Franz Kafka

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Wife" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; (1898) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, from "The Wife, and Other Stories" (translated in English by Constance Garnett)

Portrait of Anton Chekhov


THE WIFE AND OTHER STORIES


THE WIFE

I

I RECEIVED the following letter:

“DEAR SIR, PAVEL ANDREITCH!

“Not far from you--that is to say, in the village of Pestrovo--very
distressing incidents are taking place, concerning which I feel it
my duty to write to you. All the peasants of that village sold their
cottages and all their belongings, and set off for the province of
Tomsk, but did not succeed in getting there, and have come back. Here,
of course, they have nothing now; everything belongs to other people.
They have settled three or four families in a hut, so that there are no
less than fifteen persons of both sexes in each hut, not counting the
young children; and the long and the short of it is, there is nothing
to eat. There is famine and there is a terrible pestilence of hunger, or
spotted, typhus; literally every one is stricken. The doctor’s assistant
says one goes into a cottage and what does one see? Every one is sick,
every one delirious, some laughing, others frantic; the huts are filthy;
there is no one to fetch them water, no one to give them a drink, and
nothing to eat but frozen potatoes. What can Sobol (our Zemstvo doctor)
and his lady assistant do when more than medicine the peasants need
bread which they have not? The District Zemstvo refuses to assist them,
on the ground that their names have been taken off the register of this
district, and that they are now reckoned as inhabitants of Tomsk; and,
besides, the Zemstvo has no money.

“Laying these facts before you, and knowing your humanity, I beg you not
to refuse immediate help.

“Your well-wisher.”

Obviously the letter was written by the doctor with the animal name* or
his lady assistant. Zemstvo doctors and their assistants go on for years
growing more and more convinced every day that they can do _nothing_,
and yet continue to receive their salaries from people who are living
upon frozen potatoes, and consider they have a right to judge whether I
am humane or not.

     *Sobol in Russian means “sable-marten.”--TRANSLATOR’S NOTE.

Worried by the anonymous letter and by the fact that peasants came every
morning to the servants’ kitchen and went down on their knees there, and
that twenty sacks of rye had been stolen at night out of the barn, the
wall having first been broken in, and by the general depression which
was fostered by conversations, newspapers, and horrible weather--worried
by all this, I worked listlessly and ineffectively. I was writing
“A History of Railways”; I had to read a great number of Russian
and foreign books, pamphlets, and articles in the magazines, to make
calculations, to refer to logarithms, to think and to write; then again
to read, calculate, and think; but as soon as I took up a book or began
to think, my thoughts were in a muddle, my eyes began blinking, I would
get up from the table with a sigh and begin walking about the big rooms
of my deserted country-house. When I was tired of walking about I would
stand still at my study window, and, looking across the wide courtyard,
over the pond and the bare young birch-trees and the great fields
covered with recently fallen, thawing snow, I saw on a low hill on the
horizon a group of mud-coloured huts from which a black muddy road ran
down in an irregular streak through the white field. That was Pestrovo,
concerning which my anonymous correspondent had written to me. If it had
not been for the crows who, foreseeing rain or snowy weather, floated
cawing over the pond and the fields, and the tapping in the carpenter’s
shed, this bit of the world about which such a fuss was being made
would have seemed like the Dead Sea; it was all so still, motionless,
lifeless, and dreary!

My uneasiness hindered me from working and concentrating myself; I did
not know what it was, and chose to believe it was disappointment. I had
actually given up my post in the Department of Ways and Communications,
and had come here into the country expressly to live in peace and
to devote myself to writing on social questions. It had long been my
cherished dream. And now I had to say good-bye both to peace and to
literature, to give up everything and think only of the peasants. And
that was inevitable, because I was convinced that there was absolutely
nobody in the district except me to help the starving. The people
surrounding me were uneducated, unintellectual, callous, for the most
part dishonest, or if they were honest, they were unreasonable and
unpractical like my wife, for instance. It was impossible to rely on
such people, it was impossible to leave the peasants to their fate, so
that the only thing left to do was to submit to necessity and see to
setting the peasants to rights myself.

I began by making up my mind to give five thousand roubles to the
assistance of the starving peasants. And that did not decrease, but only
aggravated my uneasiness. As I stood by the window or walked about
the rooms I was tormented by the question which had not occurred to me
before: how this money was to be spent. To have bread bought and to go
from hut to hut distributing it was more than one man could do, to say
nothing of the risk that in your haste you might give twice as much to
one who was well-fed or to one who was making money out of his fellows
as to the hungry. I had no faith in the local officials. All these
district captains and tax inspectors were young men, and I distrusted
them as I do all young people of today, who are materialistic and
without ideals. The District Zemstvo, the Peasant Courts, and all the
local institutions, inspired in me not the slightest desire to appeal to
them for assistance. I knew that all these institutions who were busily
engaged in picking out plums from the Zemstvo and the Government pie
had their mouths always wide open for a bite at any other pie that might
turn up.

The idea occurred to me to invite the neighbouring landowners and
suggest to them to organize in my house something like a committee or
a centre to which all subscriptions could be forwarded, and from
which assistance and instructions could be distributed throughout the
district; such an organization, which would render possible frequent
consultations and free control on a big scale, would completely meet
my views. But I imagined the lunches, the dinners, the suppers and the
noise, the waste of time, the verbosity and the bad taste which that
mixed provincial company would inevitably bring into my house, and I
made haste to reject my idea.

As for the members of my own household, the last thing I could look
for was help or support from them. Of my father’s household, of the
household of my childhood, once a big and noisy family, no one remained
but the governess Mademoiselle Marie, or, as she was now called, Marya
Gerasimovna, an absolutely insignificant person. She was a precise
little old lady of seventy, who wore a light grey dress and a cap with
white ribbons, and looked like a china doll. She always sat in the
drawing-room reading.

Whenever I passed by her, she would say, knowing the reason for my
brooding:

“What can you expect, Pasha? I told you how it would be before. You can
judge from our servants.”

My wife, Natalya Gavrilovna, lived on the lower storey, all the rooms of
which she occupied. She slept, had her meals, and received her visitors
downstairs in her own rooms, and took not the slightest interest in how
I dined, or slept, or whom I saw. Our relations with one another were
simple and not strained, but cold, empty, and dreary as relations are
between people who have been so long estranged, that even living under
the same roof gives no semblance of nearness. There was no trace now of
the passionate and tormenting love--at one time sweet, at another bitter
as wormwood--which I had once felt for Natalya Gavrilovna. There
was nothing left, either, of the outbursts of the past--the loud
altercations, upbraidings, complaints, and gusts of hatred which had
usually ended in my wife’s going abroad or to her own people, and in my
sending money in small but frequent instalments that I might sting her
pride oftener. (My proud and sensitive wife and her family live at my
expense, and much as she would have liked to do so, my wife could not
refuse my money: that afforded me satisfaction and was one comfort in
my sorrow.) Now when we chanced to meet in the corridor downstairs or in
the yard, I bowed, she smiled graciously. We spoke of the weather, said
that it seemed time to put in the double windows, and that some one with
bells on their harness had driven over the dam. And at such times I read
in her face: “I am faithful to you and am not disgracing your good name
which you think so much about; you are sensible and do not worry me; we
are quits.”

I assured myself that my love had died long ago, that I was too much
absorbed in my work to think seriously of my relations with my wife.
But, alas! that was only what I imagined. When my wife talked aloud
downstairs I listened intently to her voice, though I could not
distinguish one word. When she played the piano downstairs I stood up
and listened. When her carriage or her saddlehorse was brought to the
door, I went to the window and waited to see her out of the house; then
I watched her get into her carriage or mount her horse and ride out of
the yard. I felt that there was something wrong with me, and was afraid
the expression of my eyes or my face might betray me. I looked after my
wife and then watched for her to come back that I might see again
from the window her face, her shoulders, her fur coat, her hat. I felt
dreary, sad, infinitely regretful, and felt inclined in her absence to
walk through her rooms, and longed that the problem that my wife and
I had not been able to solve because our characters were incompatible,
should solve itself in the natural way as soon as possible--that is,
that this beautiful woman of twenty-seven might make haste and grow old,
and that my head might be grey and bald.

One day at lunch my bailiff informed me that the Pestrovo peasants
had begun to pull the thatch off the roofs to feed their cattle. Marya
Gerasimovna looked at me in alarm and perplexity.

“What can I do?” I said to her. “One cannot fight single-handed, and I
have never experienced such loneliness as I do now. I would give a great
deal to find one man in the whole province on whom I could rely.”

“Invite Ivan Ivanitch,” said Marya Gerasimovna.

“To be sure!” I thought, delighted. “That is an idea! _C’est raison_,”
 I hummed, going to my study to write to Ivan Ivanitch. “_C’est raison,
c’est raison_.”

II

Of all the mass of acquaintances who, in this house twenty-five to
thirty-five years ago, had eaten, drunk, masqueraded, fallen in love,
married, bored us with accounts of their splendid packs of hounds and
horses, the only one still living was Ivan Ivanitch Bragin. At one time
he had been very active, talkative, noisy, and given to falling in love,
and had been famous for his extreme views and for the peculiar charm of
his face, which fascinated men as well as women; now he was an old man,
had grown corpulent, and was living out his days with neither views nor
charm. He came the day after getting my letter, in the evening just
as the samovar was brought into the dining-room and little Marya
Gerasimovna had begun slicing the lemon.

“I am very glad to see you, my dear fellow,” I said gaily, meeting him.
“Why, you are stouter than ever....”

“It isn’t getting stout; it’s swelling,” he answered. “The bees must
have stung me.”

With the familiarity of a man laughing at his own fatness, he put his
arms round my waist and laid on my breast his big soft head, with the
hair combed down on the forehead like a Little Russian’s, and went off
into a thin, aged laugh.

“And you go on getting younger,” he said through his laugh. “I wonder
what dye you use for your hair and beard; you might let me have some of
it.” Sniffing and gasping, he embraced me and kissed me on the cheek.
“You might give me some of it,” he repeated. “Why, you are not forty,
are you?”

“Alas, I am forty-six!” I said, laughing.

