Franz Kafka

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nikolai Gogol's "The Government Inspector," or "The Inspector General" (Ревизор, Revizor), English Translation


ON 25 March an unusually strange event occurred in St. Petersburg. For
that morning Barber Ivan Yakovlevitch, a dweller on the Vozkresensky
Prospekt (his name is lost now--it no longer figures on a signboard
bearing a portrait of a gentleman with a soaped cheek, and the words:
"Also, Blood Let Here")--for that morning Barber Ivan Yakovlevitch awoke
early, and caught the smell of newly baked bread. Raising himself a
little, he perceived his wife (a most respectable dame, and one
especially fond of coffee) to be just in the act of drawing newly baked
rolls from the oven.

"Prascovia Osipovna," he said, "I would rather not have any coffee for
breakfast, but, instead, a hot roll and an onion,"--the truth being that
he wanted both but knew it to be useless to ask for two things at once,
as Prascovia Osipovna did not fancy such tricks.

"Oh, the fool shall have his bread," the dame reflected. "So much the
better for me then, as I shall be able to drink a second lot of coffee."

And duly she threw on to the table a roll.

Ivan Yakovlevitch donned a jacket over his shirt for politeness' sake,
and, seating himself at the table, poured out salt, got a couple of
onions ready, took a knife into his hand, assumed an air of importance,
and cut the roll asunder. Then he glanced into the roll's middle. To his
intense surprise he saw something glimmering there. He probed it
cautiously with the knife--then poked at it with a finger.

"Quite solid it is!" he muttered. "What in the world is it likely to

He thrust in, this time, all his fingers, and pulled forth--a nose! His
hands dropped to his sides for a moment. Then he rubbed his eyes hard.
Then again he probed the thing. A nose! Sheerly a nose! Yes, and one
familiar to him, somehow! Oh, horror spread upon his feature! Yet that
horror was a trifle compared with his spouse's overmastering wrath.

"You brute!" she shouted frantically. "Where have you cut off that nose?
You villain, you! You drunkard! Why, I'll go and report you to the
police myself. The brigand, you! Three customers have told me already
about your pulling at their noses as you shaved them till they could
hardly stand it."

But Ivan Yakovlevitch was neither alive nor dead. This was the more the
case because, sure enough, he had recognised the nose. It was the nose
of Collegiate Assessor Kovalev--no less: it was the nose of a gentleman
whom he was accustomed to shave twice weekly, on each Wednesday and each

"Stop, Prascovia Osipovna!" at length he said. "I'll wrap the thing in a
clout, and lay it aside awhile, and take it away altogether later."

"But I won't hear of such a thing being done! As if I'm going to have a
cut-off nose kicking about my room! Oh, you old stick! Maybe you can
just strop a razor still; but soon you'll be no good at all for the rest
of your work. You loafer, you wastrel, you bungler, you blockhead! Aye,
I'll tell the police of you. Take it away, then. Take it away. Take it
anywhere you like. Oh, that I'd never caught the smell of it!"

Ivan Yakovlevitch was dumbfounded. He thought and thought, but did not
know what to think.

"The devil knows how it's happened," he said, scratching one ear. "You
see, I don't know for certain whether I came home drunk last night or
not. But certainly things look as though something out of the way
happened then, for bread comes of baking, and a nose of something else
altogether. Oh, I just can't make it out."

So he sat silent. At the thought that the police might find the nose at
his place, and arrest him, he felt frantic. Yes, already he could see
the red collar with the smart silver braiding--the sword! He shuddered
from head to foot.

But at last he got out, and donned waistcoat and shoes, wrapped the nose
in a clout, and departed amid Prascovia Osipovna's forcible

His one idea was to rid himself of the nose, and return quietly home--to
do so either by throwing the nose into the gutter in front of the gates
or by just letting it drop anywhere. Yet, unfortunately, he kept meeting
friends, and they kept saying to him: "Where are you off to?" or "Whom
have you arranged to shave at this early hour?" until seizure of a
fitting moment became impossible. Once, true, he did succeed in dropping
the thing, but no sooner had he done so than a constable pointed at him
with his truncheon, and shouted: "Pick it up again! You've lost
something," and he perforce had to take the nose into his possession
once more, and stuff it into a pocket. Meanwhile his desperation grew in
proportion as more and more booths and shops opened for business, and
more and more people appeared in the street.

At last he decided that he would go to the Isaakievsky Bridge, and throw
the thing, if he could, into the Neva. But here let me confess my fault
in not having said more about Ivan Yakovlevitch himself, a man estimable
in more respects than one.

Like every decent Russian tradesman, Ivan Yakovlevitch was a terrible
tippler. Daily he shaved the chins of others, but always his own was
unshorn, and his jacket (he never wore a top-coat) piebald--black,
thickly studded with greyish, brownish-yellowish stains--and shiny of
collar, and adorned with three pendent tufts of thread instead of
buttons. But, with that, Ivan Yakovlevitch was a great cynic. Whenever
Collegiate Assessor Kovalev was being shaved, and said to him, according
to custom: "Ivan Yakovlevitch, your hands do smell!" he would retort:
"But why should they smell?" and, when the Collegiate Assessor had
replied: "Really I do not know, brother, but at all events they do,"
take a pinch of snuff, and soap the Collegiate Assessor upon cheek, and
under nose, and behind ears, and around chin at his good will and

So the worthy citizen stood on the Isaakievsky Bridge, and looked about
him. Then, leaning over the parapet, he feigned to be trying to see if
any fish were passing underneath. Then gently he cast forth the nose.

At once ten puds-weight seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders.
Actually he smiled! But, instead of departing, next, to shave the chins
of chinovniki, he bethought him of making for a certain establishment
inscribed "Meals and Tea," that he might get there a glassful of punch.

Suddenly he sighted a constable standing at the end of the bridge, a
constable of smart appearance, with long whiskers, a three-cornered hat,
and a sword complete. Oh, Ivan Yakovlevitch could have fainted! Then the
constable, beckoning with a finger, cried:

"Nay, my good man. Come here."

Ivan Yaklovlevitch, knowing the proprieties, pulled off his cap at quite
a distance away, advanced quickly, and said:

"I wish your Excellency the best of health."

"No, no! None of that `your Excellency,' brother. Come and tell me what
you have been doing on the bridge."

"Before God, sir, I was crossing it on my way to some customers when I
peeped to see if there were any fish jumping."

"You lie, brother! You lie! You won't get out of it like that. Be so
good as to answer me truthfully."

"Oh, twice a week in future I'll shave you for nothing. Aye, or even
three times a week."

"No, no, friend. That is rubbish. Already I've got three barbers for the
purpose, and all of them account it an honour. Now, tell me, I ask
again, what you have just been doing?"

This made Ivan Yakovlevitch blanch, and----

Further events here become enshrouded in mist. What happened after that
is unknown to all men.


COLLEGIATE ASSESSOR KOVALEV also awoke early that morning. And when he
had done so he made the "B-r-rh!" with his lips which he always did when
he had been asleep--he himself could not have said why. Then he
stretched himself, had handed to him a small mirror from the table near
by, and set himself to inspect a pimple which had broken out on his nose
the night before. But, to his unbounded astonishment, there was only a
flat patch on his face where the nose should have been! Greatly alarmed,
he called for water, washed, and rubbed his eyes hard with the towel.
Yes, the nose indeed was gone! He prodded the spot with a hand-pinched
himself to make sure that he was not still asleep. But no; he was not
still sleeping. Then he leapt from the bed, and shook himself. No nose
had he on him still! Finally, he bade his clothes be handed him, and set
forth for the office of the Police Commissioner at his utmost speed.

Here let me add something which may enable the reader to perceive just
what the Collegiate Assessor was like. Of course, it goes without saying
that Collegiate Assessors who acquire the title with the help of
academic diplomas cannot be compared with Collegiate Assessors who
become Collegiate Assessors through service in the Caucasus, for the two
species are wholly distinct, they are----Stay, though. Russia is so
strange a country that, let one but say anything about any one
Collegiate Assessor, and the rest, from Riga to Kamchatka, at once apply
the remark to themselves--for all titles and all ranks it means the same
thing. Now, Kovalev was a "Caucasian" Collegiate Assessor, and had, as
yet, borne the title for two years only. Hence, unable ever to forget
it, he sought the more to give himself dignity and weight by calling
himself, in addition to "Collegiate Assessor," "Major."

