Part 4 out of 7
especially when the reading was of an edifying character. So she took
her talisman from the shelf, where it lay hidden under a pile of rubbish,
and laid it on the table near her work basket. At dinner she declared to
the two sisters her desire that they should read aloud to her on
alternate evenings, especially in bad weather, since she could not read
very much on account of her eyes. Generally speaking, she was not an
enthusiastic reader, and only liked to listen when Tiet Nikonich read
aloud to her on agricultural matters or hygiene, or about distressing
occurrences of murder or arson.
Vera said nothing, but Marfinka asked immediately whether the book had a
"What sort of book is it?" inquired Raisky, picking up the book and
glancing at a page here and there. "What old rubbish have you discovered,
Grandmother. I expect you read it when you were in love with Tiet
"Don't be foolish, Boris Pavlovich. You are not asked to read."
Raisky took his departure, and the room was left to the reading party.
Vera was unendurably bored, but she never refused assent to any
definitely expressed wish of her aunt's. At last, after three or four
evenings, the point was reached where the lovers exchanged their vows.
The tale was faultlessly moral and horribly dull. Vera hardly listened.
At each word of love her aunt looked at her to see whether she was
touched, whether she blushed or turned pale, but Vera merely yawned.
On the last evening when only a few chapters were left, Raisky stayed in
the room when the table was cleared and the reading began. Vikentev, too,
was present. He could not sit quiet, but jumped up from time to time,
ran to Marfinka, and begged to be allowed to take his share in the
reading. When they gave him the book he inserted long tirades of his own
in the novel, or read with a different voice suited to each character.
He made the heroine lisp in a mournful whisper, the hero speak with his
own natural voice, so that Marfinka blushed and looked angrily at him,
and the stern father spoke with the voice of Niel Andreevich. At last
Tatiana Markovna took the book from him with an intimation to him to
behave reasonably, whereupon he continued his studies in
character-mimicry for Marfinka's benefit behind her back. When Marfinka
betrayed him he was requested to go into the garden until supper time
and the reading went on without him. The catastrophe of the tale
approached at last, and when the last word was read and the book shut
there was silence.
"What stupid nonsense," said Raisky at length, and Marfinka wiped away a
"What do you think, Veroshka?" asked Tatiana Markovna.
Vera made no reply, but Marfinka decided it was a horrid book because
the lovers had suffered so cruelly.
"If they had followed the advice of their parents, things would not have
come to such a pass. What do you think, Veroshka?"
Vera got up to go, but on the threshold she stopped.
"Grandmother," she said, "why have you bothered me for a whole week with
this stupid book?" And without waiting for an answer she glided away,
but Tatiana Markovna called her back.
"Why, Vera, I meant to give you pleasure."
"No, you wanted to punish me for something. In future I would rather be
put for a week on bread and water," and kneeling on the footstool at her
aunt's feet she added, "Good-night, Grandmother."
Tatiana Markovna stooped to kiss her and whispered. "I did not want to
punish you, but to guard you against getting into trouble yourself."
"And if I do," whispered Vera in reply, "will you have me put in a
convent like Cunigunde?"
"Do you think I am a monster like those bad parents? It's wicked, Vera,
to think such things of me."
"I know it would be wicked, Grandmother, and I don't think any such
thing. But why warn me with such a silly book?"
"How should I warn you and guard you, my dear. Tell me and set my mind
"Make the sign of the Cross over me," she said after a moment's
hesitation, and when her aunt had made the holy sign, Vera kissed her
hand and left the room.
"A wise book," laughed Raisky. "Well, has the beautiful Cunigunde's
example done any good?"
Tatiana Markovna was grieved and in no mood for joking, and sent for
Pashutka to take the book to the servants' room.
"You have brought Vera up in the right way," said Raisky. "Let Egorka
and Marina read your allegory together, and the household will be
* * * * *
Vikentev called Marfinka into the garden, Raisky went to his room, and
Tatiana Markovna sat for a long time on the divan, absorbed in thought.
She had lost all interest in the book, was herself sickened by its pious
tone, and was really ashamed of having had recourse to so gross a method.
Marina, Yakob and Vassilissa came one after another to say that supper
was ready, but Tatiana Markovna wanted none, Vera declined, and to
Marina's astonishment even Marfinka, who never went supperless to bed,
was not hungry.
Meanwhile Egorka had got wind of the universal loss of appetite. He
helped himself to a considerable slice from the dish with his fingers to
taste, as he told Yakob, whom he invited to share the feast. Yakob shook
his head and crossed himself, but nevertheless did his share, so that
when Marina came to clear the table the fish and the sweets were gone.
The mistress's preparations for rest were made, and quiet reigned in the
house. Tatiana Markovna rose from the divan and looked at the ikon. She
crossed herself, but she was too restless for prayer, and did not kneel
down as usual. Instead she sat down on the bed and began to go over her
passage of arms with Vera. How could she learn what lay on the girl's
heart. She remembered the proverb that wisdom comes with the morning,
and lay down, but not that night to sleep, for there was a light tap on
the door, and she heard Marfinka's voice, "Open the door. Grandmother.
"What's the matter, my dear?" she said, as she opened the door. "Have
you come to say good-night. God bless you! Where is Nikolai Andreevich?"
But she was terrified when she saw Marfinka's face.
"Sit down in the armchair," she said, but Marfinka clung to her.
"Lie down, Grandmother, and I will sit on the bed beside you. I will
tell you everything, but please put out the light."
Then Marfinka began to relate how she had gone with Vikentev into the
park to hear the nightingales sing, how she had first objected because
it was so dark.
"Are you afraid?" Vikentev had asked.
"Not with you," and they had gone on hand in hand.
"How dark it is! I won't go any farther. Don't take hold of my hand!"
She went on involuntarily, although Vikentev had loosed her hand, her
heart beating faster and faster. "I am afraid, I won't go a step
farther." She drew closer to him all the same, terrified by the
crackling of the twigs under her feet.
"Here we will wait. Listen!" he whispered.
The nightingale sang, and Marfinka felt herself enveloped in the warm
breath of night. At intervals her hand sought Vikentev's, but when he
touched hers she drew it back.
"How lovely, Marfa Vassilievna! What an enchanted night!"
She nudged him not to disturb the song.
"Marfa Vassilievna," he whispered, "something so good, so wonderful is
happening to me, something I have never felt before. It is as if
everything in me was astir. At this moment," he went on as she remained
silent, "I should like to fling myself on horseback, and ride, ride,
till I had no breathe left, or fling myself into the Volga and swim to
the opposite bank. Do you feel anything like that?"
"Let us go away from here. Grandmother will be angry."
"Just a minute more. How the nightingale does sing! What does he sing?"
"I don't know."
"Just what I should like to say to you, but don't know how to say."
"How do you know what he sings? Can you speak nightingale language?"
"He is singing of love, of my love for you," and startled by his own
words he drew her hand to his lips and covered it with kisses.
She drew it back, and ran at full speed down the avenue towards the
house; on the steps she waited a moment to take breath.
"Not a step farther," she cried breathlessly, clinging to the doorpost
as he overtook her. "Go home."
"Listen, Marfa Vassilievna, my angel," he cried, falling on his knees.
"On my knees I swear...."
"If you speak another word, I go straight to Grandmother."
He rose, and led her by force into the avenue.
"What are you doing? I will call, I won't listen to your nightingale."
"You won't listen to it, but you will to me."
"Let me go. I will tell Grandmother everything."
"You must tell her to-night, Marfa Vassilievna. We have come too near to
one another that if we were suddenly separated.... Should you like that,
Marfa Vassilievna? If you like I will go away for good."
She wept and seized his hand in panic, when he drew back a step.
"You love me, you love me," he cried.
"Does your mother know what you are saying to me?"
"Ought you to say it then? Is it honourable?"
"I shall tell her to-morrow."
"What if she will not give her blessing?"
"I won't obey."
"But I will. I will take no step without your Mother's and Grandmother's
consent," she said, turning to go.
"As far as I am concerned, I am sure of my Mother's consent. I will
hurry now to Kolchino, and my Mother will send you her consent to-morrow.
Marfa Vassilievna, give me your hand."
"What will Grandmother say? If she does not forgive me I shall die of
shame," she said, and she hurried into the house.
"Heavens, what will Grandmother say?" she wondered, shutting herself up
in her room, and shaking with fever. How should she tell her grandmother,
and should she tell Veroshka first. She decided in favour of her
grandmother, and when the house was quiet slipped to her room like a
The two talked low to one another for a long time. Tatiana Markovna made
the sign of the cross over her darling many times, until she fell asleep
on her shoulder. Then she carefully laid the girl's head on the pillow,
rose, and prayed with many tears. But more heartily than for Marfinka's
happiness she prayed for Vera, with her grey head bowed before the cross.
Vikentev kept his word, and on the very next day brought his mother to
Tatiana Markovna, he himself taking refuge in his office, where he sat
on pins and needles.
His mother, still a young woman, not much over forty, as gay and full of
life as he himself was, had plenty of practical sense. They kept up
between themselves a constant comic war of words; they were for ever
disputing about trifles, but when it came to serious matters, she
proclaimed her authority to him with quite another voice and another
manner. And though he indeed usually began by protesting, he submitted
to her will, if her request was reasonable. An unseen harmony underlay
their visible strife.
