Knock, Knock, Knock and Other Stories
Part 3 out of 4
"I haven't any money on me," Kuzma Vassilyevitch muttered grumpily in
the doorway. "Good-bye."
Emilie looked after him and shook her finger.
"No money! Do you hear, do you hear what he says? Oh, what deceivers
these Russians are! But wait a bit, you pug.... Auntie, come here, I
have something to tell you."
That evening as Kuzma Vassilyevitch was undressing to go to bed, he
noticed that the upper edge of his leather belt had come unsewn for
about three inches. Like a careful man he at once procured a needle
and thread, waxed the thread and stitched up the hole himself. He
paid, however, no attention to this apparently trivial circumstance.
The whole of the next day Kuzma Vassilyevitch devoted to his official
duties; he did not leave the house even after dinner and right into
the night was scribbling and copying out his report to his superior
officer, mercilessly disregarding the rules of spelling, always
putting an exclamation mark after the word _but_ and a semi-colon
after _however_. Next morning a barefoot Jewish boy in a tattered
gown brought him a letter from Emilie--the first letter that Kuzma
Vassilyevitch had received from her.
"Mein allerliebstep Florestan," she wrote to him, "can you really so
cross with your Zuckerpüppchen be that you came not yesterday? Please
be not cross if you wish not your merry Emilie to weep very bitterly
and come, be sure, at 5 o'clock to-day." (The figure 5 was surrounded
with two wreaths.) "I will be very, very glad. Your amiable Emilie."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was inwardly surprised at the accomplishments of
his charmer, gave the Jew boy a copper coin and told him to say, "Very
well, I will come."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch kept his word: five o'clock had not struck when he
was standing before Madame Fritsche's gate. But to his surprise he did
not find Emilie at home; he was met by the lady of the house herself
who--wonder of wonders!--dropping a preliminary curtsey, informed him
that Emilie had been obliged by unforeseen circumstances to go out but
she would soon be back and begged him to wait. Madame Fritsche had on
a neat white cap; she smiled, spoke in an ingratiating voice and
evidently tried to give an affable expression to her morose
countenance, which was, however, none the more prepossessing for that,
but on the contrary acquired a positively sinister aspect.
"Sit down, sit down, sir," she said, putting an easy chair for him,
"and we will offer you some refreshment if you will permit it."
Madame Fritsche made another curtsey, went out of the room and
returned shortly afterwards with a cup of chocolate on a small iron
tray. The chocolate turned out to be of dubious quality; Kuzma
Vassilyevitch drank the whole cup with relish, however, though he was
at a loss to explain why Madame Fritsche was suddenly so affable and
what it all meant. For all that Emilie did not come back and he was
beginning to lose patience and feel bored when all at once he heard
through the wall the sounds of a guitar. First there was the sound of
one chord, then a second and a third and a fourth--the sound
continually growing louder and fuller. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was
surprised: Emilie certainly had a guitar but it only had three
strings: he had not yet bought her any new ones; besides, Emilie was
not at home. Who could it be? Again a chord was struck and so loudly
that it seemed as though it were in the room.... Kuzma Vassilyevitch
turned round and almost cried out in a fright. Before him, in a low
doorway which he had not till then noticed--a big cupboard screened
it--stood a strange figure ... neither a child nor a grown-up girl.
She was wearing a white dress with a bright-coloured pattern on it and
red shoes with high heels; her thick black hair, held together by a
gold fillet, fell like a cloak from her little head over her slender
body. Her big eyes shone with sombre brilliance under the soft mass of
hair; her bare, dark-skinned arms were loaded with bracelets and her
hands covered with rings, held a guitar. Her face was scarcely
visible, it looked so small and dark; all that was seen was the
crimson of her lips and the outline of a straight and narrow nose.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stood for some time petrified and stared at the
strange creature without blinking; and she, too, gazed at him without
stirring an eyelid. At last he recovered himself and moved with small
steps towards her.
The dark face began gradually smiling. There was a sudden gleam of
white teeth, the little head was raised, and lightly flinging back the
curls, displayed itself in all its startling and delicate beauty.
"What little imp is this?" thought Kuzma Vassilyevitch, and, advancing
still closer, he brought out in a low voice:
"Hey, little image! Who are you?"
"Come here, come here," the "little image" responded in a rather husky
voice, with a halting un-Russian intonation and incorrect accent, and
she stepped back two paces.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch followed her through the doorway and found himself
in a tiny room without windows, the walls and floor of which were
covered with thick camel's-hair rugs. He was overwhelmed by a strong
smell of musk. Two yellow wax candles were burning on a round table in
front of a low sofa. In the corner stood a bedstead under a muslin
canopy with silk stripes and a long amber rosary with a red tassle at
the end hung by the pillow.
"But excuse me, who are you?" repeated Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
"Sister ... sister of Emilie."
"You are her sister? And you live here?"
"Yes ... yes."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch wanted to touch "the image." She drew back.
"How is it she has never spoken of you?"
"Could not ... could not."
"You are in concealment then ... in hiding?"
"Are there reasons?"
"Reasons ... reasons."
"Hm!" Again Kuzma Vassilyevitch would have touched the figure, again
she stepped back. "So that's why I never saw you. I must own I never
suspected your existence. And the old lady, Madame Fritsche, is your
"Yes ... aunt."
"Hm! You don't seem to understand Russian very well. What's your name,
allow me to ask?"
"Colibri! That's an out-of-the-way name! There are insects like that
in Africa, if I remember right?"
Colibri gave a short, queer laugh ... like a clink of glass in her
throat. She shook her head, looked round, laid her guitar on the table
and going quickly to the door, abruptly shut it. She moved briskly and
nimbly with a rapid, hardly audible sound like a lizard; at the back
her hair fell below her knees.
"Why have you shut the door?" asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
Colibri put her fingers to her lips.
"Emilie ... not want ... not want her."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch grinned.
"I say, you are not jealous, are you?"
Colibri raised her eyebrows.
"Jealous ... angry," Kuzma Vassilyevitch explained.
"Really! Much obliged.... I say, how old are you?"
"Seventeen, you mean?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch scrutinised his fantastic companion closely.
"What a beautiful creature you are!" he said, emphatically.
"Marvellous! Really marvellous! What hair! What eyes! And your
eyebrows ... ough!"
Colibri laughed again and again looked round with her magnificent
"Yes, I am a beauty! Sit down, and I'll sit down ... beside."
"By all means! But say what you like, you are a strange sister for
Emilie! You are not in the least like her."
"Yes, I am sister ... cousin. Here ... take ... a flower. A nice
flower. It smells." She took out of her girdle a sprig of white lilac,
sniffed it, bit off a petal and gave him the whole sprig. "Will you
have jam? Nice jam ... from Constantinople ... sorbet?" Colibri took
from the small chest of drawers a gilt jar wrapped in a piece of
crimson silk with steel spangles on it, a silver spoon, a cut glass
decanter and a tumbler like it. "Eat some sorbet, sir; it is fine. I
will sing to you.... Will you?" She took up the guitar.
"You sing, then?" asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch, putting a spoonful of
really excellent sorbet into his mouth.
"Oh, yes!" She flung back her mane of hair, put her head on one side
and struck several chords, looking carefully at the tips of her
fingers and at the top of the guitar ... then suddenly began singing
in a voice unexpectedly strong and agreeable, but guttural and to the
ears of Kuzma Vassilyevitch rather savage. "Oh, you pretty kitten," he
thought. She sang a mournful song, utterly un-Russian and in a
language quite unknown to Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He used to declare that
the sounds "Kha, gha" kept recurring in it and at the end she repeated
a long drawn-out "sintamar" or "sintsimar," or something of the sort,
leaned her head on her hand, heaved a sigh and let the guitar drop on
her knee. "Good?" she asked, "want more?"
"I should be delighted," answered Kuzma Vassilyevitch. "But why do you
look like that, as though you were grieving? You'd better have some
"No ... you. And I will again.... It will be more merry." She sang
another song, that sounded like a dance, in the same unknown language.
Again Kuzma Vassilyevitch distinguished the same guttural sounds. Her
swarthy fingers fairly raced over the strings, "like little spiders,"
and she ended up this time with a jaunty shout of "Ganda" or "Gassa,"
and with flashing eyes banged on the table with her little fist.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat as though he were in a dream. His head was
going round. It was all so unexpected.... And the scent, the
singing ... the candles in the daytime ... the sorbet flavoured with
vanilla. And Colibri kept coming closer to him, too; her hair shone and
rustled, and there was a glow of warmth from her--and that melancholy
face.... "A russalka!" thought Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He felt somewhat
"Tell me, my pretty, what put it into your head to invite me to-day?"
"You are young, pretty ... such I like."
"So that's it! But what will Emilie say? She wrote me a letter: she is
sure to be back directly."
"You not tell her ... nothing! Trouble! She will kill!"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch laughed.
"As though she were so fierce!"
Colibri gravely shook her head several times.
"And to Madame Fritsche, too, nothing. No, no, no!" She tapped herself
lightly on the forehead. "Do you understand, officer?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch frowned.
"It's a secret, then?"
"Yes ... yes."
"Very well.... I won't say a word. Only you ought to give me a kiss
"No, afterwards ... when you are gone."
"That's a fine idea!" Kuzma Vassilyevitch was bending down to her but
she slowly drew herself back and stood stiffly erect like a snake
startled in the grass. Kuzma Vassilyevitch stared at her. "Well!" he
said at last, "you are a spiteful thing! All right, then."
Colibri pondered and turned to the lieutenant.... All at once there
was the muffled sound of tapping repeated three times at even
intervals somewhere in the house. Colibri laughed, almost snorted.
"To-day--no, to-morrow--yes. Come to-morrow."
"At what time?"
"Seven ... in the evening."
"And what about Emilie?"
"Emilie ... no; will not be here."
"You think so? Very well. Only, to-morrow you will tell me?"
"What?" (Colibri's face assumed a childish expression every time she
asked a question.)
"Why you have been hiding away from me all this time?"
"Yes ... yes; everything shall be to-morrow; the end shall be."
"Mind now! And I'll bring you a present."
"No ... no need."
"Why not? I see you like fine clothes."
"No need. This ... this ... this ..." she pointed to her dress, her
rings, her bracelets, and everything about her, "it is all my own. Not
a present. I do not take."
"As you like. And now must I go?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch got up. Colibri got up, too.
"Good-bye, pretty little doll! And when will you give me a kiss?"
Colibri suddenly gave a little jump and swiftly flinging both arms
round his neck, gave him not precisely a kiss but a peck at his lips.
