.

Yura hesitates for a second: a cup of unsweetened coffee costs three copecks; with sugar it costs five. But Yura is far from being mean-spirited. The most unskilled laborer of his boat had earned no less than ten roubles that day.

He says contemptuously:

“With sugar. And let’s have some music, too!”

The musicians appear immediately: a man with a clarinet and one with a tambourine. Late into the night they play their monotonous, mournful Tartar melodies. Young wine appears on the table⁠—the pinkish wine that smells of fresh grapes and causes intoxication in a very short while, leaving you with a dreadful headache on the following morning.

And on the pier, also until late at night, the last boats are being unloaded. Bending down in the boat, two or three Greeks quickly and with easy skill take two fish in the right hand and three in the left and throw them in the basket, keeping an exact, rapid, and ceaseless count. And on the following day more boats come in from the sea.

It seems that the whole of Balaklava is full of fish.

The lazy cats, with their bellies swollen through overeating, are lying there on the sidewalks, and when you hit them with your foot, they open one eye lazily and then doze off again. The geese, also seeming half asleep, can be seen on the placid surface of the bay, and from their beaks stick the tails of some of the fish they had eaten.

For many days the air is full of the strong odor of fresh fish and the burning smell of fried fish. And the light, sticky fish-scales cover the wooden piers, the stones of the street, the hands and the clothes of the happy housewives, and the blue waters of the bay, lazily rippling under the autumn sun.



It is evening. We are sitting in Ivan Yuryich’s coffeehouse, that is lighted by two hanging lamps. Thick clouds of tobacco smoke hang in the air. All the tables are occupied. Some of us play cards or dominos, others sip their coffee, others again simply lounge about, revelling in the light and warmth and exchanging remarks. A long, lazy, cozy, pleasant evening ennui has taken hold of the entire coffeehouse.

By and by we begin a rather odd game which is a great favorite with the fishermen here. I must confess, in spite of the protests of my modesty, that the honor of having invented the game belongs to none but myself. In this game each of the participants in turn is blindfolded with a handkerchief tied with a sailor’s knot, and then a jacket is thrown over his head; two other participants take him by each arm, lead him all over the room, make him spin about several times, then take him outside, bring him in again and steer him in and out among the tables trying their best to confuse him as to his position. When, by general acclaim, enough has been done to confuse the victim, he is permitted to stop and is asked to point to the north.

Everyone is given three chances, and the one who shows the poorest sense of orientation has to treat the company to coffee or to young wine, each person present receiving a cup or a half-bottle. I must admit that I am the most frequent loser. As for Yura Paratino, he invariably points north with the accuracy of a magnetic needle. What a beast!

Suddenly I turn back involuntarily and note that Khristo Ambarzaki winks at me to approach him.

He is not alone; by his side sits Yani, my teacher and the head of our fishing crew.

I go over to them. Khristo, for appearance sake, asks for a set of dominos, and while we pretend to be playing he whispers to me, purposely rattling the dominos:

“Take your difans and come quietly to the landing-place together with Yani. The bay is chock-full of mullets, like a jar of olives. The swine drove them in.”

Difans are very thin fishing-nets, some one hundred and fifty yards long and about three yards wide. They consist of three walls, of which the two outer ones have larger meshes and the middle has narrow ones. The small mackerel will pass through the large-meshed walls, but will get entangled in the meshes of the inner net; on the other hand, large mullets which knock their heads against the middle net and turn back become entangled in the large outer meshes. I am the only man in Balaklava who owns such nets.

Quickly, and trying to keep in the shadows, Yani and I take the nets to the beach. The night is so dark that we are hardly able to descry Khristo, who is already waiting for us in a boat. Muffled sniffing, grunting, and heavy groans are heard from the bay. It is the dolphins, or sea-swine, as the fishermen call them. They have driven enormous shoals of fish into the narrow bay and are now darting across it, devouring the fish as they pass.

What we are getting ready to do is undoubtedly a crime. According to a peculiar ancient custom it is permitted to catch fish in the bay only with fishing-rods and trammels. Only once a year, and for no more than three days, are fish caught in municipal nets. This unwritten law is a sort of fisherman’s taboo.

But the night is so black, the groans and the grunting of the dolphins goad so violently the hunter’s curiosity in us, that, repressing an involuntary sigh of repentance, I cautiously leap into the boat, and, while Khristo rows noiselessly, I help Yani to get the nets in shape. He pays out the lower edge of the net laden with large leaden plummets, while I hand him quickly the upper edge, along which cork-floats are strung.