Ivan Ivanitch smelt of tallow candles and cooking, and that suited him.
His big, puffy, slow-moving body was swathed in a long frock-coat like a
coachman’s full coat, with a high waist, and with hooks and eyes
instead of buttons, and it would have been strange if he had smelt of
eau-de-Cologne, for instance. In his long, unshaven, bluish double chin,
which looked like a thistle, his goggle eyes, his shortness of breath,
and in the whole of his clumsy, slovenly figure, in his voice, his
laugh, and his words, it was difficult to recognize the graceful,
interesting talker who used in old days to make the husbands of the
district jealous on account of their wives.

“I am in great need of your assistance, my friend,” I said, when we were
sitting in the dining-room, drinking tea. “I want to organize relief for
the starving peasants, and I don’t know how to set about it. So perhaps
you will be so kind as to advise me.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Ivan Ivanitch, sighing. “To be sure, to be sure,
to be sure....”

“I would not have worried you, my dear fellow, but really there is no
one here but you I can appeal to. You know what people are like about
here.”

“To be sure, to be sure, to be sure.... Yes.”

I thought that as we were going to have a serious, business consultation
in which any one might take part, regardless of their position or
personal relations, why should I not invite Natalya Gavrilovna.

“_Tres faciunt collegium_,” I said gaily. “What if we were to ask
Natalya Gavrilovna? What do you think? Fenya,” I said, turning to the
maid, “ask Natalya Gavrilovna to come upstairs to us, if possible at
once. Tell her it’s a very important matter.”

A little later Natalya Gavrilovna came in. I got up to meet her and
said:

“Excuse us for troubling you, Natalie. We are discussing a very
important matter, and we had the happy thought that we might take
advantage of your good advice, which you will not refuse to give us.
Please sit down.”

Ivan Ivanitch kissed her hand while she kissed his forehead; then,
when we all sat down to the table, he, looking at her tearfully and
blissfully, craned forward to her and kissed her hand again. She was
dressed in black, her hair was carefully arranged, and she smelt of
fresh scent. She had evidently dressed to go out or was expecting
somebody. Coming into the dining-room, she held out her hand to me with
simple friendliness, and smiled to me as graciously as she did to Ivan
Ivanitch--that pleased me; but as she talked she moved her fingers,
often and abruptly leaned back in her chair and talked rapidly, and this
jerkiness in her words and movements irritated me and reminded me of her
native town--Odessa, where the society, men and women alike, had wearied
me by its bad taste.

“I want to do something for the famine-stricken peasants,” I began, and
after a brief pause I went on: “Money, of course, is a great thing, but
to confine oneself to subscribing money, and with that to be satisfied,
would be evading the worst of the trouble. Help must take the form of
money, but the most important thing is a proper and sound organization.
Let us think it over, my friends, and do something.”

Natalya Gavrilovna looked at me inquiringly and shrugged her shoulders
as though to say, “What do I know about it?”

“Yes, yes, famine...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch. “Certainly... yes.”

“It’s a serious position,” I said, “and assistance is needed as soon as
possible. I imagine the first point among the principles which we must
work out ought to be promptitude. We must act on the military principles
of judgment, promptitude, and energy.”

“Yes, promptitude...” repeated Ivan Ivanitch in a drowsy and listless
voice, as though he were dropping asleep. “Only one can’t do anything.
The crops have failed, and so what’s the use of all your judgment and
energy?... It’s the elements.... You can’t go against God and fate.”

“Yes, but that’s what man has a head for, to contend against the
elements.”

“Eh? Yes... that’s so, to be sure.... Yes.”

Ivan Ivanitch sneezed into his handkerchief, brightened up, and as
though he had just woken up, looked round at my wife and me.

“My crops have failed, too.” He laughed a thin little laugh and gave
a sly wink as though this were really funny. “No money, no corn, and
a yard full of labourers like Count Sheremetyev’s. I want to kick them
out, but I haven’t the heart to.”

Natalya Gavrilovna laughed, and began questioning him about his private
affairs. Her presence gave me a pleasure such as I had not felt for a
long time, and I was afraid to look at her for fear my eyes would betray
my secret feeling. Our relations were such that that feeling might seem
surprising and ridiculous.

She laughed and talked with Ivan Ivanitch without being in the least
disturbed that she was in my room and that I was not laughing.

“And so, my friends, what are we to do?” I asked after waiting for a
pause. “I suppose before we do anything else we had better immediately
open a subscription-list. We will write to our friends in the capitals
and in Odessa, Natalie, and ask them to subscribe. When we have got
together a little sum we will begin buying corn and fodder for the
cattle; and you, Ivan Ivanitch, will you be so kind as to undertake
distributing the relief? Entirely relying on your characteristic tact
and efficiency, we will only venture to express a desire that before you
give any relief you make acquaintance with the details of the case on
the spot, and also, which is very important, you should be careful that
corn should be distributed only to those who are in genuine need, and
not to the drunken, the idle, or the dishonest.”

“Yes, yes, yes...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch. “To be sure, to be sure.”

“Well, one won’t get much done with that slobbering wreck,” I thought,
and I felt irritated.

“I am sick of these famine-stricken peasants, bother them! It’s nothing
but grievances with them!” Ivan Ivanitch went on, sucking the rind of
the lemon. “The hungry have a grievance against those who have enough,
and those who have enough have a grievance against the hungry. Yes...
hunger stupefies and maddens a man and makes him savage; hunger is not a
potato. When a man is starving he uses bad language, and steals, and may
do worse.... One must realize that.”

Ivan Ivanitch choked over his tea, coughed, and shook all over with a
squeaky, smothered laughter.

“‘There was a battle at Pol... Poltava,’” he brought out,
gesticulating with both hands in protest against the laughter and
coughing which prevented him from speaking. “‘There was a battle at
Poltava!’ When three years after the Emancipation we had famine in two
districts here, Fyodor Fyodoritch came and invited me to go to him.
‘Come along, come along,’ he persisted, and nothing else would satisfy
him. ‘Very well, let us go,’ I said. And, so we set off. It was in the
evening; there was snow falling. Towards night we were getting near his
place, and suddenly from the wood came ‘bang!’ and another time ‘bang!’
‘Oh, damn it all!’... I jumped out of the sledge, and I saw in the
darkness a man running up to me, knee-deep in the snow. I put my arm
round his shoulder, like this, and knocked the gun out of his hand. Then
another one turned up; I fetched him a knock on the back of his head so
that he grunted and flopped with his nose in the snow. I was a sturdy
chap then, my fist was heavy; I disposed of two of them, and when I
turned round Fyodor was sitting astride of a third. We did not let our
three fine fellows go; we tied their hands behind their backs so that
they might not do us or themselves any harm, and took the fools into the
kitchen. We were angry with them and at the same time ashamed to look at
them; they were peasants we knew, and were good fellows; we were sorry
for them. They were quite stupid with terror. One was crying and begging
our pardon, the second looked like a wild beast and kept swearing, the
third knelt down and began to pray. I said to Fedya: ‘Don’t bear them
a grudge; let them go, the rascals!’ He fed them, gave them a bushel of
flour each, and let them go: ‘Get along with you,’ he said. So that’s
what he did.... The Kingdom of Heaven be his and everlasting peace! He
understood and did not bear them a grudge; but there were some who did,
and how many people they ruined! Yes... Why, over the affair at the
Klotchkovs’ tavern eleven men were sent to the disciplinary battalion.
Yes.... And now, look, it’s the same thing. Anisyin, the investigating
magistrate, stayed the night with me last Thursday, and he told me about
some landowner.... Yes.... They took the wall of his barn to pieces at
night and carried off twenty sacks of rye. When the gentleman heard that
such a crime had been committed, he sent a telegram to the Governor
and another to the police captain, another to the investigating
magistrate!... Of course, every one is afraid of a man who is fond of
litigation. The authorities were in a flutter and there was a general
hubbub. Two villages were searched.”

“Excuse me, Ivan Ivanitch,” I said. “Twenty sacks of rye were stolen
from me, and it was I who telegraphed to the Governor. I telegraphed to
Petersburg, too. But it was by no means out of love for litigation, as
you are pleased to express it, and not because I bore them a grudge.
I look at every subject from the point of view of principle. From the
point of view of the law, theft is the same whether a man is hungry or
not.”

“Yes, yes...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch in confusion. “Of course... To be
sure, yes.”

Natalya Gavrilovna blushed.

“There are people...” she said and stopped; she made an effort to seem
indifferent, but she could not keep it up, and looked into my eyes with
the hatred that I know so well. “There are people,” she said, “for whom
famine and human suffering exist simply that they may vent their hateful
and despicable temperaments upon them.”

I was confused and shrugged my shoulders.

“I meant to say generally,” she went on, “that there are people who are
quite indifferent and completely devoid of all feeling of sympathy,
yet who do not pass human suffering by, but insist on meddling for fear
people should be able to do without them. Nothing is sacred for their
vanity.”

“There are people,” I said softly, “who have an angelic character, but
who express their glorious ideas in such a form that it is difficult to
distinguish the angel from an Odessa market-woman.”

I must confess it was not happily expressed.

My wife looked at me as though it cost her a great effort to hold her
tongue. Her sudden outburst, and then her inappropriate eloquence on the
subject of my desire to help the famine-stricken peasants, were, to say
the least, out of place; when I had invited her to come upstairs I had
expected quite a different attitude to me and my intentions. I cannot
say definitely what I had expected, but I had been agreeably agitated by
the expectation. Now I saw that to go on speaking about the famine would
be difficult and perhaps stupid.

“Yes...” Ivan Ivanitch muttered inappropriately. “Burov, the merchant,
must have four hundred thousand at least. I said to him: ‘Hand over one
or two thousand to the famine. You can’t take it with you when you die,
anyway.’ He was offended. But we all have to die, you know. Death is not
a potato.”

A silence followed again.

“So there’s nothing left for me but to reconcile myself to loneliness,”
 I sighed. “One cannot fight single-handed. Well, I will try
single-handed. Let us hope that my campaign against the famine will be
more successful than my campaign against indifference.”

“I am expected downstairs,” said Natalya Gavrilovna.

She got up from the table and turned to Ivan Ivanitch.

“So you will look in upon me downstairs for a minute? I won’t say
good-bye to you.”

And she went away.

Ivan Ivanitch was now drinking his seventh glass of tea, choking,
smacking his lips, and sucking sometimes his moustache, sometimes the
lemon. He was muttering something drowsily and listlessly, and I did
not listen but waited for him to go. At last, with an expression that
suggested that he had only come to me to take a cup of tea, he got up
and began to take leave. As I saw him out I said:

“And so you have given me no advice.”