He tried in his turn to kiss her but she instantly darted back and
stood behind the sofa.
"To-morrow at seven o'clock, then?" he said with some confusion.
She nodded and taking a tress of her long hair with her two fingers,
bit it with her sharp teeth.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch kissed his hand to her, went out and shut the door
after him. He heard Colibri run up to it at once.... The key clicked
in the lock.
There was no one in Madame Fritsche's drawing-room. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch made his way to the passage at once. He did not want to
meet Emilie. Madame Fritsche met him on the steps.
"Ah, you are going, Mr. Lieutenant?" she said, with the same affected
and sinister smile. "You won't wait for Emilie?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put on his cap.
"I haven't time to wait any longer, madam. I may not come to-morrow,
either. Please tell her so."
"Very good, I'll tell her. But I hope you haven't been dull, Mr.
"No, I have not been dull."
"I thought not. Good-bye."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch returned home and stretching himself on his bed
sank into meditation. He was unutterably perplexed. "What marvel is
this?" he cried more than once. And why did Emilie write to him? She
had made an appointment and not come! He took out her letter, turned
it over in his hands, sniffed it: it smelt of tobacco and in one place
he noticed a correction. But what could he deduce from that? And was
it possible that Madame Fritsche knew nothing about it? And
_she_.... Who was she? Yes, who was she? The fascinating Colibri,
that "pretty doll," that "little image," was always before him and he
looked forward with impatience to the following evening, though
secretly he was almost afraid of this "pretty doll" and "little
Next day Kuzma Vassilyevitch went shopping before dinner, and, after
persistent haggling, bought a tiny gold cross on a little velvet
ribbon. "Though she declares," he thought, "that she never takes
presents, we all know what such sayings mean; and if she really is so
disinterested, Emilie won't be so squeamish." So argued this Don Juan
of Nikolaev, who had probably never heard of the original Don Juan and
knew nothing about him. At six o'clock in the evening Kuzma
Vassilyevitch shaved carefully and sending for a hairdresser he knew,
told him to pomade and curl his topknot, which the latter did with
peculiar zeal, not sparing the government note paper for curlpapers;
then Kuzma Vassilyevitch put on a smart new uniform, took into his
right hand a pair of new wash-leather gloves, and, sprinkling himself
with lavender water, set off. Kuzma Vassilyevitch took a great deal
more trouble over his personal appearance on this occasion than when
he went to see his "Zuckerpüppchen", not because he liked Colibri
better than Emilie but in the "pretty little doll" there was something
enigmatic, something which stirred even the sluggish imagination of
the young lieutenant.
Madame Fritsche greeted him as she had done the day before and as
though she had conspired with him in a plan of deception, informed him
again that Emilie had gone out for a short time and asked him to wait.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch nodded in token of assent and sat down on a chair.
Madame Fritsche smiled again, that is, showed her yellow tusks and
withdrew without offering him any chocolate.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch instantly fixed his eyes on the mysterious door.
It remained closed. He coughed loudly once or twice so as to make
known his presence.... The door did not stir. He held his breath,
strained his ears.... He heard not the faintest sound or rustle;
everything was still as death. Kuzma Vassilyevitch got up, approached
the door on tiptoe and, fumbling in vain with his fingers, pressed his
knee against it. It was no use. Then he bent down and once or twice
articulated in a loud whisper, "Colibri! Colibri! Little doll!" No one
responded. Kuzma Vassilyevitch drew himself up, straightened his
uniform--and, after standing still a little while, walked with more
resolute steps to the window and began drumming on the pane. He began
to feel vexed, indignant; his dignity as an officer began to assert
itself. "What nonsense is this?" he thought at last; "whom do they
take me for? If they go on like this, I'll knock with my fists. She
will be forced to answer! The old woman will hear.... What of it?
That's not my fault." He turned swiftly on his heel ... the door stood
Kuzma Vassilyevitch immediately hastened into the secret room again on
tiptoe. Colibri was lying on the sofa in a white dress with a broad
red sash. Covering the lower part of her face with a handkerchief, she
was laughing, a noiseless but genuine laugh. She had done up her hair,
this time plaiting it into two long, thick plaits intertwined with red
ribbon; the same slippers adorned her tiny, crossed feet but the feet
themselves were bare and looking at them one might fancy that she had
on dark, silky stockings. The sofa stood in a different position,
nearer the wall; and on the table he saw on a Chinese tray a
bright-coloured, round-bellied coffee pot beside a cut glass sugar bowl
and two blue China cups. The guitar was lying there, too, and blue-grey
smoke rose in a thin coil from a big, aromatic candle.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch went up to the sofa and bent over Colibri, but
before he had time to utter a word she held out her hand and, still
laughing in her handkerchief, put her little, rough fingers into his
hair and instantly ruffled the well-arranged curls on the top of his
"What next?" exclaimed Kuzma Vassilyevitch, not altogether pleased by
such unceremoniousness. "Oh, you naughty girl!"
Colibri took the handkerchief from her face.
"Not nice so; better now." She moved away
to the further end of the sofa and drew her feet
up under her. "Sit down ... there."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat down on the spot indicated.
"Why do you move away?" he said, after a brief silence. "Surely you
are not afraid of me?"
Colibri curled herself up and looked at him sideways.
"I am not afraid ... no."
"You must not be shy with me," Kuzma Vassilyevitch said in an
admonishing tone. "Do you remember your promise yesterday to give me a
Colibri put her arms round her knees, laid her head on them and looked
at him again.
"I should hope so. And you must keep your word."
"Yes ... I must."
"In that case," Kuzma Vassilyevitch was beginning, and he moved
Colibri freed her plaits which she was holding tight with her knees
and with one of them gave him a flick on his hand.
"Not so fast, sir!"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was embarrassed.
"What eyes she has, the rogue!" he muttered, as though to himself.
"But," he went on, raising his voice, "why did you call me ... if that
is how it is?"
Colibri craned her neck like a bird ... she listened. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was alarmed.
"Emilie?" he asked.
Colibri shrugged her shoulder.
"Do you hear something?"
"Nothing." With a birdlike movement, again Colibri drew back her
little oval-shaped head with its pretty parting and the short growth
of tiny curls on the nape of her neck where her plaits began, and
again curled herself up into a ball. "Nothing."
"Nothing! Then now I'll ..." Kuzma Vassilyevitch craned forward
towards Colibri but at once pulled back his hand. There was a drop of
blood on his finger. "What foolishness is this!" he cried, shaking his
finger. "Your everlasting pins! And the devil of a pin it is!" he
added, looking at the long, golden pin which Colibri slowly thrust
into her sash. "It's a regular dagger, it's a sting.... Yes, yes, it's
your sting, and you are a wasp, that's what you are, a wasp, do you
Apparently Colibri was much pleased at Kuzma Vasselyevitch's
comparison; she went off into a thin laugh and repeated several times
"Yes, I will sting ... I will sting."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch looked at her and thought: "She is laughing but
her face is melancholy.
"Look what I am going to show you," he said aloud.
"Why do you say _tso?_ Are you a Pole?"
"Now you say _nee!_ But there, it's no matter." Kuzma
Vassilyevitch got out his present and waved it in the air. "Look at
it.... Isn't it nice?"
Colibri raised her eyes indifferently.
"Ah! A cross! We don't wear."
"What? You don't wear a cross? Are you a Jewess then, or what?"
"We don't wear," repeated Colibri, and, suddenly starting, looked back
over her shoulder. "Would you like me to sing?" she asked hurriedly.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put the cross in the pocket of his uniform and he,
too, looked round.
"What is it?" he muttered.
"A mouse ... a mouse," Colibri said hurriedly, and suddenly to Kuzma
Vassilyevitch's complete surprise, flung her smooth, supple arms round
his neck and a rapid kiss burned his cheek ... as though a red-hot
ember had been pressed against it.
He pressed Colibri in his arms but she slipped away like a snake--her
waist was hardly thicker than the body of a snake--and leapt to her
"Wait," she whispered, "you must have some coffee first."
"Nonsense! Coffee, indeed! Afterwards."
"No, now. Now hot, after cold." She took hold of the coffee pot by the
handle and, lifting it high, began pouring out two cups. The coffee
fell in a thin, as it were, twirling stream; Colibri leaned her head
on her shoulder and watched it fall. "There, put in the sugar ...
drink ... and I'll drink."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put a lump of sugar in the cup and drank it off at
one draught. The coffee struck him as very strong and bitter. Colibri
looked at him, smiling, and faintly dilated her nostrils over the edge
of her cup. She slowly put it down on the table.
"Why don't you drink it?" asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
"Not all, now."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch got excited.
"Do sit down beside me, at least."
"In a minute." She bent her head and, still keeping her eyes fixed on
Kuzma Vassilyevitch, picked up the guitar. "Only I will sing first."
"Yes, yes, only sit down."
"And I will dance. Shall I?"
"You dance? Well, I should like to see that. But can't that be
"No, now.... But I love you very much."
"You love? Mind now ... dance away, then, you queer creature."
Colibri stood on the further side of the table and running her fingers
several times over the strings of the guitar and to the surprise of
Kuzma Vassilyevitch, who was expecting a lively, merry song, began
singing a slow, monotonous air, accompanying each separate sound,
which seemed as though it were wrung out of her by force, with a
rhythmical swaying of her body to right and left. She did not smile,
and indeed knitted her brows, her delicate, high, rounded eyebrows,
between which a dark blue mark, probably burnt in with gunpowder,
stood out sharply, looking like some letter of an oriental alphabet.
She almost closed her eyes but their pupils glimmered dimly under the
drooping lids, fastened as before on Kuzma Vassilyevitch. And he, too,
could not look away from those marvellous, menacing eyes, from that
dark-skinned face that gradually began to glow, from the half-closed
and motionless lips, from the two black snakes rhythmically moving on
both sides of her graceful head. Colibri went on swaying without
moving from the spot and only her feet were working; she kept lightly
shifting them, lifting first the toe and then the heel. Once she
rotated rapidly and uttered a piercing shriek, waving the guitar high
in the air.... Then the same monotonous movement accompanied by the
same monotonous singing, began again. Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat
meanwhile very quietly on the sofa and went on looking at Colibri; he
felt something strange and unusual in himself: he was conscious of
great lightness and freedom, too great lightness, in fact; he seemed,
as it were, unconscious of his body, as though he were floating and at
the same time shudders ran down him, a sort of agreeable weakness
crept over his legs, and his lips and eyelids tingled with drowsiness.