"Look here, good woman," once he said to a shirts' vendor whom he met in
the street, "come and see me at my home. I have my flat in Sadovaia
Street. Ask merely, `Is this where Major Kovalev lives?' Anyone will
show you." Or, on meeting fashionable ladies, he would say: "My dear
madam, ask for Major Kovalev's flat." So we too will call the Collegiate
Assessor "Major."

Major Kovalev had a habit of daily promenading the Nevsky Prospekt in an
extremely clean and well-starched shirt and collar, and in whiskers of
the sort still observable on provincial surveyors, architects,
regimental doctors, other officials, and all men who have round, red
cheeks, and play a good hand at "Boston." Such whiskers run across the
exact centre of the cheek--then head straight for the nose. Again, Major
Kovalev always had on him a quantity of seals, both of seals engraved
with coats of arms, and of seals inscribed "Wednesday," "Thursday,"
"Monday," and the rest. And, finally, Major Kovalev had come to live in
St. Petersburg because of necessity. That is to say, he had come to live
in St. Petersburg because he wished to obtain a post befitting his new
title--whether a Vice-Governorship or, failing that, an
Administratorship in a leading department. Nor was Major Kovalev
altogether set against marriage. Merely he required that his bride
should possess not less than two hundred thousand rubles in capital. The
reader, therefore, can now judge how the Major was situated when he
perceived that instead of a not unpresentable nose there was figuring on
his face an extremely uncouth, and perfectly smooth and uniform patch.

Ill luck prescribed, that morning, that not a cab was visible throughout
the street's whole length; so, huddling himself up in his cloak, and
covering his face with a handkerchief (to make things look as though his
nose were bleeding), he had to start upon his way on foot only.

"Perhaps this is only imagination?" he reflected. Presently he turned
aside towards a restaurant (for he wished yet again to get a sight of
himself in a mirror). "The nose can't have removed itself of sheer

Luckily no customers were present in the restaurant--merely some waiters
were sweeping out the rooms, and rearranging the chairs, and others,
sleepy-eyed fellows, were setting forth trayfuls of hot pastries. On
chairs and tables last night's newspapers, coffee-stained, were strewn.

"Thank God that no one is here!" the Major reflected. "Now I can look at
myself again."

He approached a mirror in some trepidation, and peeped therein. Then he

"The devil only knows what this vileness means!" he muttered. "If even
there had been something to take the nose's place! But, as it is,
there's nothing there at all."

He bit his lips with vexation, and hurried out of the restaurant. No; as
he went along he must look at no one, and smile at no one. Then he
halted as though riveted to earth. For in front of the doors of a
mansion he saw occur a phenomenon of which, simply, no explanation was
possible. Before that mansion there stopped a carriage. And then a door
of the carriage opened, and there leapt thence, huddling himself up, a
uniformed gentleman, and that uniformed gentleman ran headlong up the
mansion's entrance-steps, and disappeared within. And oh, Kovalev's
horror and astonishment to perceive that the gentleman was none other
than--his own nose! The unlooked-for spectacle made everything swim
before his eyes. Scarcely, for a moment, could he even stand. Then,
deciding that at all costs he must await the gentleman's return to the
carriage, he remained where he was, shaking as though with fever. Sure
enough, the Nose did return, two minutes later. It was clad in a
gold-braided, high-collared uniform, buckskin breeches, and cockaded
hat. And slung beside it there was a sword, and from the cockade on the
hat it could be inferred that the Nose was purporting to pass for a
State Councillor. It seemed now to be going to pay another visit
somewhere. At all events it glanced about it, and then, shouting to the
coachman, "Drive up here," re-entered the vehicle, and set forth.

Poor Kovalev felt almost demented. The astounding event left him utterly
at a loss. For how could the nose which had been on his face but
yesterday, and able then neither to drive nor to walk independently, now
be going about in uniform?--He started in pursuit of the carriage,
which, luckily, did not go far, and soon halted before the Gostiny

[* Formerly the "Whiteley's" of St. Petersburg.]

Kovalev too hastened to the building, pushed through the line of old
beggar-women with bandaged faces and apertures for eyes whom he had so
often scorned, and entered. Only a few customers were present, but
Kovalev felt so upset that for a while he could decide upon no course of
action save to scan every corner in the gentleman's pursuit. At last he
sighted him again, standing before a counter, and, with face hidden
altogether behind the uniform's stand-up collar, inspecting with
absorbed attention some wares.

"How, even so, am I to approach it?" Kovalev reflected. "Everything
about it, uniform, hat, and all, seems to show that it is a State
Councillor now. Only the devil knows what is to be done!"

He started to cough in the Nose's vicinity, but the Nose did not change
its position for a single moment.

"My good sir," at length Kovalev said, compelling himself to boldness,
"my good sir, I----"

"What do you want?" And the Nose did then turn round.

"My good sir, I am in a difficulty. Yet somehow, I think, I think,
that--well, I think that you ought to know your proper place better. All
at once, you see, I find you--_where_? Do you not feel as I do about

"Pardon me, but I cannot apprehend your meaning. Pray explain further."

"Yes, but how, I should like to know?" Kovalev thought to himself. Then,
again taking courage, he went: on:

"I am, you see--well, in point of fact, you see, I am a Major. Hence you
will realise how unbecoming it is for me to have to walk about without a
nose. Of course, a peddler of oranges on the Vozkresensky Bridge could
sit there noseless well enough, but I myself am hoping soon to receive
a----Hm, yes. Also, I have amongst my acquaintances several ladies of
good houses (Madame Chektareva, wife of the State Councillor, for
example), and you may judge for yourself what that alone signifies. Good
sir"--Major Kovalev gave his shoulders a shrug--"I do not know whether
you yourself (pardon me) consider conduct of this sort to be altogether
in accordance with the rules of duty and honour, but at least you can
understand that----"

"I understand nothing at all," the Nose broke in. "Explain yourself more

"Good sir," Kovalev went on with a heightened sense of dignity, "the one
who is at a loss to understand the other is I. But at least the
immediate point should be plain, unless you are determined to have it
otherwise. Merely--you are my own nose."

The Nose regarded the Major, and contracted its brows a little.

"My dear sir, you speak in error," was its reply. "I am just
myself--myself separately. And in any case there cannot ever have
existed a close relation between us, for, judging from the buttons of
your undress uniform, your service is being performed in another
department than my own."

And the Nose definitely turned away.

Kovalev stood dumbfounded. What to do, even what to think, he had not a

Presently the agreeable swish of ladies' dresses began to be heard. Yes,
an elderly, lace-bedecked dame was approaching, and, with her, a slender
maiden in a white frock which outlined delightfully a trim figure, and,
above it, a straw hat of a lightness as of pastry. Behind them there
came, stopping every now and then to open a snuffbox, a tall, whiskered
beau in quite a twelve-fold collar.

Kovalev moved a little nearer, pulled up the collar of his shirt,
straightened the seals on his gold watch-chain, smiled, and directed
special attention towards the slender lady as, swaying like a floweret
in spring, she kept raising to her brows a little white hand with
fingers almost of transparency. And Kovalev's smiles became broader
still when peeping from under the hat he saw there to be an alabaster,
rounded little chin, and part of a cheek flushed like an early rose. But
all at once he recoiled as though scorched, for all at once he had
remembered that he had not a nose on him, but nothing at all. So, with
tears forcing themselves upwards, he wheeled about to tell the uniformed
gentleman that he, the uniformed gentleman, was no State Councillor, but
an impostor and a knave and a villain and the Major's own nose. But the
Nose, behold, was gone! That very moment had it driven away to,
presumably, pay another visit.