“Eh? I am a feeble, stupid old man,” he answered. “What use would my
advice be? You shouldn’t worry yourself.... I really don’t know why you
worry yourself. Don’t disturb yourself, my dear fellow! Upon my word,
there’s no need,” he whispered genuinely and affectionately, soothing me
as though I were a child. “Upon my word, there’s no need.”

“No need? Why, the peasants are pulling the thatch off their huts, and
they say there is typhus somewhere already.”

“Well, what of it? If there are good crops next year, they’ll thatch
them again, and if we die of typhus others will live after us. Anyway,
we have to die--if not now, later. Don’t worry yourself, my dear.”

“I can’t help worrying myself,” I said irritably.

We were standing in the dimly lighted vestibule. Ivan Ivanitch suddenly
took me by the elbow, and, preparing to say something evidently very
important, looked at me in silence for a couple of minutes.

“Pavel Andreitch!” he said softly, and suddenly in his puffy, set face
and dark eyes there was a gleam of the expression for which he had once
been famous and which was truly charming. “Pavel Andreitch, I speak to
you as a friend: try to be different! One is ill at ease with you, my
dear fellow, one really is!”

He looked intently into my face; the charming expression faded away, his
eyes grew dim again, and he sniffed and muttered feebly:

“Yes, yes.... Excuse an old man.... It’s all nonsense... yes.”

As he slowly descended the staircase, spreading out his hands to balance
himself and showing me his huge, bulky back and red neck, he gave me the
unpleasant impression of a sort of crab.

“You ought to go away, your Excellency,” he muttered. “To Petersburg or
abroad.... Why should you live here and waste your golden days? You are
young, wealthy, and healthy.... Yes.... Ah, if I were younger I would
whisk away like a hare, and snap my fingers at everything.”

III

My wife’s outburst reminded me of our married life together. In old days
after every such outburst we felt irresistibly drawn to each other;
we would meet and let off all the dynamite that had accumulated in our
souls. And now after Ivan Ivanitch had gone away I had a strong impulse
to go to my wife. I wanted to go downstairs and tell her that her
behaviour at tea had been an insult to me, that she was cruel, petty,
and that her plebeian mind had never risen to a comprehension of what
_I_ was saying and of what _I_ was doing. I walked about the rooms a
long time thinking of what I would say to her and trying to guess what
she would say to me.

That evening, after Ivan Ivanitch went away, I felt in a peculiarly
irritating form the uneasiness which had worried me of late. I could
not sit down or sit still, but kept walking about in the rooms that were
lighted up and keeping near to the one in which Marya Gerasimovna was
sitting. I had a feeling very much like that which I had on the North
Sea during a storm when every one thought that our ship, which had no
freight nor ballast, would overturn. And that evening I understood that
my uneasiness was not disappointment, as I had supposed, but a different
feeling, though what exactly I could not say, and that irritated me more
than ever.

“I will go to her,” I decided. “I can think of a pretext. I shall say
that I want to see Ivan Ivanitch; that will be all.”

I went downstairs and walked without haste over the carpeted floor
through the vestibule and the hall. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting on the
sofa in the drawing-room; he was drinking tea again and muttering
something. My wife was standing opposite to him and holding on to the
back of a chair. There was a gentle, sweet, and docile expression on her
face, such as one sees on the faces of people listening to crazy saints
or holy men when a peculiar hidden significance is imagined in their
vague words and mutterings. There was something morbid, something of
a nun’s exaltation, in my wife’s expression and attitude; and her
low-pitched, half-dark rooms with their old-fashioned furniture, with
her birds asleep in their cages, and with a smell of geranium, reminded
me of the rooms of some abbess or pious old lady.

I went into the drawing-room. My wife showed neither surprise nor
confusion, and looked at me calmly and serenely, as though she had known
I should come.

“I beg your pardon,” I said softly. “I am so glad you have not gone yet,
Ivan Ivanitch. I forgot to ask you, do you know the Christian name of
the president of our Zemstvo?”

“Andrey Stanislavovitch. Yes....”

“_Merci_,” I said, took out my notebook, and wrote it down.

There followed a silence during which my wife and Ivan Ivanitch were
probably waiting for me to go; my wife did not believe that I wanted to
know the president’s name--I saw that from her eyes.

“Well, I must be going, my beauty,” muttered Ivan Ivanitch, after I
had walked once or twice across the drawing-room and sat down by the
fireplace.

“No,” said Natalya Gavrilovna quickly, touching his hand. “Stay another
quarter of an hour.... Please do!”

Evidently she did not wish to be left alone with me without a witness.

“Oh, well, I’ll wait a quarter of an hour, too,” I thought.

“Why, it’s snowing!” I said, getting up and looking out of window. “A
good fall of snow! Ivan Ivanitch”--I went on walking about the room--“I
do regret not being a sportsman. I can imagine what a pleasure it must
be coursing hares or hunting wolves in snow like this!”

My wife, standing still, watched my movements, looking out of the corner
of her eyes without turning her head. She looked as though she thought I
had a sharp knife or a revolver in my pocket.

“Ivan Ivanitch, do take me out hunting some day,” I went on softly. “I
shall be very, very grateful to you.”

At that moment a visitor came into the room. He was a tall, thick-set
gentleman whom I did not know, with a bald head, a big fair beard, and
little eyes. From his baggy, crumpled clothes and his manners I took him
to be a parish clerk or a teacher, but my wife introduced him to me as
Dr. Sobol.

“Very, very glad to make your acquaintance,” said the doctor in a loud
tenor voice, shaking hands with me warmly, with a naive smile. “Very
glad!”

He sat down at the table, took a glass of tea, and said in a loud voice:

“Do you happen to have a drop of rum or brandy? Have pity on me, Olya,
and look in the cupboard; I am frozen,” he said, addressing the maid.

I sat down by the fire again, looked on, listened, and from time to time
put in a word in the general conversation. My wife smiled graciously
to the visitors and kept a sharp lookout on me, as though I were a
wild beast. She was oppressed by my presence, and this aroused in me
jealousy, annoyance, and an obstinate desire to wound her. “Wife, these
snug rooms, the place by the fire,” I thought, “are mine, have been mine
for years, but some crazy Ivan Ivanitch or Sobol has for some reason
more right to them than I. Now I see my wife, not out of window, but
close at hand, in ordinary home surroundings that I feel the want of now
I am growing older, and, in spite of her hatred for me, I miss her as
years ago in my childhood I used to miss my mother and my nurse. And
I feel that now, on the verge of old age, my love for her is purer and
loftier than it was in the past; and that is why I want to go up to her,
to stamp hard on her toe with my heel, to hurt her and smile as I do
it.”

“Monsieur Marten,” I said, addressing the doctor, “how many hospitals
have we in the district?”

“Sobol,” my wife corrected.

“Two,” answered Sobol.

“And how many deaths are there every year in each hospital?”

“Pavel Andreitch, I want to speak to you,” said my wife.

She apologized to the visitors and went to the next room. I got up and
followed her.

“You will go upstairs to your own rooms this minute,” she said.

“You are ill-bred,” I said to her.

“You will go upstairs to your own rooms this very minute,” she repeated
sharply, and she looked into my face with hatred.

She was standing so near that if I had stooped a little my beard would
have touched her face.

“What is the matter?” I asked. “What harm have I done all at once?”

Her chin quivered, she hastily wiped her eyes, and, with a cursory
glance at the looking-glass, whispered:

“The old story is beginning all over again. Of course you won’t go away.
Well, do as you like. I’ll go away myself, and you stay.”

We returned to the drawing-room, she with a resolute face, while
I shrugged my shoulders and tried to smile. There were some more
visitors--an elderly lady and a young man in spectacles. Without
greeting the new arrivals or taking leave of the others, I went off to
my own rooms.

After what had happened at tea and then again downstairs, it became
clear to me that our “family happiness,” which we had begun to forget
about in the course of the last two years, was through some absurd and
trivial reason beginning all over again, and that neither I nor my
wife could now stop ourselves; and that next day or the day after, the
outburst of hatred would, as I knew by experience of past years, be
followed by something revolting which would upset the whole order of our
lives. “So it seems that during these two years we have grown no wiser,
colder, or calmer,” I thought as I began walking about the rooms. “So
there will again be tears, outcries, curses, packing up, going abroad,
then the continual sickly fear that she will disgrace me with some
coxcomb out there, Italian or Russian, refusing a passport, letters,
utter loneliness, missing her, and in five years old age, grey hairs.”
 I walked about, imagining what was really impossible--her, grown
handsomer, stouter, embracing a man I did not know. By now convinced
that that would certainly happen, “‘Why,” I asked myself, “Why, in one
of our long past quarrels, had not I given her a divorce, or why had she
not at that time left me altogether? I should not have had this yearning
for her now, this hatred, this anxiety; and I should have lived out my
life quietly, working and not worrying about anything.”

A carriage with two lamps drove into the yard, then a big sledge with
three horses. My wife was evidently having a party.

Till midnight everything was quiet downstairs and I heard nothing,
but at midnight there was a sound of moving chairs and a clatter of
crockery. So there was supper. Then the chairs moved again, and through
the floor I heard a noise; they seemed to be shouting hurrah. Marya
Gerasimovna was already asleep and I was quite alone in the whole upper
storey; the portraits of my forefathers, cruel, insignificant people,
looked at me from the walls of the drawing-room, and the reflection
of my lamp in the window winked unpleasantly. And with a feeling of
jealousy and envy for what was going on downstairs, I listened and
thought: “I am master here; if I like, I can in a moment turn out all
that fine crew.” But I knew that all that was nonsense, that I could not
turn out any one, and the word “master” had no meaning. One may think
oneself master, married, rich, a kammer-junker, as much as one likes,
and at the same time not know what it means.

After supper some one downstairs began singing in a tenor voice.

“Why, nothing special has happened,” I tried to persuade myself. “Why am
I so upset? I won’t go downstairs tomorrow, that’s all; and that will be
the end of our quarrel.”

At a quarter past one I went to bed.

“Have the visitors downstairs gone?” I asked Alexey as he was undressing
me.

“Yes, sir, they’ve gone.”

“And why were they shouting hurrah?”

