Translated by C.J. Hogarth
Photo by Mike Gifford,
CC BY-NC License
I THE TUTOR, KARL
V THE IDIOT
VI PREPARATIONS FOR THE CHASE
VII THE HUNT
VIII WE PLAY
IX A FIRST
ESSAY IN LOVE
THE SORT OF MAN MY FATHER WAS
IN THE DRAWING-ROOM AND THE STUDY
XIII NATALIA SAVISHNA
XIV THE PARTING
XVII THE PRINCESS KORNAKOFF
XVIII PRINCE IVAN
PREPARATIONS FOR THE PARTY
BEFORE THE MAZURKA
XXII THE MAZURKA
XXIII AFTER THE MAZURKA
XXIV IN BED
XXV THE LETTER
XXVI WHAT AWAITED US AT THE
I — THE TUTOR, KARL IVANITCH
On the 12th of August, 18— (just three days after my tenth birthday,
when I had been given such wonderful presents), I was awakened at seven
o’clock in the morning by Karl Ivanitch slapping the wall close to my head
with a fly-flap made of sugar paper and a stick. He did this so roughly
that he hit the image of my patron saint suspended to the oaken back of my
bed, and the dead fly fell down on my curls. I peeped out from under the
coverlet, steadied the still shaking image with my hand, flicked the dead
fly on to the floor, and gazed at Karl Ivanitch with sleepy, wrathful
eyes. He, in a parti-colored wadded dressing-gown fastened about the
waist with a wide belt of the same material, a red knitted cap adorned
with a tassel, and soft slippers of goat skin, went on walking round the
walls and taking aim at, and slapping, flies.
“Suppose,” I thought to myself, “that I am only a small boy, yet why
should he disturb me? Why does he not go killing flies around Woloda’s
bed? No; Woloda is older than I, and I am the youngest of the family, so
he torments me. That is what he thinks of all day long—how to tease
me. He knows very well that he has woken me up and frightened me, but he
pretends not to notice it. Disgusting brute! And his dressing-gown and cap
and tassel too—they are all of them disgusting.”
While I was thus inwardly venting my wrath upon Karl Ivanitch, he had
passed to his own bedstead, looked at his watch (which hung suspended in a
little shoe sewn with bugles), and deposited the fly-flap on a nail, then,
evidently in the most cheerful mood possible, he turned round to us.
“Get up, children! It is quite time, and your mother is already in the
drawing-room,” he exclaimed in his strong German accent. Then he crossed
over to me, sat down at my feet, and took his snuff-box out of his pocket.
I pretended to be asleep. Karl Ivanitch sneezed, wiped his nose, flicked
his fingers, and began amusing himself by teasing me and tickling my toes
as he said with a smile, “Well, well, little lazy one!”
For all my dread of being tickled, I determined not to get out of bed or
to answer him, but hid my head deeper in the pillow, kicked out with all
my strength, and strained every nerve to keep from laughing.
“How kind he is, and how fond of us!” I thought to myself. “Yet to think
that I could be hating him so just now!”
I felt angry, both with myself and with Karl Ivanitch, I wanted to laugh
and to cry at the same time, for my nerves were all on edge.
“Leave me alone, Karl!” I exclaimed at length, with tears in my eyes, as I
raised my head from beneath the bed-clothes.
Karl Ivanitch was taken aback. He left off tickling my feet, and asked me
kindly what the matter was. Had I had a disagreeable dream? His good
German face and the sympathy with which he sought to know the cause of my
tears made them flow the faster. I felt conscience-stricken, and could not
understand how, only a minute ago, I had been hating Karl, and thinking
his dressing-gown and cap and tassel disgusting. On the contrary, they
looked eminently lovable now. Even the tassel seemed another token of his
goodness. I replied that I was crying because I had had a bad dream, and
had seen Mama dead and being buried. Of course it was a mere invention,
since I did not remember having dreamed anything at all that night, but the
truth was that Karl’s sympathy as he tried to comfort and reassure me had
gradually made me believe that I HAD dreamed such a horrible dream, and so
weep the more—though from a different cause to the one he imagined.
When Karl Ivanitch had left me, I sat up in bed and proceeded to draw my
stockings over my little feet. The tears had quite dried now, yet the
mournful thought of the invented dream was still haunting me a little.
Presently Uncle [This term is often applied by children to old servants in
Russia] Nicola came in—a neat little man who was always grave,
methodical, and respectful, as well as a great friend of Karl’s. He
brought with him our clothes and boots—at least, boots for Woloda,
and for myself the old detestable, be-ribanded shoes. In his presence I
felt ashamed to cry, and, moreover, the morning sun was shining so gaily
through the window, and Woloda, standing at the washstand as he mimicked
Maria Ivanovna (my sister’s governess), was laughing so loud and so long,
that even the serious Nicola—a towel over his shoulder, the soap in
one hand, and the basin in the other—could not help smiling as he
said, “Will you please let me wash you, Vladimir Petrovitch?” I had
cheered up completely.
“Are you nearly ready?” came Karl’s voice from the schoolroom. The tone of
that voice sounded stern now, and had nothing in it of the kindness which
had just touched me so much. In fact, in the schoolroom Karl was
altogether a different man from what he was at other times. There he was
the tutor. I washed and dressed myself hurriedly, and, a brush still in my
hand as I smoothed my wet hair, answered to his call. Karl, with
spectacles on nose and a book in his hand, was sitting, as usual, between
the door and one of the windows. To the left of the door were two shelves—one
of them the children’s (that is to say, ours), and the other one Karl’s
own. Upon ours were heaped all sorts of books—lesson books and play
books—some standing up and some lying down. The only two standing
decorously against the wall were two large volumes of a Histoire des
Voyages, in red binding. On that shelf could be seen books thick and thin
and books large and small, as well as covers without books and books
without covers, since everything got crammed up together anyhow when play
time arrived and we were told to put the “library” (as Karl called these
shelves) in order. The collection of books on his own shelf was, if not so
numerous as ours, at least more varied. Three of them in particular I
remember, namely, a German pamphlet (minus a cover) on Manuring Cabbages
in Kitchen-Gardens, a History of the Seven Years’ War (bound in parchment
and burnt at one corner), and a Course of Hydrostatics. Though Karl passed
so much of his time in reading that he had injured his sight by doing so,
he never read anything beyond these books and The Northern Bee.
Another article on Karl’s shelf I remember well. This was a round piece of
cardboard fastened by a screw to a wooden stand, with a sort of comic
picture of a lady and a hairdresser glued to the cardboard. Karl was very
clever at fixing pieces of cardboard together, and had devised this
contrivance for shielding his weak eyes from any very strong light.
I can see him before me now—the tall figure in its wadded
dressing-gown and red cap (a few gray hairs visible beneath the latter)
sitting beside the table; the screen with the hairdresser shading his
face; one hand holding a book, and the other one resting on the arm of the
chair. Before him lie his watch, with a huntsman painted on the dial, a
check cotton handkerchief, a round black snuff-box, and a green
spectacle-case. The neatness and orderliness of all these articles show
clearly that Karl Ivanitch has a clear conscience and a quiet mind.
Sometimes, when tired of running about the salon downstairs, I would steal
on tiptoe to the schoolroom and find Karl sitting alone in his armchair
as, with a grave and quiet expression on his face, he perused one of his
favorite books. Yet sometimes, also, there were moments when he was not
reading, and when the spectacles had slipped down his large aquiline nose,
and the blue, half-closed eyes and faintly smiling lips seemed to be
gazing before them with a curious expression. All would be quiet in the
room—not a sound being audible save his regular breathing and the
ticking of the watch with the hunter painted on the dial. He would not see
me, and I would stand at the door and think: “Poor, poor old man! There
are many of us, and we can play together and be happy, but he sits there
all alone, and has nobody to be fond of him. Surely he speaks truth when
he says that he is an orphan. And the story of his life, too—how
terrible it is! I remember him telling it to Nicola. How dreadful to be in
his position!” Then I would feel so sorry for him that I would go to him,
and take his hand, and say, “Dear Karl Ivanitch!” and he would be visibly
delighted whenever I spoke to him like this, and would look much brighter.
On the second wall of the schoolroom hung some maps—mostly torn, but
glued together again by Karl’s hand. On the third wall (in the middle of
which stood the door) hung, on one side of the door, a couple of rulers
(one of them ours—much bescratched, and the other one his—quite
a new one), with, on the further side of the door, a blackboard on which
our more serious faults were marked by circles and our lesser faults by
crosses. To the left of the blackboard was the corner in which we had to
kneel when naughty. How well I remember that corner—the shutter on
the stove, the ventilator above it, and the noise which it made when
turned! Sometimes I would be made to stay in that corner till my back and
knees were aching all over, and I would think to myself. “Has Karl
Ivanitch forgotten me? He goes on sitting quietly in his arm-chair and
reading his Hydrostatics, while I—!” Then, to remind him of my
presence, I would begin gently turning the ventilator round. Or scratching
some plaster off the wall; but if by chance an extra large piece fell upon
the floor, the fright of it was worse than any punishment. I would glance
round at Karl, but he would still be sitting there quietly, book in hand,
and pretending that he had noticed nothing.
In the middle of the room stood a table, covered with a torn black
oilcloth so much cut about with penknives that the edge of the table
showed through. Round the table stood unpainted chairs which, through use,
had attained a high degree of polish. The fourth and last wall contained
three windows, from the first of which the view was as follows.
Immediately beneath it there ran a high road on which every irregularity,
every pebble, every rut was known and dear to me. Beside the road
stretched a row of lime-trees, through which glimpses could be caught of a
wattled fence, with a meadow with farm buildings on one side of it and a
wood on the other—the whole bounded by the keeper’s hut at the
further end of the meadow. The next window to the right overlooked the
part of the terrace where the “grownups” of the family used to sit before
luncheon. Sometimes, when Karl was correcting our exercises, I would look
out of that window and see Mama’s dark hair and the backs of some persons
with her, and hear the murmur of their talking and laughter. Then I would
feel vexed that I could not be there too, and think to myself, “When am I
going to be grown up, and to have no more lessons, but sit with the people
whom I love instead of with these horrid dialogues in my hand?” Then my
anger would change to sadness, and I would fall into such a reverie that I
never heard Karl when he scolded me for my mistakes.
At last, on the morning of which I am speaking, Karl Ivanitch took off his
dressing-gown, put on his blue frockcoat with its creased and crumpled
shoulders, adjusted his tie before the looking-glass, and took us down to
II — MAMA
Mama was sitting in the drawing-room and making tea. In one hand she was
holding the tea-pot, while with the other one she was drawing water from
the urn and letting it drip into the tray. Yet though she appeared to be
noticing what she doing, in reality she noted neither this fact nor our
However vivid be one’s recollection of the past, any attempt to recall the
features of a beloved being shows them to one’s vision as through a mist
of tears—dim and blurred. Those tears are the tears of the
imagination. When I try to recall Mama as she was then, I see, true, her
brown eyes, expressive always of love and kindness, the small mole on her
neck below where the small hairs grow, her white embroidered collar, and
the delicate, fresh hand which so often caressed me, and which I so often
kissed; but her general appearance escapes me altogether.
To the left of the sofa stood an English piano, at which my dark-haired
sister Lubotshka was sitting and playing with manifest effort (for her
hands were rosy from a recent washing in cold water) Clementi’s “Etudes.”
Then eleven years old, she was dressed in a short cotton frock and white
lace-frilled trousers, and could take her octaves only in arpeggio. Beside
her was sitting Maria Ivanovna, in a cap adorned with pink ribbons and a
blue shawl. Her face was red and cross, and it assumed an expression even
more severe when Karl Ivanitch entered the room. Looking angrily at him
without answering his bow, she went on beating time with her foot and
counting, “One, two, three—one, two, three,” more loudly and
commandingly than ever.
Karl Ivanitch paid no attention to this rudeness, but went, as usual, with
German politeness to kiss Mama’s hand. She drew herself up, shook her
head as though by the movement to chase away sad thoughts from her, and
gave Karl her hand, kissing him on his wrinkled temple as he bent his head
“I thank you, dear Karl Ivanitch,” she said in German, and then, still
using the same language asked him how we (the children) had slept. Karl
Ivanitch was deaf in one ear, and the added noise of the piano now
prevented him from hearing anything at all. He moved nearer to the sofa,
and, leaning one hand upon the table and lifting his cap above his head,
said with, a smile which in those days always seemed to me the perfection
of politeness: “You, will excuse me, will you not, Natalia Nicolaevna?”
The reason for this was that, to avoid catching cold, Karl never took off
his red cap, but invariably asked permission, on entering the
drawing-room, to retain it on his head.
“Yes, pray replace it, Karl Ivanitch,” said Mama, bending towards him and
raising her voice, “But I asked you whether the children had slept well?”
Still he did not hear, but, covering his bald head again with the red cap,
went on smiling more than ever.
“Stop a moment, Mimi,” said Mama (now smiling also) to Maria Ivanovna.
“It is impossible to hear anything.”
How beautiful Mama’s face was when she smiled! It made her so infinitely
more charming, and everything around her seemed to grow brighter! If in
the more painful moments of my life I could have seen that smile before my
eyes, I should never have known what grief is. In my opinion, it is in the
smile of a face that the essence of what we call beauty lies. If the smile
heightens the charm of the face, then the face is a beautiful one. If the
smile does not alter the face, then the face is an ordinary one. But if
the smile spoils the face, then the face is an ugly one indeed.
Mama took my head between her hands, bent it gently backwards, looked at
me gravely, and said: “You have been crying this morning?”
I did not answer. She kissed my eyes, and said again in German: “Why did
When talking to us with particular intimacy she always used this language,
which she knew to perfection.
“I cried about a dream, Mama” I replied, remembering the invented vision,
and trembling involuntarily at the recollection.
Karl Ivanitch confirmed my words, but said nothing as to the subject of
the dream. Then, after a little conversation on the weather, in which Mimi
also took part, Mama laid some lumps of sugar on the tray for one or two
of the more privileged servants, and crossed over to her embroidery frame,
which stood near one of the windows.
“Go to Papa now, children,” she said, “and ask him to come to me before he
goes to the home farm.”
Then the music, the counting, and the wrathful looks from Mimi began
again, and we went off to see Papa. Passing through the room which had
been known ever since Grandpapa’s time as “the pantry,” we entered the
III — PAPA
He was standing near his writing-table, and pointing angrily to some
envelopes, papers, and little piles of coin upon it as he addressed some
observations to the bailiff, Jakoff Michaelovitch, who was standing in his
usual place (that is to say, between the door and the barometer) and
rapidly closing and unclosing the fingers of the hand which he held behind
his back. The more angry Papa grew, the more rapidly did those fingers
twirl, and when Papa ceased speaking they came to rest also. Yet, as soon
as ever Jakoff himself began to talk, they flew here, there, and
everywhere with lightning rapidity. These movements always appeared to me
an index of Jakoff’s secret thoughts, though his face was invariably
placid, and expressive alike of dignity and submissiveness, as who should
say, “I am right, yet let it be as you wish.” On seeing us, Papa said,
“Directly—wait a moment,” and looked towards the door as a hint for
it to be shut.
“Gracious heavens! What can be the matter with you to-day, Jakoff?” he
went on with a hitch of one shoulder (a habit of his). “This envelope here
with the 800 rubles enclosed,”—Jacob took out a set of tablets, put
down “800” and remained looking at the figures while he waited for what
was to come next—“is for expenses during my absence. Do you
understand? From the mill you ought to receive 1,000 rubles. Is not that
so? And from the Treasury mortgage you ought to receive some 8,000 rubles.
From the hay—of which, according to your calculations, we shall be
able to sell 7,000 poods [The pood = 40 lbs.]at 45 kopecks a piece there
should come in 3,000. Consequently the sum-total that you ought to have in
hand soon is—how much?—12,000 rubles. Is that right?”
“Precisely,” answered Jakoff. Yet by the extreme rapidity with which his
fingers were twitching I could see that he had an objection to make. Papa
“Well, of this money you will send 10,000 rubles to the Petrovskoe local
council. As for the money already at the office, you will remit it to me,
and enter it as spent on this present date.” Jakoff turned over the tablet
marked “12,000,” and put down “21,000”—seeming, by his action, to
imply that 12,000 rubles had been turned over in the same fashion as he
had turned the tablet. “And this envelope with the enclosed money,”
concluded Papa, “you will deliver for me to the person to whom it is
I was standing close to the table, and could see the address. It was “To
Karl Ivanitch Mayer.” Perhaps Papa had an idea that I had read something
which I ought not, for he touched my shoulder with his hand and made me
aware, by a slight movement, that I must withdraw from the table. Not sure
whether the movement was meant for a caress or a command, I kissed the
large, sinewy hand which rested upon my shoulder.
“Very well,” said Jakoff. “And what are your orders about the accounts for
the money from Chabarovska?” (Chabarovska was Mama’s village.)
“Only that they are to remain in my office, and not to be taken thence
without my express instructions.”
For a minute or two Jakoff was silent. Then his fingers began to twitch
with extraordinary rapidity, and, changing the expression of deferential
vacancy with which he had listened to his orders for one of shrewd
intelligence, he turned his tablets back and spoke.
“Will you allow me to inform you, Peter Alexandritch,” he said, with
frequent pauses between his words, “that, however much you wish it, it is
out of the question to repay the local council now. You enumerated some
items, I think, as to what ought to come in from the mortgage, the mill,
and the hay (he jotted down each of these items on his tablets again as he
spoke). Yet I fear that we must have made a mistake somewhere in the
accounts.” Here he paused a while, and looked gravely at Papa.
“Well, will you be good enough to look for yourself? There is the account
for the mill. The miller has been to me twice to ask for time, and I am
afraid that he has no money whatever in hand. He is here now. Would you
like to speak to him?”
“No. Tell me what he says,” replied Papa, showing by a movement of his
head that he had no desire to have speech with the miller.
“Well, it is easy enough to guess what he says. He declares that there is
no grinding to be got now, and that his last remaining money has gone to
pay for the dam. What good would it do for us to turn him out? As to what
you were pleased to say about the mortgage, you yourself are aware that
your money there is locked up and cannot be recovered at a moment’s
notice. I was sending a load of flour to Ivan Afanovitch to-day, and sent
him a letter as well, to which he replies that he would have been glad to
oblige you, Peter Alexandritch, were it not that the matter is out of his
hands now, and that all the circumstances show that it would take you at
least two months to withdraw the money. From the hay I understood you to
estimate a return of 3000 rubles?” (Here Jakoff jotted down “3000” on his
tablets, and then looked for a moment from the figures to Papa with a
peculiar expression on his face.) “Well, surely you see for yourself how
little that is? And even then we should lose if we were to sell the stuff
now, for you must know that—”
It was clear that he would have had many other arguments to adduce had not
Papa interrupted him.
“I cannot make any change in my arrangements,” said Papa. “Yet if there
should REALLY have to be any delay in the recovery of these sums, we could
borrow what we wanted from the Chabarovska funds.”
“Very well, sir.” The expression of Jakoff’s face and the way in which he
twitched his fingers showed that this order had given him great
satisfaction. He was a serf, and a most zealous, devoted one, but, like
all good bailiffs, exacting and parsimonious to a degree in the interests
of his master. Moreover, he had some queer notions of his own. He was
forever endeavoring to increase his master’s property at the expense of
his mistress’s, and to prove that it would be impossible to avoid using
the rents from her estates for the benefit of Petrovskoe (my father’s
village, and the place where we lived). This point he had now gained and
was delighted in consequence.
Papa then greeted ourselves, and said that if we stayed much longer in the
country we should become lazy boys; that we were growing quite big now,
and must set about doing lessons in earnest,
“I suppose you know that I am starting for Moscow to-night?” he went on,
“and that I am going to take you with me? You will live with Grandmamma,
but Mama and the girls will remain here. You know, too, I am sure, that
Mama’s one consolation will be to hear that you are doing your lessons
well and pleasing every one around you.”
The preparations which had been in progress for some days past had made us
expect some unusual event, but this news left us thunderstruck, Woloda
turned red, and, with a shaking voice, delivered Mama’s message to Papa.
“So this was what my dream foreboded!” I thought to myself. “God send that
there come nothing worse!” I felt terribly sorry to have to leave Mama,
but at the same rejoiced to think that I should soon be grown up, “If we
are going to-day, we shall probably have no lessons to do, and that will
be splendid. However, I am sorry for Karl Ivanitch, for he will certainly
be dismissed now. That was why that envelope had been prepared for him. I
think I would almost rather stay and do lessons here than leave Mama or
hurt poor Karl. He is miserable enough already.”
As these thoughts crossed my mind I stood looking sadly at the black
ribbons on my shoes. After a few words to Karl Ivanitch about the
depression of the barometer and an injunction to Jakoff not to feed the
hounds, since a farewell meet was to be held after luncheon, Papa
disappointed my hopes by sending us off to lessons—though he also
consoled us by promising to take us out hunting later.
On my way upstairs I made a digression to the terrace. Near the door
leading on to it Papa’s favorite hound, Milka, was lying in the sun and
blinking her eyes.
“Miloshka,” I cried as I caressed her and kissed her nose, “we are going
away today. Good-bye. Perhaps we shall never see each other again.” I was
crying and laughing at the same time.
IV — LESSONS
Karl Ivanitch was in a bad temper. This was clear from his contracted
brows, and from the way in which he flung his frockcoat into a drawer,
angrily donned his old dressing-gown again, and made deep dints with his
nails to mark the place in the book of dialogues to which we were to learn
by heart. Woloda began working diligently, but I was too distracted to do
anything at all. For a long while I stared vacantly at the book; but tears
at the thought of the impending separation kept rushing to my eyes and
preventing me from reading a single word. When at length the time came to
repeat the dialogues to Karl (who listened to us with blinking eyes—a
very bad sign), I had no sooner reached the place where some one asks, “Wo
kommen Sie her?” (“Where do you come from?”) and some one else answers
him, “Ich komme vom Kaffeehaus” (“I come from the coffee-house”), than I
burst into tears and, for sobbing, could not pronounce, “Haben Sie die
Zeitung nicht gelesen?” (“Have you not read the newspaper?”) at all. Next,
when we came to our writing lesson, the tears kept falling from my eyes
and, making a mess on the paper, as though some one had written on
blotting-paper with water, Karl was very angry. He ordered me to go down
upon my knees, declared that it was all obstinacy and “puppet-comedy
playing” (a favorite expression of his) on my part, threatened me with
the ruler, and commanded me to say that I was sorry. Yet for sobbing and
crying I could not get a word out. At last—conscious, perhaps, that
he was unjust—he departed to Nicola’s pantry, and slammed the door
behind him. Nevertheless their conversation there carried to the
“Have you heard that the children are going to Moscow, Nicola?” said Karl.