This drove Kovalev to the last pitch of desperation. He went back to the
mansion, and stationed himself under its portico, in the hope that, by
peering hither and thither, hither and thither, he might once more see
the Nose appear. But, well though he remembered the Nose's cockaded hat
and gold-braided uniform, he had failed at the time to note also its
cloak, the colour of its horses, the make of its carriage, the look of
the lackey seated behind, and the pattern of the lackey's livery.
Besides, so many carriages were moving swiftly up and down the street
that it would have been impossible to note them all, and equally so to
have stopped any one of them. Meanwhile, as the day was fine and sunny,
the Prospekt was thronged with pedestrians also--a whole kaleidoscopic
stream of ladies was flowing along the pavements, from Police
Headquarters to the Anitchkin Bridge. There one could descry an Aulic
Councillor whom Kovalev knew well. A gentleman he was whom Kovalev
always addressed as "Lieutenant-Colonel," and especially in the presence
of others. And there there went Yaryzhkin, Chief Clerk to the Senate, a
crony who always rendered forfeit at "Boston" on playing an eight. And,
lastly, a like "Major" with Kovalev, a like "Major" with an Assessorship
acquired through Caucasian service, started to beckon to Kovalev with a

"The devil take him!" was Kovalev's muttered comment. "Hi, cabman! Drive
to the Police Commissioner's direct."

But just when he was entering the drozhki he added:

"No. Go by Ivanovskaia Street."

"Is the Commissioner in?" he asked on crossing the threshold.

"He is not," was the doorkeeper's reply. "He's gone this very moment."

"There's luck for you!"

"Aye," the doorkeeper went on. "Only just a moment ago he was off. If
you'd been a bare half-minute sooner you'd have found him at home,

Still holding the handkerchief to his face, Kovalev returned to the cab,
and cried wildly:

"Drive on!"

"Where to, though?" the cabman inquired.

"Oh, straight ahead!"

"'Straight ahead'? But the street divides here. To right, or to left?"

The question caused Kovalov to pause and recollect himself. In his
situation he ought to make his next step an application to the Board of
Discipline--not because the Board was directly connected with the
police, but because its dispositions would be executed more speedily
than in other departments. To seek satisfaction of the the actual
department in which the Nose had declared itself to be serving would be
sheerly unwise, since from the Nose's very replies it was clear that it
was the sort of individual who held nothing sacred, and, in that event,
might lie as unconscionably as it had lied in asserting itself never to
have figured in its proprietor's company. Kovalev, therefore, decided to
seek the Board of Discipline. But just as he was on the point of being
driven thither there occurred to him the thought that the impostor and
knave who had behaved so shamelessly during the late encounter might
even now be using the time to get out of the city, and that in that case
all further pursuit of the rogue would become vain, or at all events
last for, God preserve us! a full month. So at last, left only to the
guidance of Providence, the Major resolved to make for a newspaper
office, and publish a circumstantial description of the Nose in such
good time that anyone meeting with the truant might at once be able
either to restore it to him or to give information as to its
whereabouts. So he not only directed the cabman to the newspaper office,
but, all the way thither, prodded him in the back, and shouted: "Hurry
up, you rascal! Hurry up, you rogue!" whilst the cabman intermittently
responded: "Aye, barin," and nodded, and plucked at the reins of a steed
as shaggy as a spaniel.

The moment that the drozhki halted Kovalev dashed, breathless, into a
small reception-office. There, seated at a table, a grey-headed clerk in
ancient jacket and pair of spectacles was, with pen tucked between lips,
counting sums received in copper.

"Who here takes the advertisements?" Kovalev exclaimed as he entered.
"A-ah! Good day to you."

"And my respects," the grey-headed clerk replied, raising his eyes for
an instant, and then lowering them again to the spread out copper heaps.

"I want you to publish----"

"Pardon--one moment." And the clerk with one hand committed to paper a
figure, and with a finger of the other hand shifted two accounts
markers. Standing beside him with an advertisement in his hands, a
footman in a laced coat, and sufficiently smart to seem to be in service
in an aristocratic mansion, now thought well to display some

"Sir," he said to the clerk, "I do assure you that the puppy is not
worth eight grivni even. At all events _I_ wouldn't give that much for
it. Yet the countess loves it--yes, just loves it, by God! Anyone
wanting it of her will have to pay a hundred rubles. Well, to tell the
truth between you and me, people's tastes differ. Of course, if one's a
sportsman one keeps a setter or a spaniel. And in that case don't you
spare five hundred rubles, or even give a thousand, if the dog is a good

The worthy clerk listened with gravity, yet none the less accomplished a
calculation of the number of letters in the advertisement brought. On
either side there was a group of charwomen, shop assistants,
doorkeepers, and the like. All had similar advertisements in their
hands, with one of the documents to notify that a coachman of good
character was about to be disengaged, and another one to advertise a
koliaska imported from Paris in 1814, and only slightly used since, and
another one a maid-servant of nineteen experienced in laundry work, but
prepared also for other jobs, and another one a sound drozhki save that
a spring was lacking, and another one a grey-dappled, spirited horse of
the age of seventeen, and another one some turnip and radish seed just
received from London, and another one a country house with every
amenity, stabling for two horses, and sufficient space for the laying
out of a fine birch or spruce plantation, and another one some
second-hand footwear, with, added, an invitation to attend the daily
auction sale from eight o'clock to three. The room where the company
thus stood gathered together was small, and its atmosphere confined; but
this closeness, of course, Collegiate Assessor Kovalev never perceived,
for, in addition to his face being muffled in a handkerchief, his nose
was gone, and God only knew its present habitat!

"My dear sir," at last he said impatiently, "allow me to ask you
something: it is a pressing matter."

"One moment, one moment! Two rubles, forty-three kopeks. Yes, presently.
Sixty rubles, four kopeks."

With which the clerk threw the two advertisements concerned towards the
group of charwomen and the rest, and turned to Kovalev.

"Well?" he said. "What do you want?"

"Your pardon," replied Kovalev, "but fraud and knavery has been done. I
still cannot understand the affair, but wish to announce that anyone
returning me the rascal shall receive an adequate reward."

"Your name, if you would be so good?"

"No, no. What can my name matter? I cannot tell it you. I know many
acquaintances such as Madame Chektareva (wife of the State Councillor)
and Pelagea Grigorievna Podtochina (wife of the Staff-Officer), and, the
Lord preserve us, they would learn of the affair at once. So say just `a
Collegiate Assessor,' or, better, `a gentleman ranking as Major.'"

"Has a household serf of yours absconded, then?"

"A household serf of mine? As though even a household serf would
perpetrate such a crime as the present one! No, indeed! It is my nose
that has absconded from me."

"Gospodin Nossov, Gospoding Nossov? Indeed a strange name, that![*] Then
has this Gospodin Nossov robbed you of some money?"

[* Nose is _noss_ in Russian, and Gospodin equivalent to the English

"I said nose, not Nossov. You are making a mistake. There has
disappeared, goodness knows whither, my nose, my own actual nose.
Presumably it is trying to make a fool of me."

"But how could it so disappear? The matter has something about it which
I do not fully understand."

"I cannot tell you the exact how. The point is that now the nose is
driving about the city, and giving itself out for a State Councillor
--wherefore I beg you to announce that anyone apprehending any such nose
ought at once, in the shortest possible space of time, to return it to
myself. Surely you can judge what it is for me meanwhile to be lacking
such a conspicuous portion of my frame? For a nose is not like a toe
which one can keep inside a boot, and hide the absence of if it is not
there. Besides, every Thurdsay I am due to call upon Madame Chektareva
(wife of the State Councillor): whilst Pelagea Grigorievna Podtochina
(wife of the Staff-Officer, mother of a pretty daughter) also is one of
my closest acquaintances. So, again, judge for yourself how I am
situated at present. In such a condition as this I could not possibly
present myself before the ladies named."

Upon that the clerk became thoughtful: the fact was clear from his
tightly compressed lips alone.

"No," he said at length. "Insert such an announcement I cannot."

"But why not?"

"Because, you see, it might injure the paper's reputation. Imagine if
everyone were to start proclaiming a disappearance of his nose! People
would begin to say that, that--well, that we printed absurdities and
false tales."

Thursday, July 18, 2019

"Ein Landarzt," by Franz Kafka: "A Country Doctor," English version. "Ein Landarzt, A Country Doctor," by Franz Kafka, translated in English, with Original Text in German

From "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on AmazonKindleon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through Amazon and Lulu.  

