THE REGION OF DEAD CALM

In a fairly-large recently-whitewashed chamber of a wing of the
manor-house in the village of Sásovo, *** county, T*** Government, a
young man in a paletot was sitting at a small, warped table, looking
over accounts. Two stearine candles, in silver travelling-candlesticks,
were burning in front of him; in one corner, on the wall-bench, stood an
open bottle-case, in another a servant was setting up an iron bed. On
the other side of a low partition a samovár was murmuring and hissing; a
dog was nestling about on some hay which had just been brought in. In
the doorway stood a peasant-man in a new overcoat girt with a red belt,
with a large beard, and an intelligent face–the overseer, judging by
all the tokens. He was gazing attentively at the seated young man.

Against one wall stood a very aged, tiny piano; beside it an
equally-ancient chest of drawers with holes in place of the locks;
between the windows a small, dim mirror was visible; on the
partition-wall hung an old portrait, which was almost completely peeled
off, representing a woman with powdered hair, in a _robe ronde_, and
with a black ribbon about her slender neck. Judging from the very
perceptible sagging of the ceiling, and the slope of the floor, which
was full of cracks, the little wing into which we have conducted the
reader had existed for a very long time. No one lived in it permanently;
it was put to use when the owners came. The young man who was sitting at
the table was the owner of the village of Sásovo. He had arrived only on
the previous day from his principal estate, situated a hundred
versts[11] distant, and was preparing to depart on the morrow, after
completing the inspection of the farming, listening to the demands of
the peasants, and verifying all the documents.

“Well, that will do,”–he said, raising his head;–“I am tired. Thou
mayest go now,”–he added, turning to the overseer;–“and come very
early to-morrow morning, and notify the peasants at daybreak that they
are to present themselves in assembly,–dost hear me?”

“I obey.”

“And order the estate-clerk to present to me the report for the last
month. But thou hast done well,”–the gentleman went on, casting a
glance around him,–“in whitewashing the walls. Everything seems
cleaner.”

The overseer silently swept a glance around the walls also.

“Well, go now.”

The overseer made his obeisance and left the room.

The gentleman stretched himself.

“Hey!”–he shouted,–“Give me some tea!… ’Tis time to go to bed.”

His servant went to the other side of the partition, and speedily
returned with a glass of tea, a bundle of town cracknels, and a
cream-jug on an iron tray. The gentleman began to drink tea, but before
he had had time to swallow two mouthfuls, the noise of persons entering
resounded from an adjoining room, and some one’s squeaking voice
inquired:

“Is Vladímir Sergyéitch Astákhoff at home? Can he be seen?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch (that was the name of the young man in the paletot)
cast a glance of surprise at his man, and said in a hurried whisper:

“Go, find out who it is.”

The man withdrew, slamming behind him the door, which closed badly.

“Announce to Vladímir Sergyéitch,”–rang out the same squeaking voice as
before,–“that his neighbour Ipátoff wishes to see him, if it will not
incommode him; and another neighbour has come with me, Bodryakóff, Iván
Ílitch, who also desires to pay his respects.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch made an involuntary gesture of vexation.
Nevertheless, when his man entered the room, he said to him:

“Ask them in.” And he arose to receive his visitors.

The door opened, and the visitors made their appearance. One of them, a
robust, grey-haired little old man, with a small, round head and bright
little eyes, walked in advance; the other, a tall, thin man of
three-and-thirty, with a long, swarthy face and dishevelled hair, walked
behind, with a shambling gait. The old man wore a neat grey coat with
large, mother-of-pearl buttons; a small, pink neckerchief, half
concealed by the rolling collar of his white shirt, loosely encircled
his neck; his feet shone resplendent in gaiters; the plaids of his
Scotch trousers were agreeably gay in hue; and, altogether, he produced
a pleasant impression. His companion, on the contrary, evoked in the
spectator a less favourable sensation: he wore an old black dress-coat,
buttoned up to the throat; his full trousers, of thick, winter tricot,
matched his coat in colour; no linen was visible, either around his
throat or around his wrists. The little old man was the first to
approach Vladímir Sergyéitch, and, with an amiable inclination of the
head, he began in the same shrill little voice:

“I have the honour to introduce myself,–your nearest neighbour, and
even a relative, Ipátoff, Mikhaílo Nikoláitch. I have long wished to
have the pleasure of making your acquaintance. I hope that I have not
disturbed you.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch replied that he was very glad to see him, and that
he was not disturbed in the least, and would not he take a seat … and
drink tea.

“And this nobleman,”–went on the little old man, after listening with a
courteous smile to Vladímir Sergyéitch’s unfinished phrases, and
extending his hand in the direction of the gentleman in the
dress-coat,–“also your neighbour … and my good acquaintance, Iván
Ílitch, strongly desired to make your acquaintance.”

The gentleman in the dress-coat, from whose countenance no one would
have suspected that he was capable of desiring anything strongly in his
life–so preoccupied and, at the same time, so sleepy was the expression
of that countenance,–the gentleman in the dress-coat bowed clumsily and
languidly. Vladímir Sergyéitch bowed to him in return, and again invited
the visitors to be seated.

The visitors sat down.

“I am very glad,”–began the little old man, pleasantly throwing apart
his hands, while his companion set to scrutinising the ceiling, with his
mouth slightly open:–“I am very glad that I have, at last, the honour
of seeing you personally. Although you have your permanent residence in
a county which lies at a considerable distance from these localities,
still, we regard you also as one of our own primordial landed
proprietors, so to speak.”

“That is very flattering to me,”–returned Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Flattering or not, it is a fact. You must excuse us, Vladímir
Sergyéitch; we people here in *** county are a straightforward folk; we
live in our simplicity; we say what we think, without circumlocution. It
is our custom, I must tell you, not to call upon each other on
Name-days[12] otherwise than in our frock-coats. Truly! We have made
that the rule. On that account, we are called ‘frock-coaters’ in the
adjoining counties, and we are even reproached for our bad style; but we
pay no attention to that! Pray, what is the use of living in the
country–and then standing on ceremony?”

“Of course, what can be better … in the country … than that
naturalness of intercourse,”–remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“And yet,”–replied the little old man,–“among us in our county dwell
people of the cleverest sort,–one may say people of European culture,
although they do not wear dress-suits. Take, for example, our historian
Evsiukóff, Stepán Stepánitch: he is interesting himself in Russian
history from the most ancient times, and is known in Petersburg–an
extremely learned man! There is in our town an ancient Swedish
cannon-ball … ’tis placed yonder, in the centre of the public square
… and ’twas he who discovered it, you know! Certainly! Tzénteler,
Antón Kárlitch … now he has studied natural history; but they say all
Germans are successful in that line. When, ten years ago, a stray hyena
was killed in our vicinity, it was this Antón Kárlitch who discovered
that it really was a hyena, by cause of the peculiar construction of its
tail. And then, we have a landed proprietor Kaburdín: he chiefly writes
light articles; he wields a very dashing pen; his articles appear in
‘Galatea.’ Bodryakóff, … not Iván Ílitch; no, Iván Ílitch neglects
that; but another Bodryakóff, Sergyéi … what the deuce was his
father’s baptismal name, Iván Ílitch … what the deuce was it?”

“Sergyéitch,”–prompted Iván Ílitch.

“Yes; Sergyéi Sergyéitch,–he busies himself with writing verses. Well,
of course he’s not a Púshkin, but sometimes he gets off things which
would pass muster even in the capitals. Do you know his epigram on Agéi
Fómitch?”

“What Agéi Fómitch?”

“Akh, pardon me; I keep forgetting that you are not a resident here,
after all. He is our chief of police. The epigram is extremely amusing.
Thou rememberest it, I believe, Iván Ílitch?”

“Agéi Fómitch,”–said Bodryakóff, indifferently–

“ … not without cause is gloriously
By the nobles’ election honoured….”

“I must tell you,”–broke in Ipátoff,–“that he was elected almost
exclusively by white balls, for he is a most worthy man.”

“Agéi Fómitch,”–repeated Bodryakóff,

“ … not without cause is gloriously
By the nobles’ election honoured:
He drinks and eats regularly….
So why should not he be the regulator of order?”[13]

The little old man burst out laughing.

“Ha, ha, ha! that isn’t bad, is it? Ever since then, if you’ll believe
me, each one of us will say, for instance, to Agéi Fómitch: ‘Good
morning!’–and will invariably add: ‘so why should not he be the
regulator of order?’ And does Agéi Fómitch get angry, think you? Not in
the least. No–that’s not our way. Just ask Iván Ílitch here if it is.”

Iván Ílitch merely rolled up his eyes.

“Get angry at a jest–how is that possible? Now, take Iván Ílitch
there; his nickname among us is ‘The Folding Soul,’ because he agrees to
everything very promptly. What then? Does Iván Ílitch take offence at
that? Never!”

Iván Ílitch, slowly blinking his eyes, looked first at the little old
man, then at Vladímir Sergyéitch.

The epithet, “The Folding Soul,” really did fit Iván Ílitch admirably.
There was not a trace in him of what is called will or character. Any
one who wished could lead him whithersoever he would; all that was
necessary was to say to him: “Come on, Iván Ílitch!”–and he picked up
his cap and went; but if another person turned up, and said to him:
“Halt, Iván Ílitch!”–he laid down his cap and remained. He was of a
peaceable, tranquil disposition, had lived a bachelor-life, did not play
cards, but was fond of sitting beside the players and looking into each
of their faces in turn. Without society he could not exist, and solitude
he could not endure. At such times he became despondent; however, this
happened very rarely with him. He had another peculiarity: rising from
his bed betimes in the morning, he would sing in an undertone an old
romance:

“In the country once a Baron
Dwelt in simplicity rural….”

In consequence of this peculiarity of Iván Ílitch’s, he was also called
“The Hawfinch,” because, as is well known, the hawfinch when in
captivity sings only once in the course of the day, early in the
morning. Such was Iván Ílitch Bodryakóff.

The conversation between Ipátoff and Vladímir Sergyéitch lasted for
quite a long time, but not in its original, so to speak, speculative
direction. The little old man questioned Vladímir Sergyéitch about his
estate, the condition of his forests and other sorts of land, the
improvements which he had already introduced or was only intending to
introduce in his farming; he imparted to him several of his own
observations; advised him, among other things, in order to get rid of
hummocky pastures, to sprinkle them with oats, which, he said, would
induce the pigs to plough them up with their snouts, and so forth. But,
at last, perceiving that Vladímir Sergyéitch was so sleepy that he could
hardly keep his eyes open, and that a certain deliberation and
incoherence were making themselves evident in his speech, the little old
man rose, and, with a courteous obeisance, declared that he would not
incommode him any longer with his presence, but that he hoped to have
the pleasure of seeing the valued guest at his own house not later than
the following day, at dinner.

“And the first person you meet, not to mention any small child, but, so
to speak, any hen or peasant-woman,”–he added,–“will point out to you
the road to my village. All you have to do is to ask for Ipátoff. The
horses will trot there of themselves.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch replied with a little hesitation–which, however,
was natural to him–that he would try … that if nothing prevented….

“Yes, we shall certainly expect you,”–the little old man interrupted
him, cordially, shook his hand warmly, and briskly withdrew, exclaiming
in the doorway, as he half turned round:–“Without ceremony!”

“Folding Soul” Bodryakóff bowed in silence and vanished in the wake of
his companion, with a preliminary stumble on the threshold.

Having seen his unexpected guests off, Vladímir Sergyéitch immediately
undressed, got into bed, and went to sleep.

Vladímir Sergyéitch Astákhoff belonged to the category of people who,
after having cautiously tested their powers in two or three different
careers, are wont to say of themselves that they have finally come to
the conclusion to look at life from a practical point of view, and who
devote their leisure to augmenting their revenues. He was not stupid,
was rather penurious, and very sensible; was fond of reading, of
society, of music–but all in moderation … and bore himself very
decorously. He was twenty-seven years old. A great many young men of
his sort have sprung up recently. He was of medium height, well built,
and had agreeable though small features; their expression almost never
varied; his eyes always gleamed with one and the same stern, bright
glance; only now and then did this glance soften with a faint shade of
something which was not precisely sadness, nor yet precisely boredom; a
courteous smile rarely quitted his lips. He had very handsome, fair
hair, silky, and falling in long ringlets. Vladímir Sergyéitch owned
about six hundred souls[14] on a good estate, and he was thinking of
marriage–a marriage of inclination, but which should, at the same time,
be advantageous. He was particularly desirous of finding a wife with
powerful connections. In a word, he merited the appellation of
“gentleman” which had recently come into vogue.

When he rose on the following morning, very early, according to his
wont, our gentleman occupied himself with business, and, we must do him
the justice to say, did so in a decidedly practical manner, which cannot
always be said of practical young men among us in Russia. He patiently
listened to the confused petitions and complaints of the peasants, gave
them satisfaction so far as he was able, investigated the quarrels and
dissensions which had arisen between relatives, exhorted some, scolded
others, audited the clerk’s accounts, brought to light two or three
rascalities on the part of the overseer–in a word, handled matters in
such wise that he was very well satisfied with himself, and the
peasants, as they returned from the assembly to their homes, spoke well
of him.

In spite of his promise given on the preceding evening to Ipátoff,
Vladímir Sergyéitch had made up his mind to dine at home, and had even
ordered his travelling-cook to prepare his favourite rice-soup with
pluck; but all of a sudden, possibly in consequence of that feeling of
satisfaction which had filled his soul ever since the early morning, he
stopped short in the middle of the room, smote himself on the brow with
his hand, and, not without some spirit, exclaimed aloud: “I believe I’ll
go to that flowery old babbler!” No sooner said than done; half an hour
later he was sitting in his new tarantás, drawn by four stout
peasant-horses, and driving to Ipátoff’s house, which was reckoned to be
not more than twenty-five versts distant by a capital road.

II

Mikhaílo Nikoláevitch Ipátoff’s manor consisted of two separate small
mansions, built opposite each other on the two sides of a huge pond
through which ran a river. A long dam, planted with silver poplars,
shut off the pond; almost on a level with it the red roof of a small
hand-mill was visible. Built exactly alike, and painted with the same
lilac hue, the tiny houses seemed to be exchanging glances across the
broad, watery expanse, with the glittering panes of their small, clean
windows. From the middle of each little house a circular terrace
projected, and a sharp-peaked pediment rose aloft, supported by four
white pillars set close together. The ancient park ran all the way round
the pond; lindens stretched out in alleys, and stood in dense clumps;
aged pine-trees, with pale yellow boles, dark oaks, magnificent maples
here and there reared high in air their solitary crests; the dense
verdure of the thickly-spreading lilacs and acacias advanced close up to
the very sides of the two little houses, leaving revealed only their
fronts, from which winding paths paved with brick ran down the slope.
Motley-hued ducks, white and grey geese were swimming in separate flocks
on the clear water of the pond; it never became covered with scum,
thanks to abundant springs which welled into its “head” from the base of
the steep, rocky ravine. The situation of the manor was good, pleasant,
isolated, and beautiful.

In one of the two little houses dwelt Mikhaíl Nikoláevitch himself; in
the other lived his mother, a decrepit old woman of seventy years. When
he drove on to the dam, Vladímir Sergyéitch did not know to which house
to betake himself. He glanced about him: a small urchin of the
house-serfs was fishing, as he stood barefooted on a half-rotten
tree-stump. Vladímir Sergyéitch hailed him.

“But to whom are you going–to the old lady or to the young
master?”–replied the urchin, without taking his eyes from his float.

“What lady?”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“I want to find Mikhaílo
Nikoláitch.”

“Ah! the young master? Well, then, turn to the right.”

And the lad gave his line a jerk, and drew from the motionless water a
small, silvery carp. Vladímir Sergyéitch drove to the right.

Mikhaíl Nikoláitch was playing at draughts with The Folding Soul when
the arrival of Vladímir Sergyéitch was announced to him. He was
delighted, sprang from his arm-chair, ran out into the anteroom and
there kissed the visitor three times.

“You find me with my invariable friend, Vladímir Sergyéitch,”–began the
loquacious little old man:–“with Iván Ílitch, who, I will remark in
passing, is completely enchanted with your affability.” (Iván Ílitch
darted a silent glance at the corner.) “He was so kind as to remain to
play draughts with me, while all my household went for a stroll in the
park; but I will send for them at once….”

“But why disturb them?”–Vladímir Sergyéitch tried to expostulate….

“Not the least inconvenience, I assure you. Hey, there, Vánka, run for
the young ladies as fast as thou canst … tell them that a guest has
favoured us with a visit. And how does this locality please you? It’s
not bad, is it? Kaburdín has composed some verses about it. ‘Ipátovka,
refuge lovely’–that’s the way they begin,–and the rest of it is just
as good, only I don’t remember all of it. The park is large, that’s the
trouble; beyond my means. And these two houses, which are so much alike,
as you have, perhaps, deigned to observe, were erected by two
brothers–my father Nikolái, and my uncle Sergyéi; they also laid out
the park; they were exemplary friends … Damon and … there now! I’ve
forgotten the other man’s name….”

“Pythion,”–remarked Iván Ílitch.

“Not really? Well, never mind.” (At home the old man talked in a much
more unconventional manner than when he was paying calls.)–“You are,
probably, not ignorant of the fact, Vladímir Sergyéitch, that I am a
widower, that I have lost my wife; my elder children are in government
educational institutions,[15] and I have with me only the youngest two,
and my sister-in-law lives with me–my wife’s sister; you will see her
directly. But why don’t I offer you some refreshment? Iván Ílitch, my
dear fellow, see to a little luncheon … what sort of vodka are you
pleased to prefer?”

“I drink nothing until dinner.”

“Goodness, how is that possible! However, as you please. The truest
hospitality is to let the guest do as he likes. We are very
simple-mannered folk here, you see. Here with us, if I may venture so to
express myself, we live not so much in a lonely as in a dead-calm place,
a remote nook–that’s what! But why don’t you sit down?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch seated himself, without letting go of his hat.