“Yes. How could I help hearing it?”
At this point Nicola seemed to get up for Karl said, “Sit down, Nicola,”
and then locked the door. However, I came out of my corner and crept to
the door to listen.
“However much you may do for people, and however fond of them you may be,
never expect any gratitude, Nicola,” said Karl warmly. Nicola, who was
shoe-cobbling by the window, nodded his head in assent.
“Twelve years have I lived in this house,” went on Karl, lifting his eyes
and his snuff-box towards the ceiling, “and before God I can say that I
have loved them, and worked for them, even more than if they had been my
own children. You recollect, Nicola, when Woloda had the fever? You
recollect how, for nine days and nights, I never closed my eyes as I sat
beside his bed? Yes, at that time I was ‘the dear, good Karl Ivanitch’—I
was wanted then; but now”—and he smiled ironically—“the
children are growing up, and must go to study in earnest. Perhaps they
never learned anything with me, Nicola? Eh?”
“I am sure they did,” replied Nicola, laying his awl down and
straightening a piece of thread with his hands.
“No, I am wanted no longer, and am to be turned out. What good are
promises and gratitude? Natalia Nicolaevna”—here he laid his hand
upon his heart—“I love and revere, but what can SHE I do here? Her
will is powerless in this house.”
He flung a strip of leather on the floor with an angry gesture. “Yet I
know who has been playing tricks here, and why I am no longer wanted. It
is because I do not flatter and toady as certain people do. I am in the
habit of speaking the truth in all places and to all persons,” he
continued proudly, “God be with these children, for my leaving them will
benefit them little, whereas I—well, by God’s help I may be able to
earn a crust of bread somewhere. Nicola, eh?”
Nicola raised his head and looked at Karl as though to consider whether he
would indeed be able to earn a crust of bread, but he said nothing. Karl
said a great deal more of the same kind—in particular how much
better his services had been appreciated at a certain general’s where he
had formerly lived (I regretted to hear that). Likewise he spoke of
Saxony, his parents, his friend the tailor, Schonheit (beauty), and so on.
I sympathized with his distress, and felt dreadfully sorry that he and
Papa (both of whom I loved about equally) had had a difference. Then I
returned to my corner, crouched down upon my heels, and fell to thinking
how a reconciliation between them might be effected.
Returning to the study, Karl ordered me to get up and prepare to write
from dictation. When I was ready he sat down with a dignified air in his
arm-chair, and in a voice which seemed to come from a profound abyss began
to dictate: “Von al-len Lei-den-shaf-ten die grau-samste ist. Have you
written that?” He paused, took a pinch of snuff, and began again: “Die
grausamste ist die Un-dank-bar-keit [The most cruel of all passions is
ingratitude.] a capital U, mind.”
The last word written, I looked at him, for him to go on.
“Punctum” (stop), he concluded, with a faintly perceptible smile, as he
signed to us to hand him our copy-books.
Several times, and in several different tones, and always with an
expression of the greatest satisfaction, did he read out that sentence,
which expressed his predominant thought at the moment. Then he set us to
learn a lesson in history, and sat down near the window. His face did not
look so depressed now, but, on the contrary, expressed eloquently the
satisfaction of a man who had avenged himself for an injury dealt him.
By this time it was a quarter to one o’clock, but Karl Ivanitch never
thought of releasing us. He merely set us a new lesson to learn. My
fatigue and hunger were increasing in equal proportions, so that I eagerly
followed every sign of the approach of luncheon. First came the housemaid
with a cloth to wipe the plates. Next, the sound of crockery resounded in
the dining-room, as the table was moved and chairs placed round it. After
that, Mimi, Lubotshka, and Katenka. (Katenka was Mimi’s daughter, and
twelve years old) came in from the garden, but Foka (the servant who
always used to come and announce luncheon) was not yet to be seen. Only
when he entered was it lawful to throw one’s books aside and run
Hark! Steps resounded on the staircase, but they were not Foka’s. Foka’s I
had learned to study, and knew the creaking of his boots well. The door
opened, and a figure unknown to me made its appearance.
V — THE IDIOT
The man who now entered the room was about fifty years old, with a pale,
attenuated face pitted with smallpox, long gray hair, and a scanty beard
of a reddish hue. Likewise he was so tall that, on coming through the
doorway, he was forced not only to bend his head, but to incline his whole
body forward. He was dressed in a sort of smock that was much torn, and
held in his hand a stout staff. As he entered he smote this staff upon the
floor, and, contracting his brows and opening his mouth to its fullest
extent, laughed in a dreadful, unnatural way. He had lost the sight of one
eye, and its colorless pupil kept rolling about and imparting to his
hideous face an even more repellent expression than it otherwise bore.
“Hullo, you are caught!” he exclaimed as he ran to Woloda with little
short steps and, seizing him round the head, looked at it searchingly.
Next he left him, went to the table, and, with a perfectly serious
expression on his face, began to blow under the oil-cloth, and to make the
sign of the cross over it, “O-oh, what a pity! O-oh, how it hurts! They
are angry! They fly from me!” he exclaimed in a tearful choking voice as
he glared at Woloda and wiped away the streaming tears with his sleeve.
His voice was harsh and rough, all his movements hysterical and spasmodic,
and his words devoid of sense or connection (for he used no conjunctions).
Yet the tone of that voice was so heartrending, and his yellow, deformed
face at times so sincere and pitiful in its expression, that, as one
listened to him, it was impossible to repress a mingled sensation of pity,
grief, and fear.
This was the idiot Grisha. Whence he had come, or who were his parents, or
what had induced him to choose the strange life which he led, no one ever
knew. All that I myself knew was that from his fifteenth year upwards he
had been known as an imbecile who went barefooted both in winter and
summer, visited convents, gave little images to any one who cared to take
them, and spoke meaningless words which some people took for prophecies;
that nobody remembered him as being different; that at, rare intervals he
used to call at Grandmamma’s house; and that by some people he was said to
be the outcast son of rich parents and a pure, saintly soul, while others
averred that he was a mere peasant and an idler.
At last the punctual and wished-for Foka arrived, and we went downstairs.
Grisha followed us sobbing and continuing to talk nonsense, and knocking
his staff on each step of the staircase. When we entered the drawing-room
we found Papa and Mama walking up and down there, with their hands
clasped in each other’s, and talking in low tones. Maria Ivanovna was
sitting bolt upright in an arm-chair placed at tight angles to the sofa,
and giving some sort of a lesson to the two girls sitting beside her. When
Karl Ivanitch entered the room she looked at him for a moment, and then
turned her eyes away with an expression which seemed to say, “You are
beneath my notice, Karl Ivanitch.” It was easy to see from the girls’ eyes
that they had important news to communicate to us as soon as an
opportunity occurred (for to leave their seats and approach us first was
contrary to Mimi’s rules). It was for us to go to her and say, “Bon jor,
Mimi,” and then make her a low bow; after which we should possibly be
permitted to enter into conversation with the girls.
What an intolerable creature that Mimi was! One could hardly say a word in
her presence without being found fault with. Also whenever we wanted to
speak in Russian, she would say, “Parlez, donc, francais,” as though on
purpose to annoy us, while, if there was any particularly nice dish at
luncheon which we wished to enjoy in peace, she would keep on ejaculating,
“Mangez, donc, avec du pain!” or, “Comment est-ce que vous tenez votre
fourchette?” “What has SHE got to do with us?” I used to think to myself.
“Let her teach the girls. WE have our Karl Ivanitch.” I shared to the full
his dislike of “certain people.”
“Ask Mama to let us go hunting too,” Katenka whispered to me, as she
caught me by the sleeve just when the elders of the family were making a
move towards the dining-room.
“Very well. I will try.”
Grisha likewise took a seat in the dining-room, but at a little table
apart from the rest. He never lifted his eyes from his plate, but kept on
sighing and making horrible grimaces, as he muttered to himself: “What a
pity! It has flown away! The dove is flying to heaven! The stone lies on
the tomb!” and so forth.
Ever since the morning Mama had been absent-minded, and Grisha’s
presence, words, and actions seemed to make her more so.
“By the way, there is something I forgot to ask you,” she said, as she
handed Papa a plate of soup.
“What is it?”
“That you will have those dreadful dogs of yours tied up. They nearly
worried poor Grisha to death when he entered the courtyard, and I am sure
they will bite the children some day.”
No sooner did Grisha hear himself mentioned that he turned towards our
table and showed us his torn clothes. Then, as he went on with his meal,
he said: “He would have let them tear me in pieces, but God would not
allow it! What a sin to let the dogs loose—a great sin! But do not
beat him, master; do not beat him! It is for God to forgive! It is past
“What does he say?” said Papa, looking at him gravely and sternly. “I
cannot understand him at all.”
“I think he is saying,” replied Mama, “that one of the huntsmen set the
dogs on him, but that God would not allow him to be torn in pieces.
Therefore he begs you not to punish the man.”
“Oh, is that it?” said Papa, “How does he know that I intended to punish
the huntsman? You know, I am not very fond of fellows like this,” he added
in French, “and this one offends me particularly. Should it ever happen
“Oh, don’t say so,” interrupted Mama, as if frightened by some thought.
“How can you know what he is?”
“I think I have plenty of opportunities for doing so, since no lack of
them come to see you—all of them the same sort, and probably all
with the same story.”
I could see that Mama’s opinion differed from his, but that she did not
mean to quarrel about it.
“Please hand me the cakes,” she said to him, “Are they good to-day or
“Yes, I AM angry,” he went on as he took the cakes and put them where
Mama could not reach them, “very angry at seeing supposedly reasonable
and educated people let themselves be deceived,” and he struck the table
with his fork.
“I asked you to hand me the cakes,” she repeated with outstretched hand.
“And it is a good thing,” Papa continued as he put the hand aside, “that
the police run such vagabonds in. All they are good for is to play upon
the nerves of certain people who are already not over-strong in that
respect,” and he smiled, observing that Mama did not like the
conversation at all. However, he handed her the cakes.
“All that I have to say,” she replied, “is that one can hardly believe
that a man who, though sixty years of age, goes barefooted winter and
summer, and always wears chains of two pounds’ weight, and never accepts
the offers made to him to live a quiet, comfortable life—it is
difficult to believe that such a man should act thus out of laziness.”
Pausing a moment, she added with a sigh: “As to predictions, je suis payee
pour y croire, I told you, I think, that Grisha prophesied the very day
and hour of poor Papa’s death?”
“Oh, what HAVE you gone and done?” said Papa, laughing and putting his
hand to his cheek (whenever he did this I used to look for something
particularly comical from him). “Why did you call my attention to his
feet? I looked at them, and now can eat nothing more.”
Luncheon was over now, and Lubotshka and Katenka were winking at us,
fidgeting about in their chairs, and showing great restlessness. The
winking, of course, signified, “Why don’t you ask whether we too may go to
the hunt?” I nudged Woloda, and Woloda nudged me back, until at last I
took heart of grace, and began (at first shyly, but gradually with more
assurance) to ask if it would matter much if the girls too were allowed to
enjoy the sport. Thereupon a consultation was held among the elder folks,
and eventually leave was granted—Mama, to make things still more
delightful, saying that she would come too.
VI — PREPARATIONS FOR THE CHASE
During dessert Jakoff had been sent for, and orders given him to have
ready the carriage, the hounds, and the saddle-horses—every detail
being minutely specified, and every horse called by its own particular
name. As Woloda’s usual mount was lame, Papa ordered a “hunter” to be
saddled for him; which term, “hunter” so horrified Mama’s ears, that she
imagined it to be some kind of an animal which would at once run away and
bring about Woloda’s death. Consequently, in spite of all Papa’s and
Woloda’s assurances (the latter glibly affirming that it was nothing, and
that he liked his horse to go fast), poor Mama continued to exclaim that
her pleasure would be quite spoiled for her.
When luncheon was over, the grown-ups had coffee in the study, while we
younger ones ran into the garden and went chattering along the undulating
paths with their carpet of yellow leaves. We talked about Woloda’s riding
a hunter and said what a shame it was that Lubotshka, could not run as
fast as Katenka, and what fun it would be if we could see Grisha’s chains,
and so forth; but of the impending separation we said not a word. Our
chatter was interrupted by the sound of the carriage driving up, with a
village urchin perched on each of its springs. Behind the carriage rode
the huntsmen with the hounds, and they, again, were followed by the groom
Ignat on the steed intended for Woloda, with my old horse trotting
alongside. After running to the garden fence to get a sight of all these
interesting objects, and indulging in a chorus of whistling and hallooing,
we rushed upstairs to dress—our one aim being to make ourselves look
as like the huntsmen as possible. The obvious way to do this was to tuck
one’s breeches inside one’s boots. We lost no time over it all, for we
were in a hurry to run to the entrance steps again there to feast our eyes
upon the horses and hounds, and to have a chat with the huntsmen. The day
was exceedingly warm while, though clouds of fantastic shape had been
gathering on the horizon since morning and driving before a light breeze
across the sun, it was clear that, for all their menacing blackness, they
did not really intend to form a thunderstorm and spoil our last day’s
pleasure. Moreover, towards afternoon some of them broke, grew pale and
elongated, and sank to the horizon again, while others of them changed to
the likeness of white transparent fish-scales. In the east, over
Maslovska, a single lurid mass was louring, but Karl Ivanitch (who always
seemed to know the ways of the heavens) said that the weather would still
continue to be fair and dry.
In spite of his advanced years, it was in quite a sprightly manner that
Foka came out to the entrance steps, to give the order “Drive up.” In
fact, as he planted his legs firmly apart and took up his station between
the lowest step and the spot where the coachman was to halt, his mien was
that of a man who knew his duties and had no need to be reminded of them
by anybody. Presently the ladies, also came out, and after a little
discussions as to seats and the safety of the girls (all of which seemed
to me wholly superfluous), they settled themselves in the vehicle, opened
their parasols, and started. As the carriage was, driving away, Mama
pointed to the hunter and asked nervously “Is that the horse intended for
Vladimir Petrovitch?” On the groom answering in the affirmative, she
raised her hands in horror and turned her head away. As for myself, I was
burning with impatience. Clambering on to the back of my steed (I was just
tall enough to see between its ears), I proceeded to perform evolutions in
“Mind you don’t ride over the hounds, sir,” said one of the huntsmen.
“Hold your tongue. It is not the first time I have been one of the party.”
I retorted with dignity.
Although Woloda had plenty of pluck, he was not altogether free from
apprehensions as he sat on the hunter. Indeed, he more than once asked as
he patted it, “Is he quiet?” He looked very well on horseback—almost
a grown-up young man, and held himself so upright in the saddle that I
envied him since my shadow seemed to show that I could not compare with
him in looks.
Presently Papa’s footsteps sounded on the flagstones, the whip collected
the hounds, and the huntsmen mounted their steeds. Papa’s horse came up in
charge of a groom, the hounds of his particular leash sprang up from their
picturesque attitudes to fawn upon him, and Milka, in a collar studded
with beads, came bounding joyfully from behind his heels to greet and
sport with the other dogs. Finally, as soon as Papa had mounted we rode
VII — THE HUNT
AT the head of the cavalcade rode Turka, on a hog-backed roan. On his head
he wore a shaggy cap, while, with a magnificent horn slung across his
shoulders and a knife at his belt, he looked so cruel and inexorable that
one would have thought he was going to engage in bloody strife with his
fellow men rather than to hunt a small animal. Around the hind legs of his
horse the hounds gamboled like a cluster of checkered, restless balls. If
one of them wished to stop, it was only with the greatest difficulty that
it could do so, since not only had its leash-fellow also to be induced to
halt, but at once one of the huntsmen would wheel round, crack his whip,
and shout to the delinquent,
“Back to the pack, there!”
Arrived at a gate, Papa told us and the huntsmen to continue our way along
the road, and then rode off across a cornfield. The harvest was at its
height. On the further side of a large, shining, yellow stretch of
cornland lay a high purple belt of forest which always figured in my eyes
as a distant, mysterious region behind which either the world ended or an
uninhabited waste began. This expanse of corn-land was dotted with swathes
and reapers, while along the lanes where the sickle had passed could be
seen the backs of women as they stooped among the tall, thick grain or
lifted armfuls of corn and rested them against the shocks. In one corner a
woman was bending over a cradle, and the whole stubble was studded with
sheaves and cornflowers. In another direction shirt-sleeved men were
standing on wagons, shaking the soil from the stalks of sheaves, and
stacking them for carrying. As soon as the foreman (dressed in a blouse
and high boots, and carrying a tally-stick) caught sight of Papa, he
hastened to take off his lamb’s-wool cap and, wiping his red head, told
the women to get up. Papa’s chestnut horse went trotting along with a
prancing gait as it tossed its head and swished its tail to and fro to
drive away the gadflies and countless other insects which tormented its
flanks, while his two greyhounds—their tails curved like sickles—went
springing gracefully over the stubble. Milka was always first, but every
now and then she would halt with a shake of her head to await the
whipper-in. The chatter of the peasants; the rumbling of horses and
wagons; the joyous cries of quails; the hum of insects as they hung
suspended in the motionless air; the smell of the soil and grain and steam
from our horses; the thousand different lights and shadows which the
burning sun cast upon the yellowish-white cornland; the purple forest in
the distance; the white gossamer threads which were floating in the air or
resting on the soil-all these things I observed and heard and felt to the
Arrived at the Kalinovo wood, we found the carriage awaiting us there,
with, beside it, a one-horse wagonette driven by the butler—a
wagonette in which were a tea-urn, some apparatus for making ices, and
many other attractive boxes and bundles, all packed in straw! There was no
mistaking these signs, for they meant that we were going to have tea,
fruit, and ices in the open air. This afforded us intense delight, since
to drink tea in a wood and on the grass and where none else had ever drunk
tea before seemed to us a treat beyond expressing.
When Turka arrived at the little clearing where the carriage was halted he
took Papa’s detailed instructions as to how we were to divide ourselves
and where each of us was to go (though, as a matter of fact, he never
acted according to such instructions, but always followed his own
devices). Then he unleashed the hounds, fastened the leashes to his
saddle, whistled to the pack, and disappeared among the young birch trees
the liberated hounds jumping about him in high delight, wagging their
tails, and sniffing and gamboling with one another as they dispersed
themselves in different directions.
“Has anyone a pocket-handkerchief to spare?” asked Papa. I took mine from
my pocket and offered it to him.
“Very well. Fasten it to this greyhound here.”
“Gizana?” I asked, with the air of a connoisseur.
“Yes. Then run him along the road with you. When you come to a little
clearing in the wood stop and look about you, and don’t come back to me
without a hare.”
Accordingly I tied my handkerchief round Gizana’s soft neck, and set off
running at full speed towards the appointed spot, Papa laughing as he
shouted after me, “Hurry up, hurry up or you’ll be late!”
Every now and then Gizana kept stopping, pricking up his ears, and
listening to the hallooing of the beaters. Whenever he did this I was not
strong enough to move him, and could do no more than shout, “Come on, come
on!” Presently he set off so fast that I could not restrain him, and I
encountered more than one fall before we reached our destination.
Selecting there a level, shady spot near the roots of a great oak-tree, I
lay down on the turf, made Gizana crouch beside me, and waited. As usual,
my imagination far outstripped reality. I fancied that I was pursuing at
least my third hare when, as a matter of fact, the first hound was only
just giving tongue. Presently, however, Turka’s voice began to sound
through the wood in louder and more excited tones, the baying of a hound
came nearer and nearer, and then another, and then a third, and then a
fourth, deep throat joined in the rising and falling cadences of a chorus,
until the whole had united their voices in one continuous, tumultuous
burst of melody. As the Russian proverb expresses it, “The forest had
found a tongue, and the hounds were burning as with fire.”
My excitement was so great that I nearly swooned where I stood. My lips
parted themselves as though smiling, the perspiration poured from me in
streams, and, in spite of the tickling sensation caused by the drops as
they trickled over my chin, I never thought of wiping them away. I felt
that a crisis was approaching. Yet the tension was too unnatural to last.
Soon the hounds came tearing along the edge of the wood, and then—behold,
they were racing away from me again, and of hares there was not a sign to
be seen! I looked in every direction and Gizana did the same—pulling
at his leash at first and whining. Then he lay down again by my side,
rested his muzzle on my knees, and resigned himself to disappointment.
Among the naked roots of the oak-tree under which I was sitting. I could
see countless ants swarming over the parched gray earth and winding among
the acorns, withered oak-leaves, dry twigs, russet moss, and slender,
scanty blades of grass. In serried files they kept pressing forward on the
level track they had made for themselves—some carrying burdens, some
not. I took a piece of twig and barred their way. Instantly it was curious
to see how they made light of the obstacle. Some got past it by creeping
underneath, and some by climbing over it. A few, however, there were
(especially those weighted with loads) who were nonplused what to do.
They either halted and searched for a way round, or returned whence they
had come, or climbed the adjacent herbage, with the evident intention of
reaching my hand and going up the sleeve of my jacket. From this
interesting spectacle my attention was distracted by the yellow wings of a
butterfly which was fluttering alluringly before me. Yet I had scarcely
noticed it before it flew away to a little distance and, circling over
some half-faded blossoms of white clover, settled on one of them. Whether
it was the sun’s warmth that delighted it, or whether it was busy sucking
nectar from the flower, at all events it seemed thoroughly comfortable. It
scarcely moved its wings at all, and pressed itself down into the clover
until I could hardly see its body. I sat with my chin on my hands and
watched it with intense interest.
Suddenly Gizana sprang up and gave me such a violent jerk that I nearly
rolled over. I looked round. At the edge of the wood a hare had just come
into view, with one ear bent down and the other one sharply pricked. The
blood rushed to my head, and I forgot everything else as I shouted,
slipped the dog, and rushed towards the spot. Yet all was in vain. The
hare stopped, made a rush, and was lost to view.