A Country Doctor 

I was in great perplexity. An urgent journey was ahead. A seriously ill man was waiting for me in a village ten miles away. A severe snowstorm filled the vast distance between him and me. I had a carriage—a light one, with large wheels, exactly suitable for our country roads. Bundled up in my fur coat, with the tools bag in my hand, I was standing in the courtyard ready for the journey; but the horse was missing—the horse. My own horse had died the previous night, as a result of over-exertion in this icy winter. My maid was presently running around the village to see if she could borrow a horse, but that was hopeless—I knew that—and I stood there useless, more and more overwhelmed by the snow, more and more unable to move. The girl appeared at the gate, alone. She waved the lantern. Of course, who would ever lend her his horse for such a journey? I paced again across the courtyard. I found no way. Distracted and tormented, I kicked my foot against the cracked door of the pigsty, which had not been used for years. The door opened and banged back and forth on its hinges. A warmth and a whiff carrying the smell of horses came out. Inside, a dim stall lantern swayed on a rope. A man huddled down in the low shed below showed his open blue-eyed face. “Shall I hitch up?” he asked, crawling out on all fours. I didn’t know what to say and leaned to see what else was in the stable. The maiden stood beside me. “One doesn’t know the sorts of things you have in stock in our own home,” he said, and we both laughed. "Holla, Brother, hey, sister!" cried out the groom, and two horses, powerful animals with strong flanks, pushed their way one behind the other, legs close to the bodies, their well-shaped heads lowered in the same manner of camels, getting through the door , which they completely filled, only by the powerful movements of their rumps. But immediately they stood up straight, long legged, with thick steaming bodies. “Help him,” I said, and the girl obediently hurried to hand the wagon harness to the groom. But as soon as she was beside him, the groom puts his arms around her and pushes his face against hers. She screams and runs over to me. On the girl’s cheek were red marks from two rows of teeth. “You beast,” I cry out in fury, “do you want the whip?” But I immediately recollect that he is a stranger, that I don’t know where he comes from, and that he’s helping me out voluntarily, when everyone else refuse to. As if he knew my thoughts, he takes no offense at my threat, but turns around to me once, still busy with the horses. Then he says, “Get in,” and, in fact, everything is ready.
 I notice that never before have I traveled with such a beautiful team of horses, and I climb in happily. “But let me take the reins. You don’t know the way,” I say. “Of course,” he says; “I’m not going with you. I’m staying here with Rosa.” “No,” screams Rosa and she runs into the house, with a precise premonition of her unavoidable fate. I hear the door chain rattling as she sets it in place. I hear the lock clicking. I see how she runs down the corridor and through the rooms putting out all the lights as to make her impossible to find. “You’re coming with me,” I say to the groom, “or I’ll give up the journey, no matter how urgent it is. I will never give you the girl as the price for the trip.” “Giddy up,” he says and claps his hands. The carriage darts, like a piece of wood in a current. I still hear how the door of my house is breaking down and splitting apart under the groom’s fury, and then my eyes and ears are filled with a roaring sound, which overwhelms all my senses at once. But only for a moment; then I am already there, as if the farmyard of the patient opened up immediately in front of my courtyard gate. The horses stand quietly. The snowfall has stopped, moonlight all around. The ill man’s parents rush out of the house, his sister behind them. They almost lift me out of the carriage. I gather nothing from their gibber. In the room of the ill man one can hardly breathe the air. The neglected stove is smoking. I want to push wide open the window, but first I’ll look at the ill man. Thin, without fever, not cold, not warm, with dull eyes, without a shirt, the young man heaves himself up from under the quilt, grabs at my throat, and whispers in my ear, “doctor, let me die.”
I look around. No one has heard. The parents stand silently, leaning forward, and wait for my opinion. The sister has drawn a chair for my tools bag. I open the bag and look among my instruments.
The young man constantly gropes at me from the bed to remind me of his prayer...
(see links to Full Text  below).

From "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on Amazon KindleiPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through Lulu. 