That night, after Marfinka had left him, Vikentev had hurried to
Kolchino. He rushed to his mother, threw his arms round her and kissed
her. When, nearly smothered by his embrace, she thrust him from her, he
fell on his knees and said solemnly: "Mother, strike me if you will, but
listen. The supreme moment of my life has arrived. I have...."
"Gone mad," she supplied, looking him up and down.
"I am going to be married," he said, almost inaudibly.
"What? Mavra, Anton, Ivan, Kusma! Come here, quick!"
Mavra alone responded to the call.
"Call everybody. Nikolai Andreevich has gone mad."
"I am not joking, and I must have an answer tomorrow."
"I will have you locked up," she said, seriously disturbed at last.
Far into the night the servants heard heated arguments, the voices of
the disputants now rising almost to a shout, then laughter, then
outbursts of anger from the mistress, a gay retort from him, then dead
silence, the sign of restored tranquillity. Vikentev had won the victory,
which was indeed a foregone conclusion, for while Vikentev and Marfinka
were still uncertain of their feelings, Tatiana Markovna and Marfa
Egorovna had long before realised what was coming, and both, although
they kept their own counsel, had weighed and considered the matter, and
had concluded that the marriage was a suitable one.
"What will Tatiana Markovna say?" cried Marfa Egorovna to her son the
next morning as the horses were being put in. "If she does not agree, I
will never forgive you for the disgrace it will bring on us, do you
She herself, in a silk dress and a lace mantle, with yellow gloves and a
coquettish fan, might have been a fiancee. When Tatiana Markovna was
informed of the arrival of Madame Vikentev, she had her shown into the
reception room. Before she herself changed her dress to receive her,
Vassilissa had to peer through the doorway to see what kind of toilette
the guest had made. Then Tatiana Markovna donned a rustling silk dress
with a silver sheen, over which she wore her Turkish shawl; she even
tried to put on a pair of diamond earrings, but gave up the attempt
impatiently, telling herself that the holes in her ears had grown
together. Then she sent word to Vera and Marfinka to change their
dresses. In passing she told Vassilissa to set out the best table linen,
and the old silver and glass for the breakfast and the dinner table. The
cook was ordered to serve chocolate in addition to the usual dishes, and
sweets and champagne were ordered. With folded hands, adorned for the
occasion with old and costly rings, she stepped solemnly into the
reception room. But when she caught sight of her guest's pleasant face
she all but forget the importance of the moment, but pulled herself
together in time, and resumed her serious aspect.
Marfa Egorovna rose in friendly haste to meet her hostess, and began:
"What ideas my mad boy has!" but restrained herself when she saw Madame
Berezhkov's attitude. They exchanged ceremonious greetings. Tatiana
Markovna asked the visitor to sit on the divan, and seated herself
stiffly beside her.
"What is the weather like?" she asked. "Had you a windy crossing over
"There was no wind."
"Did you come by the ferry?"
"In the boat. The caleche was brought over on the ferry."
"Yakob, Egorovna, Petrushka? Where are you? Why don't you come when you
are called? Take out the horses, give them fodder, and see that the
coachman is well looked after."
The servants, who had rushed in to answer the summons, hurried out. Of
course the horses had been taken out while Tatiana Markovna was dressing,
and the coachman was already sitting in the servants' room, doing full
justice to the beer set before him.
"No, no, Tatiana Markovna," protested the visitor, "I have come for half
an hour on business."
"Do you think you will be allowed to go?" asked Tatiana Markovna in a
voice that permitted no reply. "You have come a long way from over the
Volga. Is this the first year of our acquaintance? Do you want to insult
"Ah, Tatiana Markovna, I am so grateful to you, so grateful! You are
just like a relative, and how you have spoilt my Nikolai!"
"I feel sometimes as if he were my own son," burst from Tatiana Markovna,
whose dignity could hold out no longer against these friendly advances.
"Yes, you are so kind to him, Tatiana Markovna, that, presuming on your
kindness, he has taken it into his head...."
"He begged me to come over to see you, and he asks for the hand of Marfa
Vassilievna. Marfa Vassilievna agrees; she loves Nikolai."
"Because Marfinka took upon herself to answer his declaration she is now
shut up in her room, in her petticoat, without shoes," lied her aunt.
Then in order to lay full stress on the importance of the moment, she
added: "I have given orders not to admit your son, so that he may not
play with a poor girl's affections."
It was impossible for Marfa Egorovna not to recognise the provocation of
"If I had foreseen this," she said angrily, "I would have given him a
different answer. He assured me--and I was so willing to believe him--of
your affection for him, and for me. Pardon my mission, Tatiana Markovna,
and pray let that poor child out of her room. The blame rests with my
boy only, and he shall be punished. Have the kindness to order my
She placed her hand on the bell, but Tatiana Markovna detained her.
"Your horses are taken out. You will stay with me, Marfa Egorovna,
to-day, to-morrow, all the week."
"But since you are so angry with Marfa Vassilievna and my son, who does
indeed deserve to be punished?"
The wrinkles in Tatiana Markovna's face faded, and her eyes gleamed with
joy. She threw her shawl and cap on the divan.
"I can't keep it up any longer!" she exclaimed. "Take off your hat and
mantilla. We are only teasing one another, Marfa Egorovna. I shall have
a grandson, you a daughter. Kiss me, dear! I wanted to keep up the old
customs, but there are cases which they don't fit. We knew what must be
the upshot of this. If we hadn't wished it we should not have allowed
them to go and listen to the nightingales."
"How you frightened me!" cried Marfa Egorovna.
"He had to be frightened. I will read him a lesson."
Mother and aunt had gone a long way into the future, and when they were
about as far as the christening of the third child, Marfa Egorovna
noticed in the garden among the bushes a head which was now hidden, then
again cautiously raised to reconnoitre. She recognised her son, and
pointed him out to Tatiana Markovna. They called him, but when he at
last decided to enter, he hung about in the ante-room, as if he were
making himself presentable.
"You are welcome, Nikolai Andreevich," said Tatiana Markovna pointedly,
while his mother looked at him ironically.
"Good morning, Tatiana Markovna," he stammered at last, and kissed the
old lady's hand. "I have bought tickets for the charity concert, for you
and Mama, for Vera Vassilievna and Marfa Vassilievna and for Boris
Pavlovich. It's a splendid concert ... the first singer in Moscow...."
"Why do we need to go to concerts?" interrupted Tatiana Markovna,
looking at him sideways. "The nightingales sing so finely here. In the
evening we go into the garden, and can hear them for nothing."
Marfa Egorovna bit her lip, but Vikentev stood transfixed.
"Sit down, Nikolai Andreevich," continued the old lady seriously and
reproachfully, "and listen to what I have to say. What does your
conscience tell you? How have you rewarded my confidence?"
"Don't make fun of me ... it's unkind."
"I am not joking. It wasn't right of you, my friend, to speak to
Marfinka, and not to me. Supposing I had not consented?"
"If you had not consented I would have...."
"Oh, I would have gone away from here, joined the Hussars, have
contracted debts, and gone to wrack and ruin."
"Now he threatens! You should not be so bent on your own way, young
"Give me Marfa Vassilievna, and I will be more tranquil than water,
humbler than the grass."
"Shall we give him Marfinka, Marfa Egorovna?"
"He hasn't deserved it, Tatiana Markovna. And it is really too early.
Perhaps in two years' time...."
He flew to his mother and shut her mouth with a kiss. Then he received
from Tatiana Markovna the sign of the cross, and a kiss on the forehead.
"Where is Marfa Vassilievna?" he shouted joyfully.
"You must have patience," admonished his grandmother, "we will fetch
Tatiana Markovna and Marfa Egorovna found Marfinka hidden in the corner
behind the curtains of her bed, close by the ikons. She covered her
blushing face in her hands.
Vera received the news from her aunt with quiet pleasure, saying that
she had expected it for a long time.
"God grant that you may follow her example," said Tatiana Markovna.
"If you love me as I love you, Grandmother, you will bestow all your
care and thought on Marfinka. Take no thought for me."
"My heart aches for you, Veroshka."
"I know, and that grieves me. Grandmother," she said with a despairing
note, "it is killing me to think that your heart aches on my account."
"What do you say, Veroshka? open your heart to me. Perhaps I can
comprehend, and if you have grief, help to assuage it."
"If trouble overtakes me, Grandmother, and I cannot conquer it myself, I
will come to you and to none other, God only excepted. But do not make
me suffer any more, or allow yourself to suffer."
"Will it not be too late when trouble has once overtaken you?" whispered
her aunt. Then she added aloud, "I know that you are not like Marfinka,
and I will not disturb you."
A long sigh escaped her as she left the room with quick steps and bent
head. Vera's distress was the only cloud on her horizon, and she prayed
earnestly that it might pass and not gather into a black storm cloud.
Vera sought to calm her own agitation by walking up and down the garden,
but only succeeded gradually. As soon as she caught sight of Marfinka
and Vikentev in the arbour, she hurried to them, looked affectionately
into her sister's face, kissed her eyes, her lips, her cheeks, and
embraced her warmly.
"You must be happy," she said with tears in her eyes.
"How lovely you are Veroshka, and how good! We are not a bit like
sisters. There is nobody in the neighbourhood fit to marry you, is there,
Vera pressed her hand in silence.