He had no desire now, no thought of anything ... only he was
wonderfully at ease, as though someone were lulling him, "singing him
to bye-bye," as Emilie had expressed it, and he whispered to himself,
"little doll!" At times the face of the "little doll" grew misty. "Why
is that?" Kuzma Vassilyevitch wondered. "From the smoke," he reassured
himself. "There is such a blue smoke here." And again someone was
lulling him and even whispering in his ear something so sweet ... only
for some reason it was always unfinished. But then all of a sudden in
the little doll's face the eyes opened till they were immense,
incredibly big, like the arches of a bridge.... The guitar dropped,
and striking against the floor, clanged somewhere at the other end of
the earth.... Some very near and dear friend of Kuzma Vassilyevitch's
embraced him firmly and tenderly from behind and set his cravat
straight. Kuzma Vassilyevitch saw just before his own face the hooked
nose, the thick moustache and the piercing eyes of the stranger with
the three buttons on his cuff ... and although the eyes were in the
place of the moustache and the nose itself seemed upside down, Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was not in the least surprised, but, on the contrary,
thought that this was how it ought to be; he was even on the point of
saying to the nose, "Hullo, brother Grigory," but he changed his mind
and preferred ... preferred to set off with Colibri to Constantinople
at once for their forthcoming wedding, as she was a Turk and the Tsar
promoted him to be an actual Turk.
And opportunely a little boat appeared: he lifted his foot to get into
it and though through clumsiness he stumbled and hurt himself rather
badly, so that for some time he did not know where anything was, yet
he managed it and getting into the boat, floated on the big river,
which, as the River of Time, flows to Constantinople in the map on the
walls of the Nikolaevsky High School. With great satisfaction he
floated down the river and watched a number of red ducks which
continually met him; they would not let him come near them, however,
and, diving, changed into round, pink spots. And Colibri was going
with him, too, but to escape the sultry heat she hid, under the boat
and from time to time knocked on the bottom of it.... And here at last
was Constantinople. The houses, as houses should, looked like Tyrolese
hats; and the Turks had all big, sedate faces; only it did not do to
look at them too long: they began wriggling, making faces and at last
melted away altogether like thawing snow. And here was the palace in
which he would live with Colibri.... And how well everything was
arranged in it! Walls with generals' gold lace on it, everywhere
epaulettes, people blowing trumpets in the corners and one could float
into the drawing-room in the boat. Of course, there was a portrait of
Mahomet.... Only Colibri kept running ahead through the rooms and her
plaits trailed after her on the floor and she would not turn round,
and she kept growing smaller and smaller.... And now it was not
Colibri but a boy in a jacket and he was the boy's tutor and he had to
climb after the boy into a telescope, and the telescope got narrower
and narrower, till at last he could not move ... neither backwards nor
forwards, and something fell on his back ... there was earth in his
Kuzma Vassilyevitch opened his eyes. It was daylight and everything
was still ... there was a smell of vinegar and mint. Above him and at
his sides there was something white; he looked more intently: it was
the canopy of a bed. He wanted to raise his head ... he could not; his
hand ... he could not do that, either. What was the meaning of it? He
dropped his eyes.... A long body lay stretched before him and over it
a yellow blanket with a brown edge. The body proved to be his, Kuzma
Vassilyevitch's. He tried to cry out ... no sound came. He tried
again, did his very utmost ... there was the sound of a feeble moan
quavering under his nose. He heard heavy footsteps and a sinewy hand
parted the bed curtains. A grey-headed pensioner in a patched military
overcoat stood gazing at him.... And he gazed at the pensioner. A big
tin mug was put to Kuzma Vassilyevitch's lips. He greedily drank some
cold water. His tongue was loosened. "Where am I?" The pensioner
glanced at him once more, went away and came back with another man in
a dark uniform. "Where am I?" repeated Kuzma Vassilyevitch. "Well, he
will live now," said the man in the dark uniform. "You are in the
hospital," he added aloud, "but you must go to sleep. It is bad for
you to talk." Kuzma Vassilyevitch began to feel surprised, but sank
into forgetfulness again....
Next morning the doctor appeared. Kuzma Vassilyevitch came to himself.
The doctor congratulated him on his recovery and ordered the bandages
round his head to be changed.
"What? My head? Why, am I ..."
"You mustn't talk, you mustn't excite yourself," the doctor
interrupted. "Lie still and thank the Almighty. Where are the
"But where is the money ... the government money ..."
"There! He is lightheaded again. Some more ice, Poplyovkin."
Another week passed. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was so much better that the
doctors found it possible to tell him what had happened to him. This
is what he learned.
At seven o'clock in the evening on the 16th of June he had visited the
house of Madame Fritsche for the last time and on the 17th of June at
dinner time, that is, nearly twenty-four hours later, a shepherd had
found him in a ravine near the Herson high road, a mile and a half
from Nikolaev, with a broken head and crimson bruises on his neck. His
uniform and waistcoat had been unbuttoned, all his pockets turned
inside out, his cap and cutlass were not to be found, nor his leather
money belt. From the trampled grass, from the broad track upon the
grass and the clay, it could be inferred that the luckless lieutenant
had been dragged to the bottom of the ravine and only there had been
gashed on his head, not with an axe but with a sabre--probably his own
cutlass: there were no traces of blood on his track from the high road
while there was a perfect pool of blood round his head. There could be
no doubt that his assailants had first drugged him, then tried to
strangle him and, taking him out of the town by night, had dragged him
to the ravine and there given him the final blow. It was only thanks
to his truly iron constitution that Kuzma Vassilyevitch had not died.
He had returned to consciousness on July 22nd, that is, five weeks
Kuzma Vassilyevitch immediately informed the authorities of the
misfortune that had happened to him; he stated all the circumstances
the case verbally and in writing and gave the address of Madame
Fritsche. The police raided the house but they found no one there; the
birds had flown. They got hold of the owner of the house. But they
could not get much sense out of the latter, a very old and deaf
workman. He lived in a different part of the town and all he knew was
that four months before he had let his house to a Jewess with a
passport, whose name was Schmul or Schmulke, which he had immediately
registered at the police station. She had been joined by another woman,
so he stated, who also had a passport, but what was their calling did
not know; and whether they had other people living with them had not
heard and did not know; the lad whom he used to keep as porter or
watchman in the house had gone away to Odessa or Petersburg, and the
new porter had only lately come, on the 1st of July.
Inquiries were made at the police station and in the neighbourhood; it
appeared that Madame Schmulke, together with her companion, whose real
name was Frederika Bengel, had left Nikolaev about the 20th of June,
but where they had gone was unknown. The mysterious man with a gipsy
face and three buttons on his cuff and the dark-skinned foreign girl
with an immense mass of hair, no one had seen. As soon as Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was discharged from the hospital, he visited the house
that had been so fateful for him. In the little room where he had
talked to Colibri and where there was still a smell of musk, there was
a second secret door; the sofa had been moved in front of it on his
second visit and through it no doubt the murderer had come and seized
him from behind. Kuzma Vassilyevitch lodged a formal complaint;
proceedings were taken. Several numbered reports and instructions were
dispatched in various directions; the appropriate acknowledgments and
replies followed in due course.... There the incident closed. The
suspicious characters had disappeared completely and with them the
stolen government money had vanished, too, one thousand, nine hundred
and seventeen roubles and some kopecks, in paper and gold. Not an
inconsiderable sum in those days! Kuzma Vassilyevitch was paying back
instalments for ten years, when, fortunately for him, an act of
clemency from the Throne cancelled the debt.
He was himself at first firmly convinced that Emilie, his treacherous
Zuckerpüppchen, was to blame for all his trouble and had originated
the plot. He remembered how on the last day he had seen her he had
incautiously dropped asleep on the sofa and how when he woke he had
found her on her knees beside him and how confused she had been, and
how he had found a hole in his belt that evening--a hole evidently
made by her scissors. "She saw the money," thought Kuzma
Vassilyevitch, "she told the old hag and those other two devils, she
entrapped me by writing me that letter ... and so they cleaned me out.
But who could have expected it of her!" He pictured the pretty,
good-natured face of Emilie, her clear eyes.... "Women! women!" he
repeated, gnashing his teeth, "brood of crocodiles!" But when he had
finally left the hospital and gone home, he learned one circumstance
which perplexed and nonplussed him. On the very day when he was
brought half dead to the town, a girl whose description corresponded
exactly to that of Emilie had rushed to his lodging with tear-stained
face and dishevelled hair and inquiring about him from his orderly,
had dashed off like mad to the hospital. At the hospital she had been
told that Kuzma Vassilyevitch would certainly die and she had at once
disappeared, wringing her hands with a look of despair on her face. It
was evident that she had not foreseen, had not expected the murder. Or
perhaps she had herself been deceived and had not received her
promised share? Had she been overwhelmed by sudden remorse? And yet
she had left Nikolaev afterwards with that loathsome old woman who had
certainly known all about it. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was lost in
conjecture and bored his orderly a good deal by making him continually
describe over and over again the appearance of the girl and repeat her
A year and a half later Kuzma Vassilyevitch received a letter in
German from Emilie, _alias_ Frederika Bengel, which he promptly
had translated for him and showed us more than once in later days. It
was full of mistakes in spelling and exclamation marks; the postmark
on the envelope was Breslau. Here is the translation, as correct as
may be, of the letter:
"My precious, unforgettable and incomparable Florestan! Mr. Lieutenant
"How often I felt impelled to write to you! And I have always
unfortunately put it off, though the thought that you may regard me as
having had a hand in that awful crime has always been the most
appalling thought to me! Oh, dear Mr. Lieutenant! Believe me, the day
when I learnt that you were alive and well, was the happiest day of my
life! But I do not mean to justify myself altogether! I will not tell
a lie! I was the first to discover your habit of carrying your money
round your waist! (Though indeed in our part of the world all the
butchers and meat salesmen do the same!) And I was so incautious as to
let drop a word about it! I even said in joke that it wouldn't be bad
to take a little of your money! But the old wretch (Mr. Florestan! she
was _not_ my aunt) plotted with that godless monster Luigi and
his accomplice! I swear by my mother's tomb, I don't know to this day
who those people were! I only know that his name was Luigi and that
they both came from Bucharest and were certainly great criminals and
were hiding from the police and had money and precious things! Luigi
was a dreadful individual (_ein schröckliches Subject_), to kill
a fellow-man (_einen Mitmenschen_) meant nothing at all to him!