“Permit me to relieve you,”–said Ipátoff, and delicately taking his hat
from him, he carried it off to a corner, then returned, looked his
visitor in the eye with a cordial smile, and, not knowing just what
agreeable thing to say to him, inquired, in the most hearty
manner,–whether he was fond of playing draughts.

“I play all games badly,”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“And that’s a very fine thing in you,”–returned Ipátoff:–“but draughts
is not a game, but rather a diversion–a way of passing leisure time;
isn’t that so, Iván Ílitch?”

Iván Ílitch cast an indifferent glance at Ipátoff, as though he were
thinking to himself, “The devil only knows whether it is a game or a
diversion,” but, after waiting a while, he said:

“Yes; draughts don’t count.”

“Chess is quite another matter, they say,”–pursued Ipátoff;–“’tis a
very difficult game, I’m told. But, in my opinion … but yonder come my
people!”–he interrupted himself, glancing through the half-open glass
door, which gave upon the park.

Vladímir Sergyéitch rose, turned round, and beheld first two little
girls, about ten years of age, in pink cotton frocks and broad-brimmed
hats, who were running alertly up the steps of the terrace; not far
behind them a tall, plump, well-built young girl of twenty, in a dark
gown, made her appearance. They all entered the house, and the little
girls courtesied sedately to the visitor.

“Here, sir, let me present you,”–said the host;–“my daughters, sir.
This one here is named Kátya, and this one is Nástya, and this is my
sister-in-law, Márya Pávlovna, whom I have already had the pleasure of
mentioning to you. I beg that you will love and favour them.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch made his bow to Márya Pávlovna; she replied to him
with a barely perceptible inclination of the head.

Márya Pávlovna held in her hand a large, open knife; her thick,
ruddy-blond hair was slightly dishevelled,–a small green leaf had got
entangled in it, her braids had escaped from the comb,–her
dark-skinned face was flushed, and her red lips were parted; her gown
looked crumpled. She was breathing fast; her eyes were sparkling; it was
evident that she had been working in the garden. She immediately left
the room; the little girls ran out after her.

“She’s going to rearrange her toilet a bit,”–remarked the old man,
turning to Vladímir Sergyéitch;–“they can’t get along without that,
sir!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch grinned at him in response, and became somewhat
pensive. Márya Pávlovna had made an impression on him. It was long since
he had seen such a purely Russian beauty of the steppes. She speedily
returned, sat down on the divan, and remained motionless. She had
smoothed her hair, but had not changed her gown,–had not even put on
cuffs. Her features expressed not precisely pride, but rather austerity,
almost harshness; her brow was broad and low, her nose short and
straight; a slow, lazy smile curled her lips from time to time; her
straight eyebrows contracted scornfully. She kept her large, dark eyes
almost constantly lowered. “I know,” her repellent young face seemed to
be saying; “I know that you are all looking at me; well, then, look; you
bore me.” But when she raised her eyes, there was something wild,
beautiful, and stolid about them, which was suggestive of the eyes of a
doe. She had a magnificent figure. A classical poet would have compared
her to Ceres or Juno.

“What have you been doing in the garden?”–Ipátoff asked her, being
desirous of bringing her into the conversation.

“I have been cutting off dead branches, and digging up the flower-beds,”
she replied, in a voice which was rather low, but agreeable and
resonant.

“And are you tired?”

“The children are; I am not.”

“I know,”–interposed the old man, with a smile;–“thou art a regular
Bobélina! And have you been to grandmamma’s?”

“Yes; she is asleep.”

“Are you fond of flowers?”–Vladímir Sergyéitch asked her.

“Yes.”

“Why dost thou not put on thy hat when thou goest out of
doors?”–Ipátoff remarked to her.–“Just see how red and sunburned thou
art.”

She silently passed her hand over her face. Her hands were not large,
but rather broad, and decidedly red. She did not wear gloves.

“And are you fond of gardening?”–Vladímir Sergyéitch put another
question to her.

“Yes.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch began to narrate what a fine garden there was in his
neighbourhood, belonging to a wealthy landed proprietor named
N***.–The head gardener, a German, received in wages alone two thousand
rubles, silver[16]–he said, among other things.

“And what is the name of that gardener?”–inquired Iván Ílitch,
suddenly.

“I don’t remember,–Meyer or Müller, I think. But why do you ask?”

“For no reason in particular, sir,”–replied Iván Ílitch.–“To find out
his name.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch continued his narration. The little girls, Mikhaíl
Nikoláitch’s daughters, entered, sat down quietly, and quietly began to
listen….

A servant made his appearance at the door, had announced that Egór
Kapítonitch had arrived.

“Ah! Ask him in, ask him in!”–exclaimed Ipátoff.

There entered a short, fat little old man, one of the sort of people who
are called squat or dumpy, with a puffy and, at the same time, a
wrinkled little face, after the fashion of a baked apple. He wore a grey
hussar jacket with black braiding and a standing collar; his full
coffee-coloured velveteen trousers ended far above his ankles.

“Good morning, my most respected Egór Kapítonitch,”–exclaimed Ipátoff,
advancing to meet him.–“We haven’t seen each other for a long time.”

“Couldn’t be helped,”–returned Egór Kapítonitch in a lisping and
whining voice, after having preliminarily exchanged salutations with all
present;–“surely you know, Mikhaíl Sergyéitch, whether I am a free man
or not?”

“And how are you not a free man, Egór Kapítonitch?”

“Why, of course I’m not, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch; there’s my family, my
affairs…. And there’s Matryóna Márkovna to boot,” and he waved his
hand in despair.

“But what about Matryóna Márkovna?”

And Ipátoff launched a slight wink at Vladímir Sergyéitch, as though
desirous of exciting his interest in advance.

“Why, everybody knows,”–returned Egór Kapítonitch, as he took a
seat;–“she’s always discontented with me, don’t you know that? Whatever
I say, it’s wrong, not delicate, not decorous. And why it isn’t
decorous, the Lord God alone knows. And the young ladies, my daughters
that is to say, do the same, taking pattern by their mother. I don’t say
but what Matryóna Márkovna is a very fine woman, but she’s awfully
severe on the score of manners.”

“But, good gracious! in what way are your manners bad, Egór
Kapítonitch?”

“That’s exactly what I’d like to know myself; but, evidently, she’s
hard to suit. Yesterday, for instance, I said at table: ‘Matryóna
Márkovna,’” and Egór Kapítonitch imparted to his voice an insinuating
inflection,–“‘Matryóna Márkovna,’ says I, ‘what’s the meaning of
this,–that Aldóshka isn’t careful with the horses, doesn’t know how to
drive?’ says I; ‘there’s the black stallion quite foundered.’–I-iikh!
how Matryóna Márkovna did flare up, and set to crying shame on me: ‘Thou
dost not know how to express thyself decently in the society of ladies,’
says she; and the young ladies instantly galloped away from the table,
and on the next day, the Biriúloff young ladies, my wife’s nieces, had
heard all about it. And how had I expressed myself badly? And no matter
what I say–and sometimes I really am incautious,–no matter to whom I
say it, especially at home,–those Biriúloff girls know all about it the
next day. A fellow simply doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes I’m just
sitting so, thinking after my fashion,–I breathe hard, as perhaps you
know,–and Matryóna Márkovna sets to berating me again: ‘Don’t snore,’
says she; ‘nobody snores nowadays!’–‘What art thou scolding about,
Matryóna Márkovna?’ says I. ‘Good mercy, thou shouldst have compassion,
but thou scoldest.’ So I don’t meditate at home any more. I sit and look
down–so–all the time. By Heaven, I do. And then, again, not long ago,
we got into bed; ‘Matryóna Márkovna,’ says I, ‘what makes thee spoil
thy page-boy, mátushka?[17] Why, he’s a regular little pig,’ says I,
‘and he might wash his face of a Sunday, at least.’ And what happened?
It strikes me that I said it distantly, tenderly, but I didn’t hit the
mark even then; Matryóna Márkovna began to cry shame on me again: ‘Thou
dost not understand how to behave in the society of ladies,’ says she;
and the next day the Biriúloff girls knew all about it. What time have I
to think of visits under such circumstances, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch?”

“I’m amazed at what you tell me,”–replied Ipátoff;–“I did not expect
that from Matryóna Márkovna. Apparently, she is….”

“An extremely fine woman,”–put in Egór Kapítonitch;–“a model wife and
mother, so to speak, only strict on the score of manners. She says that
_ensemble_ is necessary in everything, and that I haven’t got it. I
don’t speak French, as you are aware, I only understand it. But what’s
that _ensemble_ that I haven’t got?”

Ipátoff, who was not very strong in French himself, only shrugged his
shoulders.

“And how are your children–your sons, that is to say?”–he asked Egór
Kapítonitch after a brief pause.

Egór Kapítonitch darted an oblique glance at him.

“My sons are all right. I’m satisfied with them. The girls have got out
of hand, but I’m satisfied with my sons. Lyólya discharges his service
well, his superior officers approve of him; that Lyólya of mine is a
clever fellow. Well, Míkhetz–he’s not like that; he has turned out some
sort of a philanthropist.”

“Why a philanthropist?”

“The Lord knows; he speaks to nobody, he shuns folks. Matryóna Márkovna
mostly abashes him. ‘Why dost thou take pattern by thy father?’ she says
to him. ‘Do thou respect him, but copy thy mother as to manners.’ He’ll
get straightened out, he’ll turn out all right also.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch asked Ipátoff to introduce him to Egór Kapítonitch.
They entered into conversation. Márya Pávlovna did not take part in it;
Iván Ílitch seated himself beside her, and said two words, in all, to
her; the little girls came up to him, and began to narrate something to
him in a whisper…. The housekeeper entered, a gaunt old woman, with
her head bound up in a dark kerchief, and announced that dinner was
ready. All wended their way to the dining-room.

The dinner lasted for quite a long time. Ipátoff kept a good cook, and
ordered pretty good wines, not from Moscow, but from the capital of the
government. Ipátoff lived at his ease, as the saying goes. He did not
own more than three hundred souls, but he was not in debt to any one,
and had brought his estate into order. At table, the host himself did
the greater part of the talking; Egór Kapítonitch chimed in, but did not
forget himself, at the same time; he ate and drank gloriously. Márya
Pávlovna preserved unbroken silence, only now and then replying with
half-smiles to the hurried remarks of the two little girls, who sat one
on each side of her. They were, evidently, very fond of her. Vladímir
Sergyéitch made several attempts to enter into conversation with her,
but without particular success. Folding Soul Bodryakóff even ate
indolently and languidly. After dinner all went out on the terrace to
drink coffee. The weather was magnificent; from the garden was wafted
the sweet perfume of the lindens, which were then in full flower; the
summer air, slightly cooled by the thick shade of the trees, and the
humidity of the adjacent pond, breathed forth a sort of caressing
warmth. Suddenly, from behind the poplars of the dam, the trampling of a
horse’s hoofs became audible, and a moment later, a horsewoman made her
appearance in a long riding-habit and a grey hat, mounted on a bay
horse; she was riding at a gallop; a page was galloping behind her, on a
small, white cob.

“Ah!”–exclaimed Ipátoff,–“Nadézhda Alexyéevna is coming. What a
pleasant surprise!”

“Alone?”–asked Márya Pávlovna, who up to that moment had been standing
motionless in the doorway.

“Alone…. Evidently, something has detained Piótr Alexyéevitch.”

Márya Pávlovna darted a sidelong glance from beneath her brows, a flush
overspread her face, and she turned away.

In the meantime, the horsewoman had ridden through the wicket-gate into
the garden, galloped up to the terrace, and sprang lightly to the
ground, without waiting either for her groom or for Ipátoff, who had
started to meet her. Briskly gathering up the train of her riding-habit,
she ran up the steps, and springing upon the terrace, exclaimed
blithely:

“Here I am!”

“Welcome!”–said Ipátoff.–“How unexpected, how charming this is! Allow
me to kiss your hand….”

“Certainly,”–returned the visitor; “only, you must pull off the glove
yourself.–I cannot.” And, extending her hand to him, she nodded to
Márya Pávlovna.–“Just fancy, Másha, my brother will not be here
to-day,”–she said, with a little sigh.

“I see for myself that he is not here,”–replied Márya Pávlovna in an
undertone.

“He bade me say to thee that he is busy. Thou must not be angry. Good
morning, Egór Kapítonitch; good morning, Iván Ílitch; good morning,
children…. Vásya,”–added the guest, turning to her small
groom,–“order them to walk Little Beauty up and down well, dost hear?
Másha, please give me a pin, to fasten up my train…. Come here,
Mikhaíl Nikoláitch.”

Ipátoff went closer to her.

“Who is that new person?”–she asked, quite loudly.

“That is a neighbour, Astákhoff, Vladímir Sergyéevitch, you know, the
owner of Sásovo. I’ll introduce him if you like, shall I?”

“Very well … afterward. Akh, what splendid weather!”–she went
on.–“Egór Kapítonitch, tell me–can it be possible that Matryóna
Márkovna growls even in such weather as this?”

“Matryóna Márkovna never grumbles in any sort of weather, madam; and she
is merely strict on the score of manners….”

“And what are the Biriúloff girls doing? They know all about it the next
day, don’t they?…” And she burst into a ringing, silvery laugh.

“You are pleased to laugh constantly,”–returned Egór
Kapítonitch.–“However, when should a person laugh, if not at your age?”

“Egór Kapítonitch, don’t get angry, my dear man! Akh, I’m tired; allow
me to sit down….”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna dropped into an arm-chair, and playfully pulled her
hat down over her very eyes.

Ipátoff led Vladímir Sergyéitch up to her.

“Permit me, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, to present to you our neighbour, Mr.
Astákhoff, of whom you have, probably, heard a great deal.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch made his bow, while Nadézhda Alexyéevna looked up at
him from under the brim of her round hat.

“Nadézhda Alexyéevna Véretyeff, our neighbour,”–went on Ipátoff,
turning to Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“She lives here with her brother, Piótr
Alexyéitch, a retired lieutenant of the Guards. She is a great friend of
my sister-in-law, and bears good will to our household in general.”

“A whole formal inventory,”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna, laughing, and, as
before, scanning Vladímir Sergyéitch from under her hat.

But, in the meantime, Vladímir Sergyéitch was thinking to himself: “Why,
this is a very pretty woman also.” And, in fact, Nadézhda Alexyéevna was
a very charming young girl. Slender and graceful, she appeared much
younger than she really was. She was already in her twenty-eighth year.
She had a round face, a small head, fluffy fair hair, a sharp, almost
audaciously upturned little nose, and merry, almost crafty little eyes.
Mockery fairly glittered in them, and kindled in them in sparks. Her
features, extremely vivacious and mobile, sometimes assumed an almost
amusing expression; humour peered forth from them. Now and then, for the
most part suddenly, a shade of pensiveness flitted across her face,–and
at such times it became gentle and kindly; but she could not surrender
herself long to meditation. She easily seized upon the ridiculous sides
of people, and drew very respectable caricatures. Everybody had petted
her ever since she was born, and that is something which is immediately
perceptible; people who have been spoiled in childhood preserve a
certain stamp to the end of their lives. Her brother loved her, although
he asserted that she stung, not like a bee, but like a wasp; because a
bee stings and then dies, whereas it signifies nothing for a wasp to
sting. This comparison enraged her.

“Have you come here for long?”–she asked Vladímir Sergyéitch, dropping
her eyes, and twisting her riding-whip in her hands.

“No; I intend to go away from here to-morrow.”

“Whither?”

“Home.”

“Home? Why, may I venture to ask?”

“What do you mean by ‘why’? I have affairs at home which do not brook
delay.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna looked at him.

“Are you such a … punctual man?”

“I try to be a punctual man,”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“In our
sedate era, every honourable man _must_ be sedate and punctual.”

“That is perfectly just,”–remarked Ipátoff.–“Isn’t that true Iván
Ílitch?”

Iván Ílitch merely glanced at Ipátoff; but Egór Kapítonitch remarked:

“Yes, that’s so.”

“‘Tis a pity,”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna;–“precisely what we lack is a
_jeune premier_. You know how to act comedy, I suppose?”

“I have never put my powers in that line to the test.”

“I am convinced that you would act well. You have that sort of bearing
… a stately mien, which is indispensable in a _jeune premier_. My
brother and I are preparing to set up a theatre here. However, we shall
not act comedies only: we shall act all sorts of things–dramas,
ballets, and even tragedies. Why wouldn’t Másha do for Cleopatra or
Phèdre? Just look at her!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch turned round…. Márya Pávlovna was gazing
thoughtfully into the distance, as she stood leaning her head against
the door, with folded arms…. At that moment, her regular features
really did suggest the faces of ancient statues. She did not catch
Nadézhda Alexyéevna’s last words; but, perceiving that the glances of
all present were suddenly directed to her, she immediately divined what
was going on, blushed, and was about to retreat into the
drawing-room…. Nadézhda Alexyéevna briskly grasped her by the hand
and, with the coquettish caressing action of a kitten, drew her toward
her, and kissed that almost masculine hand. Márya Pávlovna flushed more
vividly than before.

“Thou art always playing pranks, Nádya,”–she said.

“Didn’t I speak the truth about thee? I am ready to appeal to all….
Well, enough, enough, I won’t do it again. But I will say again,”–went
on Nadézhda Alexyéevna, addressing Vladímir Sergyéitch,–“that it is a
pity you are going away. We have a _jeune premier_, it is true; he calls
himself so, but he is very bad.”

“Who is he? permit me to inquire.”

“Bodryakóff the poet. How can a poet be a _jeune premier_? In the first
place, he dresses in the most frightful way; in the second place, he
writes epigrams, and gets shy in the presence of every woman, even in
mine. He lisps, one of his hands is always higher than his head, and I
don’t know what besides. Tell me, please, M’sieu Astákhoff, are all
poets like that?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch drew himself up slightly.

“I have never known a single one of them, personally; but I must confess
that I have never sought acquaintance with them.”