"Nikolai Andreevich, do you know what she is?"
"An angel," answered Vikentev as promptly as a soldier answers his
"An angel," mimicked Vera laughing, and pointing to a butterfly hovering
over a flower. "There is an angel. But if you even touch him the colour
of his wings will be spoiled, and he will perhaps even lose a wing. You
must spoil her, love and caress her, and God forbid that you ever wound
her. If you ever do," she threatened, smiling, "you will have to reckon
Within a week of this happy occasion the house was restored to its
ordinary routine. Marfa Egorovna drove back to Kolchino, but Vikentev
became a daily visitor, and almost a member of the family. He and
Marfinka no longer jumped and ran like children, though they
occasionally had a lively dispute, half in jest, half in earnest. They
sang and read together, and the pure, fresh poetry of youth, plain for
all to read, welled up in their frank, unspoiled hearts.
The wedding being fixed for the autumn, preparations for Marfinka's
house-furnishing and trousseau were being gradually pushed forward. From
the cupboards of the house were brought old lace, silver and gold plate,
glass, linen, furs, pearls, diamonds and all sorts of treasures, to be
divided by Tatiana Markovna with Jew-like exactness into two equal
shares, with the aid of jewellers, workers in gold, and others.
"That is yours, Vera, and there is Marfinka's share. You are not to
receive a pearl or on ounce more than the other. See for yourselves."
Vera pushed pearls and diamonds into a heap with a declaration that she
needed very little. This only angered Tatiana Markovna, who began the
work of division all over again. Raisky sent to his former guardian for
the diamonds and silver that had been his mother's portion, and bestowed
these also on the sisters, but his aunt hid the treasure in the depths
of her coffers.
"You will want them yourself." she said, "on the day when you take it
into your head to marry."
The estate with all that belonged to it he had made over in the names of
the sisters, a gift for which each of them thanked him after her fashion.
Tatiana Markovna wrinkled her forehead, and looked askance at him, but
she could not long maintain this attitude, and ended by embracing him.
In various rooms, in Tatiana Markovna's sitting room, in the servants'
room, and even in the reception room, tables were covered with linen.
The marriage bed, with its lace pillow-cases and cover was being
prepared, and every morning there came dressmakers and seamstresses.
Only Raisky and Vera remained untouched by the universal gay activity.
Even when Raisky sought distraction in riding or visiting, there was in
fact no one else in the world for him but Vera. He avoided too frequent
visits to Koslov on account of Juliana Andreevna.
He did not visit Paulina Karpovna, but she came the oftener, and bored
him and Tatiana Markovna by her pose, retiring or audacious, as the case
might be. Tatiana Markovna especially was annoyed by her unasked for
criticisms of the wedding preparations, and by her views on marriage
generally. Marriage, she declared, was the grave of love, elect souls
were bound to meet in spite of all obstacles, even outside the marriage
bond, and so forth. While she expounded these doctrines she cast
languishing eyes on Raisky.
Neither did the young people who now often came to the house to dance,
awaken any interest in Raisky or Vera. These two were only happy under
given circumstances; he--with her, she--when unseen by anyone she could
flit like a ghost to the precipice to lose herself in the under-growth,
or when she drove over the Volga to see the pope's wife.
The weather was gloomy. Rain fell unintermittently, the sky was
enshrouded in a thick cloud of fog, and on the ground lay banks of mist.
No one had ventured out all day, and the family had already gone early
to bed, when about ten o'clock the rain ceased, Raisky put on his
overcoat to get a breath of air in the garden. The rustle of the bushes
and the plants from which the rain was still dripping, alone broke the
stillness of the night. After a few turns up and down he turned his
steps to the vegetable garden, through which his way to the fields lay.
Here and there a glimmering star hung above in the dense darkness, and
before him the village lay like a dark spot on the dark background of
the indistinguishable fields beyond. Suddenly he heard a slight noise
from the old house, and saw that a window on the ground floor had been
opened. Since the window looked out not into the garden, but on to the
field, he hastened to reach the grove of acacias, leapt the fence and
landed in a puddle of water, where he stood motionless.
"Is it you?" said a low voice from the window. It was Vera's voice.
Though his knees trembled under him, he was just able to answer in the
same low tone, "Yes."
"The rain has kept me in all day, but to-morrow morning at ten. Go
quickly; some one is coming."
The window was closed quietly, and Raisky cursed the approaching
footsteps that had interrupted the conversation. It was then true, and
the letter written on blue paper not a dream. Was there a rendezvous? He
went in the direction of the steps.
"Who is there?" cried a voice, and Raisky was seized from behind.
"The devil," cried Raisky, pushing Savili away, "since when have you
taken upon yourself to guard the house?"
"I have the Mistress's orders. There are so many thieves and vagabonds
in the neighbourhood, and the sailors from the Volga do a lot of
"That is a lie. You are out after Marina, and you ought to be ashamed of
He would have gone, but Savili detained him.
"Allow me, Sir, to say a word or two about Marina. Exercise your
merciful powers, and send the woman to Siberia."
"Are you out of your senses?"
"Or into a house of detention for the rest of her life."
"I'm much more likely to send you, so that you cease to beat her. What
are you doing, spying here in this abominable way?" said Raisky between
his teeth, as he cast a glance at Vera's window. In another moment he
Raisky hardly slept at all that night, and he appeared next morning in
his aunt's sitting-room with dry, weary eyes. The whole family had
assembled for tea on this particular bright morning. Vera greeted him
gaily, as he pressed her hand feverishly and looked straight into her
eyes. She returned his gaze calmly and quietly.
"How elegant you are this morning," he said.
"Do you call a simple straw-coloured blouse elegant?" she asked.
"But the scarlet band on your hair, with the coils of hair drawn across
it, the belt with the beautiful clasp, and the scarlet-embroidered
shoes.... You have excellent taste, and I congratulate you."
"I am glad that I meet with your approval, but your enthusiasm is rather
strange. Tell me the reason of this extraordinary tone."
"Good, I will tell you. Let us go for a stroll."
He saw that she gave him a quick glance of suspicion as he proposed an
appointment with her for ten o'clock. After a moment's thought she
agreed, sat down in a corner, and was silent. About ten o'clock she
picked up her work and her parasol, and signed to him to follow her as
she left the house. She walked in silence through the garden, and they
sat down on a bench at the top of the cliff.
"It was by chance," said Raisky, who was hardly able to restrain his
emotion, "that I have learnt a part of your secret."
"So it seems," she answered coldly. "You were listening yesterday."
"Accidentally, I swear."
"I believe you."
"Vera, there is no longer any doubt that you have a lover. Who is he?"
"Who is there in the world who could desire your happiness more ardently
than I do? Why have you confidence in him and not in me?"
"Because I love him."
"The man you love is to be envied, but how is he going to repay you for
the supreme happiness that you bring him? Be careful, my friend. To whom
do you give your confidence?"
"Who is the man?"
Instead of answering him she looked full in his face, and he thought
that her eyes were as colourless as those of a watersprite, and there
lay hidden in them a maddening riddle. From below in the bushes there
came the sound of a shot. Vera rose immediately from the bench, and
Raisky also rose.
"HE?" he asked in a dull voice. "It is ten o'clock."
She approached the precipice, Raisky following close at her heels. She
motioned him to come no farther.
"What is the meaning of the shot?"
"The writer of the blue letter. Not a step further unless you wish that
I leave here for ever."
She rapidly descended the precipice, and in a few moments had vanished
behind the brushwood and the trees. He called after her to take care,
but in reply heard only the crackling of the dry twigs beneath her feet.
Then all was still. He was left to torment himself with wondering who
the object of her passion could be.
It was none other than Mark Volokov, pariah, cynic, gipsy, who would ask
the first likely man he met for money, who levelled his gun on his
fellow-men, and, like Karl Moor, had declared war on mankind--Mark
Volokov, the man under police supervision.
It was to meet this dangerous and suspicious character that Vera stole
to the rendezvous--Vera, the pearl of beauty in the whole neighbourhood,
whose beauty made strong men weak; Vera, who had mastered even the
tyrannical Tatiana Markovna; Vera, the pure maiden sheltered from all
the winds of heaven. It would have seemed impossible for her to meet a
man against whom all houses were barred. It had happened so simply, so
easily, towards the end of the last summer, at the time that the apples
were ripe. She was sitting one evening in the little acacia arbour by
the fence near the old house, looking absently out into the field, and
away to the Volga and the hills beyond, when she became aware that a few
paces away the branches of the apple tree were swaying unnaturally over
the fence. When she looked more closely she saw that a man was sitting
comfortably on the top rail. He appeared by his face and dress to belong
to the lower class; he was not a schoolboy, but he held in his hands
"What are you doing here?" she asked, just as he was about to spring
down from the fence.
"I am eating," he said, after taking a look at her. "Will you try one?"
he added, hitching himself along the fence towards her.
She looked at him curiously, but without fear, as she drew back a little.
"Who are you?" she said severely. "And why do you climb on to other
"What can it matter to you who I am. I can easily tell you why I climb
on other people's fences. It is to eat apples."
"Aren't you ashamed to take other people's apples?" she asked.