He spoke every language--and it was _he_ who that time got our
things back from the cook! Don't ask how! He was capable of anything,
he was an awful man! He assured the old woman that he would only drug
you a little and then take you out of town and put you down somewhere
and would say that he knew nothing about it but that it was your
fault--that you had taken too much wine somewhere! But even then the
wretch had it in his mind that it would be better to kill you so that
there would be no one to tell the tale! He wrote you that letter,
signed with my name and the old woman got me away by craft! I
suspected nothing and I was awfully afraid of Luigi! He used to say to
me, 'I'll cut your throat, I'll cut your throat like a chicken's!' And
he used to twitch his moustache so horribly as he said it! And they
dragged me into a bad company, too.... I am very much ashamed, Mr.
Lieutenant! And even now I shed bitter tears at these memories! ... It
seems to me ... ah! I was not born for such doings.... But there is no
help for it; and this is how it all happened! Afterwards I was
horribly frightened and could not help going away, for if the police
had found us, what would have happened to us then? That accursed Luigi
fled at once as soon as he heard that you were alive. But I soon
parted from them all and though now I am often without a crust of
bread, my heart is at peace! You will ask me perhaps why I came to
Nikolaev? But I can give you no answer! I have sworn! I will finish by
asking of you a favour, a very, very important one: whenever you
remember your little friend Emilie, do not think of her as a
black-hearted criminal! The eternal God sees my heart. I have
a bad morality (_Ich habe eine schlechte moralität_) and I am
feather-headed, but I am not a criminal. And I shall always love and
remember you, my incomparable Florestan, and shall always wish you
everything good on this earthly globe (_auf diesem Erdenrund!_).
I don't know whether my letter will reach you, but if it does, write
a few lines that I may see you have received it. Thereby you will make
very happy your ever-devoted Emilie.
"P. S. Write to F. E. poste restante, Breslau, Silesia.
"P. S. S. I have written to you in German; I could not express my
feelings otherwise; but you write to me in Russian."
"Well, did you answer her?" we asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
"I meant to, I meant to many times. But how was I to write? I don't
know German ... and in Russian, who would have translated it? And so I
did not write."
And always as he finished his story, Kuzma Vassilyevitch sighed, shook
his head and said, "that's what it is to be young!" And if among his
audience was some new person who was hearing the famous story for the
first time, he would take his hand, lay it on his skull and make him
feel the scar of the wound.... It really was a fearful wound and the
scar reached from one ear to the other.
* * * * *
"But if one admits the possibility of the supernatural, the
possibility of its participation in real life, then allow me to ask
what becomes of common sense?" Anton Stepanitch pronounced and he
folded his arms over his stomach.
Anton Stepanitch had the grade of a civil councillor, served in some
incomprehensible department and, speaking emphatically and stiffly in
a bass voice, enjoyed universal respect. He had not long before, in
the words of those who envied him, "had the Stanislav stuck on to
"That's perfectly true," observed Skvorevitch.
"No one will dispute that," added Kinarevitch.
"I am of the same opinion," the master of the house, Finoplentov,
chimed in from the corner in falsetto.
"Well, I must confess, I cannot agree, for something supernatural has
happened to me myself," said a bald, corpulent middle-aged gentleman
of medium height, who had till then sat silent behind the stove. The
eyes of all in the room turned to him with curiosity and surprise, and
there was a silence.
The man was a Kaluga landowner of small means who had lately come to
Petersburg. He had once served in the Hussars, had lost money at
cards, had resigned his commission and had settled in the country. The
recent economic reforms had reduced his income and he had come to the
capital to look out for a suitable berth. He had no qualifications and
no connections, but he confidently relied on the friendship of an old
comrade who had suddenly, for no visible reason, become a person of
importance, and whom he had once helped in thrashing a card sharper.
Moreover, he reckoned on his luck--and it did not fail him: a few days
after his arrival in town he received the post of superintendent of
government warehouses, a profitable and even honourable position,
which did not call for conspicuous abilities: the warehouses
themselves had only a hypothetical existence and indeed it was not
very precisely known with what they were to be filled--but they had
been invented with a view to government economy.
Anton Stepanitch was the first to break the silence.
"What, my dear sir," he began, "do you seriously maintain that
something supernatural has happened to you? I mean to say, something
inconsistent with the laws of nature?"
"I do maintain it," replied the gentleman addressed as "My dear sir,"
whose name was Porfiry Kapitonitch.
"Inconsistent with the laws of nature!" Anton Stepanitch repeated
angrily; apparently he liked the phrase.
"Just so ... yes; it was precisely what you say."
"That's amazing! What do you think of it,
gentlemen?" Anton Stepanitch tried to give
his features an ironical expression, but without
effect--or to speak more accurately, merely
with the effect of suggesting that the dignified
civil councillor had detected an unpleasant
smell. "Might we trouble you, dear sir," he
went on, addressing the Kaluga landowner, "to
give us the details of so interesting an incident?"
"Certainly, why not?" answered the landowner and, moving in a
free-and-easy way to the middle of the room, he spoke as follows:
"I have, gentlemen, as you are probably aware, or perhaps are not
aware, a small estate in the Kozelsky district. In old days I used to
get something out of it, though now, of course, I have nothing to look
forward to but unpleasantness. But enough of politics. Well, in that
district I have a little place: the usual kitchen garden, a little
pond with carp in it, farm buildings of a sort and a little lodge for
my own sinful person ... I am a bachelor. Well, one day--some six
years ago--I came home rather late; I had had a game of cards at a
neighbour's and I was--I beg you to note--the least little bit
elevated, as they say; I undressed, got into bed and put out the
candle. And only fancy, gentlemen: as soon as I put out the candle
there was something moving under my bed! I wondered whether it was a
rat; no, it was not a rat: it moved about, scratched on the floor and
scratched itself.... At last it flapped its ears!
"There was no mistake about it; it was a dog. But where could a dog
have come from? I did not keep one; could some stray dog have run in,
I wondered. I called my servant; Filka was his name. He came in with a
"'How's this,' I said, 'Filka, my lad? Is that how you look after
things? A dog has got under my bed?' 'What dog?' said he. 'How do I
know,' said I, 'that's your business--to save your master from
disturbance.' My Filka bent down, and began moving the candle under
the bed. 'But there's no dog here,' said he. I bent down, too; there
certainly was no dog there. What a queer thing!--I glanced at Filka
and he was smiling. 'You stupid,' I said to him, 'why are you
grinning. When you opened the door the dog must have whisked out into
the passage. And you, gaping idiot, saw nothing because you are always
asleep. You don't suppose I am drunk, do you?' He would have answered,
but I sent him out, curled up and that night heard nothing more.
"But the next night--only fancy--the thing was repeated. As soon as I
blew out the candle, he scratched himself and flapped his ears again.
Again I called Filka; again he looked under the bed--again there was
nothing! I sent him away, blew out the candle--and, damn it all, the
dog was there again and it was a dog right enough: one could hear it
breathing, biting its coat, looking for fleas.... It was so
distinct--'Filka,' I said, 'come here without the candle!' He came in.
'Well, now,' I said, 'do you hear?' 'Yes,' he said. I could not see
him, but I felt that the fellow was scared. 'What do you make of it?'
said I. 'What do you bid me make of it, Porfiry Kapitonitch? It's
sorcery!' 'You are a foolish fellow,' I said, 'hold your tongue with
your sorcery....' And our voices quavered like a bird's and we were
trembling in the dark as though we were in a fever. I lighted a
candle, no dog, no sound, only us two, as white as chalk. So I kept a
candle burning till morning and I assure you, gentlemen, you may
believe me or you may not, but from that night for six weeks the same
thing was repeated. In the end I actually got used to it and began
putting out the candle, because I couldn't get to sleep in the light.
'Let him fidget,' I thought, 'he doesn't do me any harm.'"
"Well, I see you are not one of the chicken-hearted brigade," Anton
Stepanitch interrupted in a half-contemptuous, half-condescending
tone! "One can see the Hussar at once!"
"I shouldn't be afraid of you in any case," Porfiry Kapitonitch
observed, and for an instant he really did look like a Hussar.
"But listen to the rest. A neighbour came to see me, the very one with
whom I used to play cards. He dined with me on what luck provided and
dropped some fifty roubles for his visit; night came on, it was time
for him to be off. But I had my own idea. 'Stay the night with me,' I
said, 'Vassily Vassilitch; tomorrow, please God, you will win it
back.' Vassily Vassilitch considered and stayed. I had a bed put up
for him in my room.... Well, we went to bed, smoked, chatted--about
the fair sex for the most part, as is only suitable in bachelor
company--we laughed, of course; I saw Vassily Vassilitch put out his
candle and turn his back towards me: as much as to say: 'Good night.'
I waited a little, then I, too, put out my candle. And, only fancy, I
had hardly time to wonder what sort of trick would be played this
time, when the sweet creature was moving again. And moving was not
all; it came out from under the bed, walked across the room, tapped on
the floor with its paws, shook its ears and all of a sudden pushed
against the very chair that was close by Vassily Vassilitch's bed.
'Porfiry Kapitonitch,' said the latter, and in such an unconcerned
voice, you know, 'I did not know you had a dog. What sort is it, a
setter?' 'I haven't a dog,' I said, 'and never have had one!' 'You
haven't? Why, what's this?' 'What's _this_?' said I, 'why, light
the candle and then you will see for yourself.' 'Isn't it a dog?'
'No.' Vassily Vassilitch turned over in bed. 'But you are joking, dash
it all.' 'No, I am not joking.' I heard him go strike, strike, with a
match, while the creature persisted in scratching its ribs. The light
flared up ... and, hey presto! not a trace remained! Vassily
Vassilitch looked at me and I looked at him. 'What trick is this?' he
said. 'It's a trick,' I said, 'that, if you were to set Socrates
himself on one side and Frederick the Great on the other, even they
could not make it out.' And then I told him all about it. Didn't my
Vassily Vassilitch jump out of bed! As though he had been scalded! He
couldn't get into his boots. 'Horses,' he cried, 'horses!' I began
trying to persuade him, but it was no use! He positively gasped! 'I
won't stay,' he said, 'not a minute! You must be a man under a curse!
Horses.' However, I prevailed upon him. Only his bed was dragged into
another room and nightlights were lighted everywhere. At our tea in
the morning he had regained his equanimity; he began to give me
advice. 'You should try being away from home for a few days, Porfiry
Kapitonitch,' he said, 'perhaps this abomination would leave you.' And
I must tell you: my neighbour was a man of immense intellect. He
managed his mother-in-law wonderfully: he fastened an I. O. U. upon
her; he must have chosen a sentimental moment! She became as soft as
silk, she gave him an authorisation for the management of all her
estate--what more would you have? You know it is something to get the
better of one's mother-in-law. Eh! You can judge for yourselves.