“Yes, you certainly are a positive man. We shall have to take
Bodryakóff; there’s nothing else to be done. Other _jeunes premiers_ are
even worse. That one, at all events, will learn his part by heart.
Másha, in addition to tragic rôles, will fill the post of prima
donna…. You haven’t heard her sing, have you, M’sieu Astákhoff?”

“No,”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, displaying his teeth in a smile;
“and I did not know….”

“What is the matter with thee to-day, Nádya?”–said Márya Pávlovna, with
a look of displeasure.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna sprang to her feet.

“For Heaven’s sake, Másha, do sing us something, please…. I won’t let
thee alone until thou singest us something, Másha dearest. I would sing
myself, to entertain the visitors, but thou knowest what a bad voice I
have. But, on the other hand, thou shalt see how splendidly I will
accompany thee.”

Márya Pávlovna made no reply.

“There’s no getting rid of thee,”–she said at last.–“Like a spoiled
child, thou art accustomed to have all thy caprices humoured. I will
sing, if you like.”

“Bravo, bravo!”–exclaimed Nadézhda Alexyéevna, clapping her
hands.–“Let us go into the drawing-room, gentlemen.–And as for
caprices,”–she added, laughing,–“I’ll pay you off for that! Is it
permissible to expose my weaknesses in the presence of strangers? Egór
Kapítonitch, does Matryóna Márkovna shame you _thus_ before people?”

“Matryóna Márkovna,”–muttered Egór Kapítonitch,–“is a very worthy
lady; only, on the score of manners….”

“Well, come along, come along!”–Nadézhda Alexyéevna interrupted him,
and entered the drawing-room.

All followed her. She tossed off her hat and seated herself at the
piano. Márya Pávlovna stood near the wall, a good way from Nadézhda
Alexyéevna.

“Másha,”–said the latter, after reflecting a little,–“sing us ‘The
farm-hand is sowing the grain.’”[18]

Márya Pávlovna began to sing. Her voice was pure and powerful, and she
sang well–simply, and without affectation. All listened to her with
great attention, while Vladímir Sergyéitch could not conceal his
amazement. When Márya Pávlovna had finished, he stepped up to her, and
began to assure her that he had not in the least expected….

“Wait, there’s something more coming!”–Nadézhda Alexyéevna interrupted
him.–“Másha, I will soothe thy Topknot[19] soul:–Now sing us ‘Humming,
humming in the trees.’”

“Are you a Little Russian?”–Vladímir Sergyéitch asked her.

“I am a native of Little Russia,” she replied, and began to sing
“Humming, humming.”

At first she uttered the words in an indifferent manner; but the
mournfully passionate lay of her fatherland gradually began to stir her,
her cheeks flushed scarlet, her glance flashed, her voice rang out
fervently. She finished.

“Good heavens! How well thou hast sung that!”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna,
bending over the keys.–“What a pity that my brother was not here!”

Márya Pávlovna instantly dropped her eyes, and laughed with her
customary bitter little laugh.

“You must give us something more,”–remarked Ipátoff.

“Yes, if you will be so good,”–added Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Excuse me, I will not sing any more to-day,”–said Márya Pávlovna, and
left the room.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna gazed after her, first reflected, then smiled, began
to pick out “The farm-hand is sowing the grain” with one finger, then
suddenly began to play a brilliant polka, and without finishing it,
struck a loud chord, clapped to the lid of the piano, and rose.

“‘Tis a pity that there is no one to dance with!”–she exclaimed.–“It
would be just the thing!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch approached her.

“What a magnificent voice Márya Pávlovna has,”–he remarked;–“and with
how much feeling she sings!”

“And are you fond of music?”

“Yes … very.”

“Such a learned man, and you are fond of music!”

“But what makes you think that I am learned?”

“Akh, yes; excuse me, I am always forgetting that you are a positive
man. But where has Márya Pávlovna gone? Wait, I’ll go after her.”

And Nadézhda Alexyéevna fluttered out of the drawing-room.

“A giddy-pate, as you see,”–said Ipátoff, coming up to Vladímir
Sergyéitch;–“but the kindest heart. And what an education she received
you cannot imagine; she can express herself in all languages. Well, they
are wealthy people, so that is comprehensible.”

“Yes,”–articulated Vladímir Sergyéitch, abstractedly,–“she is a very
charming girl. But permit me to inquire, Was your wife also a native of
Little Russia?”

“Yes, she was, sir, My late wife was a Little Russian, as her sister
Márya Pávlovna is. My wife, to tell the truth, did not even have a
perfectly pure pronunciation; although she was a perfect mistress of
the Russian language, still she did not express herself quite correctly;
they pronounce _i_, _ui_, there, and their _kha_ and _zhe_ are peculiar
also, you know; well, Márya Pávlovna left her native land in early
childhood. But the Little Russian blood is still perceptible, isn’t it?”

“Márya Pávlovna sings wonderfully,”–remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Really, it is not bad. But why don’t they bring us some tea? And where
have the young ladies gone? ’Tis time to drink tea.”

The young ladies did not return very speedily. In the meantime, the
samovár was brought, the table was laid for tea. Ipátoff sent for them.
Both came in together. Márya Pávlovna seated herself at the table to
pour the tea, while Nadézhda Alexyéevna walked to the door opening on
the terrace, and began to gaze out into the garden. The brilliant summer
day had been succeeded by a clear, calm evening; the sunset was flaming;
the broad pond, half flooded with its crimson, stood a motionless
mirror, grandly reflecting in its deep bosom all the airy depths of the
sky, and the house, and the trees turned upside down, and had grown
black, as it were. Everything was silent round about. There was no noise
anywhere.

“Look, how beautiful!”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna to Vladímir Sergyéitch,
as he approached her;–“down below there, in the pond, a star has
kindled its fire by the side of the light in the house; the house-light
is red, the other is golden. And yonder comes grandmamma,”–she added in
a loud voice.

From behind a clump of lilac-bushes a small calash made its appearance.
Two men were drawing it. In it sat an old lady, all wrapped up, all
doubled over, with her head resting on her breast. The ruffle of her
white cap almost completely concealed her withered and contracted little
face. The tiny calash halted in front of the terrace. Ipátoff emerged
from the drawing-room, and his little daughters ran out after him. They
had been constantly slipping from room to room all the evening, like
little mice.

“I wish you good evening, dear mother,”–said Ipátoff, stepping up close
to the old woman, and elevating his voice.–“How do you feel?”

“I have come to take a look at you,”–said the old woman in a dull
voice, and with an effort.–“What a glorious evening it is. I have been
asleep all day, and now my feet have begun to ache. Okh, those feet of
mine! They don’t serve me, but they ache.”

“Permit me, dear mother, to present to you our neighbour, Astákhoff,
Vladímir Sergyéitch.”

“I am very glad to meet you,”–returned the old woman, scanning him with
her large, black, but dim-sighted eyes.–“I beg that you will love my
son. He is a fine man; I gave him what education I could; of course, I
did the best a woman could. He is still somewhat flighty, but, God
willing, he will grow steady, and ’tis high time he did; ’tis time for
me to surrender matters to him. Is that you, Nádya?”–added the old
woman, glancing at Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“Yes, grandmamma.”

“And is Másha pouring tea?”

“Yes, grandmamma, she is pouring tea.”

“And who else is there?”

“Iván Ílitch, and Egór Kapítonitch.”

“The husband of Matryóna Márkovna?”

“Yes, dear mother.”

The old woman mumbled with her lips.

“Well, good. But why is it, Mísha, that I can’t manage to get hold of
the overseer? Order him to come to me very early to-morrow morning; I
shall have a great deal of business to arrange with him. I see that
nothing goes as it should with you, without me. Come, that will do, I am
tired; take me away…. Farewell, bátiushka;[20] I don’t remember your
name and patronymic,”–she added, addressing Vladímir Sergyéitch.
“Pardon an old woman. But don’t come with me, grandchildren, it isn’t
necessary. All you care for is to run all the time. Másha spoils you.
Well, start on.”

The old woman’s head, which she had raised with difficulty, fell back
again on her breast….

The tiny calash started, and rolled softly away.

“How old is your mother?”–inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Only in her seventy-third year; but it is twenty-six years since her
legs failed her; that happened soon after the demise of my late father.
But she used to be a beauty.”

All remained silent for a while.

Suddenly, Nadézhda Alexyéevna gave a start. “Was that–a bat flying
past? Áï, what a fright!”

And she hastily returned to the drawing-room.

“It is time for me to go home, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch; order my horse to be
saddled.”

“And it is time for me to be going, too,”–remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Where are you going?”–said Ipátoff.–“Spend the night here. Nadézhda
Alexyéevna has only two versts to ride, while you have fully twelve. And
what’s your hurry, too, Nadézhda Alexyéevna? Wait for the moon; it will
soon be up now. It will be lighter to ride.”

“Very well,”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna.–“It is a long time since I had
a moonlight ride.”

“And will you spend the night?”–Ipátoff asked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Really, I don’t know…. However, if I do not incommode you….”

“Not in the least, I assure you; I will immediately order a chamber to
be prepared for you.”

“But it is nice to ride by moonlight,”–began Nadézhda Alexyéevna, as
soon as candles were brought, tea was served, and Ipátoff and Egór
Kapítonitch had sat down to play preference together, while The Folding
Soul seated himself silently beside them:–“especially through the
forest, between the walnut-trees. It is both terrifying and agreeable,
and what a strange play of light and shade there is–it always seems as
though some one were stealing up behind you, or in front of you….”

Vladímir Sergyéitch smirked condescendingly.

“And here’s another thing,”–she went on;–“have you ever happened to
sit beside the forest on a warm, dark, tranquil night? At such times it
always seems to me as though two persons were hotly disputing in an
almost inaudible whisper, behind me, close at my very ear.”

“That is the blood beating,”–said Ipátoff.

“You describe in a very poetical way,”–remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.
Nadézhda Alexyéevna glanced at him.

“Do you think so?… In that case, my description would not please
Másha.”

“Why? Is not Márya Pávlovna fond of poetry?”

“No; she thinks all that sort of thing is made up–is all false; and she
does not like that.”

“A strange reproach!”–exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch. “Made up! How
could it be otherwise? But, after all, what are composers for?”

“Well, there, that’s exactly the point; but I am sure you cannot be fond
of poetry.”

“On the contrary, I love good verses, when they really are good and
melodious, and–how shall I say it?–when they present ideas,
thoughts….”

Márya Pávlovna rose.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna turned swiftly toward her.

“Whither art thou going, Másha?”

“To put the children to bed. It is almost nine o’clock.”

“But cannot they go to bed without thee?”

But Márya Pávlovna took the children by the hand and went away with
them.

“She is out of sorts to-day,”–remarked Nadézhda Alexyéevna;–“and I
know why,”–she added in an undertone.–“But it will pass off.”

“Allow me to inquire,”–began Vladímir Sergyéitch,–“where you intend to
spend the winter?”

“Perhaps here, perhaps in Petersburg. It seems to me that I shall be
bored in Petersburg.”

“In Petersburg! Good gracious! How is that possible?”

And Vladímir Sergyéitch began to describe all the comforts, advantages,
and charm of life in our capital. Nadézhda Alexyéevna listened to him
with attention, never taking her eyes from him. She seemed to be
committing his features to memory, and laughed to herself from time to
time.

“I see that you are very eloquent,”–she said at last.–“I shall be
obliged to spend the winter in Petersburg.”

“You will not repent of it,”–remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“I never repent of anything; it is not worth the bother. If you have
perpetrated a blunder, try to forget it as speedily as possible–that’s
all.”

“Allow me to ask,”–began Vladímir Sergyéitch, after a brief pause, and
in the French language;–“have you known Márya Pávlovna long?”

“Allow me to ask,”–retorted Nadézhda Alexyéevna, with a swift
laugh;–“why you have put precisely that question to me in French?”

“Because … for no particular reason….”

Again Nadézhda Alexyéevna laughed.

“No; I have not known her very long. But she is a remarkable girl, isn’t
she?”

“She is very original,”–said Vladímir Sergyéitch, through his teeth.

“And in your mouth–in the mouth of positive persons–does that
constitute praise? I do not think so. Perhaps I seem original to you,
also? But,”–she added, rising from her seat and casting a glance
through the window,–“the moon must have risen; that is its light on the
poplars. It is time to depart…. I will go and give order that Little
Beauty shall be saddled.”

“He is already saddled, ma’am,”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna’s groom,
stepping out from the shadow in the garden into a band of light which
fell on the terrace.

“Ah! Well, that’s very good, indeed! Másha, where art thou? Come and bid
me good-bye.”

Márya Pávlovna made her appearance from the adjoining room. The men rose
from the card-table.

“So you are going already?”–inquired Ipátoff.

“I am; it is high time.”

She approached the door leading into the garden.

“What a night!”–she exclaimed.–“Come here; hold out your face to it;
do you feel how it seems to breathe upon you? And what fragrance! all
the flowers have waked up now. They have waked up–and we are preparing
to go to sleep…. Ah, by the way, Másha,”–she added:–“I have told
Vladímir Sergyéitch, you know, that thou art not fond of poetry. And
now, farewell … yonder comes my horse….”

And she ran briskly down the steps of the terrace, swung herself lightly
into the saddle, said, “Good-bye until to-morrow!”–and lashing her
horse on the neck with her riding-switch, she galloped off in the
direction of the dam…. The groom set off at a trot after her.

All gazed after her….

“Until to-morrow!”–her voice rang out once more from behind the
poplars.

The hoof-beats were still audible for a long time in the silence of the
summer night. At last, Ipátoff proposed that they should go into the
house again.

“It really is very nice out of doors,”–he said;–“but we must finish
our game.”

All obeyed him. Vladímir Sergyéitch began to question Márya Pávlovna as
to why she did not like poetry.

“Verses do not please me,”–she returned, with apparent reluctance.

“But perhaps you have not read many verses?”

“I have not read them myself, but I have had them read to me.”

“And is it possible that they did not please you?”

“No; none of them.”

“Not even Púshkin’s verses?”

“Not even Púshkin’s.”

“Why?”

Márya Pávlovna made no answer; but Ipátoff, twisting round across the
back of his chair, remarked, with a good-natured laugh, that she not
only did not like verses, but sugar also, and, in general, could not
endure anything sweet.

“But, surely, there are verses which are not sweet,”–retorted Vladímir
Sergyéitch.

“For example?”–Márya Pávlovna asked him.

Vladímir Sergyéitch scratched behind his ear…. He himself knew very
few verses by heart, especially of the sort which were not sweet.

“Why, here now,”–he exclaimed at last;–“do you know Púshkin’s ‘The
Upas-Tree’?[21] No? That poem cannot possibly be called sweet.”

“Recite it,”–said Márya Pávlovna, dropping her eyes.

Vladímir Sergyéitch first stared at the ceiling, frowned, mumbled
something to himself, and at last recited “The Upas-Tree.”

After the first four lines, Márya Pávlovna slowly raised her eyes, and
when Vladímir Sergyéitch ended, she said, with equal slowness:

“Please recite it again.”

“So these verses do please you?”–asked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Recite it again.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch repeated “The Upas-Tree.” Márya Pávlovna rose, went
out into the next room, and returned with a sheet of paper, an inkstand
and a pen.

“Please write that down for me,”–she said to Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Certainly; with pleasure,”–he replied, beginning to write.–“But I
must confess that I am puzzled to know why these verses have pleased you
so. I recited them simply to prove to you that not all verses are
sweet.”

“So am I!”–exclaimed Ipátoff.–“What do you think of those verses, Iván
Ílitch?”

Iván Ílitch, according to his wont, merely glanced at Ipátoff, but did
not utter a word.

“Here, ma’am,–I have finished,”–said Vladímir Sergyéitch, as he placed
an interrogation-point at the end of the last line.

Márya Pávlovna thanked him, and carried the written sheet off to her own
room.

Half an hour later supper was served, and an hour later all the guests
dispersed to their rooms. Vladímir Sergyéitch had repeatedly addressed
Márya Pávlovna; but it was difficult to conduct a conversation with her,
and his anecdotes did not seem to interest her greatly. He probably
would have fallen asleep as soon as he got into bed had he not been
hindered by his neighbour, Egór Kapítonitch. Matryóna Márkovna’s
husband, after he was fully undressed and had got into bed, talked for a
very long time with his servant, and kept bestowing reprimands on him.
Every word he uttered was perfectly audible to Vladímir Sergyéitch: only
a thin partition separated them.

“Hold the candle in front of thy breast,”–said Egór Kapítonitch, in a
querulous voice;–“hold it so that I can see thy face. Thou hast aged
me, aged me, thou conscienceless man–hast aged me completely.”

“But, for mercy’s sake, Egór Kapítonitch, how have I aged you?”–the
servant’s dull and sleepy voice made itself heard.

“How? I’ll tell thee how. How many times have I said to thee: ‘Mítka,’ I
have said to thee, ‘when thou goest a-visiting with me, always take two
garments of each sort, especially’ … hold the candle in front of thy
breast … ‘especially underwear.’ And what hast thou done to me
to-day?”

“What, sir?”

“‘What, sir?’ What am I to put on to-morrow?”

“Why, the same things you wore to-day, sir.”

“Thou hast aged me, malefactor, aged me. I was almost beside myself with
the heat to-day, as it was. Hold the candle in front of thy breast, I
tell thee, and don’t sleep when thy master is talking to thee.”

“Well, but Matryóna Márkovna said, sir, ‘That’s enough. Why do you
always take such a mass of things with you? They only get worn out for
nothing.’”

“Matryóna Márkovna…. Is it a woman’s business, pray, to enter into
that? You have aged me. Okh, you have made me old before my time!”

“Yes; and Yakhím said the same thing, sir.”

“What’s that thou saidst?”

“I say, Yakhím said the same thing, sir.”

“Yakhím! Yakhím!”–repeated Egór Kapítonitch, reproachfully.–“Ekh, you
have aged me, ye accursed, and don’t even know how to speak Russian
intelligibly. Yakhím! Who’s Yakhím! Efrím,–well, that might be allowed
to pass, it is permissible to say that; because the genuine Greek name
is Evthímius, dost understand me?… Hold the candle in front of thy
breast…. So, for the sake of brevity, thou mayest say Efrím, if thou
wilt, but not Yakhím by any manner of means. Yákhim!”[22] added Egór
Kapítonitch, emphasising the syllable _Ya_.–“You have aged me, ye
malefactors. Hold the candle in front of thy breast!”