"They are my apples, not theirs; they have been stolen from me. You
certainly have not read Proudhon. But how beautiful you are!" he added
in amazement. "Do you know what Proudhon says?" he concluded.
"_La propriete c'est le vol_."
"Ah, you have read Proudhon." He stared at her, and as she shook her
head, he continued, "Anyway, you have heard it. Indeed, this divine
truth has gone all round the world nowadays. I have a copy of Proudhon,
and will bring it to you."
"You are not a boy, and yet you steal apples. You think it is not theft
to do so because of that saying of Proudhon's."
"You believe, then, everything that was told you at school? But please
tell me who you are. This is the Berezhkovs' garden. They tell me the
old lady has two beautiful nieces."
"I too say what can it matter to you who I am?"
"Then you believe what your Grandmother tells you?"
"I believe in what convinces me."
"Exactly like me," he said, taking off his cap. "Is it criminal in your
eyes to take apples?"
"Not criminal, perhaps, but not good manners."
"I make you a present of them," he said, handing her the remaining four
apples and taking another bite out of his own.
He raised his cap once more and bid her an ironic good-day.
"You have a double beauty, you are beautiful to look at and sensible
into the bargain. It is a pity that you are destined to adorn the life
of an idiot. You will be given away, poor girl."
"No pity, if you please. I shall not be given away like an apple."
"You remember the apples; many thanks for the gift. I will bring you
books in exchange, as you like books."
"Yes, Proudhon and others. I have all the new ones. Only you must not
tell your Grandmother and her stupid visitors, for although I do not
know who they are, I don't think they would have anything to do with
"How do you know? You have only seen me for five minutes."
"The stag's breed is never hidden, one sees at once that you belong to
the living, not to the dead-alive, and that is the main point. The rest
comes with opportunity...."
"I have a free mind, as you yourself say, and you immediately want to
overpower it. Who are you that you should take upon yourself to instruct
He looked at her in amazement.
"You are neither to bring me books, nor to come here again yourself,"
she said, rising to go. "There is a watchman here, and he will seize
"That is like the Grandmother again. It smells of the town and the
Lenten oil, and I thought that you loved the wide world and freedom. Are
you afraid of me, and who do you think I am?"
"A seminarist, perhaps," she said laconically.
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, seminarists are unconventional, badly dressed, and always hungry.
Go into the kitchen, and I will tell them to give you something to eat."
"That's very kind. Did anything else about the seminarists strike you?"
"I am not acquainted with any of them, and have seen very little of them
at all; they are so unpolished, and talk so queerly...."
"They are our real missionaries, and what does it matter if they talk
queerly? While we laugh at them they attack the enemy, blindly perhaps,
but at any rate with enthusiasm."
"The world; they fight for the new knowledge, the new life. Healthy,
virile youth needs air and food, and we need such men."
"The new-born strength of the world."
"Do you then represent the 'new-born strength of the world,'" she said,
looking at him with observant, curious eyes, but without irony, "or is
your name a secret?"
"Would it frighten you if I named it?"
"What could it mean to me if you did disclose it? What is it?"
"Mark Volokov. In this silly place my name is heard with nearly as much
terror as if it were Pugachev or Stenka Razin."
"You are that man?" she said, looking at him with rising curiosity. "You
boast of your name, which I have heard before. You shot at Niel
Andreevich, and let a couple of dogs loose on an old lady. There are the
manifestations of your 'new strength.' Go, and don't be seen here
"Otherwise you will complain to Grandmama?"
"I certainly shall. Good-bye."
She left the arbour and walked away without listening to his rejoinder.
He followed her covetously with his eyes, murmuring as he sprang to the
ground a wish that those apples also could be stolen. Vera, for her part,
said not a word to her aunt of this meeting, but she confided
nevertheless in her friend Natalie Ivanovna after exacting a promise of
After leaving Raisky, Vera listened for a while to make sure he was not
following her, and then, pushing the branches of the undergrowth aside
with her parasol, made her way by the familiar path to the ruined arbour,
whose battered doorway was almost barricaded by the fallen timbers. The
steps of the arbour and the planks of the floor had sunk, and rotten
planks cracked under her feet. Of its original furniture there was
nothing left but two moss-grown benches and a crooked table.
Mark was already in the arbour, and his rifle and huntsman's bag lay on
the table. He held out his hand to Vera, and almost lifted her in over
the shattered steps. By way of welcome he merely commented on her
"The weather detained me," she said. "Have you any news?"
"Did you expect any?"
"I expect every day that you will be sent for by the military or the
"I have been more careful since Raisky played at magnanimity and took
upon himself the fuss about the books."
"I don't like that about you, Mark, your callousness and malice towards
everyone except yourself. My cousin made no parade of what he had done;
he did not even mention it to me. You are incapable of appreciating a
"I do appreciate it in my own way."
"Just as the wolf in the fable appreciated the kindness of the crane.
Why not thank him with the same simplicity with which he served you. You
are a real wolf; you are for ever disparaging, detracting, or blaming
someone, either from pride or...."
"Or by way of cultivating the 'new strength.'"
"Scoffer!" he laughed, as he sat down beside her. "You are young, and
still too inexperienced to be disillusioned of all the charm of the good
old times. How can I instruct you in the rights of mankind?"
"And how am I to cure you of the slandering of mankind?"
"You have always a retort handy, and nobody could complain of dullness
with you, but," he said, clutching meditatively at his head, "if I...."
"Am locked up by the police," she finished. "That seems to be all that
your fate still lacks."
"But for you, I should long ago have been sent off somewhere. You are
a disturbing element."
"Are you tired of living peaceably, and already craving for a storm? You
promised me to lead a different life. What have you not promised me? And
I was so happy that they even noticed my delight at home. And now you
have relapsed into your old mood," she protested, as he seized her hand.
"Pretty hand!" he said, kissing it again and again without any objection
from her, but when he sought to kiss her cheek she drew back.
"You refuse again. Is your reserve never to end? Perhaps you keep your
She drew her hand away hastily.
"You know I do not like jests of that kind. You must break yourself of
this tone, and of wolfish manners generally; that would be the first
step towards unaffected manhood."
"Tone and manners! You are a child still occupied with your ABC. Before
you lie freedom, life, love, happiness, and you talk of tone and manners.
Where is the human soul, the woman in you? What is natural and genuine
"Now you are talking like Raisky."
"Ah, Raisky! Is he still so desperate?"
"More than ever, so that I really don't know how to treat him."
"Lead him by the nose."
"How hideous! It would be best to tell him the truth about myself. If he
knew all he would be reconciled and would go away, as he said he
intended to do long ago."
"He will hate you, read you a lecture, and perhaps tell your Aunt."
"God forbid that she should hear the truth except from ourselves. Should
I go away for a time?"
"Why? It could not be arranged for you to be away long, and if your
absence was short he would be only the more agitated. When you were away
what good did it do. There is only one way and that is to conceal the
truth from him, to put him on a wrong track. Let him cherish his passion,
read verses, and gape at the moon, since he is an incurable Romanticist.
Later on he will sober down and travel once more."
"He is not a Romanticist in the sense you mean," sighed Vera. "You may
fairly call him poet, artist. I at least begin to believe in him, in his
delicacy and his truthfulness. I would hide nothing from him if he did
not betray his passion for me. If he subdues that, I will be the first
to tell him the whole truth."
"We did not meet," interrupted Mark, "to talk so much about him."
"Well, what have you done since we last met?" she asked gaily. "Whom
have you met? Have you been discoursing on the 'new strength' or the
'dawn of the future,' or 'young hopes?' Every day I live in anxious
"No, no," laughed Mark. "I have ceased to bother about the people here;
it is not worth while to tackle them."
"God grant it were so. You would have done well if you had acted up to
what you say. But I cannot be happy about you. At the Sfogins, the
youngest son, Volodya, who is fourteen, declared to his mother that he
was not going any more to Mass. When he was whipped, and questioned, he
pointed to his eldest brother, who had sneaked into the servants' room
and there preached to the maids the whole evening that it was stupid to
observe the fasts of the Church, to go through the ceremony of marriage,
that there was no God...."
Mark looked at her in horror.
"In the servants' room! And yet I talked to him for a whole evening as
if he were a man capable of reason, and gave him books...."
"Which he took straight to the bookseller. 'These are the books you
ought to put on sale,' he said. Did you not give me your promise," she
said reproachfully, "when we parted and you begged to see me again?"
"All that is long past. I have had nothing more to do with those people
since I gave you that promise. Don't be angry, Vera. But for you I would
escape from this neighbourhood to-morrow."
"Escape--where? Everywhere there are the same opportunities; boys who
would like to see their moustaches grow quicker, servants' rooms, if
independent men and women will not listen to your talk. Are you not
ashamed of the part you play?" she asked after a brief pause. "Do you
look on it as your mission?"
She stroked his bent head affectionately as she spoke. At her last words
he raised his head quickly.
"What part do I play? I give a baptism of pure water."
"Are you convinced of the pureness of the water?"
"Listen, Vera. I am not Raisky," said Mark, rising. "You are a woman, or
rather one should say a bud which has yet to unfold into womanhood. When
that unfolding comes many secrets will be clear to you that have no part
in a girl's dreams and that cannot be explained; experience is the sole
key to these secrets. I call you to your initiation, Vera; I show you
the path of life. But you stand hesitating on the threshold, and your
advance is slow. The serious thing is that you don't even believe me."