However, he took leave of me in some displeasure; I'd stripped him of
a hundred roubles again. He actually abused me. 'You are ungrateful.'
he said, 'you have no feeling'; but how was I to blame? Well, be that
as it may, I considered his advice. That very day I drove off to the
town and put up at an inn, kept by an old man I knew, a Dissenter. He
was a worthy old fellow, though a little morose from living in
solitude, all his family were dead. But he disliked tobacco and had
the greatest loathing for dogs; I believe he would have been torn to
pieces rather than consent to let a dog into his room. 'For how can
one?' he would say, 'the Queen of Heaven herself is graciously pleased
to be on my wall there, and is an unclean dog to put his infidel nose
there?' Of course, it was lack of education! However, to my thinking,
whatever wisdom a man has he had better stick to that."
"I see you are a great philosopher," Anton Stepanitch interrupted a
second time with the same sarcastic smile.
This time Porfiry Kapitonitch actually frowned.
"How much I know of philosophy I cannot tell," he observed, tugging
grimly at his moustache, "but I would be glad to give you a lesson in
We all simply stared at Anton Stepanitch. Every one of us expected a
haughty reply, or at least a glance like a flash of lightning.... But
the civil councillor turned his contemptuous smile into one of
indifference, then yawned, swung his foot and--that was all!
"Well, I stayed at that old fellow's," Porfiry Kapitonitch went on.
"He gave me a little room, not one of the best, as we were old
friends; his own was close by, the other side of the partition--and
that was just what I wanted. The tortures I faced that night! A little
room, a regular oven, stuffiness, flies, and such sticky ones; in the
corner an extraordinarily big shrine with ancient ikons, with dingy
setting in relief on them. It fairly reeked of oil and some other
stuff, too; there were two featherbeds on the beds. If you moved the
pillow a black beetle would run from under it.... I had drunk an
incredible quantity of tea, feeling so dreary--it was simply dreadful!
I got into bed; there was no possibility of sleeping--and, the other
side of the partition, my host was sighing, clearing his throat,
repeating his prayers. However, he subsided at last. I heard him begin
to snore, but only faintly, in the old-fashioned polite way. I had put
my candle out long ago, but the little lamp was burning before the
ikons.... That prevented it, I suppose. So I got up softly with bare
feet, climbed up to the lamp, and blew it out.... Nothing happened.
'Oho!' I thought, 'so it doesn't come off in other people's houses.'
"But I had no sooner got into bed than there was a commotion again. He
was scraping on the floor and scratching himself and shaking his
ears ... the usual thing, in fact. Very good! I lay still and waited to
see what would happen. I heard the old man wake up. 'Sir,' he said,
'hey, sir.' 'What is it?' 'Did you put out the lamp?' But without
waiting for my answer, he burst out all at once. 'What's that? What's
that, a dog? A dog! Ah, you vile heretic!' 'Wait a bit, old man, before
you scold,' I said. 'You had better come here yourself. Things are
happening,' I said, 'that may well make you wonder.' The old man
stirred behind the partition and came in to me, with a candle, a very,
very thin one, made of yellow wax; I was surprised when I looked at
him! He looked bristling all over, with hairy ears and eyes as fierce
as a weasel's; he had on a white woollen night cap, a beard to his
waist, white; too, and a waistcoat with copper buttons on it over his
shirt and fur boots on his feet and he smelt of juniper. In this
attire he approached the ikons, crossed himself three times with his
two fingers crossed, lighted the lamp, crossed himself again and,
turning to me, just grunted: 'Explain!' And thereupon, without delay,
I told him all that had happened. The old man listened to my account
and did not drop one word, simply shook his head. Then he sat down on
my bed and still said nothing. He scratched his chest, the back of his
head and so on and said nothing. 'Well,' I said, 'Fedul Ivanitch, what
do you think? Is it some devil's sorcery or what?' The old man looked
at me. 'What an idea! Devil's sorcery! A tobacco-smoker like you might
well have that at home, but not here. Only think what holiness there
is here! Sorcery, indeed!' 'And if it is not sorcery, what is it,
then?' The old man was silent again; again he scratched himself and
said at last, but in a muffled voice, for his moustache was all over
his mouth: 'You go to the town of Belyov. There is no one who can help
you but one man. And that man lives in Belyov. He is one of our
people. If he is willing to help you, you are lucky; if he is not,
nothing can be done.' 'And how am I to find this man?' I said. 'I can
direct you about that,' he answered; 'but how can it be sorcery? It is
an apparition, or rather an indication; but you cannot comprehend it,
it is beyond your understanding. Lie down to sleep now with the
blessing of our Lord Christ; I will burn incense and in the morning we
will converse. Morning, you know, brings wisdom.'
"Well, we did converse in the morning, only I was almost stifled by
that incense. And this was the counsel the old man gave me: that when
I reached Belyov I should go into the market place and ask in the
second shop on the right for one Prohoritch, and when I had found
Prohoritch, put into his hand a writing and the writing consisted of a
scrap of paper, on which stood the following words: 'In the name of
the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen. To Sergey Prohorovitch
Pervushin. Trust this man. Feduly Ivanitch.' And below, 'Send the
cabbages, for God's sake.'
"I thanked the old man and without further discussion ordered my
carriage and drove to Belyov. For I reflected, that though I suffered
no harm from my nocturnal visitor, yet it was uncanny and in fact not
quite the thing for a nobleman and an officer--what do you think?"
"And did you really go to Belyov?" murmured Finoplentov.
"Straight to Belyov. I went into the market place and asked at the
second shop on the right for Prohoritch. 'Is there such a person?' I
asked. 'Yes,' they told me. 'And where does he live?' 'By the Oka,
beyond the market gardens.' 'In whose house?' 'In his own.' I went to
the Oka, found his house, though it was really not a house but simply
a hovel. I saw a man wearing a blue patched coat and a ragged cap,
well ... he looked like a working-man, he was standing with his back
to me, digging among his cabbages. I went up to him. 'Are you so and
so?' I said. He turned round and, I tell you the truth, I have never
seen such piercing eyes in my life. Yet the whole face was shrunk up
like a little fist with a little wedge-shaped beard and sunken lips.
He was an old man. 'I am so and so,' he said. 'What are you
_needing_?' 'Why, this is what I am _needing_,' I said, and
put the writing in his hand. He looked at me intently and said: 'Come
indoors, I can't read without spectacles.'
"Well, I went with him into his hut--and a hut it certainly was: poor,
bare, crooked; only just holding together. On the wall there was an
ikon of old workmanship as black as a coal; only the whites of the
eyes gleamed in the faces. He took some round spectacles in iron
frames out of a little table, put them on his nose, read the writing
and looked at me again through the spectacles. 'You have need of me?'
'I certainly have,' I answered. 'Well,' said he, 'if you have, tell it
and we will listen.' And, only fancy, he sat down and took a checked
handkerchief out of his pocket, and spread it out on his knee, and the
handkerchief was full of holes, and he looked at me with as much
dignity as though he were a senator or a minister, and he did not
ask me to sit down. And what was still stranger, I felt all at once
awe-stricken, so awe-stricken ... my soul sank into my heels. He
pierced me through with his eyes and that's the fact! I pulled myself
together, however, and told him all my story. He was silent for a
space, shrank into himself, chewed his lips and then questioned me
just like a senator again, majestically, without haste. 'What is your
name?' he asked. 'Your age? What were your parents? Are you single or
married?' Then again he munched his lips, frowned, held up his finger
and spoke: 'Bow down to the holy ikon, to the honourable Saints
Zossima and Savvaty of Solovki.' I bowed down to the earth and did not
get up in a hurry; I felt such awe for the man and such submission
that I believe that whatever he had told me to do I should have done
it on the spot! ... I see you are grinning, gentlemen, but I was in no
laughing mood then, I assure you. 'Get up, sir,' said he at last. 'I
can help you. This is not sent you as a chastisement, but as a
warning; it is for your protection; someone is praying for your
welfare. Go to the market now and buy a young dog and keep it by you
day and night. Your visions will leave you and, moreover, that dog
will be of use to you.'
"I felt as though light dawned upon me, all at once; how those words
delighted me. I bowed down to Prohoritch and would have gone away,
when I bethought me that I could not go away without rewarding him. I
got a three rouble note out of my pocket. But he thrust my hand away
and said, 'Give it to our chapel, or to the poor; the service I have
done you is not to be paid for.' I bowed down to him again almost to
the ground, and set off straight for the market! And only fancy: as
soon as I drew near the shops, lo and behold, a man in a frieze
overcoat comes sauntering towards me carrying under his arm a two
months' old setter puppy with a reddish brown coat, white lips and
white forepaws. 'Stay,' I said to the man in the overcoat, 'what will
you sell it for?' 'For two roubles.' Take three!' The man looked at me
in amazement, thought the gentleman had gone out of his wits, but I
flung the notes in his face, took the pup under my arm and made for my
carriage! The coachman quickly had the horses harnessed and that
evening I reached home. The puppy sat inside my coat all the way and
did not stir; and I kept calling him, 'Little Trésor! Little Trésor!'
I gave him food and drink at once. I had some straw brought in,
settled him and whisked into bed! I blew out the candle: it was dark.
'Well, now begin,' said I. There was silence. 'Begin,' said I, 'you so
and so!'... Not a sound, as though to mock me. Well, I began to feel
so set up that I fell to calling it all sorts of names. But still
there was not a sound! I could only hear the puppy panting! Filka,' I
cried, 'Filka! Come here, you stupid!' He came in. 'Do you hear the
dog?' 'No, sir,' said he, 'I hear nothing,' and he laughed. 'And you
won't hear it ever again,' said I. 'Here's half a rouble for vodka!'
'Let me kiss your hand,' said the foolish fellow, and he stooped down
to me in the darkness.... It was a great relief, I must tell you."
"And was that how it all ended?" asked Anton Stepanitch, this time
"The apparitions ended certainly and I was not disturbed in any way,
but wait a bit, the whole business was not over yet. My Trésor grew,
he turned into a fine fellow. He was heavy, with flopping ears and
overhanging lip and a thick tail; a regular sporting dog. And he was
extremely attached to me, too. The shooting in our district is poor,
however, as I had set up a dog, I got a gun, too. I took to sauntering
round the neighbourhood with my Trésor: sometimes one would hit a hare
(and didn't he go after that hare, upon my soul), sometimes a quail,
or a duck. But the great thing was that Trésor was never a step away
from me. Where I went, he went; I even took him to the bath with me, I
did really! One lady actually tried to get me turned out of her
drawing-room on account of Trésor, but I made such an uproar! The
windows I broke! Well, one day ... it was in summer ... and I must
tell you there was a drought at the time such as nobody remembered.