“Alexey Dmitritch Mahonov subscribed for the famine fund a thousand
bushels of flour and a thousand roubles. And the old lady--I don’t know
her name--promised to set up a soup kitchen on her estate to feed a
hundred and fifty people. Thank God... Natalya Gavrilovna has been
pleased to arrange that all the gentry should assemble every Friday.”

“To assemble here, downstairs?”

“Yes, sir. Before supper they read a list: since August up to today
Natalya Gavrilovna has collected eight thousand roubles, besides corn.
Thank God.... What I think is that if our mistress does take trouble for
the salvation of her soul, she will soon collect a lot. There are plenty
of rich people here.”

Dismissing Alexey, I put out the light and drew the bedclothes over my
head.

“After all, why am I so troubled?” I thought. “What force draws me to
the starving peasants like a butterfly to a flame? I don’t know them, I
don’t understand them; I have never seen them and I don’t like them. Why
this uneasiness?”

I suddenly crossed myself under the quilt.

“But what a woman she is!” I said to myself, thinking of my wife.
“There’s a regular committee held in the house without my knowing.
Why this secrecy? Why this conspiracy? What have I done to them? Ivan
Ivanitch is right--I must go away.”

Next morning I woke up firmly resolved to go away. The events of the
previous day--the conversation at tea, my wife, Sobol, the supper, my
apprehensions--worried me, and I felt glad to think of getting away from
the surroundings which reminded me of all that. While I was drinking my
coffee the bailiff gave me a long report on various matters. The most
agreeable item he saved for the last.

“The thieves who stole our rye have been found,” he announced with a
smile. “The magistrate arrested three peasants at Pestrovo yesterday.”

“Go away!” I shouted at him; and a propos of nothing, I picked up the
cake-basket and flung it on the floor.

IV

After lunch I rubbed my hands, and thought I must go to my wife and tell
her that I was going away. Why? Who cared? Nobody cares, I answered, but
why shouldn’t I tell her, especially as it would give her nothing but
pleasure? Besides, to go away after our yesterday’s quarrel without
saying a word would not be quite tactful: she might think that I was
frightened of her, and perhaps the thought that she has driven me out of
my house may weigh upon her. It would be just as well, too, to tell her
that I subscribe five thousand, and to give her some advice about
the organization, and to warn her that her inexperience in such a
complicated and responsible matter might lead to most lamentable
results. In short, I wanted to see my wife, and while I thought of
various pretexts for going to her, I had a firm conviction in my heart
that I should do so.

It was still light when I went in to her, and the lamps had not yet been
lighted. She was sitting in her study, which led from the drawing-room
to her bedroom, and, bending low over the table, was writing something
quickly. Seeing me, she started, got up from the table, and remained
standing in an attitude such as to screen her papers from me.

“I beg your pardon, I have only come for a minute,” I said, and, I don’t
know why, I was overcome with embarrassment. “I have learnt by chance
that you are organizing relief for the famine, Natalie.”

“Yes, I am. But that’s my business,” she answered.

“Yes, it is your business,” I said softly. “I am glad of it, for it just
fits in with my intentions. I beg your permission to take part in it.”

“Forgive me, I cannot let you do it,” she said in response, and looked
away.

“Why not, Natalie?” I said quietly. “Why not? I, too, am well fed and I,
too, want to help the hungry.”

“I don’t know what it has to do with you,” she said with a contemptuous
smile, shrugging her shoulders. “Nobody asks you.”

“Nobody asks you, either, and yet you have got up a regular committee in
_my_ house,” I said.

“I am asked, but you can have my word for it no one will ever ask you.
Go and help where you are not known.”

“For God’s sake, don’t talk to me in that tone.” I tried to be mild, and
besought myself most earnestly not to lose my temper. For the first few
minutes I felt glad to be with my wife. I felt an atmosphere of youth,
of home, of feminine softness, of the most refined elegance--exactly
what was lacking on my floor and in my life altogether. My wife was
wearing a pink flannel dressing-gown; it made her look much younger,
and gave a softness to her rapid and sometimes abrupt movements. Her
beautiful dark hair, the mere sight of which at one time stirred me to
passion, had from sitting so long with her head bent come loose from
the comb and was untidy, but, to my eyes, that only made it look more
rich and luxuriant. All this, though is banal to the point of vulgarity.
Before me stood an ordinary woman, perhaps neither beautiful nor
elegant, but this was my wife with whom I had once lived, and with
whom I should have been living to this day if it had not been for her
unfortunate character; she was the one human being on the terrestrial
globe whom I loved. At this moment, just before going away, when I knew
that I should no longer see her even through the window, she seemed to
me fascinating even as she was, cold and forbidding, answering me with
a proud and contemptuous mockery. I was proud of her, and confessed to
myself that to go away from her was terrible and impossible.

“Pavel Andreitch,” she said after a brief silence, “for two years we
have not interfered with each other but have lived quietly. Why do you
suddenly feel it necessary to go back to the past? Yesterday you came to
insult and humiliate me,” she went on, raising her voice, and her face
flushed and her eyes flamed with hatred; “but restrain yourself; do not
do it, Pavel Andreitch! Tomorrow I will send in a petition and they will
give me a passport, and I will go away; I will go! I will go! I’ll go
into a convent, into a widows’ home, into an almshouse....”

“Into a lunatic asylum!” I cried, not able to restrain myself.

“Well, even into a lunatic asylum! That would be better, that would be
better,” she cried, with flashing eyes. “When I was in Pestrovo today I
envied the sick and starving peasant women because they are not living
with a man like you. They are free and honest, while, thanks to you,
I am a parasite, I am perishing in idleness, I eat your bread, I spend
your money, and I repay you with my liberty and a fidelity which is of
no use to any one. Because you won’t give me a passport, I must respect
your good name, though it doesn’t exist.”

I had to keep silent. Clenching my teeth, I walked quickly into the
drawing-room, but turned back at once and said:

“I beg you earnestly that there should be no more assemblies, plots,
and meetings of conspirators in my house! I only admit to my house those
with whom I am acquainted, and let all your crew find another place
to do it if they want to take up philanthropy. I can’t allow people at
midnight in my house to be shouting hurrah at successfully exploiting an
hysterical woman like you!”

My wife, pale and wringing her hands, took a rapid stride across the
room, uttering a prolonged moan as though she had toothache. With a wave
of my hand, I went into the drawing-room. I was choking with rage, and
at the same time I was trembling with terror that I might not restrain
myself, and that I might say or do something which I might regret all my
life. And I clenched my hands tight, hoping to hold myself in.

After drinking some water and recovering my calm a little, I went back
to my wife. She was standing in the same attitude as before, as though
barring my approach to the table with the papers. Tears were slowly
trickling down her pale, cold face. I paused then and said to her
bitterly but without anger:

“How you misunderstand me! How unjust you are to me! I swear upon my
honour I came to you with the best of motives, with nothing but the
desire to do good!”

“Pavel Andreitch!” she said, clasping her hands on her bosom, and her
face took on the agonized, imploring expression with which frightened,
weeping children beg not to be punished, “I know perfectly well that
you will refuse me, but still I beg you. Force yourself to do one kind
action in your life. I entreat you, go away from here! That’s the only
thing you can do for the starving peasants. Go away, and I will forgive
you everything, everything!”

“There is no need for you to insult me, Natalie,” I sighed, feeling a
sudden rush of humility. “I had already made up my mind to go away, but
I won’t go until I have done something for the peasants. It’s my duty!”

“Ach!” she said softly with an impatient frown. “You can make an
excellent bridge or railway, but you can do nothing for the starving
peasants. Do understand!”

“Indeed? Yesterday you reproached me with indifference and with being
devoid of the feeling of compassion. How well you know me!” I laughed.
“You believe in God--well, God is my witness that I am worried day and
night....”

“I see that you are worried, but the famine and compassion have nothing
to do with it. You are worried because the starving peasants can get
on without you, and because the Zemstvo, and in fact every one who is
helping them, does not need your guidance.”

I was silent, trying to suppress my irritation. Then I said:

“I came to speak to you on business. Sit down. Please sit down.”

She did not sit down.

“I beg you to sit down,” I repeated, and I motioned her to a chair.

She sat down. I sat down, too, thought a little, and said:

“I beg you to consider earnestly what I am saying. Listen.... Moved by
love for your fellow-creatures, you have undertaken the organization of
famine relief. I have nothing against that, of course; I am completely
in sympathy with you, and am prepared to co-operate with you in every
way, whatever our relations may be. But, with all my respect for your
mind and your heart... and your heart,” I repeated, “I cannot allow
such a difficult, complex, and responsible matter as the organization
of relief to be left in your hands entirely. You are a woman, you are
inexperienced, you know nothing of life, you are too confiding and
expansive. You have surrounded yourself with assistants whom you
know nothing about. I am not exaggerating if I say that under
these conditions your work will inevitably lead to two deplorable
consequences. To begin with, our district will be left unrelieved;
and, secondly, you will have to pay for your mistakes and those of your
assistants, not only with your purse, but with your reputation. The
money deficit and other losses I could, no doubt, make good, but
who could restore you your good name? When through lack of proper
supervision and oversight there is a rumour that you, and consequently
I, have made two hundred thousand over the famine fund, will your
assistants come to your aid?”

She said nothing.

“Not from vanity, as you say,” I went on, “but simply that the starving
peasants may not be left unrelieved and your reputation may not be
injured, I feel it my moral duty to take part in your work.”

“Speak more briefly,” said my wife.

“You will be so kind,” I went on, “as to show me what has been
subscribed so far and what you have spent. Then inform me daily of every
fresh subscription in money or kind, and of every fresh outlay. You will
also give me, Natalie, the list of your helpers. Perhaps they are quite
decent people; I don’t doubt it; but, still, it is absolutely necessary
to make inquiries.”

She was silent. I got up, and walked up and down the room.

“Let us set to work, then,” I said, and I sat down to her table.

“Are you in earnest?” she asked, looking at me in alarm and
bewilderment.

“Natalie, do be reasonable!” I said appealingly, seeing from her face
that she meant to protest. “I beg you, trust my experience and my sense
of honour.”

“I don’t understand what you want.”

“Show me how much you have collected and how much you have spent.”

“I have no secrets. Any one may see. Look.”

On the table lay five or six school exercise books, several sheets of
notepaper covered with writing, a map of the district, and a number of
pieces of paper of different sizes. It was getting dusk. I lighted a
candle.

“Excuse me, I don’t see anything yet,” I said, turning over the leaves
of the exercise books. “Where is the account of the receipt of money
subscriptions?”