And for a long time, Egór Kapítonitch continued to berate his servant,
in spite of sighs, coughs, and other tokens of impatience on the part of
Vladímir Sergyéitch….

At last he dismissed his Mítka, and fell asleep; but Vladímir Sergyéitch
was no better off for that: Egór Kapítonitch snored so mightily and in
so deep a voice, with such playful transitions from high tones to the
very lowest, with such accompanying whistlings, and even snappings, that
it seemed as though the very partition were shaking in response to him;
poor Vladímir Sergyéitch almost wept. It was very stifling in the
chamber which had been allotted to him, and the feather-bed whereon he
was lying embraced his whole body in a sort of crawling heat.

At last, in despair, Vladímir Sergyéitch rose, opened the window, and
began with avidity to inhale the nocturnal freshness. The window looked
out on the park. It was light overhead, the round face of the full moon
was now clearly reflected in the pond, and stretched itself out in a
long, golden sheaf of slowly transfused spangles. On one of the paths
Vladímir Sergyéitch espied a figure in woman’s garb; he looked more
intently; it was Márya Pávlovna; in the moonlight her face seemed pale.
She stood motionless, and suddenly began to speak…. Vladímir
Sergyéitch cautiously put out his head….

“But a man–with glance imperious–
Sent a man to the Upas-tree….”

reached his ear….

“Come,”–he thought,–“the verses must have taken effect….”

And he began to listen with redoubled attention…. But Márya Pávlovna
speedily fell silent, and turned her face more directly toward him; he
could distinguish her large, dark eyes, her severe brows and lips….

Suddenly, she started, wheeled round, entered the shadow cast by a dense
wall of lofty acacias, and disappeared. Vladímir Sergyéitch stood for a
considerable time at the window, then got into bed again, but did not
fall asleep very soon.

“A strange being,”–he thought, as he tossed from side to side;–“and
yet they say that there is nothing particular in the provinces…. The
idea! A strange being! I shall ask her to-morrow what she was doing in
the park.”

And Egór Kapítonitch continued to snore as before.

III

On the following morning Vladímir Sergyéitch awoke quite late, and
immediately after the general tea and breakfast in the dining-room,
drove off home to finish his business on his estate, in spite of all old
Ipátoff’s attempts to detain him. Márya Pávlovna also was present at
the tea; but Vladímir Sergyéitch did not consider it necessary to
question her concerning her late stroll of the night before; he was one
of the people who find it difficult to surrender themselves for two days
in succession to any unusual thoughts and assumptions whatsoever. He
would have been obliged to discuss verses, and the so-called “poetical”
mood wearied him very quickly. He spent the whole day until dinner in
the fields, ate with great appetite, dozed off, and when he woke up,
tried to take up the clerk’s accounts; but before he had finished the
first page, he ordered his tarantás to be harnessed, and set off for
Ipátoff’s. Evidently, even positive people do not bear about in their
breasts hearts of stone, and they are no more fond of being bored than
other plain mortals.

As he drove upon the dam he heard voices and the sound of music. They
were singing Russian ballads in chorus in Ipátoff’s house. He found the
whole company which he had left in the morning on the terrace; all,
Nadézhda Alexyéevna among the rest, were sitting in a circle around a
man of two-and-thirty–a swarthy-skinned, black-eyed, black-haired man
in a velvet jacket, with a scarlet kerchief carelessly knotted about his
neck, and a guitar in his hands. This was Piótr Alexyéevitch Véretyeff,
brother of Nadézhda Alexyéevna. On catching sight of Vladímir
Sergyéitch, old Ipátoff advanced to meet him with a joyful cry, led him
up to Véretyeff, and introduced them to each other. After exchanging the
customary greetings with his new acquaintance, Astákhoff made a
respectful bow to the latter’s sister.

“We’re singing songs in country fashion, Vladímir Sergyéitch,”–began
Ipátoff, and pointing to Véretyeff he added:-“Piótr Alexyéitch is our
leader,–and what a leader! Just you listen to him!”

“This is very pleasant,”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Will not you join the choir?”–Nadézhda Alexyéevna asked him.

“I should be heartily glad to do so, but I have no voice.”

“That doesn’t matter! See, Egór Kapítonitch is singing, and I’m singing.
All you have to do is to chime in. Pray, sit down; and do thou strike
up, my dear fellow!”

“What song shall we sing now?”–said Véretyeff, thrumming the guitar;
and suddenly stopping short, he looked at Márya Pávlovna, who was
sitting by his side.–“I think it is your turn now,”–he said to her.

“No; do you sing,”–replied Márya Pávlovna.

“Here’s a song now: ‘Adown dear Mother Volga’”–said Vladímir
Sergyéitch, with importance.

“No, we will save that up for the last,”–replied Véretyeff, and
tinkling the strings of the guitar, he struck up, in slow measure, “The
sun is setting.”

He sang splendidly, dashingly, and blithely. His manly face, already
expressive, became still more animated when he sang; now and then he
shrugged his shoulders, suddenly pressed the strings with his palm,
raised his arm, shook his curls, and darted a falcon-like look around
him. More than once in Moscow he had seen the famous Ilyá, and he
imitated him. The chorus chimed in lustily. Márya Pávlovna’s voice
separated itself in a melodious flood from the other voices; it seemed
to drag them after it; but she would not sing alone, and Véretyeff
remained the leader to the end.

They sang a great many other songs….

In the meantime, along with the evening shadows, a thunder-storm drew
on. From noonday it had been steaming hot, and thunder had kept rumbling
in the distance; but now a broad thunder-cloud, which had long lain like
a leaden pall on the very rim of the horizon, began to increase and show
itself above the crests of the trees, the stifling air began to quiver
more distinctly, shaken more and more violently by the approaching
storm; the wind rose, rustled the foliage abruptly, died into silence,
again made a prolonged clamour, and began to roar; a surly gloom
flitted over the earth, swiftly dispelling the last reflection of the
sunset glow; dense clouds suddenly floated up, as though rending
themselves free, and sailed across the sky; a fine rain began to patter
down, the lightning flashed in a red flame, and the thunder rumbled
heavily and angrily.

“Let us go,”–said old Ipátoff,–“or we shall be drenched.”

All rose.

“Directly!”–exclaimed Piótr Alexyéitch.–“One more song, the last.
Listen:

“Akh, thou house, thou house of mine,
Thou new house of mine….”

he struck up in a loud voice, briskly striking the strings of the guitar
with his whole hand. “My new house of maple-wood,” joined in the chorus,
as though reluctantly carried away. Almost at the same moment, the rain
began to beat down in streams; but Véretyeff sang “My house” to the end.
From time to time, drowned by the claps of thunder, the dashing ballad
seemed more dashing than ever beneath the noisy rattle and gurgling of
the rain. At last the final detonation of the chorus rang out–and the
whole company ran, laughing, into the drawing-room. Loudest of all
laughed the little girls, Ipátoff’s daughters, as they shook the
rain-drops from their frocks. But, by way of precaution, Ipátoff closed
the window, and locked the door; and Egór Kapítonitch lauded him,
remarking that Matryóna Márkovna also always gave orders to shut up
whenever there was a thunder-storm, because electricity is more capable
of acting in an empty space. Bodryakóff looked him straight in the face,
stepped aside, and overturned a chair. Such trifling mishaps were
constantly happening to him.

The thunder-storm passed over very soon. The doors and windows were
opened again, and the rooms were filled with moist fragrance. Tea was
brought. After tea the old men sat down to cards again. Iván Ílitch
joined them, as usual. Vladímir Sergyéitch was about to go to Márya
Pávlovna, who was sitting at the window with Véretyeff; but Nadézhda
Alexyéevna called him to her, and immediately entered into a fervent
discussion with him about Petersburg and Petersburg life. She attacked
it; Vladímir Sergyéitch began to defend it. Nadézhda Alexyéevna appeared
to be trying to keep him by her side.

“What are you wrangling about?”–inquired Véretyeff, rising and
approaching them.

He swayed lazily from side to side as he walked; in all his movements
there was perceptible something which was not exactly carelessness, nor
yet exactly fatigue.

“Still about Petersburg.”–replied Nadézhda Alexyéevna.–“Vladímir
Sergyéitch cannot sufficiently praise it.”

“‘Tis a fine town,”–remarked Véretyeff;–“but, in my opinion, it is
nice everywhere. By Heaven, it is. If one only has two or three women,
and–pardon my frankness–wine, a man really has nothing left to wish
for.”

“You surprise me,”–retorted Vladímir Sergyéitch. “Can it be possible
that you are really of one opinion, that there does not exist for the
cultured man….”

“Perhaps … in fact … I agree with you,”–interrupted Véretyeff, who,
notwithstanding all his courtesy, had a habit of not listening to the
end of retorts;–“but that’s not in my line; I’m not a philosopher.”

“Neither am I a philosopher,”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch;–“and I have
not the slightest desire to be one; but here it is a question of
something entirely different.”

Véretyeff cast an abstracted glance at his sister, and she, with a faint
laugh, bent toward him, and whispered in a low voice:

“Petrúsha, my dear, imitate Egór Kapítonitch for us, please.”

Véretyeff’s face instantly changed, and, Heaven knows by what miracle,
became remarkably like the face of Egór Kapítonitch, although the
features of the two faces had absolutely nothing in common, and
Véretyeff himself barely wrinkled up his nose and pulled down the
corners of his lips.

“Of course,”–he began to whisper, in a voice which was the exact
counterpart of Egór Kapítonitch’s,–“Matryóna Márkovna is a severe lady
on the score of manners; but, on the other hand, she is a model wife. It
is true that no matter what I may have said….”

“The Biriúloff girls know it all,”–put in Nadézhda Alexyéevna, hardly
restraining her laughter.

“Everything is known on the following day,”–replied Véretyeff, with
such a comical grimace, with such a perturbed sidelong glance, that even
Vladímir Sergyéitch burst out laughing.

“I see that you possess great talent for mimicry,”–he remarked.

Véretyeff passed his hand over his face, his features resumed their
ordinary expression, while Nadézhda Alexyéevna exclaimed:

“Oh, yes! he can mimic any one whom he wishes…. He’s a master hand at
that.”

“And would you be able to imitate me, for example?”–inquired Vladímir
Sergyéitch.

“I should think so!”–returned Nadézhda Alexyéevna:–“of course.”

“Akh, pray do me the favour to represent me,”–said Astákhoff, turning
to Véretyeff.–“I beg that you will not stand on ceremony.”

“And so you too have believed her?”–replied Véretyeff, slightly
screwing up one eye, and imparting to his voice the sound of
Astákhoff’s voice, but so cautiously and slightly that only Nadézhda
Alexyéevna noticed it, and bit her lips.–“Please do not believe her;
she will tell you other untrue things about me.”

“And if you only knew what an actor he is!”–pursued Nadézhda
Alexyéevna:–“he plays every conceivable sort of a part. And so
splendidly! He is our stage-manager, and our prompter, and everything
you like. It’s a pity that you are going away so soon.”

“Sister, thy partiality blinds thee,”–remarked Véretyeff, in a pompous
tone, but still with the same touch of Astákhoff.–“What will Mr.
Astákhoff think of thee?–He will regard thee as a rustic.”

“No, indeed,”–Vladímir Sergyéitch was beginning….

“See here, Petrúsha,”–interposed Nadézhda Alexyéevna;–“please show us
how a drunken man is utterly unable to get his handkerchief out of his
pocket; or no: show us, rather, how a boy catches a fly on the window,
and how it buzzes under his fingers.”

“Thou art a regular child,”–replied Véretyeff.

Nevertheless he rose, and stepping to the window, beside which Márya
Pávlovna was sitting, he began to pass his hand across the panes, and
represent how a small boy catches a fly.

The accuracy with which he imitated its pitiful squeak was really
amazing. It seemed as though a live fly were actually struggling under
his fingers. Nadézhda Alexyéevna burst out laughing, and gradually every
one in the room got to laughing. Márya Pávlovna’s face alone underwent
no change, not even her lips quivered. She sat with downcast eyes, but
raised them at last, and casting a serious glance at Véretyeff, she
muttered through her set teeth:

“What possesses you to make a clown of yourself?”

Véretyeff instantly turned away from the window, and, after standing
still for a moment in the middle of the room, he went out on the
terrace, and thence into the garden, which had already grown perfectly
dark.

“How amusing that Piótr Alexyéitch is!”–exclaimed Egór Kapítonitch,
slapping down the seven of trumps with a flourish on some one else’s
ace.–“Really, he’s very amusing!”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna rose, and hastily approaching Márya Pávlovna, asked
her in an undertone:

“What didst thou say to my brother?”

“Nothing,”–replied the other.

“What dost thou mean by ‘nothing’? Impossible.”

And after waiting a little, Nadézhda Alexyéevna said: “Come!”–took
Márya Pávlovna by the hand, forced her to rise, and went off with her
into the garden.

Vladímir Sergyéitch gazed after the two young girls not without
perplexity. But they were not absent long; a quarter of an hour later
they returned, and Piótr Alexyéitch entered the room with them.

“What a splendid night!” exclaimed Nadézhda Alexyéevna, as she
entered.–“How beautiful it is in the garden!”

“Akh, yes. By the way,”–said Vladímir Sergyéitch;–“allow me to
inquire, Márya Pávlovna, whether it was you whom I saw in the garden
last night?”

Márya Pávlovna gave him a swift look straight in the eyes.

“Moreover, so far as I could make out, you were declaiming Púshkin’s
‘The Upas-Tree.’”

Véretyeff frowned slightly, and he also began to stare at Astákhoff.

“It really was I,”–said Márya Pávlovna;–“only, I was not declaiming
anything; I never declaim.”

“Perhaps it seemed so to me,”–began Vladímir Sergyéitch;–“but….”

“It did seem so to you?”–remarked Márya Pávlovna, coldly.

“What’s ‘The Upas-Tree’?”–inquired Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“Why, don’t you know?”–retorted Astákhoff.–“Do you mean to say you
don’t remember Púshkin’s verses: ‘On the unhealthy, meagre soil’?”

“Somehow I don’t remember…. That upas-tree is a poisonous tree, isn’t
it?”

“Yes.”

“Like the datura…. Dost remember, Másha, how beautiful the datura were
on our balcony, in the moonlight, with their long, white blossoms? Dost
remember what fragrance poured from them,–so sweet, insinuating, and
insidious?”

“An insidious fragrance!”–exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Yes; insidious. What are you surprised at? They say it is dangerous,
but it is attractive. Why can evil attract? Evil should not be
beautiful.”

“Oh, what theories!”–remarked Piótr Alexyéitch;–“how far away we have
got from verses!”

“I recited those verses yesterday evening to Márya Pávlovna,” interposed
Vladímir Sergyéitch;–“and they pleased her greatly.”

“Akh, please recite them,”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“Certainly, madam.”

And Astákhoff recited “The Upas-Tree.”

“Too bombastic,”–ejaculated Véretyeff, as though against his will, as
soon as Vladímir Sergyéitch had finished.

“The poem is too bombastic?”

“No, not the poem…. Excuse me, it seems to me that you do not recite
with sufficient simplicity. The thing speaks for itself; however, I may
be mistaken.”

“No, thou art not mistaken,”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna, pausing between
her words.

“Oh, yes; that is a matter of course! In thy eyes I am a genius, an
extremely gifted man, who knows everything, can do everything;
unfortunately, he is overcome with laziness; isn’t that so?”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna merely shook her head.

“I shall not quarrel with you; you must know best about that,”–remarked
Vladímir Sergyéitch, somewhat sulkily.–“That’s not in my line.”

“I made a mistake, pardon me,”–ejaculated Véretyeff, hastily.

In the meantime, the game of cards had come to an end.

“Akh, by the way,”–said Ipátoff, as he rose;–“Vladímir Sergyéitch, one
of the local landed proprietors, a neighbour, a very fine and worthy
man, Akílin, Gavríla Stepánitch, has commissioned me to ask you whether
you will not do him the honour to be present at his ball,–that is, I
just put it so, for beauty of style, and said ‘ball,’ but it is only an
evening party with dancing, quite informal. He would have called upon
you himself without fail, only he was afraid of disturbing you.”

“I am much obliged to the gentleman,”–returned Vladímir
Sergyéitch;–“but it is imperatively necessary that I should return
home….”

“Why–but when do you suppose the ball takes place? ’Tis to-morrow.
To-morrow is Gavríla Stepánitch’s Name-day. One day more won’t matter,
and how much pleasure you will give him! And it’s only ten versts from
here. If you will allow, we will take you thither.”

“Really, I don’t know,”–began Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“And are you
going?”

“The whole family! And Nadézhda Alexyéevna and Piótr
Alexyéitch,–everybody is going!”

“You may invite me on the spot for the fifth quadrille, if you
like,”–remarked Nadézhda Alexyéevna.–“The first four are already
bespoken.”

“You are very kind; and are you already engaged for the mazurka?”

“I? Let me think … no, I think I am not.”

“In that case, if you will be so kind, I should like to have the
honour….”

“That means that you will go? Very good. Certainly.”

“Bravo!”–exclaimed Ipátoff.–“Well, Vladímir Sergyéitch, you have put
us under an obligation. Gavrílo Stepánitch will simply go into
raptures. Isn’t that so, Iván Ílitch?”

Iván Ílitch would have preferred to hold his peace, according to his
wont, but thought it better to utter a sound of approval.

“What possessed thee,”–said Piótr Alexyéitch an hour later to his
sister, as he sat with her in a light two-wheeled cart, which he was
driving himself,–“what possessed thee to saddle thyself with that
sour-visaged fellow for the mazurka?”

“I have reasons of my own for that,”–replied Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“What reasons?–permit me to inquire.”

“That’s my secret.”