"Do not be vexed," begged Vera affectionately. "I agree with you in
everything that I recognise as right and honourable. If I cannot always
follow you in life and in experience it is because I desire to know and
see for myself the goal for which I am making."
"That is to say, that you wish to judge for yourself."
"And do you desire that I should not judge for myself?"
"I love you, Vera. Put your trust in me, and obey. Does the flame of
passion burn in me less strongly than in your Raisky, for all his poetry.
Passion is chary of words. But you will neither trust nor obey me."
"Would you have me not stand at the level of my personality? You
yourself preached freedom to me, and now the tyrant in you appears
because I do not show a slavish submission."
"Let us part, Vera, if doubt is uppermost with you and you have no
confidence in me, for in that fashion we cannot continue our meetings."
"Yes, let us part rather than that you should exact a blind trust in you.
In my waking hours and in my dreams I imagine that there lies between us
no disturbance, no doubt. But I don't understand you, and therefore
cannot trust you."
"You hide under your Aunt's skirts like a chicken under a hen, and you
have absorbed her ideas and her system of morals. You, like Raisky,
inshroud passion in fantastic draperies. Let us put aside all the other
questions untouched. The one that lies before us is simple and
straightforward. We love one another. Is that so or not?"
"What does that lead to, Mark!"
"If you don't believe me, look around you. You have spent your whole
life in the woods and fields, and do you learn nothing from what you see
in all directions?" he asked, pointing to a swarm of flying pigeons, and
to the nesting swallows. "Learn from them; they deal in no subtleties!"
"Yes, they circle round their nests. One has flown away, probably in
search of food."
"When winter comes they will all separate."
"And return in spring to the same nest."
"I believe you when you talk reasonably, Vera. You felt injured by my
rough manners, and I am making every effort. I have transformed myself
to the old-fashioned pattern, and shall soon shift my feet and smile
when I make my bow like Tiet Nikonich. I don't give way to the desire to
abuse or to quarrel with anybody, and draw no attention to my doings. I
shall next be making up my mind to attend Mass, what else should I do?"
"You are in the mood for joking, but joking is not what I wanted,"
"What do you want me to do?"
"So far I have not even been able to persuade you to spare yourself for
my sake, to cease your baptisms, to live like other people."
"But if I act in accordance with my convictions?"
"What is your aim? What do you hope to do?"
"I teach fools."
"Do you even know yourself what you teach, for what you have been
struggling for a whole year? To live the life that you prescribe is not
within the bounds of possibility. It is all very new and bold, but...."
"There we are again at the same old point. I can hear the old lady
piping," he laughed scornfully, pointing in the direction of the house.
"You speak with her voice."
"Is that your whole answer, Mark? Everything is a lie; therefore, away
with it! But the absence of any notion of what truth is to supersede the
lies makes me distrustful."
"You set reflexion above nature and passion. You are noble, and you
naturally desire marriage. But that has nothing to do with love, and it
is love and happiness that I seek."
Vera rose and looked at him with blazing eyes.
"If I wished only for marriage, Mark, I should naturally make another
"Pardon me, I was rude," he said in real embarrassment, and kissed her
hand. "But, Vera, you repress your love, you are afraid, and instead of
giving yourself up to the pleasure of it you are for ever analysing."
"I try to find out who and what you are, because love is not a passing
pleasure to me, but you look on it as a distraction."
"No, as a daily need of life, which is no matter for jesting. Like
Raisky, I cannot sleep through the long nights, and I suffer nervous
torture that I could not have believed possible. You say you love me;
that I love you is plain? But I call you to happiness and you are
"I do not want happiness for a month, for six months--"
"For your life long, and even after death?" asked Mark, scornfully.
"For life! I do not want to foresee an ultimate limit. I do not and will
not believe in happiness with a term. But I do believe in another kind
of intimate happiness, and I want...."
"To make me embrace the same belief."
"Yes, I know no other happiness, and I would scorn it if I knew it."
"Good-bye, Vera. You do not love me, but are for ever disputing,
analysing either my character or the nature of happiness. We always get
back to the point from which we started. I think it is your destiny to
love Raisky. You can make what you will of him, can deck him out with
all your Aunt's tags, and evolve a new hero of romance every day, for
ever and ever. I haven't the time for that kind of thing. I have work to
"Ah work, and love, with happiness as an afterthought, a trifle...."
"Do you wish to build a life out of love after the old fashion, a life
such as that lived by the swallows who leave their nest only to seek
"You would fly for a moment into a strange nest, and then forget."
"Yes, if forgetting is so easy; but if one cannot forget, one returns.
But must I return if I don't want to? Is that compatible with freedom?
Would you ask that?"
"I cannot understand a bird's life of that kind."
"Farewell, Vera. We were mistaken. I want a comrade, not a school girl."
"Yes, Mark, a comrade, strong like yourself, I agree. A comrade for the
whole of life, is that not so?"
"I thought," said Mark as if he had not heard her last question, "that
we should soon be united, and that whether we separated again must
depend on temperament and circumstances. You make your analysis in
advance, so that your judgment is as crooked and twisted as an old
maid's could be. You don't look to the quarter whence truth and light
must come. Sleep, my child. I was mistaken. Farewell once more. We will
try to avoid one another in the future."
"We will try. But can we really not find happiness together? What is the
hindrance?" she asked, in a low, agitated tone, touching his hand.
Mark shouldered his gun in silence, and walked out of the arbour into
the brushwood. Vera stood motionless as if she were in a deep sleep.
Overcome by grief and amazement, she could not believe he was really
leaving her. Where there is no trust there is no love, she thought. She
did not trust him, and yet, if she did not love him, why was her grief
and pain at his going so great. Why did she feel that death itself would
"Mark!" she cried in a low voice. He did not look round, and although
she repeated the cry he strode forward. "Mark!" she cried breathlessly a
third time, but he still pursued his path. Her face faded, but
mechanically she picked up her handkerchief and her parasol and mounted
the cliff. Were truth and love to be found there where her heart called
her? Or did truth lie in the little chapel that she was now approaching?
For four days Vera wandered in the park, and waited in the arbour, but
Mark did not come. There was no reply to the call of her heart. She no
longer hid her movements from Raisky, who came upon her from time to
time in the chapel. She allowed him to accompany her to the little
village church on the hill where she usually went alone. She remained on
her knees with bowed head for a long time, while he stood motionless
behind her. Then without a word or a glance, she took his arm, to return
wearily to the old house, where they parted. Vera knew nothing of his
secret suffering, of the passionate love which attracted him to her, the
double love of a man for a woman, and of an artist for his ideal.
Raisky wondered what the shots meant. It need not necessarily be love
that drove her to the rendezvous. There might be a secret of another
kind, but the key to the mystery lay in her heart. There was no
salvation for her except in love, and he longed to give her protection
Again he found her at twilight praying in the chapel, but this time she
was calm and her eyes clear. She gave him her hand, and was plainly
pleased to see him.
"You cannot imagine, Vera," he said, "how happy it makes me to see you
calmer. What has given you peace?"
She glanced towards the chapel.
"You don't go down there any more?" he said, pointing to the precipice.
She shook her head.
"Thank God!" he cried. "If you are going home now, take my arm," he said,
and they walked together along the path leading across the meadow. "You
have been fighting a hard and despairing battle, Vera. So much you do
not conceal. Are you going to conquer this agonising and dangerous
"And if I do, Cousin?" she asked despondently.
"The richer for a great experience, strengthened against future storms,
your portion will be a great happiness, sufficient to fill your whole
"I cannot comprehend any other happiness," she said, thoughtfully. She
stood still, leaning her head on his shoulder, and her eyes filled with
tears. He did not know that he had probed her wound by touching on the
very point that had caused her separation from Mark.
At that moment there was the report of a shot in the depths below the
precipice, and the sound was re-echoed from the hills. Raisky and Vera
both started. She stood listening for a moment. Her eyes, still wet with
tears, were wide and staring now. Then she loosed her hold of his arm,
and hurried in the direction of the precipice, with Raisky hurrying at
her heels. When she had gone half way, she stopped, laid her hand on her
heart, and listened once more.
"A few minutes ago your mind was made up, Vera!"
Raisky's face was pale, and his agitation nearly as great as hers. She
did not hear his words, and she looked at him without seeing him. Then
she took a few steps in the direction of the precipice, but suddenly
turned to go slowly towards the chapel.
"I am not going," she whispered. "Why does he call me? It cannot be that
he has changed his attitude in the last few days."
She sank down on her knees before the sacred picture, and covered her
face with her hands. Raisky came up to her, and implored her not to go.
She herself gazed at the picture with expressionless, hopeless eyes.
When she rose she shuddered, and seemed unaware of Raisky's presence.
A shot sounded once more. With a cry Vera ran over the meadow towards
the cliff. Perhaps my conviction has conquered, she thought. Why else
should he call her? Her feet hardly seemed to touch the grass as she ran
into the avenue that led to the precipice.
Vera came that night to supper with a gloomy face. She eagerly drank a
glass of milk, but offered no remark to anyone.