“That can be seen from the subscription lists.”

“Yes, but you must have an account,” I said, smiling at her naivete.
“Where are the letters accompanying the subscriptions in money or in
kind? _Pardon_, a little practical advice, Natalie: it’s absolutely
necessary to keep those letters. You ought to number each letter and
make a special note of it in a special record. You ought to do the same
with your own letters. But I will do all that myself.”

“Do so, do so...” she said.

I was very much pleased with myself. Attracted by this living
interesting work, by the little table, the naive exercise books and the
charm of doing this work in my wife’s society, I was afraid that my wife
would suddenly hinder me and upset everything by some sudden whim, and
so I was in haste and made an effort to attach no consequence to the
fact that her lips were quivering, and that she was looking about her
with a helpless and frightened air like a wild creature in a trap.

“I tell you what, Natalie,” I said without looking at her; “let me take
all these papers and exercise books upstairs to my study. There I will
look through them and tell you what I think about it tomorrow. Have you
any more papers?” I asked, arranging the exercise books and sheets of
papers in piles.

“Take them, take them all!” said my wife, helping me to arrange them,
and big tears ran down her cheeks. “Take it all! That’s all that was
left me in life.... Take the last.”

“Ach! Natalie, Natalie!” I sighed reproachfully.

She opened the drawer in the table and began flinging the papers out
of it on the table at random, poking me in the chest with her elbow
and brushing my face with her hair; as she did so, copper coins kept
dropping upon my knees and on the floor.

“Take everything!” she said in a husky voice.

When she had thrown out the papers she walked away from me, and putting
both hands to her head, she flung herself on the couch. I picked up the
money, put it back in the drawer, and locked it up that the servants
might not be led into dishonesty; then I gathered up all the papers and
went off with them. As I passed my wife I stopped and, looking at her
back and shaking shoulders, I said:

“What a baby you are, Natalie! Fie, fie! Listen, Natalie: when you
realize how serious and responsible a business it is you will be the
first to thank me. I assure you you will.”

In my own room I set to work without haste. The exercise books were not
bound, the pages were not numbered. The entries were put in all sorts
of handwritings; evidently any one who liked had a hand in managing the
books. In the record of the subscriptions in kind there was no note of
their money value. But, excuse me, I thought, the rye which is now worth
one rouble fifteen kopecks may be worth two roubles fifteen kopecks in
two months’ time! Was that the way to do things? Then, “Given to A. M.
Sobol 32 roubles.” When was it given? For what purpose was it given?
Where was the receipt? There was nothing to show, and no making anything
of it. In case of legal proceedings, these papers would only obscure the
case.

“How naive she is!” I thought with surprise. “What a child!”

I felt both vexed and amused.

V

My wife had already collected eight thousand; with my five it would be
thirteen thousand. For a start that was very good. The business which
had so worried and interested me was at last in my hands; I was doing
what the others would not and could not do; I was doing my duty,
organizing the relief fund in a practical and business-like way.

Everything seemed to be going in accordance with my desires and
intentions; but why did my feeling of uneasiness persist? I spent four
hours over my wife’s papers, making out their meaning and correcting her
mistakes, but instead of feeling soothed, I felt as though some one were
standing behind me and rubbing my back with a rough hand. What was it
I wanted? The organization of the relief fund had come into trustworthy
hands, the hungry would be fed--what more was wanted?

The four hours of this light work for some reason exhausted me, so that
I could not sit bending over the table nor write. From below I heard
from time to time a smothered moan; it was my wife sobbing. Alexey,
invariably meek, sleepy, and sanctimonious, kept coming up to the table
to see to the candles, and looked at me somewhat strangely.

“Yes, I must go away,” I decided at last, feeling utterly exhausted.
“As far as possible from these agreeable impressions! I will set off
tomorrow.”

I gathered together the papers and exercise books, and went down to my
wife. As, feeling quite worn out and shattered, I held the papers and
the exercise books to my breast with both hands, and passing through
my bedroom saw my trunks, the sound of weeping reached me through the
floor.

“Are you a kammer-junker?” a voice whispered in my ear. “That’s a very
pleasant thing. But yet you are a reptile.”

“It’s all nonsense, nonsense, nonsense,” I muttered as I went
downstairs. “Nonsense... and it’s nonsense, too, that I am actuated
by vanity or a love of display.... What rubbish! Am I going to get a
decoration for working for the peasants or be made the director of a
department? Nonsense, nonsense! And who is there to show off to here in
the country?”

I was tired, frightfully tired, and something kept whispering in my
ear: “Very pleasant. But, still, you are a reptile.” For some reason I
remembered a line out of an old poem I knew as a child: “How pleasant it
is to be good!”

My wife was lying on the couch in the same attitude, on her face and
with her hands clutching her head. She was crying. A maid was standing
beside her with a perplexed and frightened face. I sent the maid away,
laid the papers on the table, thought a moment and said:

“Here are all your papers, Natalie. It’s all in order, it’s all capital,
and I am very much pleased. I am going away tomorrow.”

She went on crying. I went into the drawing-room and sat there in the
dark. My wife’s sobs, her sighs, accused me of something, and to justify
myself I remembered the whole of our quarrel, starting from my unhappy
idea of inviting my wife to our consultation and ending with the
exercise books and these tears. It was an ordinary attack of our
conjugal hatred, senseless and unseemly, such as had been frequent
during our married life, but what had the starving peasants to do with
it? How could it have happened that they had become a bone of
contention between us? It was just as though pursuing one another we had
accidentally run up to the altar and had carried on a quarrel there.

“Natalie,” I said softly from the drawing-room, “hush, hush!”

To cut short her weeping and make an end of this agonizing state of
affairs, I ought to have gone up to my wife and comforted her, caressed
her, or apologized; but how could I do it so that she would believe me?
How could I persuade the wild duck, living in captivity and hating me,
that it was dear to me, and that I felt for its sufferings? I had never
known my wife, so I had never known how to talk to her or what to
talk about. Her appearance I knew very well and appreciated it as it
deserved, but her spiritual, moral world, her mind, her outlook on life,
her frequent changes of mood, her eyes full of hatred, her disdain,
the scope and variety of her reading which sometimes struck me, or,
for instance, the nun-like expression I had seen on her face the day
before--all that was unknown and incomprehensible to me. When in my
collisions with her I tried to define what sort of a person she was,
my psychology went no farther than deciding that she was giddy,
impractical, ill-tempered, guided by feminine logic; and it seemed to
me that that was quite sufficient. But now that she was crying I had a
passionate desire to know more.

The weeping ceased. I went up to my wife. She sat up on the couch, and,
with her head propped in both hands, looked fixedly and dreamily at the
fire.

“I am going away tomorrow morning,” I said.

She said nothing. I walked across the room, sighed, and said:

“Natalie, when you begged me to go away, you said: ‘I will forgive you
everything, everything’.... So you think I have wronged you. I beg you
calmly and in brief terms to formulate the wrong I’ve done you.”

“I am worn out. Afterwards, some time...” said my wife.

“How am I to blame?” I went on. “What have I done? Tell me: you are
young and beautiful, you want to live, and I am nearly twice your age
and hated by you, but is that my fault? I didn’t marry you by force. But
if you want to live in freedom, go; I’ll give you your liberty. You can
go and love whom you please.... I will give you a divorce.”

“That’s not what I want,” she said. “You know I used to love you and
always thought of myself as older than you. That’s all nonsense....
You are not to blame for being older or for my being younger, or that I
might be able to love some one else if I were free; but because you are
a difficult person, an egoist, and hate every one.”

“Perhaps so. I don’t know,” I said.

“Please go away. You want to go on at me till the morning, but I warn
you I am quite worn out and cannot answer you. You promised me to go to
town. I am very grateful; I ask nothing more.”

My wife wanted me to go away, but it was not easy for me to do that. I
was dispirited and I dreaded the big, cheerless, chill rooms that I was
so weary of. Sometimes when I had an ache or a pain as a child, I used
to huddle up to my mother or my nurse, and when I hid my face in the
warm folds of their dress, it seemed to me as though I were hiding from
the pain. And in the same way it seemed to me now that I could only hide
from my uneasiness in this little room beside my wife. I sat down
and screened away the light from my eyes with my hand.... There was a
stillness.

“How are you to blame?” my wife said after a long silence, looking at me
with red eyes that gleamed with tears. “You are very well educated and
very well bred, very honest, just, and high-principled, but in you
the effect of all that is that wherever you go you bring suffocation,
oppression, something insulting and humiliating to the utmost degree.
You have a straightforward way of looking at things, and so you hate
the whole world. You hate those who have faith, because faith is an
expression of ignorance and lack of culture, and at the same time you
hate those who have no faith for having no faith and no ideals; you hate
old people for being conservative and behind the times, and young people
for free-thinking. The interests of the peasantry and of Russia are dear
to you, and so you hate the peasants because you suspect every one of
them of being a thief and a robber. You hate every one. You are just,
and always take your stand on your legal rights, and so you are always
at law with the peasants and your neighbours. You have had twenty
bushels of rye stolen, and your love of order has made you complain of
the peasants to the Governor and all the local authorities, and to send
a complaint of the local authorities to Petersburg. Legal justice!” said
my wife, and she laughed. “On the ground of your legal rights and in
the interests of morality, you refuse to give me a passport. Law and
morality is such that a self-respecting healthy young woman has to spend
her life in idleness, in depression, and in continual apprehension, and
to receive in return board and lodging from a man she does not love. You
have a thorough knowledge of the law, you are very honest and just, you
respect marriage and family life, and the effect of all that is that all
your life you have not done one kind action, that every one hates you,
that you are on bad terms with every one, and the seven years that you
have been married you’ve only lived seven months with your wife. You’ve
had no wife and I’ve had no husband. To live with a man like you is
impossible; there is no way of doing it. In the early years I was
frightened with you, and now I am ashamed.... That’s how my best years
have been wasted. When I fought with you I ruined my temper, grew
shrewish, coarse, timid, mistrustful.... Oh, but what’s the use of
talking! As though you wanted to understand! Go upstairs, and God be
with you!”

My wife lay down on the couch and sank into thought.

“And how splendid, how enviable life might have been!” she said softly,
looking reflectively into the fire. “What a life it might have been!
There’s no bringing it back now.”