Ein Landarzt

Ich war in großer Verlegenheit: eine dringende Reise stand mir bevor; ein Schwerkranker wartete auf mich in einem zehn Meilen entfernten Dorfe; starkes Schneegestöber füllte den weiten Raum zwischen mir und ihm; einen Wagen hatte ich, leicht, großräderig, ganz wie er für unsere Landstraßen taugt; in den Pelz gepackt, die Instrumententasche in der Hand, stand ich reisefertig schon auf dem Hofe; aber das Pferd fehlte, das Pferd. Mein eigenes Pferd war in der letzten Nacht, infolge der Überanstrengung in diesem eisigen Winter, verendet; mein Dienstmädchen lief jetzt im Dorf umher, um ein Pferd geliehen zu bekommen; aber es war aussichtslos, ich wußte es, und immer mehr vom Schnee überhäuft, immer unbeweglicher werdend, stand ich zwecklos da. Am Tor erschien das Mädchen, allein, schwenkte die Laterne; natürlich, wer leiht jetzt sein Pferd her zu solcher Fahrt? Ich durchmaß noch einmal den Hof; ich fand keine Möglichkeit; zerstreut, gequält stieß ich mit dem Fuß an die brüchige Tür des schon seit Jahren unbenützten Schweinestalles. Sie öffnete sich und klappte in den Angeln auf und zu. Wärme und Geruch wie von Pferden kam hervor. Eine trübe Stallaterne schwankte drin an einem Seil. Ein Mann, zusammengekauert in dem niedrigen Verschlag, zeigte sein offenes blauäugiges Gesicht. » Soll ich anspannen?« fragte er, auf allen vieren hervorkriechend. Ich wußte nichts zu sagen und beugte mich nur, um zu sehen, was es noch in dem Stalle gab. Das Dienstmädchen stand neben mir. »Man weiß nicht, was für Dinge man im eigenen Hause vorrätig hat«, sagte es, und wir beide lachten. »Holla, Bruder, holla, Schwester!« rief der Pferdeknecht, und zwei Pferde, mächtige flankenstarke Tiere, schoben sich hintereinander, die Beine eng am Leib, die wohlgeformten Köpfe wie Kamele senkend, nur durch die Kraft der Wendungen ihres Rumpfes aus dem Türloch, das sie restlos ausfüllten. Aber gleich standen sie aufrecht, hochbeinig, mit dicht ausdampfendem Körper. »Hilf ihm«, sagte ich, und das willige Mädchen eilte, dem Knecht das Geschirr des Wagens zu reichen. Doch kaum war es bei ihm, umfaßt es der Knecht und schlägt sein Gesicht an ihres. Es schreit auf und flüchtet sich zu mir; rot eingedrückt sind zwei Zahnreihen in des Mädchens Wange. »Du Vieh«, schreie ich wütend, »willst du die Peitsche?«, besinne mich aber gleich, daß es ein Fremder ist, daß ich nicht weiß, woher er kommt, und daß er mir freiwillig aushilft, wo alle andern versagen. Als wisse er von meinen Gedanken, nimmt er meine Drohung nicht übel, sondern wendet sich nur einmal, immer mit den Pferden beschäftigt, nach mir um. »Steigt ein«, sagt er dann, und tatsächlich: alles ist bereit. Mit so schönem Gespann, das merke ich, bin ich noch nie gefahren, und ich steige fröhlich ein. »Kutschieren werde aber ich, du kennst nicht den Weg«, sage ich. »Gewiß«, sagt er, »ich fahre gar nicht mit, ich bleibe bei Rosa.« »Nein«, schreit Rosa und läuft im richtigen Vorgefühl der Unabwendbarkeit ihres Schicksals ins Haus; ich höre die Türkette klirren, die sie vorlegt; ich höre das Schloß einspringen; ich sehe, wie sie überdies im Flur und weiterjagend durch die Zimmer alle Lichter verlöscht, um sich unauffindbar zu machen. »Du fährst mit«, sage ich zu dem Knecht, »oder ich verzichte auf die Fahrt, so dringend sie auch ist. Es fällt mir nicht ein, dir für die Fahrt das Mädchen als Kaufpreis hinzugeben.« »Munter!« sagt er; klatscht in die Hände; der Wagen wird fortgerissen, wie Holz in die Strömung; noch höre ich, wie die Tür meines Hauses unter dem Ansturm des Knechts birst und splittert, dann sind mir Augen und Ohren von einem zu allen Sinnen gleichmäßig dringenden Sausen erfüllt. Aber auch das nur einen Augenblick, denn, als öffne sich unmittelbar vor meinem Hoftor der Hof meines Kranken, bin ich schon dort; ruhig stehen die Pferde; der Schneefall hat aufgehört; Mondlicht ringsum; die Eltern des Kranken eilen aus dem Haus; seine Schwester hinter ihnen; man hebt mich fast aus dem Wagen; den verwirrten Reden entnehme ich nichts; im Krankenzimmer ist die Luft kaum atembar; der vernachlässigte Herdofen raucht; ich werde das Fenster aufstoßen; zuerst aber will ich den Kranken sehen. Mager, ohne Fieber, nicht kalt, nicht warm, mit leeren Augen, ohne Hemd hebt sich der junge unter dem Federbett, hängt sich an meinen Hals, flüstert mir ins Ohr: »Doktor, laß mich sterben. « Ich sehe mich um; niemand hat es gehört; die Eltern stehen stumm vorgebeugt und erwarten mein Urteil; die Schwester hat einen Stuhl für meine Handtasche gebracht. Ich öffne die Tasche und suche unter meinen Instrumenten; der Junge tastet immerfort aus dem Bett nach mir hin, um mich an seine Bitte zu erinnern; ich fasse eine Pinzette, prüfe sie im Kerzenlicht und lege sie wieder hin. »Ja«, denke ich lästernd, »in solchen Fällen helfen die Götter, schicken das fehlende Pferd, fügen der Eile wegen noch ein zweites hinzu, spenden zum Übermaß noch den Pferdeknecht-.« Jetzt erst fällt mir wieder Rosa ein; was tue ich, wie rette ich sie, wie ziehe ich sie unter diesem Pferdeknecht hervor, zehn Meilen von ihr entfernt, unbeherrschbare Pferde vor meinem Wagen? Diese Pferde, die jetzt die Riemen irgendwie gelockert haben; die Fenster, ich weiß nicht wie, von außen aufstoßen? jedes durch ein Fenster den Kopf stecken und, unbeirrt durch den Aufschrei der Familie, den Kranken betrachten. »Ich fahre gleich wieder zurück«, denke ich, als forderten mich die Pferde zur Reise auf, aber ich dulde es, daß die Schwester, die mich durch die Hitze betäubt glaubt, den Pelz mir abnimmt. Ein Glas Rum wird mir bereitgestellt, der Alte klopft mir auf die Schulter, die Hingabe seines Schatzes rechtfertigt diese Vertraulichkeit. Ich schüttle den Kopf; in dem engen Denkkreis des Alten würde mir übel; nur aus diesem Grunde lehne ich es ab zu trinken. Die Mutter steht am Bett und lockt mich hin; ich folge und lege, während ein Pferd laut zur Zimmerdecke wiehert, den Kopf an die Brust des Jungen, der unter meinem nassen Bart erschauert. Es bestätigt sich, was ich weiß: der Junge ist gesund, ein wenig schlecht durchblutet, von der sorgenden Mutter mit Kaffee durchtränkt, aber gesund und am besten mit einem Stoß aus dem Bett zu treiben. Ich bin kein Weltverbesserer und lasse ihn liegen. Ich bin vom Bezirk angestellt und tue meine Pflicht bis zum Rand, bis dorthin, wo es fast zu viel wird. Schlecht bezahlt, bin ich doch freigebig und hilfsbereit gegenüber den Armen. Noch für Rosa muß ich sorgen, dann mag der Junge recht haben und auch ich will sterben. Was tue ich hier in diesem endlosen Winter! Mein Pferd ist verendet, und da ist niemand im Dorf, der mir seines leiht. Aus dem Schweinestall muß ich mein Gespann ziehen; wären es nicht zufällig Pferde, müßte ich mit Säuen fahren. So ist es. Und ich nicke der Familie zu. Sie wissen nichts davon, und wenn sie es wüßten, würden sie es nicht glauben. Rezepte schreiben ist leicht, aber im übrigen sich mit den Leuten verständigen, ist schwer. Nun, hier wäre also mein Besuch zu Ende, man hat mich wieder einmal unnötig bemüht, daran bin ich gewöhnt, mit Hilfe meiner Nachtglocke martert mich der ganze Bezirk, aber daß ich diesmal auch noch Rosa hingeben mußte, dieses schöne Mädchen, das jahrelang, von mir kaum beachtet, in meinem Hause lebte – dieses Opfer ist zu groß, und ich muß es mir mit Spitzfindigkeiten aushilfsweise in meinem Kopf irgendwie zurechtlegen, um nicht auf diese Familie loszufahren, die mir ja beim besten Willen Rosa nicht zurückgeben kann. Als ich aber meine Handtasche schließe und nach meinem Pelz winke, die Familie beisammensteht, der Vater schnuppernd über dem Rumglas in seiner Hand, die Mutter, von mir wahrscheinlich enttäuscht ja, was erwartet denn das Volk? – tränenvoll in die Lippen beißend und die Schwester ein schwer blutiges Handtuch schwenkend, bin ich irgendwie bereit, unter Umständen zuzugeben, daß der Junge doch vielleicht krank ist. Ich gehe zu ihm, er lächelt mir entgegen, als brächte ich ihm etwa die allerstärkste Suppe – ach, jetzt wiehern beide Pferde; der Lärm soll wohl, höhern Orts angeordnet, die Untersuchung erleichtern – und nun finde ich: ja, der Junge ist krank. In seiner rechten Seite, in der Hüftengegend hat sich eine handtellergroße Wunde aufgetan. Rosa, in vielen Schattierungen, dunkel in der Tiefe, hellwerdend zu den Rändern, zartkörnig, mit ungleichmäßig sich aufsammelndem Blut, offen wie ein Bergwerk obertags. So aus der Entfernung. In der Nähe zeigt sich noch eine Erschwerung. Wer kann das ansehen ohne leise zu pfeifen? Würmer, an Stärke und Länge meinem kleinen Finger gleich, rosig aus eigenem und außerdem blutbespritzt, winden sich, im Innern der Wunde festgehalten, mit weißen Köpfchen, mit vielen Beinchen ans Licht. Armer Junge, dir ist nicht zu helfen. Ich habe deine große Wunde aufgefunden; an dieser Blume in deiner Seite gehst du zugrunde. Die Familie ist glücklich, sie sieht mich in Tätigkeit; die Schwester sagt's der Mutter, die Mutter dem Vater, der Vater einigen Gästen, die auf den Fußspitzen, mit ausgestreckten Armen balancierend, durch den Mondschein der offenen Tür hereinkommen. »Wirst du mich retten?« flüstert schluchzend der Junge, ganz geblendet durch das Leben in seiner Wunde. So sind die Leute in meiner Gegend. Immer das Unmögliche vom Arzt verlangen. Den alten Glauben haben sie verloren; der Pfarrer sitzt zu Hause und zerzupft die Meßgewänder, eines nach dem andern; aber der Arzt soll alles leisten mit seiner zarten chirurgischen Hand. Nun, wie es beliebt: ich habe mich nicht angeboten; verbraucht ihr mich zu heiligen Zwecken, lasse ich auch das mit mir geschehen; was will ich Besseres, alter Landarzt, meines Dienstmädchens beraubt! Und sie kommen, die Familie und die Dorfältesten, und entkleiden mich; ein Schulchor mit dem Lehrer an der Spitze steht vor dem Haus und singt eine äußerst einfache Melodie auf den Text:

Entkleidet ihn, dann wird er heilen,
Und heilt er nicht, so tötet ihn!
's ist nur ein Arzt, 's ist nur ein Arzt.