"Why are you so unhappy, Veroshka?" asked her aunt. "Don't you feel
"I was afraid to ask," interposed Tiet Nikonich politely. "I could not
help noticing, Vera Vassilievna, that you have been altered for some
time; you seem to have grown thinner and paler. The change becomes your
looks, but the symptoms ought not to be overlooked, as they might
indicate the approach of illness."
"I have a little tooth-ache, but it will soon pass," answered Vera
Tatiana Markovna looked away sadly enough, but said nothing, while
Raisky tapped his plate absently with a fork, but ate nothing, and
maintained a gloomy silence. Only Marfinka and Vikentev took every dish
that was offered them, and chattered without intermission.
Vera soon took her leave, followed by Raisky. She went into the park,
and stood at the top of the cliff looking down into the dark wood below
her; then she wrapped herself in her mantilla, and sat down on the bench.
Silently she acceded to Raisky's request to be allowed to sit down
"You are in trouble, and are suffering, Vera."
"I have tooth-ache."
"It is your heart that aches, Vera. Share your trouble with me."
"I make no complaint."
"You have an unhappy love affair, with whom?"
She did not answer. She knew that her hopes were still not dead, mad
though they might be. What if she went away for a week or two to breathe,
to conjure up her strength.
"Cousin," she said at last, "to-morrow at daybreak I am going across the
Volga, and may stay away longer than usual. I have not said good-bye to
Grandmother. Please say it for me."
"I will go away too."
"Wait, Cousin, until I am a little calmer. Perhaps then I can confide in
you, and we can part like brother and sister, but now it is impossible.
Still, in case you do go away, let us say good-bye now. Forgive me my
strange ways, and let me give you a sister's kiss."
She kissed him on the forehead and walked quickly away, but she had only
taken a few steps before she paused to say: "Thank you for all you have
done for me. I have not the strength to tell you how grateful I am for
your friendship, and above all for this place. Farewell, and forgive
"Vera," he cried in painful haste. "Let me stay as long as you are here
or are in the neighbourhood. Even if we don't see one another, I yet
know where you are. I will wait till you are calmer, till you fulfil
your promise, and confide in me, as you have said you would. You won't
be far away, and we can at least write to one another. Give me at least
this consolation, for God's sake," he murmured passionately. "Leave me
at least that Paradise which is next door to Hell."
She looked at him with a distraught air, and bent her head in assent.
But she saw the glow of delight which swept over his agitated face, and
wondered sorrowfully why _he_ did not speak like that.
"I will put off my journey till the day after tomorrow. Good-night!" she
said, and gave him her hand to kiss before they separated.
Early next day Vera gave Marina a note with instructions to deliver it
and to wait for the answer. After the receipt of the answer she grew
more cheerful and went out for a walk along the riverside. That evening
she told her aunt that she was going on a visit to Natalie Ivanovna, and
took leave of them all, promising Raisky not to forget him.
The next day a fisherman from the Volga brought him a letter from Vera,
in which she called him "dear cousin," and seemed to look forward to a
happier future. Into the friendly tone of the letter he contrived to
read tender feeling, and he forgot, in his delight, his doubts, his
anxiety, the blue letters, and the precipice. He wrote and dispatched
immediately a brief, affectionate reply.
Vera's letter aroused in him the artist sense, and drove him to set out
his chaotic emotions in defined form. He sought to crystallise his
thoughts and affections; his very passion took artistic shape, and
assumed in the clear light Vera's charming features.
"What are you scribbling day and night?" inquired Tatiana Markovna. "Is
it a play or another novel?"
"I write and write, Granny, and don't know myself how it will end."
"It doesn't matter what the child does so long as he is amused," she
remarked, not altogether missing the character of Raisky's occupation.
"But why do you write at night, when I am so afraid of fire, and you
might fall asleep over your drama. You will make yourself ill, and you
often look as yellow as an over-ripe gherkin as it is."
He looked in the glass, and was struck with his own appearance. Yellow
patches were visible on the nose and temples, and there were grey
threads in his thick, black hair.
"If I were fair," he grumbled, "I should not age so quickly. Don't
bother about me, Granny, but leave me my freedom. I can't sleep."
"You too ask me for freedom, like Vera. It is as if I held you both in
chains," she added with an anxious sigh. "Go on writing, Borushka, but
not at night. I cannot sleep in peace, for when I look at your window
the light is always burning."
"I will answer for it, Grandmother, that there shall be no fire, and if
I myself were to be burnt...."
"Touch wood! Do not tempt fate. Remember the saying that 'my tongue is
Suddenly Raisky sprang from the divan and ran to the window.
"There is a peasant bringing a letter from Vera," he cried, as he
hurried out of the room.
"One might think it was his father in person," said Tatiana Markovna to
herself. "How many candles he burns with his novels and plays, as many
as four in a night!"
Again Raisky received a few lines from Vera. She wrote that she was
longing to see him again, and that she wanted to ask for his services.
She added the following postscript:--
"Dear Friend and Cousin, you taught me to love and to suffer, and poured
the strength of your love into my soul. This it is that gives me courage
to ask you to do a good deed. There is here an unhappy man who has been
driven from his home and lies under the suspicion of the Government. He
has no place to lay his head, and everyone, either from indifference or
fear, avoids him. But you are kind and generous, and cannot be
indifferent; still less will you hesitate to do a deed of pure charity.
The wretched man has not a kopek, has no clothes, and autumn is coming
"If your heart tells you, as I don't doubt it will, what to do, address
the wife of the acolyte, Sekleteia Burdalakov, but arrange it so that
neither Grandmother, nor anyone at home, knows anything of it. A sum of
three hundred roubles will be sufficient, I think, to provide for him
for a whole year, perhaps two hundred and fifty would suffice. Will you
put in a cloak and a warm vest (in my firm belief in your kind heart and
your love to me, I enclose the measures taken by the village tailor) to
protect him from the cold.
"I don't like to ask you for a rug for him; that would be to make an
unfair use of kindness. In the winter the poor exile will probably leave
the place, and will bless you, and to some degree me as well. I would
not have troubled you, but you know that my Grandmother has all my money,
which is therefore inaccessible."
"What on earth is the meaning of this postscript?" cried Raisky. "The
whole note is certainly not from her hand; she could not have written
He threw himself on the divan in a fit of nervous laughter. He was in
Tatiana Markovna's sitting-room, with Vikentev and Marfinka. At first
the lovers laughed, but stopped when they saw the violent character of
his mirth. Tatiana Markovna, who came in at this moment, offered him
some drops of cordial in a teaspoon.
"No, Grandmother," he cried, still laughing violently. "Don't give me
drops, but three hundred roubles."
"What do you want the money for?" said Tatiana Markovna hesitating. "Is
it for Markushka again. You had much better ask him to return the eighty
roubles he has had."
He entered into the spirit of the bargain, and eventually had to content
himself with two hundred and fifty roubles, which he dispatched next day
to the address given. He also ordered the cloak and vest, and bought a
warm rug, to be sent in a few days.
"I thank you heartily, and with tears, dear Cousin," ran the letter he
received in return for his gifts. "I cannot express in writing the
gratitude I feel. Heaven, not I, will reward you. How delighted the poor
exile was with your gift. He laughed for joy, and is wearing the new
things. He immediately paid his landlord his three months' arrears of
rent, and a month in advance. He only allowed himself to spend three
roubles in cigars, which he has not smoked for a long time, and smoking
is his only passion."
Although the apocryphal nature of this remarkable missive was quite
clear to Raisky, he did not hesitate to add a box of cigars to his gift
for the "poor exile." It was enough for him that Vera's name was
attached to this pressing request. He observed the course of his own
passion as a physician does disease. As he watched the clouds driven
before the wind, or looked at the green carpet of the earth, now taking
on sad autumnal hues, he realised that Nature was marching on her way
through never ending change, with not a moment's stagnation. He alone
brooded idly with no prize in view. He asked himself anxiously what his
duty was, and begged that Reason would shed some light on his way, give
him boldness to leap over the funeral pyre of his hopes. Reason told him
to seek safety in flight.
He drove into the town to buy some necessities for the journey, and
there met the Governor who reproached him with having hidden himself for
so long. Raisky excused himself on the ground of ill-health, and spoke
of his approaching departure.
"Where are you going?"
"It is all one to me," returned Raisky gloomily. "Here I am so bored
that I must seek some distraction. I intend going to St. Petersburg,
then to my estate in the government of R---- and then perhaps abroad."
"I don't wonder that you are bored with staying in the same spot, since
you avoid society, and must need distraction. Will you make an
expedition with me? I am starting on a tour of the district to-morrow,
why not come with me? You will see much that is beautiful, and, being a
poet, you will collect new impressions. We will travel for a hundred
versts by river. Don't forget your sketch-book."
Raisky shook the Governor's proffered hand, and accepted. The Governor
showed him his well-equipped travelling carriage, declared that his
kitchen would travel with him, and cards should not be forgotten, and
promised himself a gayer journey than would have been possible in the
sole society of a busy secretary.
Raisky felt a relief in the firm determination he now made to conquer
his passion, and decided not to return from this journey, but to have
his effects sent after him. While he was away he wrote in this sense to
Vera, telling her that his life in Malinovka had been like an evil dream
full of suffering, and that if he ever saw the place again it would be
at some distant date.