How confused I felt when at that moment Turka stepped from the undergrowth
(he had been following the hounds as they ran along the edges of the
wood)! He had seen my mistake (which had consisted in my not biding my
time), and now threw me a contemptuous look as he said, “Ah, master!” And
you should have heard the tone in which he said it! It would have been a
relief to me if he had then and there suspended me to his saddle instead
of the hare. For a while I could only stand miserably where I was, without
attempting to recall the dog, and ejaculate as I slapped my knees, “Good
heavens! What a fool I was!” I could hear the hounds retreating into the
distance, and baying along the further side of the wood as they pursued
the hare, while Turka rallied them with blasts on his gorgeous horn: yet I
did not stir.
VIII — WE PLAY GAMES
THE hunt was over, a cloth had been spread in the shade of some young
birch-trees, and the whole party was disposed around it. The butler,
Gabriel, had stamped down the surrounding grass, wiped the plates in
readiness, and unpacked from a basket a quantity of plums and peaches
wrapped in leaves.
Through the green branches of the young birch-trees the sun glittered and
threw little glancing balls of light upon the pattern of my napkin, my
legs, and the bald moist head of Gabriel. A soft breeze played in the
leaves of the trees above us, and, breathing softly upon my hair and
heated face, refreshed me beyond measure. When we had finished the fruit
and ices, nothing remained to be done around the empty cloth, so, despite
the oblique, scorching rays of the sun, we rose and proceeded to play.
“Well, what shall it be?” said Lubotshka, blinking in the sunlight and
skipping about the grass, “Suppose we play Robinson?”
“No, that’s a tiresome game,” objected Woloda, stretching himself lazily
on the turf and gnawing some leaves, “Always Robinson! If you want to play
at something, play at building a summerhouse.”
Woloda was giving himself tremendous airs. Probably he was proud of having
ridden the hunter, and so pretended to be very tired. Perhaps, also, he
had too much hard-headedness and too little imagination fully to enjoy the
game of Robinson. It was a game which consisted of performing various
scenes from The Swiss Family Robinson, a book which we had recently been
“Well, but be a good boy. Why not try and please us this time?” the girls
answered. “You may be Charles or Ernest or the father, whichever you like
best,” added Katenka as she tried to raise him from the ground by pulling
at his sleeve.
“No, I’m not going to; it’s a tiresome game,” said Woloda again, though
smiling as if secretly pleased.
“It would be better to sit at home than not to play at ANYTHING,” murmured
Lubotshka, with tears in her eyes. She was a great weeper.
“Well, go on, then. Only, DON’T cry; I can’t stand that sort of thing.”
Woloda’s condescension did not please us much. On the contrary, his lazy,
tired expression took away all the fun of the game. When we sat on the
ground and imagined that we were sitting in a boat and either fishing or
rowing with all our might, Woloda persisted in sitting with folded hands
or in anything but a fisherman’s posture. I made a remark about it, but he
replied that, whether we moved our hands or not, we should neither gain
nor lose ground—certainly not advance at all, and I was forced to
agree with him. Again, when I pretended to go out hunting, and, with a
stick over my shoulder, set off into the wood, Woloda only lay down on his
back with his hands under his head, and said that he supposed it was all
the same whether he went or not. Such behavior and speeches cooled our
ardor for the game and were very disagreeable—the more so since it
was impossible not to confess to oneself that Woloda was right, I myself
knew that it was not only impossible to kill birds with a stick, but to
shoot at all with such a weapon. Still, it was the game, and if we were
once to begin reasoning thus, it would become equally impossible for us to
go for drives on chairs. I think that even Woloda himself cannot at that
moment have forgotten how, in the long winter evenings, we had been used
to cover an arm-chair with a shawl and make a carriage of it—one of
us being the coachman, another one the footman, the two girls the
passengers, and three other chairs the trio of horses abreast. With what
ceremony we used to set out, and with what adventures we used to meet on
the way! How gaily and quickly those long winter evenings used to pass! If
we were always to judge from reality, games would be nonsense; but if
games were nonsense, what else would there be left to do?
IX — A FIRST ESSAY IN LOVE
PRETENDING to gather some “American fruit” from a tree, Lubotshka suddenly
plucked a leaf upon which was a huge caterpillar, and throwing the insect
with horror to the ground, lifted her hands and sprang away as though
afraid it would spit at her. The game stopped, and we crowded our heads
together as we stooped to look at the curiosity.
I peeped over Katenka’s shoulder as she was trying to lift the caterpillar
by placing another leaf in its way. I had observed before that the girls
had a way of shrugging their shoulders whenever they were trying to put a
loose garment straight on their bare necks, as well as that Mimi always
grew angry on witnessing this maneuver and declared it to be a
chambermaid’s trick. As Katenka bent over the caterpillar she made that
very movement, while at the same instant the breeze lifted the fichu on
her white neck. Her shoulder was close to my lips, I looked at it and
kissed it. She did not turn round, but Woloda remarked without raising his
head, “What spooniness!” I felt the tears rising to my eyes, and could not
take my gaze from Katenka. I had long been used to her fair, fresh face,
and had always been fond of her, but now I looked at her more closely, and
felt more fond of her, than I had ever done or felt before.
When we returned to the grown-ups, Papa informed us, to our great joy,
that, at Mama’s entreaties, our departure was to be postponed until the
following morning. We rode home beside the carriage—Woloda and I
galloping near it, and vieing with one another in our exhibition of
horsemanship and daring. My shadow looked longer now than it had done
before, and from that I judged that I had grown into a fine rider. Yet my
complacency was soon marred by an unfortunate occurrence. Desiring to
outdo Woloda before the audience in the carriage, I dropped a little
behind. Then with whip and spur I urged my steed forward, and at the same
time assumed a natural, graceful attitude, with the intention of whooting
past the carriage on the side on which Katenka was seated. My only doubt
was whether to halloo or not as I did so. In the event, my infernal horse
stopped so abruptly when just level with the carriage horses that I was
pitched forward on to its neck and cut a very sorry figure!
X — THE SORT OF MAN MY FATHER WAS
Papa was a gentleman of the last century, with all the chivalrous
character, self-reliance, and gallantry of the youth of that time. Upon
the men of the present day he looked with a contempt arising partly from
inborn pride and partly from a secret feeling of vexation that, in this
age of ours, he could no longer enjoy the influence and success which had
been his in his youth. His two principal failings were gambling and
gallantry, and he had won or lost, in the course of his career, several
millions of rubles.
Tall and of imposing figure, he walked with a curiously quick, mincing
gait, as well as had a habit of hitching one of his shoulders. His eyes
were small and perpetually twinkling, his nose large and aquiline, his
lips irregular and rather oddly (though pleasantly) compressed, his
articulation slightly defective and lisping, and his head quite bald. Such
was my father’s exterior from the days of my earliest recollection. It was
an exterior which not only brought him success and made him a man a bonnes
fortunes but one which pleased people of all ranks and stations.
Especially did it please those whom he desired to please.
At all junctures he knew how to take the lead, for, though not deriving
from the highest circles of society, he had always mixed with them, and
knew how to win their respect. He possessed in the highest degree that
measure of pride and self-confidence which, without giving offense,
maintains a man in the opinion of the world. He had much originality, as
well as the ability to use it in such a way that it benefited him as much
as actual worldly position or fortune could have done. Nothing in the
universe could surprise him, and though not of eminent attainments in
life, he seemed born to have acquired them. He understood so perfectly how
to make both himself and others forget and keep at a distance the seamy
side of life, with all its petty troubles and vicissitudes, that it was
impossible not to envy him. He was a connoisseur in everything which could
give ease and pleasure, as well as knew how to make use of such knowledge.
Likewise he prided himself on the brilliant connections which he had
formed through my mother’s family or through friends of his youth, and was
secretly jealous of any one of a higher rank than himself—any one,
that is to say, of a rank higher than a retired lieutenant of the Guards.
Moreover, like all ex-officers, he refused to dress himself in the
prevailing fashion, though he attired himself both originally and
artistically—his invariable wear being light, loose-fitting suits,
very fine shirts, and large collars and cuffs. Everything seemed to suit
his upright figure and quiet, assured air. He was sensitive to the pitch
of sentimentality, and, when reading a pathetic passage, his voice would
begin to tremble and the tears to come into his eyes, until he had to lay
the book aside. Likewise he was fond of music, and could accompany himself
on the piano as he sang the love songs of his friend A— or gypsy
songs or themes from operas; but he had no love for serious music, and
would frankly flout received opinion by declaring that, whereas
Beethoven’s sonatas wearied him and sent him to sleep, his ideal of beauty
was “Do not wake me, youth” as Semenoff sang it, or “Not one” as the gypsy
Taninsha rendered that ditty. His nature was essentially one of those
which follow public opinion concerning what is good, and consider only
that good which the public declares to be so. [It may be noted that the
author has said earlier in the chapter that his father possessed “much
originality.”] God only knows whether he had any moral convictions. His
life was so full of amusement that probably he never had time to form any,
and was too successful ever to feel the lack of them.
As he grew to old age he looked at things always from a fixed point of
view, and cultivated fixed rules—but only so long as that point or
those rules coincided with expediency. The mode of life which offered some
passing degree of interest—that, in his opinion, was the right one
and the only one that men ought to affect. He had great fluency of
argument; and this, I think, increased the adaptability of his morals and
enabled him to speak of one and the same act, now as good, and now, with
abuse, as abominable.
XI — IN THE DRAWING-ROOM AND THE STUDY
Twilight had set in when we reached home. Mama sat down to the piano, and
we to a table, there to paint and draw in colors and pencil. Though I had
only one cake of color, and it was blue, I determined to draw a picture
of the hunt. In exceedingly vivid fashion I painted a blue boy on a blue
horse, and—but here I stopped, for I was uncertain whether it was
possible also to paint a blue HARE. I ran to the study to consult Papa,
and as he was busy reading he never lifted his eyes from his book when I
asked, “Can there be blue hares?” but at once replied, “There can, my boy,
there can.” Returning to the table I painted in my blue hare, but
subsequently thought it better to change it into a blue bush. Yet the blue
bush did not wholly please me, so I changed it into a tree, and then into
a rick, until, the whole paper having now become one blur of blue, I tore
it angrily in pieces, and went off to meditate in the large arm-chair.
Mama was playing Field’s second concerto. Field, it may be said, had been
her master. As I dozed, the music brought up before my imagination a kind
of luminosity, with transparent dream-shapes. Next she played the “Sonate
Pathetique” of Beethoven, and I at once felt heavy, depressed, and
apprehensive. Mama often played those two pieces, and therefore I well
recollect the feelings they awakened in me. Those feelings were a
reminiscence—of what? Somehow I seemed to remember something which
had never been.
Opposite to me lay the study door, and presently I saw Jakoff enter it,
accompanied by several long-bearded men in caftans. Then the door shut
“Now they are going to begin some business or other,” I thought. I
believed the affairs transacted in that study to be the most important
ones on earth. This opinion was confirmed by the fact that people only
approached the door of that room on tiptoe and speaking in whispers.
Presently Papa’s resonant voice sounded within, and I also scented cigar
smoke—always a very attractive thing to me. Next, as I dozed, I
suddenly heard a creaking of boots that I knew, and, sure enough, saw Karl
Ivanitch go on tiptoe, and with a depressed, but resolute, expression on
his face and a written document in his hand, to the study door and knock
softly. It opened, and then shut again behind him.
“I hope nothing is going to happen,” I mused. “Karl Ivanitch is offended,
and might be capable of anything—” and again I dozed off.
Nevertheless something DID happen. An hour later I was disturbed by the
same creaking of boots, and saw Karl come out, and disappear up the
stairs, wiping away a few tears from his cheeks with his pocket
handkerchief as he went and muttering something between his teeth. Papa
came out behind him and turned aside into the drawing-room.
“Do you know what I have just decided to do?” he asked gaily as he laid a
hand upon Mama’s shoulder.
“What, my love?”
“To take Karl Ivanitch with the children. There will be room enough for
him in the carriage. They are used to him, and he seems greatly attached
to them. Seven hundred rubles a year cannot make much difference to us,
and the poor devil is not at all a bad sort of a fellow.” I could not
understand why Papa should speak of him so disrespectfully.
“I am delighted,” said Mama, “and as much for the children’s sake as his
own. He is a worthy old man.”
“I wish you could have seen how moved he was when I told him that he might
look upon the 500 rubles as a present! But the most amusing thing of all
is this bill which he has just handed me. It is worth seeing,” and with a
smile Papa gave Mama a paper inscribed in Karl’s handwriting. “Is it not
capital?” he concluded.
The contents of the paper were as follows: [The joke of this bill consists
chiefly in its being written in very bad Russian, with continual mistakes
as to plural and singular, prepositions and so forth.]
“Two book for the children—70 kopeck. Colored paper, gold frames,
and a pop-guns, blockheads [This word has a double meaning in Russian.]
for cutting out several box for presents—6 rubles, 55 kopecks.
Several book and a bows, presents for the childrens—8 rubles, 16
kopecks. A gold watches promised to me by Peter Alexandrovitch out of
Moscow, in the years 18— for 140 rubles. Consequently Karl Mayer
have to receive 139 ruble, 79 kopecks, beside his wage.”
If people were to judge only by this bill (in which Karl Ivanitch demanded
repayment of all the money he had spent on presents, as well as the value
of a present promised to himself), they would take him to have been a
callous, avaricious egotist yet they would be wrong.
It appears that he had entered the study with the paper in his hand and a
set speech in his head, for the purpose of declaiming eloquently to Papa
on the subject of the wrongs which he believed himself to have suffered in
our house, but that, as soon as ever he began to speak in the vibratory
voice and with the expressive intonations which he used in dictating to
us, his eloquence wrought upon himself more than upon Papa; with the
result that, when he came to the point where he had to say, “however sad
it will be for me to part with the children,” he lost his self-command
utterly, his articulation became choked, and he was obliged to draw his
colored pocket-handkerchief from his pocket.
“Yes, Peter Alexandrovitch,” he said, weeping (this formed no part of the
prepared speech), “I am grown so used to the children that I cannot think
what I should do without them. I would rather serve you without salary
than not at all,” and with one hand he wiped his eyes, while with the
other he presented the bill.
Although I am convinced that at that moment Karl Ivanitch was speaking
with absolute sincerity (for I know how good his heart was), I confess
that never to this day have I been able quite to reconcile his words with
“Well, if the idea of leaving us grieves you, you may be sure that the
idea of dismissing you grieves me equally,” said Papa, tapping him on the
shoulder. Then, after a pause, he added, “But I have changed my mind, and
you shall not leave us.”
Just before supper Grisha entered the room. Ever since he had entered the
house that day he had never ceased to sigh and weep—a portent,
according to those who believed in his prophetic powers, that misfortune
was impending for the household. He had now come to take leave of us, for
to-morrow (so he said) he must be moving on. I nudged Woloda, and we moved
towards the door.
“What is the matter?” he said.
“This—that if we want to see Grisha’s chains we must go upstairs at
once to the men-servants’ rooms. Grisha is to sleep in the second one, so
we can sit in the store-room and see everything.”
“All right. Wait here, and I’ll tell the girls.”
The girls came at once, and we ascended the stairs, though the question as
to which of us should first enter the store-room gave us some little
trouble. Then we cowered down and waited.
XII — GRISHA
WE all felt a little uneasy in the thick darkness, so we pressed close to
one another and said nothing. Before long Grisha arrived with his soft
tread, carrying in one hand his staff and in the other a tallow candle set
in a brass candlestick. We scarcely ventured to breathe.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ! Holy Mother of God! Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”
he kept repeating, with the different intonations and abbreviations which
gradually become peculiar to persons who are accustomed to pronounce the
words with great frequency.
Still praying, he placed his staff in a corner and looked at the bed;
after which he began to undress. Unfastening his old black girdle, he
slowly divested himself of his torn nankeen caftan, and deposited it
carefully on the back of a chair. His face had now lost its usual
disquietude and idiocy. On the contrary, it had in it something restful,
thoughtful, and even grand, while all his movements were deliberate and
Next, he lay down quietly in his shirt on the bed, made the sign of the
cross towards every side of him, and adjusted his chains beneath his shirt—an
operation which, as we could see from his face, occasioned him
considerable pain. Then he sat up again, looked gravely at his ragged
shirt, and rising and taking the candle, lifted the latter towards the
shrine where the images of the saints stood. That done, he made the sign
of the cross again, and turned the candle upside down, when it went out
with a hissing noise.
Through the window (which overlooked the wood) the moon (nearly full) was
shining in such a way that one side of the tall white figure of the idiot
stood out in the pale, silvery moonlight, while the other side was lost in
the dark shadow which covered the floor, walls, and ceiling. In the
courtyard the watchman was tapping at intervals upon his brass alarm
plate. For a while Grisha stood silently before the images and, with his
large hands pressed to his breast and his head bent forward, gave
occasional sighs. Then with difficulty he knelt down and began to pray.
At first he repeated some well-known prayers, and only accented a word
here and there. Next, he repeated thee same prayers, but louder and with
increased accentuation. Lastly he repeated them again and with even
greater emphasis, as well as with an evident effort to pronounce them in
the old Slavonic Church dialect. Though disconnected, his prayers were
very touching. He prayed for all his benefactors (so he called every one
who had received him hospitably), with, among them, Mama and ourselves.
Next he prayed for himself, and besought God to forgive him his sins, at
the same time repeating, “God forgive also my enemies!” Then, moaning with
the effort, he rose from his knees—only to fall to the floor again
and repeat his phrases afresh. At last he regained his feet, despite the
weight of the chains, which rattled loudly whenever they struck the floor.
Woloda pinched me rudely in the leg, but I took no notice of that (except
that I involuntarily touched the place with my hand), as I observed with a
feeling of childish astonishment, pity, and respect the words and gestures
of Grisha. Instead of the laughter and amusement which I had expected on
entering the store-room, I felt my heart beating and overcome.
Grisha continued for some time in this state of religious ecstasy as he
improvised prayers and repeated again and yet again, “Lord, have mercy
upon me!” Each time that he said, “Pardon me, Lord, and teach me to do
what Thou wouldst have done,” he pronounced the words with added
earnestness and emphasis, as though he expected an immediate answer to his
petition, and then fell to sobbing and moaning once more. Finally, he went
down on his knees again, folded his arms upon his breast, and remained
silent. I ventured to put my head round the door (holding my breath as I
did so), but Grisha still made no movement except for the heavy sighs
which heaved his breast. In the moonlight I could see a tear glistening on
the white patch of his blind eye.
“Yes, Thy will be done!” he exclaimed suddenly, with an expression which I
cannot describe, as, prostrating himself with his forehead on the floor,
he fell to sobbing like a child.
Much sand has run out since then, many recollections of the past have
faded from my memory or become blurred in indistinct visions, and poor
Grisha himself has long since reached the end of his pilgrimage; but the
impression which he produced upon me, and the feelings which he aroused in
my breast, will never leave my mind. O truly Christian Grisha, your faith
was so strong that you could feel the actual presence of God; your love so
great that the words fell of themselves from your lips. You had no reason
to prove them, for you did so with your earnest praises of His majesty as
you fell to the ground speechless and in tears!
Nevertheless the sense of awe with which I had listened to Grisha could
not last for ever. I had now satisfied my curiosity, and, being cramped
with sitting in one position so long, desired to join in the tittering and
fun which I could hear going on in the dark store-room behind me. Some one
took my hand and whispered, “Whose hand is this?” Despite the darkness, I
knew by the touch and the low voice in my ear that it was Katenka. I took
her by the arm, but she withdrew it, and, in doing so, pushed a cane chair
which was standing near. Grisha lifted his head looked quietly about him,
and, muttering a prayer, rose and made the sign of the cross towards each
of the four corners of the room.
XIII — NATALIA SAVISHNA
In days gone by there used to run about the seignorial courtyard of the
country-house at Chabarovska a girl called Natashka. She always wore a
cotton dress, went barefooted, and was rosy, plump, and gay. It was at the
request and entreaties of her father, the clarionet player Savi, that my
grandfather had “taken her upstairs”—that is to say, made her one of
his wife’s female servants. As chamber-maid, Natashka so distinguished
herself by her zeal and amiable temper that when Mama arrived as a baby
and required a nurse Natashka was honored with the charge of her. In this
new office the girl earned still further praises and rewards for her
activity, trustworthiness, and devotion to her young mistress. Soon,
however, the powdered head and buckled shoes of the young and active
footman Foka (who had frequent opportunities of courting her, since they
were in the same service) captivated her unsophisticated, but loving,
heart. At last she ventured to go and ask my grandfather if she might
marry Foka, but her master took the request in bad part, flew into a
passion, and punished poor Natashka by exiling her to a farm which he
owned in a remote quarter of the Steppes. At length, when she had been
gone six months and nobody could be found to replace her, she was recalled
to her former duties. Returned, and with her dress in rags, she fell at
Grandpapa’s feet, and besought him to restore her his favor and kindness,
and to forget the folly of which she had been guilty—folly which,
she assured him, should never recur again. And she kept her word.
From that time forth she called herself, not Natashka, but Natalia
Savishna, and took to wearing a cap. All the love in her heart was now
bestowed upon her young charge. When Mama had a governess appointed for
her education, Natalia was awarded the keys as housekeeper, and henceforth
had the linen and provisions under her care. These new duties she
fulfilled with equal fidelity and zeal. She lived only for her master’s
advantage. Everything in which she could detect fraud, extravagance, or
waste she endeavored to remedy to the best of her power. When Mama
married and wished in some way to reward Natalia Savishna for her twenty
years of care and labor, she sent for her and, voicing in the tenderest
terms her attachment and love, presented her with a stamped charter of her
(Natalia’s) freedom, [It will be remembered that this was in the days of
serfdom] telling her at the same time that, whether she continued to serve
in the household or not, she should always receive an annual pension of
300 rubles. Natalia listened in silence to this. Then, taking the
document in her hands and regarding it with a frown, she muttered
something between her teeth, and darted from the room, slamming the door
behind her. Not understanding the reason for such strange conduct, Mama
followed her presently to her room, and found her sitting with streaming
eyes on her trunk, crushing her pocket-handkerchief between her fingers,
and looking mournfully at the remains of the document, which was lying
torn to pieces on the floor.