Any one who has lived in the country in winter and knows those long
dreary, still evenings when even the dogs are too bored to bark and even
the clocks seem weary of ticking, and any one who on such evenings has
been troubled by awakening conscience and has moved restlessly about,
trying now to smother his conscience, now to interpret it, will
understand the distraction and the pleasure my wife’s voice gave me as
it sounded in the snug little room, telling me I was a bad man. I did
not understand what was wanted of me by my conscience, and my wife,
translating it in her feminine way, made clear to me in the meaning of
my agitation. As often before in the moments of intense uneasiness, I
guessed that the whole secret lay, not in the starving peasants, but in
my not being the sort of a man I ought to be.

My wife got up with an effort and came up to me.

“Pavel Andreitch,” she said, smiling mournfully, “forgive me, I don’t
believe you: you are not going away, but I will ask you one more favour.
Call this”--she pointed to her papers--“self-deception, feminine logic,
a mistake, as you like; but do not hinder me. It’s all that is left me
in life.” She turned away and paused. “Before this I had nothing. I have
wasted my youth in fighting with you. Now I have caught at this and am
living; I am happy.... It seems to me that I have found in this a means
of justifying my existence.”

“Natalie, you are a good woman, a woman of ideas,” I said, looking at my
wife enthusiastically, “and everything you say and do is intelligent and
fine.”

I walked about the room to conceal my emotion.

“Natalie,” I went on a minute later, “before I go away, I beg of you as
a special favour, help me to do something for the starving peasants!”

“What can I do?” said my wife, shrugging her shoulders. “Here’s the
subscription list.”

She rummaged among the papers and found the subscription list.

“Subscribe some money,” she said, and from her tone I could see that she
did not attach great importance to her subscription list; “that is the
only way in which you can take part in the work.”

I took the list and wrote: “Anonymous, 5,000.”

In this “anonymous” there was something wrong, false, conceited, but
I only realized that when I noticed that my wife flushed very red and
hurriedly thrust the list into the heap of papers. We both felt ashamed;
I felt that I must at all costs efface this clumsiness at once, or else
I should feel ashamed afterwards, in the train and at Petersburg. But
how efface it? What was I to say?

“I fully approve of what you are doing, Natalie,” I said genuinely, “and
I wish you every success. But allow me at parting to give you one
piece of advice, Natalie; be on your guard with Sobol, and with your
assistants generally, and don’t trust them blindly. I don’t say they are
not honest, but they are not gentlefolks; they are people with no ideas,
no ideals, no faith, with no aim in life, no definite principles, and
the whole object of their life is comprised in the rouble. Rouble,
rouble, rouble!” I sighed. “They are fond of getting money easily, for
nothing, and in that respect the better educated they are the more they
are to be dreaded.”

My wife went to the couch and lay down.

“Ideas,” she brought out, listlessly and reluctantly, “ideas, ideals,
objects of life, principles....you always used to use those words when
you wanted to insult or humiliate some one, or say something unpleasant.
Yes, that’s your way: if with your views and such an attitude to people
you are allowed to take part in anything, you would destroy it from the
first day. It’s time you understand that.”

She sighed and paused.

“It’s coarseness of character, Pavel Andreitch,” she said. “You are
well-bred and educated, but what a... Scythian you are in reality!
That’s because you lead a cramped life full of hatred, see no one, and
read nothing but your engineering books. And, you know, there are good
people, good books! Yes... but I am exhausted and it wearies me to talk.
I ought to be in bed.”

“So I am going away, Natalie,” I said.

“Yes... yes.... _Merci_....”

I stood still for a little while, then went upstairs. An hour later--it
was half-past one--I went downstairs again with a candle in my hand to
speak to my wife. I didn’t know what I was going to say to her, but I
felt that I must say some thing very important and necessary. She was
not in her study, the door leading to her bedroom was closed.

“Natalie, are you asleep?” I asked softly.

There was no answer.

I stood near the door, sighed, and went into the drawing-room. There I
sat down on the sofa, put out the candle, and remained sitting in the
dark till the dawn.

VI

I went to the station at ten o’clock in the morning. There was no frost,
but snow was falling in big wet flakes and an unpleasant damp wind was
blowing.

We passed a pond and then a birch copse, and then began going uphill
along the road which I could see from my window. I turned round to take
a last look at my house, but I could see nothing for the snow. Soon
afterwards dark huts came into sight ahead of us as in a fog. It was
Pestrovo.

“If I ever go out of my mind, Pestrovo will be the cause of it,” I
thought. “It persecutes me.”

We came out into the village street. All the roofs were intact, not one
of them had been pulled to pieces; so my bailiff had told a lie. A boy
was pulling along a little girl and a baby in a sledge. Another boy of
three, with his head wrapped up like a peasant woman’s and with huge
mufflers on his hands, was trying to catch the flying snowflakes on his
tongue, and laughing. Then a wagon loaded with fagots came toward us and
a peasant walking beside it, and there was no telling whether his
beard was white or whether it was covered with snow. He recognized my
coachman, smiled at him and said something, and mechanically took off
his hat to me. The dogs ran out of the yards and looked inquisitively at
my horses. Everything was quiet, ordinary, as usual. The emigrants had
returned, there was no bread; in the huts “some were laughing, some were
delirious”; but it all looked so ordinary that one could not believe
it really was so. There were no distracted faces, no voices whining for
help, no weeping, nor abuse, but all around was stillness, order, life,
children, sledges, dogs with dishevelled tails. Neither the children nor
the peasant we met were troubled; why was I so troubled?

Looking at the smiling peasant, at the boy with the huge mufflers, at
the huts, remembering my wife, I realized there was no calamity that
could daunt this people; I felt as though there were already a breath
of victory in the air. I felt proud and felt ready to cry out that I
was with them too; but the horses were carrying us away from the village
into the open country, the snow was whirling, the wind was howling, and
I was left alone with my thoughts. Of the million people working for the
peasantry, life itself had cast me out as a useless, incompetent,
bad man. I was a hindrance, a part of the people’s calamity; I was
vanquished, cast out, and I was hurrying to the station to go away and
hide myself in Petersburg in a hotel in Bolshaya Morskaya.

An hour later we reached the station. The coachman and a porter with a
disc on his breast carried my trunks into the ladies’ room. My coachman
Nikanor, wearing high felt boots and the skirt of his coat tucked up
through his belt, all wet with the snow and glad I was going away, gave
me a friendly smile and said:

“A fortunate journey, your Excellency. God give you luck.”

Every one, by the way, calls me “your Excellency,” though I am only a
collegiate councillor and a kammer-junker. The porter told me the train
had not yet left the next station; I had to wait. I went outside, and
with my head heavy from my sleepless night, and so exhausted I could
hardly move my legs, I walked aimlessly towards the pump. There was not
a soul anywhere near.

“Why am I going?” I kept asking myself. “What is there awaiting me
there? The acquaintances from whom I have come away, loneliness,
restaurant dinners, noise, the electric light, which makes my eyes ache.
Where am I going, and what am I going for? What am I going for?”

And it seemed somehow strange to go away without speaking to my wife. I
felt that I was leaving her in uncertainty. Going away, I ought to have
told that she was right, that I really was a bad man.

When I turned away from the pump, I saw in the doorway the
station-master, of whom I had twice made complaints to his superiors,
turning up the collar of his coat, shrinking from the wind and the snow.
He came up to me, and putting two fingers to the peak of his cap, told
me with an expression of helpless confusion, strained respectfulness,
and hatred on his face, that the train was twenty minutes late, and
asked me would I not like to wait in the warm?

“Thank you,” I answered, “but I am probably not going. Send word to my
coachman to wait; I have not made up my mind.”

I walked to and fro on the platform and thought, should I go away or
not? When the train came in I decided not to go. At home I had to expect
my wife’s amazement and perhaps her mockery, the dismal upper storey and
my uneasiness; but, still, at my age that was easier and as it were
more homelike than travelling for two days and nights with strangers to
Petersburg, where I should be conscious every minute that my life was of
no use to any one or to anything, and that it was approaching its end.
No, better at home whatever awaited me there.... I went out of the
station. It was awkward by daylight to return home, where every one was
so glad at my going. I might spend the rest of the day till evening at
some neighbour’s, but with whom? With some of them I was on strained
relations, others I did not know at all. I considered and thought of
Ivan Ivanitch.

“We are going to Bragino!” I said to the coachman, getting into the
sledge.

“It’s a long way,” sighed Nikanor; “it will be twenty miles, or maybe
twenty-five.”

“Oh, please, my dear fellow,” I said in a tone as though Nikanor had the
right to refuse. “Please let us go!”

Nikanor shook his head doubtfully and said slowly that we really ought
to have put in the shafts, not Circassian, but Peasant or Siskin; and
uncertainly, as though expecting I should change my mind, took the reins
in his gloves, stood up, thought a moment, and then raised his whip.

“A whole series of inconsistent actions...” I thought, screening my face
from the snow. “I must have gone out of my mind. Well, I don’t care....”

In one place, on a very high and steep slope, Nikanor carefully held
the horses in to the middle of the descent, but in the middle the horses
suddenly bolted and dashed downhill at a fearful rate; he raised his
elbows and shouted in a wild, frantic voice such as I had never heard
from him before:

“Hey! Let’s give the general a drive! If you come to grief he’ll buy new
ones, my darlings! Hey! look out! We’ll run you down!”

Only now, when the extraordinary pace we were going at took my breath
away, I noticed that he was very drunk. He must have been drinking at
the station. At the bottom of the descent there was the crash of ice; a
piece of dirty frozen snow thrown up from the road hit me a painful blow
in the face.

The runaway horses ran up the hill as rapidly as they had downhill, and
before I had time to shout to Nikanor my sledge was flying along on
the level in an old pine forest, and the tall pines were stretching out
their shaggy white paws to me from all directions.

“I have gone out of my mind, and the coachman’s drunk,” I thought.
“Good!”

I found Ivan Ivanitch at home. He laughed till he coughed, laid his head
on my breast, and said what he always did say on meeting me:

“You grow younger and younger. I don’t know what dye you use for your
hair and your beard; you might give me some of it.”

“I’ve come to return your call, Ivan Ivanitch,” I said untruthfully.
“Don’t be hard on me; I’m a townsman, conventional; I do keep count of
calls.”

“I am delighted, my dear fellow. I am an old man; I like respect....
Yes.”