“Oho!”

And with his whip he lightly flicked the horse, which was beginning to
prick up its ears, snort, and shy. It was frightened by the shadow of a
huge willow bush which fell across the road, dimly illuminated by the
moon.

“And shalt thou dance with Másha?”–Nadézhda Alexyéevna, in her turn,
questioned her brother.

“Yes,” he said indifferently.

“Yes! yes!”–repeated Nadézhda Alexyéevna, reproachfully.–“You
men,”–she added, after a brief pause,–“positively do not deserve to be
loved by nice women.”

“Dost think so? Well, and that sour-visaged Petersburger–does he
deserve it?”

“Sooner than thou.”

“Really!”

And Piótr Alexyéitch recited, with a sigh:

“What a mission, O Creator,
To be … the brother of a grown-up sister!”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna burst out laughing.

“I cause thee a great deal of trouble, there’s no denying that. I have a
commission to thee.”

“Really?–I hadn’t the slightest suspicion of that.”

“I’m speaking of Másha.”

“On what score?”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna’s face assumed a slight expression of pain.

“Thou knowest thyself,”–she said softly.

“Ah, I understand!–What’s to be done, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, ma’am? I
love to drink with a good friend, ma’am, sinful man that I am; I love
it, ma’am.”

“Stop, brother, please don’t talk like that!… This is no jesting
matter.”

“Tram-tram-tam-poom!”–muttered Piótr Alexyéitch through his teeth.

“It is thy perdition, and thou jestest….”

“The farm-hand is sowing the grain, his wife does not agree….”

struck up Piótr Alexyéitch loudly, slapped the horse with the reins, and
it dashed onward at a brisk trot.

IV

On reaching home Véretyeff did not undress, and a couple of hours later,
when the flush of dawn was just colouring the sky, he was no longer in
the house.

Half-way between his estate and Ipátoff’s, on the very brink of a broad
ravine, stood a small birch grove. The young trees grew very close
together, and no axe had yet touched their graceful trunks; a shadow
which was not dense, but continuous, spread from the tiny leaves on the
soft, thin grass, all mottled with the golden heads of buttercups,[23]
the white dots of wood-campanula, and the tiny deep-crimson crosses of
wild pinks. The recently-risen sun flooded the whole grove with a
powerful though not brilliant light; dewdrops glittered everywhere,
while here and there large drops kindled and glowed red; everything
exhaled freshness, life, and that innocent triumph of the first moments
of the morning, when everything is still so bright and still so silent.
The only thing audible was the carolling voices of the larks above the
distant fields, and in the grove itself two or three small birds were
executing, in a leisurely manner, their brief songs, and then,
apparently, listening to see how their performance had turned out. From
the damp earth arose a strong, healthy scent; a pure, light breeze
fluttered all about in cool gusts. Morning, glorious morning, breathed
forth from everything–everything looked and smiled of the morning, like
the rosy, freshly-washed face of a baby who has just waked up.

Not far from the ravine, in the middle of a small glade, on an outspread
cloak, sat Véretyeff. Márya Pávlovna was standing beside him, leaning
against a birch-tree, with her hands clasped behind her.

Both were silent. Márya Pávlovna was gazing fixedly into the far
distance; a white scarf had slipped from her head to her shoulders, the
errant breeze was stirring and lifting the ends of her hastily-knotted
hair. Véretyeff sat bent over, tapping the grass with a small branch.

“Well,”–he began at last,–“are you angry with me?”

Márya Pávlovna made no reply.

Véretyeff darted a glance at her.

“Másha, are you angry?”–he repeated.

Márya Pávlovna scanned him with a swift glance from head to foot turned
slightly away, and said:

“Yes.”

“What for?”–asked Véretyeff, and flung away his branch.

Again Márya Pávlovna made no reply.

“But, as a matter of fact, you have a right to be angry with me,”–began
Véretyeff, after a brief pause.–“You must regard me as a man who is not
only frivolous, but even….”

“You do not understand me,”–interrupted Márya Pávlovna.–“I am not in
the least angry with you on my own account.”

“On whose account, then?”

“On your own.”

Véretyeff raised his head and laughed.

“Ah! I understand!”–he said.–“Again! again the thought is beginning to
agitate you: ‘Why don’t I make something of myself?’ Do you know what,
Másha, you are a wonderful being; by Heaven, you are! You worry so much
about other people and so little about yourself. There is not a bit of
egoism in you; really, really there isn’t. There’s no other girl in the
world like you. It’s a pity about one thing: I decidedly am not worthy
of your affection; I say that without jesting.”

“So much the worse for you. You feel and do nothing.”–Again Véretyeff
laughed.

“Másha, take your hand from behind your back, and give it to me,”–he
said, with insinuating affection in his voice.

Márya Pávlovna merely shrugged her shoulders.

“Give me your beautiful, honest hand; I want to kiss it respectfully and
tenderly. Thus does a giddy-pated scholar kiss the hand of his
condescending tutor.”

And Véretyeff reached out toward Márya Pávlovna.

“Enough of that!”–said she. “You are always laughing and jesting, and
you will jest away your life like that.”

“H’m! jest away my life! A new expression! But I hope, Márya Pávlovna,
that you used the verb ‘to jest’ in the active sense?”

Márya Pávlovna contracted her brows.

“Enough of that, Véretyeff,”–she repeated.

“To jest away life,”–went on Véretyeff, half rising;–“but you are
imagining me as worse than I am; you are wasting your life in
seriousness. Do you know, Másha, you remind me of a scene from Púshkin’s
‘Don Juan.’ You have not read Púshkin’s ‘Don Juan’?”

“No.”

“Yes, I had forgotten, you see, that you do not read verses.–In that
poem guests come to a certain Laura; she drives them all away and
remains alone with Carlos. The two go out on the balcony; the night is
wonderful. Laura admires, and Carlos suddenly begins to demonstrate to
her that she will grow old in course of time.–‘Well,’ replies Laura,
‘it may be cold and rainy in Paris now, but here, with us, “the night is
redolent of orange and of laurel.” Why make guesses at the future?’ Look
around you, Másha; is it not beautiful here? See how everything is
enjoying life, how young everything is. And aren’t we young ourselves?”

Véretyeff approached Márya Pávlovna; she did not move away from him, but
she did not turn her head toward him.

“Smile, Másha,”–he went on;–“only with your kind smile, not with your
usual grin. I love your kind smile. Raise your proud, stern eyes.–What
ails you? You turn away. Stretch out your hand to me, at least.”

“Akh, Véretyeff,”–began Másha;–“you know that I do not understand how
to express myself. You have told me about that Laura. But she was a
woman, you see…. A woman may be pardoned for not thinking of the
future.”

“When you speak, Másha,”–returned Véretyeff,–“you blush incessantly
with self-love and modesty: the blood fairly flows in a crimson flood
into your cheeks. I’m awfully fond of that in you.”

Márya Pávlovna looked Véretyeff straight in the eye.

“Farewell,”–she said, and threw her scarf over her head.

Véretyeff held her back. “Enough, enough. Stay!”–he cried.–“Come, why
are you going? Issue your commands! Do you want me to enter the service,
to become an agriculturist? Do you want me to publish romances with
accompaniment for the guitar; to print a collection of poems, or of
drawings; to busy myself with painting, sculpture, dancing on the rope?
I’ll do anything, anything, anything you command, if only you will be
satisfied with me! Come, really now, Másha, believe me.”

Again Márya Pávlovna looked at him.

“You will do all that in words only, not in deeds. You declare that you
will obey me….”

“Of course I do.”

“You obey, but how many times have I begged you….”

“What about?”

Márya Pávlovna hesitated.

“Not to drink liquor,”–she said at last.

Véretyeff laughed.

“Ekh, Másha! And you are at it, too! My sister is worrying herself to
death over that also. But, in the first place, I’m not a drunkard at
all; and in the second place, do you know why I drink? Look yonder, at
that swallow…. Do you see how boldly it manages its tiny body,–and
hurls it wherever it wishes? Now it has soared aloft, now it has darted
downward. It has even piped with joy: do you hear? So that’s why I
drink, Másha, in order to feel those same sensations which that swallow
experiences…. Hurl yourself whithersoever you will, soar wheresoever
you take a fancy….”

“But to what end?”–interrupted Másha.

“What do you mean by that? What is one to live on then?”

“But isn’t it possible to get along without liquor?”

“No, it is not; we are all damaged, rumpled. There’s passion … it
produces the same effect. That’s why I love you.”

“Like wine…. I’m much obliged to you.”

“No, Másha, I do not love you like wine. Stay, I’ll prove it to you
sometime,–when we are married, say, and go abroad together. Do you
know, I am planning in advance how I shall lead you in front of the
Venus of Milo. At this point it will be appropriate to say:

“And when she stands with serious eyes
Before the Chyprian of Milos–
Twain are they, and the marble in comparison
Suffers, it would seem, affront….

“What makes me talk constantly in poetry to-day? It must be that this
morning is affecting me. What air! ’Tis exactly as though one were
quaffing wine.”

“Wine again,”–remarked Márya Pávlovna.

“What of that! A morning like this, and you with me, and not feel
intoxicated! ‘With serious eyes….’ Yes,”–pursued Véretyeff, gazing
intently at Márya Pávlovna,–“that is so…. For I remember, I have
beheld, rarely, but yet I have beheld these dark, magnificent eyes, I
have beheld them tender! And how beautiful they are then! Come, don’t
turn away, Másha; pray, smile at least … show me your eyes merry, at
all events, if they will not vouchsafe me a tender glance.”

“Stop, Véretyeff,”–said Márya Pávlovna.–“Release me! It is time for me
to go home.”

“But I’m going to make you laugh,”–interposed Véretyeff; “by Heaven, I
will make you laugh. Eh, by the way, yonder runs a hare….”

“Where?”–asked Márya Pávlovna.

“Yonder, beyond the ravine, across the field of oats. Some one must have
startled it; they don’t run in the morning. I’ll stop it on the instant,
if you like.”

And Véretyeff whistled loudly. The hare immediately squatted, twitched
its ears, drew up its fore paws, straightened itself up, munched,
sniffed the air, and again began to munch with its lips. Véretyeff
promptly squatted down on his heels, like the hare, and began to twitch
his nose, sniff, and munch like it. The hare passed its paws twice
across its muzzle and shook itself,–they must have been wet with
dew,–stiffened its ears, and bounded onward. Véretyeff rubbed his hands
over his cheeks and shook himself also…. Márya Pávlovna could not
hold out, and burst into a laugh.

“Bravo!”–cried Véretyeff, springing up. “Bravo! That’s exactly the
point–you are not a coquette. Do you know, if any fashionable young
lady had such teeth as you have she would laugh incessantly. But that’s
precisely why I love you, Másha, because you are not a fashionable young
lady, don’t laugh without cause, and don’t wear gloves on your hands,
which it is a joy to kiss, because they are sunburned, and one feels
their strength…. I love you, because you don’t argue, because you are
proud, taciturn, don’t read books, don’t love poetry….”

“I’ll recite some verses to you, shall I?”–Márya Pávlovna interrupted
him, with a certain peculiar expression on her face.

“Verses?”–inquired Véretyeff, in amazement.

“Yes, verses; the very ones which that Petersburg gentleman recited last
night.”

“‘The Upas-Tree’ again?… So you really were declaiming in the garden,
by night? That’s just like you…. But does it really please you so
much?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Recite it.”

Márya Pávlovna was seized with shyness….

“Recite it, recite it,”–repeated Véretyeff.

Márya Pávlovna began to recite; Véretyeff stood in front of her, with
his arms folded on his breast, and bent himself to listen. At the first
line Márya Pávlovna raised her eyes heavenward; she did not wish to
encounter Véretyeff’s gaze. She recited in her even, soft voice, which
reminded one of the sound of a violoncello; but when she reached the
lines:

“And the poor slave expired at the feet
Of his invincible sovereign….”

her voice began to quiver, her impassive, haughty brows rose
ingenuously, like those of a little girl, and her eyes, with involuntary
devotion, fixed themselves on Véretyeff….

He suddenly threw himself at her feet and embraced her knees.

“I am thy slave!”–he cried.–“I am at thy feet, thou art my sovereign,
my goddess, my ox-eyed Hera, my Medea….”

Márya Pávlovna attempted to repulse him, but her hands sank helplessly
in his thick curls, and, with a smile of confusion, she dropped her head
on her breast….

V

Gavríla Stepánitch Akílin, at whose house the ball was appointed,
belonged to the category of landed proprietors who evoked the
admiration of the neighbours by their ingenuity in living well on very
insignificant means. Although he did not own more than four hundred
serfs, he was in the habit of entertaining the whole government in a
huge stone mansion, with a tower and a flag on the tower, erected by
himself. The property had descended to him from his father, and had
never been distinguished for being well ordered; Gavríla Stepánitch had
been an absentee for a long time–had been in the service in Petersburg.
At last, twenty-five years before the date of our story, he returned to
his native place, with the rank of Collegiate Assessor,[24] and, with a
wife and three daughters, had simultaneously undertaken reorganisation
and building operations, had gradually set up an orchestra, and had
begun to give dinners. At first everybody had prophesied for him speedy
and inevitable ruin; more than once rumours had become current to the
effect that Gavríla Stepánitch’s estate was to be sold under the hammer;
but the years passed, dinners, balls, banquets, concerts, followed each
other in their customary order, new buildings sprang out of the earth
like mushrooms, and still Gavríla Stepánitch’s estate was not sold under
the hammer, and he himself continued to live as before, and had even
grown stout of late.

Then the neighbours’ gossip took another direction; they began to hint
at certain vast sums which were said to be concealed; they talked of a
treasure…. “And if he were only a good farmer, …” so argued the
nobles among themselves; “but that’s just what he isn’t, you know! Not
at all! So it is deserving of surprise, and incomprehensible.” However
that may have been, every one went very gladly to Gavríla Stepánitch’s
house. He received his guests cordially, and played cards for any stake
they liked. He was a grey-haired little man, with a small, pointed head,
a yellow face, and yellow eyes, always carefully shaven and perfumed
with eau-de-cologne; both on ordinary days and on holidays he wore a
roomy blue dress-coat, buttoned to the chin, a large stock, in which he
had a habit of hiding his chin, and he was foppishly fastidious about
his linen; he screwed up his eyes and thrust out his lips when he took
snuff, and spoke very politely and softly, incessantly employing the
letter _s_.[25]

In appearance, Gavríla Stepánitch was not distinguished by vivacity,
and, in general, his exterior was not prepossessing, and he did not look
like a clever man, although, at times, craft gleamed in his eye. He had
settled his two elder daughters advantageously; the youngest was still
at home, and of marriageable age. Gavríla Stepánitch also had a wife, an
insignificant and wordless being.

At seven o’clock in the evening, Vladímir Sergyéitch presented himself
at the Ipátoffs’ in dress-suit and white gloves. He found them all
entirely dressed; the little girls were sitting sedately, afraid of
mussing their starched white frocks; old Ipátoff, on catching sight of
Vladímir Sergyéitch in his dress-suit, affectionately upbraided him, and
pointed to his own frock-coat; Márya Pávlovna wore a muslin gown of a
deep rose colour, which was extremely becoming to her. Vladímir
Sergyéitch paid her several compliments. Márya Pávlovna’s beauty
attracted him, although she was evidently shy of him; he also liked
Nadézhda Alexyéevna, but her free-and-easy manners somewhat disconcerted
him. Moreover, in her remarks, her looks, her very smiles, mockery
frequently peeped forth, and this disturbed his citified and well-bred
soul. He would not have been averse to making fun of others with her,
but it was unpleasant to him to think that she was probably capable of
jeering at himself.

The ball had already begun; a good many guests had assembled, and the
home-bred orchestra was crashing and booming and screeching in the
gallery, when the Ipátoff family, accompanied by Vladímir Sergyéitch,
entered the hall of the Akílin house. The host met them at the very
door, thanked Vladímir Sergyéitch for his tender procuration of an
agreeable surprise,–that was the way he expressed himself,–and, taking
Ipátoff’s arm, he led him to the drawing-room, to the card-tables.
Gavríla Stepánitch had received a bad education, and everything in his
house, both the music and the furniture and the food and the wines, not
only could not be called first-class, but were not even fit to be ranked
as second-class. On the other hand, there was plenty of everything, and
he himself did not put on airs, was not arrogant … the nobles demanded
nothing more from him, and were entirely satisfied with his
entertainment. At supper, for instance, the caviare was served cut up in
chunks and heavily salted; but no one objected to your taking it in your
fingers, and there was plenty wherewith to wash it down: wines which
were cheap, it is true, but were made from grapes, nevertheless, and not
some other concoction. The springs in Gavríla Stepánitch’s furniture
were rather uncomfortable, owing to their stiffness and inflexibility;
but, not to mention the fact that there were no springs whatever in many
of the couches and easy-chairs, any one could place under him a worsted
cushion, and there was a great number of such cushions lying about,
embroidered by the hands of Gavríla Stepánitch’s spouse herself–and
then there was nothing left to desire.

In a word, Gavríla Stepánitch’s house could not possibly have been
better adapted to the sociable and unceremonious style of ideas of the
inhabitants of *** county, and it was solely owing to Mr. Akílin’s
modesty that at the assemblies of the nobility he was not elected
Marshal, but a retired Major Podpékin, a greatly respected and worthy
man, despite the fact that he brushed his hair over to the right temple
from the left ear, dyed his moustache a lilac hue, and as he suffered
from asthma, had of late fallen into melancholy.