“What is the matter, dear Natalia Savishna?” said Mama, taking her hand.
“Nothing, ma’am,” she replied; “only—only I must have displeased you
somehow, since you wish to dismiss me from the house. Well, I will go.”
She withdrew her hand and, with difficulty restraining her tears, rose to
leave the room, but Mama stopped her, and they wept a while in one
Ever since I can remember anything I can remember Natalia Savishna and her
love and tenderness; yet only now have I learned to appreciate them at
their full value. In early days it never occurred to me to think what a
rare and wonderful being this old domestic was. Not only did she never
talk, but she seemed never even to think, of herself. Her whole life was
compounded of love and self-sacrifice. Yet so used was I to her affection
and singleness of heart that I could not picture things otherwise. I never
thought of thanking her, or of asking myself, “Is she also happy? Is she
also contented?” Often on some pretext or another I would leave my lessons
and run to her room, where, sitting down, I would begin to muse aloud as
though she were not there. She was forever mending something, or tidying
the shelves which lined her room, or marking linen, so that she took no
heed of the nonsense which I talked—how that I meant to become a
general, to marry a beautiful woman, to buy a chestnut horse, to, build
myself a house of glass, to invite Karl Ivanitch’s relatives to come and
visit me from Saxony, and so forth; to all of which she would only reply,
“Yes, my love, yes.” Then, on my rising, and preparing to go, she would
open a blue trunk which had pasted on the inside of its lid a colored
picture of a hussar which had once adorned a pomade bottle and a sketch
made by Woloda, and take from it a fumigation pastille, which she would
light and shake for my benefit, saying:
“These, dear, are the pastilles which your grandfather (now in Heaven)
brought back from Otchakov after fighting against the Turks.” Then she
would add with a sigh: “But this is nearly the last one.”
The trunks which filled her room seemed to contain almost everything in
the world. Whenever anything was wanted, people said, “Oh, go and ask
Natalia Savishna for it,” and, sure enough, it was seldom that she did not
produce the object required and say, “See what comes of taking care of
everything!” Her trunks contained thousands of things which nobody in the
house but herself would have thought of preserving.
Once I lost my temper with her. This was how it happened.
One day after luncheon I poured myself out a glass of kvass, and then
dropped the decanter, and so stained the tablecloth.
“Go and call Natalia, that she may come and see what her darling has
done,” said Mama.
Natalia arrived, and shook her head at me when she saw the damage I had
done; but Mama whispered something in her car, threw a look at myself,
and then left the room.
I was just skipping away, in the sprightliest mood possible, when Natalia
darted out upon me from behind the door with the tablecloth in her hand,
and, catching hold of me, rubbed my face hard with the stained part of it,
repeating, “Don’t thou go and spoil tablecloths any more!”
I struggled hard, and roared with temper.
“What?” I said to myself as I fled to the drawing-room in a mist of tears,
“To think that Natalia Savishna-just plain Natalia-should say ‘THOU’ to me
and rub my face with a wet tablecloth as though I were a mere servant-boy!
It is abominable!”
Seeing my fury, Natalia departed, while I continued to strut about and
plan how to punish the bold woman for her offense. Yet not more than a few
moments had passed when Natalia returned and, stealing to my side, began
to comfort me,
“Hush, then, my love. Do not cry. Forgive me my rudeness. It was wrong of
me. You WILL pardon me, my darling, will you not? There, there, that’s a
dear,” and she took from her handkerchief a cornet of pink paper
containing two little cakes and a grape, and offered it me with a
trembling hand. I could not look the kind old woman in the face, but,
turning aside, took the paper, while my tears flowed the faster—though
from love and shame now, not from anger.
XIV — THE PARTING
ON the day after the events described, the carriage and the luggage-cart
drew up to the door at noon. Nicola, dressed for the journey, with his
breeches tucked into his boots and an old overcoat belted tightly about
him with a girdle, got into the cart and arranged cloaks and cushions on
the seats. When he thought that they were piled high enough he sat down on
them, but finding them still unsatisfactory, jumped up and arranged them
“Nicola Dimitvitch, would you be so good as to take master’s dressing-case
with you?” said Papa’s valet, suddenly standing up in the carriage, “It
won’t take up much room.”
“You should have told me before, Michael Ivanitch,” answered Nicola
snappishly as he hurled a bundle with all his might to the floor of the
cart. “Good gracious! Why, when my head is going round like a whirlpool,
there you come along with your dressing-case!” and he lifted his cap to
wipe away the drops of perspiration from his sunburnt brow.
The courtyard was full of bareheaded peasants in caftans or simple shirts,
women clad in the national dress and wearing striped handkerchiefs, and
barefooted little ones—the latter holding their mothers’ hands or
crowding round the entrance-steps. All were chattering among themselves as
they stared at the carriage. One of the postilions, an old man dressed in
a winter cap and cloak, took hold of the pole of the carriage and tried it
carefully, while the other postilion (a young man in a white blouse with
pink gussets on the sleeves and a black lamb’s-wool cap which he kept
cocking first on one side and then on the other as he arranged his flaxen
hair) laid his overcoat upon the box, slung the reins over it, and cracked
his thonged whip as he looked now at his boots and now at the other
drivers where they stood greasing the wheels of the cart—one driver
lifting up each wheel in turn and the other driver applying the grease.
Tired post-horses of various hues stood lashing away flies with their
tails near the gate—some stamping their great hairy legs, blinking
their eyes, and dozing, some leaning wearily against their neighbors, and
others cropping the leaves and stalks of dark-green fern which grew near
the entrance-steps. Some of the dogs were lying panting in the sun, while
others were slinking under the vehicles to lick the grease from the
wheels. The air was filled with a sort of dusty mist, and the horizon was
lilac-gray in color, though no clouds were to be seen, A strong wind from
the south was raising volumes of dust from the roads and fields, shaking
the poplars and birch-trees in the garden, and whirling their yellow
leaves away. I myself was sitting at a window and waiting impatiently for
these various preparations to come to an end.
As we sat together by the drawing-room table, to pass the last few moments
en famille, it never occurred to me that a sad moment was impending. On
the contrary, the most trivial thoughts were filling my brain. Which
driver was going to drive the carriage and which the cart? Which of us
would sit with Papa, and which with Karl Ivanitch? Why must I be kept
forever muffled up in a scarf and padded boots?
“Am I so delicate? Am I likely to be frozen?” I thought to myself. “I wish
it would all come to an end, and we could take our seats and start.”
“To whom shall I give the list of the children’s linen?” asked Natalia
Savishna of Mama as she entered the room with a paper in her hand and her
eyes red with weeping.
“Give it to Nicola, and then return to say good-bye to them,” replied
Mama. The old woman seemed about to say something more, but suddenly
stopped short, covered her face with her handkerchief, and left the room.
Something seemed to prick at my heart when I saw that gesture of hers, but
impatience to be off soon drowned all other feeling, and I continued to
listen indifferently to Papa and Mama as they talked together. They were
discussing subjects which evidently interested neither of them. What must
be bought for the house? What would Princess Sophia or Madame Julie say?
Would the roads be good?—and so forth.
Foka entered, and in the same tone and with the same air as though he were
announcing luncheon said, “The carriages are ready.” I saw Mama tremble
and turn pale at the announcement, just as though it were something
Next, Foka was ordered to shut all the doors of the room. This amused me
highly. As though we needed to be concealed from some one! When every one
else was seated, Foka took the last remaining chair. Scarcely, however,
had he done so when the door creaked and every one looked that way.
Natalia Savishna entered hastily, and, without raising her eyes, sat own
on the same chair as Foka. I can see them before me now-Foka’s bald head
and wrinkled, set face, and, beside him, a bent, kind figure in a cap from
beneath which a few gray hairs were straggling. The pair settled
themselves together on the chair, but neither of them looked comfortable.
I continued preoccupied and impatient. In fact, the ten minutes during
which we sat there with closed doors seemed to me an hour. At last every
one rose, made the sign of the cross, and began to say good-bye. Papa
embraced Mama, and kissed her again and again.
“But enough,” he said presently. “We are not parting for ever.”
“No, but it is-so-so sad!” replied Mama, her voice trembling with
When I heard that faltering voice, and saw those quivering lips and
tear-filled eyes, I forgot everything else in the world. I felt so ill and
miserable that I would gladly have run away rather than bid her farewell.
I felt, too, that when she was embracing Papa she was embracing us all.
She clasped Woloda to her several times, and made the sign of the cross
over him; after which I approached her, thinking that it was my turn.
Nevertheless she took him again and again to her heart, and blessed him.
Finally I caught hold of her, and, clinging to her, wept—wept,
thinking of nothing in the world but my grief.
As we passed out to take our seats, other servants pressed round us in the
hall to say good-bye. Yet their requests to shake hands with us, their
resounding kisses on our shoulders, [The fashion in which inferiors salute
their superiors in Russia.] and the odor of their greasy heads only
excited in me a feeling akin to impatience with these tiresome people. The
same feeling made me bestow nothing more than a very cross kiss upon
Natalia’s cap when she approached to take leave of me. It is strange that
I should still retain a perfect recollection of these servants’ faces, and
be able to draw them with the most minute accuracy in my mind, while
Mama’s face and attitude escape me entirely. It may be that it is because
at that moment I had not the heart to look at her closely. I felt that if
I did so our mutual grief would burst forth too unrestrainedly.
I was the first to jump into the carriage and to take one of the hinder
seats. The high back of the carriage prevented me from actually seeing
her, yet I knew by instinct that Mama was still there.
“Shall I look at her again or not?” I said to myself. “Well, just for the
last time,” and I peeped out towards the entrance-steps. Exactly at that
moment Mama moved by the same impulse, came to the opposite side of the
carriage, and called me by name. Hearing her voice behind me. I turned
round, but so hastily that our heads knocked together. She gave a sad
smile, and kissed me convulsively for the last time.
When we had driven away a few paces I determined to look at her once more.
The wind was lifting the blue handkerchief from her head as, bent forward
and her face buried in her hands, she moved slowly up the steps. Foka was
supporting her. Papa said nothing as he sat beside me. I felt breathless
with tears—felt a sensation in my throat as though I were going to
choke, just as we came out on to the open road I saw a white handkerchief
waving from the terrace. I waved mine in return, and the action of so
doing calmed me a little. I still went on crying, but the thought that my
tears were a proof of my affection helped to soothe and comfort me.
After a little while I began to recover, and to look with interest at
objects which we passed and at the hind-quarters of the led horse which
was trotting on my side. I watched how it would swish its tail, how it
would lift one hoof after the other, how the driver’s thong would fall
upon its back, and how all its legs would then seem to jump together and
the back-band, with the rings on it, to jump too—the whole covered
with the horse’s foam. Then I would look at the rolling stretches of ripe
corn, at the dark plowed fields where plows and peasants and horses
with foals were working, at their footprints, and at the box of the
carriage to see who was driving us; until, though my face was still wet
with tears, my thoughts had strayed far from her with whom I had just
parted—parted, perhaps, for ever. Yet ever and again something would
recall her to my memory. I remembered too how, the evening before, I had
found a mushroom under the birch-trees, how Lubotshka had quarreled with
Katenka as to whose it should be, and how they had both of them wept when
taking leave of us. I felt sorry to be parted from them, and from Natalia
Savishna, and from the birch-tree avenue, and from Foka. Yes, even the
horrid Mimi I longed for. I longed for everything at home. And poor Mama!—The
tears rushed to my eyes again. Yet even this mood passed away before long.
XV — CHILDHOOD
HAPPY, happy, never-returning time of childhood! How can we help loving
and dwelling upon its recollections? They cheer and elevate the soul, and
become to one a source of higher joys.
Sometimes, when dreaming of bygone days, I fancy that, tired out with
running about, I have sat down, as of old, in my high arm-chair by the
tea-table. It is late, and I have long since drunk my cup of milk. My eyes
are heavy with sleep as I sit there and listen. How could I not listen,
seeing that Mama is speaking to somebody, and that the sound of her voice
is so melodious and kind? How much its echoes recall to my heart! With my
eyes veiled with drowsiness I gaze at her wistfully. Suddenly she seems to
grow smaller and smaller, and her face vanishes to a point; yet I can
still see it—can still see her as she looks at me and smiles.
Somehow it pleases me to see her grown so small. I blink and blink, yet
she looks no larger than a boy reflected in the pupil of an eye. Then I
rouse myself, and the picture fades. Once more I half-close my eyes, and
cast about to try and recall the dream, but it has gone.
I rise to my feet, only to fall back comfortably into the armchair.
“There! You are failing asleep again, little Nicolas,” says Mama. “You
had better go to by-by.”
“No, I won’t go to sleep, Mama,” I reply, though almost inaudibly, for
pleasant dreams are filling all my soul. The sound sleep of childhood is
weighing my eyelids down, and for a few moments I sink into slumber and
oblivion until awakened by some one. I feel in my sleep as though a soft
hand were caressing me. I know it by the touch, and, though still
dreaming, I seize hold of it and press it to my lips. Every one else has
gone to bed, and only one candle remains burning in the drawing-room.
Mama has said that she herself will wake me. She sits down on the arm of
the chair in which I am asleep, with her soft hand stroking my hair, and I
hear her beloved, well-known voice say in my ear:
“Get up, my darling. It is time to go by-by.”
No envious gaze sees her now. She is not afraid to shed upon me the whole
of her tenderness and love. I do not wake up, yet I kiss and kiss her
“Get up, then, my angel.”
She passes her other arm round my neck, and her fingers tickle me as they
move across it. The room is quiet and in half-darkness, but the tickling
has touched my nerves and I begin to awake. Mama is sitting near me—that
I can tell—and touching me; I can hear her voice and feel her
presence. This at last rouses me to spring up, to throw my arms around her
neck, to hide my head in her bosom, and to say with a sigh:
“Ah, dear, darling Mama, how much I love you!”
She smiles her sad, enchanting smile, takes my head between her two hands,
kisses me on the forehead, and lifts me on to her lap.
“Do you love me so much, then?” she says. Then, after a few moments’
silence, she continues: “And you must love me always, and never forget me.
If your Mama should no longer be here, will you promise never to forget
her—never, Nicolinka? and she kisses me more fondly than ever.
“Oh, but you must not speak so, darling Mama, my own darling Mama!” I
exclaim as I clasp her knees, and tears of joy and love fall from my eyes.
How, after scenes like this, I would go upstairs, and stand before the
icons, and say with a rapturous feeling, “God bless Papa and Mama!” and
repeat a prayer for my beloved mother which my childish lips had learned to
lisp-the love of God and of her blending strangely in a single emotion!
After saying my prayers I would wrap myself up in the bedclothes. My heart
would feel light, peaceful, and happy, and one dream would follow another.
Dreams of what? They were all of them vague, but all of them full of pure
love and of a sort of expectation of happiness. I remember, too, that I
used to think about Karl Ivanitch and his sad lot. He was the only unhappy
being whom I knew, and so sorry would I feel for him, and so much did I
love him, that tears would fall from my eyes as I thought, “May God give
him happiness, and enable me to help him and to lessen his sorrow. I could
make any sacrifice for him!” Usually, also, there would be some favorite
toy—a china dog or hare—stuck into the bed-corner behind the
pillow, and it would please me to think how warm and comfortable and well
cared-for it was there. Also, I would pray God to make every one happy, so
that every one might be contented, and also to send fine weather to-morrow
for our walk. Then I would turn myself over on to the other side, and
thoughts and dreams would become jumbled and entangled together until at
last I slept soundly and peacefully, though with a face wet with tears.
Do in after life the freshness and lightheartedness, the craving for love
and for strength of faith, ever return which we experience in our
childhood’s years? What better time is there in our lives than when the
two best of virtues—innocent gaiety and a boundless yearning for
affection—are our sole objects of pursuit?
Where now are our ardent prayers? Where now are our best gifts—the
pure tears of emotion which a guardian angel dries with a smile as he
sheds upon us lovely dreams of ineffable childish joy? Can it be that life
has left such heavy traces upon one’s heart that those tears and ecstasies
are for ever vanished? Can it be that there remains to us only the
recollection of them?
XVI — VERSE-MAKING
RATHER less than a month after our arrival in Moscow I was sitting
upstairs in my Grandmamma’s house and doing some writing at a large table.
Opposite to me sat the drawing master, who was giving a few finishing
touches to the head of a turbaned Turk, executed in black pencil. Woloda,
with out-stretched neck, was standing behind the drawing master and
looking over his shoulder. The head was Woloda’s first production in
pencil and to-day—Grandmamma’s name-day—the masterpiece was to
be presented to her.
“Aren’t you going to put a little more shadow there?” said Woloda to the
master as he raised himself on tiptoe and pointed to the Turk’s neck.
“No, it is not necessary,” the master replied as he put pencil and
drawing-pen into a japanned folding box. “It is just right now, and you
need not do anything more to it. As for you, Nicolinka,” he added, rising
and glancing askew at the Turk, “won’t you tell us your great secret at
last? What are you going to give your Grandmamma? I think another head
would be your best gift. But good-bye, gentlemen,” and taking his hat and
cardboard he departed.
I too had thought that another head than the one at which I had been
working would be a better gift; so, when we were told that Grandmamma’s
name-day was soon to come round and that we must each of us have a present
ready for her, I had taken it into my head to write some verses in honor
of the occasion, and had forthwith composed two rhymed couplets, hoping
that the rest would soon materialize. I really do not know how the idea—one
so peculiar for a child—came to occur to me, but I know that I liked
it vastly, and answered all questions on the subject of my gift by
declaring that I should soon have something ready for Grandmamma, but was
not going to say what it was.
Contrary to my expectation, I found that, after the first two couplets
executed in the initial heat of enthusiasm, even my most strenuous efforts
refused to produce another one. I began to read different poems in our
books, but neither Dimitrieff nor Derzhavin could help me. On the
contrary, they only confirmed my sense of incompetence. Knowing, however,
that Karl Ivanitch was fond of writing verses, I stole softly upstairs to
burrow among his papers, and found, among a number of German verses, some
in the Russian language which seemed to have come from his own pen.
To-day be faithful, and for ever—
Aye, still beyond the grave—remember
That I have well loved thee.
These verses (which were written in a fine, round hand on thin
letter-paper) pleased me with the touching sentiment with which they
seemed to be inspired. I learned them by heart, and decided to take them as
a model. The thing was much easier now. By the time the name-day had
arrived I had completed a twelve-couplet congratulatory ode, and sat down
to the table in our school-room to copy them out on vellum.
Two sheets were soon spoiled—not because I found it necessary to
alter anything (the verses seemed to me perfect), but because, after the
third line, the tail-end of each successive one would go curving upward
and making it plain to all the world that the whole thing had been written
with a want of adherence to the horizontal—a thing which I could not
bear to see.
The third sheet also came out crooked, but I determined to make it do.
In my verses I congratulated Grandmamma, wished her many happy returns,
and concluded thus:
“Endeavoring you to please and cheer,
We love you like our Mother dear.”
This seemed to me not bad, yet it offended my ear somehow.
“Lo-ve you li-ike our Mo-ther dear,” I repeated to myself. “What other
rhyme could I use instead of ‘dear’? Fear? Steer? Well, it must go at
that. At least the verses are better than Karl Ivanitch’s.”
Accordingly I added the last verse to the rest. Then I went into our
bedroom and recited the whole poem aloud with much feeling and
gesticulation. The verses were altogether guiltless of meter, but I did
not stop to consider that. Yet the last one displeased me more than ever.
As I sat on my bed I thought:
“Why on earth did I write ‘like our Mother dear’? She is not here, and
therefore she need never have been mentioned. True, I love and respect
Grandmamma, but she is not quite the same as—Why DID I write that?
What did I go and tell a lie for? They may be verses only, yet I needn’t
quite have done that.”
At that moment the tailor arrived with some new clothes for us.
“Well, so be it!” I said in much vexation as I crammed the verses hastily
under my pillow and ran down to adorn myself in the new Moscow garments.
They fitted marvelously-both the brown jacket with yellow buttons (a
garment made skin-tight and not “to allow room for growth,” as in the
country) and the black trousers (also close-fitting so that they displayed
the figure and lay smoothly over the boots).
“At last I have real trousers on!” I thought as I looked at my legs with
the utmost satisfaction. I concealed from every one the fact that the new
clothes were horribly tight and uncomfortable, but, on the contrary, said
that, if there were a fault, it was that they were not tight enough. For a
long while I stood before the looking-glass as I combed my elaborately
pomaded head, but, try as I would, I could not reduce the topmost hairs on
the crown to order. As soon as ever I left off combing them, they sprang
up again and radiated in different directions, thus giving my face a
Karl Ivanitch was dressing in another room, and I heard some one bring him
his blue frockcoat and under-linen. Then at the door leading downstairs I
heard a maid-servant’s voice, and went to see what she wanted. In her hand
she held a well-starched shirt which she said she had been sitting up all
night to get ready. I took it, and asked if Grandmamma was up yet.
“Oh yes, she has had her coffee, and the priest has come. My word, but you
look a fine little fellow!” added the girl with a smile at my new clothes.
This observation made me blush, so I whirled round on one leg, snapped my
fingers, and went skipping away, in the hope that by these maneuvers I
should make her sensible that even yet she had not realized quite what a
fine fellow I was.
However, when I took the shirt to Karl I found that he did not need it,
having taken another one. Standing before a small looking-glass, he tied
his cravat with both hands—trying, by various motions of his head,
to see whether it fitted him comfortably or not—and then took us
down to see Grandmamma. To this day I cannot help laughing when I remember
what a smell of pomade the three of us left behind us on the staircase as
Karl was carrying a box which he had made himself, Woloda, his drawing,
and I my verses, while each of us also had a form of words ready with
which to present his gift. Just as Karl opened the door, the priest put on
his vestment and began to say prayers.