The air was full of smoke or haze. There was a smell of burning, the
sun was like a molten bullet, and as for the dust there was no getting
it out of one's nose and throat. People walked with their mouths wide
open like crows. I got weary of sitting at home in complete
deshabille, with shutters closed; and luckily the heat was beginning
to abate a little.... So I went off, gentlemen, to see a lady, a
neighbour of mine. She lived about three-quarters of a mile away--and
she certainly was a benevolent lady. She was still young and blooming
and of most prepossessing appearance; but she was of rather uncertain
temper. Though that is no harm in the fair sex; it even gives me
pleasure.... Well, I reached her door, and I did feel that I had had a
hot time of it getting there! Well, I thought, Nimfodora Semyonovna
will regale me now with bilberry water and other cooling drinks--and I
had already taken hold of the doorhandle when all at once there was
the tramping of feet and shrieking, and shouting of boys from round
the corner of a hut in the courtyard.... I looked round. Good heavens!
A huge reddish beast was rushing straight towards me; at the first
glance I did not recognise it as a dog: its jaws were open, its eyes
were bloodshot, its coat was bristling.... I had not time to take
breath before the monster bounded up the steps, stood upon its hind
legs and made straight for my chest--it was a position! I was numb
with terror and could not lift my arms. I was completely stupefied....
I could see nothing but the terrible white tusks just before my nose,
the red tongue all covered with white foam. But at the same instant,
another dark body was whisking before me like a ball--it was my
darling Trésor defending me; and he hung like a leech on the brute's
throat! The creature wheezed, grated its teeth and staggered back. I
instantly flung open the door and got into the hall.... I stood hardly
knowing what I was doing with my whole weight on the door, and heard a
desperate battle going on outside. I began shouting and calling for
help; everyone in the house was terribly upset. Nimfodora Semyonovna
ran out with her hair down, the voices in the yard grew louder--and
all at once I heard: 'Hold the gate, hold it, fasten it!' I opened the
door--just a crack, and looked out: the monster was no longer on the
steps, the servants were rushing about the yard in confusion waving
their hands and picking up bits of wood from the ground; they were
quite crazy. 'To the village, it has run off to the village,' shrieked
a peasant woman in a cap of extraordinary size poking her head out of
a dormer window. I went out of the house.
"'Where is my Trésor?' I asked and at once I saw my saviour. He was
coming from the gate limping, covered with wounds and with blood....
'What's the meaning of it?' I asked the servants who were dashing
about the yard as though possessed. 'A mad dog!' they answered, 'the
count's; it's been hanging about here since yesterday.'
"We had a neighbour, a count, who bred very fierce foreign dogs. My
knees shook; I rushed to a looking-glass and looked to see whether I
had been bitten. No, thank God, there was nothing to be seen; only my
countenance naturally looked green; while Nimfodora Semyonovna was
lying on the sofa and cackling like a hen. Well, that one could quite
understand, in the first place nerves, in the second sensibility. She
came to herself at last, though, and asked me whether I were alive. I
answered that I was and that Trésor had saved me. 'Ah,' she said,
'what a noble creature! and so the mad dog has strangled him?' 'No,' I
said, 'it has not strangled him, but has wounded him seriously.' 'Oh,'
she said, 'in that case he must be shot this minute!' 'Oh, no,' I
said, 'I won't agree to that. I shall try to cure him....' At that
moment Trésor began scratching at the door. I was about to go and open
it for him. 'Oh,' she said, 'what are you doing, why, it will bite us
all.' 'Upon my word,' I said, 'the poison does not act so quickly.'
'Oh, how can you?' she said. 'Why, you have taken leave of your
senses!' 'Nimfotchka,' I said, 'calm yourself, be reasonable....' But
she suddenly cried, 'Go away at once with your horrid dog.' 'I will
go away,' said I. 'At once,' she said, 'this second! Get along with
you,' she said, 'you villain, and never dare to let me set eyes on you
again. You may go mad yourself!' 'Very good,' said I, 'only let me
have a carriage for I am afraid to go home on foot now.' 'Give him the
carriage, the coach, the chaise, what he likes, only let him be gone
quickly. Oh, what eyes! Oh, what eyes he has!' and with those words
she whisked out of the room and gave a maid who met her a slap in the
face--and I heard her in hysterics again.
"And you may not believe me, gentlemen, but that very day I broke off
all acquaintance with Nimfodora Semyonovna; on mature consideration of
everything, I am bound to add that for that circumstance, too, I shall
owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Trésor to the hour of my death.
"Well, I had the carriage brought round, put my Trésor in and drove
home. When I got home I looked him over and washed his wounds, and
thought I would take him next day as soon as it was light to the wise
man in the Yefremovsky district. And this wise man was an old peasant,
a wonderful man: he would whisper over some water--and some people
made out that he dropped some snake spittle into it--would give it as
a draught, and the trouble would be gone completely. I thought, by the
way, I would be bled myself at Yefremovo: it's a good thing as a
precaution against fright, only not from the arm, of course, but from
"What place is that, the falcon?" Mr. Finoplentov asked with demure
"Why, don't you know? It is here on the fist near the thumb, the spot
on which one shakes the snuff from one's horn, just here. It's the
best place for letting blood. For only consider, the blood from the
arm comes from the vein, but here it is of no consequence. The doctors
don't know that and don't understand it, how should they, the idle
drones, the wretched Germans? It's the blacksmiths who go in for it.
And aren't they skilful! They get a chisel, give it a tap with a
hammer and it's done! ... Well, while I was thinking it over, it got
quite dark, it was time for bed. I went to bed and Trésor, of course,
was close by me. But whether it was from the fight, from the
stuffiness, from the fleas or from my thoughts, I could not get to
sleep, do what I would! I can't describe the depression that came over
me; I sipped water, opened the window and played the 'Kamarinsky' with
Italian variations on the guitar.... No good! I felt I must get out of
the room--and that was all about it! I made up my mind at last: I took
my pillow, my quilt and my sheet and made my way across the garden to
the hayloft; and settled myself there. And how pleasant I felt in
there, gentlemen: it was a still, still night, only from time to time
a breath of air like a woman's hand caressed one's cheek; it was so
fresh; the hay smelt as sweet as tea; among the apple trees' the
grasshoppers were chirping; then all at once came the cry of the
quail--and one felt that he, too, the rogue, was happy, sitting in the
dew with his little lady.... And the sky was magnificent.... The stars
were glowing, or a cloud would float by, white as cotton wool,
At this point in the story Skvorevitch sneezed; Kinarevitch sneezed,
too--he never failed in anything to follow his colleague's example.
Anton Stepanitch looked approvingly at both of them.
"Well," Porfiry Kapitonitch went on, "well, so I lay there and again
could not go to sleep. I fell to musing, and what I thought of most
was the strangeness of it all: how correctly Prohoritch had explained
it as a warning and I wondered why it was to me such marvels had
happened.... I marvelled--particularly because I could make nothing of
it--and Trésor kept whining, as he twisted round in the hay; his
wounds hurt him. And I will tell you what else prevented me from
sleeping--you won't believe it--the moon. It was just facing me, so
big and round and yellow and flat, and it seemed to me that it was
staring at me, it really did. And so insolently, so persistently.... I
put out my tongue at it at last, I really did. What are you so
inquisitive about? I thought. I turned away from it and it seemed to
be creeping into my ear and shining on the back of my head, so that I
felt caught in it as in rain; I opened my eyes and every blade of
grass, every paltry being in the hay, the most flimsy spider's web--all
were standing out as though they were chiselled! As though asking
to be looked at! There was no help for it: I leaned my head on my hand
and began gazing. And I couldn't help it: would you believe it: my
eyes bulged out like a hare's; they opened so wide--as though they did
not know what sleep was! It seemed as though I would devour it all
with my eyes. The doors of the barn were wide open; I could see for
four miles into the open country, distinctly and yet not, as it always
is on a moonlight night. I gazed and gazed without blinking.... And
all at once it seemed as though something were moving, far, far
away ... like a faint glimmer in the distance. A little time passed:
again the shadow stirred--now a little nearer; then again nearer still.
'What can it be?' I wondered, 'a hare, no,' I thought, 'it is bigger
than a hare and its action is not the same.' I looked, and again the
shadow came in sight, and was moving across the grazing meadow (the
meadow looked whitish in the moonlight) like a big blur; it was clear
that it was a wild animal, a fox or a wolf. My heart seemed to stand
still ... though one might wonder why I was frightened. All sorts of
wild creatures run about the fields at night. But curiosity was even
stronger than fear. I sat up, I opened my eyes wide and I turned cold
all over. I felt frozen, as though I had been thrust into the ice, up
to my ears, and why? The Lord only knows! And I saw the shadow growing
and growing, so it was running straight towards the barn. And I began
to realise that it certainly was a wild beast, big, with a huge
head.... He flew like a whirlwind, like a bullet.... Holy saints! what
was it? He stopped all at once, as though he scented something.... Why
it was ... the same mad dog! It was ... it was! Heavens! And I could
not stir, I could not cry out.... It darted to the doors, with
glittering eyes, howled and dashed through the hay straight at me!
"Out of the hay like a lion leapt my Trésor, here he was. They hung on
to each other's jaws and rolled on the ground. What happened then I
don't remember; all I remember is that I flew headlong between them
into the garden, and home and into my bedroom and almost crept under
the bed--why not make a clean breast of it? And what leaps, what
bounds I took in the garden! The _prémiere danseuse_ dancing
before the Emperor Napoleon on his nameday couldn't have kept pace
with me. However, when I had recovered myself a little, I roused the
whole household; I ordered them all to arm themselves, I myself took a
sword and a revolver (I bought that revolver, I must own, soon after
the emancipation, you know, in case anything should happen, but it
turned out the man who sold it was such a rogue--it would be sure to
miss fire twice out of every three shots). Well, I took all this and
so we went, a regular horde of us with stakes and lanterns, to the
barn. We approached and called--there was not a sound; at last we went
into the barn.... And what did we see? My poor Trésor lay dead with
his throat torn open, and of the other, the damned brute, not a trace
to be seen!