From his voice and his blissfully smiling face, I could see that he was
greatly flattered by my visit. Two peasant women helped me off with my
coat in the entry, and a peasant in a red shirt hung it on a hook, and
when Ivan Ivanitch and I went into his little study, two barefooted
little girls were sitting on the floor looking at a picture-book; when
they saw us they jumped up and ran away, and a tall, thin old woman
in spectacles came in at once, bowed gravely to me, and picking up a
pillow from the sofa and a picture-book from the floor, went away. From
the adjoining rooms we heard incessant whispering and the patter of bare
feet.

“I am expecting the doctor to dinner,” said Ivan Ivanitch. “He promised
to come from the relief centre. Yes. He dines with me every Wednesday,
God bless him.” He craned towards me and kissed me on the neck.
“You have come, my dear fellow, so you are not vexed,” he whispered,
sniffing. “Don’t be vexed, my dear creature. Yes. Perhaps it is
annoying, but don’t be cross. My only prayer to God before I die is to
live in peace and harmony with all in the true way. Yes.”

“Forgive me, Ivan Ivanitch, I will put my feet on a chair,” I said,
feeling that I was so exhausted I could not be myself; I sat further
back on the sofa and put up my feet on an arm-chair. My face was burning
from the snow and the wind, and I felt as though my whole body were
basking in the warmth and growing weaker from it.

“It’s very nice here,” I went on--“warm, soft, snug... and goose-feather
pens,” I laughed, looking at the writing-table; “sand instead of
blotting-paper.”

“Eh? Yes... yes.... The writing-table and the mahogany cupboard here
were made for my father by a self-taught cabinet-maker--Glyeb Butyga, a
serf of General Zhukov’s. Yes... a great artist in his own way.”

Listlessly and in the tone of a man dropping asleep, he began telling me
about cabinet-maker Butyga. I listened. Then Ivan Ivanitch went into the
next room to show me a polisander wood chest of drawers remarkable for
its beauty and cheapness. He tapped the chest with his fingers, then
called my attention to a stove of patterned tiles, such as one never
sees now. He tapped the stove, too, with his fingers. There was an
atmosphere of good-natured simplicity and well-fed abundance about
the chest of drawers, the tiled stove, the low chairs, the pictures
embroidered in wool and silk on canvas in solid, ugly frames. When one
remembers that all those objects were standing in the same places and
precisely in the same order when I was a little child, and used to come
here to name-day parties with my mother, it is simply unbelievable that
they could ever cease to exist.

I thought what a fearful difference between Butyga and me! Butyga who
made things, above all, solidly and substantially, and seeing in that
his chief object, gave to length of life peculiar significance, had no
thought of death, and probably hardly believed in its possibility; I,
when I built my bridges of iron and stone which would last a thousand
years, could not keep from me the thought, “It’s not for long....it’s no
use.” If in time Butyga’s cupboard and my bridge should come under the
notice of some sensible historian of art, he would say: “These were two
men remarkable in their own way: Butyga loved his fellow-creatures and
would not admit the thought that they might die and be annihilated, and
so when he made his furniture he had the immortal man in his mind. The
engineer Asorin did not love life or his fellow-creatures; even in
the happy moments of creation, thoughts of death, of finiteness and
dissolution, were not alien to him, and we see how insignificant and
finite, how timid and poor, are these lines of his....”

“I only heat these rooms,” muttered Ivan Ivanitch, showing me his rooms.
“Ever since my wife died and my son was killed in the war, I have kept
the best rooms shut up. Yes... see...”

He opened a door, and I saw a big room with four columns, an old piano,
and a heap of peas on the floor; it smelt cold and damp.

“The garden seats are in the next room...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch.
“There’s no one to dance the mazurka now.... I’ve shut them up.”

We heard a noise. It was Dr. Sobol arriving. While he was rubbing his
cold hands and stroking his wet beard, I had time to notice in the
first place that he had a very dull life, and so was pleased to see Ivan
Ivanitch and me; and, secondly, that he was a naive and simple-hearted
man. He looked at me as though I were very glad to see him and very much
interested in him.

“I have not slept for two nights,” he said, looking at me naively and
stroking his beard. “One night with a confinement, and the next I stayed
at a peasant’s with the bugs biting me all night. I am as sleepy as
Satan, do you know.”

With an expression on his face as though it could not afford me anything
but pleasure, he took me by the arm and led me to the dining-room. His
naive eyes, his crumpled coat, his cheap tie and the smell of iodoform
made an unpleasant impression upon me; I felt as though I were in vulgar
company. When we sat down to table he filled my glass with vodka, and,
smiling helplessly, I drank it; he put a piece of ham on my plate and I
ate it submissively.

“_Repetitia est mater studiorum_,” said Sobol, hastening to drink off
another wineglassful. “Would you believe it, the joy of seeing good
people has driven away my sleepiness? I have turned into a peasant, a
savage in the wilds; I’ve grown coarse, but I am still an educated man,
and I tell you in good earnest, it’s tedious without company.”

They served first for a cold course white sucking-pig with horse-radish
cream, then a rich and very hot cabbage soup with pork on it, with
boiled buckwheat, from which rose a column of steam. The doctor went on
talking, and I was soon convinced that he was a weak, unfortunate man,
disorderly in external life. Three glasses of vodka made him drunk; he
grew unnaturally lively, ate a great deal, kept clearing his throat and
smacking his lips, and already addressed me in Italian, “Eccellenza.”
 Looking naively at me as though he were convinced that I was very glad
to see and hear him, he informed me that he had long been separated from
his wife and gave her three-quarters of his salary; that she lived in
the town with his children, a boy and a girl, whom he adored; that
he loved another woman, a widow, well educated, with an estate in the
country, but was rarely able to see her, as he was busy with his work
from morning till night and had not a free moment.

“The whole day long, first at the hospital, then on my rounds,” he told
us; “and I assure you, Eccellenza, I have not time to read a book, let
alone going to see the woman I love. I’ve read nothing for ten years!
For ten years, Eccellenza. As for the financial side of the question,
ask Ivan Ivanitch: I have often no money to buy tobacco.”

“On the other hand, you have the moral satisfaction of your work,” I
said.

“What?” he asked, and he winked. “No,” he said, “better let us drink.”

I listened to the doctor, and, after my invariable habit, tried to take
his measure by my usual classification--materialist, idealist, filthy
lucre, gregarious instincts, and so on; but no classification fitted
him even approximately; and strange to say, while I simply listened and
looked at him, he seemed perfectly clear to me as a person, but as soon
as I began trying to classify him he became an exceptionally complex,
intricate, and incomprehensible character in spite of all his candour
and simplicity. “Is that man,” I asked myself, “capable of wasting other
people’s money, abusing their confidence, being disposed to sponge on
them?” And now this question, which had once seemed to me grave and
important, struck me as crude, petty, and coarse.

Pie was served; then, I remember, with long intervals between, during
which we drank home-made liquors, they gave us a stew of pigeons,
some dish of giblets, roast sucking-pig, partridges, cauliflower, curd
dumplings, curd cheese and milk, jelly, and finally pancakes and jam.
At first I ate with great relish, especially the cabbage soup and the
buckwheat, but afterwards I munched and swallowed mechanically, smiling
helplessly and unconscious of the taste of anything. My face was burning
from the hot cabbage soup and the heat of the room. Ivan Ivanitch and
Sobol, too, were crimson.

“To the health of your wife,” said Sobol. “She likes me. Tell her her
doctor sends her his respects.”

“She’s fortunate, upon my word,” sighed Ivan Ivanitch. “Though she takes
no trouble, does not fuss or worry herself, she has become the most
important person in the whole district. Almost the whole business is
in her hands, and they all gather round her, the doctor, the District
Captains, and the ladies. With people of the right sort that happens
of itself. Yes.... The apple-tree need take no thought for the apple to
grow on it; it will grow of itself.”

“It’s only people who don’t care who take no thought,” said I.

“Eh? Yes...” muttered Ivan Ivanitch, not catching what I said, “that’s
true.... One must not worry oneself. Just so, just so.... Only do your
duty towards God and your neighbour, and then never mind what happens.”

“Eccellenza,” said Sobol solemnly, “just look at nature about us: if
you poke your nose or your ear out of your fur collar it will be
frost-bitten; stay in the fields for one hour, you’ll be buried in the
snow; while the village is just the same as in the days of Rurik,
the same Petchenyegs and Polovtsi. It’s nothing but being burnt down,
starving, and struggling against nature in every way. What was I saying?
Yes! If one thinks about it, you know, looks into it and analyses all
this hotchpotch, if you will allow me to call it so, it’s not life but
more like a fire in a theatre! Any one who falls down or screams with
terror, or rushes about, is the worst enemy of good order; one must
stand up and look sharp, and not stir a hair! There’s no time for
whimpering and busying oneself with trifles. When you have to deal with
elemental forces you must put out force against them, be firm and as
unyielding as a stone. Isn’t that right, grandfather?” He turned to Ivan
Ivanitch and laughed. “I am no better than a woman myself; I am a limp
rag, a flabby creature, so I hate flabbiness. I can’t endure petty
feelings! One mopes, another is frightened, a third will come straight
in here and say: ‘Fie on you! Here you’ve guzzled a dozen courses and
you talk about the starving!’ That’s petty and stupid! A fourth will
reproach you, Eccellenza, for being rich. Excuse me, Eccellenza,” he
went on in a loud voice, laying his hand on his heart, “but your
having set our magistrate the task of hunting day and night for your
thieves--excuse me, that’s also petty on your part. I am a little drunk,
so that’s why I say this now, but you know, it is petty!”

“Who’s asking him to worry himself? I don’t understand!” I said, getting
up.

I suddenly felt unbearably ashamed and mortified, and I walked round the
table.

“Who asks him to worry himself? I didn’t ask him to.... Damn him!”

“They have arrested three men and let them go again. They turned out not
to be the right ones, and now they are looking for a fresh lot,” said
Sobol, laughing. “It’s too bad!”

“I did not ask him to worry himself,” said I, almost crying with
excitement. “What’s it all for? What’s it all for? Well, supposing I was
wrong, supposing I have done wrong, why do they try to put me more in
the wrong?”

“Come, come, come, come!” said Sobol, trying to soothe me. “Come! I
have had a drop, that is why I said it. My tongue is my enemy. Come,” he
sighed, “we have eaten and drunk wine, and now for a nap.”