So, then, the ball had already begun. They were dancing a quadrille of
ten pairs. The cavaliers were the officers of a regiment stationed close
by, and divers not very youthful squires, and two or three officials
from the town. Everything was as it should be, everything was proceeding
in due order. The Marshal of the Nobility was playing cards with a
retired Actual Councillor of State,[26] and a wealthy gentleman, the
owner of three thousand souls. The actual state councillor wore on his
forefinger a ring with a diamond, talked very softly, kept the heels of
his boots closely united, and did not move them from the position used
by dancers of former days, and did not turn his head, which was half
concealed by a capital velvet collar. The wealthy gentleman, on the
contrary, was constantly laughing at something or other, elevating his
eyebrows, and flashing the whites of his eyes. The poet Bodryakóff, a
man of shy and clumsy aspect, was chatting in a corner with the learned
historian Evsiukóff: each had clutched the other by the button. Beside
them, one noble, with a remarkably long waist, was expounding certain
audacious opinions to another noble who was timidly staring at his
forehead. Along the wall sat the mammas in gay-hued caps; around the
doors pressed the men of simple cut, young fellows with perturbed faces,
and elderly fellows with peaceable ones; but one cannot describe
everything. We repeat: everything was as it should be.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna had arrived even earlier than the Ipátoffs; Vladímir
Sergyéitch saw her dancing with a young man of handsome appearance in a
dandified dress-suit, with expressive eyes, thin black moustache, and
gleaming teeth; a gold chain hung in a semicircle on his stomach.
Nadézhda Alexyéevna wore a light-blue gown with white flowers; a small
garland of the same flowers encircled her curly head; she was smiling,
fluttering her fan, and gaily gazing about her; she felt that she was
the queen of the ball. Vladímir Sergyéitch approached her, made his
obeisance, and looking her pleasantly in the face, he asked her whether
she remembered her promise of the day before.

“What promise?”

“Why, that you would dance the mazurka with me.”

“Yes, of course I will dance it with you.”

The young man who stood alongside Nadézhda Alexyéevna suddenly flushed
crimson.

“You have probably forgotten, mademoiselle,”–he began,–“that you had
already previously promised to-day’s mazurka to me.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna became confused.

“Akh! good heavens, what am I to do?”–she said:–“excuse me, pray,
M’sieu Steltchínsky, I am so absent-minded; I really am ashamed….”

M’sieu Steltchínsky made no reply, and merely dropped his eyes; Vladímir
Sergyéitch assumed a slight air of dignity.

“Be so good, M’sieu Steltchínsky,”–went on Nadézhda Alexyéevna; “you
and I are old acquaintances, but M’sieu Astákhoff is a stranger among
us; do not place me in an awkward position: permit me to dance with
him.”

“As you please,”–returned the young man.–“But you must begin.”

“Thanks,”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna, and fluttered off to meet her
vis-à-vis.

Steltchínsky followed her with his eyes, then looked at Vladímir
Sergyéitch. Vladímir Sergyéitch, in his turn, looked at him, then
stepped aside.

The quadrille soon came to an end. Vladímir Sergyéitch strolled about
the hall a little, then he betook himself to the drawing-room and
paused at one of the card-tables. Suddenly he felt some one touch his
hand from behind; he turned round–before him stood Steltchínsky.

“I must have a couple of words with you in the next room, if you will
permit,”–said the latter, in French, very courteously, and with an
accent which was not Russian.

Vladímir Sergyéitch followed him.

Steltchínsky halted at a window.

“In the presence of ladies,”–he began, in the same language as
before,–“I could not say anything else than what I did say; but I hope
you do not think that I really intend to surrender to you my right to
the mazurka with M-lle Véretyeff.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch was astounded.

“Why so?”–he asked.

“Because, sir,”–replied Steltchínsky, quietly, laying his hand on his
breast and inflating his nostrils,–“I don’t intend to,–that’s all.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch also laid his hand on his breast, but did not
inflate his nostrils.

“Permit me to remark to you, my dear sir,”–he began,–“that by this
course you may drag M-lle Véretyeff into unpleasantness, and I
assume….”

“That would be extremely unpleasant to me, but no one can prevent your
declining, declaring that you are ill, or going away….”

“I shall not do it. For whom do you take me?”

“In that case, I shall be compelled to demand satisfaction from you.”

“In what sense do you mean … satisfaction?”

“The sense is evident.”

“You will challenge me to a duel?”

“Precisely so, sir, if you do not renounce the mazurka.”

Steltchínsky endeavoured to utter these words as negligently as
possible. Vladímir Sergyéitch’s heart set to beating violently. He
looked his wholly unexpected antagonist in the face. “Phew, O Lord, what
stupidity!” he thought.

“You are not jesting?”–he articulated aloud.

“I am not in the habit of jesting in general,”–replied Steltchínsky,
pompously;–“and particularly with people whom I do not know. You will
not renounce the mazurka?”–he added, after a brief pause.

“I will not,”–retorted Vladímir Sergyéitch, as though deliberating.

“Very good! We will fight to-morrow.”

“Very well.”

“To-morrow morning my second will call upon you.”

And with a courteous inclination, Steltchínsky withdrew, evidently well
pleased with himself.

Vladímir Sergyéitch remained a few minutes longer by the window.

“Just look at that, now!”–he thought.–“This is the result of thy new
acquaintances! What possessed me to come? Good! Splendid!”

But at last he recovered himself, and went out into the hall.

In the hall they were already dancing the polka. Before Vladímir
Sergyéitch’s eyes Márya Pávlovna flitted past with Piótr Alexyéitch,
whom he had not noticed up to that moment; she seemed pale, and even
sad; then Nadézhda Alexyéevna darted past, all beaming and joyous, with
some youthful, bow-legged, but fiery artillery officer; on the second
round, she was dancing with Steltchínsky. Steltchínsky shook his hair
violently when he danced.

“Well, my dear fellow,”–suddenly rang out Ipátoff’s voice behind
Vladímir Sergyéitch’s back;–“you’re only looking on, but not dancing
yourself? Come, confess that, in spite of the fact that we live in a
dead-calm region, so to speak, we aren’t badly off, are we, hey?”

“Good! damn the dead-calm region!” thought Vladímir Sergyéitch, and
mumbling something in reply to Ipátoff, he went off to another corner of
the hall.

“I must hunt up a second,”–he pursued his meditations;–“but where the
devil am I to find one? I can’t take Véretyeff; I know no others; the
devil only knows what a stupid affair this is!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch, when he got angry, was fond of mentioning the
devil.

At this moment, Vladímir Sergyéitch’s eyes fell upon The Folding Soul,
Iván Ílitch, standing idly by the window.

“Wouldn’t he do?”–he thought, and shrugging his shoulders, he added
almost aloud:–“I shall have to take him.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch stepped up to him.

“A very strange thing has just happened to me,”–began our hero with a
forced smile:–“just imagine some young man or other, a stranger to me,
has challenged me to a duel; it is utterly impossible for me to refuse;
I am in indispensable need of a second: will not you act?”

Although Iván Ílitch was characterised, as we know, by imperturbable
indifference, yet such an unexpected proposition startled even him.
Thoroughly perplexed, he riveted his eyes on Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Yes,”–repeated Vladímir Sergyéitch;–“I should be greatly indebted to
you. I am not acquainted with any one here. You alone….”

“I can’t,”–said Iván Ílitch, as though just waking up;–“I absolutely
can’t.”

“Why not? You are afraid of unpleasantness; but all this will, I hope,
remain a secret….”

As he spoke these words, Vladímir Sergyéitch felt himself blushing and
growing confused.

“Excuse me, I can’t possibly,”–repeated Iván Ílitch, shaking his head
and drawing back, in which operation he again overturned a chair.

For the first time in his life it was his lot to reply to a request by a
refusal; but then, the request was such a queer one!

“At any rate,”–pursued Vladímir Sergyéitch, in an agitated voice, as he
grasped his hand,–“do me the favour not to speak to any one concerning
what I have said to you. I earnestly entreat this of you.”

“I can do that, I can do that,”–hastily replied Iván Ílitch;–“but the
other thing I cannot do, say what you will; I positively am unable to do
it.”

“Well, very good, very good,”–said Vladímir Sergyéitch;–“but do not
forget that I rely on your discretion…. I shall announce to-morrow to
that gentleman,” he muttered to himself with vexation,–“that I could
not find a second, so let him make what arrangements he sees fit, for I
am a stranger here. And the devil prompted me to apply to that
gentleman! But what else was there for me to do?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch was very, very unlike his usual self.

In the meantime, the ball went on. Vladímir Sergyéitch would have
greatly liked to depart at once, but departure was not to be thought of
until the end of the mazurka. How was he to give up to his delighted
antagonist? Unhappily for Vladímir Sergyéitch, the dances were in charge
of a free-and-easy young gentleman with long hair and a sunken chest,
over which, in semblance of a miniature waterfall, meandered a black
satin neckcloth, transfixed with a huge gold pin. This young gentleman
had the reputation, throughout the entire government, of being a man who
had assimilated, in their most delicate details, all the customs and
rules of the highest society, although he had lived in Petersburg only
six months altogether, and had not succeeded in penetrating any loftier
heights than the houses of Collegiate Assessor Sandaráki and his
brother-in-law, State Councillor Kostandaráki. He superintended the
dances at all balls, gave the signal to the musicians by clapping his
hands, and in the midst of the roar of the trumpets and the squeaking of
the violins shouted: “_En avant deux!_” or “_Grande chaîne!_” or “_A
vous, mademoiselle!_” and was incessantly flying, all pale and
perspiring, through the hall, slipping headlong, and bowing and
scraping. He never began the mazurka before midnight. “And that is a
concession,”–he was wont to say;–“in Petersburg I would keep you in
torment until two o’clock.”

This ball seemed very long to Vladímir Sergyéitch. He prowled about
like a shadow from hall to drawing-room, now and again exchanging cold
glances with his antagonist, who never missed a single dance, and
undertook to invite Márya Pávlovna for a quadrille, but she was already
engaged–and a couple of times he bandied words with the anxious host,
who appeared to be harassed by the tedium which was written on the
countenance of the new guest. At last, the music of the longed-for
mazurka thundered out. Vladímir Sergyéitch hunted up his lady, brought
two chairs, and seated himself with her, near the end of the circle,
almost opposite Steltchínsky.

The young man who managed affairs was in the first pair, as might have
been expected. With what a face he began the mazurka, how he dragged his
lady after him, how he beat the floor with his foot, and twitched his
head the while,–all this is almost beyond the power of human pen to
describe.

“But it seems to me, M’sieu Astákhoff, that you are bored,”–began
Nadézhda Alexyéevna, suddenly turning to Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“I? Not in the least. What makes you think so?”

“Why, because I do from the expression of your face…. You have never
smiled a single time since you arrived. I had not expected that of you.
It is not becoming to you positive gentlemen to be misanthropical and
to frown à la Byron. Leave that to the authors.”

“I notice, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, that you frequently call me a positive
man, as though mockingly. It must be that you regard me as the coldest
and most sensible of beings, incapable of anything which…. But do you
know, I will tell you something; a positive man is often very sad at
heart, but he does not consider it necessary to display to others what
is going on there inside of him; he prefers to hold his peace.”

“What do you mean by that?”–inquired Nadézhda Alexyéevna, surveying him
with a glance.

“Nothing, ma’am,”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, with feigned
indifference, assuming an air of mystery.

“Really?”

“Really, nothing…. You shall know some day, later on.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna wanted to pursue her questions, but at that moment a
young girl, the host’s daughter, led up to her Steltchínsky and another
cavalier in blue spectacles.

“Life or death?”–she asked in French.

“Life,”–exclaimed Nadézhda Alexyéevna; “I don’t want death just yet.”

Steltchínsky bowed; she went off with him.[27]

The cavalier in the blue glasses, who was called Death, started off with
the host’s daughter. Steltchínsky had invented the two designations.

“Tell me, please, who is that Mr. Steltchínsky?”–inquired Vladímir
Sergyéitch of Nadézhda Alexyéevna, as soon as the latter returned to her
place.

“He is attached to the Governor’s service, and is a very agreeable man.
He does not belong in these parts. He is somewhat of a coxcomb, but that
runs in the blood of all of them. I hope you have not had any
explanations with him on account of the mazurka?”

“None whatever, I assure you,”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, with a
little hesitation.

“I’m such a forgetful creature! You can’t imagine!”

“I am bound to be delighted with your forgetfulness: it has afforded me
the pleasure of dancing with you to-night.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna gazed at him, with her eyes slightly narrowed.

“Really? You find it agreeable to dance with me?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch answered her with a compliment. Little by little he
got to talking freely. Nadézhda Alexyéevna was always charming, and
particularly so that evening; Vladímir Sergyéitch thought her
enchanting. The thought of the duel on the morrow, while it fretted his
nerves, imparted brilliancy and vivacity to his remarks; under its
influence he permitted himself slight exaggerations in the expression of
his feelings…. “I don’t care!” he thought. Something mysterious,
involuntarily sad, something elegantly-hopeless peeped forth in all his
words, in his suppressed sighs, in his glances which suddenly darkened.
At last, he got to chattering to such a degree that he began to discuss
love, women, his future, the manner in which he conceived of happiness,
what he demanded of Fate…. He explained himself allegorically, by
hints. On the eve of his possible death, Vladímir Sergyéitch flirted
with Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

She listened to him attentively, laughed, shook her head, now disputed
with him, again pretended to be incredulous…. The conversation,
frequently interrupted by the approach of ladies and cavaliers, took a
rather strange turn toward the end…. Vladímir Sergyéitch had already
begun to interrogate Nadézhda Alexyéevna about herself, her character,
her sympathies. At first she parried the questions with a jest, then,
suddenly, and quite unexpectedly to Vladímir Sergyéitch, she asked him
when he was going away.

“Whither?”–he said, in surprise.

“To your own home.”

“To Sásovo?”

“No, home, to your village, a hundred versts from here.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch cast down his eyes.

“I should like to go as promptly as possible,”–he said with a
preoccupied look on his face.–“To-morrow, I think … if I am alive.
For I have business on hand. But why have you suddenly taken it into
your head to ask me about that?”

“Because I have!”–retorted Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“But what is the reason?”

“Because I have!”–she repeated.–“I am surprised at the curiosity of a
man who is going away to-morrow, and to-day wants to find out about my
character….”

“But, pardon me …” began Vladímir Sergyéitch….

“Ah, here, by the way … read this,”–Nadézhda Alexyéevna interrupted
him with a laugh, as she handed him a motto-slip of paper from bonbons
which she had just taken from a small table that stood near by, as she
rose to meet Márya Pávlovna, who had stopped in front of her with
another lady.

Márya Pávlovna was dancing with Piótr Alexyéitch. Her face was covered
with a flush, and was flaming, but not cheerful.

Vladímir Sergyéitch glanced at the slip of paper; thereon, in wretched
French letters, was printed:

“_Qui me néglige me perd._”

He raised his eyes, and encountered Steltchínsky’s gaze bent upon him.
Vladímir Sergyéitch smiled constrainedly, threw his elbow over the back
of the chair, and crossed his legs–as much as to say: “I don’t care for
thee!”

The fiery artillery officer brought Nadézhda Alexyéevna up to her chair
with a dash, pirouetted gently in front of her, bowed, clicked his
spurs, and departed. She sat down.

“Allow me to inquire,”–began Vladímir Sergyéitch, with pauses between
his words,–“in what sense I am to understand this billet?…”

“But what in the world does it say?”–said Nadézhda Alexyéevna.–“Ah,
yes! ‘_Qui me néglige me perd._’ Well! that’s an admirable rule of life,
which may be of service at every step. In order to make a success of
anything, no matter what, one must not neglect anything whatsoever….
One must endeavour to obtain everything; perhaps one will obtain
something. But I am ridiculous. I … I am talking to you, a practical
man, about rules of life….”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna burst into a laugh, and Vladímir Sergyéitch strove,
in vain, to the very end of the mazurka, to renew their previous
conversation. Nadézhda Alexyéevna avoided it with the perversity of a
capricious child. Vladímir Sergyéitch talked to her about his
sentiments, and she either did not reply to him at all, or else she
called his attention to the gowns of the ladies, to the ridiculous
faces of some of the men, to the skill with which her brother danced, to
the beauty of Márya Pávlovna; she began to talk about music, about the
day before, about Egór Kapítonitch and his wife, Matryóna Márkovna …
and only at the very close of the mazurka, when Vladímir Sergyéitch was
beginning to make her his farewell bow, did she say, with an ironical
smile on her lips and in her eyes:

“So you are positively going to-morrow?”

“Yes; and very far away, perhaps,”–said Vladímir Sergyéitch,
significantly.

“I wish you a happy journey.”

And Nadézhda Alexyéevna swiftly approached her brother, merrily
whispered something in his ear, then asked aloud:

“Grateful to me? Yes? art thou not? otherwise he would have asked _her_
for the mazurka.”

He shrugged his shoulders, and said:

“Nevertheless, nothing will come of it….”

She led him off into the drawing-room.

“The flirt!”–thought Vladímir Sergyéitch, and taking his hat in his
hand, he slipped unnoticed from the hall, hunted up his footman, to whom
he had previously given orders to hold himself in readiness, and was
already donning his overcoat, when suddenly, to his intense surprise,
the lackey informed him that it was impossible to depart, as the
coachman, in some unknown manner, had drunk to intoxication, and that
it was utterly impossible to arouse him. After cursing the coachman in a
remarkably brief but extremely powerful manner (this took place in the
anteroom, outside witnesses were present), and informing his footman
that if the coachman was not in proper condition by daylight to-morrow,
then no one in the world would be capable of picturing to himself what
the result would be, Vladímir Sergyéitch returned to the hall, and
requested the major-domo to allot him a chamber, without waiting for
supper, which was already prepared in the drawing-room. The master of
the house suddenly popped up, as it were, out of the floor, at Vladímir
Sergyéitch’s very elbow (Gavríla Stepánitch wore boots without heels,
and therefore moved about without the slightest sound), and began to
hold him back, assuring him that there would be caviar of the very best
quality for supper; but Vladímir Sergyéitch excused himself on the plea
of a headache. Half an hour later he was lying in a small bed, under a
short coverlet, and trying to get to sleep.