"And then, gentlemen, I howled like a calf and I am not ashamed to say
so; I stooped down to the friend who had saved my life twice over and
kissed his head, again and again. And I stayed in that position until
my old housekeeper, Praskovya (she, too, had run in at the uproar),
brought me to my senses. 'How can you, Porfiry Kapitonitch,' she said,
'distress yourself so about a dog? And you will catch cold, too, God
forbid.' (I was very lightly clad.) 'And if this dog has lost his life
in saving you, it may be taken as a great blessing vouchsafed him!'
"Though I did not agree with Praskovya, I went home. And next day a
soldier of the garrison shot the mad dog. And it must have been its
destined end: it was the first time in his life that the soldier had
fired a gun, though he had a medal for service in 1812. So this was
the supernatural incident that happened to me."
The speaker ceased and began filling his pipe. We all looked at each
other in amazement.
"Well, perhaps, you have led a very virtuous life," Mr. Finoplentov
began, "so in recompense ..."
But he broke off at that word, for he saw Porfiry Kapitonitch's cheeks
grow round and flushed while his eyes screwed up--he was on the point
of breaking into a guffaw.
"But if one admits the possibility of the supernatural, the
possibility of its participation in everyday life, so to say," Anton
Stepanitch began again, "then allow me to ask, what becomes of common
None of us found anything to say in reply and we remained in
perplexity as before.
* * * * *
AN OLD MAN'S STORY
I will tell you my adventures with a watch. It is a curious story.
It happened at the very beginning of this century, in 1801. I had just
reached my sixteenth year. I was living at Ryazan in a little wooden
house not far from the bank of the river Oka with my father, my aunt
and my cousin; my mother I do not remember; she died three years after
her marriage; my father had no other children. His name was Porfiry
Petrovitch. He was a quiet man, sickly and unattractive in appearance;
he was employed in some sort of legal and--other--business. In old
days such were called attorneys, sharpers, nettle-seeds; he called
himself a lawyer. Our domestic life was presided over by his sister,
my aunt, an old maiden lady of fifty; my father, too, had passed his
fourth decade. My aunt was very pious, or, to speak bluntly, she was a
canting hypocrite and a chattering magpie, who poked her nose into
everything; and, indeed, she had not a kind heart like my father. We
were not badly off, but had nothing to spare. My father had a brother
called Yegor; but he had been sent to Siberia in the year 1797 for
some "seditious acts and Jacobin tendencies" (those were the words of
Yegor's son David, my cousin, was left on my father's hands and lived
with us. He was only one year older than I; but I respected him and
obeyed him as though he were quite grown up. He was a sensible fellow
with character; in appearance, thick-set and broad-shouldered with a
square face covered with freckles, with red hair, small grey eyes,
thick lips, a short nose, and short fingers--a sturdy lad, in
fact--and strong for his age! My aunt could not endure him; my father
was positively afraid of him ... or perhaps he felt himself to blame
towards him. There was a rumour that, if my father had not given his
brother away, David's father would not have been sent to Siberia. We
were both at the high school and in the same class and both fairly
high up in it; I was, indeed, a little better at my lessons than
David. I had a good memory but boys--as we all know!--do not think
much of such superiority, and David remained my leader.
My name--you know--is Alexey. I was born on the seventh of March and
my name-day is the seventeenth. In accordance with the old-fashioned
custom, I was given the name of the saint whose festival fell on the
tenth day after my birth. My godfather was a certain Anastasy
Anastasyevitch Putchkov, or more exactly Nastasey Nastasyeitch, for
that was what everyone called him. He was a terribly shifty,
pettifogging knave and bribe-taker--a thoroughly bad man; he had been
turned out of the provincial treasury and had had to stand his trial
on more than one occasion; he was often of use to my father.... They
used to "do business" together. In appearance he was a round, podgy
figure; and his face was like a fox's with a nose like an owl's. His
eyes were brown, bright, also like a fox's, and he was always moving
them, those eyes, to right and to left, and he twitched his nose, too,
as though he were sniffing the air. He wore shoes without heels, and
wore powder every day, which was looked upon as very exceptional in
the provinces. He used to declare that he could not go without powder
as he had to associate with generals and their ladies. Well, my
name-day had come. Nastasey Nastasyeitch came to the house and said:
"I have never made you a present up to now, godson, but to make up for
that, look what a fine thing I have brought you to-day."
And he took out of his pocket a silver watch, a regular turnip, with a
rose tree engraved on the face and a brass chain. I was overwhelmed
with delight, while my aunt, Pelageya Petrovna, shouted at the top of
"Kiss his hand, kiss his hand, dirty brat!"
I proceeded to kiss my godfather's hand, while my aunt went piping on:
"Oh, Nastasey Nastasyeitch! Why do you spoil him like this? How can he
take care of a watch? He will be sure to drop it, break it, or spoil
My father walked in, looked at the watch, thanked Nastasey
Nastasyeitch--somewhat carelessly, and invited him to his study. And I
heard my father say, as though to himself:
"If you think to get off _with that_, my man...." But I could not
stay still. I put on the watch and rushed headlong to show my present
David took the watch, opened it and examined it attentively. He had
great mechanical ability; he liked having to do with iron, copper, and
metals of all sorts; he had provided himself with various instruments,
and it was nothing for him to mend or even to make a screw, a key or
anything of that kind.
David turned the watch about in his hands and muttering through his
teeth (he was not talkative as a rule):
"Oh ... poor ..." added, "where did you get it?"
I told him that my godfather had given it me.
David turned his little grey eyes upon me:
"Yes, Nastasey Nastasyeitch."
David laid the watch on the table and walked away without a word.
"Do you like it?" I asked.
"Well, it isn't that.... But if I were you, I would not take any sort
of present from Nastasey."
"Because he is a contemptible person; and you ought not to be under an
obligation to a contemptible person. And to say thank you to him, too.
I suppose you kissed his hand?"
"Yes, Aunt made me."
David grinned--a peculiar grin--to himself. That was his way. He never
laughed aloud; he considered laughter a sign of feebleness.
David's words, his silent grin, wounded me deeply. "So he inwardly
despises me," I thought. "So I, too, am contemptible in his eyes. He
would never have stooped to this himself! He would not have accepted
presents from Nastasey. But what am I to do now?"
Give back the watch? Impossible!
I did try to talk to David, to ask his advice. He told me that he
never gave advice to anyone and that I had better do as I thought
best. As I thought best!! I remember I did not sleep all night
afterwards: I was in agonies of indecision. I was sorry to lose the
watch--I had laid it on the little table beside my bed; its ticking
was so pleasant and amusing ... but to feel that David despised me
(yes, it was useless to deceive myself, he did despise me) ... that
seemed to me unbearable. Towards morning a determination had taken
shape in me ... I wept, it is true--but I fell asleep upon it, and as
soon as I woke up, I dressed in haste and ran out into the street. I
had made up my mind to give my watch to the first poor person I met.
I had not run far from home when I hit upon what I was looking for. I
came across a barelegged boy of ten, a ragged urchin, who was often
hanging about near our house. I dashed up to him at once and, without
giving him or myself time to recover, offered him my watch.
The boy stared at me round-eyed, put one hand before his mouth, as
though he were afraid of being scalded--and held out the other.
"Take it, take it," I muttered, "it's mine, I give it you, you can
sell it, and buy yourself ... something you want.... Good-bye."
I thrust the watch into his hand--and went home at a gallop. Stopping
for a moment at the door of our common bedroom to recover my breath, I
went up to David who had just finished dressing and was combing his
"Do you know what, David?" I said in as unconcerned a tone as I could,
"I have given away Nastasey's watch."
David looked at me and passed the brush over his temples.
"Yes," I added in the same businesslike voice, "I have given it away.
There is a very poor boy, a beggar, you know, so I have given it to
David put down the brush on the washing-stand.
"He can buy something useful," I went on, "with the money he can get
for it. Anyway, he will get something for it."
"Well," David said at last, "that's a good thing," and he went off to
the schoolroom. I followed him.
"And if they ask you what you have done with it?" he said, turning to
"I shall tell them I've lost it," I answered carelessly.
No more was said about the watch between us that day; but I had the
feeling that David not only approved of what I had done but ... was to
some extent surprised by it. He really was!
Two days more passed. It happened that no one in the house thought of
the watch. My father was taken up with a very serious unpleasantness
with one of his clients; he had no attention to spare for me or my
watch. I, on the other hand, thought of it without ceasing! Even the
approval ... the presumed approval of David did not quite comfort me.
He did not show it in any special way: the only thing he said, and
that casually, was that he hadn't expected such recklessness of me.
Certainly I was a loser by my sacrifice: it was not counter-balanced
by the gratification afforded me by my vanity.
And what is more, as ill-luck would have it, another schoolfellow of
ours, the son of the town doctor, must needs turn up and begin
boasting of a new watch, a present from his grandmother, and not even
a silver, but a pinch-back one....
I could not bear it, at last, and, without a word to anyone, slipped
out of the house and proceeded to hunt for the beggar boy to whom I
had given my watch.
I soon found him; he was playing knucklebones in the churchyard with
some other boys.
I called him aside--and, breathless and stammering, told him that my
family were angry with me for having given away the watch--and that if
he would consent to give it back to me I would gladly pay him for
it.... To be ready for any emergency, I had brought with me an
old-fashioned rouble of the reign of Elizabeth, which represented the
whole of my fortune.
"But I haven't got it, your watch," answered the boy in an angry and
tearful voice; "my father saw it and took it away from me; and he was
for thrashing me, too. 'You must have stolen it from somewhere,' he
said. 'What fool is going to make you a present of a watch?'"
"And who is your father?"
"My father? Trofimitch."
"But what is he? What's his trade?"
"He is an old soldier, a sergeant. And he has no trade at all. He
mends old shoes, he re-soles them. That's all his trade. That's what
he lives by."
"Where do you live? Take me to him."
"To be sure I will. You tell my father that you gave me the watch. For
he keeps pitching into me, and calling me a thief! And my mother, too.
'Who is it you are taking after,' she says, 'to be a thief?'"
I set off with the boy to his home. They lived in a smoky hut in the
back-yard of a factory, which had long ago been burnt down and not
rebuilt. We found both Trofimitch and his wife at home. The discharged
sergeant was a tall old man, erect and sinewy, with yellowish grey
whiskers, an unshaven chin and a perfect network of wrinkles on his
cheeks and forehead. His wife looked older than he. Her red eyes,
which looked buried in her unhealthily puffy face, kept blinking
dejectedly. Some sort of dark rags hung about them by way of clothes.
I explained to Trofimitch what I wanted and why I had come. He
listened to me in silence without once winking or moving from me his
stupid and strained--typically soldierly--eyes.