He got up from the table, kissed Ivan Ivanitch on the head, and
staggering from repletion, went out of the dining-room. Ivan Ivanitch
and I smoked in silence.

“I don’t sleep after dinner, my dear,” said Ivan Ivanitch, “but you have
a rest in the lounge-room.”

I agreed. In the half-dark and warmly heated room they called the
lounge-room, there stood against the walls long, wide sofas, solid and
heavy, the work of Butyga the cabinet maker; on them lay high, soft,
white beds, probably made by the old woman in spectacles. On one of them
Sobol, without his coat and boots, already lay asleep with his face to
the back of the sofa; another bed was awaiting me. I took off my coat
and boots, and, overcome by fatigue, by the spirit of Butyga which
hovered over the quiet lounge-room, and by the light, caressing snore of
Sobol, I lay down submissively.

And at once I began dreaming of my wife, of her room, of the
station-master with his face full of hatred, the heaps of snow, a fire
in the theatre. I dreamed of the peasants who had stolen twenty sacks of
rye out of my barn.

“Anyway, it’s a good thing the magistrate let them go,” I said.

I woke up at the sound of my own voice, looked for a moment in
perplexity at Sobol’s broad back, at the buckles of his waistcoat, at
his thick heels, then lay down again and fell asleep.

When I woke up the second time it was quite dark. Sobol was asleep.
There was peace in my heart, and I longed to make haste home. I dressed
and went out of the lounge-room. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting in a big
arm-chair in his study, absolutely motionless, staring at a fixed point,
and it was evident that he had been in the same state of petrifaction
all the while I had been asleep.

“Good!” I said, yawning. “I feel as though I had woken up after breaking
the fast at Easter. I shall often come and see you now. Tell me, did my
wife ever dine here?”

“So-ome-ti-mes... sometimes,”’ muttered Ivan Ivanitch, making an effort
to stir. “She dined here last Saturday. Yes.... She likes me.”

After a silence I said:

“Do you remember, Ivan Ivanitch, you told me I had a disagreeable
character and that it was difficult to get on with me? But what am I to
do to make my character different?”

“I don’t know, my dear boy.... I’m a feeble old man, I can’t advise
you.... Yes.... But I said that to you at the time because I am fond
of you and fond of your wife, and I was fond of your father.... Yes. I
shall soon die, and what need have I to conceal things from you or to
tell you lies? So I tell you: I am very fond of you, but I don’t respect
you. No, I don’t respect you.”

He turned towards me and said in a breathless whisper:

“It’s impossible to respect you, my dear fellow. You look like a
real man. You have the figure and deportment of the French President
Carnot--I saw a portrait of him the other day in an illustrated paper...
yes.... You use lofty language, and you are clever, and you are high up
in the service beyond all reach, but haven’t real soul, my dear boy...
there’s no strength in it.”

“A Scythian, in fact,” I laughed. “But what about my wife? Tell me
something about my wife; you know her better.”

I wanted to talk about my wife, but Sobol came in and prevented me.

“I’ve had a sleep and a wash,” he said, looking at me naively. “I’ll
have a cup of tea with some rum in it and go home.”

VII

It was by now past seven. Besides Ivan Ivanitch, women servants, the old
dame in spectacles, the little girls and the peasant, all accompanied us
from the hall out on to the steps, wishing us good-bye and all sorts of
blessings, while near the horses in the darkness there were standing and
moving about men with lanterns, telling our coachmen how and which way
to drive, and wishing us a lucky journey. The horses, the men, and the
sledges were white.

“Where do all these people come from?” I asked as my three horses and
the doctor’s two moved at a walking pace out of the yard.

“They are all his serfs,” said Sobol. “The new order has not reached him
yet. Some of the old servants are living out their lives with him, and
then there are orphans of all sorts who have nowhere to go; there are
some, too, who insist on living there, there’s no turning them out. A
queer old man!”

Again the flying horses, the strange voice of drunken Nikanor, the wind
and the persistent snow, which got into one’s eyes, one’s mouth, and
every fold of one’s fur coat....

“Well, I am running a rig,” I thought, while my bells chimed in with
the doctor’s, the wind whistled, the coachmen shouted; and while this
frantic uproar was going on, I recalled all the details of that strange
wild day, unique in my life, and it seemed to me that I really had gone
out of my mind or become a different man. It was as though the man I had
been till that day were already a stranger to me.

The doctor drove behind and kept talking loudly with his coachman. From
time to time he overtook me, drove side by side, and always, with the
same naive confidence that it was very pleasant to me, offered me a
cigarette or asked for the matches. Or, overtaking me, he would lean right
out of his sledge, and waving about the sleeves of his fur coat, which
were at least twice as long as his arms, shout:

“Go it, Vaska! Beat the thousand roublers! Hey, my kittens!”

And to the accompaniment of loud, malicious laughter from Sobol and
his Vaska the doctor’s kittens raced ahead. My Nikanor took it as an
affront, and held in his three horses, but when the doctor’s bells had
passed out of hearing, he raised his elbows, shouted, and our horses
flew like mad in pursuit. We drove into a village, there were glimpses
of lights, the silhouettes of huts. Some one shouted:

“Ah, the devils!” We seemed to have galloped a mile and a half, and
still it was the village street and there seemed no end to it. When we
caught up the doctor and drove more quietly, he asked for matches and
said:

“Now try and feed that street! And, you know, there are five streets
like that, sir. Stay, stay,” he shouted. “Turn in at the tavern! We must
get warm and let the horses rest.”

They stopped at the tavern.

“I have more than one village like that in my district,” said the
doctor, opening a heavy door with a squeaky block, and ushering me in
front of him. “If you look in broad daylight you can’t see to the end of
the street, and there are side-streets, too, and one can do nothing but
scratch one’s head. It’s hard to do anything.”

We went into the best room where there was a strong smell of
table-cloths, and at our entrance a sleepy peasant in a waistcoat and a
shirt worn outside his trousers jumped up from a bench. Sobol asked for
some beer and I asked for tea.

“It’s hard to do anything,” said Sobol. “Your wife has faith; I respect
her and have the greatest reverence for her, but I have no great faith
myself. As long as our relations to the people continue to have the
character of ordinary philanthropy, as shown in orphan asylums and
almshouses, so long we shall only be shuffling, shamming, and deceiving
ourselves, and nothing more. Our relations ought to be businesslike,
founded on calculation, knowledge, and justice. My Vaska has been
working for me all his life; his crops have failed, he is sick and
starving. If I give him fifteen kopecks a day, by so doing I try to
restore him to his former condition as a workman; that is, I am first
and foremost looking after my own interests, and yet for some reason I
call that fifteen kopecks relief, charity, good works. Now let us put
it like this. On the most modest computation, reckoning seven kopecks a
soul and five souls a family, one needs three hundred and fifty roubles
a day to feed a thousand families. That sum is fixed by our practical
duty to a thousand families. Meanwhile we give not three hundred and
fifty a day, but only ten, and say that that is relief, charity, that
that makes your wife and all of us exceptionally good people and hurrah
for our humaneness. That is it, my dear soul! Ah! if we would talk less
of being humane and calculated more, reasoned, and took a conscientious
attitude to our duties! How many such humane, sensitive people there are
among us who tear about in all good faith with subscription lists, but
don’t pay their tailors or their cooks. There is no logic in our life;
that’s what it is! No logic!”

We were silent for a while. I was making a mental calculation and said:

“I will feed a thousand families for two hundred days. Come and see me
tomorrow to talk it over.”

I was pleased that this was said quite simply, and was glad that Sobol
answered me still more simply:

“Right.”

We paid for what we had and went out of the tavern.

“I like going on like this,” said Sobol, getting into the sledge.
“Eccellenza, oblige me with a match. I’ve forgotten mine in the tavern.”

A quarter of an hour later his horses fell behind, and the sound of his
bells was lost in the roar of the snow-storm. Reaching home, I walked
about my rooms, trying to think things over and to define my position
clearly to myself; I had not one word, one phrase, ready for my wife. My
brain was not working.

But without thinking of anything, I went downstairs to my wife. She was
in her room, in the same pink dressing-gown, and standing in the same
attitude as though screening her papers from me. On her face was an
expression of perplexity and irony, and it was evident that having heard
of my arrival, she had prepared herself not to cry, not to entreat me,
not to defend herself, as she had done the day before, but to laugh at
me, to answer me contemptuously, and to act with decision. Her face was
saying: “If that’s how it is, good-bye.”

“Natalie, I’ve not gone away,” I said, “but it’s not deception. I have
gone out of my mind; I’ve grown old, I’m ill, I’ve become a different
man--think as you like.... I’ve shaken off my old self with horror, with
horror; I despise him and am ashamed of him, and the new man who has
been in me since yesterday will not let me go away. Do not drive me
away, Natalie!”

She looked intently into my face and believed me, and there was a gleam
of uneasiness in her eyes. Enchanted by her presence, warmed by the
warmth of her room, I muttered as in delirium, holding out my hands to
her:

“I tell you, I have no one near to me but you. I have never for one
minute ceased to miss you, and only obstinate vanity prevented me
from owning it. The past, when we lived as husband and wife, cannot be
brought back, and there’s no need; but make me your servant, take all my
property, and give it away to any one you like. I am at peace, Natalie,
I am content.... I am at peace.”

My wife, looking intently and with curiosity into my face, suddenly
uttered a faint cry, burst into tears, and ran into the next room. I
went upstairs to my own storey.

An hour later I was sitting at my table, writing my “History of
Railways,” and the starving peasants did not now hinder me from doing
so. Now I feel no uneasiness. Neither the scenes of disorder which I saw
when I went the round of the huts at Pestrovo with my wife and Sobol the
other day, nor malignant rumours, nor the mistakes of the people around
me, nor old age close upon me--nothing disturbs me. Just as the flying
bullets do not hinder soldiers from talking of their own affairs, eating
and cleaning their boots, so the starving peasants do not hinder me from
sleeping quietly and looking after my personal affairs. In my house and
far around it there is in full swing the work which Dr. Sobol calls “an
orgy of philanthropy.” My wife often comes up to me and looks about
my rooms uneasily, as though looking for what more she can give to the
starving peasants “to justify her existence,” and I see that, thanks
to her, there will soon be nothing of our property left and we shall be
poor; but that does not trouble me, and I smile at her gaily. What will
happen in the future I don’t know.

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