Dann bin ich entkleidet und sehe, die Finger im Barte, mit geneigtem Kopf die Leute ruhig an. Ich bin durchaus gefaßt und allen überlegen und bleibe es auch, trotzdem es mir nichts hilft, denn jetzt nehmen sie mich beim Kopf und bei den Füßen und tragen mich ins Bett. Zur Mauer, an die Seite der Wunde legen sie mich. Dann gehen alle aus der Stube; die Tür wird zugemacht; der Gesang verstummt; Wolken treten vor den Mond; warm liegt das Bettzeug um mich, schattenhaft schwanken die Pferdeköpfe in den Fensterlöchern. »Weißt du«, höre ich, mir ins Ohr gesagt, »mein Vertrauen zu dir ist sehr gering. Du bist ja auch nur irgendwo abgeschüttelt, kommst nicht auf eigenen Füßen. Statt zu helfen, engst du mir mein Sterbebett ein. Am liebsten kratzte ich dir die Augen aus.« »Richtig«, sage ich, »es ist eine Schmach. Nun bin ich aber Arzt. Was soll ich tun? Glaube mir, es wird auch mir nicht leicht.« »Mit dieser Entschuldigung soll ich mich begnügen? Ach, ich muß wohl. Immer muß ich mich begnügen. Mit einer schönen Wunde kam ich auf die Welt; das war meine ganze Ausstattung.« »Junger Freund«, sage ich, »dein Fehler ist: du hast keinen Überblick. Ich, der ich schon in allen Krankenstuben, weit und breit, gewesen bin, sage dir: deine Wunde ist so übel nicht. Im spitzen Winkel mit zwei Hieben der Hacke geschaffen. Viele bieten ihre Seite an und hören kaum die Hacke im Forst, geschweige denn, daß sie ihnen näher kommt.« »Ist es wirklich so oder täuschest du mich im Fieber? « »Es ist wirklich so, nimm das Ehrenwort eines Amtsarztes mit hinüber.« Und er nahm's und wurde still. Aber jetzt war es Zeit, an meine Rettung zu denken. Noch standen treu die Pferde an ihren Plätzen. Kleider, Pelz und Tasche waren schnell zusammengerafft; mit dem Ankleiden wollte ich mich nicht aufhalten; beeilten sich die Pferde wie auf der Herfahrt, sprang ich ja gewissermaßen aus diesem Bett in meines. Gehorsam zog sich ein Pferd vom Fenster zurück; ich warf den Ballen in den Wagen; der Pelz flog zu weit, nur mit einem.Ärmel hielt er sich an einem Haken fest. Gut genug. Ich schwang mich aufs Pferd. Die Riemen lose schleifend, ein Pferd kaum mit dem andern verbunden, der Wagen irrend hinterher, den Pelz als letzter im Schnee. »Munter!« sagte ich, aber munter ging's nicht; langsam wie alte Männer zogen wir durch die Schneewüste; lange klang hinter uns der neue, aber irrtümliche Gesang der Kinder:

Freuet euch, ihr Patienten,
Der Arzt ist euch ins Bett gelegt!

Niemals komme ich so nach Hause; meine blühende Praxis ist verloren; ein Nachfolger bestiehlt mich, aber ohne Nutzen, denn er kann mich nicht ersetzen; in meinem Hause wütet der ekle Pferdeknecht; Rosa ist sein Opfer; ich will es nicht ausdenken. Nackt, dem Froste dieses unglückseligsten Zeitalters ausgesetzt, mit irdischem Wagen, unirdischen Pferden, treibe ich alter Mann mich umher. Mein Pelz hängt hinten am Wagen, ich kann ihn aber nicht erreichen, und keiner aus dem beweglichen Gesindel der Patienten rührt den Finger. Betrogen! Betrogen! Einmal dem Fehlläuten der Nachtglocke gefolgt – es ist niemals gutzumachen.

Monday, July 15, 2019

"Byezhin Prairie" by Ivan Turgenev, from “A Sportsman's Sketches” (1852) – (Записки охотника)

Ivan Turgenev hunting (1879) by Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky (private collection)