A day or two later he received a short answer from Vera dated from
Malinovka. Marfinka's birthday fell during the next week, and when the
festival was over she was to go on a long visit to her future
mother-in-law. If Raisky did not make some sacrifice and return,
a sacrifice to her grandmother and herself, Tatiana Markovna would
be terribly lonely.
Next evening he had a letter from Vera acquiescing in his intention of
leaving Malinovka without seeing her again, and saying that immediately
after the dispatch of this letter she would go over to her friend on the
other side of the Volga, but she hoped that he would go to say good-bye
to Tatiana Markovna and the rest of the household, as his departure
without any farewell must necessarily cause surprise in the town, and
would hurt Tatiana Markovna's feelings.
This answer relieved him enormously. On the afternoon of the next day,
when he alighted from the carriage in the outskirts of the town and bade
his travelling host good-bye, he was in good enough spirits as he picked
up his bag and made his way to the house.
Marfinka and Vikentev were the first to meet him, the dogs leaped to
welcome him, the servants hurried up, and the whole household showed
such genuine pleasure at his return that he was moved almost to tears.
He looked anxiously round to see if Vera was there, but one and another
hastened to tell him that Vera had gone away. He ought to have been glad
to hear this news, but he heard it with a spasm of pain. When he entered
his aunt's room she sent Pashutka out and locked the door.
"How anxiously I have been expecting you!" she said. "I wanted to send a
messenger for you."
"What is the matter?" he exclaimed, pale with terror in fear of bad news
"Your friend Leonti Ivanovich is ill."
"Poor fellow! What is wrong? Is it dangerous? I will go to him at once."
"I will have the horses put in. In the meantime I may as well tell you
what is known all over the town. I have kept it secret from Marfinka
only, and Vera already knows it. His wife has left him, and he has
fallen ill. Yesterday and the day before the Koslovs' cook came to fetch
"Where has she gone?"
"Away with the Frenchman, Charles, who was suddenly called to St.
Petersburg. She pretended she was going to stay with her relations in
Moscow and said that Monsieur Charles would accompany her so far. She
extracted from Koslov a pass giving her permission to live alone, and is
now with Charles in St. Petersburg."
"Her relations with Charles," replied Raisky, "were no secret to anybody
except her husband. Everyone will laugh at him, but he will understand
nothing, and his wife will return."
"You have not heard the end. On her way she wrote to her husband telling
him to forget her, not to expect her return, because she could no longer
endure living with him."
"The fool! Just as if she had not made scandal enough. Poor Leonti! I
will go to him, how sorry I am for him."
"Yes, Borushka, I am sorry for him too, and should like to have gone to
see him. He has the simple honesty of a child. God has given him
learning, but no common sense, and he is buried in his books. I wonder
who is looking after him now. If you find he is not being properly cared
for, bring him here. The old house is empty, and we can establish him
there for the time being. I will have two rooms got ready for him."
"What a woman you are, Grandmother. While I am thinking, you have
When he reached Koslov's house he found the shutters of the grey house
were closed, and he had to knock repeatedly before he was admitted. He
passed through the ante-room into the dining-room and stood uncertain
before the study door, hesitating whether he should knock or go straight
in. Suddenly the door opened, and there stood before him, dressed in a
woman's dressing-gown and slippers, Mark Volokov, unbrushed, sleepy,
pale, thin and sinister.
"The evil one has brought you at last," he grumbled half in surprise and
half in vexation. "Where have you been all this time? I have hardly
slept for two nights. His pupils are about in the day time, but at night
he is alone."
"What is the matter with him?"
"Has no one told you. That she-goat has gone. I was pleased to hear it,
and came at once to congratulate him, but I found him with not a drop of
blood in his face, with dazed eyes, and unable to recognise anyone. He
just escaped brain fever. Instead of weeping for joy, the man has nearly
died of sorrow. I fetched the doctor, but Koslov sent him away, and
walked up and down the room like one demented. Now he is sleeping, so we
will not disturb him. I will go, and you must stay, and see that he does
not do himself some injury in a fit of melancholy. He listens to no one,
and I have been tempted to smack him." Mark spit with vexation. "You
can't depend on his idiot of a cook. Yesterday the woman gave him some
tooth powder instead of his proper powder. I am going to dismiss her
Raisky watched him in amazement, and offered his hand.
"What favour is this?" said Mark bitterly, and without taking the
"I thank you for having stood by my old friend."
Mark seized Raisky's hand and shook it.
"I have been looking for some means of serving you for a long time."
"Why, Volokov, are you for ever executing quick changes like a clown in
"What the devil have I to do with your gratitude? I am not here for that,
but on Koslov's account."
"God be with you and your manners, Mark Ivanovich!" replied Raisky. "In
any case, you have done a good deed."
"More praise. You can be as sentimental as you like for all I care...."
"I will take Leonti home with me," resumed Raisky. "He will be
absolutely at home there, and if his troubles do not blow over he will
have his own quiet corner all his life."
"Bravo! that is deeds, not words. Koslov would wither without a home and
without care. It is an excellent idea you have taken into your head."
"It comes not from me, but from a woman, and not from her head, but from
her heart. My Aunt...."
"The old lady has a sound heart. I must go and breakfast with her one
day. It is a pity she has amassed so many foolish ideas. Now I am going.
Look after Koslov, if not personally, through some one else. The day
before yesterday his head had to be cooled all day, and at night cabbage
leaves should be laid on it. I was a little disturbed, because in his
dazed state he got the cabbage and began to eat it. Good-bye! I have
neither slept nor eaten, though Avdotya has treated me to a horrible
brew of coffee...."
"Allow me to send the coachman home to fetch some supper," said Raisky.
"I would rather eat at home."
"Perhaps you have no money," said Raisky nervously drawing out his
"I have money," said Mark enigmatically, hardly able to restrain a
callous laugh, "I am going to the bath-house before I have my supper, as
I haven't been able to undress here. I have changed my quarters, and now
live with a clerical personage."
"You look ill, thin, and your eyes...."
Mark's face grew more evil and sinister than before.
"You too look worse," he said. "If you look in the glass you will see
yellow patches and hollow eyes."
"I have many causes of anxiety."
"So have I. Good-bye," said Mark, and was gone.
Raisky went into the study and walked up to the bed on tiptoe.
"Who is there?" asked Leonti feebly.
When Leonti recognised Raisky he pushed his feet out of bed, and sat up.
"Is he gone?" he asked weakly. "I pretended to be asleep. You have not
been for so long, and I have been expecting you all the time. The face
of an old comrade is the only one that I can bear to see."
"I have been away, and heard when I returned of your illness."
"It is gossip. There is a conspiracy to say I am ill, which is all
foolish talk. Mark, who even fetched a doctor, has been hanging about
here as if he were afraid I should do myself an injury," said Leonti and
paced up and down the room.
"You are weak, and walk with difficulty," said Raisky. "It would be
better for you to lie down."
"I am weak, that is true," admitted Leonti.
He bent over the chair-back to Raisky, embraced him, and laid his face
against his hair. Raisky felt hot tears on his forehead and cheeks.
"It is weakness," sobbed Leonti. "But I am not ill, and have not brain
fever. They talk, but don't understand. And I understood nothing either,
but now that I see you, I cannot keep back my tears. Don't abuse me like
Mark, or laugh at me, as they all do, my colleagues and my sympathetic
visitors. I can discern malicious laughter on all their faces."
"I respect and understand your tears and your sorrow," said Raisky,
stifling his own tears.
"You are my kind old comrade. Even at school you never laughed at me,
and do you know why I weep?"
Leonti took a letter from his desk and handed it to Raisky. It was the
letter from Juliana Andreevna of which Tatiana Markovna had spoken.
Raisky glanced through it.
"Destroy it," he said. "You will have no peace while it is in your
"Destroy it!" said Leonti, seizing the letter, and replacing it in the
desk. "How is it possible to think of such a thing, when these are the
only lines she has written me, and these are all that I have as a
"Leonti! Think of all this as a malady, a terrible misfortune, and don't
succumb to it. You are not an old man, and have a long life before you."
"My life is over, unless she returns to me," he whispered.
"What! You could, you would take her back!"
"You, too, Boris, fail to understand me!" cried Leonti in despair, as he
thrust his hands into his hair and strode up and down. "People keep on
saying I am ill, they offer sympathy, bring a doctor, sit all night by
my bedside, and yet don't guess why I suffer so wildly, don't even guess
at the only remedy there is for me. She is not here," he whispered
wildly, seizing Raisky by the shoulders and shaking him violently. "She
is not here, and that is what constitutes my illness. Besides, I am not
ill, I am dead. Take me to her, and I shall rise again. And you ask
whether I will take her back again! You, a novelist, don't understand
simple things like that!"
"I did not know that you loved her like that," said Raisky tenderly.
"You used to laugh and say that you had got so used to her that you were
becoming faithless to your Greeks and Romans."
"I chattered, I boasted," laughed Leonti bitterly, "and was without
understanding. But for this I never should have understood. I thought I
loved the ancients, while my whole love was given to the living woman.
Yes, Boris, I loved books and my gymnasium, the ancients and the moderns,
my scholars, and you, Boris; I loved the street, this hedge, the service
tree there, only through my love for her. Now, nothing of all this
matters. I knew that as I lay on the floor reading her letter. And you
ask whether I would receive her. God in Heaven! If she came, how she
should be cherished!" he concluded, his tears flowing once more.