But he could not get to sleep. Toss as he would from side to side,
strive as he would to think of something else, the figure of
Steltchínsky importunately towered up before him…. Now he is taking
aim … now he has fired…. “Astákhoff is killed,” says some one.
Vladímir Sergyéitch could not be called a brave man, yet he was no
coward; but even the thought of a duel, no matter with whom, had never
once entered his head…. Fight! with his good sense, peaceable
disposition, respect for the conventions, dreams of future prosperity,
and an advantageous marriage! If it had not been a question of his own
person, he would have laughed heartily, so stupid and ridiculous did
this affair seem to him. Fight! with whom, and about what?!

“Phew! damn it! what nonsense!”–he exclaimed involuntarily
aloud.–“Well, and what if he really does kill me?”–he continued his
meditations;–“I must take measures, make arrangements…. Who will
mourn for me?”

And in vexation he closed his eyes, which were staringly-wide open, drew
the coverlet up around his neck … but could not get to sleep,
nevertheless….

Dawn was already breaking, and exhausted with the fever of insomnia,
Vladímir Sergyéitch was beginning to fall into a doze, when suddenly he
felt some weight or other on his feet. He opened his eyes…. On his bed
sat Véretyeff.

Vladímir Sergyéitch was greatly amazed, especially when he noticed that
Véretyeff had no coat on, that beneath his unbuttoned shirt his bare
breast was visible, that his hair was tumbling over his forehead, and
that his very face appeared changed. Vladímir Sergyéitch got half-way
out of bed….

“Allow me to ask …” he began, throwing his hands apart….

“I have come to you,”–said Véretyeff, in a hoarse voice;–“excuse me
for coming in such a guise…. We have been drinking a bit yonder. I
wanted to put you at ease. I said to myself: ‘Yonder lies a gentleman
who, in all probability, cannot get to sleep.–Let’s help
him.’–Understand; you are not going to fight to-morrow, and can go to
sleep….”

Vladímir Sergyéitch was still more amazed than before.

“What was that you said?”–he muttered.

“Yes; that has all been adjusted,”–went on Véretyeff;–“that gentleman
from the banks of the Visla … Steltchínsky … makes his apologies to
you … to-morrow you will receive a letter…. I repeat to you:–all is
settled…. Snore away.”

So saying, Véretyeff rose, and directed his course, with unsteady steps,
toward the door.

“But permit me, permit me,”–began Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“How could you
have found out, and how can I believe….”

“Akh! you think that I … you know …” (and he reeled forward
slightly)…. “I tell you … he will send a letter to you to-morrow….
You do not arouse any particular sympathy in me, but magnanimity is my
weak side. But what’s the use of talking…. It’s all nonsense
anyway…. But confess,”–he added, with a wink;–“you were pretty well
scared, weren’t you, hey?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch flew into a rage.

“Permit me, in conclusion, my dear sir,”–said he….

“Well, good, good,”–Véretyeff interrupted him with a good-natured
smile.–“Don’t fly into a passion. Evidently you are not aware that no
ball ever takes place without that sort of thing. That’s the established
rule. It never amounts to anything. Who feels like exposing his brow?
Well, and why not bluster, hey? at newcomers, for instance? _In vino
veritas._ However, neither you nor I know Latin. But I see by your face
that you are sleepy. I wish you good night, Mr. Positive Man,
well-intentioned mortal. Accept this wish from another mortal who isn’t
worth a brass farthing himself. _Addio, mio caro!_”

And Véretyeff left the room.

“The devil knows what this means!”–exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch, after
a brief pause, banging his fist into the pillow;–“no one ever heard the
like!… this must be cleared up! I won’t tolerate this!”

Nevertheless, five minutes later he was already sleeping softly and
profoundly…. Danger escaped fills the soul of man with sweetness, and
softens it.

This is what had taken place before that unanticipated nocturnal
interview between Véretyeff and Vladímir Sergyéitch.

In Gavríla Stepánitch’s house lived his grand-nephew, who occupied
bachelor quarters in the lower story. When there were balls on hand, the
young men dropped in at his rooms between the dances, to smoke a hasty
pipe, and after supper they assembled there for a friendly
drinking-bout. A good many of the guests had dropped in on him that
night. Steltchínsky and Véretyeff were among the number; Iván Ílitch,
The Folding Soul, also wandered in there in the wake of the others. They
brewed a punch. Although Iván Ílitch had promised Astákhoff that he
would not mention the impending duel to any one whomsoever, yet, when
Véretyeff accidentally asked him what he had been talking about with
that glum fellow (Véretyeff never alluded to Astákhoff otherwise), The
Folding Soul could not contain himself, and repeated his entire
conversation with Vladímir Sergyéitch, word for word.

Véretyeff burst out laughing, then lapsed into meditation.

“But with whom is he going to fight?”–he asked.

“That’s what I cannot say,”–returned Iván Ílitch.

“At all events, with whom has he been talking?”

“With different people…. With Egór Kapítonitch. It cannot be that he
is going to fight with him?’

Véretyeff went away from Iván Ílitch.

So, then, they made a punch, and began to drink. Véretyeff was sitting
in the most conspicuous place. Jolly and profligate, he held the
pre-eminence in gatherings of young men. He threw off his waistcoat and
neckcloth. He was asked to sing; he took a guitar and sang several
songs. Heads began to wax rather hot; the young men began to propose
toasts. Suddenly Steltchínsky, all red in the face, sprang upon the
table, and elevating his glass high above his head, exclaimed loudly:

“To the health … of I know whom,”–he hastily caught himself up, drank
off his liquor, and smashed his glass on the floor, adding:–“May my foe
be shivered into just such pieces to-morrow!”

Véretyeff, who had long had his eye on him, swiftly raised his head….

“Steltchínsky,”–said he,–“in the first place, get off the table;
that’s indecorous, and you have very bad boots into the bargain; and, in
the second place, come hither, I will tell thee something.”

He led him aside.

“Hearken, brother; I know that thou art going to fight to-morrow with
that gentleman from Petersburg.”

Steltchínsky started.

“How … who told thee?”

“I tell thee it is so. And I also know on whose account thou art going
to fight.”

“Who is it? I am curious to know.”

“Akh, get out with thee, thou Talleyrand! My sister’s, of course. Come,
come, don’t pretend to be surprised. It gives you a goose-like
expression. I can’t imagine how this has come about, but it is a fact.
That will do, my good fellow,”–pursued Véretyeff.–“What’s the use of
shamming? I know, you see, that you have been paying court to her this
long time.”

“But, nevertheless, that does not prove….”

“Stop, if you please. But hearken to what I am about to say to you. I
won’t permit that duel under any circumstances whatsoever. Dost
understand? All this folly will descend upon my sister. Excuse me: so
long as I am alive … that shall not be. As for thou and I, we shall
perish–we’re on the road to it; but she must live a long time yet, and
live happily. Yes, I swear,”–he added, with sudden heat,–“that I will
betray all others, even those who might be ready to sacrifice everything
for me, but I will not permit any one to touch a single hair of her
head.”

Steltchínsky emitted a forced laugh.

“Thou art drunk, my dear fellow, and art raving … that’s all.”

“And art not thou, I’d like to know? But whether I am drunk or not, is a
matter of not the slightest consequence. But I’m talking business. Thou
shalt not fight with that gentleman, I guarantee that. And what in the
world possessed thee to have anything to do with him? Hast grown
jealous, pray? Well, those speak the truth who say that men in love are
stupid! Why she danced with him simply in order to prevent his
inviting…. Well, but that’s not the point. But this duel shall not
take place.”

“H’m! I should like to see how thou wilt prevent me?”

“Well, then, this way: if thou dost not instantly give me thy word to
renounce this duel, I will fight with thee myself.”

“Really?”

“My dear fellow, entertain no doubt on that score. I will insult thee on
the spot, my little friend, in the presence of every one, in the most
fantastic manner, and then fight thee across a handkerchief, if thou
wilt. But I think that will be disagreeable to thee, for many reasons,
hey?”

Steltchínsky flared up, began to say that this was _intimidation_,[28]
that he would not permit any one to meddle with his affairs, that he
would not stick at anything … and wound up by submitting, and
renouncing all attempts on the life of Vladímir Sergyéitch. Véretyeff
embraced him, and half an hour had not elapsed, before the two had
already drunk Brüderschaft for the tenth time,–that is to say, they
drank with arms interlocked…. The young man who had acted as
floor-manager of the ball also drank Brüderschaft with them, and at
first clung close to them, but finally fell asleep in the most innocent
manner, and lay for a long time on his back in a condition of complete
insensibility…. The expression of his tiny, pale face was both amusing
and pitiful…. Good heavens! what would those fashionable ladies, his
acquaintances, have said, if they had beheld him in that condition! But,
luckily for him, he was not acquainted with a single fashionable lady.

Iván Ílitch also distinguished himself on that night. First he amazed
the guests by suddenly striking up: “In the country a Baron once dwelt.”

“The hawfinch! The hawfinch has begun to sing!”–shouted all. “When has
it ever happened that a hawfinch has sung by night?”

“As though I knew only one song,”–retorted Iván Ílitch, who was heated
with liquor;–“I know some more, too.”

“Come, come, come, show us your art.”

Iván Ílitch maintained silence for a while, and suddenly struck up in a
bass voice: “Krambambuli,[29] bequest of our fathers!” but so
incoherently and strangely, that a general outburst of laughter
immediately drowned his voice, and he fell silent. When all had
dispersed, Véretyeff betook himself to Vladímir Sergyéitch, and the
brief conversation already reported, ensued between them.

On the following day, Vladímir Sergyéitch drove off to his own Sásovo
very early. He passed the whole morning in a state of excitement, came
near mistaking a passing merchant for a second, and breathed freely only
when his lackey brought him a letter from Steltchínsky. Vladímir
Sergyéitch perused that letter several times,–it was very adroitly
worded…. Steltchínsky began with the words: “_La nuit porte conseil,
Monsieur_,”–made no excuses whatever, because, in his opinion, he had
not insulted his antagonist in any way; but admitted that he had been
somewhat irritated on the preceding evening, and wound up with the
statement that he held himself entirely at the disposition of Mr.
Astákhoff (“_de M-r Astákhoff_”), but no longer demanded satisfaction
himself. After having composed and despatched a reply, which was
filled, simultaneously with courtesy which bordered on playfulness, and
a sense of dignity, in which, however, no trace of braggadocio was
perceptible, Vladímir Sergyéitch sat down to dinner, rubbing his hands,
ate with great satisfaction, and immediately afterward set off, without
having even sent relays on in advance. The road along which he drove
passed at a distance of four versts from Ipátoff’s manor…. Vladímir
Sergyéitch looked at it.

“Farewell, region of dead calm!”–he said with a smile.

The images of Nadézhda Alexyéevna and Márya Pávlovna presented
themselves for a moment to his imagination; he dismissed them with a
wave of his hand, and sank into a doze.

VI

More than three months had passed. Autumn had long since set in; the
yellow forests had grown bare, the tomtits had arrived, and–unfailing
sign of the near approach of winter–the wind had begun to howl and
wail. But there had been no heavy rains, as yet, and mud had not
succeeded in spreading itself over the roads. Taking advantage of this
circumstance, Vladímir Sergyéitch set out for the government capital,
for the purpose of winding up several matters of business. He spent the
morning in driving about, and in the evening went to the club. In the
vast, gloomy hall of the club he encountered several acquaintances, and,
among others, the old retired captain of cavalry Flitch, a busybody,
wit, gambler, and gossip, well known to every one. Vladímir Sergyéitch
entered into conversation with him.

“Ah, by the way!”–suddenly exclaimed the retired cavalry-captain; “an
acquaintance of yours passed through here the other day, and left her
compliments for you.”

“Who was she?”

“Madame Steltchínsky.”

“I don’t know any Madame Steltchínsky.”

“You knew her as a girl…. She was born Véretyeff…. Nadézhda
Alexyéevna. Her husband served our Governor. You must have seen him
also…. A lively man, with a moustache…. He’s hooked a splendid
woman, with money to boot.”

“You don’t say so,”–said Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“So she has married
him…. H’m! And where have they gone?”

“To Petersburg. She also bade me remind you of a certain bonbon
motto…. What sort of a motto was it, allow me to inquire?”

And the old gossip thrust forward his sharp nose.

“I don’t remember, really; some jest or other,”–returned Vladímir
Sergyéitch.–“But permit me to ask, where is her brother now?”

“Piótr? Well, he’s in a bad way.”

Mr. Flitch rolled up his small, foxy eyes, and heaved a sigh.

“Why, what’s the matter?”–asked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“He has taken to dissipation! He’s a ruined man.”

“But where is he now?”

“It is absolutely unknown where he is. He went off somewhere or other
after a gipsy girl; that’s the most certain thing of all. He’s not in
this government, I’ll guarantee that.”

“And does old Ipátoff still live there?”

“Mikhaíl Nikoláitch? That eccentric old fellow? Yes, he still lives
there.”

“And is everything in his household … as it used to be?”

“Certainly, certainly. Here now, why don’t you marry his sister-in-law?
She’s not a woman, you know, she’s simply a monument, really. Ha, ha!
People have already been talking among us … ‘why,’ say they….”

“You don’t say so, sir,”–articulated Vladímir Sergyéitch, narrowing his
eyes.

At that moment, Flitch was invited to a cardgame, and the conversation
terminated.

Vladímir Sergyéitch had intended to return home promptly; but suddenly
he received by special messenger a report from the overseer, that six of
the peasants’ homesteads had burned down in Sásovo, and he decided to go
thither himself. The distance from the government capital to Sásovo was
reckoned at sixty versts. Vladímir Sergyéitch arrived toward evening at
the wing with which the reader is already acquainted, immediately gave
orders that the overseer and clerk should be summoned, scolded them both
in proper fashion, inspected the scene of the conflagration next
morning, took the necessary measures, and after dinner, after some
wavering, set off to visit Ipátoff. Vladímir Sergyéitch would have
remained at home, had he not heard from Flitch of Nadézhda Alexyéevna’s
departure; he did not wish to meet her; but he was not averse to taking
another look at Márya Pávlovna.

Vladímir Sergyéitch, as on the occasion of his first visit, found
Ipátoff busy at draughts with The Folding Soul. The old man was
delighted to see him; yet it seemed to Vladímir Sergyéitch as though his
face were troubled, and his speech did not flow freely and readily as of
old.

Vladímir Sergyéitch exchanged a silent glance with Iván Ílitch. Both
winced a little; but they speedily recovered their serenity.

“Are all your family well?”–inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Yes, thank God, I thank you sincerely,”–replied Ipátoff.–“Only Márya
Pávlovna isn’t quite … you know, she stays in her room most of the
time.”

“Has she caught cold?”

“No … she just likes to. She will make her appearance at tea.”

“And Egór Kapítonitch? What is he doing?”

“Akh! Egór Kapítonitch is a dead man. His wife has died.”

“It cannot be!”

“She died in twenty-four hours, of cholera. You wouldn’t know him now,
he has become simply unrecognisable. ‘Without Matryóna Márkovna,’ he
says, ‘life is a burden to me. I shall die,’ he says, ‘and God be
thanked,’ he says; ‘I don’t wish to live,’ says he. Yes, he’s done for,
poor fellow.”

“Akh! good heavens, how unpleasant that is!”–exclaimed Vladímir
Sergyéitch.–“Poor Egór Kapítonitch!”

All were silent for a time.

“I hear that your pretty neighbour has married,”–remarked Vladímir
Sergyéitch, flushing faintly.

“Nadézhda Alexyéevna? Yes, she has.”

Ipátoff darted a sidelong glance at Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Certainly … certainly, she has married and gone away.”

“To Petersburg?”

“To St. Petersburg.”

“Márya Pávlovna must miss her, I think. I believe they were great
friends.”

“Of course she misses her. That cannot be avoided. But as for
friendship, I’ll just tell you, that the friendship of girls is even
worse than the friendship of men. So long as they are face to face, it’s
all right; but, otherwise, it vanishes.”

“Do you think so?”

“Yes, by Heaven, ’tis so! Take Nadézhda Alexyéevna, for example. She
hasn’t written to us since she went away; but how she promised, even
vowed that she would! In truth, she’s in no mood for that now.”

“And has she been gone long?”

“Yes; it must be fully six weeks. She hurried off on the very day after
the wedding, foreign fashion.”

“I hear that her brother is no longer here, either?”–said Vladímir
Sergyéitch, after a brief pause.

“No; he is not. They are city folk, you see; as though they would live
long in the country!”

“And does no one know where he has gone?”

“No.”

“He just went into a rage, and–slap-bang on the ear,” remarked Iván
Ílitch.

“He just went into a rage, and–slap-bang on the ear,” repeated Ipátoff.
“Well, and how about yourself, Vladímir Sergyéitch,–what nice things
have you been doing?”–he added, wheeling round on his chair.

Vladímir Sergyéitch began to tell about himself; Ipátoff listened and
listened to him, and at last exclaimed:

“But why doesn’t Márya Pávlovna come? Thou hadst better go for her, Iván
Ílitch.”

Iván Ílitch left the room, and returning, reported that Márya Pávlovna
would be there directly.

“What’s the matter? Has she got a headache?”–inquired Ipátoff, in an
undertone.

“Yes,” replied Iván Ílitch.

The door opened, and Márya Pávlovna entered. Vladímir Sergyéitch rose,
bowed, and could not utter a word, so great was his amazement: so
changed was Márya Pávlovna since he had seen her the last time! The rosy
bloom had vanished from her emaciated cheeks; a broad black ring
encircled her eyes; her lips were bitterly compressed; her whole face,
impassive and dark, seemed to have become petrified.

She raised her eyes, and there was no spark in them.

“How do you feel now?” Ipátoff asked her.

“I am well,”–she replied; and sat down at the table, on which the
samovár was already bubbling.

Vladímir Sergyéitch was pretty thoroughly bored that evening. But no one
was in good spirits. The conversation persisted in taking a cheerless
turn.

“Just listen,”–said Ipátoff, among other things, as he lent an ear to
the howling of the wind;–“what notes it emits! The summer is long since
past; and here is autumn passing, too, and winter is at the door. Again
we shall be buried in snow-drifts. I hope the snow will fall very soon.
Otherwise, when you go out into the garden, melancholy descends upon
you…. Just as though there were some sort of a ruin there. The
branches of the trees clash together…. Yes, the fine days are over!”