During the ceremony Grandmamma stood leaning over the back of a chair,
with her head bent down. Near her stood Papa. He turned and smiled at us
as we hurriedly thrust our presents behind our backs and tried to remain
unobserved by the door. The whole effect of a surprise, upon which we had
been counting, was entirely lost. When at last every one had made the sign
of the cross I became intolerably oppressed with a sudden, invincible, and
deadly attack of shyness, so that the courage to, offer my present
completely failed me. I hid myself behind Karl Ivanitch, who solemnly
congratulated Grandmamma and, transferring his box from his right hand to
his left, presented it to her. Then he withdrew a few steps to make way
for Woloda. Grandmamma seemed highly pleased with the box (which was
adorned with a gold border), and smiled in the most friendly manner in
order to express her gratitude. Yet it was evident that, she did not know
where to set the box down, and this probably accounts for the fact that
she handed it to Papa, at the same time bidding him observe how
beautifully it was made.
His curiosity satisfied, Papa handed the box to the priest, who also
seemed particularly delighted with it, and looked with astonishment, first
at the article itself, and then at the artist who could make such
wonderful things. Then Woloda presented his Turk, and received a similarly
flattering ovation on all sides.
It was my turn now, and Grandmamma turned to me with her kindest smile.
Those who have experienced what embarrassment is know that it is a feeling
which grows in direct proportion to delay, while decision decreases in
similar measure. In other words the longer the condition lasts, the more
invincible does it become, and the smaller does the power of decision come
My last remnants of nerve and energy had forsaken me while Karl and Woloda
had been offering their presents, and my shyness now reached its
culminating point, I felt the blood rushing from my heart to my head, one
blush succeeding another across my face, and drops of perspiration
beginning to stand out on my brow and nose. My ears were burning, I
trembled from head to foot, and, though I kept changing from one foot to
the other, I remained rooted where I stood.
“Well, Nicolinka, tell us what you have brought?” said Papa. “Is it a box
or a drawing?”
There was nothing else to be done. With a trembling hand held out the
folded, fatal paper, but my voiced failed me completely and I stood before
Grandmamma in silence. I could not get rid of the dreadful idea that,
instead of a display of the expected drawing, some bad verses of mine were
about to be read aloud before every one, and that the words “our Mother
dear” would clearly prove that I had never loved, but had only forgotten,
her. How shall I express my sufferings when Grandmamma began to read my
poetry aloud?—when, unable to decipher it, she stopped half-way and
looked at Papa with a smile (which I took to be one of ridicule)?—when
she did not pronounce it as I had meant it to be pronounced?—and
when her weak sight not allowing her to finish it, she handed the paper to
Papa and requested him to read it all over again from the beginning? I
fancied that she must have done this last because she did not like to read
such a lot of stupid, crookedly written stuff herself, yet wanted to point
out to Papa my utter lack of feeling. I expected him to slap me in the
face with the verses and say, “You bad boy! So you have forgotten your
Mama! Take that for it!” Yet nothing of the sort happened. On the
contrary, when the whole had been read, Grandmamma said, “Charming!” and
kissed me on the forehead. Then our presents, together with two cambric
pocket-handkerchiefs and a snuff-box engraved with Mama’s portrait, were
laid on the table attached to the great Voltairian arm-chair in which
Grandmamma always sat.
“The Princess Barbara Ilinitsha!” announced one of the two footmen who
used to stand behind Grandmamma’s carriage, but Grandmamma was looking
thoughtfully at the portrait on the snuff-box, and returned no answer.
“Shall I show her in, madam?” repeated the footman.
XVII — THE PRINCESS KORNAKOFF
“Yes, show her in,” said Grandmamma, settling herself as far back in her
arm-chair as possible. The Princess was a woman of about forty-five, small
and delicate, with a shriveled skin and disagreeable, grayish-green eyes,
the expression of which contradicted the unnaturally suave look of the
rest of her face. Underneath her velvet bonnet, adorned with an ostrich
feather, was visible some reddish hair, while against the unhealthy color
of her skin her eyebrows and eyelashes looked even lighter and redder that
they would other wise have done. Yet, for all that, her animated
movements, small hands, and peculiarly dry features communicated something
aristocratic and energetic to her general appearance. She talked a great
deal, and, to judge from her eloquence, belonged to that class of persons
who always speak as though some one were contradicting them, even though
no one else may be saying a word. First she would raise her voice, then
lower it and then take on a fresh access of vivacity as she looked at the
persons present, but not participating in the conversation, with an air of
endeavoring to draw them into it.
Although the Princess kissed Grandmamma’s hand and repeatedly called her
“my good Aunt,” I could see that Grandmamma did not care much about her,
for she kept raising her eyebrows in a peculiar way while listening to the
Princess’s excuses why Prince Michael had been prevented from calling, and
congratulating Grandmamma “as he would like so-much to have done.” At
length, however, she answered the Princess’s French with Russian, and with
a sharp accentuation of certain words.
“I am much obliged to you for your kindness,” she said. “As for Prince
Michael’s absence, pray do not mention it. He has so much else to do.
Besides, what pleasure could he find in coming to see an old woman like
me?” Then, without allowing the Princess time to reply, she went on: “How
are your children my dear?”
“Well, thank God, Aunt, they grow and do their lessons and play—particularly
my eldest one, Etienne, who is so wild that it is almost impossible to
keep him in order. Still, he is a clever and promising boy. Would you
believe it, cousin,” (this last to Papa, since Grandmamma altogether
uninterested in the Princess’s children, had turned to us, taken my verses
out from beneath the presentation box, and unfolded them again), “would
you believe it, but one day not long ago—” and leaning over towards
Papa, the Princess related something or other with great vivacity. Then,
her tale concluded, she laughed, and, with a questioning look at Papa,
“What a boy, cousin! He ought to have been whipped, but the trick was so
spirited and amusing that I let him off.” Then the Princess looked at
Grandmamma and laughed again.
“Ah! So you WHIP your children, do you” said Grandmamma, with a
significant lift of her eyebrows, and laying a peculiar stress on the word
“Alas, my good Aunt,” replied the Princess in a sort of tolerant tone and
with another glance at Papa, “I know your views on the subject, but must
beg to be allowed to differ with them. However much I have thought over
and read and talked about the matter, I have always been forced to come to
the conclusion that children must be ruled through FEAR. To make something
of a child, you must make it FEAR something. Is it not so, cousin? And
what, pray, do children fear so much as a rod?”
As she spoke she seemed, to look inquiringly at Woloda and myself, and I
confess that I did not feel altogether comfortable.
“Whatever you may say,” she went on, “a boy of twelve, or even of
fourteen, is still a child and should be whipped as such; but with girls,
perhaps, it is another matter.”
“How lucky it is that I am not her son!” I thought to myself.
“Oh, very well,” said Grandmamma, folding up my verses and replacing them
beneath the box (as though, after that exposition of views, the Princess
was unworthy of the honor of listening to such a production). “Very well,
my dear,” she repeated “But please tell me how, in return, you can look
for any delicate sensibility from your children?”
Evidently Grandmamma thought this argument unanswerable, for she cut the
subject short by adding:
“However, it is a point on which people must follow their own opinions.”
The Princess did not choose to reply, but smiled condescendingly, and as
though out of indulgence to the strange prejudices of a person whom she
only PRETENDED to revere.
“Oh, by the way, pray introduce me to your young people,” she went on
presently as she threw us another gracious smile.
Thereupon we rose and stood looking at the Princess, without in the least
knowing what we ought to do to show that we were being introduced.
“Kiss the Princess’s hand,” said Papa.
“Well, I hope you will love your old aunt,” she said to Woloda, kissing
his hair, “even though we are not near relatives. But I value friendship
far more than I do degrees of relationship,” she added to Grandmamma, who
nevertheless, remained hostile, and replied:
“Eh, my dear? Is that what they think of relationships nowadays?”
“Here is my man of the world,” put in Papa, indicating Woloda; “and here
is my poet,” he added as I kissed the small, dry hand of the Princess,
with a vivid picture in my mind of that same hand holding a rod and
applying it vigorously.
“WHICH one is the poet?” asked the Princess.
“This little one,” replied Papa, smiling; “the one with the tuft of hair
on his top-knot.”
“Why need he bother about my tuft?” I thought to myself as I retired into
a corner. “Is there nothing else for him to talk about?”
I had strange ideas on manly beauty. I considered Karl Ivanitch one of the
handsomest men in the world, and myself so ugly that I had no need to
deceive myself on that point. Therefore any remark on the subject of my
exterior offended me extremely. I well remember how, one day after
luncheon (I was then six years of age), the talk fell upon my personal
appearance, and how Mama tried to find good features in my face, and said
that I had clever eyes and a charming smile; how, nevertheless, when Papa
had examined me, and proved the contrary, she was obliged to confess that
I was ugly; and how, when the meal was over and I went to pay her my
respects, she said as she patted my cheek; “You know, Nicolinka, nobody
will ever love you for your face alone, so you must try all the more to be
a good and clever boy.”
Although these words of hers confirmed in me my conviction that I was not
handsome, they also confirmed in me an ambition to be just such a boy as
she had indicated. Yet I had my moments of despair at my ugliness, for I
thought that no human being with such a large nose, such thick lips, and
such small gray eyes as mine could ever hope to attain happiness on this
earth. I used to ask God to perform a miracle by changing me into a
beauty, and would have given all that I possessed, or ever hoped to
possess, to have a handsome face.
XVIII — PRINCE IVAN IVANOVITCH
When the Princess had heard my verses and overwhelmed the writer of them
with praise, Grandmamma softened to her a little. She began to address her
in French and to cease calling her “my dear.” Likewise she invited her to
return that evening with her children. This invitation having been
accepted, the Princess took her leave. After that, so many other callers
came to congratulate Grandmamma that the courtyard was crowded all day
long with carriages.
“Good morning, my dear cousin,” was the greeting of one guest in
particular as he entered the room and kissed Grandmamma’s hand. He was a
man of seventy, with a stately figure clad in a military uniform and
adorned with large epaulets, an embroidered collar, and a white cross
round the neck. His face, with its quiet and open expression, as well as
the simplicity and ease of his manners, greatly pleased me, for, in spite
of the thin half-circle of hair which was all that was now left to him,
and the want of teeth disclosed by the set of his upper lip, his face was
a remarkably handsome one.
Thanks to his fine character, handsome exterior, remarkable valor,
influential relatives, and, above all, good fortune, Prince, Ivan
Ivanovitch had early made himself a career. As that career progressed, his
ambition had met with a success which left nothing more to be sought for
in that direction. From his earliest youth upward he had prepared himself
to fill the exalted station in the world to which fate actually called him
later; wherefore, although in his prosperous life (as in the lives of all)
there had been failures, misfortunes, and cares, he had never lost his
quietness of character, his elevated tone of thought, or his peculiarly
moral, religious bent of mind. Consequently, though he had won the
universal esteem of his fellows, he had done so less through his important
position than through his perseverance and integrity. While not of
specially distinguished intellect, the eminence of his station (whence he
could afford to look down upon all petty questions) had caused him to
adopt high points of view. Though in reality he was kind and sympathetic,
in manner he appeared cold and haughty—probably for the reason that
he had forever to be on his guard against the endless claims and petitions
of people who wished to profit through his influence. Yet even then his
coldness was mitigated by the polite condescension of a man well
accustomed to move in the highest circles of society. Well-educated, his
culture was that of a youth of the end of the last century. He had read
everything, whether philosophy or belles lettres, which that age had
produced in France, and loved to quote from Racine, Corneille, Boileau,
Moliere, Montaigne, and Fenelon. Likewise he had gleaned much history from
Segur, and much of the old classics from French translations of them; but
for mathematics, natural philosophy, or contemporary literature he cared
nothing whatever. However, he knew how to be silent in conversation, as
well as when to make general remarks on authors whom he had never read—such
as Goethe, Schiller, and Byron. Moreover, despite his exclusively French
education, he was simple in speech and hated originality (which he called
the mark of an untutored nature). Wherever he lived, society was a
necessity to him, and, both in Moscow and the country he had his reception
days, on which practically “all the town” called upon him. An introduction
from him was a passport to every drawing-room; few young and pretty ladies
in society objected to offering him their rosy cheeks for a paternal
salute; and people even in the highest positions felt flattered by
invitations to his parties.
The Prince had few friends left now like Grandmamma—that is to say,
few friends who were of the same standing as himself, who had had the same
sort of education, and who saw things from the same point of view:
wherefore he greatly valued his intimate, long-standing friendship with
her, and always showed her the highest respect.
I hardly dared to look at the Prince, since the honor paid him on all
sides, the huge epaulets, the peculiar pleasure with which Grandmamma
received him, and the fact that he alone, seemed in no way afraid of her,
but addressed her with perfect freedom (even being so daring as to call
her “cousin”), awakened in me a feeling of reverence for his person almost
equal to that which I felt for Grandmamma herself.
On being shown my verses, he called me to his side, and said:
“Who knows, my cousin, but that he may prove to be a second Derzhavin?”
Nevertheless he pinched my cheek so hard that I was only prevented from
crying by the thought that it must be meant for a caress.
Gradually the other guests dispersed, and with them Papa and Woloda. Thus
only Grandmamma, the Prince, and myself were left in the drawing-room.
“Why has our dear Natalia Nicolaevna not come to-day” asked the Prince
after a silence.
“Ah, my friend,” replied Grandmamma, lowering her voice and laying a hand
upon the sleeve of his uniform, “she would certainly have come if she had
been at liberty to do what she likes. She wrote to me that Peter had
proposed bringing her with him to town, but that she had refused, since
their income had not been good this year, and she could see no real reason
why the whole family need come to Moscow, seeing that Lubotshka was as yet
very young and that the boys were living with me—a fact, she said,
which made her feel as safe about them as though she had been living with
“True, it is good for the boys to be here,” went on Grandmamma, yet in a
tone which showed clearly that she did not think it was so very good,
“since it was more than time that they should be sent to Moscow to study,
as well as to learn how to comport themselves in society. What sort of an
education could they have got in the country? The eldest boy will soon be
thirteen, and the second one eleven. As yet, my cousin, they are quite
untaught, and do not know even how to enter a room.”
“Nevertheless” said the Prince, “I cannot understand these complaints of
ruined fortunes. He has a very handsome income, and Natalia has
Chabarovska, where we used to act plays, and which I know as well as I do
my own hand. It is a splendid property, and ought to bring in an excellent
“Well,” said Grandmamma with a sad expression on her face, “I do not mind
telling you, as my most intimate friend, that all this seems to me a mere
pretext on his part for living alone, for strolling about from club to
club, for attending dinner-parties, and for resorting to—well, who
knows what? She suspects nothing; you know her angelic sweetness and her
implicit trust of him in everything. He had only to tell her that the
children must go to Moscow and that she must be left behind in the country
with a stupid governess for company, for her to believe him! I almost
think that if he were to say that the children must be whipped just as the
Princess Barbara whips hers, she would believe even that!” and Grandmamma
leaned back in her arm-chair with an expression of contempt. Then, after a
moment of silence, during which she took her handkerchief out of her
pocket to wipe away a few tears which had stolen down her cheeks, she
“Yes, my friend, I often think that he cannot value and understand her
properly, and that, for all her goodness and love of him and her
endeavors to conceal her grief (which, however as I know only too well,
exists). She cannot really be happy with him. Mark my words if he does not—”
Here Grandmamma buried her face in the handkerchief.
“Ah, my dear old friend,” said the Prince reproachfully. “I think you are
unreasonable. Why grieve and weep over imagined evils? That is not right.
I have known him a long time, and feel sure that he is an attentive, kind,
and excellent husband, as well as (which is the chief thing of all) a
perfectly honorable man.”
At this point, having been an involuntary auditor of a conversation not
meant for my ears, I stole on tiptoe out of the room, in a state of great
XIX — THE IWINS
“Woloda, Woloda! The Iwins are just coming.” I shouted on seeing from the
window three boys in blue overcoats, and followed by a young tutor,
advancing along the pavement opposite our house.
The Iwins were related to us, and of about the same age as ourselves. We
had made their acquaintance soon after our arrival in Moscow. The second
brother, Seriosha, had dark curly hair, a turned-up, strongly pronounced
nose, very bright red lips (which, never being quite shut, showed a row of
white teeth), beautiful dark-blue eyes, and an uncommonly bold expression
of face. He never smiled but was either wholly serious or laughing a
clear, merry, agreeable laugh. His striking good looks had captivated me
from the first, and I felt an irresistible attraction towards him. Only to
see him filled me with pleasure, and at one time my whole mental faculties
used to be concentrated in the wish that I might do so. If three or four
days passed without my seeing him I felt listless and ready to cry. Awake
or asleep, I was forever dreaming of him. On going to bed I used to see
him in my dreams, and when I had shut my eyes and called up a picture of
him I hugged the vision as my choicest delight. So much store did I set
upon this feeling for my friend that I never mentioned it to any one.
Nevertheless, it must have annoyed him to see my admiring eyes constantly
fixed upon him, or else he must have felt no reciprocal attraction, for he
always preferred to play and talk with Woloda. Still, even with that I
felt satisfied, and wished and asked for nothing better than to be ready
at any time to make any sacrifice for him. Likewise, over and above the
strange fascination which he exercised upon me, I always felt another
sensation, namely, a dread of making him angry, of offending him, of
displeasing him. Was this because his face bore such a haughty expression,
or because I, despising my own exterior, over-rated the beautiful in
others, or, lastly (and most probably), because it is a common sign of
affection? At all events, I felt as much fear, of him as I did love. The
first time that he spoke to me I was so overwhelmed with sudden happiness
that I turned pale, then red, and could not utter a word. He had an ugly
habit of blinking when considering anything seriously, as well as of
twitching his nose and eyebrows. Consequently every one thought that this
habit marred his face. Yet I thought it such a nice one that I
involuntarily adopted it for myself, until, a few days after I had made
his acquaintance, Grandmamma suddenly asked me whether my eyes were
hurting me, since I was winking like an owl! Never a word of affection
passed between us, yet he felt his power over me, and unconsciously but
tyrannically, exercised it in all our childish intercourse. I used to long
to tell him all that was in my heart, yet was too much afraid of him to be
frank in any way, and, while submitting myself to his will, tried to
appear merely careless and indifferent. Although at times his influence
seemed irksome and intolerable, to throw it off was beyond my strength.
I often think with regret of that fresh, beautiful feeling of boundless,
disinterested love which came to an end without having ever found
self-expression or return. It is strange how, when a child, I always
longed to be like grown-up people, and yet how I have often longed, since
childhood’s days, for those days to come back to me! Many times, in my
relations with Seriosha, this wish to resemble grown-up people put a rude
check upon the love that was waiting to expand, and made me repress it.
Not only was I afraid of kissing him, or of taking his hand and saying how
glad I was to see him, but I even dreaded calling him “Seriosha” and
always said “Sergius” as every one else did in our house. Any expression
of affection would have seemed like evidence of childishness, and any one
who indulged in it, a baby. Not having yet passed through those bitter
experiences which enforce upon older years circumspection and coldness, I
deprived myself of the pure delight of a fresh, childish instinct for the
absurd purpose of trying to resemble grown-up people.
I met the Iwins in the ante-room, welcomed them, and then ran to tell
Grandmamma of their arrival with an expression as happy as though she were
certain to be equally delighted. Then, never taking my eyes off Seriosha,
I conducted the visitors to the drawing-room, and eagerly followed every
movement of my favorite. When Grandmamma spoke to and fixed her
penetrating glance upon him, I experienced that mingled sensation of pride
and solicitude which an artist might feel when waiting for revered lips to
pronounce a judgment upon his work.
With Grandmamma’s permission, the Iwins’ young tutor, Herr Frost,
accompanied us into the little back garden, where he seated himself upon a
bench, arranged his legs in a tasteful attitude, rested his brass-knobbed
cane between them, lighted a cigar, and assumed the air of a man
well-pleased with himself. He was a German, but of a very different sort
to our good Karl Ivanitch. In the first place, he spoke both Russian and
French correctly, though with a hard accent Indeed, he enjoyed—especially
among the ladies—the reputation of being a very accomplished fellow.
In the second place, he wore a reddish mustache, a large gold pin set
with a ruby, a black satin tie, and a very fashionable suit. Lastly, he
was young, with a handsome, self-satisfied face and fine muscular legs. It
was clear that he set the greatest store upon the latter, and thought them
beyond compare, especially as regards the favor of the ladies.
Consequently, whether sitting or standing, he always tried to exhibit them
in the most favorable light. In short, he was a type of the young
German-Russian whose main desire is to be thought perfectly gallant and
In the little garden merriment reigned. In fact, the game of “robbers”
never went better. Yet an incident occurred which came near to spoiling
it. Seriosha was the robber, and in pouncing upon some travelers he fell
down and knocked his leg so badly against a tree that I thought the leg
must be broken. Consequently, though I was the gendarme and therefore
bound to apprehend him, I only asked him anxiously, when I reached him, if
he had hurt himself very much. Nevertheless this threw him into a passion,
and made him exclaim with fists clenched and in a voice which showed by
its faltering what pain he was enduring, “Why, whatever is the matter? Is
this playing the game properly? You ought to arrest me. Why on earth don’t
you do so?” This he repeated several times, and then, seeing Woloda and
the elder Iwin (who were taking the part of the travelers) jumping and
running about the path, he suddenly threw himself upon them with a shout
and loud laughter to effect their capture. I cannot express my wonder and
delight at this valiant behavior of my hero. In spite of the severe pain,
he had not only refrained from crying, but had repressed the least symptom
of suffering and kept his eye fixed upon the game! Shortly after this
occurrence another boy, Ilinka Grap, joined our party. We went upstairs,
and Seriosha gave me an opportunity of still further appreciating and
taking delight in his manly bravery and fortitude. This was how it was.
Ilinka was the son of a poor foreigner who had been under certain
obligations to my Grandpapa, and now thought it incumbent upon him to send
his son to us as frequently as possible. Yet if he thought that the
acquaintance would procure his son any advancement or pleasure, he was
entirely mistaken, for not only were we anything but friendly to Ilinka,
but it was seldom that we noticed him at all except to laugh at him. He
was a boy of thirteen, tall and thin, with a pale, birdlike face, and a
quiet, good-tempered expression. Though poorly dressed, he always had his
head so thickly pomaded that we used to declare that on warm days it
melted and ran down his neck. When I think of him now, it seems to me that
he was a very quiet, obliging, and good-tempered boy, but at the time I
thought him a creature so contemptible that he was not worth either
attention or pity.