Byezhin Prairie

It was a glorious July day, one of those days which only come after many days of fine weather. From earliest morning the sky is clear; the sunrise does not glow with fire; it is suffused with a soft roseate flush. The sun, not fiery, not red-hot as in time of stifling drought, not dull purple as before a storm, but with a bright and genial radiance, rises peacefully behind a long and narrow cloud, shines out freshly, and plunges again into its lilac mist. The delicate upper edge of the strip of cloud flashes in little gleaming snakes; their brilliance is like polished silver. But, lo! the dancing rays flash forth again, and in solemn joy, as though flying upward, rises the mighty orb. About mid-day there is wont to be, high up in the sky, a multitude of rounded clouds, golden-grey, with soft white edges. Like islands scattered over an overflowing river, that bathes them in its unbroken reaches of deep transparent blue, they scarcely stir; farther down the heavens they are in movement, packing closer; now there is no blue to be seen between them, but they are themselves almost as blue as the sky, filled full with light and heat. The colour of the horizon, a faint pale lilac, does not change all day, and is the same all round; nowhere is there storm gathering and darkening; only somewhere rays of bluish colour stretch down from the sky; it is a sprinkling of scarce- perceptible rain.
In the evening these clouds disappear; the last of them, blackish and undefined as smoke, lie streaked with pink, facing the setting sun; in the place where it has gone down, as calmly as it rose, a crimson glow lingers long over the darkening earth, and, softly flashing like a candle carried carelessly, the evening star flickers in the sky. On such days all the colours are softened, bright but not glaring; everything is suffused with a kind of touching tenderness. On such days the heat is sometimes very great; often it is even 'steaming' on the slopes of the fields, but a wind dispels this growing sultriness, and whirling eddies of dust--sure sign of settled, fine weather--move along the roads and across the fields in high white columns. In the pure dry air there is a scent of wormwood, rye in blossom, and buckwheat; even an hour before nightfall there is no moisture in the air. It is for such weather that the farmer longs, for harvesting his wheat....
On just such a day I was once out grouse-shooting in the Tchern district of the province of Tula. I started and shot a fair amount of game; my full game-bag cut my shoulder mercilessly; but already the evening glow had faded, and the cool shades of twilight were beginning to grow thicker, and to spread across the sky, which was still bright, though no longer lighted up by the rays of the setting sun, when I at last decided to turn back homewards. With swift steps I passed through the long 'square' of underwoods, clambered up a hill, and instead of the familiar plain I expected to see, with the oakwood on the right and the little white church in the distance, I saw before me a scene completely different, and quite new to me. A narrow valley lay at my feet, and directly facing me a dense wood of aspen-trees rose up like a thick wall. I stood still in perplexity, looked round me.... 'Aha!' I thought, 'I have somehow come wrong; I kept too much to the right,' and surprised at my own mistake, I rapidly descended the hill. I was at once plunged into a disagreeable clinging mist, exactly as though I had gone down into a cellar; the thick high grass at the bottom of the valley, all drenched with dew, was white like a smooth tablecloth; one felt afraid somehow to walk on it. I made haste to get on the other side, and walked along beside the aspenwood, bearing to the left. Bats were already hovering over its slumbering tree-tops, mysteriously flitting and quivering across the clear obscure of the sky; a young belated hawk flew in swift, straight course upwards, hastening to its nest. 'Here, directly I get to this corner,' I thought to myself, 'I shall find the road at once; but I have come a mile out of my way!'
I did at last reach the end of the wood, but there was no road of any sort there; some kind of low bushes overgrown with long grass extended far and wide before me; behind them in the far, far distance could be discerned a tract of waste land. I stopped again. 'Well? Where am I?' I began ransacking my brain to recall how and where I had been walking during the day.... 'Ah! but these are the bushes at Parahin,' I cried at last; 'of course! then this must be Sindyev wood. But how did I get here? So far?... Strange! Now I must bear to the right again.'
I went to the right through the bushes. Meantime the night had crept close and grown up like a storm-cloud; it seemed as though, with the mists of evening, darkness was rising up on all sides and flowing down from overhead. I had come upon some sort of little, untrodden, overgrown path; I walked along it, gazing intently before me. Soon all was blackness and silence around--only the quail's cry was heard from time to time. Some small night-bird, flitting noiselessly near the ground on its soft wings, almost flapped against me and skurried away in alarm. I came out on the further side of the bushes, and made my way along a field by the hedge. By now I could hardly make out distant objects; the field showed dimly white around; beyond it rose up a sullen darkness, which seemed moving up closer in huge masses every instant. My steps gave a muffled sound in the air, that grew colder and colder. The pale sky began again to grow blue--but it was the blue of night. The tiny stars glimmered and twinkled in it.
What I had been taking for a wood turned out to be a dark round hillock. 'But where am I, then?' I repeated again aloud, standing still for the third time and looking inquiringly at my spot and tan English dog, Dianka by name, certainly the most intelligent of four-footed creatures. But the most intelligent of four-footed creatures only wagged her tail, blinked her weary eyes dejectedly, and gave me no sensible advice. I felt myself disgraced in her eyes and pushed desperately forward, as though I had suddenly guessed which way I ought to go; I scaled the hill, and found myself in a hollow of no great depth, ploughed round.
A strange sensation came over me at once. This hollow had the form of an almost perfect cauldron, with sloping sides; at the bottom of it were some great white stones standing upright--it seemed as though they had crept there for some secret council--and it was so still and dark in it, so dreary and weird seemed the sky, overhanging it, that my heart sank. Some little animal was whining feebly and piteously among the stones. I made haste to get out again on to the hillock. Till then I had not quite given up all hope of finding the way home; but at this point I finally decided that I was utterly lost, and without any further attempt to make out the surrounding objects, which were almost completely plunged in darkness, I walked straight forward, by the aid of the stars, at random.... For about half-an-hour I walked on in this way, though I could hardly move one leg before the other. It seemed as if I had never been in such a deserted country in my life; nowhere was there the glimmer of a fire, nowhere a sound to be heard. One sloping hillside followed another; fields stretched endlessly upon fields; bushes seemed to spring up out of the earth under my very nose. I kept walking and was just making up my mind to lie down somewhere till morning, when suddenly I found myself on the edge of a horrible precipice.
I quickly drew back my lifted foot, and through the almost opaque darkness I saw far below me a vast plain. A long river skirted it in a semi-circle, turned away from me; its course was marked by the steely reflection of the water still faintly glimmering here and there. The hill on which I found myself terminated abruptly in an almost overhanging precipice, whose gigantic profile stood out black against the dark-blue waste of sky, and directly below me, in the corner formed by this precipice and the plain near the river, which was there a dark, motionless mirror, under the lee of the hill, two fires side by side were smoking and throwing up red flames. People were stirring round them, shadows hovered, and sometimes the front of a little curly head was lighted up by the glow.
I found out at last where I had got to. This plain was well known in our parts under the name of Byezhin Prairie.... But there was no possibility of returning home, especially at night; my legs were sinking under me from weariness. I decided to get down to the fires and to wait for the dawn in the company of these men, whom I took for drovers. I got down successfully, but I had hardly let go of the last branch I had grasped, when suddenly two large shaggy white dogs rushed angrily barking upon me. The sound of ringing boyish voices came from round the fires; two or three boys quickly got up from the ground. I called back in response to their shouts of inquiry. They ran up to me, and at once called off the dogs, who were specially struck by the appearance of my Dianka. I came down to them.
I had been mistaken in taking the figures sitting round the fires for drovers. They were simply peasant boys from a neighbouring village, who were in charge of a drove of horses. In hot summer weather with us they drive the horses out at night to graze in the open country: the flies and gnats would give them no peace in the daytime; they drive out the drove towards evening, and drive them back in the early morning: it's a great treat for the peasant boys. Bare-headed, in old fur-capes, they bestride the most spirited nags, and scurry along with merry cries and hooting and ringing laughter, swinging their arms and legs, and leaping into the air. The fine dust is stirred up in yellow clouds and moves along the road; the tramp of hoofs in unison resounds afar; the horses race along, pricking up their ears; in front of all, with his tail in the air and thistles in his tangled mane, prances some shaggy chestnut, constantly shifting his paces as he goes.
I told the boys I had lost my way, and sat down with them. They asked me where I came from, and then were silent for a little and turned away. Then we talked a little again. I lay down under a bush, whose shoots had been nibbled off, and began to look round. It was a marvellous picture; about the fire a red ring of light quivered and seemed to swoon away in the embrace of a background of darkness; the flame flaring up from time to time cast swift flashes of light beyond the boundary of this circle; a fine tongue of light licked the dry twigs and died away at once; long thin shadows, in their turn breaking in for an instant, danced right up to the very fires; darkness was struggling with light. Sometimes, when the fire burnt low and the circle of light shrank together, suddenly out of the encroaching darkness a horse's head was thrust in, bay, with striped markings or all white, stared with intent blank eyes upon us, nipped hastily the long grass, and drawing back again, vanished instantly. One could only hear it still munching and snorting. From the circle of light it was hard to make out what was going on in the darkness; everything close at hand seemed shut off by an almost black curtain; but farther away hills and forests were dimly visible in long blurs upon the horizon.
The dark unclouded sky stood, inconceivably immense, triumphant, above us in all its mysterious majesty. One felt a sweet oppression at one's heart, breathing in that peculiar, overpowering, yet fresh fragrance-- the fragrance of a summer night in Russia. Scarcely a sound was to be heard around.... Only at times, in the river near, the sudden splash of a big fish leaping, and the faint rustle of a reed on the bank, swaying lightly as the ripples reached it ... the fires alone kept up a subdued crackling.
The boys sat round them: there too sat the two dogs, who had been so eager to devour me. They could not for long after reconcile themselves to my presence, and, drowsily blinking and staring into the fire, they growled now and then with an unwonted sense of their own dignity; first they growled, and then whined a little, as though deploring the impossibility of carrying out their desires. There were altogether five boys: Fedya, Pavlusha, Ilyusha, Kostya and Vanya. (From their talk I learnt their names, and I intend now to introduce them to the reader.)

Monday, July 8, 2019

"The Diary of a Superfluous Man," by Ivan Turgenev, from "The Diary of a Superfluous Man and Other Stories" (1850). Russian: «Дневник лишнего человека».

Portrait of Iván Sergéyevich Turgénev,  by Ilya Repin, 1874.
Ivan Turgenev. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett

The doctor has just left me. At last I have got at something definite!
For all his cunning, he had to speak out at last. Yes, I am soon, very
soon, to die. The frozen rivers will break up, and with the last snow I
shall, most likely, swim away ... whither? God knows! To the ocean too.
Well, well, since one must die, one may as well die in the spring. But
isn't it absurd to begin a diary a fortnight, perhaps, before death?
What does it matter? And by how much are fourteen days less than
fourteen years, fourteen centuries? Beside eternity, they say, all is
nothingness--yes, but in that case eternity, too, is nothing. I see I
am letting myself drop into metaphysics; that's a bad sign--am I not
rather faint-hearted, perchance? I had better begin a description of
some sort. It's damp and windy out of doors.

I'm forbidden to go out. What can I write about, then? No decent man
talks of his maladies; to write a novel is not in my line; reflections
on elevated topics are beyond me; descriptions of the life going on
around me could not even interest me; while I am weary of doing
nothing, and too lazy to read. Ah, I have it, I will write the story of
all my life for myself. A first-rate idea! Just before death it is a
suitable thing to do, and can be of no harm to any one. I will begin.

I was born thirty years ago, the son of fairly well-to-do landowners.
My father had a passion for gambling; my mother was a woman of
character ... a very virtuous woman. Only, I have known no woman whose
moral excellence was less productive of happiness. She was crushed
beneath the weight of her own virtues, and was a source of misery to
every one, from herself upwards. In all the fifty years of her life,
she never once took rest, or sat with her hands in her lap; she was for
ever fussing and bustling about like an ant, and to absolutely no good
purpose, which cannot be said of the ant. The worm of restlessness
fretted her night and day. Only once I saw her perfectly tranquil, and
that was the day after her death, in her coffin. Looking at her, it
positively seemed to me that her face wore an expression of subdued
amazement; with the half-open lips, the sunken cheeks, and
meekly-staring eyes, it seemed expressing, all over, the words, 'How
good to be at rest!' Yes, it is good, good to be rid, at last, of the
wearing sense of life, of the persistent, restless consciousness of
existence! But that's neither here nor there.