"Leonti, I come to you with a request from Tatiana Markovna, who asks
you," he went on, though Leonti walked ceaselessly up and down, dragging
his slippers and appeared not to listen, "to come over to us. Here you
will die of misery."
"Thank you," said Leonti, shaking his head. "She is a saint. But how can
a desolate man carry his sorrow into a strange house?"
"Not a strange house, Leonti, we are brothers, and our relation is
closer than the ties of blood."
Leonti lay down on the bed, and took Raisky's hand.
"Pardon my egoism," he said. "Later, later, I will come of my own accord,
will ask permission to look after your library, if no hope is left me."
"Have you any hope?"
"What! Do you think there is no hope?"
Raisky, who did not wish to deprive his friend of the last straw, nor to
stir useless hope in him, hesitated, before he answered after a pause:
"I don't know what to say to you exactly, Leonti. I know so little of
your wife that I cannot judge her character."
"You know her," said Leonti in a dull voice. "It was you who directed my
attention to the Frenchman, but then I did not understand you, because
nothing of the kind had entered my head. But if he leaves her," he said,
with a gleam of hope in his eyes, "she will perhaps remember me."
"Perhaps," said Raisky. "To-morrow I will come to fetch you. Good-bye
for the present. To-night I will either come myself or send someone who
will stay with you."
Leonti did not hear, and did not even see Raisky go.
When he reached home, Raisky gave his aunt an account of Leonti's
condition, telling her that there was no danger, but that no sympathy
would help matters. Yakob was sent to look after the sick man and
Tatiana Markovna did not forget to send an abundant supper, with tea,
rum, wine and all sorts of other things.
"What are these things for, Grandmother?" asked Raisky. "He doesn't eat
"But the other one, if he returns?"
"What other one?"
"Who but Markushka? He will want something to eat. You found him with
"I will go to Mark, Granny, and tell him what you say."
"For goodness' sake don't do that, Borushka. Mark will laugh at me."
"No, he will be grateful and respectful, for he understands you. He is
not like Niel Andreevich."
"I don't want his gratitude and respect. Let him eat, and be satisfied,
and God be with him. He is a ruined man. Has he remembered the eighty
Raisky laughed as he went out into the garden. He looked sadly at the
closed shutters of the old house, and stood for a long time on the edge
of the precipice, looking down thoughtfully into the depths of the
thicket and the trees rustling and cracking in the wind. Then he turned
to look at the long avenues, here forming gloomy corridors, and then
opening out into open stately spaces, at the flower gardens now fading
under the approach of autumn, at the kitchen garden, and at the distant
glimmer of the rising moon, and at the stars. He looked out over the
Volga, gleaming like steel in the distance. The evening was fresh and
cool, and the withered leaves were falling with a gentle rustle around
him. He could not take his eyes from the river, now silvered by the moon,
which separated him from Vera. She had gone without leaving a word for
him. A word from her would have brought tenderness and would have
drowned all bitterness, he thought. But she was gone without leaving a
trace or any kind remembrance. With bent head and full of anxious
thought he made his way along the dark avenues.
Suddenly delicate fingers seized his shoulders, and he heard a low laugh.
"Vera!" he cried, seizing her hand violently. "You here, and not away
over the Volga!"
"Yes, here, not over there." She put her arm in his and asked him,
laughing, whether he thought she would let him go without saying good-bye.
"Witch!" he said, not knowing whether fear or joy was uppermost. "I was
this very moment complaining that you had not left a line for me, and
now I can't understand, as everyone in the house told me you had gone
"And you believed it," she said laughing. "I told them to say so, to
surprise you. They were humbugging.... To go away without two words,"
she asked triumphantly, "or to stay, which is better?"
Her gay talk, her quick gestures, the mockery in her voice, all these
things seemed unnatural, and he recognised beneath it all weariness,
strain, an effort to conceal the collapse of her strength. When they
reached the end of the avenue he tried to lead her to an open spot,
where he could see her face.
"Let me look at you! How gay and merry you are, Vera!" he said timidly.
"What is there to see?" she interrupted impatiently, and tried to draw
him into the shadow again. He felt that her hands were trembling, and
for the moment his own passion was stilled, and he shared her suffering.
"Why do you look at me like that? I am not crazy," she said, turning her
He was stricken with horror. The insane are always assuring everyone of
their sanity. What was wrong with Vera? She did not confide in him, she
would not speak out, she was determined to fight her own battles. Who
could support and shelter her? An inner voice told him that Tatiana
Markovna alone could do it.
"Vera, you are ill," he said earnestly. "Give Grandmother your
"Silence! Not a word of Grandmother! Goodbye! To-morrow we will go for a
stroll, do some shopping, go down by the river, anything you like."
"I will go away, Vera," he cried, filled with inexpressible fear. "I am
worn out. Why do you deceive me? Why did you call me back to find you
still here? Was it to mock my sufferings?"
"So that we could suffer together," she answered. "Passion is beautiful,
as you yourself have said; it is life itself. You have taught me how to
love, have educated passion in me, and now you may admire the result of
your labour," she ended, drawing in a deep breath of the cool evening
"I warned you, Vera. I told you passion was a fierce wolf."
"No, worse, it is a tiger. I could not believe what you said, but I do
now. Do you know the picture in the old house which represents a tiger
showing his teeth at a seated Cupid? I never understood the picture,
which seemed meaningless, but now I understand it. Passion is a tiger,
lying there apparently so peaceful and inviting, until he begins to howl
and to whet his teeth."
Raisky pursued the comparison in the hope that he might learn the name
of Vera's lover.
"Your comparison is false, Vera. There are no tigers in our Northern
climate. I am nearer the mark when I compare passion to a wolf."
"You are right," she said with a nervous laugh. "A real wolf. However
carefully you feed him he looks always to the woods. You are all wolves,
and _he_, too, is a wolf."
"Who?" he asked in an expressionless voice. "Tushin is a bear, a genuine
Russian bear. You may lay your hand on his shaggy head, and sleep; your
rest is sure, for he will serve you all his life."
"Which of the animals am I?" he asked gaily, noting that Tushin was not
the man. "Don't beat about the bush, Vera, you may say I am an ass."
"No," she said scornfully. "You are a fox, a nice, cunning fox, with a
gift for deception. That's what you are. Why don't you say something?"
she went on, as he kept an embarrassed silence.
"Vera, there are weapons to be used against wolves, for me, to go away;
for you, not to go down there," he said, pointing to the precipice.
"Tell me how to prevent myself from going there. Teach me, since you are
my mentor, how not to go. You first set the house on fire, and then talk
of leaving it. You sing in praise of passion, and then...."
"I meant another kind of passion. Where both parties to it are
honourable, it means the supreme happiness in life, and its storms are
full of the glow of life...."
"And where there is no dishonour, no precipice yawns? I love, and am
loved, yet passion has me in its jaws. Tell me what I should do."
"Confess all to Grandmother," whispered Raisky, pale with terror, "or
permit me to talk to her."
"To shame me and ruin me? Who told me I need not obey her?"
"At one moment you are on the point of telling your secret, at another
you hide behind it. I am in the dark, and feel my way in uncertainty.
How can I, when I do not know the whole truth, diagnose the case?"
"You know what is wrong with me? Why do you say you are in the dark.
Come," she said, leading him into the moonlight. "See what is wrong with
He stood transfixed with terror and pity. Pale, haggard, with wild eyes
and tightly pressed lips, this was quite another Vera. Strands of hair
were loose from beneath her hood, and fell in gipsy-like confusion over
her forehead and temples, and covered her eyes and mouth with every
quick movement she made. Her shoulders were negligently clad in a satin
wrap trimmed with swansdown, held in place by a loosely tied knot of
"Well," she said, shaking her hair out of her eyes. "What has happened
to the beauty whose praise you sang?"
"Vera," he said, "I would die for you. Tell me how I may serve you."
"Die!" she exclaimed. "Help me to live. Give me that beautiful passion
which sheds its glorious light over the whole of life. I see no passion
but this drowning tiger passion. Give me back at least my old strength,
you, who talk of going to my Grandmother to place her and me on the same
bier. It is too late to tell me to go no more to the precipice."
She sat down on the bench and looked moodily straight before her.
"You yourself, Vera, dreamed of freedom, and you prided yourself on your
"My head burns. Have pity on your sister! I am ashamed to be so weak."
"What is it, dear Vera?"
"Nothing. Take me home, help me to mount the steps. I am afraid, and
would like to lie down. Pardon me for having disturbed you for nothing,
for having brought you here. You would have gone away and forgotten me.
I am only feverish. Are you angry with me?"
Too dejected to reply, he gave her his arm, took her as far as her room,
and struck a light.
"Send Marina or Masha to stay in my room, please. But say nothing to
Grandmother, lest she should be alarmed and come herself. Why are you
looking at me so strangely? God knows what I have been saying to you, to
plague you and to avenge myself of all my humiliations. Tell Grandmother
that I have gone to bed to be up early in the morning, and I pray you
bless me in your thoughts, do you hear?"
"I hear," he said absently, as he pressed her hand and went out in
search of Masha.
He looked forward with anxiety to Vera's awakening. He seemed to have
forgotten his own passion since his imagination had become absorbed in
Back to Full Books