Upstairs we set ourselves to astonish each other with gymnastic tours de
force. Ilinka watched us with a faint smile of admiration, but refused an
invitation to attempt a similar feat, saying that he had no strength.
Seriosha was extremely captivating. His face and eyes glowed with laughter
as he surprised us with tricks which we had never seen before. He jumped
over three chairs put together, turned somersaults right across the room,
and finally stood on his head on a pyramid of Tatistchev’s dictionaries,
moving his legs about with such comical rapidity that it was impossible
not to help bursting with merriment.
After this last trick he pondered for a moment (blinking his eyes as
usual), and then went up to Ilinka with a very serious face.
“Try and do that,” he said. “It is not really difficult.”
Ilinka, observing that the general attention was fixed upon him, blushed,
and said in an almost inaudible voice that he could not do the feat.
“Well, what does he mean by doing nothing at all? What a girl the fellow
is! He has just GOT to stand on his head,” and Seriosha, took him by the
“Yes, on your head at once! This instant, this instant!” every one shouted
as we ran upon Ilinka and dragged him to the dictionaries, despite his
being visibly pale and frightened.
“Leave me alone! You are tearing my jacket!” cried the unhappy victim, but
his exclamations of despair only encouraged us the more. We were dying
with laughter, while the green jacket was bursting at every seam.
Woloda and the eldest Iwin took his head and placed it on the
dictionaries, while Seriosha, and I seized his poor, thin legs (his
struggles had stripped them upwards to the knees), and with boisterous,
laughter held them uptight—the youngest Iwin superintending his
Suddenly a moment of silence occurred amid our boisterous laughter—a
moment during which nothing was to be heard in the room but the panting of
the miserable Ilinka. It occurred to me at that moment that, after all,
there was nothing so very comical and pleasant in all this.
“Now, THAT’S a boy!” cried Seriosha, giving Ilinka a smack with his hand.
Ilinka said nothing, but made such desperate movements with his legs to
free himself that his foot suddenly kicked Seriosha in the eye: with the
result that, letting go of Ilinka’s leg and covering the wounded member
with one hand, Seriosha hit out at him with all his might with the other
one. Of course Ilinka’s legs slipped down as, sinking exhausted to the
floor and half-suffocated with tears, he stammered out:
“Why should you bully me so?”
The poor fellow’s miserable figure, with its streaming tears, ruffled
hair, and crumpled trousers revealing dirty boots, touched us a little,
and we stood silent and trying to smile.
Seriosha was the first to recover himself.
“What a girl! What a gaby!” he said, giving Ilinka a slight kick. “He
can’t take things in fun a bit. Well, get up, then.”
“You are an utter beast! That’s what YOU are!” said Ilinka, turning
miserably away and sobbing.
“Oh, oh! Would it still kick and show temper, then?” cried Seriosha,
seizing a dictionary and throwing it at the unfortunate boy’s head.
Apparently it never occurred to Ilinka to take refuge from the missile; he
merely guarded his head with his hands.
“Well, that’s enough now,” added Seriosha, with a forced laugh. “You
DESERVE to be hurt if you can’t take things in fun. Now let’s go
I could not help looking with some compassion at the miserable creature on
the floor as, his face buried in the dictionary, he lay there sobbing
almost as though he were in a fit.
“Oh, Sergius!” I said. “Why have you done this?”
“Well, you did it too! Besides, I did not cry this afternoon when I
knocked my leg and nearly broke it.”
“True enough,” I thought. “Ilinka is a poor whining sort of a chap, while
Seriosha is a boy—a REAL boy.”
It never occurred to my mind that possibly poor Ilinka was suffering far
less from bodily pain than from the thought that five companions for whom
he may have felt a genuine liking had, for no reason at all, combined to
hurt and humiliate him.
I cannot explain my cruelty on this occasion. Why did I not step forward
to comfort and protect him? Where was the pitifulness which often made me
burst into tears at the sight of a young bird fallen from its nest, or of
a puppy being thrown over a wall, or of a chicken being killed by the cook
Can it be that the better instinct in me was overshadowed by my affection
for Seriosha and the desire to shine before so brave a boy? If so, how
contemptible were both the affection and the desire! They alone form dark
spots on the pages of my youthful recollections.
XX — PREPARATIONS FOR THE PARTY
To judge from the extraordinary activity in the pantry, the shining
cleanliness which imparted such a new and festal guise to certain articles
in the salon and drawing-room which I had long known as anything but
resplendent, and the arrival of some musicians whom Prince Ivan would
certainly not have sent for nothing, no small amount of company was to be
expected that evening.
At the sound of every vehicle which chanced to pass the house I ran to the
window, leaned my head upon my arms, and peered with impatient curiosity
into the street.
At last a carriage stopped at our door, and, in the full belief that this
must be the Iwins, who had promised to come early, I at once ran
downstairs to meet them in the hall.
But, instead of the Iwins, I beheld from behind the figure of the footman
who opened the door two female figures-one tall and wrapped in a blue
cloak trimmed with marten, and the other one short and wrapped in a green
shawl from beneath which a pair of little feet, stuck into fur boots,
Without paying any attention to my presence in the hall (although I
thought it my duty, on the appearance of these persons to salute them),
the shorter one moved towards the taller, and stood silently in front of
her. Thereupon the tall lady untied the shawl which enveloped the head of
the little one, and unbuttoned the cloak which hid her form; until, by the
time that the footmen had taken charge of these articles and removed the
fur boots, there stood forth from the amorphous chrysalis a charming girl
of twelve, dressed in a short muslin frock, white pantaloons, and smart
black satin shoes. Around her, white neck she wore a narrow black velvet
ribbon, while her head was covered with flaxen curls which so perfectly
suited her beautiful face in front and her bare neck and shoulders behind
that I, would have believed nobody, not even Karl Ivanitch, if he, or she
had told me that they only hung so nicely because, ever since the morning,
they had been screwed up in fragments of a Moscow newspaper and then
warmed with a hot iron. To me it seemed as though she must have been born
with those curls.
The most prominent feature in her face was a pair of unusually large
half-veiled eyes, which formed a strange, but pleasing, contrast to the
small mouth. Her lips were closed, while her eyes looked so grave that the
general expression of her face gave one the impression that a smile was
never to be looked for from her: wherefore, when a smile did come, it was
all the more pleasing.
Trying to escape notice, I slipped through the door of the salon, and then
thought it necessary to be seen pacing to and fro, seemingly engaged in
thought, as though unconscious of the arrival of guests.
BY the time, however, that the ladies had advanced to the middle of the
salon I seemed suddenly to awake from my reverie and told them that
Grandmamma was in the drawing room, Madame Valakhin, whose face pleased me
extremely (especially since it bore a great resemblance to her
daughter’s), stroked my head kindly.
Grandmamma seemed delighted to see Sonetchka. She invited her to come to
her, put back a curl which had fallen over her brow, and looking earnestly
at her said, “What a charming child!”
Sonetchka blushed, smiled, and, indeed, looked so charming that I myself
blushed as I looked at her.
“I hope you are going to enjoy yourself here, my love,” said Grandmamma.
“Pray be as merry and dance as much as ever you can. See, we have two
beaux for her already,” she added, turning to Madame Valakhin, and
stretching out her hand to me.
This coupling of Sonetchka and myself pleased me so much that I blushed
Feeling, presently, that, my embarrassment was increasing, and hearing the
sound of carriages approaching, I thought it wise to retire. In the hall I
encountered the Princess Kornakoff, her son, and an incredible number of
daughters. They had all of them the same face as their mother, and were
very ugly. None of them arrested my attention. They talked in shrill tones
as they took off their cloaks and boas, and laughed as they bustled about—probably
at the fact that there were so many of them!
Etienne was a boy of fifteen, tall and plump, with a sharp face, deep-set
bluish eyes, and very large hands and feet for his age. Likewise he was
awkward, and had a nervous, unpleasing voice. Nevertheless he seemed very
pleased with himself, and was, in my opinion, a boy who could well bear
being beaten with rods.
For a long time we confronted one another without speaking as we took
stock of each other. When the flood of dresses had swept past I made shift
to begin a conversation by asking him whether it had not been very close
in the carriage.
“I don’t know,” he answered indifferently. “I never ride inside it, for it
makes me feel sick directly, and Mama knows that. Whenever we are driving
anywhere at nighttime I always sit on the box. I like that, for then one
sees everything. Philip gives me the reins, and sometimes the whip too,
and then the people inside get a regular—well, you know,” he added
with a significant gesture “It’s splendid then.”
“Master Etienne,” said a footman, entering the hall, “Philip wishes me to
ask you where you put the whip.”
“Where I put it? Why, I gave it back to him.”
“But he says that you did not.”
“Well, I laid it across the carriage-lamps!”
“No, sir, he says that you did not do that either. You had better confess
that you took it and lashed it to shreds. I suppose poor Philip will have
to make good your mischief out of his own pocket.” The footman (who looked
a grave and honest man) seemed much put out by the affair, and determined
to sift it to the bottom on Philip’s behalf.
Out of delicacy I pretended to notice nothing and turned aside, but the
other footmen present gathered round and looked approvingly at the old
“Hmm—well, I DID tear it in pieces,” at length confessed Etienne,
shrinking from further explanations. “However, I will pay for it. Did you
ever hear anything so absurd?” he added to me as he drew me towards the
“But excuse me, sir; HOW are you going to pay for it? I know your ways of
paying. You have owed Maria Valericana twenty kopecks these eight months
now, and you have owed me something for two years, and Peter for—”
“Hold your tongue, will you!” shouted the young fellow, pale with rage, “I
shall report you for this.”
“Oh, you may do so,” said the footman. “Yet it is not fair, your
highness,” he added, with a peculiar stress on the title, as he departed
with the ladies’ wraps to the cloak-room. We ourselves entered the salon.
“Quite right, footman,” remarked someone approvingly from the ball behind
Grandmamma had a peculiar way of employing, now the second person
singular, now the second person plural, in order to indicate her opinion
of people. When the young Prince Etienne went up to her she addressed him
as “YOU,” and altogether looked at him with such an expression of contempt
that, had I been in his place, I should have been utterly crestfallen.
Etienne, however, was evidently not a boy of that sort, for he not only
took no notice of her reception of him, but none of her person either. In
fact, he bowed to the company at large in a way which, though not
graceful, was at least free from embarrassment.
Sonetchka now claimed my whole attention. I remember that, as I stood in
the salon with Etienne and Woloda, at a spot whence we could both see and
be seen by Sonetchka, I took great pleasure in talking very loud (and all
my utterances seemed to me both bold and comical) and glancing towards the
door of the drawing-room, but that, as soon as ever we happened to move to
another spot whence we could neither see nor be seen by her, I became
dumb, and thought the conversation had ceased to be enjoyable. The rooms
were now full of people—among them (as at all children’s parties) a
number of elder children who wished to dance and enjoy themselves very
much, but who pretended to do everything merely in order to give pleasure
to the mistress of the house.
When the Iwins arrived I found that, instead of being as delighted as
usual to meet Seriosha, I felt a kind of vexation that he should see and
be seen by Sonetchka.
XXI — BEFORE THE MAZURKA
“HULLO, Woloda! So we are going to dance to-night,” said Seriosha, issuing
from the drawing-room and taking out of his pocket a brand new pair of
gloves. “I suppose it IS necessary to put on gloves?”
“Goodness! What shall I do? We have no gloves,” I thought to myself. “I
must go upstairs and search about.” Yet though I rummaged in every drawer,
I only found, in one of them, my green traveling mittens, and, in
another, a single lilac-colored glove, a thing which could be of no use
to me, firstly, because it was very old and dirty, secondly, because it
was much too large for me, and thirdly (and principally), because the
middle finger was wanting—Karl having long ago cut it off to wear
over a sore nail.
However, I put it on—not without some diffident contemplation of the
blank left by the middle finger and of the ink-stained edges round the
“If only Natalia Savishna had been here,” I reflected, “we should
certainly have found some gloves. I can’t go downstairs in this condition.
Yet, if they ask me why I am not dancing, what am I to say? However, I
can’t remain here either, or they will be sending upstairs to fetch me.
What on earth am I to do?” and I wrung my hands.
“What are you up to here?” asked Woloda as he burst into the room. “Go and
engage a partner. The dancing will be beginning directly.”
“Woloda,” I said despairingly, as I showed him my hand with two fingers
thrust into a single finger of the dirty glove, “Woloda, you, never
thought of this.”
“Of what?” he said impatiently. “Oh, of gloves,” he added with a careless
glance at my hand. “That’s nothing. We can ask Grandmamma what she thinks
about it,” and without further ado he departed downstairs. I felt a trifle
relieved by the coolness with which he had met a situation which seemed to
me so grave, and hastened back to the drawing-room, completely forgetful
of the unfortunate glove which still adorned my left hand.
Cautiously approaching Grandmamma’s arm-chair, I asked her in a whisper:
“Grandmamma, what are we to do? We have no gloves.”
“What, my love?”
“We have no gloves,” I repeated, at the same time bending over towards her
and laying both hands on the arm of her chair.
“But what is that?” she cried as she caught hold of my left hand. “Look,
my dear!” she continued, turning to Madame Valakhin. “See how smart this
young man has made himself to dance with your daughter!”
As Grandmamma persisted in retaining hold of my hand and gazing with a
mock air of gravity and interrogation at all around her, curiosity was
soon aroused, and a general roar of laughter ensued.
I should have been infuriated at the thought that Seriosha was present to
see this, as I scowled with embarrassment and struggled hard to free my
hand, had it not been that somehow Sonetchka’s laughter (and she was
laughing to such a degree that the tears were standing in her eyes and the
curls dancing about her lovely face) took away my feeling of humiliation.
I felt that her laughter was not satirical, but only natural and free; so
that, as we laughed together and looked at one another, there seemed to
begin a kind of sympathy between us. Instead of turning out badly,
therefore, the episode of the glove served only to set me at my ease among
the dreaded circle of guests, and to make me cease to feel oppressed with
shyness. The sufferings of shy people proceed only from the doubts which
they feel concerning the opinions of their fellows. No sooner are those
opinions expressed (whether flattering or the reverse) than the agony
How lovely Sonetchka looked when she was dancing a quadrille as my
vis-a-vis, with, as her partner, the loutish Prince Etienne! How
charmingly she smiled when, en chaine, she accorded me her hand! How
gracefully the curls, around her head nodded to the rhythm, and how
naively she executed the jete assemble with her little feet!
In the fifth figure, when my partner had to leave me for the other side
and I, counting the beats, was getting ready to dance my solo, she pursed
her lips gravely and looked in another direction; but her fears for me
were groundless. Boldly I performed the chasse en avant and chasse en
arriere glissade, until, when it came to my turn to move towards her and
I, with a comic gesture, showed her the poor glove with its crumpled
fingers, she laughed heartily, and seemed to move her tiny feet more
enchantingly than ever over the parquetted floor.
How well I remember how we formed the circle, and how, without withdrawing
her hand from mine, she scratched her little nose with her glove! All this
I can see before me still. Still can I hear the quadrille from “The Maids
of the Danube” to which we danced that night.
The second quadrille, I danced with Sonetchka herself; yet when we went to
sit down together during the interval, I felt overcome with shyness and as
though I had nothing to say. At last, when my silence had lasted so long
that I began to be afraid that she would think me a stupid boy, I decided
at all hazards to counteract such a notion.
“Vous etes une habitante de Moscou?” I began, and, on receiving an
affirmative answer, continued. “Et moi, je n’ai encore jamais frequente la
capitale” (with a particular emphasis on the word “frequente”). Yet I felt
that, brilliant though this introduction might be as evidence of my
profound knowledge of the French language, I could not long keep up the
conversation in that manner. Our turn for dancing had not yet arrived, and
silence again ensued between us. I kept looking anxiously at her in the
hope both of discerning what impression I had produced and of her coming
to my aid.
“Where did you get that ridiculous glove of yours?” she asked me all of a
sudden, and the question afforded me immense satisfaction and relief. I
replied that the glove belonged to Karl Ivanitch, and then went on to
speak ironically of his appearance, and to describe how comical he looked
in his red cap, and how he and his green coat had once fallen plump off a
horse into a pond.
The quadrille was soon over. Yet why had I spoken ironically of poor Karl
Ivanitch? Should I, forsooth, have sunk in Sonetchka’s esteem if, on the
contrary, I had spoken of him with the love and respect which I
undoubtedly bore him?
The quadrille ended, Sonetchka said, “Thank you,” with as lovely an
expression on her face as though I had really conferred, upon her a
favor. I was delighted. In fact I hardly knew myself for joy and could
not think whence I derived such case and confidence and even daring.
“Nothing in the world can abash me now,” I thought as I wandered
carelessly about the salon. “I am ready for anything.”
Just then Seriosha came and requested me to be his vis-a-vis.
“Very well,” I said. “I have no partner as yet, but I can soon find one.”
Glancing round the salon with a confident eye, I saw that every lady was
engaged save one—a tall girl standing near the drawing-room door.
Yet a grown-up young man was approaching her-probably for the same purpose
as myself! He was but two steps from her, while I was at the further end
of the salon. Doing a glissade over the polished floor, I covered the
intervening space, and in a brave, firm voice asked the favor of her hand
in the quadrille. Smiling with a protecting air, the young lady accorded
me her hand, and the tall young man was left without a partner. I felt so
conscious of my strength that I paid no attention to his irritation,
though I learned later that he had asked somebody who the awkward, untidy
boy was who, had taken away his lady from him.
XXII — THE MAZURKA
AFTERWARDS the same young man formed one of the first couple in a mazurka.
He sprang to his feet, took his partner’s hand, and then, instead of
executing the pas de Basques which Mimi had taught us, glided forward till
he arrived at a corner of the room, stopped, divided his feet, turned on
his heels, and, with a spring, glided back again. I, who had found no
partner for this particular dance and was sitting on the arm of
Grandmamma’s chair, thought to myself:
“What on earth is he doing? That is not what Mimi taught us. And there are
the Iwins and Etienne all dancing in the same way-without the pas de
Basques! Ah! and there is Woloda too! He too is adopting the new style,
and not so badly either. And there is Sonetchka, the lovely one! Yes,
there she comes!” I felt immensely happy at that moment.
The mazurka came to an end, and already some of the guests were saying
good-bye to Grandmamma. She was evidently tired, yet she assured them that
she felt vexed at their early departure. Servants were gliding about with
plates and trays among the dancers, and the musicians were carelessly
playing the same tune for about the thirteenth time in succession, when
the young lady whom I had danced with before, and who was just about to
join in another mazurka, caught sight of me, and, with a kindly smile, led
me to Sonetchka. And one of the innumerable Kornakoff princesses, at the
same time asking me, “Rose or Hortie?”
“Ah, so it’s YOU!” said Grandmamma as she turned round in her armchair.
“Go and dance, then, my boy.”
Although I would fain have taken refuge behind the armchair rather than
leave its shelter, I could not refuse; so I got up, said, “Rose,” and
looked at Sonetchka. Before I had time to realize it, however, a hand in a
white glove laid itself on mine, and the Kornakoff girl stepped forth with
a pleased smile and evidently no suspicion that I was ignorant of the
steps of the dance. I only knew that the pas de Basques (the only figure
of it which I had been taught) would be out of place. However, the strains
of the mazurka falling upon my ears, and imparting their usual impulse to
my acoustic nerves (which, in their turn, imparted their usual impulse to
my feet), I involuntarily, and to the amazement of the spectators, began
executing on tiptoe the sole (and fatal) pas which I had been taught.
So long as we went straight ahead I kept fairly right, but when it came to
turning I saw that I must make preparations to arrest my course.
Accordingly, to avoid any appearance of awkwardness, I stopped short, with
the intention of imitating the “wheel about” which I had seen the young
man perform so neatly.
Unfortunately, just as I divided my feet and prepared to make a spring,
the Princess Kornakoff looked sharply round at my legs with such an
expression of stupefied amazement and curiosity that the glance undid me.
Instead of continuing to dance, I remained moving my legs up and down on
the same spot, in a sort of extraordinary fashion which bore no relation
whatever either to form or rhythm. At last I stopped altogether. Every-one
was looking at me—some with curiosity, some with astonishment, some
with disdain, and some with compassion, Grandmamma alone seemed unmoved.
“You should not dance if you don’t know the step,” said Papa’s angry voice
in my ear as, pushing me gently aside, he took my partner’s hand,
completed the figures with her to the admiration of every one, and finally
led her back to, her place. The mazurka was at an end.
Ah me! What had I done to be punished so heavily?
“Every one despises me, and will always despise me,” I thought to myself.
“The way is closed for me to friendship, love, and fame! All, all is
Why had Woloda made signs to me which every one saw, yet which could in no
way help me? Why had that disgusting princess looked at my legs? Why had
Sonetchka—she was a darling, of course!—yet why, oh why, had
she smiled at that moment?
Why had Papa turned red and taken my hand? Can it be that he was ashamed
Oh, it was dreadful! Alas, if only Mama had been there she would never
have blushed for her Nicolinka!
How on the instant that dear image led my imagination captive! I seemed to
see once more the meadow before our house, the tall lime-trees in the
garden, the clear pond where the ducks swain, the blue sky dappled with
white clouds, the sweet-smelling ricks of hay. How those memories—aye,
and many another quiet, beloved recollection—floated through my mind
at that time!
XXIII — AFTER THE MAZURKA
At supper the young man whom I have mentioned seated himself beside me at
the children’s table, and treated me with an amount of attention which
would have flattered my self-esteem had I been able, after the occurrence
just related, to give a thought to anything beyond my failure in the
mazurka. However, the young man seemed determined to cheer me up. He
jested, called me “old boy,” and finally (since none of the elder folks
were looking at us) began to help me to wine, first from one bottle and
then from another and to force me to drink it off quickly.
By the time (towards the end of supper) that a servant had poured me out a
quarter of a glass of champagne, and the young man had straightway bid him
fill it up and urged me to drink the beverage off at a draft, I had
begun to feel a grateful warmth diffusing itself through my body. I also
felt well-disposed towards my kind patron, and began to laugh heartily at
everything. Suddenly the music of the Grosvater dance struck up, and every
one rushed from the table. My friendship with the young man had now
outlived its day; so, whereas he joined a group of the older folks, I
approached Madame Valakhin to hear what she and her daughter had to say to
“Just HALF-an-hour more?” Sonetchka was imploring her.