"Whims and fancies!" he brought out at last in a husky, toothless
bass. "Is that the way gentlemen behave? And if Petka really did not
steal the watch--then I'll give him one for that! To teach him not to
play the fool with little gentlemen! And if he did steal it, then I
would give it to him in a very different style, whack, whack, whack!
With the flat of a sword; in horseguard's fashion! No need to think
twice about it! What's the meaning of it? Eh? Go for them with sabres!
Here's a nice business! Tfoo!"
This last interjection Trofimitch pronounced in a falsetto. He was
"If you are willing to restore the watch to me," I explained to him--I
did not dare to address him familiarly in spite of his being a
soldier--"I will with pleasure pay you this rouble here. The watch is
not worth more, I imagine."
"Well!" growled Trofimitch, still amazed and, from old habit,
devouring me with his eyes as though I were his superior officer.
"It's a queer business, eh? Well, there it is, no understanding it.
Ulyana, hold your tongue!" he snapped out at his wife who was opening
her mouth. "Here's the watch," he added, opening the table drawer; "if
it really is yours, take it by all means; but what's the rouble for?
"Take the rouble, Trofimitch, you senseless man," wailed his wife. "You
have gone crazy in your old age! We have not a half-rouble between us,
and then you stand on your dignity! It was no good their cutting off
your pigtail, you are a regular old woman just the same! How can you
go on like that--when you know nothing about it? ... Take the money,
if you have a fancy to give back the watch!"
"Ulyana, hold your tongue, you dirty slut!" Trofimitch repeated.
"Whoever heard of such a thing, talking away? Eh? The husband is the
head; and yet she talks! Petka, don't budge, I'll kill you.... Here's
Trofimitch held out the watch to me, but did not let go of it.
He pondered, looked down, then fixed the same intent, stupid stare
upon me. Then all at once bawled at the top of his voice:
"Where is it? Where's your rouble?"
"Here it is, here it is," I responded hurriedly and I snatched the
coin out of my pocket.
But he did not take it, he still stared at me. I laid the rouble on
the table. He suddenly brushed it into the drawer, thrust the watch
into my hand and wheeling to the left with a loud stamp, he hissed at
his wife and his son:
"Get along, you low wretches!"
Ulyana muttered something, but I had already dashed out into the yard
and into the street. Thrusting the watch to the very bottom of my
pocket and clutching it tightly in my hand, I hurried home.
I had regained the possession of my watch but it afforded me no
satisfaction whatever. I did not venture to wear it, it was above all
necessary to conceal from David what I had done. What would he think
of me, of my lack of will? I could not even lock up the luckless watch
in a drawer: we had all our drawers in common. I had to hide it,
sometimes on the top of the cupboard, sometimes under my mattress,
sometimes behind the stove.... And yet I did not succeed in
One day I took the watch from under a plank in the floor of our room
and proceeded to rub the silver case with an old chamois leather
glove. David had gone off somewhere in the town; I did not at all
expect him to be back quickly.... Suddenly he was in the doorway.
I was so overcome that I almost dropped the watch, and, utterly
disconcerted, my face painfully flushing crimson, I fell to fumbling
about my waistcoat with it, unable to find my pocket.
David looked at me and, as usual, smiled without speaking.
"What's the matter?" he brought out at last. "You imagined I didn't
know you had your watch again? I saw it the very day you brought it
"I assure you," I began, almost on the point of tears....
David shrugged his shoulders.
"The watch is yours, you are free to do what you like with it."
Saying these cruel words, he went out.
I was overwhelmed with despair. This time there could be no doubt!
David certainly despised me.
I could not leave it so.
"I will show him," I thought, clenching my teeth, and at once with a
firm step I went into the passage, found our page-boy, Yushka, and
presented him with the watch!
Yushka would have refused it, but I declared that if he did not take
the watch from me I would smash it that very minute, trample it under
foot, break it to bits and throw it in the cesspool! He thought a
moment, giggled, and took the watch. I went back to our room and
seeing David reading there, I told him what I had done.
David did not take his eyes off the page and, again shrugging his
shoulder and smiling to himself, repeated that the watch was mine and
that I was free to do what I liked with it.
But it seemed to me that he already despised me a little less.
I was fully persuaded that I should never again expose myself to the
reproach of weakness of character, for the watch, the disgusting
present from my disgusting godfather, had suddenly grown so
distasteful to me that I was quite incapable of understanding how I
could have regretted it, how I could have begged for it back from the
wretched Trofimitch, who had, moreover, the right to think that he had
treated me with generosity.
Several days passed.... I remember that on one of them the great news
reached our town that the Emperor Paul was dead and his son Alexandr,
of whose graciousness and humanity there were such favourable rumours,
had ascended the throne. This news excited David intensely: the
possibility of seeing--of shortly seeing--his father occurred to him
at once. My father was delighted, too.
"They will bring back all the exiles from Siberia now and I expect
brother Yegor will not be forgotten," he kept repeating, rubbing his
hands, coughing and, at the same time, seeming rather nervous.
David and I at once gave up working and going to the high school; we
did not even go for walks but sat in a corner counting and reckoning
in how many months, in how many weeks, in how many days "brother
Yegor" ought to come back and where to write to him and how to go to
meet him and in what way we should begin to live afterwards. "Brother
Yegor" was an architect: David and I decided that he ought to settle
in Moscow and there build big schools for poor people and we would go
to be his assistants. The watch, of course, we had completely
forgotten; besides, David had new cares.... Of them I will speak
later, but the watch was destined to remind us of its existence again.
One morning we had only just finished lunch--I was sitting alone by
the window thinking of my uncle's release--outside there was the steam
and glitter of an April thaw--when all at once my aunt, Pelageya
Petrovna, walked into the room. She was at all times restless and
fidgetty, she spoke in a shrill voice and was always waving her arms
about; on this occasion she simply pounced on me.
"Go along, go to your father at once, sir!" she snapped out. "What
pranks have you been up to, you shameless boy! You will catch it, both
of you. Nastasey Nastasyeitch has shown up all your tricks! Go along,
your father wants you.... Go along this very minute."
Understanding nothing, I followed my aunt, and, as I crossed the
threshold of the drawing-room, I saw my father, striding up and down
and ruffling up his hair, Yushka in tears by the door and, sitting on
a chair in the corner, my godfather, Nastasey Nastasyeitch, with an
expression of peculiar malignancy in his distended nostrils and in his
fiery, slanting eyes.
My father swooped down upon me as soon as I walked in.
"Did you give your watch to Yushka? Tell me!"
I glanced at Yushka.
"Tell me," repeated my father, stamping.
"Yes," I answered, and immediately received a stinging slap in the
face, which afforded my aunt great satisfaction. I heard her gulp, as
though she had swallowed some hot tea. From me my father ran to
"And you, you rascal, ought not to have dared to accept such a
present," he said, pulling him by the hair: "and you sold it, too, you
Yushka, as I learned later had, in the simplicity of his heart, taken
my watch to a neighbouring watchmaker's. The watchmaker had displayed
it in his shop-window; Nastasey Nastasyeitch had seen it, as he passed
by, bought it and brought it along with him.
However, my ordeal and Yushka's did not last long: my father gasped
for breath, and coughed till he choked; indeed, it was not in his
character to be angry long.
"Brother, Porfiry Petrovitch," observed my aunt, as soon as she
noticed not without regret that my father's anger had, so to speak,
flickered out, "don't you worry yourself further: it's not worth
dirtying your hands over. I tell you what I suggest: with the consent
of our honoured friend, Nastasey Nastasyeitch, in consideration of the
base ingratitude of your son--I will take charge of the watch; and
since he has shown by his conduct that he is not worthy to wear it and
does not even understand its value, I will present it in your name to
a person who will be very sensible of your kindness."
"Whom do you mean?" asked my father.
"To Hrisanf Lukitch," my aunt articulated, with slight hesitation.
"To Hrisashka?" asked my father, and with a wave of his hand, he
added: "It's all one to me. You can throw it in the stove, if you
He buttoned up his open vest and went out, writhing from his coughing.
"And you, my good friend, do you agree?" said my aunt, addressing
"I am quite agreeable," responded the latter. During the whole
proceedings he had not stirred and only snorting stealthily and
stealthily rubbing the ends of his fingers, had fixed his foxy eyes by
turns on me, on my father, and on Yushka. We afforded him real
My aunt's suggestion revolted me to the depths of my soul. It was not
that I regretted the watch; but the person to whom she proposed to
present it was absolutely hateful to me. This Hrisanf Lukitch (his
surname was Trankvillitatin), a stalwart, robust, lanky divinity
student, was in the habit of coming to our house--goodness knows what
for!--to help the _children_ with their lessons, my aunt asserted;
but he could not help us with our lessons because he had never
learnt anything himself and was as stupid as a horse. He was
rather like a horse altogether: he thudded with his feet as though
they had been hoofs, did not laugh but neighed, opening his jaws till
you could see right down his throat--and he had a long face, a hooked
nose and big, flat jaw-bones; he wore a shaggy frieze, full-skirted
coat, and smelt of raw meat. My aunt idolised him and called him a
good-looking man, a cavalier and even a grenadier. He had a habit of
tapping children on the forehead with the nails of his long fingers,
hard as stones (he used to do it to me when I was younger), and as he
tapped he would chuckle and say with surprise: "How your head
resounds, it must be empty." And this lout was to possess my
watch!--No, indeed, I determined in my own mind as I ran out of the
drawing-room and flung myself on my bed, while my cheek glowed crimson
from the slap I had received and my heart, too, was aglow with the
bitterness of the insult and the thirst for revenge--no, indeed! I
would not allow that cursed Hrisashka to jeer at me.... He would put
on the watch, let the chain hang over his stomach, would neigh with
delight; no, indeed!
"Quite so, but how was it to be done, how to prevent it?"
I determined to steal the watch from my aunt.
Luckily Trankvillitatin was away from the town at the time: he could
not come to us before the next day; I must take advantage of the
night! My aunt did not lock her bedroom door and, indeed, none of the
keys in the house would turn in the locks; but where would she put the
watch, where would she hide it? She kept it in her pocket till the
evening and even took it out and looked at it more than once; but at
night--where would it be at night?--Well, that was just my work to
find out, I thought, shaking my fists.
I was burning with boldness and terror and joy at the thought of the
approaching crime. I was continually nodding to myself; I knitted my
brows. I whispered: "Wait a bit!" I threatened someone, I was wicked,
I was dangerous ... and I avoided David!--no one, not even he, must
have the slightest suspicion of what I meant to do....
I would act alone and alone I would answer for it!
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