I was brought up badly and not happily. My father and mother both loved
me; but that made things no better for me. My father was not, even in
his own house, of the slightest authority or consequence, being a man
openly abandoned to a shameful and ruinous vice; he was conscious of
his degradation, and not having the strength of will to give up his
darling passion, he tried at least, by his invariably amiable and
humble demeanour and his unswerving submissiveness, to win the
condescending consideration of his exemplary wife. My mother certainly
did bear her trial with the superb and majestic long-suffering of
virtue, in which there is so much of egoistic pride. She never
reproached my father for anything, gave him her last penny, and paid
his debts without a word. He exalted her as a paragon to her face and
behind her back, but did not like to be at home, and caressed me by
stealth, as though he were afraid of contaminating me by his presence.
But at such times his distorted features were full of such kindness,
the nervous grin on his lips was replaced by such a touching smile, and
his brown eyes, encircled by fine wrinkles, shone with such love, that
I could not help pressing my cheek to his, which was wet and warm with
tears. I wiped away those tears with my handkerchief, and they flowed
again without effort, like water from a brimming glass. I fell to
crying, too, and he comforted me, stroking my back and kissing me all
over my face with his quivering lips. Even now, more than twenty years
after his death, when I think of my poor father, dumb sobs rise into my
throat, and my heart beats as hotly and bitterly and aches with as
poignant a pity as if it had long to go on beating, as if there were
anything to be sorry for!

My mother's behaviour to me, on the contrary, was always the same,
kind, but cold. In children's books one often comes across such
mothers, sermonising and just. She loved me, but I did not love her.
Yes! I fought shy of my virtuous mother, and passionately loved my
vicious father.

But enough for to-day. It's a beginning, and as for the end, whatever
it may be, I needn't trouble my head about it. That's for my illness to
see to.

_March_ 21.

To-day it is marvellous weather. Warm, bright; the sunshine frolicking
gaily on the melting snow; everything shining, steaming, dripping; the
sparrows chattering like mad things about the drenched, dark hedges.

Sweetly and terribly, too, the moist air frets my sick chest. Spring,
spring is coming! I sit at the window and look across the river into
the open country. O nature! nature! I love thee so, but I came forth
from thy womb good for nothing--not fit even for life. There goes a
cock-sparrow, hopping along with outspread wings; he chirrups, and
every note, every ruffled feather on his little body, is breathing with
health and strength....

What follows from that? Nothing. He is well and has a right to chirrup
and ruffle his wings; but I am ill and must die--that's all. It's not
worth while to say more about it. And tearful invocations to nature are
mortally absurd. Let us get back to my story.

I was brought up, as I have said, very badly and not happily. I had no
brothers or sisters. I was educated at home. And, indeed, what would my
mother have had to occupy her, if I had been sent to a boarding-school
or a government college? That's what children are for--that their
parents may not be bored. We lived for the most part in the country,
and sometimes went to Moscow. I had tutors and teachers, as a matter of
course; one, in particular, has remained in my memory, a dried-up,
tearful German, Rickmann, an exceptionally mournful creature, cruelly
maltreated by destiny, and fruitlessly consumed by an intense pining
for his far-off fatherland. Sometimes, near the stove, in the fearful
stuffiness of the close ante-room, full of the sour smell of stale
kvas, my unshaved man-nurse, Vassily, nicknamed Goose, would sit,
playing cards with the coachman, Potap, in a new sheepskin, white as
foam, and superb tarred boots, while in the next room Rickmann would
sing, behind the partition--

    Herz, mein Herz, warum so traurig?
    Was bekümmert dich so sehr?
    'Sist ja schön im fremden Lande--
    Herz, mein Herz--was willst du mehr?'

After my father's death we moved to Moscow for good. I was twelve years
old. My father died in the night from a stroke. I shall never forget
that night. I was sleeping soundly, as children generally do; but I
remember, even in my sleep, I was aware of a heavy gasping noise at
regular intervals. Suddenly I felt some one taking hold of my shoulder
and poking me. I opened my eyes and saw my nurse. 'What is it?' 'Come
along, come along, Alexey Mihalitch is dying.' ... I was out of bed and
away like a mad thing into his bedroom. I looked: my father was lying
with his head thrown back, all red, and gasping fearfully. The servants
were crowding round the door with terrified faces; in the hall some one
was asking in a thick voice: 'Have they sent for the doctor?' In the
yard outside, a horse was being led from the stable, the gates were
creaking, a tallow candle was burning in the room on the floor, my
mother was there, terribly upset, but not oblivious of the proprieties,
nor of her own dignity. I flung myself on my father's bosom, and hugged
him, faltering: 'Papa, papa...' He lay motionless, screwing up his eyes
in a strange way. I looked into his face--an unendurable horror caught
my breath; I shrieked with terror, like a roughly captured bird--they
picked me up and carried me away. Only the day before, as though aware
his death was at hand, he had caressed me so passionately and

A sleepy, unkempt doctor, smelling strongly of spirits, was brought. My
father died under his lancet, and the next day, utterly stupefied by
grief, I stood with a candle in my hands before a table, on which lay
the dead man, and listened senselessly to the bass sing-song of the
deacon, interrupted from time to time by the weak voice of the priest.
The tears kept streaming over my cheeks, my lips, my collar, my
shirt-front. I was dissolved in tears; I watched persistently, I
watched intently, my father's rigid face, as though I expected
something of him; while my mother slowly bowed down to the ground,
slowly rose again, and pressed her fingers firmly to her forehead, her
shoulders, and her chest, as she crossed herself. I had not a single
idea in my head; I was utterly numb, but I felt something terrible was
happening to me.... Death looked me in the face that day and took note
of me.

We moved to Moscow after my father's death for a very simple cause: all
our estate was sold up by auction for debts--that is, absolutely all,
except one little village, the one in which I am at this moment living
out my magnificent existence. I must admit that, in spite of my youth
at the time, I grieved over the sale of our home, or rather, in
reality, I grieved over our garden. Almost my only bright memories are
associated with our garden. It was there that one mild spring evening I
buried my best friend, an old bob-tailed, crook-pawed dog, Trix. It was
there that, hidden in the long grass, I used to eat stolen
apples--sweet, red, Novgorod apples they were. There, too, I saw for
the first time, among the ripe raspberry bushes, the housemaid Klavdia,
who, in spite of her turned-up nose and habit of giggling in her
kerchief, aroused such a tender passion in me that I could hardly
breathe, and stood faint and tongue-tied in her presence; and once at
Easter, when it came to her turn to kiss my seignorial hand, I almost
flung myself at her feet to kiss her down-trodden goat-skin slippers.
My God! Can all that be twenty years ago? It seems not long ago that I
used to ride on my shaggy chestnut pony along the old fence of our
garden, and, standing up in the stirrups, used to pick the two-coloured
poplar leaves. While a man is living he is not conscious of his own
life; it becomes audible to him, like a sound, after the lapse of time.

Oh, my garden, oh, the tangled paths by the tiny pond! Oh, the little
sandy spot below the tumbledown dike, where I used to catch gudgeons!
And you tall birch-trees, with long hanging branches, from beyond which
came floating a peasant's mournful song, broken by the uneven jolting
of the cart, I send you my last farewell!... On parting with life, to
you alone I stretch out my hands. Would I might once more inhale the
fresh, bitter fragrance of the wormwood, the sweet scent of the mown
buckwheat in the fields of my native place! Would I might once more
hear far away the modest tinkle of the cracked bell of our parish
church; once more lie in the cool shade under the oak sapling on the
slope of the familiar ravine; once more watch the moving track of the
wind, flitting, a dark wave over the golden grass of our meadow!... Ah,
what's the good of all this? But I can't go on to-day. Enough till

_March_ 22.

To-day it's cold and overcast again. Such weather is a great deal more
suitable. It's more in harmony with my task. Yesterday, quite
inappropriately, stirred up a multitude of useless emotions and
memories within me. This shall not occur again. Sentimental out-breaks
are like liquorice; when first you suck it, it's not bad, but
afterwards it leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth. I will set to
work simply and serenely to tell the story of my life. And so, we moved
to Moscow....

But it occurs to me, is it really worth while to tell the story of my