“Impossible, my dearest.”
“Yet, only to please me—just this ONCE?” Sonetchka went on
“Well, what if I should be ill to-morrow through all this dissipation?”
rejoined her mother, and was incautious enough to smile.
“There! You DO consent, and we CAN stay after all!” exclaimed Sonetchka,
jumping for joy.
“What is to be done with such a girl?” said Madame. “Well, run away and
dance. See,” she added on perceiving myself, “here is a cavalier ready
waiting for you.”
Sonetchka gave me her hand, and we darted off to the salon. The wine,
added to Sonetchka’s presence and gaiety, had at once made me forget all
about the unfortunate end of the mazurka. I kept executing the most
splendid feats with my legs—now imitating a horse as he throws out
his hoofs in the trot, now stamping like a sheep infuriated at a dog, and
all the while laughing regardless of appearances.
Sonetchka also laughed unceasingly, whether we were whirling round in a
circle or whether we stood still to watch an old lady whose painful
movements with her feet showed the difficulty she had in walking. Finally
Sonetchka nearly died of merriment when I jumped half-way to the ceiling
in proof of my skill.
As I passed a mirror in Grandmamma’s boudoir and glanced at myself I could
see that my face was all in a perspiration and my hair disheveled—the
top-knot, in particular, being more erect than ever. Yet my general
appearance looked so happy, healthy, and good-tempered that I felt wholly
pleased with myself.
“If I were always as I am now,” I thought, “I might yet be able to please
people with my looks.” Yet as soon as I glanced at my partner’s face
again, and saw there not only the expression of happiness, health, and
good temper which had just pleased me in my own, but also a fresh and
enchanting beauty besides, I felt dissatisfied with myself again. I
understood how silly of me it was to hope to attract the attention of such
a wonderful being as Sonetchka. I could not hope for reciprocity—could
not even think of it, yet my heart was overflowing with happiness. I could
not imagine that the feeling of love which was filling my soul so
pleasantly could require any happiness still greater, or wish for more
than that that happiness should never cease. I felt perfectly contented.
My heart beat like that of a dove, with the blood constantly flowing back
to it, and I almost wept for joy.
As we passed through the hall and peered into a little dark store-room
beneath the staircase I thought: “What bliss it would be if I could pass
the rest of my life with her in that dark corner, and never let anybody
know that we were there!”
“It HAS been a delightful evening, hasn’t it?” I asked her in a low,
tremulous voice. Then I quickened my steps—as much out of fear of
what I had said as out of fear of what I had meant to imply.
“Yes, VERY!” she answered, and turned her face to look at me with an
expression so kind that I ceased to be afraid. I went on:
“Particularly since supper. Yet if you could only know how I regret” (I
had nearly said) “how miserable I am at your going, and to think that we
shall see each other no more!”
“But why SHOULDN’T we?” she asked, looking gravely at the corner of her
pocket-handkerchief, and gliding her fingers over a latticed screen which
we were passing. “Every Tuesday and Friday I go with Mama to the Iverskoi
Prospect. I suppose you go for walks too sometimes?”
“Well, certainly I shall ask to go for one next Tuesday, and, if they
won’t take me I shall go by myself—even without my hat, if
necessary. I know the way all right.”
“Do you know what I have just thought of?” she went on. “You know, I call
some of the boys who come to see us THOU. Shall you and I call each other
THOU too? Wilt THOU?” she added, bending her head towards me and looking
me straight in the eyes.
At this moment a more lively section of the Grosvater dance began.
“Give me your hand,” I said, under the impression that the music and din
would drown my exact words, but she smilingly replied, “THY hand, not YOUR
hand.” Yet the dance was over before I had succeeded in saying THOU, even
though I kept conning over phrases in which the pronoun could be employed—and
employed more than once. All that I wanted was the courage to say it.
“Wilt THOU?” and “THY hand” sounded continually in my ears, and caused in
me a kind of intoxication I could hear and see nothing but Sonetchka. I
watched her mother take her curls, lay them flat behind her ears (thus
disclosing portions of her forehead and temples which I had not yet seen),
and wrap her up so completely in the green shawl that nothing was left
visible but the tip of her nose. Indeed, I could see that, if her little
rosy fingers had not made a small, opening near her mouth, she would have
been unable to breathe. Finally I saw her leave her mother’s arm for an
instant on the staircase, and turn and nod to us quickly before she
disappeared through the doorway.
Woloda, the Iwins, the young Prince Etienne, and myself were all of us in
love with Sonetchka and all of us standing on the staircase to follow her
with our eyes. To whom in particular she had nodded I do not know, but at
the moment I firmly believed it to be myself. In taking leave of the
Iwins, I spoke quite unconcernedly, and even coldly, to Seriosha before I
finally shook hands with him. Though he tried to appear absolutely
indifferent, I think that he understood that from that day forth he had
lost both my affection and his power over me, as well as that he regretted
XXIV — IN BED
“How could I have managed to be so long and so passionately devoted to
Seriosha?” I asked myself as I lay in bed that night. “He never either
understood, appreciated, or deserved my love. But Sonetchka! What a
darling SHE is! ‘Wilt THOU?’—‘THY hand’!”
I crept closer to the pillows, imagined to myself her lovely face, covered
my head over with the bedclothes, tucked the counterpane in on all sides,
and, thus snugly covered, lay quiet and enjoying the warmth until I became
wholly absorbed in pleasant fancies and reminiscences.
If I stared fixedly at the inside of the sheet above me I found that I
could see her as clearly as I had done an hour ago could talk to her in my
thoughts, and, though it was a conversation of irrational tenor, I derived
the greatest delight from it, seeing that “THOU” and “THINE” and “for
THEE” and “to THEE” occurred in it incessantly. These fancies were so
vivid that I could not sleep for the sweetness of my emotion, and felt as
though I must communicate my superabundant happiness to some one.
“The darling!” I said, half-aloud, as I turned over; then, “Woloda, are
“No,” he replied in a sleepy voice. “What’s the matter?”
“I am in love, Woloda—terribly in love with Sonetchka”
“Well? Anything else?” he replied, stretching himself.
“Oh, but you cannot imagine what I feel just now, as I lay covered over
with the counterpane, I could see her and talk to her so clearly that it
was marvelous! And, do you know, while I was lying thinking about her—I
don’t know why it was, but all at once I felt so sad that I could have
Woloda made a movement of some sort.
“One thing only I wish for,” I continued; “and that is that I could always
be with her and always be seeing her. Just that. You are in love too, I
believe. Confess that you are.”
It was strange, but somehow I wanted every one to be in love with
Sonetchka, and every one to tell me that they were so.
“So that’s how it is with you? “ said Woloda, turning round to me. “Well,
I can understand it.”
“I can see that you cannot sleep,” I remarked, observing by his bright
eyes that he was anything but drowsy. “Well, cover yourself over SO” (and
I pulled the bedclothes over him), “and then let us talk about her. Isn’t
she splendid? If she were to say to me, ‘Nicolinka, jump out of the
window,’ or ‘jump into the fire,’ I should say, ‘Yes, I will do it at once
and rejoice in doing it.’ Oh, how glorious she is!”
I went on picturing her again and again to my imagination, and, to enjoy
the vision the better, turned over on my side and buried my head in the
pillows, murmuring, “Oh, I want to cry, Woloda.”
“What a fool you are!” he said with a slight laugh. Then, after a moment’s
silence he added: “I am not like you. I think I would rather sit and talk
“Ah! Then you ARE in love with her!” I interrupted.
“And then,” went on Woloda, smiling tenderly, “kiss her fingers and eyes
and lips and nose and feet—kiss all of her.”
“How absurd!” I exclaimed from beneath the pillows.
“Ah, you don’t understand things,” said Woloda with contempt.
“I DO understand. It’s you who don’t understand things, and you talk
rubbish, too,” I replied, half-crying.
“Well, there is nothing to cry about,” he concluded. “She is only a girl.”
XXV — THE LETTER
ON the 16th of April, nearly six months after the day just described, Papa
entered our schoolroom and told us that that night we must start with him
for our country house. I felt a pang at my heart when I heard the news,
and my thoughts at once turned to Mama. The cause of our unexpected
departure was the following letter:
“PETROVSKOE, 12th April.
“Only this moment (i.e. at ten o’clock in the evening) have I received
your dear letter of the 3rd of April, but as usual, I answer it at once.
Fedor brought it yesterday from town, but, as it was late, he did not give
it to Mimi till this morning, and Mimi (since I was unwell) kept it from
me all day. I have been a little feverish. In fact, to tell the truth,
this is the fourth day that I have been in bed.
“Yet do not be uneasy. I feel almost myself again now, and if Ivan
Vassilitch should allow me, I think of getting up to-morrow.
“On Friday last I took the girls for a drive, and, close to the little
bridge by the turning on to the high road (the place which always makes me
nervous), the horses and carriage stuck fast in the mud. Well, the day
being fine, I thought that we would walk a little up the road until the
carriage should be extricated, but no sooner had we reached the chapel
than I felt obliged to sit down, I was so tired, and in this way
half-an-hour passed while help was being sent for to get the carriage dug
out. I felt cold, for I had only thin boots on, and they had been wet
through. After luncheon too, I had alternate cold and hot fits, yet still
continued to follow our ordinary routine.
“When tea was over I sat down to the piano to play a duct with Lubotshka,
(you would be astonished to hear what progress she has made!), but imagine
my surprise when I found that I could not count the beats! Several times I
began to do so, yet always felt confused in my head, and kept hearing
strange noises in my ears. I would begin ‘One-two-three—’ and then
suddenly go on ‘-eight-fifteen,’ and so on, as though I were talking
nonsense and could not help it. At last Mimi came to my assistance and
forced me to retire to bed. That was how my illness began, and it was all
through my own fault. The next day I had a good deal of fever, and our
good Ivan Vassilitch came. He has not left us since, but promises soon to
restore me to the world.
“What a wonderful old man he is! While I was feverish and delirious he sat
the whole night by my bedside without once closing his eyes; and at this
moment (since he knows I am busy writing) he is with the girls in the
divannaia, and I can hear him telling them German stories, and them
laughing as they listen to him.
“‘La Belle Flamande,’ as you call her, is now spending her second week
here as my guest (her mother having gone to pay a visit somewhere), and
she is most attentive and attached to me. She even tells me her secret
affairs. Under different circumstances her beautiful face, good temper,
and youth might have made a most excellent girl of her, but in the society
in which according to her own account, she moves she will be wasted. The
idea has more than once occurred to me that, had I not had so many
children of my own, it would have been a deed of mercy to have adopted
“Lubotshka had meant to write to you herself, but she has torn up three
sheets of paper, saying: ‘I know what a quizzer Papa always is. If he were
to find a single fault in my letter he would show it to everybody.’
Katenka is as charming as usual, and Mimi, too, is good, but tiresome.
“Now let me speak of more serious matters. You write to me that your
affairs are not going well this winter, and that you wish to break into
the revenues of Chabarovska. It seems to me strange that you should think
it necessary to ask my consent. Surely what belongs to me belongs no less
to you? You are so kindhearted, dear, that, for fear of worrying me, you
conceal the real state of things, but I can guess that you have lost a
great deal at cards, as also that you are afraid of my being angry at
that. Yet, so long as you can tide over this crisis, I shall not think
much of it, and you need not be uneasy, I have grown accustomed to no
longer relying, so far as the children are concerned, upon your gains at
play, nor yet—excuse me for saying so—upon your income.
Therefore your losses cause me as little anxiety as your gains give me
pleasure. What I really grieve over is your unhappy passion itself for
gambling—a passion which bereaves me of part of your tender
affection and obliges me to tell you such bitter truths as (God knows with
what pain) I am now telling you. I never cease to beseech Him that He may
preserve us, not from poverty (for what is poverty?), but from the
terrible juncture which would arise should the interests of the children,
which I am called upon to protect, ever come into collision with our own.
Hitherto God has listened to my prayers. You have never yet overstepped
the limit beyond which we should be obliged either to sacrifice property
which would no longer belong to us, but to the children, or—It is
terrible to think of, but the dreadful misfortune at which I hint is
forever hanging over our heads. Yes, it is the heavy cross which God has
given us both to carry.
“Also, you write about the children, and come back to our old point of
difference by asking my consent to your placing them at a boarding-school.
You know my objection to that kind of education. I do not know, dear,
whether you will accede to my request, but I nevertheless beseech you, by
your love for me, to give me your promise that never so long as I am
alive, nor yet after my death (if God should see fit to separate us),
shall such a thing be done.
“Also you write that our affairs render it indispensable for you to visit
St. Petersburg. The Lord go with you! Go and return as, soon as possible.
Without you we shall all of us be lonely.
“Spring is coming in beautifully. We keep the door on to the terrace
always open now, while the path to the orangery is dry and the peach-trees
are in full blossom. Only here and there is there a little snow remaining.
The swallows are arriving, and to-day Lubotshka brought me the first
flowers. The doctor says that in about three days’ time I shall be well
again and able to take the open air and to enjoy the April sun. Now, au
revoir, my dearest one. Do not be alarmed, I beg of you, either on account
of my illness or on account of your losses at play. End the crisis as soon
as possible, and then return here with the children for the summer. I am
making wonderful plans for our passing of it, and I only need your
presence to realize them.”
The rest of the letter was written in French, as well as in a strange,
uncertain hand, on another piece of paper. I transcribe it word for word:
“Do not believe what I have just written to you about my illness. It is
more serious than any one knows. I alone know that I shall never leave my
bed again. Do not, therefore, delay a minute in coming here with the
children. Perhaps it may yet be permitted me to embrace and bless them. It
is my last wish that it should be so. I know what a terrible blow this
will be to you, but you would have had to hear it sooner or later—if
not from me, at least from others. Let us try to, bear the Calamity with
fortitude, and place our trust in the mercy of God. Let us submit
ourselves to His will. Do not think that what I am writing is some
delusion of my sick imagination. On the contrary, I am perfectly clear at
this moment, and absolutely calm. Nor must you comfort yourself with the
false hope that these are the unreal, confused feelings of a despondent
spirit, for I feel indeed, I know, since God has deigned to reveal it to
me—that I have now but a very short time to live. Will my love for
you and the children cease with my life? I know that that can never be. At
this moment I am too full of that love to be capable of believing that
such a feeling (which constitutes a part of my very existence) can ever,
perish. My soul can never lack its love for you; and I know that that love
will exist for ever, since such a feeling could never have been awakened
if it were not to be eternal. I shall no longer be with you, yet I firmly
believe that my love will cleave to you always, and from that thought I
glean such comfort that I await the approach of death calmly and without
fear. Yes, I am calm, and God knows that I have ever looked, and do look
now, upon death as no more than the passage to a better life. Yet why do
tears blind my eyes? Why should the children lose a mother’s love? Why
must you, my husband, experience such a heavy and unlooked-for blow? Why
must I die when your love was making life so inexpressibly happy for me?
“But His holy will be done!
“The tears prevent my writing more. It may be that I shall never see you
again. I thank you, my darling beyond all price, for all the felicity with
which you have surrounded me in this life. Soon I shall appear before God
Himself to pray that He may reward you. Farewell, my dearest! Remember
that, if I am no longer here, my love will none the less NEVER AND NOWHERE
fail you. Farewell, Woloda—farewell, my pet! Farewell, my Benjamin,
my little Nicolinka! Surely they will never forget me?”
With this letter had come also a French note from Mimi, in which the
“The sad circumstances of which she has written to you are but too surely
confirmed by the words of the doctor. Yesterday evening she ordered the
letter to be posted at once, but, thinking at she did so in delirium, I
waited until this morning, with the intention of sealing and sending it
then. Hardly had I done so when Natalia Nicolaevna asked me what I had
done with the letter and told me to burn it if not yet dispatched. She is
forever speaking of it, and saying that it will kill you. Do not delay
your departure for an instant if you wish to see the angel before she
leaves us. Pray excuse this scribble, but I have not slept now for three
nights. You know how much I love her.”
Later I heard from Natalia Savishna (who passed the whole of the night of
the 11th April at Mama’s bedside) that, after writing the first part of
the letter, Mama laid it down upon the table beside her and went to sleep
for a while.
“I confess,” said Natalia Savishna, “that I too fell asleep in the
arm-chair, and let my knitting slip from my hands. Suddenly, towards one
o’clock in the morning, I heard her saying something; whereupon I opened
my eyes and looked at her. My darling was sitting up in bed, with her
hands clasped together and streams of tears gushing from her eyes.
“‘It is all over now,’ she said, and hid her face in her hands.
“I sprang to my feet, and asked what the matter was.
“‘Ah, Natalia Savishna, if you could only know what I have just seen!’ she
said; yet, for all my asking, she would say no more, beyond commanding me
to hand her the letter. To that letter she added something, and then said
that it must be sent off directly. From that moment she grew, rapidly
XXVI — WHAT AWAITED US AT THE COUNTRY-HOUSE
On the 18th of April we descended from the carriage at the front door of
the house at Petrovskoe. All the way from Moscow Papa had been
preoccupied, and when Woloda had asked him “whether Mama was ill” he had
looked at him sadly and nodded an affirmative. Nevertheless he had grown
more composed during the journey, and it was only when we were actually
approaching the house that his face again began to grow anxious, until, as
he leaped from the carriage and asked Foka (who had run breathlessly to
meet us), “How is Natalia Nicolaevna now?” his voice, was trembling, and
his eyes had filled with tears. The good, old Foka looked at us, and then
lowered his gaze again. Finally he said as he opened the hall-door and
turned his head aside: “It is the sixth day since she has not left her
Milka (who, as we afterwards learned, had never ceased to whine from the
day when Mama was taken ill) came leaping, joyfully to meet Papa, and
barking a welcome as she licked his hands, but Papa put her aside, and
went first to the drawing-room, and then into the divannaia, from which a
door led into the bedroom. The nearer he approached the latter, the more,
did his movements express the agitation that he felt. Entering the
divannaia he crossed it on tiptoe, seeming to hold his breath. Even then
he had to stop and make the sign of the cross before he could summon up
courage to turn the handle. At the same moment Mimi, with disheveled hair
and eyes red with weeping came hastily out of the corridor.
“Ah, Peter Alexandritch!” she said in a whisper and with a marked
expression of despair. Then, observing that Papa was trying to open the
door, she whispered again:
“Not here. This door is locked. Go round to the door on the other side.”
Oh, how terribly all this wrought upon my imagination, racked as it was by
grief and terrible forebodings!
So we went round to the other side. In the corridor we met the gardener,
Akim, who had been wont to amuse us with his grimaces, but at this moment
I could see nothing comical in him. Indeed, the sight of his thoughtless,
indifferent face struck me more painfully than anything else. In the
maidservants’ hall, through which we had to pass, two maids were sitting
at their work, but rose to salute us with an expression so mournful that I
felt completely overwhelmed.
Passing also through Mimi’s room, Papa opened the door of the bedroom, and
we entered. The two windows on the right were curtained over, and close to
them was seated, Natalia Savishna, spectacles on nose and engaged in
darning stockings. She did not approach us to kiss me as she had been used
to do, but just rose and looked at us, her tears beginning to flow afresh.
Somehow it frightened me to see every one, on beholding us, begin to cry,
although they had been calm enough before.
On the left stood the bed behind a screen, while in the great arm-chair
the doctor lay asleep. Beside the bed a young, fair-haired and remarkably
beautiful girl in a white morning wrapper was applying ice to Mama’s
head, but Mama herself I could not see. This girl was “La Belle Flamande”
of whom Mama had written, and who afterwards played so important a part
in our family life. As we entered she disengaged one of her hands,
straightened the pleats of her dress on her bosom, and whispered, “She is
insensible.” Though I was in an agony of grief, I observed at that moment
every little detail.
It was almost dark in the room, and very hot, while the air was heavy with
the mingled, scent of mint, eau-de-cologne, chamomile, and Hoffman’s
pastilles. The latter ingredient caught my attention so strongly that even
now I can never hear of it, or even think of it, without my memory
carrying me back to that dark, close room, and all the details of that
Mama’s eyes were wide open, but they could not see us. Never shall I
forget the terrible expression in them—the expression of agonies of
Then we were taken away.
When, later, I was able to ask Natalia Savishna about Mama’s last moments
she told me the following:
“After you were taken out of the room, my beloved one struggled for a long
time, as though some one were trying to strangle her. Then at last she
laid her head back upon the pillow, and slept softly, peacefully, like an
angel from Heaven. I went away for a moment to see about her medicine, and
just as I entered the room again my darling was throwing the bedclothes
from off her and calling for your Papa. He stooped over her, but strength
failed her to say what she wanted to. All she could do was to open her
lips and gasp, ‘My God, my God! The children, the children!’ I would have
run to fetch you, but Ivan Vassilitch stopped me, saying that it would
only excite her—it were best not to do so. Then suddenly she
stretched her arms out and dropped them again. What she meant by that
gesture the good God alone knows, but I think that in it she was blessing
you—you the children whom she could not see. God did not grant her
to see her little ones before her death. Then she raised herself up—did
my love, my darling—yes, just so with her hands, and exclaimed in a
voice which I cannot bear to remember, ‘Mother of God, never forsake
“Then the pain mounted to her heart, and from her eyes it as, plain that
she suffered terribly, my poor one! She sank back upon the pillows, tore
the bedclothes with her teeth, and wept—wept—”
“Yes and what then?” I asked but Natalia Savishna could say no more. She
turned away and cried bitterly.
Mama had expired in terrible agonies.
XXVII — GRIEF
LATE the following evening I thought I would like to look at her once
more; so, conquering an involuntary sense of fear, I gently opened the
door of the salon and entered on tiptoe.
In the middle of the room, on a table, lay the coffin, with wax candles
burning all round it on tall silver candelabra. In the further corner sat
the chanter, reading the Psalms in a low, monotonous voice. I stopped at
the door and tried to look, but my eyes were so weak with crying, and my
nerves so terribly on edge, that I could distinguish nothing. Every object
seemed to mingle together in a strange blur—the candles, the
brocade, the velvet, the great candelabra, the pink satin cushion trimmed
with lace, the chaplet of flowers, the ribboned cap, and something of a
transparent, wax-like color. I mounted a chair to see her face, yet where
it should have been I could see only that wax-like, transparent something.