But suddenly a wonderful spectacle, which I had never seen before, fascinates me. Near by, to the left of the boat, sounds the snorting of the dolphin, and all of a sudden I notice a great number of sinuous silvery streamlets, resembling the rays of bursting fireworks, dashing around the boat with incredible speed. It is the frightened fish fleeing before the rapacious dolphin. And here I notice that the entire sea is ablaze with fire. Pale-blue jewels shimmer on the tops of small, scarcely rippling wavelets. Where the oars touch the water, deep, gleaming bands flame up in magic splendor. I dip my hand into the sea, and when I draw it out a handful of shimmering diamonds drips into the water, and for a long time delicate, bluish phosphoric lights glow on my fingers. This is one of those magic nights when, as the fishermen say, “the sea is ablaze.”

Another shoal of fish darts under the boat, furrowing the deep with short, silvery arrows. I hear the snorting of the dolphin near at hand. Here he is, at last! He appears alongside the boat, disappears for a second under the keel and immediately forges ahead. He swims deep under the water, but with extraordinary clearness I distinguish his powerful body, strained in the race. Wrapped in the shimmer of infusoria, his contours set off by myriads of spangles, he looks like a shining glass skeleton, darting at a terrific speed.

Khristo rows with absolute noiselessness, and Yani only once hits the side of the boat with the lead plummets. We have unwound the entire net, and now we can start.

We cross to the opposite shore. Yani plants himself firmly on the prow, his feet wide apart. A large, flat stone, tied to a rope, quietly slides from his hands and sinks to the bottom, hardly splashing the water. A big cork buoy rises to the surface, a scarcely visible black dot on the surface of the bay. Now we make our boat trace a half-circle, as far as the length of our net allows, then we come again to the shore and lower another buoy. We are inside a closed half-circle.

If, instead of poaching, we had been working openly and freely, the next thing to do would have been to make as much noise as possible with our oars and otherwise, so as to drive the fish within our half-circle, into the nets, where they would become entangled in the meshes. But our business needs secrecy, so that all we can do is to go twice from buoy to buoy, noiselessly churning the water with our oars and making it boil in beautiful pale-blue knolls. Then we return to the first buoy. Yani cautiously lifts up the stone which served us as an anchor and drops it without the slightest noise to the bottom of the boat. Standing on the prow and leaning on his left foot, which is put forward, he draws out the net, rhythmically raising and lowering his hands in turn. Slightly leaning overboard, I see the net emerging from the water, and I distinguish clearly every mesh of it, every thread, like an enchanting fiery web. Little, flickering lights slide down Yani’s fingers, and fall back into the water.

And I hear the fish, large and alive, fall to the bottom of the boat with a heavy, wet thud, writhe vigorously, and strike the boards with their tails. Gradually we come to the second buoy and cautiously raise it out of the water.

It is now my turn to row. Khristo and Yani again examine the nets and pick out the mullets from the meshes. Khristo cannot refrain from throwing a big, fat, silvery mullet to my feet over Yani’s head.

“Some fish!” he whispers in my ear, chuckling with bliss.

Yani quietly stops him.

When their work is done and the wet net again lies on the prow platform of the long boat, I see that the entire bottom is carpeted with fish, which are still alive and writhing. But we must make haste. We describe a few more circles, although prudence bids us return to town. Finally, we land in a spot which is but little frequented. Yani brings a basket, and armfuls of big, plump fish, which spread a fresh, delightful odor, fall into it with a savory smack.

Ten minutes later we come back to the coffeehouse, one after another. Everyone invents some pretext for his absence. But our trousers and jackets are wet, Yani has fish-scales in his mustache and beard, and we all smell of the sea and wet fish. Khristo, who cannot control the excitement he has just been through, now and then throws in an allusion to our adventure.

“I was just on the beach.⁠ ⁠… Lots of swine in the bay⁠—it’s simply terrible!” And he would dart a sly, mischievous glance at us.

Yani, who, with Khristo, had carried and hid the basket, sits near me and mumbles into his cup of coffee in a scarcely audible whisper:

“About two thousand, all big. I brought some thirty over to your place.”

This is my share of the booty. I nod. But now I am somewhat ashamed of my crime. Still there is comfort in catching quick, knowing glances around us. It seems that we were not the only ones poaching that night.