“They are over,”–repeated Iván Ílitch.

Márya Pávlovna stared silently out of the window.

“God willing, they will return,”–remarked Ipátoff.

No one answered him.

“Do you remember how finely they sang songs here that time?”–said
Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“I should think they did,”–replied the old man, with a sigh.

“But you might sing to us,”–went on Vladímir Sergyéitch, turning to
Márya Pávlovna;–“you have such a fine voice.”

She did not answer him.

“And how is your mother?”–Vladímir Sergyéitch inquired of Ipátoff, not
knowing what to talk about.

“Thank God! she gets on nicely, considering her ailments. She came over
in her little carriage to-day. She’s a broken tree, I must tell
you–creak, creak, and the first you know, some young, strong sapling
falls over; but she goes on standing and standing. Ekh, ha, ha!”

Márya Pávlovna dropped her hands in her lap, and bowed her head.

“And, nevertheless, her existence is hard,”–began Ipátoff
again;–“rightly is it said: ‘old age is no joy.’”

“And there’s no joy in being young,”–said Márya Pávlovna, as though to
herself.

Vladímir Sergyéitch would have liked to return home that night, but it
was so dark out of doors that he could not make up his mind to set out.
He was assigned to the same chamber, up-stairs, in which, three months
previously, he had passed a troubled night, thanks to Egór
Kapítonitch….

“Does he snore now?”–thought Vladímir Sergyéitch, as he recalled his
drilling of his servant, and the sudden appearance of Márya Pávlovna in
the garden….

Vladímir Sergyéitch walked to the window, and laid his brow against the
cold glass. His own face gazed dimly at him from out of doors, as though
his eyes were riveted upon a black curtain, and it was only after a
considerable time that he was able to make out against the starless sky
the branches of the trees, writhing wildly in the gloom. They were
harassed by a turbulent wind.

Suddenly it seemed to Vladímir Sergyéitch as though something white had
flashed along the ground…. He gazed more intently, laughed, shrugged
his shoulders, and exclaiming in an undertone: “That’s what imagination
will do!” got into bed.

He fell asleep very soon; but he was not fated to pass a quiet night on
this occasion either. He was awakened by a running to and fro, which
arose in the house…. He raised his head from the pillow…. Agitated
voices, exclamations, hurried footsteps were audible, doors were
banging; now the sound of women weeping rang out, shouts were set up in
the garden, other cries farther off responded…. The uproar in the
house increased, and became more noisy with every moment…. “Fire!”
flashed through Vladímir Sergyéitch’s mind. In alarm he sprang from his
bed, and rushed to the window; but there was no redness in the sky;
only, in the garden, points of flame were moving briskly along the
paths,–caused by people running about with lanterns. Vladímir
Sergyéitch went quickly to the door, opened it, and ran directly into
Iván Ílitch. Pale, dishevelled, half-clothed, the latter was dashing
onward, without himself knowing whither.

“What is it? What has happened?”–inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch,
excitedly, seizing him by the arm.

“She has disappeared; she has thrown herself into the water,”–replied
Iván Ílitch, in a choking voice.

“Who has thrown herself into the water? Who has disappeared?”

“Márya Pávlovna! Who else could it be but Márya Pávlovna? She has
perished, the darling! Help! Good heavens, let us run as fast as we can!
Be quick, my dear people!”

And Iván Ílitch rushed down the stairs.

Vladímir Sergyéitch put on his shoes somehow, threw his cloak over his
shoulders, and ran after him.

In the house he no longer encountered any one, all had hastened out into
the garden; only the little girls, Ipátoff’s daughters, met him in the
corridor, near the anteroom; deadly pale with terror, they stood there
in their little white petticoats, with clasped hands and bare feet,
beside a night-lamp set on the floor. Through the drawing-room, past an
overturned table, flew Vladímir Sergyéitch to the terrace. Through the
grove, in the direction of the dam, light and shadows were flashing….

“Go for boat-hooks! Go for boat-hooks as quickly as
possible!”–Ipátoff’s voice could be heard shouting.

“A net, a net, a boat!”–shouted other voices.

Vladímir Sergyéitch ran in the direction of the shouts. He found Ipátoff
on the shore of the pond; a lantern hung on a bough brilliantly
illuminated the old man’s grey head. He was wringing his hands, and
reeling like a drunken man; by his side, a woman lay writhing and
sobbing on the grass; round about men were bustling. Iván Ílitch had
already advanced into the water up to his knees, and was feeling the
bottom with a pole; a coachman was undressing, trembling all over as he
did so; two men were dragging a boat along the shore; a sharp trampling
of hoofs was audible along the village street…. The wind swept past
with a shriek, as though endeavouring to quench the lantern, while the
pond plashed noisily, darkling in a menacing way….

“What do I hear?”–exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch, rushing up to
Ipátoff.–“Is it possible?”

“The boat-hooks–fetch the boat-hooks!”–moaned the old man by way of
reply to him….

“But good gracious, perhaps you are mistaken, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch….”

“No, mistaken indeed!”–said the woman who was lying on the grass, Márya
Pávlovna’s maid, in a tearful voice. “Unlucky creature that I am, I
heard her myself, the darling, throw herself into the water, and
struggling in the water, and screaming: ‘Save me!’ and then, once more:
‘Save me!’”

“Why didn’t you prevent her, pray?”

“But how was I to prevent her, dear little father, my lord? Why, when I
discovered it, she was no longer in her room, but my heart had a
foreboding, you know; these last days she has been so sad all the time,
and has said nothing; so I knew how it was, and rushed straight into the
garden, just as though some one had made me do it; and suddenly I heard
something go splash! into the water: ‘Save me!’ I heard the cry: ‘Save
me!’… Okh, my darling, light of my eyes!”

“But perhaps it only seemed so to thee!”

“Seemed so, forsooth! But where is she? what has become of her?”

“So that is what looked white to me in the gloom,” thought Vladímir
Sergyéitch….

In the meanwhile, men had run up with boat-hooks, dragged thither a net,
and begun to spread it out on the grass, a great throng of people had
assembled, a commotion had arisen, and a jostling … the coachman
seized one boat-hook, the village elder seized another, both sprang into
the boat, put off, and set to searching the water with the hooks; the
people on the shore lighted them. Strange and dreadful did their
movements seem, and their shadows in the gloom, above the agitated pond,
in the dim and uncertain light of the lanterns.

“He … here, the hook has caught!”–suddenly cried the coachman.

All stood stock-still where they were.

The coachman pulled the hook toward him, and bent over…. Something
horned and black slowly came to the surface….

“A tree-stump,”–said the coachman, pulling away the hook.

“But come back, come back!”–they shouted to him from the shore.–“Thou
wilt accomplish nothing with the hooks; thou must use the net.”

“Yes, yes, the net!”–chimed in others.

“Stop,”–said the elder;–“I’ve got hold of something also … something
soft, apparently,”–he added, after a brief pause.

A white spot made its appearance alongside the boat….

“The young lady!”–suddenly shouted the elder.–“’Tis she!”

He was not mistaken…. The hook had caught Márya Pávlovna by the sleeve
of her gown. The coachman immediately seized her, dragged her out of the
water … in a couple of powerful strokes the boat was at the shore….
Ipátoff, Iván Ílitch, Vladímir Sergyéitch, all rushed to Márya Pávlovna,
raised her up, bore her home in their arms, immediately undressed her,
and began to roll her, and warm her…. But all their efforts, their
exertions, proved vain…. Márya Pávlovna did not come to herself….
Life had already left her.

Early on the following morning, Vladímir Sergyéitch left Ipátovka;
before his departure, he went to bid farewell to the dead woman. She was
lying on the table in the drawing-room in a white gown…. Her thick
hair was not yet entirely dry, a sort of mournful surprise was expressed
on her pale face, which had not had time to grow distorted; her parted
lips seemed to be trying to speak, and ask something; … her hands,
convulsively clasped, as though with grief, were pressed tight to her
breast…. But with whatever sorrowful thought the poor drowned girl had
perished, death had laid upon her the seal of its eternal silence and
peace … and who understands what a dead face expresses during those
few moments when, for the last time, it meets the glance of the living
before it vanishes forever and is destroyed in the grave?

Vladímir Sergyéitch stood for a while in decorous meditation before the
body of Márya Pávlovna, crossed himself thrice, and left the room,
without having noticed Iván Ílitch who was weeping softly in one
corner…. And he was not the only one who wept that day: all the
servants in the house wept bitterly: Márya Pávlovna had left a good
memory behind her.

The following is what old Ipátoff wrote, a week later, in reply to a
letter which had come, at last, from Nadézhda Alexyéevna:

“One week ago, dear Madam, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, my unhappy
sister-in-law, your acquaintance, Márya Pávlovna, wilfully ended
her own life, by throwing herself by night into the pond, and we
have already committed her body to the earth. She decided upon this
sad and terrible deed, without having bidden me farewell, without
leaving even a letter or so much as a note, to declare her last
will…. But you know better than any one else, Nadézhda
Alexyéevna, on whose soul this great and deadly sin must fall! May
the Lord God judge your brother, for my sister-in-law could not
cease to love him, nor survive the separation….”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna received this letter in Italy, whither she had gone
with her husband, Count de Steltchínsky, as he was called in all the
hotels. He did not visit hotels alone, however; he was frequently seen
in gambling-houses, in the Kur-Saal at the baths…. At first he lost a
great deal of money, then he ceased to lose, and his face assumed a
peculiar expression, not precisely suspicious, nor yet precisely
insolent, like that which a man has who unexpectedly gets involved in
scandals…. He saw his wife rarely. But Nadézhda Alexyéevna did not
languish in his absence. She developed a passion for painting and the
fine arts. She associated chiefly with artists, and was fond of
discussing the beautiful with young men. Ipátoff’s letter grieved her
greatly, but did not prevent her going that same day to “the Dogs’
Cave,” to see how the poor animals suffocated when immersed in sulphur
fumes.

She did not go alone. She was escorted by divers cavaliers. Among their
number, a certain Mr. Popelin, an artist–a Frenchman, who had not
finished his course–with a small beard, and dressed in a checked
sack-coat, was the most agreeable. He sang the newest romances in a thin
tenor voice, made very free-and-easy jokes, and although he was gaunt of
form, yet he ate a very great deal.

VII

It was a sunny, cold January day; a multitude of people were strolling
on the Névsky Prospékt. The clock on the tower of the city hall marked
three o’clock. Along the broad stone slabs, strewn with yellow sand, was
walking, among others, our acquaintance Vladímir Sergyéitch Astákhoff.
He has grown very virile since we parted from him; his face is framed in
whiskers, and he has grown plump all over, but he has not aged. He was
moving after the crowd at a leisurely pace, and now and then casting a
glance about him; he was expecting his wife; she had preferred to drive
up in the carriage with her mother. Vladímir Sergyéitch married five
years ago, precisely in the manner which he had always desired: his wife
was wealthy, and with the best of connections. Courteously lifting his
splendidly brushed hat when he met his numerous acquaintances, Vladímir
Sergyéitch was still stepping out with the free stride of a man who is
satisfied with his lot, when suddenly, just at the Passage,[30] he came
near colliding with a gentleman in a Spanish cloak and foraging-cap,
with a decidedly worn face, a dyed moustache, and large, swollen eyes.
Vladímir Sergyéitch drew aside with dignity, but the gentleman in the
foraging-cap glanced at him, and suddenly exclaimed:

“Ah! Mr. Astákhoff, how do you do?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch made no reply, and stopped short in surprise. He
could not comprehend how a gentleman who could bring himself to walk on
the Névsky in a foraging-cap could be acquainted with his name.

“You do not recognise me,”–pursued the gentleman in the cap:–“I saw
you eight years ago, in the country, in the T*** Government, at the
Ipátoffs’. My name is Véretyeff.”

“Akh! Good heavens! excuse me!”–exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“But
how you have changed since then!…”

“Yes, I have grown old,”–returned Piótr Alexyéitch, passing his hand,
which was devoid of a glove, over his face.–“But you have not changed.”

Véretyeff had not so much aged as fallen away and sunk down. Small,
delicate wrinkles covered his face; and when he spoke, his lips and
cheeks twitched slightly. From all this it was perceptible that the man
had been living hard.

“Where have you disappeared to all this time, that you have not been
visible?”–Vladímir Sergyéitch asked him.

“I have been wandering about here and there. And you have been in
Petersburg all the while?”

“Yes, most of the time.”

“Are you married?”

“Yes.”

And Vladímir Sergyéitch assumed a rather severe mien, as though with the
object of saying to Véretyeff: “My good fellow, don’t take it into thy
head to ask me to present thee to my wife.”

Véretyeff understood him, apparently. An indifferent sneer barely
flitted across his lips.

“And how is your sister?”–inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch.–“Where is
she?”

“I cannot tell you for certain. She must be in Moscow. I have not
received any letters from her this long time!”

“Is her husband alive?”

“Yes.”

“And Mr. Ipátoff?”

“I don’t know; probably he is alive also; but he may be dead.”

“And that gentleman–what the deuce was his name?–Bodryakóff,–what of
him?”

“The one you invited to be your second–you remember, when you were so
scared? Why, the devil knows!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch maintained silence for a while, with dignity written
on his face.

“I always recall with pleasure those evenings,”–he went on,–“when I
had the opportunity” (he had nearly said, “the honour”) “of making the
acquaintance of your sister and yourself. She was a very amiable person.
And do you sing as agreeably as ever?”

“No; I have lost my voice…. But that was a good time!”

“I visited Ipátovka once afterward,”–added Vladímir Sergyéitch,
elevating his eyebrows mournfully. “I think that was the name of that
village–on the very day of a terrible event….”

“Yes, yes, that was frightful, frightful,”–Véretyeff hastily
interrupted him.–“Yes, yes. And do you remember how you came near
fighting with my present brother-in-law?”

“H’m! I remember!”–replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, slowly.–“However, I
must confess to you that so much time has elapsed since then, that all
that sometimes seems to me like a dream….”

“Like a dream,”–repeated Véretyeff, and his pale cheeks flushed;–“like
a dream … no, it was not a dream, for me at all events. It was the
time of youth, of mirth and happiness, the time of unlimited hopes, and
invincible powers; and if it was a dream, then it was a very beautiful
dream. And now, you and I have grown old and stupid, we dye our
moustaches, and saunter on the Névsky, and have become good for nothing;
like broken-winded nags, we have become utterly vapid and worn out; it
cannot be said that we are pompous and put on airs, nor that we spend
our time in idleness; but I fear we drown our grief in drink,–that is
more like a dream, and a hideous dream. Life has been lived, and lived
in vain, clumsily, vulgarly–that’s what is bitter! That’s what one
would like to shake off like a dream, that’s what one would like to
recover one’s self from!… And then … everywhere, there is one
frightful memory, one ghost…. But farewell!”

Véretyeff walked hastily away; but on coming opposite the door of one of
the principal confectioners on the Névsky, he halted, entered, and after
drinking a glass of orange vodka at the buffet, he wended his way
through the billiard-room, all dark and dim with tobacco-smoke, to the
rear room. There he found several acquaintances, his former
comrades–Pétya Lazúrin, Kóstya Kovróvsky, and Prince Serdiukóff, and
two other gentlemen who were called simply Vasiúk, and Filát. All of
them were men no longer young, though unmarried; some of them had lost
their hair, others were growing grey; their faces were covered with
wrinkles, their chins had grown double; in a word, these gentlemen had
all long since passed their prime, as the saying is. Yet all of them
continued to regard Véretyeff as a remarkable man, destined to astonish
the universe; and he was wiser than they only because he was very well
aware of his utter and radical uselessness. And even outside of his
circle, there were people who thought concerning him, that if he had not
ruined himself, the deuce only knows what he would have made of
himself…. These people were mistaken. Nothing ever comes of
Véretyeffs.

Piótr Alexyéitch’s friends welcomed him with the customary greetings. At
first he dumbfounded them with his gloomy aspect and his splenetic
speeches; but he speedily calmed down, cheered up, and affairs went on
in their wonted rut.

But Vladímir Sergyéitch, as soon as Véretyeff left him, contracted his
brows in a frown and straightened himself up. Piótr Alexyéitch’s
unexpected sally had astounded, even offended him extremely.

“‘We have grown stupid, we drink liquor, we dye our moustaches’ …
_parlez pour vous, mon cher_,”–he said at last, almost aloud, and
emitting a couple of snorts caused by an access of involuntary
indignation, he was preparing to continue his stroll.

“Who was that talking with you?”–rang out a loud and self-confident
voice behind him.

Vladímir Sergyéitch turned round and beheld one of his best friends, a
certain Mr. Pompónsky. This Mr. Pompónsky, a man of lofty stature, and
stout, occupied a decidedly important post, and never once, from his
very earliest youth, had he doubted himself.

“Why, a sort of eccentric,”–said Vladímir Sergyéitch, linking his arm
in Mr. Pompónsky’s.

“Good gracious, Vladímir Sergyéitch, is it permissible for a respectable
man to chat on the street with an individual who wears a foraging-cap on
his head? ’Tis indecent! I’m amazed! Where could you have made
acquaintance with such a person?”

“In the country.”

“In the country…. One does not bow to one’s country neighbours in
town…. _ce n’est pas comme il faut_. A gentleman should always bear
himself like a gentleman if he wishes that….”

“Here is my wife,”–Vladímir Sergyéitch hastily interrupted him.–“Let
us go to her.”

And the two gentlemen directed their steps to a low-hung, elegant
carriage, from whose window there peered forth the pale, weary, and
irritatingly-arrogant little face of a woman who was still young, but
already faded.

Behind her another lady, also apparently in a bad humour,–her
mother,–was visible. Vladímir Sergyéitch opened the door of the
carriage, and offered his arm to his wife. Pompónsky gave his to the
mother-in-law, and the two couples made their way along the Névsky
Prospékt, accompanied by a short, black-haired footman in yellowish-grey
gaiters, and with a big cockade on his hat.

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