I could not believe it to be her face. Yet, as I stood grazing at it, I at
last recognized the well-known, beloved features. I shuddered with horror
to realize that it WAS she. Why were those eyes so sunken? What had laid
that dreadful paleness upon her cheeks, and stamped the black spot beneath
the transparent skin on one of them? Why was the expression of the whole
face so cold and severe? Why were the lips so white, and their outline so
beautiful, so majestic, so expressive of an unnatural calm that, as I
looked at them, a chill shudder ran through my hair and down my back?
Somehow, as I gazed, an irrepressible, incomprehensible power seemed to
compel me to keep my eyes fixed upon that lifeless face. I could not turn
away, and my imagination began to picture before me scenes of her active
life and happiness. I forgot that the corpse lying before me now—the
THING at which I was gazing unconsciously as at an object which had
nothing in common with my dreams—was SHE. I fancied I could see her—now
here, now there, alive, happy, and smiling. Then some well-known feature
in the face at which I was gazing would suddenly arrest my attention, and
in a flash I would recall the terrible reality and shudder-though still
unable to turn my eyes away.
Then again the dreams would replace reality—then again the reality
put to flight the dreams. At last the consciousness of both left me, and
for a while I became insensible.
How long I remained in that condition I do not know, nor yet how it
occurred. I only know that for a time I lost all sense of existence, and
experienced a kind of vague blissfulness which though grand and sweet, was
also sad. It may be that, as it ascended to a better world, her beautiful
soul had looked down with longing at the world in which she had left us—that
it had seen my sorrow, and, pitying me, had returned to earth on the wings
of love to console and bless me with a heavenly smile of compassion.
The door creaked as the chanter entered who was to relieve his
predecessor. The noise awakened me, and my first thought was that, seeing
me standing on the chair in a posture which had nothing touching in its
aspect, he might take me for an unfeeling boy who had climbed on to the
chair out of mere curiosity: wherefore I hastened to make the sign of the
cross, to bend down my head, and to burst out crying. As I recall now my
impressions of that episode I find that it was only during my moments of
self-forgetfulness that my grief was wholehearted. True, both before and
after the funeral I never ceased to cry and to look miserable, yet I feel
conscience-stricken when I recall that grief of mine, seeing that always
present in it there was an element of conceit—of a desire to show
that I was more grieved than any one else, of an interest which I took in
observing the effect, produced upon others by my tears, and of an idle
curiosity leading me to remark Mimi’s bonnet and the faces of all present.
The mere circumstance that I despised myself for not feeling grief to the
exclusion of everything else, and that I endeavored to conceal the fact,
shows that my sadness was insincere and unnatural. I took a delight in
feeling that I was unhappy, and in trying to feel more so. Consequently
this egotistic consciousness completely annulled any element of sincerity
in my woe.
That night I slept calmly and soundly (as is usual after any great
emotion), and awoke with my tears dried and my nerves restored. At ten
o’clock we were summoned to attend the pre-funeral requiem.
The room was full of weeping servants and peasants who had come to bid
farewell to their late mistress. During the service I myself wept a great
deal, made frequent signs of the cross, and performed many genuflections,
but I did not pray with, my soul, and felt, if anything, almost
indifferent. My thoughts were chiefly centered upon the new coat which I
was wearing (a garment which was tight and uncomfortable) and upon how to
avoid soiling my trousers at the knees. Also I took the most minute notice
of all present.
Papa stood at the head of the coffin. He was as white as snow, and only
with difficulty restrained his tears. His tall figure in its black
frockcoat, his pale, expressive face, the graceful, assured manner in
which, as usual, he made the sign of the cross or bowed until he touched
the floor with his hand [A custom of the Greek funeral rite.] or took the
candle from the priest or went to the coffin—all were exceedingly
effective; yet for some reason or another I felt a grudge against him for
that very ability to appear effective at such a moment. Mimi stood leaning
against the wall as though scarcely able to support herself. Her dress was
all awry and covered with feathers, and her cap cocked to one side, while
her eyes were red with weeping, her legs trembling under her, and she
sobbed incessantly in a heartrending manner as ever and again she buried
her face in her handkerchief or her hands. I imagine that she did this to
check her continual sobbing without being seen by the spectators. I
remember, too, her telling Papa, the evening before, that Mama’s death
had come upon her as a blow from which she could never hope to recover;
that with Mama she had lost everything; but that “the angel,” as she
called my mother, had not forgotten her when at the point of death, since
she had declared her wish to render her (Mimi’s) and Katenka’s fortunes
secure for ever. Mimi had shed bitter tears while relating this, and very
likely her sorrow, if not wholly pure and disinterested, was in the main
sincere. Lubotshka, in black garments and suffused with tears, stood with
her head bowed upon her breast. She rarely looked at the coffin, yet
whenever she did so her face expressed a sort of childish fear. Katenka
stood near her mother, and, despite her lengthened face, looked as lovely
as ever. Woloda’s frank nature was frank also in grief. He stood looking
grave and as though he were staring at some object with fixed eyes. Then
suddenly his lips would begin to quiver, and he would hastily make the
sign of the cross, and bend his head again.
Such of those present as were strangers I found intolerable. In fact, the
phrases of condolence with which they addressed Papa (such, for instance,
as that “she is better off now” “she was too good for this world,” and so
on) awakened in me something like fury. What right had they to weep over
or to talk about her? Some of them, in referring to ourselves, called us
“orphans”—just as though it were not a matter of common knowledge
that children who have lost their mother are known as orphans! Probably (I
thought) they liked to be the first to give us that name, just as some
people find pleasure in being the first to address a newly-married girl as
In a far corner of the room, and almost hidden by the open door, of the
dining-room, stood a gray old woman with bent knees. With hands clasped
together and eyes lifted to heaven, she prayed only—not wept. Her
soul was in the presence of God, and she was asking Him soon to reunite
her to her whom she had loved beyond all beings on this earth, and whom
she steadfastly believed that she would very soon meet again.
“There stands one who SINCERELY loved her,” I thought to myself, and felt
The requiem was over. They uncovered the face of the deceased, and all
present except ourselves went to the coffin to give her the kiss of
One of the last to take leave of her departed mistress was a peasant woman
who was holding by the hand a pretty little girl of five whom she had
brought with her, God knows for what reason. Just at a moment when I
chanced to drop my wet handkerchief and was stooping to pick it up again,
a loud, piercing scream startled me, and filled me with such terror that,
were I to live a hundred years more, I should never forget it. Even now
the recollection always sends a cold shudder through my frame. I raised my
head. Standing on the chair near the coffin was the peasant woman, while
struggling and fighting in her arms was the little girl, and it was this
same poor child who had screamed with such dreadful, desperate frenzy as,
straining her terrified face away, she still, continued to gaze with
dilated eyes at the face of the corpse. I too screamed in a voice perhaps
more dreadful still, and ran headlong from the room.
Only now did I understand the source of the strong, oppressive smell
which, mingling with the scent of the incense, filled the chamber, while
the thought that the face which, but a few days ago, had been full of
freshness and beauty—the face which I loved more than anything else
in all the world—was now capable of inspiring horror at length
revealed to me, as though for the first time, the terrible truth, and
filled my soul with despair.
XXVIII — SAD RECOLLECTIONS
Mama was no longer with us, but our life went on as usual. We went to bed
and got up at the same times and in the same rooms; breakfast, luncheon,
and supper continued to be at their usual hours; everything remained
standing in its accustomed place; nothing in the house or in our mode of
life was altered: only, she was not there.
Yet it seemed to me as though such a misfortune ought to have changed
everything. Our old mode of life appeared like an insult to her memory. It
recalled too vividly her presence.
The day before the funeral I felt as though I should like to rest a little
after luncheon, and accordingly went to Natalia Savishna’s room with the
intention of installing myself comfortably under the warm, soft down of
the quilt on her bed. When I entered I found Natalia herself lying on the
bed and apparently asleep, but, on hearing my footsteps, she raised
herself up, removed the handkerchief which had been protecting her face
from the flies, and, adjusting her cap, sat forward on the edge of the
bed. Since it frequently happened that I came to lie down in her room, she
guessed my errand at once, and said:
“So you have come to rest here a little, have you? Lie down, then, my
“Oh, but what is the matter with you, Natalia Savishna?” I exclaimed as I
forced her back again. “I did not come for that. No, you are tired
yourself, so you LIE down.”
“I am quite rested now, darling,” she said (though I knew that it was many
a night since she had closed her eyes). “Yes, I am indeed, and have no
wish to sleep again,” she added with a deep sigh.
I felt as though I wanted to speak to her of our misfortune, since I knew
her sincerity and love, and thought that it would be a consolation to me
to weep with her.
“Natalia Savishna,” I said after a pause, as I seated myself upon the bed,
“who would ever have thought of this?”
The old woman looked at me with astonishment, for she did not quite
understand my question.
“Yes, who would ever have thought of it?” I repeated.
“Ah, my darling,” she said with a glance of tender compassion, “it is not
only ‘Who would ever have thought of it?’ but ‘Who, even now, would ever
believe it?’ I am old, and my bones should long ago have gone to rest
rather than that I should have lived to see the old master, your
Grandpapa, of blessed memory, and Prince Nicola Michaelovitch, and his two
brothers, and your sister Amenka all buried before me, though all younger
than myself—and now my darling, to my never-ending sorrow, gone home
before me! Yet it has been God’s will. He took her away because she was
worthy to be taken, and because He has need of the good ones.”
This simple thought seemed to me a consolation, and I pressed closer to
Natalia. She laid her hands upon my head as she looked upward with eyes
expressive of a deep, but resigned, sorrow. In her soul was a sure and
certain hope that God would not long separate her from the one upon whom
the whole strength of her love had for many years been concentrated.
“Yes, my dear,” she went on, “it is a long time now since I used to nurse
and fondle her, and she used to call me Natasha. She used to come jumping
upon me, and caressing and kissing me, and say, ‘MY Nashik, MY darling, MY
ducky,’ and I used to answer jokingly, ‘Well, my love, I don’t believe
that you DO love me. You will be a grown-up young lady soon, and going
away to be married, and will leave your Nashik forgotten.’ Then she would
grow thoughtful and say, ‘I think I had better not marry if my Nashik
cannot go with me, for I mean never to leave her.’ Yet, alas! She has left
me now! Who was there in the world she did not love? Yes, my dearest, it
must never be POSSIBLE for you to forget your Mama. She was not a being
of earth—she was an angel from Heaven. When her soul has entered the
heavenly kingdom she will continue to love you and to be proud of you even
“But why do you say ‘when her soul has entered the heavenly kingdom’?” I
asked. “I believe it is there now.”
“No, my dearest,” replied Natalia as she lowered her voice and pressed
herself yet closer to me, “her soul is still here,” and she pointed
upwards. She spoke in a whisper, but with such an intensity of conviction
that I too involuntarily raised my eyes and looked at the ceiling, as
though expecting to see something there. “Before the souls of the just
enter Paradise they have to undergo forty trials for forty days, and
during that time they hover around their earthly home.” [A Russian popular
She went on speaking for some time in this strain—speaking with the
same simplicity and conviction as though she were relating common things
which she herself had witnessed, and to doubt which could never enter into
any one’s head. I listened almost breathlessly, and though I did not
understand all she said, I never for a moment doubted her word.
“Yes, my darling, she is here now, and perhaps looking at us and listening
to what we are saying,” concluded Natalia. Raising her head, she remained
silent for a while. At length she wiped away the tears which were
streaming from her eyes, looked me straight in the face, and said in a
voice trembling with emotion:
“Ah, it is through many trials that God is leading me to Him. Why, indeed,
am I still here? Whom have I to live for? Whom have I to love?”
“Do you not love US, then?” I asked sadly, and half-choking with my tears.
“Yes, God knows that I love you, my darling; but to love any one as I
loved HER—that I cannot do.”
She could say no more, but turned her head aside and wept bitterly. As for
me, I no longer thought of going to sleep, but sat silently with her and
mingled my tears with hers.
Presently Foka entered the room, but, on seeing our emotion and not
wishing to disturb us, stopped short at the door.
“Do you want anything, my good Foka?” asked Natalia as she wiped away her
“If you please, half-a-pound of currants, four pounds of sugar, and three
pounds of rice for the kutia.” [Cakes partaken of by the mourners at a
“Yes, in one moment,” said Natalia as she took a pinch of snuff and
hastened to her drawers. All traces of the grief, aroused by our
conversation disappeared on, the instant that she had duties to fulfill,
for she looked upon those duties as of paramount importance.
“But why FOUR pounds?” she objected as she weighed the sugar on a
steelyard. “Three and a half would be sufficient,” and she withdrew a few
lumps. “How is it, too, that, though I weighed out eight pounds of rice
yesterday, more is wanted now? No offense to you, Foka, but I am not going
to waste rice like that. I suppose Vanka is glad that there is confusion
in the house just now, for he thinks that nothing will be looked after,
but I am not going to have any careless extravagance with my master’s
goods. Did one ever hear of such a thing? Eight pounds!”
“Well, I have nothing to do with it. He says it is all gone, that’s all.”
“Hmm, hmm! Well, there it is. Let him take it.”
I was struck by the sudden transition from the touching sensibility with
which she had just been speaking to me to this petty reckoning and
captiousness. Yet, thinking it over afterwards, I recognized that it was
merely because, in spite of what was lying on her heart, she retained the
habit of duty, and that it was the strength of that habit which enabled
her to pursue her functions as of old. Her grief was too strong and too
true to require any pretense of being unable to fulfill trivial tasks, nor
would she have understood that any one could so pretend. Vanity is a
sentiment so entirely at variance with genuine grief, yet a sentiment so
inherent in human nature, that even the most poignant sorrow does not
always drive it wholly forth. Vanity mingled with grief shows itself in a
desire to be recognized as unhappy or resigned; and this ignoble desire—an
aspiration which, for all that we may not acknowledge it is rarely absent,
even in cases of the utmost affliction—takes off greatly from the
force, the dignity, and the sincerity of grief. Natalia Savishna had been
so sorely smitten by her misfortune that not a single wish of her own
remained in her soul—she went on living purely by habit.
Having handed over the provisions to Foka, and reminded him of the
refreshments which must be ready for the priests, she took up her knitting
and seated herself by my side again. The conversation reverted to the old
topic, and we once more mourned and shed tears together. These talks with
Natalia I repeated every day, for her quiet tears and words of devotion
brought me relief and comfort. Soon, however, a parting came. Three days
after the funeral we returned to Moscow, and I never saw her again.
Grandmamma received the sad tidings only on our return to her house, and
her grief was extraordinary. At first we were not allowed to see her,
since for a whole week she was out of her mind, and the doctors were
afraid for her life. Not only did she decline all medicine whatsoever, but
she refused to speak to anybody or to take nourishment, and never closed
her eyes in sleep. Sometimes, as she sat alone in the arm-chair in her
room, she would begin laughing and crying at the same time, with a sort of
tearless grief, or else relapse into convulsions, and scream out dreadful,
incoherent words in a horrible voice. It was the first dire sorrow which
she had known in her life, and it reduced her almost to distraction. She
would begin accusing first one person, and then another, of bringing this
misfortune upon her, and rail at and blame them with the most
extraordinary virulence. Finally she would rise from her arm-chair, pace
the room for a while, and end by falling senseless to the floor.
Once, when I went to her room, she appeared to be sitting quietly in her
chair, yet with an air which struck me as curious. Though her eyes were
wide open, their glance was vacant and meaningless, and she seemed to gaze
in my direction without seeing me. Suddenly her lips parted slowly in a
smile, and she said in a touchingly, tender voice: “Come here, then, my
dearest one; come here, my angel.” Thinking that it was myself she was
addressing, I moved towards her, but it was not I whom she was beholding
at that moment. “Oh, my love,” she went on, “if only you could know how
distracted I have been, and how delighted I am to see you once more!” I
understood then that she believed herself to be looking upon Mama, and
halted where I was. “They told me you were gone,” she concluded with a
frown; “but what nonsense! As if you could die before ME!” and she laughed
a terrible, hysterical laugh.
Only those who can love strongly can experience an overwhelming grief. Yet
their very need of loving sometimes serves to throw off their grief from
them and to save them. The moral nature of man is more tenacious of life
than the physical, and grief never kills.
After a time Grandmamma’s power of weeping came back to her, and she began
to recover. Her first thought when her reason returned was for us
children, and her love for us was greater than ever. We never left her
arm-chair, and she would talk of Mama, and weep softly, and caress us.
Nobody who saw her grief could say that it was consciously exaggerated,
for its expression was too strong and touching; yet for some reason or
another my sympathy went out more to Natalia Savishna, and to this day I
am convinced that nobody loved and regretted Mama so purely and sincerely
as did that simple-hearted, affectionate being.
With Mama’s death the happy time of my childhood came to an end, and a
new epoch—the epoch of my boyhood—began; but since my memories
of Natalia Savishna (who exercised such a strong and beneficial influence
upon the bent of my mind and the development of my sensibility) belong
rather to the first period, I will add a few words about her and her death
before closing this portion of my life.
I heard later from people in the village that, after our return to Moscow,
she found time hang very heavy on her hands. Although the drawers and
shelves were still under her charge, and she never ceased to arrange and
rearrange them—to take things out and to dispose of them afresh—she
sadly missed the din and bustle of the seignorial mansion to which she had
been accustomed from her childhood up. Consequently grief, the alteration
in her mode of life, and her lack of activity soon combined to develop in
her a malady to which she had always been more or less subject.
Scarcely more than a year after Mama’s death dropsy showed itself, and
she took to her bed. I can imagine how sad it must have been for her to go
on living—still more, to die—alone in that great empty house
at Petrovskoe, with no relations or any one near her. Every one there
esteemed and loved her, but she had formed no intimate friendships in the
place, and was rather proud of the fact. That was because, enjoying her
master’s confidence as she did, and having so much property under her
care, she considered that intimacies would lead to culpable indulgence and
condescension. Consequently (and perhaps, also, because she had nothing
really in common with the other servants) she kept them all at a distance,
and used to say that she “recognized neither kinsman nor godfather in the
house, and would permit of no exceptions with regard to her master’s
Instead, she sought and found consolation in fervent prayers to God. Yet
sometimes, in those moments of weakness to which all of us are subject,
and when man’s best solace is the tears and compassion of his
fellow-creatures, she would take her old dog Moska on to her bed, and talk
to it, and weep softly over it as it answered her caresses by licking her
hands, with its yellow eyes fixed upon her. When Moska began to whine she
would say as she quieted it: “Enough, enough! I know without thy telling
me that my time is near.” A month before her death she took out of her
chest of drawers some fine white calico, white cambric, and pink ribbon,
and, with the help of the maidservants, fashioned the garments in which
she wished to be buried. Next she put everything on her shelves in order
and handed the bailiff an inventory which she had made out with scrupulous
accuracy. All that she kept back was a couple of silk gowns, an old shawl,
and Grandpapa’s military uniform—things which had been presented to
her absolutely, and which, thanks to her care and orderliness, were in an
excellent state of preservation—particularly the handsome gold
embroidery on the uniform.
Just before her death, again, she expressed a wish that one of the gowns
(a pink one) should be made into a robe de chambre for Woloda; that the
other one (a many-colored gown) should be made into a similar garment for
myself; and that the shawl should go to Lubotshka. As for the uniform, it
was to devolve either to Woloda or to myself, according as the one or the
other of us should first become an officer. All the rest of her property
(save only forty rubles, which she set aside for her commemorative rites
and to defray the costs of her burial) was to pass to her brother, a
person with whom, since he lived a dissipated life in a distant province,
she had had no intercourse during her lifetime. When, eventually, he
arrived to claim the inheritance, and found that its sum-total only
amounted to twenty-five rubles in notes, he refused to believe it, and
declared that it was impossible that his sister-a woman who for sixty
years had had sole charge in a wealthy house, as well as all her life had
been penurious and averse to giving away even the smallest thing should
have left no more: yet it was a fact.
Though Natalia’s last illness lasted for two months, she bore her
sufferings with truly Christian fortitude. Never did she fret or complain,
but, as usual, appealed continually to God. An hour before the end came
she made her final confession, received the Sacrament with quiet joy, and
was accorded extreme unction. Then she begged forgiveness of every one in
the house for any wrong she might have done them, and requested the priest
to send us word of the number of times she had blessed us for our love of
her, as well as of how in her last moments she had implored our
forgiveness if, in her ignorance, she had ever at any time given us
offense. “Yet a thief have I never been. Never have I used so much as a
piece of thread that was not my own.” Such was the one quality which she
valued in herself.
Dressed in the cap and gown prepared so long beforehand, and with her head
resting, upon the cushion made for the purpose, she conversed with the
priest up to the very last moment, until, suddenly, recollecting that she
had left him nothing for the poor, she took out ten rubles, and asked him
to distribute them in the parish. Lastly she made the sign of the cross,
lay down, and expired—pronouncing with a smile of joy the name of
She quitted life without a pang, and, so far from fearing death, welcomed
it as a blessing. How often do we hear that said, and how seldom is it a
reality! Natalia Savishna had no reason to fear death for the simple
reason that she died in a sure and certain faith and in strict obedience
to the commands of the Gospel. Her whole life had been one of pure,
disinterested love, of utter self-negation. Had her convictions been of a
more enlightened order, her life directed to a higher aim, would that pure
soul have been the more worthy of love and reverence? She accomplished the
highest and best achievement in this world: she died without fear and
They buried her where she had wished to lie—near the little
mausoleum which still covers Mama’s tomb. The little mound beneath which
she sleeps is overgrown with nettles and burdock, and surrounded by a
black railing, but I never forget, when leaving the mausoleum, to approach
that railing, and to salute the plot of earth within by bowing reverently
to the ground.
Sometimes, too, I stand thoughtfully between the railing and the
mausoleum, and sad memories pass through my mind. Once the idea came to me
as I stood there: “Did Providence unite me to those two beings solely in
order to make me regret them my life long?”